In our ‘A Drink with Jeff” series, Campbelltown Catholic Club community liaison Jeff McGill has been catching up with a diverse selection of club identities.

Liz Stonestreet was once a stranger in Campbelltown who didn’t know a soul. Hard to believe, given she is now such a beloved part of our community — from sporting and social groups to charities and service organisations.

The Catho, she admits, was her doorway through.

One night in 1979 she remembers particularly well. “We’d just moved to Leumeah and [husband] Ken told me he was popping down to Campbelltown Catholic Club to hear Bernie Purcell, a South Sydney Rabbitohs legend, speak. Later, the phone rang. Ken wanted me to catch a taxi; he was with a bunch of club members and wanted me to meet them all. So, I caught the taxi…and what a night. Before we’d left to return home Ken had been appointed Junior Vice President of the Collegians Rugby League Club, and I was the new Secretary of the Ladies Auxiliary.

“That’s the magic of The Catho — it helped me connect with people. You got know this person, and then this person knew that person, and so on. That’s the same reason why I love Campbelltown, too. I’m 70 now, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Liz agreed to be my latest “Drink With Jeff” interview.

We met at Cafe Sage and grabbed our drinks – a long black for Liz, and a hot chocolate for me — and we found a less-busy corner of Harvest bistro. Our chat began with Liz’s recent trip to the United States and Britain, part of which was spent in her bonnie homeland of Scotland. Liz Cameron was born in Edinburgh in 1952.

Did she speak with thick Scottish brogue as a child?

“Och, aye,” Liz laughed, using the old cliche.

But it is hard to detect any accent at all today. “You lose it pretty quickly when you go to high school in Australia,” she smiled. Liz arrived in Sydney as a teenage immigrant in 1965.

Was it to get away from the wet Scottish weather?

No, better opportunities she said. “My dad always wanted to come to Australia, but my mother wouldn’t be a part of it. Until one night she suddenly said yes.”

Liz as she looked in the 1970s.

On their third day in Sydney, Liz’s dad had found a job in a timber yard. “He later helped build the Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross.”

Was she happy in Australia? “A bit 50-50,” Liz admitted. “It was a big adventure, but it meant leaving my friends and family in Scotland. I wasn’t happy about that”. But being a teenager in late 1960s must have been fun, I asked, as our consersation veered into Beatles and Rolling Stones music. Was she a nerd, or a wild flower child? “A bit of both,” she laughed.

Liz told me her first job was as a cashier at Traversi Jones Hardware store in Ashfield. That led to a job in the insurance industry. It was a time of opportunities for women — but also limitations. “There was no such thing as equal pay,” Liz said. “At 23 years old I was supervising the Workers Compensation Claims department at AGC insurance, yet I had these guys, younger than me, and I was teaching them, but they were earning more money than me! I jacked up but the boss told me that’s just the way it was.”

What brought Liz to Campbelltown?

“I married Ken in 1978,” she smiled.

The late Ken Stonestreet, some of you will recall, was a rugby league star of the Western Suburbs Magpies from 1967 to 1972. After that, he coached the Under 23s. Ken’s wife had died and he had four kids. Liz had a daughter from a previous relationship, so they got married and, as a blended family, settled in Leumeah.

“Ken was working at Bulmers Cider, the big bottling plant on Badgally Road. He was National Sales Manager and the boss wanted him living in Campbelltown so he could be ‘the entertainer’, hosting interstate or overseas people. We bought our house in Leumeah Road from [real estate agent and Catho Club identity] Daryl Martyn, and I became a stay-at-home mum.”

A stranger in a strange town. But not for long.

That’s when Ken rang that night in 1979, asked her to catch a taxi, and she ended up as Secretary of Collegians’ Ladies Auxiliary — the “canteen mums”.

Liz has fond memories of those days and friends such as Mary Lamont, Barbara Knott and Carol Richards. Liz also smiles about the great spirit of those football games, and the fun rivalry between the Collegians and Kangaroos. “Roos are poos, Roos are poos,” she began to chant with a cheeky smile. “The funny thing is, we later moved to Bradbury and lived near Bruce Melville [a legendary former player of the Kangaroos]. His kids would come up and play football at the front of our place, and [my son] Damien was a bit older and would have to play on his knees against them.

An old 1960s football trading card of Ken Stonestreet

“I remember one day at the football there was a father-and-son match, and Ken said he was gonna play….but the rules had changed since his time. In the 1960s you could ruck for the ball, so he did that, won the ball, and scored a try. No one was game to tell him that wasn’t legal anymore, so they just let him have his try.”

Liz also recalled the mystery of the missing chocolate bars. “I used to take the tuck shop stuff home during the week. We had this room off the loungeroom — a built-in outdoor area with ferns and a little waterfall in the corner, and totally impractical for a family of five kids — so we used it to store the canteen stuff there. But, I’d go to collect it all the following Sunday and half the chocolates bars would be gone! She never discovered how they mysteriously vanished…and neither could any of her five kids, she laughed.

Well, six kids actually. “In 1979 we decided to have a child of our own,” Liz said. “Through the 1980 footy season I was pregnant and worked in the canteen up until the day Gillian was born in July. I had a week off as Collies had an away game, but the following week I was back. The older girls Peta, Megan, Justine and Melissa were a big help, with Damian helping his Dad with his duties.”

Volunteers of the Collegians Rugby League Ladies Auxiliary in the early 1980s — from left, Barbara Knott, Liz Stonestreet, Carol Richards, Mary Lamont, with young Justine Stonestreet.

In her memories of the early 1980s, Liz gets misty-eyed about the Cork Carriers Club. This was an extended social group attached to The Catho, basically larrikins at large, and she reeled off a long list of names such as Gordon Fetterplace, Geoff Lamont, Kevin Nott, Bernie McGrath and Don Lejeune. Each member was issued with a cork which had to be carried at all times; failure to produce it when challenged by a fellow club member resulted in a fine. The club became renowned for its tight-knit events and rowdy sense of fun — such as the time Lamont was presented with a live chicken in the dining room. (Then-Catholic Club manager Max Imrie was not impressed.)

Cork Club Christmas parties were hosted by Fetterplace, a well-known pharmacist and mayor. “Gordon never called me Liz, it was always Stoney,” she laughed. “I had a side hustle at the time doing t-shirts, so I created an official Cork Club shirt for their golf days: it was yellow, with black collar, and a cork logo with CCC under it.”

Liz also recalls with fondness how families gathered in the outdoor recreation area once attached to the western side of The Catho, complete with swimming pool, playground and barbecue area. [This popular spot was resumed by the Council in 1986 and demolished to make way for Kellicar Road.] “Even though we had a pool at home,” Liz said, “we’d come here instead. Such great days with great people.”

Liz also remembered a New Year’s Eve in the old Kings Auditorium and being dragged from the audience with Bernie McGrath, and having to ride on his back across the stage, like a horse and jockey, with the crowd in stitches.

More familiar names followed as Liz told her stories: Chris Vardy-Thomson, Leo Delissen, Steve Carter, the McDonalds and Meehans, Bernie Slattery, to name a few. “In the days of the old Sports and Recreation Council, I’d nominated Mary Lamont for an award as club woman of the year, only to discover it was to be given as a joint award that year, with both me and Mary being called up to get pewter goblets. Great night.”

Liz’s close links with The Catho are even more amazing, she added, given that neither she or Ken were Catholic. (Liz was raised Presbyterian and Ken was Salvation Army.) But that, I interjected, was the whole idea of The Catho. Bill Meehan, the club’s founding father, has often claimed it was the long line of non-Catholics wanting to join that truly propelled the Club’s growth and helped fund local Catholic schools.

There is one other link Liz has with The Catho. I happened to mention to the Club CEO, Michael Lavorato, that I was meeting with Liz for a drink and he replied: “Liz is great — I’ve known her for years because she used to do all our insurance!”

“Yes,” Liz told me. “I went back to work in the early 1980s. Raising five kids was an expensive business. First I got part-time work at a horse stud…a terrible boss…then I worked into in a tiny office squeezed in with seven other women at a poultry firm…we were also treated like battery hens.” But then, Liz found a job with Stanley G. Plantzos Insurance Brokers in Campbelltown and loved it. “I was there for over 30 years. We did the insurance for everyone…Campbelltown Council, the RSL, and of course The Catho.”

We next talked about some of Liz’s support of Macarthur’s 24 Hour Against Cancer. Many of us can still vividly recall the day when Liz and Ken opened the big walkathon event in 2014. Ken had been shocked to learn he had breast cancer — unaware that men could get breast cancer.

I was the editor of the local newspaper at the time and Ken told us: ‘‘I was a knock-around bloke, liked a drink and a smoke, and you just don’t think you’re going to get breast cancer. But we’ve all got breasts.” This was a disease Liz herself had fought six years earlier, but sadly Ken died in 2015. He is still dearly missed.

Liz, at this point in our chat, joined me in a few cheeky laughs with bistro staff and posing for some snaps. I pointed out that Liz is one of those people who I’ve never heard a bad word about. “You know what,” she said, “You’re only as good as your word, and if you lose your reputation, well, you’ve only got one.” Liz’s is rock solid.

As we left, I pondered the fact that the Catholic Club of the 1970s was a lot smaller place than today, and everyone did know everyone else back then. But even though Club membership is today counted in the tens of thousands, I reckon one thing hasn’t changed. The notion that The Catho is an accepting place. People often don’t actually realise how much they have in common with each other until they find a common ground to meet. That’s why The Catho will always be a special place, whether you’re a stranger in a strange town — or a much-loved part of the community fabric.