Thankfully, we have a number of special houses in our district and Interbane is one of them. In fact, it is a house with a rather notorious history. Above all, it stands as one of the best of our former guest houses, but it is its connections with Tilly Devine, Sydney’s brothel queen in the ’30s to ’50s, fast cars and criminal connections, and even a resident ghost, along with a real-life appearance by actor Peter Finch, that makes the home rather special.
Around Bald Hill, towering above Stanwell Park, there was once a little village, a number of houses and humpies, a shop and later a service station. In the middle of the village was a rather special home.
Interbane was built in 1917, for about £3,000, by the businessman Walter Goodman. He was in the leather trade and built the home as a holiday getaway. As a veteran of the Boer War, he knew a little Zulu and gave the home the Zulu name “Interbane”, meaning “top of the hill.” The home, as we well know, has no external square walls and that goes for most of the inside rooms as well. Being Victorian in design, it had a tall tower, although this reduced in height as the years went by. The position of the building meant it was open to the elements and so roof repairs were a constant fact of life. In the final years of the First World War, locals suspected that the tower may have been used to contact German submarines. Mr Goodman had a Japanese servant named Fakuda and so it was felt that he may well have been a German spy, even though Japan was on our side.
The home soon moved into its most famous period. It was the depression years and so the Goodman’s turned the home into a guest house run by their housekeeper and chauffeur, Gertrude and Gordon Fleming. In the NSW Tourist Guide of 1932, Interbane is listed as “an ideal accommodation house for a complete rest”. The tariff was 10 shillings and sixpence a day, or 50 shillings a week. To help run the guest house, the Flemings enlisted the help of a local, Florence “Tootie” Harvey. She was living rough on Bald Hill after the breakup of her marriage. She had trained as a nurse and was the first nurse to serve at the Coledale Cottage Hospital. Her children, Heather, Isobel, Betty and Alan, would soon join her and help with running the home. The guest house continued through to the Second World War and was renowned for its weekend parties, parties that were at times, risque to say the least. Locals even claim that the actor Peter Finch once attended one such party in 1942. Interbane had become an “in” venue for the “in” crew.
In the next stage of the home’s history, following the War, Interbane became a Tea Room and Tootie moved to Coalcliff. The Flemmings were growing weaker with age and so the Tea Rooms were closed. After Gordon’s death, Tootie constantly visited Mrs Fleming to help her with her fading health. In 1956, after her death, the Goodman’s, who still owned the home, offered to sell it to Tootie for the amazing figure of £1700. It was sold with “all faults”, given that the home was now showing its age.
It was in the homes’ next stage that Interbane gained its most celebrated reputation. The criminal link came about through some of Tootie’s children who had became involved with Sydney underworld figures. Tootie’s son, Alan Carrick, known affectionately as “Katingal” around the Burgh, often spoke of his early escapades with the law. Alan claimed that Interbane was raided some 21 times during the ’50s. It was the regular weekend visits of Tilly Devine and her girls that turned heads. Pretty Dulcie, known as the Angel of Death due to the fact that 8 of her boyfriends had met an untimely death, was also a regular visitor with Tilly. Although certain activities were assumed, there were few people who had a bad word for Tootie. In her later years she was known for her constant kindness and care toward others. Harry Jardine, Helensburgh’s police sergeant, 1951-58, claimed that “Tootie was a perfect lady” and that Interbane’s reputation was never proved. Tootie sold Interbane in 1972 for $16,000.
Purchased now as a private home, restoration work was commenced, but after some seven years the home was again offered for sale, now for over $100,000. In 1988 the home was again offered for sale, now for $205,000. Purchased by Jim and Betty Wetton, extensive restoration work was undertaken and plans prepared for the possible opening of Interbane as a restaurant. Parking, of course, being the problem.
The history of Interbane certainly leaves most private dwellings far in the shadows. Thankfully the home has survived and will remain a feature of the Bald Hill landscape.