I look around and see a world of plastic, chemicals, computers and all sorts of gadgets of a push button nature. People seem to live a life of stress uncertainty leading to drugs, crime and other odd behaviour. I am 66 years old and find myself a lost soul in a fastmoving world, I find very hard to follow.
I guess I am an old-fashioned type and I feel moved to put pen to paper to put forward my opinion, someone who still uses and loves imperial measure opposed to metrics, pounds instead of kilos and my head in place of a computer. So where do I begin my case and I guess one has to go back to the very beginning to put my point across.
It seems so far away, that other world when I was a kid when the purchase of a new record to put on the phonograph was a big deal and Bing Crosby was the cool man of the day. I can’t start in the middle of things so I suppose going back to the very first memory would be a good starting point.
I suppose my first great memory was a feeling of pain. You see, we lived in the bush on the north coast of New South Wales. Our home was on a farm, and on that farm was a creek, and I developed a habit of going for a swim. Big trouble was I was so little couldn’t dress myself and I would come home with a bundle of clothes under my arm and always got a big hand across a wet backside.
I guess the real memory of the bush came when we shifted to a place near Rappville by the name of Phillips Swamp. I would have been about 5 at the time and so that would have been about 1935 or thereabouts. It was another farm of the dairying kind.
There was 9 of us in the family but only our father Jim mother Hilda and brothers Tom, Alan, Dona and I was still at home. The farm was named “Clarks” so I guess they were the owners of the place. Funny thing you know there are days I can’t remember a darned thing, the old
memory has gone, but I can recall just about every tree on that farm.
The home was on a hill overlooking the dairy, beyond that was the creek, then cultivation paddocks and then away to some pretty rugged mountains. One of the most pleasant memories was the fact that beyond the cultivation paddocks there was a staging camp where the bullock wagons stayed overnight. I loved to lay in bed at night and listen to the bells “tonking” away as the bullocks moved about feeding.
I guess I developed a love for timber from those early days as my brother Don (3 years older than me) and I used to follow the wagons and into the bush to where the timber cutters harvested the huge blackbutt logs.
I can see the men now, standing on the boards sawing away with the huge crosscut saws.
Our biggest thrill was to see the trees fall. The men allowed us to collect sawdust and we took it home in tins. There were many colours and as we didn’t own any toys we made up our own games.
The bullock driver’s name was Les Fallback and his lead bullocks were name Spin, Spark and Spider. It was sheer magic to watch the great beasts take up the strain to move huge loads and to listen to the great crack of the whip over their heads. He never hit the bullocks but the noise was like a rifle shot and enough to move anything.
Things were pretty tough in those days so my father used to cut railway sleepers to earn a few pounds, yes pounds, dollars were something we never heard of.
Cutting sleepers was a tough job. Select a suitable straight grained tree, cut it down and then moving a crosscut saw cut the log to the right length for sleepers. Just the bark had to be removed and then before splitting the log into workable pieces. Sleeper billets had to be marked out.
To get a straight line a piece of string was soaked in a tin with water and black burnt ash. A nick made by an axe cut was made in each end of the log. The soaked string was placed in the nick at one end, drawn alone the log, pulled tight and then pulled down into the nick on the other end. Pulling the string out from the log with forefinger and thumb it was allowed
to flick against the log leaving a black mark to follow with the broad saw.
The log was split using wedges and a maul, then the hard work began as the sleeper had to have a perfect finish using only a broad axe and adz. The sleepers were carted to Rappville on the bullock wagons shoved in the side under the big logs. The sleepers had to have a good finish as the inspector would have a look at them and if they had a few splinters on
them they were relegated to seconds and the cutter got less money for them.
All of the roofs in the pig sties were made of the bark from trees. The bark was stripped off in usable lengths and the natural curve was taken off by heating the bark over a fire and weighted down. When it dried it was flat and ready to fix to the roof with saplings and wire.
One day we found a swarm of bees on a fence strainer and decided to capture them. We didn’t have any smoke, so they were pretty wild. Brother Alan held a sugar bag under the swarm and Tom whacked thee strainer with the back of an axe, so they would drop into the bag.
All went well, the shock dislodged them, into the bag they fell, and the top was closed off.
Plan two came about when the bees started leaking out of a hole in the bottom of the bag.
Alan took off across the paddock getting stung by infuriated insects as they escaped, but he figured it was better than letting the whole bag go and copping the lot. Finally, we ran him down and sealed the hole but boy was he a mess.
My brother and I spent many days sometimes all day out in the mountains. Dad and Mum never worried because they always knew where we were, you see, we had an old hound dog and where ever we went he woofed and howled as there was plenty of roos and wallabies to hunt.
One of our home made past times was to bring down huge dead gum trees. Days and days would be spent piling logs and anything that would burn around the giants and our thrill was to see them fall. Sometimes they would fall during the night so all would be lost.
It was when we lived on this farm that we got out first radio and believe you me they were pretty primitive in those days. Two blokes came out from town to install the said instrument, two blokes dad didn’t like very much, and he decided to get a little even.
In those days a radio had to have an outside aerial. One pole say seven metres high was placed near the house with another perhaps 30 or so metres away from the house. A wire was strung between the tops of the poles then down the side of the house to the radio.
They didn’t have a ladder and they needed to get to the tops of the poles. The only ladder we had was used in the chook house for the hens to roost on. What he didn’t tell the blokes was that ladder was covered with chook lice. By the time the whole thing was in working order they were busy boys indeed wiring up and scratching. When the job was finished dad asked them to stay for lunch but these blokes threw their tools into their truck in a hell of a hurry and bolted for the nearest bushes.
That brings me to the next episode. We know today that the overseas broadcasts with regards to test cricket were faked in the studios in Australia. When a test match was on radio at night all the farmers would gather in groups where there was a radio. Cows would be milked early, food would be packed and brought to the homes, stores would be busy in
the hands of the wives. The kids from say half a dozen families would be put to bed on the floor at the house.
I can always remember being wakened up when Bradman came in, got out, or scored a 4, a roar would go up in the place. After the day’s play (or night here) all would go home milk the cows then go to bed and sleep all day to get ready for the next long night.
We had an old Dodge car and sometimes we would go into town to the pictures. We would be getting ready for days preparing ourselves for the big night out. My brother Tom being a very responsible sort of bloke was allowed to take us into town on Saturday night. We left very early and headed out.
Now the roads were an awful mess, there was no bitumen at all. A few miles down the road we hit a big pot hold and broke a spring. Now Tom being responsible decided to return home. Boy, talk about a car load of sad sacks! It turned out we could have carried on as it wasn’t the main leaf.
I mentioned before about the roads being lousy, well I wasn’t kidding. One section was through a tea-tree swamp and after big rains the only way to stay on the track was to follow the marked trees. Someone had taken an axe and chipped the bark on the approaching side.
Dad used to tell a joke that eventually a good road would be formed on top of bogged cars.
Being a dairy farm, everybody had to rise early and as I was the youngest I always got up last. During the winter months I would dress myself in front of the wood stove. The kitchen was always warm and friendly on winder mornings. One particular and very memorable morning I bent over to pull up my pants and my backside hit the stove door which was almost red hot. Printed across my backside were the words KEEP THIS DOOR SHUT with a
bright red round burn below the printing where the door handle had branded me.
I was too scared to tell anybody for what must have been an hour or so, finally I went down to the cow bails. After looking very sick for a while I finally broke down and owned up. They pulled my pants down and when they saw the bright red raised painting there were howls of laughter before I received treatment. For about 3 days I had to sit in a dish of calamine
My father was a very cranky man when it came to handling animals. When he would let a horse loose he would after removing his work harness he would give the horse a good slap with the blinkers as he was released and as a result the horse would gallop away to escape.
One day I happened to be standing in the narrow gateway of the saddling yard as the horse galloped through. He knocked me down with his chest and as he went over the top of me a back hoof hit my forehead and skidded down the side of my head, scraping all of the skin off. I didn’t like owning up to having sores anywhere on my body as one of dad’s pet cures
was to take the dipstick out of the old Dodge car and drip sump oil on the wound.
One little incident sticks in my mind and that was concerning an old sow pig who kept escaping from the sty. The pig sty fence went out across the creek and to cross the water a big log was used as a barrier. No point of weakness in the remaining fence could be found but she kept escaping.
One day we hid behind a bush to see if we could find just how she was carrying out her escape plan. She stood on the bank of the creek, launched herself then jumped as she hit the water. Her great weight carried her under, by the time she came to the surface the flow of the creek carried her under the log and off to freedom. Don’t tell me animals are dumb.
We lived near the little town of Rappville and the people who ran the post office store were the Rapps. I liked Mrs Rapp as she was always kind to us kids and always had some little thing for us. She was a very large lady and could hardly fit through a door way and that was a big worry to me. You see, I have a brother Alan just ten years older than me and he had a
way of making up stories which I always seemed to believe. One tall story was that in order to enter heaven each person had to be able to fit through a small hole in the Pearly Gate.
Many a night I prayed for Mrs Rapp as I was sure she was a going to the devil.
Another strong memory of that place concerned the cat to end all cats. It was the wildest animal I have ever seen. Each night she went hunting and would always bring any game caught and leave it on the rug near the back door. Snakes, lizards, rabbits and many other hairy looking things would turn up on our doorstep.
She also terrified our dogs, she would hide up in the choko trellis and as the dog walked underneath she would drop down, all four claws extended and fasten on the dog’s back. The poor pooch would go howling down the paddock with the cat hanging on like a jockey.
Finally she would leap off while the poor dog would sit licking its wounds. When we left the farm she went wild, disappearing down a rabbit hole never to be seen again.
Somewhere about 1935 we moved to a farm near Lismore at a place named Corndale. It was another dairy farm in the hilly country between Clunes and Dunoon and that was a place of memories. The day we arrived there all the mountains were covered with clover and with snow white flowers. It looked as if it had been snowing for days. Corndale farm was picture-book stuff in those days, it was like the English countryside even down to the
stone fences, and a beautiful creek winding its way from farm to farm.
It was while we lived there that I started school, which was about a two mile ride. Our school horse was a poor old fellow named Bill, blind in one eye and reaching the twilight of his years. We only had a single pad for the horse, my brother Don sat on that and I had to hang on behind perched on a corn sack. Every afternoon we would race home from school.
There was a creek near the school and a willow tree, we used to arm ourselves with a stick each and prepare for battle. Don would steer old Bill and my job was to whack him across the rump with the stick. The old fellow had a fair turn of speed for a short sprint but as he slowed I had to whack harder, if I didn’t Don would reach around and wallop me.
The other kids were awake to our old horse and would gallop up on his blind side, as soon as they drew even old Bill would shy sideways and dump the brother and I into the long grass. It happened every time. The old horse would travel on for a few metres and then wait for us as he would be happy to feed on the nice green grass.
The centre of the social scene in those days was the old swimming hole. A beautiful clean creek flowed through the farms, crystal clear and there were no worries about pollution. The local swimming hole was on our farm and each Sunday all the local young people would gather there, some bringing water melons which they would throw into the creek to cool
If we could find a sheet of corrugated iron somewhere we would make a canoe which added some great fun. The old man was always going crook about us stealing iron off the sheds,
but I reckon it was worth the risk, especially during flood times. We would carry the canoe a mile or so up the creek before launching it into the roaring flood waters. With two of in the tiny boat there would be about 3 inches of freeboard and with the rapids, barbwire fences and bending tree tops etc, it was only a matter of time before we became shipwrecked.
Because it was so steep in that country the flood would soon drop and then we would go in search of our canoe.
From our farm it was possible to walk to the now popular beauty spot named Minion Falls.
We didn’t have to take food with us for such a long hike as there was plenty of lovely clean drinking water and fruit to eat. There was water cress, wild cherries, plums and under the trees heaps of wild passionfruit. Nuts grew wild and there was a feast out there, how things have changed!
The water supplies in the house came from a well on a hill above the farm shed about 200 metres away. The water wasn’t pumped buy siphoned which meant that free supply of fresh clean water was available all year round. We revisited the farm just a few years back and the same system is still in use!
Another big event was the fortnightly trip into Lismore to stock up on supplies. There was much excitement for us boys as we would get a whole threepence to spend (3 cents) and we plan on whether to splash out on an ice cream or lollies. On one of those trips to town and awful tragedy took place. The shopping had been done and we were about halfway home, just near the post office town named Bex Hill when I suddenly burst out crying. Dad
pulled the car over to the side of the road., looked around and bawled at me “what’s wrong with you?” to which I replied (between sooks) “I swallowed my thrippence.” Might not seem a terrible thing those days but it was a catastrophe to a 6 year old country boy.
Talking about money subjects , one xmas eve we went to town on a rare night out. Dad took Don and I into a toy store and to our great shock, except for the top shelves where the dearest things were kept, we could have the pick of any toy in the shop. After a great deal of thought and much longing I finally chose a penny whistle. Boy, did I have expensive tastes!
Days later when I had blown the whistlke almost continuously one of my older brothers finally snapped. It was my job to bail up the cows and prepare them for milking, all the while blowing on that little treasure. Finally, with a loud cry Tom leapt out from under a cow from which he had been extracting milk, snatched the offending whistle off me and ground it
under the heel of his big work boot. Talk about a broken heart, but the I guess a big blow for such a small boy.
Back in 1936 the depression was biting hard and I suppose we were lucky to be on a farm for at least milk was available, some fruit, and we could always slaughter a calf for meat.
Times were tough though and sometimes dad and a couple of my brothers would take out old Chev car and go off into Queensland to trap rabbits for their skins. They mostly trapped around the town of Texas. Didn’t make much money but at least rabbit was normally on the menu.
It was up to Mum and us younger boys to run the dairy, Alan 16, Don 9 and me all of 6 years old. Dad promised me that if I bailed up and brought the cows in from the outer paddocks each morning he would give m three pence a day. So, each morning I would be up before sunrise and take off barefooted over the frost covered grass to do my job. The only way to
warm my feet was to wait until a cow dropped a big cow pat and then stand in it until my feet regained some feeling. Each day I added up the 3p bits and as the men folk were away several months I had amassed a fortune. When they arrived home Dad was approached concerning the debt only to hear him mumble the words that no money was left over. Boy
did I kick myself for being a sucker! Never mind all the things were a valuable lesson later in life!
One thing about the country, especially in those days, was the fact that there was no shortage of characters. There were funny people and no end to the laughs. I guess one shouldn’t make fun of people who are a little simple but one young fellow who used to visit us was a little unusual. His name was Jemeson, we called him Jemmo. He was a friend of my brother Alan but mum had other ideas about him.
An orange tree grew over near the old car shed and our greatest was to feed Jemmo the small rather tough fruit. He would peel the orange with his thumb and place the whole orange in his mouth, the jaws would chew and grind like a concrete mixer. Then after a great swallow devouring the fruit he would purse his lips and spray out the seeds in a stream. Mum used to get furious with us but to no avail, to see those seeds shoot out way
too much to resist.
He used to ride in on a big saddle horse about as big as a cart horse. One day Alan asked him if the nag had ever been in a sulky to which Jemmo replied “No.” Alan conned him into harnessing the horse and we put him into the sulky, and soon we all got on board. All the horse would do was go in reverse no matter how we urged or tried to lead him. Alan went
away and returned with a piece of barbed wire tying it to each shaft behind the horse.
When he backed up he hit the barbed wire and jumped forward, backed up and jumped forward again then flattened his ears back, put his head down and bolted.
With three of us in the sulky and Alan on the reins we took off down the hill to the front gate. It was a steep hill with a rocky rough base and it was down that track we went full gallop. The steel shod wheels of the sulky only touched the ground now and then as we tore down that narrow track.
Halfway down to the gate Jemmo was screaming in terror and Alan yelled to me asking if the bottom gate was open, to which I replied “I don’t know” but had a feeling of terrible dread we were about to find out. Yes it was open thank god as it was a rather sturdy timber affair.
As we flew past the next farm, Strongs by name, their dogs joined in the chase howling blue murder. At the next place, Greers by name, more dogs joined in and so we approached the Corndale butter factory, all the work men lining the front loading dock as the screaming, rattling procession went past.
Finally the horse slowed at the old Corndale hall and we decided to give him a drink. Jemmo got down, opened the gate for the pass-through. Then he tried to get in the sulky while it was moving, slipped on the steel round steps and landed flat on his backside. Before Alan could stop the sulky the steel shod wheels ran over both Jemmo’s shins, and he promptly
had a fit. After quite a sorting out everything quietened down and we went home at a quiet walking pace.
Another incident concerning horses happened when Don and I was returning home from school. It had been raining and it was nice an slippery on the black soil flat near our farm. Our horse Bill slipped both his front feet sliding forward and he landed on his chest. Don slid down his neck, over his head and was deposited on his hands and knees in front of the
horse. I was following the same tracks and was on top of his head when he suddenly stood up throwing his head and me high up into the air. When I came down I crashed on Don’s back flattening him into the mud, what a mess!
While I think of it, funny you know certain places bring back little memories. In 1936 one of the most popular singers was a fellow named Bobby Brown, he was a lad of 10 or 12 years of age, had a beautiful voice and popularised a song called “Rainbow on the River.” Another singer to the fore was a chap named Bing Crosby, he was the original crooner whom my elder brother Alan loved, and our dad loved to hate. Every time a record of his was played on the old radio dad would say that it “sounded like a B…. sick cow with the bellyache.” How well I remember the evening rows, things haven’t changed much. Bing must have been pretty good, he lasted a few years!
It was while we lived on the northern rivers that I gained a love for aeroplanes and flying.
On a farm at Bex Hill lived a pilot named Keith Virtue. He had a small biplane that used to travel from place-to-place giving joy rides. He used to be a pilot for New England Airways, later to be known as ANA. He carried his plane on a trailer behind his car as I remember the wings folded up somehow. New England Airways used a passenger place called a Stinson
and they were painted a bright red on the tail. Their passenger route took them over our farm and every time one passed over dogs barked and all the animals became very restless. I believe it was Keith virtue who was supposed to take the plane that crashed on the MacPherson Ranges. There were no Met reports those days and whether they flew or not was up to the pilot’s judgement. Virtue refused to fly and another pilot decided it would be safe to go and we all know the terrible story that was to unfold. In the years to come in Australian aviation, Keith Virtue went on to become the chief pilot for ANA.
Bob Shields was a valued member of the Hervey Bay Historical Village &
Museum. He passed away in June 2018, aged 88