May 2021

Snake catcher and natural history illustrator Teresa Purnell, whose exhibition SnakeAbout was on display at SEEN@Swnasea gave us all an entertaining afternoon with tales of her Chinese family and their days at their fruit and vegetable shops in Swansea and Hamilton.

We heard of Teresa’s ancestors arrival in Darwin from Hongkong in the late 1800s and of time on a tobacco farm in Quirindi before opening a fruit shop in Beaumont St, Hamilton.  Teresa told us of the importance of family and the family business in her life along with many hilarious tales of opening wooden fruit and vegetable boxes with a tomahawk, introducing her school friends to her different lifestyle and the antics of her Mum, Phyllis Mook, “Newcastle’s jitterbug dynamo”.

We learnt how the family’s and Phyllis’s reputation follows Teresa, when members of our audience recalled their memories of queuing up at the family’s restaurant, Chung Hing Café, with their own pots for a take-away Chinese meal. And one Swansea character in the audience who recalled being chased down Woods St, Swansea, by Phyllis’s father late one night when he delivered her home on the back of his motor bike.

HELM appreciates Teresa’s generosity in sharing her stories with us and thanks Lake Macquarie City Council for the use of the venue at Swansea Library.