ANOTHER piece of the puzzle in solving the mystery of the young man on the front of Alan Clark's latest book, Cordial-makers of the Shoalhaven and their bottles, might have fallen into place
Mr Clark's book will be published next month (October) by the Shoalhaven Historical Society.
The cover of the book features a superb photograph of a young man from Nowra Cordials with a stack of boxes. But unfortunately at this stage it's not known who he is.
Some good old fashioned community involvement has led to a possible identification - as being Bomaderry man Ron Smith.
"It could be me," Mr Smith said when contacted by the South Coast Register.
"I've had a good look at the photo and I definitely worked there [at the Nowra Cordial Factory] when I was younger.
"It wasn't my full time job. I used to work at the handle factory at Piringa Park near the Shoalhaven River but would work at the cordial factory on Saturday morning and after work.
"I had a few mates who worked there - Keith and Fred Wellington and Syd Colbrooke.
"I'd go down and help them."
And one of his jobs was taking bottles in crates into the bottling area, as depicted in the photo.
"You'd wheel the boxes in, they did different lines [flavours] on different days," he said.
"Keith and Syd were on the bottling machines,
"Gee they were skilled - there were two bottling machines, they had bottles coming in and out getting filled - their hands just kept moving, they never stopped.
"The boxes in the photo are the old ones, where the cordial laid down - in the boxes that came out later on they stood the cordial upright.
"I never got into the bottling but I loaded a lot of sugar which was made into the syrup.
"Hedley Grant would bring the sugar over on a truck from the railway station and we'd have to get the bags on our shoulders and then climb up a ladder to put them up into the loft to be put into the syrup.
"They'd be about 25 kilos each I suppose - it was hard yakka - we'd put about enough sugar up there for a week."
He said he'd hate to definitely say it was him in the photo if it wasn't.
"People often wandered through taking photos," he said.
"Lots of blokes came and went at the factory - if you couldn't get work you'd go there.
"It could well be me but I'd hate to categorically say it is, in case it's someone else.
"But I had hair like that, in fact people used to call me Beatle, because at the time my hair resembled the boys from The Beatles."
Now 75, Mr Smith worked at the factory in his teens up to about the age of 20.
"By 21 (1965-66) I was off doing my national service in the army," he said.
"And I married Marlene in 1967."
If it is him, he estimates the photo would have been taken anywhere from the late 50s through to the early to mid 60s.
Quizzed if he wore a South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby League jersey like the man in the photo his answer was simple - "I wore everything and anything," he said.
"We lost a lot of stuff in a house fire at West Nowra, in fact we had three while I was growing up, so we had all sorts of things given to us.
"But the belt certainly looks like mine - I had one like that, it had a motorbike on it - I was into riding bikes back then.
"I even often wore flying boots on the bikes.
"Mind you when I was in the army all that hair was gone - but I grew it back before my wedding.
"You did whatever you could back then to earn a quid.
"I used to get paid 4 pound 16 shillings at the handle factory - four pound of that went to my mum and I had 16 bob to live off and go to the pub with etc.
"So you'd do extra work - I worked at the cordial factory, would go ferreting to get rabbits and even did gardening work for old Joe Basha on Saturdays. You collected cordial bottles and cashed them in.
"We didn't have no hand outs back then - all you got was what you worked for.
"You'd do anything to make money."
His wife of 53 years Marlene said "if it's not him he's a good double."
"They do say everyone has a double out there somewhere. It looks like Ron and he was so skinny back then."
"I remember out the back of the factory they had these two massive Great Danes," Mr Smith said.
"You never went down the back which is where they made the boxes etc, if you didn't know them.
"I have to say that that motel (Parkhaven Motel now on the site of the former cordial factory) would have to be built on glass.
"If there was a hole, broken bottles were put in it - and it went into Marriott Park. There was a fence out the back and the broken bottles and boxes were stacked high against it."
He was alerted to the search for the mystery cordial man by friend Fran Cruickshanks, who fronted Mr Smith at the Bomaderry RSL Club last week after the Register ran another story appealing to find out who the "cordial man" was.
"When I looked at it I thought 'Geez that does look like me'" he said.
He fondly talks about his time working at Paringa Park near the Shoalhaven River which he says was a "hive of activity".
"Ferguson Joinery was upstairs, Ron Markham did his time there, the handle making factory where I worked was downstairs. We'd make axe, shovel, broom handles, tent poles etc.
"Neil Cram had a sawmill and boatmaking area near the river and Harvie McLean Engineering was there - Brian Goodsell worked there as an apprentice."
Around 1970 the handle making factory moved to Jane Street in Nowra.
"We moved to between Worrigee Street and where the Jane Street overpass is - the building which has the Op Shop in it - they also moved the ice works from the cordial factory down there and Neil Cram ran it," he said.
"Nowra Motors was down that way, there was Bainbrigge Panelbeaters and Kiteleys."
The handle making operation moved to Flinders Estate and was eventually sold to Trojan Tools.
"They relocated it to a new factory at Grafton because the timber up there was cheaper," he said.
"I was up there for about a year and then came home. I wanted some time off and within a few weeks had been recruited by Malcolm Herbert to work at Davis and Herbert Sawmill at South Nowra where I remained for 28 years until Boral purchased the operation."
And as for his favourite variety of cordial?
"Actually it was Cottees Passiona - not a Nowra Cordials drink, but they did bottle it for Cottees - I always liked that."
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