From Vaudeville Comedian to Patonga resident – Bill DYSON

Patonga Characters – William Frederick John DYSON.

I started off with Will DYSON as I came across his occupation  as “vaudeville artist” in a land titles search.                                                      

How did he get to be a resident in Patonga?

Born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1879 and passed away at Patonga in 1956.

Dyson was a boisterous and versatile performer starting out as an eccentric comedian and dancer through a stage of “black face” minstrel before finding his niche as a comedian singing humorous songs.   He worked with companies in Launceston and Hobart (1902) moving on to Melbourne and then most capital cities and several regional areas in Australia.  He also had stints in Manila,(P.I.) and in the U.S. Records indicate that his two brothers, Hal and Jim, were also involved in the vaudeville scene in the U.S.

Dyson was described variously as the three storied comedian, midget comedian and reports of his height were from 6’ 8” to 8 feet as well as 210cm.  He was also known as “Long Bill” Dyson.  The Mudgee Guardian described him. “… Mr. Will. Dyson, the very tall comedian, was an instant success, and was responsible for paroxysms of laughter. The way such a big man can twist his limbs and at the same time give forth genuine comedy lines with a powerful voice was an eye-opener…  

The Mercury (Hobart) Mar, 17, 1902

Bill married Dora Ellen WELLS and they appear to have had no children.  Recorded in the census as being together in 1912 – Melbourne.  No date for marriage could be confirmed but appears to be registered in 1918.  Dora was born in around 1882 and died in 1966, aged 84.  She also had a relative in Patonga, Mrs H. Wells, in 1940, both of who may have originated from Perth, W.A.

In 1922 William Frederick John Dyson purchased Lot 96 in DP 9408 at Patonga.  We would know it as No. 35 Patonga Street.  Dyson reported to his old colleagues in 1924 and it appeared in a trade journal as, …”Will DYSON whilom popular comedian has long been the owner of a prosperous boat-shed at Patonga Bay, Hawkesbury River. In addition, he works a small farm to satisfactory returns.  It is pleasing to note that Mrs Dyson, who was very ill last year, has now entirely recovered, and, with her husband is keenly interested in both businesses.(Everyone’s Vol. 4, No. 239)

1922 Transfer

During the Depression, Bill Dyson sought and was given work along with Messrs Wilson and Hine on road works, particularly the sanitary works road.

Roy Ewer (in his blog) recalls, “There was no electricity and a roaring trade in kerosene for lighting was a priority prerequisite. This fuel was sold in sealed 4 gallon (18+ litres) oblong tin cans and were difficult to dispose of. One retired couple, Bill Dyson and his wife erected part of their home using these cans.” 

According to The Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate in 1928 when reporting on the purchase of an organ for Church and Sunday School, “…many thanks to me untiring efforts of Mr. W. Dyson, of Patonga Beach, the generous public were appealed to by him for this worthy object. More than the quota aimed at was collected by Mr. Dyson, with the result that a beautiful instrument was purchased from the firm of E. F. Wilks and Co., Pitt St, Sydney. Mr. Brack extended his best thanks to Mr. Dyson for his kindly help.” 

Another anecdote from Roy Ewer recalls “When the daily ferry from Brooklyn arrived at Patonga, it was quite an occasion. Many residents made a habit to “meet the boat.” One occasion worth recording was the assistance rendered by a resident called Bill Dyson who was at least 210 centimetres tall. Bill insisted that he caught the ropes thrown from the ferry and place them on the pylons to complete the mooring. On this occasion, I had the duty to throw the rope to Bill but unfortunately, missed and threw the rope over him, and it would be the only time that Alan Windybank failed to put the old Atlas” engine into neutral, consequently the “Swanhilda” cruised slowly towards the shore with Bill in tow astern. All was quickly rectified and Bill, because of his height and the state of the tide, coughed, spluttered and waded ashore, not much the worse for wear, but such goings on encouraged the locals to “meet the boat”.

William Frederick John Dyson died in 1956 and his wife sold the property in 1961 to Ronald and Helen BURGESS who retained it for 2 years.

The Final note on Bill Dyson goes to Patonga Beach correspondent in The Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, 12 January 1933, “ Our old friend, Mr. Bill Dyson, was again to the fore as has been his custom in years past, to meet the ferry and then lend a helping hand to one and all when disembarking from the launches. His kindly disposition and genial smile and cheering words have made our boy friend most popular.”

Seems like Bill was a nice man who liked people but unfortunately I couldn’t explain how he found Patonga and decided to stay, maybe a reader can help.


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