The high-wire antics of Waverley's very own Phil O'Sullivan

25 June 2019

My connection

I was born in Waverley, down the street, 182 Denison Street on the third of December, 1922. I was given three days to live because I was born with whooping cough. John, a friend, ran up to Waverley Church, brought a priest down. They anointed me and christened me on the same day. That was my introduction to Waverley.

My dad was a cricketer and a runner. He qualified to run the Stawell Gift. He qualified for the final but ran fourth. They gave him 5 pounds to get back to Sydney. He bypassed Sydney and went straight to Newcastle for the Newcastle Flyer [running race]. Mum got a telegram. He’d won 100 pounds. With that 100 pound he bought the land down the street, where I was born. He and his cousin laid the foundation for the house, and that’s where they started [the business]. He was a machinist engineer. He also worked at the tramway section at Randwick as a machinist. This is how it [O’Sullivan’s Garage] started.

This used to be horse stables here. The owners went broke, so Dad moved up here and set up a machine shop. During the first world war though, he went up to Lithgow to the Small Arms Factory. It was freezing. They used to heat up bricks and put them in the bed to keep warm. I know this is about Dad, but that’s how it all started. But now let’s come to me...

Photo: Deborah Field/Instagram @thephotonews

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

I did some stupid things like walking over the Harbour Bridge before it was even open. I was about eight I think. Jack Ward and I (a mate who used to live opposite) we caught the tram to the Quay, it cost a penny. It [the bridge] didn’t have the runway underneath, just the arch. The caretaker wasn’t there. Just his little urn was burning, and we said, “C’mon, we can get in there!”. So we went in. Got up. Walked up inside the pylon, about 30 foot up, and we got out on the arch. The caretaker came back and started after us. And we’re going over the arch, over the top of the arch. It only had a rope through. I said, “We can get over to the other side and get the ferry back!”. We’re sweating. We’re half crying. We got all the way across. And down. But we couldn’t get out the other side. The door was locked.

I was crying by now. It took us a hell of a long time to get across there. “C’mon back”, the caretaker said. We started to panic a bit. He said he was packing it himself. We get over, we get down. “Sit down!” he says. “You could of killed yourselves, and you could of killed me!”. And he went on and on.

So we come home. Mum said, “Where you been?”. We started crying. She said, “What you got to do is go back and apologise”. It’s so silly I can remember this. The next weekend or whatever it was, we wrote a note. We wrote, “We’re so sorry. Please forgive us”. And we had some hot scones.

We gave him the scones, and he went on again. He said, “If you were ever going to come back here, I was going to kick you in the bum all the way back home, but you’ve done the right thing. When you come next time, I’ll have some little things for you, from the bridge” like rivets, bits of concrete, things like that.

I still got some in the drawer at home…

The spinal surgeon

My mates tell me I don’t look a day over 96 and 11 months and 24 hours. I don’t feel 96, but my legs are buggered. I’ve had a broken ankle, a broken knee.

I was skylarking up at the swimming pool at Blackheath (in the Blue Mountains). I was walking along a pipe. Bang! The pipe crashed into my spine. They said I’ll never walk again. I was in my 20s. I had a couple of operations. Of course in those days there was no anaesthetic, just cutting into your back.

But the doctor assured me I’d be right…

My wife Joan

I met Joan at the Antonian Club up at Charing Cross. It was a Catholic Club of some sort. Waverley College boys- that’s where I went- and she went to Sacred Heart. It was a dance. Every Saturday night was a dance. I saw this sort. I thought, “She doesn’t look bad”. We had a dance around. The dance was over. I said, “I’ll drop you home if you like. I’ve got a car down the street”, an old 1927 Rugby. It’s parked down Carrington Road, near the park.

She said, “I’m not going down there unless you take my two friends with us”. I bit bloody snobby I thought [laughing].

That said, the car had a camping body in it too. You could flip a button and the back seat would go down. So it was nice and comfortable…

The war

With the war years, I was contained to here. I had no time to do anything [else] apart from going to camp, on a Friday night, at Bondi.

I was in the anti-aircraft unit. We were expecting the Japanese to land at any time. We got the yanks out here. There were three things wrong with them: overdressed, too much money, and they were here. Those were the three things.

There were two piers at Bondi going out in the water. Within a week of arriving, they [the Americans] blew those up. Darwin was just bombed- that was in 1942. 240 were killed and 400 injured, and they were waiting for the Japanese to come down the coast, and that [the piers] would have been a beautiful landing spot. Bingo, we’d of been gone. We’d of been buggered without them [the Americans], whether you liked them or hated them. The girls loved them. One on each arm.

But I wasn’t jealous. I had my girl…

Photo: Deborah Field/Instagram @thephotonews

Protecting Sydney Harbour

The garage was turned into an ammunition annex. We started to make a lot of stuff. I became very involved in the military but I couldn’t join [because] we were working on the lathe, making parts for the [anti-submarine] boom net across the Harbour. I was compelled to do that till six in the morning to six at night.

At the same time, during the week, I’d go into Ultimo to do two courses: fitting and turning and motor construction. I kept those going at night.

They didn’t mind if you took a pie into eat while you were doing the exams…

David Warner and Tony Greig

I was in Rotary for years and years. Nearly wore myself into the ground. But with the cricket… shut up Phil [laughing]… I was going to say, I was pretty good with coaching the kids. There were no kids playing cricket. I started to get a formation. I got each of the captains of the other grades to come Saturday morning, once or twice a season, and help me with the coaching.

One of them was David Warner. Cheeky little bugger he was. He had potential, but what he’d do is we’d have a circle. What he needed to do was there’d be a batsman, and he’d had an over against him, and he’d move around, all the way around the [circle], then the next one’d come along. They’d have a bat, then they’d have a wicket keep, then they’d have a bowl. Warner would come in. He’d get his little bat, and instead of coming around there, he’d sneak around there, then sneak around that way, and come back in again.

Eventually we got Tony Greig out here. We got on extremely well, Tony and his wife. I’d get him to come [coach] occasionally, but he was a specialist. He came to Waverley to play cricket, not to coach, but he’d come along [to coach] for the fun of it.

I started off with about 20 kids. I finished up with 40…

Tram in the backyard

By this time, we’d moved home from Fitzgerald Street [in Bondi] over to Randwick. It was nice home, but we made it even nicer.

Chris [our son] was a tramway fanatic. We bought a bloody tram would you believe and we had a swimming pool. We got the tram in alongside the swimming pool. Inside the tram, you could go inside the dressing shed. Or you could come into the kitchen.

We live in Hillsdale now, but I’m here [at the garage] every day just about. I get here at 7am, Monday and Thursday. I drive alright. I drive a Toyoto. If I could drive any car in the world it would be a 1927 Rugby, my original car.

It’s long gone now. It fell apart…

Waverley Oval

Our cricket club [Eastern Suburbs District Cricket Club], formerly known as Waverley District Cricket Club]. Well they’ve built a grandstand up there [at Waverley Oval] now. The Phil O’Sullivan Bob Horsell Grandstand.

The club rang me and said, “You know that grandstand”, and I said, “It’s bloody falling to bits” and they said, “We’re got some money, we’re going to build a new grandstand. The committee have been together and they all say, ‘Let’s call it Phil O’Sullivan”. They said, “It’s going to be a good one, it’s going to be $5 million”, and I said, “Well you’re talking my kind of money now”.

Ernie Page was Mayor I think at the time. I said, “Alright, but I think it should be shared with Bob Horsell because Bob stuck by me through a lot of things, and he was the one who came up from Paddington when Paddington [Cricket Club] folded.

Then they came back to me much later on, when it was almost built, and said, “Do you know how much that bloody stand cost? I said, “Nuh”.

“$9 million”.

I said, “That’s more like it”…

A word from us...

Waverley Council wishes to thank Phil O’Sullivan OAM for sharing his story about his connection to Waverley as part of our Waverley 160 social media campaign to celebrate the 160th anniversary this year of Waverley.

Mr O’Sullivan’s achievements include:

The (above) photo across the Phil O’Sullivan Bob Horsell Grandstand was taken a few minutes’ after we interviewed Mr O’Sullivan for Waverley 160. It made us smile as did Mr O’Sullivan’s wonderful stories. Thanks again Phil!