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A life lived well

Wednesday, 7th June, 2017

‘Pud’ Tonkin reads a history feature in the Barrier Daily Truth, which prompted him to come in for a chat. ‘Pud’ Tonkin reads a history feature in the Barrier Daily Truth, which prompted him to come in for a chat.

ARTHUR Tonkin, or ‘Pud’, as he’s better known, has lived a long and varied life in Broken Hill, and has been a witness to war time rationing, the life and death of the trams, and the continued evolution of the Silver City.

He was born out in Silverton in 1930, where his parents owned a poultry farm as well as nearly a dozen cows.

Going to the Silverton primary school, which some 45-odd students also attended, he said he’d deliver his family’s milk to the Silverton Hotel, the police station and the school teacher on the way in every morning.

“In year six there was me and two other people,” Pud said.

“My dad gave me a bike when I was young to look after the animals and help my mother, and every second or third week I was allowed to ride my bike from Silverton up to Broken Hill on the Saturday morning and go to the matinee in the afternoon,” he said.

“I’d stop at my grandmother’s on Saturday night, then go ride the bike home on Sunday morning, and in those days they were real rough, dirt roads too.”

In 1941, Pud turned 11, and started catching the train to Broken Hill to attend high school.

He would get up at 4am on some mornings to catch the train from Silverton to Broken Hill, stopping at his grandmother’s before school for breakfast.

“The trains were pretty slow, the little old 3.6 gauge, you could get out and walk alongside them sometimes,” Pud said.

“So I did that for 12 months but it was getting me down, and I left school when I was 13, in 1943, and by that time the war was well underway,” he said.

“You were allowed to leave school at age 13 provided you had a job lined up, and with the number of people that went to fight and the special work that had to be carried out, the munitions factory up here and stuff like that, they needed general workers.”

So at 13 years of age, Pud began working at a wood yard on Crystal Street, near the train line.

He was in charge of delivering bills and collecting payments from customers, and said his experience on a push bike came in handy.

“They used to take four lots on each trolley with a horse and dray, there were no motor cars,” Pud said.

“I worked for them for six months before working with a bike shop in Argent Street,” he said.

It was in 1943 that Pud’s family relocated to Broken Hill, with his father buying a house in Newton Street for 150 pounds, or about $10,300 in today’s terms according to the Reserve Bank.

He lived in that house until he got married in 1952.

At the same time as working for the wood yard and then the bike shop, Pud was attending night school three or four nights a week. 

This led him to an apprenticeship with the Silverton Tramway as a fitter and turner, but he wasn’t ready to settle down and went back to night school for an automotive trade certificate.

“When I passed those exams I found I couldn’t get the certificate, because the union wouldn’t let me do a formal apprenticeship because at 22 they said I was too old and keeping someone out of a job,” Pud said.

“So the chap at Silver City Motors said he could get me a job in Adelaide to finish it up, so from 1952 to 1956 I lived in Adelaide and did my trade there.”

It was while waiting for the Adelaide position to become available that Pud met his future wife, while working underground.

“While I was waiting I had a job pipe fitting underground, and the chap they put with me was my wife’s eldest brother, so I got to know her through him,” he said.

“Now we have four children, three boys and a girl, ten grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren.

“We had our 65th wedding anniversary the other day.”

1952 was a busy year for Pud, featuring marriage and a move across state lines to Adelaide.

There he finished his apprenticeship, and won seven state cycling championships.

“I used to race at Belgrave Park every Friday night in the summer, Tuesday nights at Goodwood Oval and then Wednesday nights at Hansen Reserve, I got pretty good,” Pud said.

“I kept it up for 18 years,” he said.

“I came back to Broken Hill in 1956 and worked at the garage out South for seven years.”

At was at this time that he developed an interest in classic cars, an interest that continues today.

He currently owns five fully restored vintage cars, but says he doesn’t do much work on them anymore.

“I can’t bend over like I used to, to work on them, but I still give them a drive around,” Pud said.

“I’ve been president of the Broken Hill Vintage and Veteran Car Club twice, and I’m still a member, I drive with them.”

Going back in time to 1963, Pud finished up at the garage and turned his eye to the centre of the city, and the Junction Hotel in Argent Street, which he bought.

Pud owned the Junction for nearly 35 years, from 1963 to 1998, but despite handing drinks for decades, he didn’t touch a drop the whole time he was working. 

“I had my first drink in 41 years when I turned 80 about 6 years ago,” Pud said.

“My three boys came home for my birthday and I had some cans with them, and nowadays I still have a couple,” he said.

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