MOST people have great memories of Lake Macquarie, but few of us tend to preserve them.
Author Doug Saxon, of Fishing Point, is the exception.
Stung by an incalculable loss of Lake Macquarie local history at Eraring, on the lake's western shore, he set about gathering material for a book on the district two years ago.
The former school principal and local history buff was saddened to see pieces of the past disappear before his very eyes.
"Many people living outside of the lake only know of Eraring [near Myuna Bay] because of the present power station but it's much more," Saxon says. "There was once a viable farming community there, but now everything's all gone. Every community facility there has gone."
In 2020, Eraring power station supplies about 20 per cent of NSW power needs and employs around 350 people. When it was officially opened in June 1984, it was billed as Australia's largest power station. Today it faces an uncertain future.
Author Saxon says Origin Energy announced plans to close Eraring as a coal fired plant in 2032 as part of its plan to cut carbon emissions. But it does not necessarily mean the Eraring plant will stop producing electricity if it can be converted to run on hydrogen to produce zero-emissions energy.
But that's all in the future and studies are underway. The dilemma of what happens also to the infamous coal ash dam there may also be solved by new technology which could convert fly ash into a lightweight aggregate for the building industry.
What people have now forgotten is how a lake community was originally displaced to make way for the electricity-producing giant with a way of life swept aside.
When plans were first announced in July 1969 to build Eraring power plant and a buffer zone, it was estimated 163 Eraring residents would be directly affected.
The land buy-ups marked the beginning of the end of a rural way of life based on farming, poultry and orchards for Eraring residents, then numbering about 400 people.
The sleepy rural settlement, officially dating back to 1912 real estate sales, but really back to an historic land grant in 1838, would be changed forever. Over time it would become an almost forgotten lake suburb dominated by the power plant.
Many people living outside of the lake only know of Eraring (near Myuna Bay) because of the present power station but it's much more. There was once a viable farming community there, but now everything's all gone. Every community facility there has gone.Doug Saxon
"Over time, everything's gone from there as people moved," Saxon says.
He lists among the casualties the Eraring community hall, the post office, the big Seventh Day Adventist Camp site (1949-1981), Eraring's one shop and even the Eraring Public School (1924-2014).
The 90-year-old school was closed and the site sold off despite a brand new $450,000 classroom which locals felt could have been re-used as a facility for special needs kids.
Parents were assured the school's historical records would be preserved at the University of Newcastle for future study. According to author Saxon, this did not occur.
"One of the things I was motivated to try and preserve was a record of the farmers before they were bought out," Saxon says, outlining his 20th and latest book, Eraring's History - farming, monkeys and electricity.
Monkeys? Well yes, for part of Eraring's past concerns the then controversial work of the remarkable Dr Henry Leighton-Jones (1863-1943) who brought fame to the backwater of Eraring with his pioneering medical experiments with rhesus monkeys. But more of that in a moment.
Bounded by Dora Creek, Cooranbong, Myuna Bay and Lake Macquarie itself, life in what should have been an idyllic waterside suburb was in reality an extraordinarily tough and primitive for the earliest European settlers there.
People lived in weatherboard homes with iron roofs after clearing the land and planting citrus trees and growing peas, beans, tomatoes and turnips to survive.
Some temporary homes were built with corn bags nailed to wooden studs. They were then made waterproof by plastering over with lime and fat. Cooking was done on a fuel stove with kerosene lamps for lighting, aided by a few candles. Tanks or wells provided the water supply.
Crude ways to preserve food included a "hanging safe" used in the shade with butter kept in a "drip safe" with a wet piece of hessian over it and placed in a draught. Most residents had a milking cow. Later ice chests became popular, followed by kerosene-powered, then electric, refrigerators.
Electricity was connected to Eraring in 1936, but the local school did not receive power until 1940, Saxon says.
The suburb's permanent water supply came the following year, but the school had to wait until 1946. There were pit toilets at the school when it opened, with a pan system introduced in the 1950s. A septic system was installed in the 1960s.
Yet people liked the rural, affordable lifestyle there and the area bred many interesting characters and stories. Myuna Bay was once oddly called, for example, Pantaloon Bay, and Dora Creek was once called Newport.
As his research progressed, author Saxon says he became more fascinated with the local people. And some of the stories uncovered he almost couldn't believe.
One was the story of a highly unusual pise (rammed earth not mud brick) self-built house from the Great Depression era. It was probably unique in Lake Macquarie and recommended for preservation, but was demolished in 2005.
Much-admired school principal Joe Lyons was also once the heart of the robust, mainly subsistence farming Eraring community. It was a shock then to learn of his sudden death after inhaling cyanide gas in 1954.
He was trying to poison some wild cats which had been attacking his pet when he accidentally died.
"Another story concerns the school's then second teacher Dorothy Cornish after she left Eraring. She married and her son Craig Johnston would become a professional soccer player in England with Liverpool," Saxon says.
Much later, Craig's sister Faye set out to visit Craig in England, but in Morocco she suffered brain damage from inhaling butane gas at a hotel in which she was staying.
"Craig organised and paid for his sister to return to Australia and gave up his football career," Saxon says.
Eraring's oldest surviving house is "Lakeside" in Payten Street. It was the home of Dr Henry Leighton-Jones from 1926. He practised as a pharmacist, dentist and doctor and had once been the chief health officer for the Northern Territory.
But it was his later pioneering operations at Eraring, grafting monkey glands onto men to rejuvenate them and to stave off senility, that raised eyebrows locally and made him famous throughout Australia.
Saxon says despite rumours and words like "bizarre" and terms like "Monkey" Jones used in articles, his valuable work for the Eraring community was seldom acknowledged.
Jones was often the region's only GP and dentist, especially in World War II when he provided much needed services for 5000 people.
And since 1977, the good doctor's monkey to human testicle transplants have been re-evaluated more favourably.
"The great tragedy was that he died just as he was about to present a paper outlining his grafting work," Saxon says.
"His wife later burned all his papers [for patient privacy], thus denying a proper evaluation of his work."