Joan Hallworth: The 'craftiest' of nanas.
Updated: Mar 29, 2020
From making sails for Ben Lexcen’s Australian winning 1983 America’s Cup yacht team; to creating cosy bowls for soups in her Village; and ‘attempting’ to teach her grandson homemade family recipes - my nana, Joan Hallworth, has done it all. She is the crafty ‘genie’ you call upon when you need fancy dress costumes sewen, or crafty items made, you name it - because she makes it happen.
To some she was the ‘Mrs Claus of Rainforest Road’ in Gosford, to us grandkids she was and always will be ‘Nana Noo Noo’, but to everyone that knows her, she is a kind, loving and extremely creative and crafty lady. You may have a grandparent just like her, and I hope you do! These are a few of her stories.
After leaving school on a Friday at the tender age of 15 (1954), she was in work by the following Monday.
“I finished work on the Friday and had to have a job lined up for the Monday. Which I did [ Burton’s Confectionary]. Which was a confectionist’s bakehouse. I think it was only about 6 months I was there. I wasn’t too happy at the bakehouse, because I had to start round about 4.30 in the morning, very early. So, I asked mum if I could try the other place, and she said, ‘as long as you have a job to go to, you can do it’. applied for a job at Burton’s tailoring. Got accepted. Then transferred over.”
From one creative industry to another, confectionary to tailoring, from Burton’s to another Burton’s.
“I was at Burton’s tailoring in Eccles. I think the shop’s still there, actually. I’m not too sure if it closed down, but it was right near the cross, centre of Eccles. And they had a dance floor above the shop. Well, we worked there but the actual factory where we did the sewing, cutting out, pattern making, was on East Lancashire Road. It give me the opportunity to learn a bit of pattern making, various machines. [I did the] waistcoats and jackets.” (The shop did the measurements, we did the sewing).
After leaving Burton's and travelling to Australia with her young family, Mrs Hallworth found a new career, but it still had a lot to do with sewing to perfection.
Breaking a 132 year-long record, and snatching the trophy out of America’s grasp, the Australia II yacht won the America’s Cup in 1983. But whilst the newly designed winged keel helped to seal the victory, by cutting through the water, we can’t go past the one thing that was necessary for moving a yacht, the sails.
“I was excited to belong to the team at Miller and Whitworth Sail Loft on old Pittwater Road.
They said, ‘have you ever done sail making?’ [I said], ‘no’. [They retorted], ‘can you sew a straight line?’ I said, ‘I think so’. [They said], ‘so we’ll give you a go’. So, they did, and it was good fun while we were there. It was a large loft. So, I used to do the spinnakers and put windows in the sails. I just worked for them for two or three years, maybe more.
And then they started designing ‘the keel’. That’s where it came a bit more exciting, because it was to do with the America’s Cup. Bob [later Ben Lexcen] had been designing this keel on the quiet. It was all ‘hush hush’. I remember one week, the secretary came into the loft and, I can see [visualise] her now, she said, ‘ok, who’s got any silverware at home? Bring the silverware in for next Friday. (there were three girls and I think four men, because they did the heavy work with the sails – the cutting out. We did the sewing). We said, ‘silverware? We normally have plastic cups.’….’Alan Bond’s coming.’ The silverware did come out.”
Mrs Hallworth recalls a moment at a later date, when Ben Lexcen took herself and the team of sail makers out for a day on the water. Mr Lexcen wanted to show them how the wind inflates the spinnaker, and to test for any discrepancies in the sewing process.
“You imagine you’re sewing on a pencil line, and you have metres and metres at the side of you. And you are sewing a such a speed, but you have got to keep on that line”
Any sudden movement or distractions would shift the line and the needle, which would mean that the wind wouldn’t fill the spinnaker in the correct form, it would bubble. You had to be “precise”.
After retiring, raising two beautiful children, moving from suburb to suburb and finding her feet again, the Hallworth’s kept their creative genes flowing.
For over 25 years, both David and Joan, gained new titles in the suburbs that they lived. They weren’t just a Grandad and a Nana. They became Mr and Mrs Claus. These titles were given to them for their beautiful Christmas decorated gardens. When they began in Narrabeen, David would place tape on the windows, then spray the glass to create a snow effect.
By the time they arrived in Gosford, they had stepped up their Christmas decorating game. Before lighting shows filled gardens, along gutters and in every shape imaginable, they would have hand-painted murals decorating their lawns. David would cut out the templates in his woodworking garage. Lorraine (their skilful artist of a daughter) would paint the wooden cut-outs – from reindeers, elves, and Santa, to wisemen, stars and kangaroos. And they would finish by decorating the garden. Even to the point that a local news crew came to pay them a visit.
However, whilst Mr Hallworth spraying windows to create a ‘snow effect’ successfully shocked some neighbours at the time, the biggest shock was achieved with Jesus and a child that gazed a little too close at the nativity scene.
"The nativity scene was really a coal bunker all the year round. And then we would wait until all the timber had gone, and it was empty, and then grandad would pull it apart into three sections. And we would carry it up to the top of the garden, and then assemble it again. We made a manger, inside. I would go and get a bale of hay. And we had Jesus in it. We had Jesus in His little cover, and He was there for a long, long while. Then a family came up one particular week, and we heard the little one [child] say, “Mum, mum, it isn’t Jesus.” We could hear inside [the house], so we went to the door, listening. [The boy repeated] “It’s not Jesus.”
[After] He had gone. [We went over] and taken the baby out, had a look underneath [the cover] and realised it was a little girl. (Through laughter) A little girl doll. The morning after, off we go to the shops looking for a little boy baby [doll]. And we did eventually find one. But the sad thing about it is, when we compared the two dolls, the boy doll was ugly! So, grandad ripped the head off the other one (girl doll), siliconed it onto the boy, put the little swaddling clothes on it, put it in the manager, and it was a joyous ending.” It was a Christmas miracle.
Remember, there is a time to tear and a time to build - a time to weep and a time (like the one above) to laugh. Whatever you want to call her, whether it be: Nana Noo Noo, Joan, Mrs Hallworth or Mrs Claus, there is one name that will forever stick, and that is ‘friend’, and a crafty one at that.
May you enjoy these stories, laugh a little, and reflect on times gone by. If I can recommend anything, ask a friend to hear theirs, if not – I will.