The current day resurgence of Bush Poetry began in the late
nineteen eighties in Tamworth, N.S.W. As an infant group
struggling to find its way in a world dominated by country music,
the bush poets began performing to small crowds of interested
bystanders at impromptu gatherings. With the advent of the
Imperial Hotel Competition and the Longyard breakfasts, rapid
expansion of both audiences and poets started this modern day
snowball. Almost without exception every up and coming poet was
overawed by the fantastic feeling of mateship that transpired
amongst the group and each newcomer was blown away by this unheard
of art called 'Performance Poetry.'
This was the era when cult 'legends' were being made. Popularity
of hero status was being piled on those performers who had that
special 'something' that the ever-hungry audiences were craving.
One in a hundred poets would be admitted to this elite group.
It was also a time of learning and those that didn't or wouldn't
strive to perfect this new trade were soon swept aside. I first
met Merv some fifteen months ago at a bush poetry function in
Bundaberg. He quietly asked me for an opinion on his performance
and gave me a book of his verse about a character called 'Uncle
Jim.' I passed on some pointers and was pleased to see an
immediate attempt to incorporate these suggestions into his act.
Merv has an unquenchable thirst for improvement and his ability to
use constructive criticism to his advantage is admirable indeed.
An avid student at writing workshops, Merv's natural talent is
only too evident in his book, 'In Days Gone By' which I thoroughly
recommend to all lovers of genuine, from the heart, Australia.
in a hundred! Merv welcome aboard.
Bob 'The Larrikin' Miller
Any vivid recollections of London pre-war
years escape my mind as, having been born in Kenly in the year
1906, most of it occurred through my childhood years. I was the
first and only child to my parents Frederick and Harriet who ran a
small mixed grocery store. On reflection it's ironic how one does
not get any choice in the name one is to carry the rest of one's
life. Though, in my case, Lawrence Charles, which my dear mum and
dad had seen fit to dub me with, would only stick with me for the
early part of my life. I later preferred the name Charlie, which I
would be dubbed with, on the recommendation it would blend more
with the character of the country I would one day take on in life.
To recall as far back as one can remember
of childhood days is a daunting task, though given time it amazes
me just what does come to mind. One distinct memory is that of a
dear old lady whom I caused to call out in horror and collapse in
my father's shop. I had been given a rather dashing fireman's
helmet with a face shield for a present and had wandered in behind
the counter of the shop to see father. Being only a little tyke at
the time, all one could see as a customer, on the other side, was
the top of the helmet and face shield bobbing up and down behind
the counter, while the rest of me was obscured. The poor old dear
had been browsing, trying to make up her mind what she was in need
of, then turned to see the bizarre spectacle and took fright. She
let out a terrifying scream and collapsed onto the floor. It must
have been an ordeal for one so young to remember and for the old
lady too. I guess.
Before the war broke out father had sold
the mixed business and purchased a poultry farm on the Isle of
Thanet in Kent. It must have been one of his loves in life as he
seemed to enjoy breeding and raising fowls, even when it was
interrupted by the war he would continue to pursue it again.
One always has expectations of growing up
and sharing much of his life with his mum, but I never had the
privilege. Mine would die in childbirth with her second child in
1911. It was a bitter blow to my father and the prospect of being
a sole parent was a daunting task. I went to live with my aunt and
uncle, who lived in Penge, and attended a school just across the
In 1914 England entered into
the First World War and life in this country changed dramatically.
Father joined the armed forces and I would only see him
occasionally over the next couple of years. My aunt would sit
anxiously for hours, listening to reports of the war's progress,
which was broadcast over the radio. So many of England's finest
young men lost their lives in that terrible conflict. The most
impressive event that comes to my mind of those turbulent years
was the bombing of London by the Zeppelins used by the Germans.
They had torpedo like bombs that were dropped as they flew
overhead, causing horrific destruction to buildings and loss of
life. I remember the tremendous explosions and the shattering of
glass as they fell near to our home. On one particular raid over
London I recall a large crowd gathered and folk were looking up at
one of the large balloons flying overhead. Suddenly it was hit by
ground fire and exploded, breaking the under carriage in half,
resulting in the whole thing exploding into a ball of fire, which
fell hurtling to the ground. The crowd cheered to see its demise,
though what crossed my mind as an eight year old was the terrible
loss of life for those on board.
After the war father related to me, on
the odd occasion, stories of the heroic events of some of the men
whom he fought alongside in France. The men he spoke of included
young lads from Australia, who had told him of a life in the
outback where they raised cattle and horses on large properties
covering thousands of acres. They had left that way of life behind
in search of adventure and a sense of duty to the mother country
only to leave thousands of men, whom they called cobbers, buried
there. These stories aroused my interest in the new colony of
Australia and would, in time, steer my life towards a whole new
During the war father remarried and
provided me with a stepmother and, in time, a half brother whom he
called after his own name sake. After those turbulent years some
sort of order came back into our family life as father purchased a
property at Mt Pleasant in Sussex and resumed his love of breeding
poultry. Young Frederick and I were to have an adventurous
excursion one day when I was asked to take him for a walk in one
of the rather ship like perambulators of the time.
Everything had been going quite smoothly
until we tried to negotiate the downward slope of a rather steep
hill. The pram began to pick up momentum and my meager weight was
not enough to act as an anchor and it took off without me. It
raced to the bottom of the hill and upon hitting a rather large
pebble it emptied its contents, including Frederick, onto a pile
of rubble by the side of the road. By the time I caught up with
them, fearing the worst, I saw young Frederick sitting up on top
of the pile saying,
"Coo, coo." I was rather relieved to see that he
obviously had an adventurous side to his nature.
Father had sent me to one of the Public
Schools in the area for my education, though school and I did not
seem to get on very well. My love of practical jokes on school
chums earned me the name of Loony, which I am glad didn't stick.
Father could see that I was unsettled and asked what I wanted to
do with my life, as he was concerned, and in those times one had
to make his own way in life at a rather early age. I reminded him
of the stories he had told me of outback Australia and the time he
accompanied me to Australia House, which had a large mural painted
on the wall. It portrayed canefields, men on horseback working
stock, all set under a large yellow sun and the men wore the
biggest hats I'd ever seen.
"That's what I want to do," I expressed to him. "I
want to work there, ride horses and wear one of those big
n A Dreadnought scheme for young lads desiring
to go abroad to Australia was available in those years and at
sixteen years of age it appeared the adventure of a lifetime.
Father agreed to my going and as much as it meant saying good-bye
for goodness knows how long the spirit of adventure obscured any
emotions being separated from my family should have displayed.
With two pounds in my pocket, given to me
by father, passage, even though steerage the cheapest fare, and
new friends to travel with, I was seaward bound on the ship 'Diogenes,'
and to the port of Sydney, Australia.
It's England that I leave behind;
the island of my birth.
A nation of the brave and free
and salt of all the earth.
"Unpatriotic!" You may cry
for leaving her behind,
but at just sixteen years of age
a lad's things on his mind.
They say in the new Colony
a man can make his mark.
High mountains, plains and deserts there,
tall gums and ironbarks.
They say that sheep and cattle roam
in outback Station runs
and miners fight to keep their rights
with barricades and guns.
They say green cane fields fill the North
while vineyards grace the south.
At least that's what the rumours say
passed 'round by word of mouth.
The truth I guess is locked in time,
though waiting's kind of tough.
My ship soon berths at Sydney Cove
I'll find out soon enough.
A NEW LIFE
Steerage was not the greatest way to
travel, but it gave me the opportunity to meet other lads who were
also under the same scheme and headed for Australia. We were
crammed into six bunk cabins and one could hear the noise of the
ships propellers powering the ship through the heavy seas. A
Scottish lad and I became rather well acquainted on the voyage and
his name was none other than Jock. It was Jock who introduced me
to my first cigarette, as well as a few other bad habits, and it
became obvious that he would do well for himself in this new
country. He talked me into buying a rather good looking tweed
suit, which he said a chap would need to wear when landing in the
new country, and relieved me of thirty shillings of my two pound
Two days out from Cape Town we ran into a
hurricane that put the wind up most of the boys. We were told not
to open the portholes, but one couldn't help but take a peek out,
with the expectation of seeing tremendous waves buffeting the
ship. Instead, the sea looked as if a large knife had cut the tops
off the expected waves. The effect was caused by the winds blowing
across it with such great force, which also caused the ship to
tilt greatly to one side. Then, for a short while it went calm, as
if there had never been any sign of a storm. Within minutes
though, the winds had regained their fury. It was later explained
to me that the lull had been the eye of the hurricane.
For some forty hours the liner held its
own as the Captain maneuvered the ship in line with the winds,
which would constantly push the ship miles off course, until the
hurricane finally abated. It was only then the seas began to
swell, while every now and then the ship's propellers would lift
out of the sea and make a horrendous noise, terrifying one of the
younger lads. He huddled up beside me, nervously inquiring as to
the possibilites of us sinking. Upon coming on deck we saw a
Whaler, not more than five hundred yards from us. It had been
through the same storm and one could only imagine how they must
have fared, as the liner compared to it was gigantic. All aboard
gave them three almighty cheers and they responded in return.
My initial glimpse of the Australian
continent was the coast near Albany on its southern perimeters. I
had envisioned a land covered with mountains and my first
impression was one of disappointment, but as I looked inland I
make out a range of mountains in the distance.
"If it's all like this," I whispered, "it'll do
The arrival of our Ship at Sydney harbour, in my mind, drew no
comparison to what the mural had portrayed at Australia House, and
it was a bit of a let down. For the three days our ship lay at
berth in Sydney harbour, there was no sign of sunshine as it
rained constantly. I was informed, though, by a man working the
wharves that it was well needed as things had been extremely dry.
By the end of the third day it had begun to finally clear and I
was amazed at the number of horse driven drays lined up along the
wharves, all being loaded with merchandise, unloaded from various
We were all gathered together and taken
into Sydney to a rather large building where we were given our
train fares for the trip to the Experimental Farm at Cowra. The
trip through the Blue Mountains was breathtaking and I recall
sticking my head out of the carriage window and watching the old
steam engine working its way up the steep gradients, bellowing
black smoke high into the air. I had never seen a sunset look so
magnificent as I did that evening and how it faded beyond the
mountains splashing the most beautiful colours across the horizon.
Arrival at Cowra saw us taken to the
Experimental Farm where we were assigned to barrack-like
accommodation, with two to a cabin. Here we were taught
rudimentary farming skills that would enable us to obtain jobs on
various farms throughout the districts of New South Wales. One day
a few of us lads were becoming acquainted with picks and shovels,
working on a ditch, when one of the Australian overseers walked
over and expressed sarcastically that we looked like a lot of
chickens scratching around in the dirt. Our introduction to to
My loyalty to a cobber, who shared my
cabin, was put to the test on one occasion when one of the lads on
the farm, a well known bully, took a set on him and goaded him
into a blue. After a bit of pushing and shoving and a lot of
accusing I stepped in.
"Why don't you pick on someone your
own size?" I suggested.
He willingly obliged and hit me on the chin with a good right. We
got into a scuffle and he somehow got a headlock on me that put me
in a rather hopeless position.
"Do you give!" he bellowed.
As I could see no way out of the situation I swallowed my pride
"Yeah, I give."
My cobber reckoned I was a decent sort of a bloke for sticking up
for him, even if I did lose. My time at the farm only lasted for a
couple of weeks as I was assigned to a farm near Mudgee, which was
to be my first place of employment.
Some blokes they fancy in their minds they're tougher than the
But mostly they're just bully boys and nothing but a pest.
Most take a set on weaker men who don't know how to fight;
This happened to a mate of mine. I'll tell you of his plight.
'Twas in a paddock down the back while working lucerne hay;
My mate and I were loading stooks upon a horse drawn dray.
The Super gave my mate the job to drive it to the shed,
Though Thumper Thomas intervened and grabbed the reins instead.
I saw my mate, a plucky lad, then try to take a stand,
But Thumper hit him in the mouth with his great hairy hand.
He didn't stand a chance with him as he was far too small;
I stood between the two of them to stop an all out brawl.
"Get lost you squirt!" the bully yelled. 'Twould be my
"Get lost yourself," was my reply. "Try someone
your own size."
He took me at my word it seems and hit me with a right;
It landed fair square on my chin, I thought it was goodnight.
Then Thumper put a headlock on and things were looking grim.
"You give!" he cried. "You had enough!" Was
all I heard from him.
'Twas little I could really do, but forfeit my poor pride.
"I give," I said, "I've had enough. I guess I'll
let it ride."
The bully Thomas walked away and gloated as they do;
He had no mind to drive the dray, but only sought a blue.
Old Thumper might have won his fights, though when it's said and
He'd never win a mate in life - so they were all he won.
LIFE AROUND MUDGEE
With my few meagre belongings I once
again found myself sitting in a railway carriage, this time
heading back through Bathurst to Lithgow. Here I disembarked and
caught a connecting train northward through the town of Mudgee to
my final destination, Mt Frome.
It was a small siding and it soon became
apparent to me that no one was coming to meet me, as there was not
a soul in sight. I wandered over to the post office and small
store to ask for directions to the property to which I had been
told to report to. The gentleman in charge, a Mr. Rope, told me to
follow the rail line northwards until sighting a large shed on the
left hand side with a small dwelling behind it and he thought that
should be the place I was looking for.
Nervously I walked up onto the verandah
of the small cottage and began to knock on the door. A thin wiry
sort of chap answered, introducing himself as the property
manager. Reg, as he wished to be called, told me I should have
waited in town as he had been too busy to meet me and Mr. Rope
would have put me up until he had the opportunity to come and get
me. Anyway, I was there and he began to show me around, explaining
what would be required of me. Reg apparently was managing the
place for the owner, who lived in Sydney, and was engaged in the
daily running of the small mixed farming venture of which the main
crop was lucerne hay.
My chores on the place included the
milking of two house cows first thing of a morning, along with the
ploughing of paddocks which was done by a horse drawn team. The
same team was used to cut the lucerne and rake it into rows, ready
for it to be loaded onto a spring cart designed to carry large
quantities at a time. One particular incident that comes to mind
was that of bringing the loaded wagon back to the hay shed to be
stored. A dry creek bed had to be negotiated along the route and
the horses had balked in the creek bed bottom. One mostly drove
the team by sitting up on top of the hay and having decided to
show them who was boss I gave them a mighty flick of the reins
down across their rumps. They took off with such a jerk that they
broke the bellyband and traces, upending the cart in the process,
and dumped me under the load of hay. Disoriented, my efforts to
dig my way through the dark found my exit blocked by the floor of
the wagon. Trying to find my bearings, I began digging in the
opposite direction. To my relief daylight came into view once
again, but I was now confronted with walking all the way back to
the cottage and having to relay the incident to Reg.
My fear of getting a dressing down was
fortunately unfounded as my tale was met with a burst of laughter.
Reg obviously saw the funny side of the episode. There was no
doubt about it. He was a decent sort of boss, who on so many
occasions was only too happy to help a new chum like me become
acquainted with life in this new country. The cottage we lived in
wasn't much to look at, but it was home and Reg taught me how to
cook various feeds, which prior to that saw my skills in the
kitchen as rather limited. In truth they still were. Most
Saturdays we would go into Mudgee in the sulky, but as Reg wasn't
always fussed on going in, I bought myself a pushbike and would
ride in on my own. Having made a few cobbers over the months I had
been in the Mudgee district, we often sat on Saturday nights in
the town Cafe, which had a piano, and engaged for hours in a good
old sing-a-long .
On other occasions we'd watch American
cowboy and Indian movies, which were silent in those days.
Sometimes I would ride one of the property's ponies to dances held
at Mt Frome. Mr Rope's daughter Ivy had taken my fancy, but my
terrible shyness made it impossible for me to even get within
cooee of her. My reluctance always found me staring at her across
the dance floor and though it was obvious she felt something for
me my shyness made sure I never knew just how much.
My seventeenth birthday was spent at Mt
Frome and in all I had now spent some eighteen months with Reg.
Then one day he received a letter from the owners advising him the
place had been sold and we would have to look elsewhere for work.
At first it was a bitter pill to swallow, for the thought of
losing Reg as a boss had me at a loss. You see, he had become more
than a boss to me, as over a period of time we had become what
blokes out here called ridgy didge mates. It had been Reg who had
suggested giving my first name, Lawrence, the flick. He thought I
should stick with Charlie, as Lawrence might not sit too well with
some of the hard bush cases I was sure to come in contact with -
might save a few bloody noses as well.
He said he'd keep in touch, and his last
"You know Charlie, for a pommy kid, your not a bad sort of a
bloke. You're not a shirker, 'cause you don't mind putting your
back into a job, and you'll do all right in the end."
The thought of Reg's words cheered me up a little, and on top of
that, before he left he had squared up a temporary job with the
neighbour sucker bashing, until I could find something else. I'd
certainly miss him.
Another job become available after about
five weeks, which I was more than happy about, as sucker bashing
wasn't my cup of tea. It had kept me in tucker though and a roof
over my head, with a few shillings to boot. A Jewish family, who
had made a life for themselves on a small mixed farm on the
outskirts of Mudgee, offered me a position helping out around the
farm. Fred was a rather strange name for a Jewish bloke, but
that's what my new boss wanted to be called, and so I obliged.
Anyway, who was I to question his reasons? I'd gone from Lawrence
to Charlie. He had two sons who went by the name of Walter and ...
I can't quite recall the other, but we all called him Puddin'. He,
no doubt, was the way he was on account of his Mum's cooking as
she was the best cook I'd come across for a long time and a real
gem of a lady as well. They also had a daughter with a beautiful
head of red hair who always copped a fair bit of ribbin' from her
Most folk grew lucerne on their farms,
and Fred was no exception. It kept me busy, along with other
chores of a general nature, and much of my spare time was spent
the same as before, going to the Cafe, movies and dances.
Sometimes I would think of old England, Father and my half
brother, Frederick, and get a little homesick. Fred and his wife
though treated me just like one of the family, which compensated
for those melancholy moments. The time spent with them was two
good years and an invaluable part of my learning process. Since my
arrival in Sydney some four years previous, I was slowly adjusting
to this new way of life.
Of all the memories, of which there were
many, the most amusing one that comes to mind was the time when a
young city kid had come to spend his school holidays with Fred and
his family. There had been a young grey pony on the place, far too
spirited for any of Fred's kids to master, so fancying myself as a
bit of a horseman by this time I took on the challenge.
After a few busters, I gradually got the hang of his nature and
used him to help me with chores around the farm. The city kid,
seeing me dashing about on him, wanted to get in on the act and
asked if he could have a ride. We were down on the flat by the
creek working, when he made his move and requested if he could
ride him back to the homestead, which was at the top of a long
sloping ridge running down to the flats where we were. My advice
was not to pull on the reins too much as he disliked a tight bit,
the secret,I found, to staying on him.
The city kid though thought he was Banjo
Paterson's Man from Snowy River and went charging up the ridge
doing exactly what I had told him not to. The grey pony then took
control and bolted straight in the direction of the homestead,
ignoring everything in its path. This included one of the old
dairy cows that had been sitting quietly chewing its cud. Having
heard the commotion it went to stand up, but the pony tripped over
its hind leg that caused he and the lad to part company. I can
still see the poor kid hurtling through the air.
A few weeks later, I received a letter
from Reg who was working on a Station between Cowra and Forbes,
suggesting I'd spent enough time on farms and needed to graduate
to Station life. It sounded great to me, as I had always wanted to
see as much of this country as I could, and it offered more money.
Two pounds fourteen shillings and eight pence compared to the one
pound a week and keep I had been used to, as well as a chance to
gain more experience. Fred and his family were sad to see me go,
though wished me all the best, knowing that I needed to find my
own place in this great big country, just as they had. I was so
excited to be on my way to a new adventure, 'Nanami', a 5,000 acre
Station on the Lachlan River.
Travelling by train was no new experience
to myself and once again I was heading westward, back towards
Cowra. It fascinated me how one could travel across such vast
distances in this country by means of train, as tracks traversed
it in many directions. After the change over at Lithgow I settled
into a deep sleep and not even the old steam engine blowing its
loud whistle disturbed me for hours.
I must have been looking forward to
meeting Reg again more than I realised, as memories of my
friendship with him flooded through my mind. It wasn't long before
I began to recognize various landmarks as the train approached
Cowra, which instigated a feeling of excitement. Reg had explained
I would need to catch a lift with the mail truck, which ran a
service to Forbes. He knew the driver and had teed it up with him.
I spent the night in Cowra and was up and about early to catch my
lift. The driver was a jovial sort of a bloke and one didn't have
to bother about making conversation as he hardly ever shut up,
though somehow he managed to draw breath through it all.
I guess I had been expecting some grand
entranceway into 'Nanami,' announcing its presence, when the
driver pulled over at a large mailbox and the only grandness was
some small writing identifying the owners.
"This is it cobber," he said, obviously
recognizing some form of disappointment in my facial expression.
"I know Reg is looking forward to seeing you, as he spoke
fairly highly of you son. All the best," and drove off
leaving me standing by the mailbox. It was a fair walk down to the
actual homestead, which was situated a stone's throw from the
Lachlan river, but quite an enjoyable stroll, as it was a very
impressive looking joint surrounded by large trees and built, as
the mail driver had informed me, by convict labour.
Reg had seen me coming and threw out his
bony, but powerful hand, shaking mine and patting me with
comradely blows on the back.
"Good to see you again young
Charlie!" he cried. "How's the world been treating you
son?" It was great to see the tall wiry bushman again and, as
he accompanied me to the workers' barracks where I'd be do The
boss, a French Canadian, apparently knew of my coming and had
suggested I get settled in and shown about the place before being
taken down to meet him. Reg had put a word in for me and on his
say so I'd been given a position of cowboy-butcher. The butchering
side of things would come with hands on experience Reg had
explained to me.
The cowboy side of it included a fairly
mixed range of duties including early morning milking and
separating. The milk and cream were then delivered down to the
main homestead, along with taking the spring cart down to the main
road and mailbox to fetch back the mail before starting working in
the lucerne paddocks. In the hay making season the place employed
anywhere up to fifty to sixty men, whose duties covered such jobs
as mowing and raking, all done with horse drawn teams. They would
form the lucerne into stooks, which would finally be loaded onto
drays, and then taken and formed into large haystacks. It was
rather an art form this haymaking and I earned a reputation at
being the best haystack builder on the place. With some 500 acres
under irrigation it brought in a large part of the yearly income
for the owner. Such a large body of men all had to be fed and I
was kept busy killing up to three or four sheep a day to satisfy
their voracious appetites.
I gained a hell of a lot of experience
working on 'Nanami' and stayed there for some eighteen months. I'd
have been quite content to remain there only for an incident that
occurred concerning a cobber and the way he was treated. Louie was
a Frenchman by birth and had been a ship's engineer for many years
travelling all around the world, until his ship berthed in Sydney.
He'd had enough of the sea faring life and had heard of other
French seaman, who had jumped ship in Sydney, and knew they could
be assured of work with this French Canadian land owner if they
went out to 'Nanami'. So he had acted on their say so and had been
employed on the place as an engineer, caring for the steam driven
pumps that irrigated the lucerne.
Louie and I often went into Gooloogong on
weekends in his sulky drawn by an old grey mare he owned. He, in
fact, was responsible for introducing me to Aussie beer, which
always resulted in our partying on in town until we were pretty
well blithered. We only managed to get back to Nanami' by leaving
the reins on the front of the sulky while the old grey mare, who
knew the worn out track, would take us home.
The incident I had previously mentioned
came about after a freakish storm hit the place one day while I
was working up at the pigsties. It had followed the Lachlan river
down on a five mile front, building in intensity, until it took
its fury out on 'Nanami'. A fellow station hand was working about
twenty yards away from the sties when the wind blew him head over
turkey, dumping him up against one of the fences. That was where
he sat it out, huddled into a ball, while falling branches and
rubbish covered him. I took shelter behind the walls of the
farrowing pens, which were covered with a roof made from hay and
bush poles. Gum and Box trees were being stripped of foliage and
broken like match sticks, some even torn clean out of the ground.
Windmills were thrown to the ground and their heads buried in the
dirt on impact, as if some giant had discarded them like a useless
toy. I could see the pigsty roofs lifting up and down with the
wind, but they somehow managed to stay attached to the buildings.
An old bagman who had been tramping down the driveway, calling in
for rations when it hit, had sought shelter in the sties with me.
As the storm finally moved on down the river, he looked at me and
said in a passive sort of tone, "Bit of a wee squall
"A wee bit mate," I replied, as
he bid me,
"G'day," and moved on.
After picking the other young lad out
from among the branches by the fence, I went down to survey the
damage elsewhere. Reg was outside the workers barracks or at least
what was left of them. The walls had stood the barrage, as they
were double brick and convict made, but the roof had blown ...
well your guess was as good as mine. The other outbuildings were
either de-roofed, partly demolished or didn't exist anymore. The
old pumping station chimneystacks down by the banks of the river
had toppled over and Louie was surveying the damage to the steam
engine and pumps. The main homestead seemed to have fared through
the storm and had very little damage to it, while all its
occupants had hidden in the ground cellar for protection.
The owners employed an elderly carpenter
from Forbes to repair the damaged buildings and to rebuild those
that needed to be replaced. They had asked for someone to
volunteer as sidekick for him, so I had willingly offered my
services. The incident I had mentioned arose some days later as
Louie was rebuilding the chimnestacks at the pumphouse. Reg came
looking for me and said the owner wanted me immediately down at
the main homestead, as there had been an accident. Louie had
somehow crushed his fingers when a large double block pulley came
down on his hand, resulting in three of his fingers being partly
amputated. The owner asked me to rig up Louie's horse and sulky
and take him into the Forbes hospital for treatment. I questioned
why we could not take one of the three motor vehicles he had in
the sheds. He quickly replied they were needed elsewhere and to
get on with the job.
The trip to town was a slow and painful
journey for Louie, every bump brought excruciating pain. He urged
me to push the old grey mare along, though the poor thing was
older than Louie and I combined and to push it any harder would
have found us both walking the rest of the way. We travelled all
the remaining part of the afternoon and into the night, arriving
at the Forbes hospital about two o'clock in the morning; poor
Louie nearly out of his mind with pain. I couldn't believe that
the owners would put someone through that sort of ordeal when we
could have arrived much earlier by taking one of the motor
vehicles. Louie was hospitalized and his hand operated on, but I
was required to return to the station and carry on helping the
carpenter with his repairs.
He and I got along rather well, as he
often commented on how I seemed to take to carpentry like a duck
does to water. I would learn many skills from him over the coming
weeks, which would on many occasions in future years put a roof
over my head and tucker in my belly. Towards the end of our work
he suggested that I should stay with him, as he was getting on a
bit and in time I would have enough experience and tools together
to take over. I told him I'd think about and would let him know.
Louie spent some five weeks or more in
hospital, before he was released and returned to 'Nanami'. The
incident, along with the refusal of the owner to let us take one
of the motor vehicles had remained on my mind. The lack of
compassion to a bloke, who had been a darn good worker, got right
up my nose. It wasn't the way I thought my cobber should have been
treated. I told Louie I didn't think I could stay here anymore and
he and I agreed to move on. Thanking the old carpenter, I told him
that Louie and I were cobbers and we were moving on and would
stick together. Before I left I thanked my old mate Reg for all he
had done for me. He understood my feelings and expressed how I had
come a long way since our first meeting. Louie and I felt we had
earned a holiday from the bush, so set off to Sydney to see how
the other half lived.
A REST IN THE CITY
Good old New South Wales rail was was
again transporting me across the state, though this time eastward
and to a well earned break in the city. It had been nearly four
years since my first arrival in Sydney and the young sixteen year
old new chum was now in his twenties and growing more and more
accustomed to life here in Australia. I had met some really decent
folks who had treated me well. There were the bullies and those
who showed indifference to their working men, but over all I
reckon Australia was just what I imagined it would be. The country
had such a variation of landscapes and the air was so fresh and
clean and the Blue Mountains ... well they were magnificent. Yet
Reg had said to me before I left:
"You haven't seen half of it yet
Charlie. It's a big country and you want to see as much of it
while you can."
It was good to have Louie travelling with
me, as I spent many hours listening to him relaying the many
adventures he had while working ships around the world. We had now
left the mountains behind and were drawing nearer to Sydney, when
he mentioned it was about time he found himself a missus ... and
on arriving in Sydney he would see what he could do about it.
After getting off the train at Central Station we were feeling
rather hungry, so we decided to stop for a bite to eat at a
restaurant Louie knew, called 'The Hole In The Wall'.
While devouring a large plate of steak
and eggs, Louie ran into an old friend he had met before heading
out to 'Nanami' some years back and asked where we might find
decent lodgings for a while. He suggested we go to an address in
Surrey Hills, where there was a boarding house and the Landlady
was a gem of a woman who looked after her boarders like they were
family. It sounded pretty good to us so we grabbed our belongings
and began to tramp in that direction.
Louie's mate was right. She was a homely
sort of a woman the landlady and couldn't do enough for us. The
rooms were spic and span and the tucker had a woman's touch to it.
A bit like old Fred's wife cooking and far better than the feeds
the cook knocked up at 'Nanami'. We lived like kings for a month
or two, wandering around the city each day visiting all the wine
bars and always went to 'The Hole In The Wall' restaurant for a
feed in the middle of the day. There was so much to see and a lot
of history in the place relating to convict days when my forebears
culled out the so called undesirables, sending them out to the
penal colony of New South Wales. Australia was now a Federation
and had come along way since those early years. We spent many
hours in a park watching the construction of a mighty steel frame
bridge they were building across the harbour to connect the North
side of Sydney to the city area. I was told they had just started
the project when I first landed some four years ago and it would
be known as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Louie had been serious about finding
himself a missus and had gone to one of those matrimonial places
to see what was the go. He had been introduced to a lady by the
name of Jean and would often call on her. He seemed pretty well
smitten, though he said he was treading warily as a bloke couldn't
rush into that sort of thing. My bankroll was starting to get a
bit light on, so I figured one had better start thinking about
finding work again. I was starting to get itchy feet anyway and
was missing the bush. I began looking through the papers for
advertisements and often enjoyed reading the bush verse which was
displayed in it.
I was so taken by one poem that I cut it
out and began to memorize it until I could recite it right
through. Some bloke called Walter Mathieu penned the poem and it
was called, 'That Day at Boiling Downs.' A story about a young
boundary rider who took some reading matter from a Hawker man and
went a bit ratty thinking he was an Injun on the warpath. He
apparently massacred all and sundry on the Station until he
finally dropped dead from Apoplexy. It was recalled by a lone
survivor, who had hidden in a brick oven throughout the whole
ordeal. A bit gruesome in parts, but had a humorous lilt about it.
Finally a position was required for a
station hand on a property in the north west of the state, out
along the northern rail line to Bourke. After making enquiries I
secured the position and was to start in a couple of weeks. Louie
had decided he would stay in Sydney, as he and Jean seemed to be
pretty serious about one another and it would have taken more than
a Harbour tug to pull him away from the place. He told me to keep
in touch and once again I set off by train to my new place of
employment, a property called 'Emu Park'.
My train journey northward brought home
to me the vastness and variation of landscapes that this country
had to offer. I had enjoyed my break in Sydney, but it was
exciting to be heading out to unknown parts and what life might
still have in store. I must admit though, that even traversing
country that was all new to me, the confinement of a railway
carriage for hours on end was rather tiresome. The walks I took
from one end of the train to the other opening and shutting
carriage doors certainly helped at times to kill the boredom,
along with the occasional chats with fellow travellers, who
obviously were experiencing the same restlessness.
The train finally stopped at the small
western town of Nevertire where I was only too happy to alight.
The Station Master advised me I could catch a train to Warren the
following day and in the meantime I could doss down at the hotel
in town. Sleep didn't come easy that night as I tossed and turned
wondering what my new job would be like. Besides the din from
within the Pub was enough to wake old Jack Dunn, lying 'neath the
granite stone at the base of the old gum tree on the outskirts of
town. [Jack Dunn of Nevertire was immortalized in verse by Henry
Lawson.] I was grateful to have had the time to sleep in the next
morning, as the train didn't leave before noon, which gave me time
to have a decent breakfast, followed by a stroll around the place.
The journey to Warren meant traversing
hills one after another ... ups and downs continually. It was the
first time I saw for myself what old Reg must have meant when he
"Those darn devastating
Obviously no rain had fallen here for some time as the ground was
looking devoid of grass, while what was left was tufted and brown,
coated with dust from soil turned to powder. The sheep that I saw
were lean and surviving on pulled scrub, which covered acre after
acre. Even the kangaroos were doing it tough, scarcely having the
energy to hop about. I saw what they called out here my first
native dog or Dingo, standing a couple of hundred yards off from
the rail track, though only for a moment, as he quickly
disappeared into some scrub.
After arriving at Warren, I headed over
to the hotel to enquire if anyone from 'Emu Park' was in town as I
needed to get a lift out to the place. The publican advised me
that one of the McAllory brothers was down at the Produce Store,
buying some grain, and if I hurried I'd probably catch him.
Sculling down the beer I'd bought to rid my throat of the dust it
had collected I grabbed my belongings and made my way in the
direction of the store. An old T Model Ford at the front of the
building was being loaded with bags of grain when I saw a tall
wiry gentleman come out of the doorway with the air of being the
person I was after.
"Mr McAllory!" I called, as I
walked up to the back of the vehicle.
"That's what they call me son,"
he responded, "what can I do you for?"
I introduced myself to him explaining that I was the chap from
Sydney who had been offered the position of station hand and was
finally here, ready to start work.
As we drove along the dusty track towards
'Emu Park' he asked a lot of questions. I found him to be a
serious, but amiable bloke - that is for a boss - then he
explained the sort of work I would be required to do. The men's
quarters were actually the original homestead, which had been
replaced by a more modern dwelling, so I managed to score a room
to myself. A change from sharing and that suited me down to the
ground. So began my stay at 'Emu Park.'
The greater part of our days were taken
up cutting scrub for the near starving stock, while at mustering
and marking time the poor creatures only just managed the ordeal.
I often accompanied one or the other McAllory brother into town to
help load the vehicle with whatever grain was available from the
Produce Store, whether it be wheat, rice, corn or anything that
would supplement the diet of animals trying to survive the
terrible plague of drought. I had never seen anything so
demoralizing on animal or man.
The long days of clear blue skies and
heat day in and day out for months on end seemed to sap the very
energy from us all. All I guess except the Chinese workers on the
place who contracted to do the picking up and burning of pulled
paddocks. They camped out on the job in tents, but seemed to
eliminate all worries with the help of cases of white whisky they
kept in plentiful supply.
I had been given the job of going down to
the mail box at dusk each evening in the old T Model Ford when one
evening their seemed a hint of rain in the air. The moon was
already visible when I looked towards the western horizon and I
could see what appeared to be a rain depression, which formed a
large white rainbow across the sky. It was a marvelous sight that
caused me to stop and observe it for a half hour or more before
getting the mail and returning to the homestead. I had never seen
such a sight like it and never saw it again. In fact I never saw
rain again at 'Emu Park' all the time I stayed there.
One particular trip to town always stayed
in my memory, not so much for the trip, but for what took place
after our arrival home. I had gone with the eldest of the brothers
who, while there, had purchased an order for the main homestead.
He had gone into the house with an armful of groceries and as I
was loading myself up I could hear him calling frantically from
inside. I rushed into the house, placing what I had on the kitchen
table and then began to search out the source of the cry. Mr
McAllory and his wife were in the wash area when he summoned me to
come as quickly as I could.
He had apparently walked into the house,
when his wife called out that she was washing, so upon going out
to greet her he'd found that she had a large washtub, three parts
filled with petrol, on top of the boiler trying to get stains out
of his old work clothes. That was the most nerve-wracking
experience I think I have ever been through. Trying to carry that
tub out of the wash area was an intense experience and all the
time I hoped like mad that it would not ignite and send us all up
in a ball of flame. My mind flashed back to the war years and the
memories of the exploding Zeppelin. Then on top of that the
vehicle we had gone to town in, and left parked in front of the
house, lost both its front wheels when Mr McAllory went to put it
in the shed next morning. It left one to ponder.
After some eighteen months of battling to
keep the place going the two brothers finally called all the men
to a meeting in the men's quarters one cold winter's morning. We
were advised that the place had been placed in the hands of the
bank some months back and things were looking grim. The only way
they could keep the workers on was if they took a cut in pay, in
fact, half of what they were getting at present. The drought,
being the worst for years in the district along with wool prices
falling, necessitated such drastic moves.
The bank had made it clear that the
country was in for a depression and times would be tough. It was
Reg who had explained to me in earlier years the need to join a
union, as workers needed to be protected from those who would not
give them a fair go. In the few short years I had been in this
country I had seen the wisdom for such a movement, especially
after the incident with Louie. At the conclusion of the meeting I
went back to my room to give the matter a lot of thought.
I was caught between loyalty to the
McAllorys, their struggle with the place, and the ideals of
unionism. Surely one had the right to at least earn a decent days
wage for a decent days work. Something the union had fought for by
establishing an award. Reasoning there was still much for a young
fella to learn and a lot more country to be seen, with reluctance,
I advised the brothers I'd be taking my leave and wished them all
the best. I guess my final decision was influenced by the fact
that Louie had kept in touch and his last letter was all that was
needed to convince myself that I needed another break and the city
seemed as good a place as any.
I couldn't wait to catch the next train
to Nevertire, as the thought of heading down to Sydney and seeing
old Louie again sounded like a good idea ... even if one had to
face the many boring hours of another train trip. Maybe the
northwest might be different after a good season of rains, but at
the moment I had no desire to stay. So thus ended my association
with 'Emu Park,' along with another chapter of my life.
The desperation drought can bring was cast before my eyes ...
A squatter's run with starving sheep, their weak and feeble cries.
The days of cutting mulga scrub and pulling sheep from bogs;
Of feral pigs and old black crows, along with native dogs.
The fine red dust which dries one's throat and sticks to face and
Hot summer days with cloudless skies when hope of rains grow dim.
The squatter who will not give in, whose pluck is never lost,
Whose steadfast wife will stand by him no matter what the cost.
The days they then run into months, the months then into years;
At times you'll bet his nerve will crack, reduce him down to
The sight of death is everywhere in bleached and scattered bones;
No vegetation on the ground, just paddocks full of stones.
The 'roos that usually hop about begin to move real slow,
But still they hang around the place, there's no where else to go.
The wedge tail eagle soars the skies; there's much on which to
Goannas they just crawl about for they all do just fine.
The water holes all turn to mud; The creek too turns to sand.
Poor squatter knows if rains don't come he'll surely lose his
The mortgage at the banks still there; the overdraft cut out;
He then begins to lay men off, there's not a soul about.
THE RIVERINA DISTRICT
As depression enveloped the country, the
mood of the people began to change. Times had become tough and
work was scarce. Men and boys tramped all over the place in the
hope of picking up a shilling or two here and there, or at least a
feed and somewhere to doss down and I was now seeing it for myself
as I journeyed back down to Sydney. It was great to see Louie
again, who was still boarding at Surry Hills and still developing
his relationship with Jean. In fact, in all his letters while at 'Emu
Park,' she was all he seemed to write about. Jean this and Jean
that. It appeared, though, that Jean was not about to take Louie
on until he had shown his true colours and Louie was not sure how
long that would take. He, too, was finding things pretty tough and
work scarce, so he had been searching through papers for work in
the bush. Louie figured, perhaps absence would make the heart grow
fonder and after a spell away Jean might make up her mind.
One afternoon Louie came home all excited
with a proposition to put to me. He had been offered a position on
a property down in the Riverina district as a mechanic and the
owner would be willing to give me a job as well. The only snag was
getting there. Though he had the answer to that as well.
"It's about time you bought yourself
your own vehicle to get around in Charlie," he explained to
"There's a Hupmobile parked down the
road with a - For Sale - sign on it and the blokes only asking
sixteen quid. It'd be a steal lad." Louie went on to explain
how we could then drive down to the job together.
The whole idea sounded like a big
adventure to me, so I was only too happy to go along with it. The
following week found us touring down the southern road. It sure
beat sitting in a railway carriage and I felt as proud as punch,
pushing the old girl along as fast as I could, learning by trial
and error the finer details of her temperament. A half day out of
Sydney we came across two young lads tramping their way along the
highway, each with a swag in tow. Neither of them was more than
sixteen years of age and looking for a lift down to Gundagi.
Memories of my early days flashed through
my mind as I pulled over to offer them both a ride. They sat in
the back, giggling and laughing, enjoying every minute of it. Late
that afternoon, as we neared Gundagai, an old goanna ran across
the road and their were shouts and cooees from the lads, who had
obviously never seen one before. I pulled over and the boys gave
chase until it scurried up a big gum tree, leaving them howling
and racing around the base of it like two young hounds.
We bid the boys farewell and wished them
all the best, giving them both a ten schilling note to help them
on their way, knowing that their lot would be much tougher then
when I had first arrived. Louie and I pushed on to Junee and spent
the night in the bush on the edge of town between two logs, which
we had set fires under. The air was bitter cold and every now and
then we would move our bodies along as the fire burnt its way
along the logs. Morning couldn't come quickly enough, as we were
both nearly frozen, and we built the remains of the fire up to
thaw ourselves out.
By late afternoon we drove in through a
large set of gates where the name 'Bundure' was written on the
"This is it Charlie old
cobber," exclaimed Louie, "this is the place we're
looking for." The Super' on the place showed us to our
quarters and explained that the boss would be down to see us in
the morning to give us a run down on what we both would be doing.
It sure was great to sleep in a bunk with blankets instead of
After breakfast next morning the boss of
the place explained to Louie that he would be looking after all
the machinery on the place, which would keep him busy, as there
was a back log of work needing to be carried out. I was given the
job of gardening until he could figure out where else I could be
used. It appeared a good mechanic was hard to come by and Louie
was the man he needed most, though Louie had insisted I was part
and parcel of his taking the job.
I hadn't done much gardening before, but
put my back into it and after two days I had cleaned up all the
garden beds. I was feeling rather proud of myself until the boss
brought to my attention that the pretty blue flowers I'd left in
all the beds were, in fact, a weed called blue top and the weeds I
had pulled out were the flowers his missus had planted recently.
He was jolly decent about it all and told me not to worry, that
he'd square things up with his wife and he then gave me a job
helping one of the station hands, whose job it was to fix the many
windmills on the place.
Nugget Peach was a strange sort of bloke,
though he knew his job well, and I learnt a lot from him. There
were some eighty mills on the place, standing about fifteen feet
in height and most at a depth of eight to ninety feet. Louie and I
were glad to see the last of winter and stayed on until Christmas
time. Poor Louie really had it bad for Jean, as that was all he
could talk about, especially when he received one of her perfumed
smelling letters. The blokes who worked on the place were a rather
mixed lot of characters, though pretty easy going, and good to get
along with. The cook fancied the drink a bit, but keeping it on
the place was taboo, so he would make up for it when he went to
town. In fact it was the cook who started proceedings that would
get most of us the sack.
The owners had gone away for the
Christmas break leaving the Super' in charge, but the boys were
getting restless having nothing to do. Old cook fixed that problem
by revealing a brew he had batched up. It was some brew, as the
more we drank, the more restless and rowdy we became. Finally,
over riding the Super' and borrowing two of the stations vehicles
we headed for Jerilderie. Besides those who went in the work
vehicles, a whole swag of us packed into my vehicle as well. We
all had a real spree for two days until we ran out of cash, but
cook solved the problem by making deals with everyone in the town
for dressed turkeys, which he said he could deliver, as long as
they had half the money up front first, promising delivery in a
couple of days. Some time after that kitty had been drunk out as
well and discretion demanded that we had better head back to 'Bundure'
It had been harmless fun; except for the
cooks turkey transactions, but the Super' had other ideas and
informed the boss when he returned. The very next morning, when we
all turned up for work, he called out a list of names and told us
we could pick up our cheques up at the main house. It seems that
we were not needed anymore. So ended our careers in the Riverina
and Louie and I then headed back to Sydney. Jeans last letter had
hinted that she missed Louie far too much anyway, so he was only
too happy to be heading back, leaving me in no doubt as to where
his future lay. At least I had my Hupmoblile and after saying
good-bye to Louie and Jean I headed out of Sydney and in a north
westerly direction, wondering where life would take me.
THE BUNDURE BREW
'Twas Christmas time on old 'Bundure' and with our boss away,
The Super' was the top dog there, a bloke called Boofhead Bray;
It's fact that men grow restless souls with nothing much to do,
But cook resolved our problem though; he had some Bundure brew.
It surely took one's breath away and killed a blokes IQ,
For soon the lads were full as ticks and planned on shooting
When Nugget yelled, "Let's go to town!" The men all
raised a cheer.
"Like hell you are!" old Boofhead cried, "you're
gonna all stay here!"
The men defied the Super's cries and climbed aboard a truck,
For now the brew had taken hold they planned to run amuck.
"Jerilderie or bust!" we cried and sang our way to town,
As Christmas time demanded cheer, we would not let it down.
Two days we stayed there on a spree till all our pay was spent,
But cook had worked a scheme up though; a cunning little gent.
He promised turkeys to the folk with half the cost up front.
"We run them on 'Bundure'," he said. The lying little
That kitty too was then drunk out, which left us rather shot,
While morning found us heading home, a sore and sorry lot;
Old Bray said,"Lads you've done your jobs, I'm gonna dob you
'Twas surely only fun, we thought, except for cookies sin.
When Monday came, and time to work, the super' called us out,
Then read out loud a list of names ... our jobs were gone no
"Your cheques are at the house," he said, "then
find a new abode."
Though first we got cooks recipe, then hit the frog and toad.
The usual sources of papers and agents
that gave one some idea of job vacancies had apparently dried up
like the drought that was affecting a large part of the
population, exasperated by the continuing depression. Advice from
most sources indicated the only work available was to be found on
Stations in the form of odd jobs. At least with my old Hupmoblile
and some savings from 'Bundure' I could move from place to place
at my own leisure without having to rely on trains.
In the back of my mind I guess I was
heading towards the Northwest for, as much as the memories of
drought and hard times flashed through my mind, I felt comfortable
with at least knowing the area. Towards evenings I would turn off
onto a small track running from the main road and camp in the bush
by a waterhole. After knocking up a feed, I would browse through a
paper I'd purchased through the day until, too tired to read any
further, I would then place a few good logs on the fire, throw my
swag down beside it and then retire for the night.
A sign on the outskirts of Bathurst
advertised the local show was on in town. Why not I thought, it
might be just the place to keep an ear out for some work. Folk,
obviously trying to put hard times out of mind, were all mingling
through the many tents and stands offering all kinds of foods,
crafts and side-shows. The loud booming of a drum then caught my
attention and enticed me to head in the direction of its source. I
came upon a rather charismatic sort of character introducing a
group of men clad in shorts and boxing gloves. A large crowd had
gathered in front of the makeshift arena as this chap thew out
challenges to anyone in the crowd who thought they might be good
enough to take on one of his boys.
Within ten minutes he'd goaded enough
challenges from the crowd. Some in a rather intoxicated state
while others just fancied themselves against these out of towners.
I'd be in this, I thought, and lined up to get a ticket to see the
spectacle. One by one the local challengers took their turn at
crossing over the rope acting as a crude boundary for a boxing
One by one each man hit the canvas,
though a couple of them put on a mighty good show. Perhaps if
they'd been a little less under the influence they may have gone
the distance. The last bout was between the pick of the boxing
troupe's line up and a challenger, whom the showman called Mauler
Mansfield. It went down to the last minute of the third round,
both men knocking the living daylights out of each other, until
Mauler Mansfield let fly with a haymaker knocking his opponent
clean out. A loud cheer went up from the crowd as the showman
lifted the Mauler's arm into the air declaring him the winner by a
Some time later, as I ambled around the
grounds, I came across a group of men standing in front of a shed
set up as a temporary bar. Among them was Mauler Mansfield
celebrating his win, apparently drinking rum to kill his aches and
pains. After securing a drink for myself I felt the urge to
congratulate him on his win and before long we were fully
engrossed in conversation and some serious drinking. He told me
his real name was Kelly Mansfield and then introduced me to his
four mates. Silent Tom, Barney O'Neil, The Busted Oven and The
Wild Irishman. They were all out of work and had been tramping
about the country following shows, using their various skills to
make ends meet. Once the boys found out I had a vehicle and a few
bob in my pocket they seemed to stick like glue.
We then travelled together, the boys
working the various shows from Bathurst to Dubbo. Their skills
were many and varied and I must admit outright dishonest at times.
Silent Tom was a bit of a card sharp extracting money from folk
through card tricks and guessing games. Kelly worked on the boxers
while the rest took advantage of the local folk any way they
could. While at Dubbo, Kelly reckoned I should have a go myself at
boxing, as he'd been showing me a few pointers, and figured I'd do
The young lad I drew was part aboriginal
and in the second round, while I was holding my own, I drew on all
the remaining strength I could muster and I let fly with a hard
straight jab to his chin. The lad went down for the count.
Suddenly, from out of the blue, I felt something hit me smack in
the middle of the nose, knocking me senseless onto the canvas.
Sometime later I found myself lying in the backseat of the
Hupmoblie with a cold compress over a broken nose. Kelly then
explained to me that when the young aboriginal lad went down his
sweetheart, who went by the name of Boxing Biddy, ook offence and
it was she who had come out of the crowd and decked me. Fancy
being beaten by a sheila I thought.
A few days later on the road to Nyngan
the old Hupmobile was in need of oil, so we followed a dirt track
down to a shearing shed to see if there might be some lying
around. I figured I was in luck when the Busted Oven found a tin
with what appeared to be oil in it, so we topped the old girl up.
We didn't get far when she sounded a bit noisy and therefore
pulled over at a camp site occupied by a gang of bridge builders
and their families. One of them was a bit of a mechanic and after
checking it out he found that what we had put in the old girl was
not motor oil but blow fly oil for sheep. Fortunately we were able
to pump it out and replace it with the real stuff.
That night while camped the boys started
drinking and talking about the times they'd come through. I was
always rather curious as to how the Busted Oven got his name, so
enquired. The tales revealed that he'd been a shearer's cook, who
while organizing tea one night had placed all the tucker in the
oven to keep it hot, when all of a sudden it collapsed, sending
the nights feed into the ruins. He packed up and left in disgust,
but apparently earned himself the nickname. The drink by this time
was starting to take effect, which induced rather boisterous and
colourful language from the boys. A couple of men from the bridge
gang asked us to keep it down and knock off the bad language as
there were women and children in the camp.
Barney took offence and told them where
to go. The men replied they'd send for the police, which then
started a ding dong argument. Before long a fight broke out
drawing others from the bridge builders camp, armed with axe
handles and such. Then a shot rang out into the air, which brought
everyone to a halt. I reckon discretion was the better of of valor
and told the boys I was off as things were getting out of hand.
They all grabbed their gear and we made a hasty retreat.
By the time we had reached Nyngan I
realized my savings were all but gone and I needed to get into
some work. It had become evident to me that the motley crowd I was
with had no serious intentions of taking on any kind of employment
and, as much as their life style was adventurous and exciting, I
could not see a future in it. The pub was always the boys first
port of call so I figured I might as well go with them as it would
be the logical place to hear of any work that might be about. It
wasn't long before the boys were up to their old tricks, fleecing
others out of their hard earned money. Meanwhile I kept my ears
open for some work.
During the afternoon, the Wild Irishman
introduced me to another Irish mate of his called Paddy. It
appeared Paddy and his mate Bert had come onto a fencing job on a
nearby Station and were looking for a third man with a vehicle to
go with them. By late afternoon they'd had their fill of grog and
the three of us headed out to the job. It was apparent they both
liked their drink, but at the same time they could put in a good
days work when it was needed. The gidyea posts had already been
cut and set out along the fence line while our job was to dig the
holes, stand and drill the posts, run three runs of plain and one
of barb and then attach the spring coil wire. The old Hupmoblile
came in handy carting the gear as well as helping to run out the
wire. I'd knocked holes in either side of the boot with the
crowbar, then poked the crowbar through one side and into a roll
of wire and then ran the point into the hole on the other side.
One hot afternoon towards the end of the
job we bogged the old girl down near some swampy ground and, after
an hour or more of doing my block trying to get her out, I'd
managed to strip the gearbox. Our short, but adventurous
relationship ended that day as I walked off and left her there.
The day we finished the job Paddy and Bert headed for town, but as
the boss had asked me if I'd kill a couple of sheep for him before
I left, I said I' catch up with them later. Unknown to me, he'd
given Paddy the cheque for the fencing job and by the time I'd
reached town they'd given it to the publican and asked him to let
them know when they'd cut it out.
I had been depending on the money for
weeks, as I was flat broke, and they had spent more than their
fair share. Drowning my sorrows in what was left, I brooded over
how they'd taken me down, until it got the better of me. I told
Paddy what I thought of him, which he didn't take kindly too, and
he took a swing at me. I had often heard of the saying ... I saw
red ... and believe me, that day, I literally saw what it meant.
Everything just seemed to literally turn red for a moment, then I
did my block by knocking Paddy head over turkey and out like a
light. It was one of the few fights I ever won.
Having settled the score, one of the
blokes in the pub offered me a ride down to Warren and seemed sure
I might find work there, so I took him up on the offer. The place
hadn't changed much since my time on 'Emu Park' and on arriving at
the pub I asked if there was any work about. One particular chap,
who'd been sitting on his own at the end of the bar, introduced
himself as Stewart Hildich. He said he was heading down towards
Nevertire to do a bit of picking up and burning and was sure that
I'd get on there as well. We only spent two or three months on the
job as the winter nights, camped in tents, was more then my bones
could bear. It was just a job and it reminded me of earlier years,
when I'd taken on sucker bashing. Only for one old timer showing
me how to set a hurricane lantern under my iron stretcher at
night, acting as a heater, I would have surely frozen to death.
Stewart and I would sit around the fire
at night, conversing over places we had been and where we would
like to go. He had a hankering to get out of sheep country and
head north. He'd heard there was real good cattle country up in
North Queensland and fancied heading on up there. It sounded
pretty good to me, so we finished up and procured a lift back to
Warren. On appraisal, we estimated that we would need to save a
reasonable kick to get us through the early part of the journey as
times were hard and there were so many blokes on the road and work
would be scarce. We began searching for work in the local area.
Apparently there was a vacancy for a cook
at the pub and Stewart talked himself into applying for it. So had
about twenty others, among them were shearer's cooks with plenty
of experience or so they said. I was rather dumbfounded when he
came up to me, after having been interviewed, and said he had been
given the job and was to start immediately. His first job was to
cook tea that night, for those staying at the pub. I was sitting
in the kitchen watching him prepare the veges, when it become
obvious to me that he knew nothing about it.
"Have you done any cooking before
mate?" I asked.
"Not so to speak of Charlie, but I
thought I'd pick it up." replied Stewart.
Fortunately the tutoring Reg had given
me, rough as it was, came in handy. Together we knocked up a meal
that passed for tea and surprisingly we had no complaints. So,
between myself and one of the housemaids he was sweet providing
him with hints on other dishes as well as help from one of the
housemaids sweet on providing him with hints of other dishes,
Stewart was able to bluff his way through the next few months
until the end of winter. During this time I had also picked up a
few odd jobs around town. By the last week of winter we now
figured it was time to make a move. Stewart gave notice and we
knocked up a swag each, consisting of a bit of canvas to sleep on
as well as a blanket and a calico fly. On top of that we filled a
sugar bag with provisions, along with a billy can and frypan. By
the end of the week we were tramping north on the road to Corinda,
headed for Queensland.
ACROSS THE BORDER
It had been nearly eight years since I'd
landed in this country and already it had shown me its many
different faces. I must admit that my time on 'Emu Park' threw me
a bit. The drought that is. I hadn't expected nature to be so
cruel and harsh on the land as I had experienced there. On
reflection though, I'd ascertained that one would have to be
prepared to take the good with the bad. At the moment, the
depression was making things tough for every man, woman and child.
So far, the years had been more than the adventure I'd bargained
on. Though there were no regrets I might add. I'd kept in touch
with the landlady at Surry Hills who had forwarded a letter to me
from Louie, as we'd agreed to keep in contact through her. He and
Jean had finally married and it turned out that his Jean had been
well off. I guess she had been trying Louie out all that time to
see if he was interested in her or her money. They had both moved
to America to live and were very happy. It was the last time I
heard from Louie.
Stewart and I were travelling Irish
tandem, one foot after the other, for most of the morning, when a
passing wool truck stopped to give us a lift.
"Where are you heading fellas?"
the thin, wiry driver asked.
"North," we said,
"Take you as far as Corinda."
"That'll be fine," we replied.
We camped in the scrub just out of town for the night, then next
morning, while passing through the town, we noticed a couple of
pushbikes outside a second hand store for sale.
"Might beat tramping,"Stewart
"Could be right," I replied.
In the minutes that followed we were the proud owners of Bluebird
and Louise. That being the names of our new acquisitions.
Twenty miles a day was a pretty fair push
for a bicycle, not that we always made it that far all the time,
but on a good day it was possible. At times we would spend hours
repairing punctures, making progress very slow. We had ridden
North through Walgett, then towards Lightning ridge, where the
long awaited rains decided to fall. Suddenly the dry, dusty, track
ahead became a quagmire, making it nearly impossible to ride
At times, knee deep in mud, we noticed
other bikes hanging in forks of trees, obviously abandoned by
their owners from previous wets. Thoroughly worn out from pushing,
we decided to hang ours alongside the rest. I must admit that the
wet conditions made camping and tramping rather miserable. At
night we looked for abandoned or vacant buildings where we could
throw our swags down long enough to rest our aching feet from the
long days walk. Lighting a fire was a real challenge, as trying to
find enough dry material to boil a billy of tea to wash down a bit
of dried meat was near impossible. Passing through Angledool we
finally reached the Queensland border at Hebel.
We stocked up on tea, sugar and flour,
knowing once these supplies were gone we may need to depend on the
generosity of Station owners to provide us with dry rations or
work to survive. On leaving Hebel the watercourses were rising
from the run off and a day's tramp found us caught between two
creek systems, running bankers. For two days we were unable to
move in any direction and we were sick of living on Johnny cakes,
treacle and tea. Then, suddenly, we heard the sound of a sulky.
The gent driving it, apparently heading home from his daughter's
wedding, had found a spot on the creek where he was able to cross.
Realising our predicament, he stopped to discuss the situation and
shared our billy of tea. After offering him some of our johhny
cakes and treacle, he became aware of what we had been surviving
on and so offered us some pickled pork left over from the wedding.
I don't have to tell you how well that lot went down. Following
his directions, we crossed the creek and eventually passed through
Dirranbandi and then headed northwest towards Bollon.
We had learnt to carry a couple of ration
bags, which held our tea, sugar and flour. We always took an empty
bag up to the Station homestead making out things were pretty grim
tucker wise and by doing this we always kept a reasonable supply
of these commodities.
The tramp from Dirranbandi to Bollon was
long and hard and we only managed a short lift on one occasion,
which was very much appreciated. Sometimes a smoke was the only
consoling moment during those long treks by day. One night while
camped on the track I was awoken by a strange clanging noise,
which I don't mind admitting, frightened the life out of me.
Stewart Stewart and I got little sleep as this noise kept up all
night long. Next morning we woke to find a string of horses moving
ahead of a large mob of sheep, the lead horse had a bell attached
to a leather strap around its neck. The drover had apparently
camped the night up the road, which explained the noise, and it
was a sound we would become familiar with from that time on.
We had a bit of a chinwag with the old
mate and asked where he'd come from and where he was heading. Then
before riding off he said,
"You know boys with a mob this size
a bloke wouldn't know if one went missing. Would he now?"
Blind Freddy would have got his drift and we were truly grateful
to be able to sit down that night and gorge ourselves on mutton
chops. Our droving mate had suggested we work our way North from
Bollon, as we may pick up a bit of work on one of the Stations
which were due to start shearing in a months time. Some days later
we passed through Bollon and then followed a creek running North,
which brought us in contact with a Pommy chap driving a wool
"Can you handle a lift chums?"
said the driver with a grin from ear to ear.
"Too right mate," we replied
and jumped up in the cabin.
"The names Dave Brown from 'Eucumbene',"
he said with great pride. "You boys are looking a bit thin on
it. Have you been getting any work?"
"Can't say we have Dave, though
we've been keeping an eye out."
I said assuringly.
"Then you'd better doss down at home
a while as I've got work coming up."
I couldn't believe my ears. Since being
in this country I'd met a few of my English born countrymen who'd
taken on the land, but, until now, had never met one who didn't
gloat over his success or want to try to take you down in some
way. This Dave Brown though was a true gentleman. On arriving at
his place he set us up in the shearer's quarters, advising us that
he would be shearing in a couple of weeks time and we could do a
bit of rouseabouting. In the meantime we could do odd chores
around the place to earn our keep. Having spoken of my ability to
kill and dress sheep, Dave gave me the job of doing all his
butchering and lent me a few fishing lines, which suggested I was
to spend some time down at the creek, which ran past the place and
keep everyone in fish. Stewart offered to help with the mustering
in preparation for the shearing. Each night we had the privilege
of eating up at the main house and one night after wandering back
to the shearer's quarters after our meal Stewart and I sat by the
warmth of the fire we had going. Suddenly, Dave came out of the
dark to join us, handing over a bottle of rum. It had been a while
since we'd indulged, but we were happy to share it with him and as
we drank we discussed our travels with the man. Dave had
apparently been on the place for years just as his father before
him. He recalled how his dad had told him of a mate he had in the
1800's who was a shearer. There were some gun shearers about in
those days, though this one particular bloke was a well known
bully who earned himself the nickname of Basher Brogan. A proud
man, who picked on new chum.
His mate had tramped down to a shed
looking for work and, getting on, he noticed Brogan was in the
team as well. Sure enough, Brogan began picking on a young
rouseabout and goaded him into a fight. Sick of his bullying the
men told the young lad to take a dive when he hit him and they'd
do the rest. When Brogan hit him on the chin with a right the
young lad fell to the ground and never moved. The old mate knelt
down beside him and made out he couldn't feel a pulse, advising
everyone that the lad was dead. The others played along and they
carried the lad into one of the huts and covered him with a sheet.
Brogan went to pieces thinking he had killed the lad, while the
men told him the Squatter had sent for the police and they were
coming out from town. They assured him things didn't look to good
for him and that he'd probably hang for sure.
Next day, playing along with the men, the
Squatter told them all to dig the lad a grave. Brogan helped, but
his nerves were shot to pieces and he obviously was feeling quite
remorseful when he finally broke down.
"What a fool of a man I've
been," he whimpered out aloud. "I've on my head a young
lad's death, for being, oh, so proud."
Sensing he'd had enough they told Brogan to look over at the hut
where they had laid the lad and suddenly the door opened and the
young rouseabout walked out. Brogan learnt a lesson from it and
the grave, according to his Dad's mate, is still on the place with
a headstone reading:
Basher Brogan's Pride
We lived like kings for those couple of
weeks. A hot tub at night, cooked meals, which included yellow
belly I had caught through the day, and then a warm dry bunk at
night. When the shearing started I worked in the shed picking up,
while Stewart took on cooking for the crew. The shed lasted for
some three weeks and then all the shearers moved on. Dave,
impressed with my keenness to do a day's work, told the Super to
muster up the stragglers that had been missed in the main muster.
"How would you like to learn to
shear Charlie?" he asked.
"Wouldn't mind having a go at it
Dave," I suggested.
"Well, I'll give you the job of
cleaning up the stragglers lad and I'm willing to pay you for
I spent a day with him learning the ropes and I was left to do the
rest. I finally worked up to eighty a day, no record, but pleased
to have had the opportunity.
After the weeks on 'Eucumbene' it was
hard to take to the road again. We both felt as fit as fiddles and
had a good little kick in our pockets as well. I must admit that
he was one in a million old Dave Brown, not the sort of bloke you
would forget in a hurry. Leaving 'Eucumbene', we tramped
northwards until another wool truck offered us a lift to Roma. A
bit off our intended track, but we thought we'd take the chance to
have a look at the place. We followed the rail line in a westerly
direction out of Roma, which proved to be the hardest and
loneliest part of our journey so far. Days, months of tramping
through Mitchell, Morven, then north-west up through Augathella,
Tambo, Blackall and finally Barcaldine. I must admit though, that
it was some of the finest grazing country I had ever seen, with
miles of Mitchell grass as far as the eye could see. I wore out
three pairs of sandshoes and my feet stunk worse than a dead
snake. At night I would have to throw them well away from our camp
to avoid the smell.
Though Stewart was good company, at times
there was a sense of loneliness and depression and sometimes at
night I would recall a verse of two of Lawson's poem:
I'm lying on a barren ground that's baked and cracked with
And dunno if my legs or back or heart is most wore out
Then there were days of seeing no one, not a soul. Also the
stretches where we ran short of tucker. Most Station owners would
gladly give you dry rations, but on one particular occasion we
were refused by a real mean chap, who was determined to part with
To compensate we walked down to a creek
running through his place and helped ourselves to one of his sheep
anyway. Just for being so mean, but we did leave the fleece on the
fence. It didn't take me long to dress our victim into chops and
in the meantime Stewart had prepared a fire in preparation to cook
them. Unfortunately, that night, a spark must have jumped from the
fire and started the surrounding grass on fire. Unable to get it
under control we felt it was time we made a move and put as many
miles between us and it before daylight. We felt bad about burning
his paddocks out, but reasoned that maybe if he hadn't been so
mean it wouldn't have happened.
I recall one night on that journey I was
so depressed, probably due to the fact I'd run out of tobacco, I
kicked the billy off the fire only to burn my foot with the hot
water. Fortunately we had both kept a stash from our earnings from
'Eucumbene', so arriving at Barcaldine we decided we would use it
to buy a couple of horses as we'd had enough of tramping and
humping our swags.
BASHER BROGAN'S PRIDE
I tramped on down to Dawson's place. He owned old 'Gumajong'.
The last shed's cheque had been cut out, it didn't last that long.
My luck was in, he took me on, I'd get my hands in wool,
Then spotted Basher Brogan mate; the raging mallee bull.
This Brogan was a shearer who'd been working sheds for years,
From Queensland down to New South Wales, a gun he was with shears.
His reputation was well known, though not for shearing sheep.
A proud man who would pick a mate, then leave him in a heap.
He loved to rib the new chums like and throw his weight about
And if a bloke should take a stand; he'd simply knock him out.
Men hated working sheds with him, but work was hard to find,
So brushed aside his vulgar ways and put them out of mind.
Next morning Dawson lectured us before the shed kicked off;
A decent sort of cove he was, no high faluting toff.
The morning passed and all was well till Basher hollered out.
He'd found himself some poor new chum. A local rouseabout.
For days he gave the young lad hell, his sights were set in him;
Wed have to help this poor lad out as things were looking grim.
'Twas obvious he'd not give up until he picked a brawl.
We told the boy to play along and take a dying fall.
Then sure enough straight after work our hunch was proven right.
He'd followed the young rouseabout and goaded him to fight.
The young lad stood and made a stand as Basher let one drive.
It hit the young chum on the chin; he wisely took a dive.
His frame it looked a lifeless form; I knelt down by his head.
"Can't say I feel a pulse!" I cried, "I think the
young lad's dead!"
The others knew the gibe was on and played along with me.
"He's dead alright," another said, "as dead as one
Poor Brogan's face went white as flour; a lump formed in his
'Twas good to see old Brogan squirm for normally he'd gloat.
We carried the young rouseabout and laid him in a hut,
Advising Basher he would hang; the case was cut and shut.
They covered the young rouseabout, who played his part real well.
Poor Brogan he just sat and moaned, too ill to really tell.
"Old Dawson's told the cops," they said,"they're
coming out from town."
The bully Brogan felt remorse and paced on up and down.
Now Dawson knew the gibe was on, he'd heard old Basher rave,
Next morn he told the men to dig the poor young lad a grave.
For hours they dug and Basher helped, he never said a word.
Till suddenly he cried aloud, his words by all were heard.
"What foolishness is this I've done?" he whimpered out
"I've on my head a young lads death, for being ,oh, so proud.
If only I could bring him back. I'd be a better man.
I only seek forgiveness LORD. Please do it if you can."
" I think old Basher's had enough," said Dawson to the
You've got your wish my foolish friend the lad will live a'gen."
The hut door squeaked and opened wide; the rouseabout walked out.
Poor Basher thought it was a ghost; the men all gave a shout.
He knew he had been gibed that day, but learnt from what he'd
The rouseabout and he 'come mates. Like father and like son.
On 'Gumajong' there lies a grave with headstone there to read.
At Rest Lies Basher Brogan's Pride ... you bullies all take heed.
THE CENTRAL WEST
Our aching and weary bones demanded we
take a few days rest after the long weeks of tramping from the
Queensland border. Camped on the outskirts of Barcaldine we made a
temporary leanto, which gave us shade through the day where we
could just sit around and read a newspaper. This enabled us to
catch up on what was happening around the district and where we
might pick up a couple of saddle horses. Among the columns of news
items Stewart read where there where some impounded horses up for
sale. Having asked where the impounding yards were, we walked in
that direction until we caught sight of a sign hanging on a
paddock fence, which identified it as the place.
A rather poor, but well bred sort of a
chestnut gelding caught my eye and I figured that with a bit of
tucker in him he'd make a descent saddle horse. After some
haggling with the chap in charge of the yards, I picked him up for
thirty bob, along with an old bridle. Stewart picked out an old
grey mare with a scar up her left rump, apparently left there by
the horn of a scrubber bull. Both animals had strayed from a
droving plant, which had been passing through the district the
week before. Feeling well rested, we stocked up on provisions and
headed North again. This time with our swags loaded on the horses,
though still tramping as we felt they needed to pick up a bit of
condition before we expected them to carry us as well.
Our first camp out of Barcy was shared
with company in the person of one Michael O'Brien. One couldn't be
more Irish than that. He had a sulky with an outrigger pulled by
two horses with a saddle horse in tow. Michael dealt in animal
skins, shooting kangaroos, wallabies and rabbits, then tanned the
hides, which he turned into rugs. The trade treated him well and
he too was working his way North.
"You lads have come all this
way," he said , "and you don't even own a rifle. How the
dickens do you survive?"
Not wishing to tell him we had relied on others I just shrugged my
shoulders and said,
"Never gave it a thought old
"I know just the place where you can
send for one, along with loading gear," he went on.
The idea of owning a rifle sounded like a good investment to me as
it would make surviving a whole lot easier on the track ahead. I
had just enough left in my kick to purchase one and would give the
matter a lot of thought before we reached the next town.
We travelled with Michael, who showed us
his skill with his rifle by picking out animals along the way,
which he would skin and salt and then store them on the sulky. One
thing we noticed about Michael was that he had a strange habit of
always wearing his hat. Even at night we had noticed that he slept
with it on his head. Upon reaching Aramac, Michael gave me the
address of the place in Sydney where I could purchase a twenty
five twenty rifle with its accessories and he advised me to have
it sent to the Post Office at Prairie. He reasoned that as we were
heading North and in that direction it should get there some time
The days that followed found us helping
Michael with his trade. I learnt how to prepare and tan hides
along with the skills associated with making rugs. A very amiable
old fellow Michael, though we continually noticed he would never
be seen without his hat. The plain lands were easy to traverse and
always gave us game to eat, helping me to see the tremendous
advantage of owning a rifle. As we worked our way to the rail
line, which ran from Townsville to Mt Isa, we kept our rations
topped up by calling in at the odd Stations we passed. After a
couple of weeks the horses were starting to pick up condition,
enabling us to ride part of the way.
A month after leaving Aramac we found
ourselves at Prairie where my first call was the Post Office. Sure
enough, the rifle I had sent for was waiting there.
"Been here about four days,"
the Post Master advised me.
Michael had allowed me to use his rifle on our way up and I had
taken to handling one rather well and had become a reasonable
marksman. According to my tutor, so I was anxious to get out of
the place and keen to try it out.
We decided to travel eastward and
parallel to the railway line in the direction of Pentland and I
had made up my mind I would provide fresh meat for tea that night.
Late in the afternoon we came across a wild pig wallowing about in
a bore drain about a hundred yards from the fence line we were
"That's our tea lads," I said
with great confidence, taking aim with my new rife.
"I bet we all end up eating the left
over wallaby," Stewart suggested to Michael, obviously
doubting my ability to hit the target.
The shot rang out like a hammer striking
an anvil and all eyes were glued in the direction of the pig. With
a loud squeal the grunter lurched sideways, falling to the ground,
thrashing it legs about for a moment, then lay perfectly still.
"Strewth, you've hit it
Charlie!" exclaimed Stewart.
"Well done Charlie!" echoed
Michael. "Fine piece of shooting."
We decided we'd make camp there that night and enjoy a bit of
roast pork for tea. Michael said he'd do the honours and dress out
the meat for us, when it finally happened. As he leant over to
work on the pig, his hat fell off his head, revealing a rather
white, shiny, bald crown. Michael grabbed at his hat and quickly
replaced it upon his head, looking in our direction to see if we
had noticed. He was obviously very temperamental about the
condition of his head, which explained his aversion for not being
separated from his hat.
From that point on, Michael's attitude
towards us changed. To make it worse the pork we had all enjoyed
so much the night before took to Michael with adverse
consequences. He developed a rather bad case of diarrhoea, which
made him very weak, requiring us to take care of him.
Upon reaching the outskirts of Pentland
some days later, we set up camp. The local Constable must have
been doing his rounds when he paid us a visit. Old Michael sat and
chatted with him for a while and constantly kept looking in our
direction and all the while with a condemnatory look on his face.
The Constable finally came over to talk and related to us what
Michael had been telling him.
"The old fella reckons you two
blokes are trying to take over his outfit. He reckons you're
trying to poison him."
We explained to the constable the story about Michael's hat and
how Michael had changed after we saw it fall off his head, then
how he'd got the way he was by contracting dysentery after eating
the pig I had shot. I guess after weighing it up he saw the truth
of the matter and reassured us,
"Don't worry boys. I'll take the old
man into town and see that he gets some medical attention."
As much as we appreciated our travels with Michael O'Brien and the
many things we had learnt from him, we figured it was a good time
to part company. We were keen to push on as we looked forward to
eventually working cattle in the North. The whole reason for our
Heading North from
Pentland, Stewart and I began riding more than tramping as we
traversed what was known as basalt country. The horses were in top
condition and well muscled from the daily workout they received.
There were many rivers and creeks weaving their way through the
area as we passed Lolworth, Cargoon, Pandanus, Lyndhurst and The
Lynd. I was fascinated to find in the area a set of stockyards in
the form of natural basalt rock, but I was later told they were
done away with as they had not proved to be successful, being to
hot to keep impounded stock.
We turned North-west
from The Lynd, working our way towards Carpentaria Downs, when we
came across a Station owner, who informed us about a hot spring
pool near his place. Following his directions, we found the spot
and relaxed in the warm water a while, but as we enjoyed it so
much we lingered longer. The while then became a week, as we daily
soaked our well deserving frames for hours at a time. It was
amazing how it revitalized our bodies after the months of tramping
and riding. There was an endless supply of wildlife to live off
and we still possessed a few quid in our pockets, which Michael
had given us for helping him out. That was before the naked head
fiasco. We had used some of it to stock up on dry goods and a few
The Station owner
dropped by a few times, stopping to chat, and on his first visit
he offered me a proposition. His wife had apparently taken a shine
to my chestnut gelding and asked how much I'd take for him. I was
not keen to part with my mate after the long journey we had shared
together, so I told him he wasn't for sale. It seemed his wife was
pretty keen to have him and on two more visits asked again,
kicking up his offer each time. Both times I knocked him back,
saying no amount of money would buy him. On his last visit he
raised the subject again, advising me,
"Every man has a
price Charlie. I'll make you one last offer." Looking me
square in the eyes he said, "How about I trade you three
saddle horses, bridles, hobbles, two saddles and a pack saddle for
His wife obviously saw something in the chestnut I was not aware
of as he was determined to make the deal and as I looked at
Stewart he gave me a wink.
"I guess a man
would be silly to knock back an offer like that," I said,
"you've got herself a deal."
One of the saddle
horses was a bay gelding, which I chose to ride myself, and the
other two we led. We were both extremely pleased to be riding in a
saddle each after riding bare back all this time. Our first nights
camp after leaving the springs was somewhere past Carpentaria
Downs and towards Einsleigh. The horses hobbled, we cooked a feed
and talked around the fire a while before retiring.
The next morning the
only sign of the bay horse was his hoof prints heading back the
way we had come. Riding one of the other horses, I followed his
trail that occupied half the day before I caught up with it. By
the time I got back to Stewart we were not able to make many more
miles, as it was time to strike camp. The next morning it was the
same story again and the best part of another day was taken up
retrieving the animal. We rode into a mustering camp out of
Einsleigh late that afternoon and joined them for the evening. One
of the ringers, who had noticed me hobbling the bay horse said,
"You'll want more than a set of hobbles on him if you want
him here in the morning."
"You know about
this horse then mate." I suggested.
"You must have run
into my neighbor by the look of it." he replied.
I then told him of the deal I had struck with him.
"It's a wonder you
still have him," he went on, "its not the first time
he's been traded you know. He usually wanders home first
After relating my
ordeal over the past two days, he advised me that he was a
homeward bounder and he had done it before on other unsuspecting
buyers, but all the same he was a good sort of a horse. Realising
that keeping him was going to be an ordeal, I asked the ringer if
he was interested in buying him.
"How much are we
looking at?" the old mate asked.
"Let you have him
for five quid," I suggested.
"I reckon I can
take him on for that price. You've got yourself a deal."
With two horses still in tow I calculated I was still ahead. We
continued on towards Forsyth where we set up camp for a couple of
days to spell the horses. While having a drink at the local we
asked the owner how a bloke might make a quid in the district. He
told us a few blokes had taken to mining and were making tucker
and a few had even been able to save a bit.
He then went on to tell
us about some of the strange characters who had come to the area.
One of his stories was about a chap called Mad Jack.
"Jack, like you
blokes, had tramped up from New south Wales after losing his wife
and little girl to fever. He'd taken to drinking whisky to kill
his tormented mind, though it had only brought on dementia more
quickly. He was a decent sort of a bloke all the same and
occasionally I'd take supplies out to his camp. Last time I
approached the place I caught a glimpse of something reflecting in
the sunlight. Looking towards the old bough shed he'd made, I saw
Jack standing in a fencing position. You know, like the Musketeers
All ears we listened to
the man as he continued to tell his story.
"He had a
hindquarter of a beast hanging from the shed by a piece of rope.
Then with hand on hip and knife in the other he lunged towards the
Jack called out and with some fancy footwork he jumped back and
then lunged forward again and again until he was tuckered out. Old
Jack had gone mad for sure, I thought to myself. I called out to
him as I approached, but embarrassed he fled into the scrub. I
left the provisions and returned to town. From time to time others
call in and say,
"Jack's at it
again. Fencing under the old bough shed."
It was enough to turn us off the place, so we headed out along the
road to Georgetown.
We followed the old
stage coach track for days, which was at times only visible by the
half obscured blaze marks on the trees. Leaving camp one morning,
we found the trail rather hard to follow and by lunch time we had
completed a full circle and were back at the spot where we had
started from. We tried again to follow the trail and were amazed
to find that we had repeated the same maneuver. We'd had enough by
this stage and set up camp for the night with the intention of
having another crack at it in the morning. Much to our delight we
picked up where we had been making the mistake and finally made
Prospecting is a lonely life,
Though it was Mad Jack's way.
He'd tramped the road to Queensland's North,
From New South Wales they say.
He'd left behind a wife and child;
Two headstones on a plain.
It seems the hurt had cut too deep,
So whisky killed the pain.
'Round Forsyth way he'd filed a claim;
Gold nuggets he had found.
Then made a camp and made a life
Of digging in the ground.
The loneliness though takes its toll
On man and mind alike;
And grief and whisky do not help;
Dementia it can strike.
Old Jack it seems became its prey,
For it came home to me
That last time we called out his way
The signs were clear to see.
We'd come in sight of old Jack's camp,
A shiny object gleamed;
He stood beneath his old bough shed,
With knife in hand it seemed.
Old Jack was in a fencing stance,
But not the bush way though.
More like a Musketeer from France,
Some salted meat his foe.
It hung from rope tied to the shed
And swung there to and fro;
With hand on hip and knife thrust out
Jack then put on a show.
He thrust the blade into the meat,
"Take that you lousy cad."
Withdrew the blade and backed away;
Poor Jack he had gone mad.
His footwork was a sight to see,
Jack pranced and stepped about.
He thrust and jabbed at intervals
Till he was tuckered out.
We felt we'd better intervene
And cried, "How are you Jack?"
The sight of us embarrassed him,
He fled on down the track.
We searched through out the scrub a while,
No trace of Jack was found.
So left the poor demented man,
We did not hang around.
From time to time reports come in,
"Mad Jack's at it again,
He's fencing 'neath the old bough shed."
Poor Jack he'd gone insane.
AROUND THE GULF
After asking around
Georgetown, it appeared there might be a chance of work on
Stations around the gulf. So we gathered what provisions our money
would allow and rode westwards towards the Gilbert River. I was
astounded by the beauty of the place and its rich greenness, along
with the abundance of wild life that inhabited the area. A vast
contrast to my days in North-west New South Wales and the drought
I had experienced at 'Emu Park'. We were able to live quite
comfortably off the land on ducks, pigs and fish. The incredible
barramundi was certainly a fish equal to the yellow belly. I never
regretted spending the money I did on the 25/20 rifle, as it more
than paid for itself by keeping us in tucker.
Heading North-west we
followed the Gilbert to 'Strathmore' where we came across a drover
moving a mob of cattle South. As we shared his camp for the night,
we engaged in conversation which led to his asking us if we wanted
a job droving.
"That's the main
reason for our coming North mate," I said and next morning we
were part of a drive heading towards the rail line to the South.
The boss drover, figuring our horses needed a rest, gave me a huge
brown gelding to ride. He was far too hard in the mouth for me and
I found it nearly impossible to get him to respond to my
In the early morning of
our firsts night's camp, a pandanus branch broke from its mooring
and fell to the ground, causing the spooked mob to rush. It took
hours to retrieve them and made the next day rather tiring. I had
been completely useless during the rush, as I had never
experienced a spectacle like that before. The cattle were so edgy
that the next two nights were a repeat performance of the first .
Our inexperience working cattle became quite evident by the time
we made camp at 'Wallabadah' on the fourth night.
After tucker, the boss
drover called us over and asked us to sit and share a pint of tea
"I guess I'd be
right in saying that you fellas have never driven stock
before?" the old mate asked.
obvious," I suggested.
"Sure is and I'm
afraid I can't afford to carry you on this trip lads. Can you
understand my position?"
we both replied and thanked him for giving us a chance. Leaving
the drive we then headed back towards the Gilbert and followed it
Late one afternoon we
reached the junction of Walker Creek and as the top of the banks
were too muddy we decided to camp down on a sand bank in the
river. We had purchased a mosquito net at Georgetown, as we were
sick of battling the mossies, and threw it over our fly to keep
them at bay. At 'Miranda Downs' we met the Super' there and he
gave us a bunk to doss down on for the night. Over a bottle of rum
we told him how we were working our way down the Gilbert and had
camped on a sand bank in the river at the junction of the Walker
the night before.
"Yeah, I know the
spot you mean," he said. "But don't you fellas know that
place is infested with crocs? It's a wonder you're still
"To tell you the
truth," I said, "I did see some tracks around the camp,
though I never gave it another thought. I guess the mosquito net
threw whatever it was off."
All that night I was restless, as I somehow didn't believe the
mosquito net would have really stopped them and tossed over in my
mind the possibilities of what could have happened. From that time
on we thought twice about where we struck camp. Over the next few
days we continued to follow the Gilbert up to 'Stirling' and on to
'Delta Downs'. We had been told that we might have some luck
picking up work down at Normanton, so we headed South.
Upon reaching Normanton
we thought our best chance of picking up work would be to frequent
the local pub, so after setting up camp on the edge of town and
tethering the horses out we rode on in. We picked up two days work
on the wharves loading timber and such, which gave us the first
real money we had earned for months. Stewart had heard of a job
going on 'Lorraine' Station, as one of the ringers had been thrown
from a horse and seriously injured. It had been over twelve months
since Stewart and I had set out from Warren in New South Wales and
it was now time to go our separate ways in the hope of getting
permanent work. Over quite a few beers at the pub that night, we
rewalked the hundreds of miles of our journey and reminisced over
places, people and the many ordeals we both had been through
Stewart had been a
great mate and it was not easy saying our good-byes when he rode
off the next morning.
A headache wasn't the
only thing that had resulted from our night at the pub as during
the night I had met a boss drover who was taking a mob of cattle
from 'Stirling' down to Julia Creek. He was looking for a cook on
the drive and I figured, as I wasn't much good at being a drover,
I'd surely be able to feed a mob of them. That morning I joined
the plant which was now headed North to 'Stirling'. The mob had
been mustered and yarded by the time we arrived there and after
camping the night we headed due South next morning.
After a couple of weeks
out we'd reached 'Millungera', when one of the stockman was kicked
in the mouth by a horse. It was a terrible sight, as his jaw was
broken and his teeth were hanging from his mouth. The boss drover
told him he'd have to ride ahead on his own as he couldn't spare
any men to ride with him. Disturbed by the boss' attitude I
"You can't expect
a man in his condition to ride alone," I queried. "He'll
probably pass out and what then?"
"Well I can't
spare any men Charlie. We're doing it short as it is."
I guess my mind went back to 'Nanami' and the time Louie had hurt
himself and the lack of concern the owners had shown then.
"Well I'm not
going to see him ride on his own," I said, "I'm going
Ignoring the boss
drovers threats, I rode off to help the stockman, who was in
terrible pain. He was as tough as nails that bloke to ride all the
way to Julia Creek in the condition he was and I admired him every
mile we rode. After arriving there and seeing he received help, I
waited for the plant to arrive. The boss wasn't too keen on paying
me my wages after leaving him and only after a lot of arguing and
threatening he paid me for the time I had spent with him.
With my horses in tow I
worked my way Northwest and up through 'Dalgonally' and towards 'Talawanta'
near the gulf. I had decided to go and see Stewart at 'Loraine' on
the Leichardt River. My directions were to follow the old coach
road made visible by the blazes on the trees, which would take me
down to the Station. Remembering my previous efforts to follow
such directions, I took great care as I made my way. About half
way there I suddenly sighted a bearded man wandering through the
scrub, gibbering and running all about the place. Thinking I had
run into a madman, I sat still for a few moments until he sighted
Then as he ran in my
direction, I waited anxiously, with my hand on my rifle, to see
what he was about. I found him harmless enough. He'd come from
'Loraine' and was heading to 'Talawanta', but had lost his way.
Back in the scrub he had a sulky with an outrigger attached and
drawn by two horses. The sulky was full of kerosene tins filled
with water for the horses. We swapped notes regarding the
directions we were in need of and I watched him as he continued
meandering his way through the scrub. By late afternoon I rode
into 'Loraine' and was reunited with my old mate Stewart.
His employment as a
ringer hadn't lasted long as he was thrown from his horse and
busted a rib, but his old job as cook came to his rescue. The
owners had apparently decided to keep him on as a cook, working at
the main house. I earned my keep for the week by doing odd jobs
about the place and then, bidding Stewart good-bye for the last
time, I followed the Leichardt River South. It was the last I
would see of Stewart Hildich. Towards 'Kamileroi' I ran into a
chap camped by the river who went by the name of George Enright.
He, too, was working his way South and over a fire that night he
told me there were brumbies in the area and asked if I wanted to
give him a hand to round up a couple.
We spent a week chasing
a mob and finally caught five mares. George showed me how to break
one in and over the next week we worked on the rest together. We
ended up using three for packhorses and two as saddle hoses.
Together we rode South along the river, coming across what George
called Danger Bend. Here there were grave like openings in the
ground all over the area.
Finally we both rode
into Mt Isa and spent a few days camped on the outskirts of town.
Word around the place suggested there was work in the mines there,
though after George had taken me to the local cemetery to read a
few headstones, of men who had died from gas poisoning in the
mines, I got the message quickly and we headed north-east with our
string of horses across to 'Quamby', then 'Dalgonally' and North
to the Saxby River.
George had a mate by
the name of Jack Conway, who had a selection on the river, and
suggested we drop in and stay a while with him. On the trip I lost
the saddle horse I had traded for the chestnut horse back near the
hot springs some months back, when a death adder bit him. The
place was thick with them. Jack Conway was a strange sort of a
character, but we got on well and George and I spent some time
with him. He told us he had taken up his block a year ago and had,
bit by bit, built up a herd of his own. It seemed his original
herd had been provided by nearby Stations. Without their consent
of course. Though, according to Jack, a bloke had to make a start
somehow and that was the easiest way he could think of.
This put thoughts into
George's head and he suggested that he and I ought to take up a
block and start a place of our own. The country we had in mind to
select was very sandy and we spent two months building yards.
During that time the smell from wearing sandshoes thagt had
pervaded my feet for over a year or so in black soil country
eventually disappeared. If nothing else, I was grateful for that
One day Jack mentioned
he was running short of meat and needed a killer. Of course he had
no intention of killing one of his own and suggested we might like
to have a practice run and see and see if we could round something
up in the area. George and I came across a small mob of steers and
immediately took off in pursuit. Not wanting to fire a shot to
alert anybody nearby George galloped up beside one of them and he
dived off his horse reaching across for its horns. He missed and
all he caught hold of was the tail. His horse had vanished and all
I could see was George running around in circles, hanging onto the
steer's tail, calling out for help.
It was obvious to me
that he wasn't going to be able to keep it up much longer, so I
stepped down from my horse and pulled my rifle from its scabbard.
I knew the horse would not like the sound of the shot , so I
stepped away from it as I took aim at the head of the steer,
hoping like mad I did not miss and hit George. The rifle went off
and the steer dropped to the ground. My horse though had taken
fright and disappeared. George sat on the steer gasping for air.
After searching for the horses for an hour or two, we tracked them
down and were able to load the meat we had come after, then headed
back to Jack's, grateful the rifle shot had not drawn unwanted
The next day I
discussed our future prospects with George and suggested to him,
if the other day was any indication of what we were up against, I
couldn't see things coming off. I thought I'd call it quits while
still ahead and move on. Maybe my future was to be in something
else. The next day I said my adieus to George and Jack and rode
off, following the Saxby River south, with two packhorses in tow.
South at 'Mullungera' I
ran into this powerfully built Irishman, who was building a set of
stockyards, and he offered me a job working with him. He owned a
large dray, drawn by five horses with another string of fifteen in
tow. As we worked together over the next few weeks, he told me
about a dream that he had, which involved going up to 'Batavia' on
the far North Queensland coast to mine for gold. When the job drew
near its completion, he asked me if I'd be interested in going
with him to help out by being his horse tailer. With nothing else
lined up, I thought, what the heck, and within the week we were
I was now retracing my
steps through country I had been over months before as we headed
up through Normanton and 'Stirling'. Only this time we were
pushing further north and up through 'Koolatah', which was
situated on the Flinders River. Turning east we traced the
Flinders to the Palmer and then followed its course as we headed
for 'Drumduff'. On one occasion we had to cross a creek, which ran
off the Palmer, in order to keep following the Palmer itself. To
do this we had to build a bridge. For two days we cut timber,
forming it into the crude shape of a bridge, which we finally
covered with dray loads of dirt. Then came the test of driving the
dray and the string of horses across it to the other side. Our
hard work paid off enabling us to continue on our way and perhaps,
the thought crossed my mind, one day it may come in handy for
others who might journey this way.
On reaching 'Drumduff'
we camped the night and the following morning I headed off towards
'Strathleven'. On that leg of the journey we lost two of the
horses as they had eaten ironwood shoots, which they were not
accustomed to, and died as a result. The Irishman and I had words
over the loss of the horses that led to our parting company. I
turned back to 'Drumduff' and then headed south to 'Highbury'.
Some months later I heard that the Irishman had never reached his
destination, as he was involved in a skirmish with local natives.
One of whom had bitten him on the arm. Apparently it turned
gangrene and he died as a result of it.
Between 'Highbury' and
'Gamboola', a fly had worked its way into my left ear and it
seemed intent on staying there. Every time the annoying thing made
a move it darn near drove me mad. With no water left in my
possession to flush out the creature, I had to ride for hours in
search of some. Finally, a lagoon appeared in the distance and I
raced the horses to its edge and dived into the water enabling me
the flush the critter out. From 'Gamboola' I headed South to
Walsh's Telegraph Station where I set up camp in the scrub under a
large mango tree. As I organised a bit of breakfast at sunrise the
following morning, a stranger rode into my camp and over a pint of
tea I asked him if he might be in the know as to what work might
be available in the area.
"What can you
do?" he enquired.
everything," I replied.
"Why don't you
head East from here and pull in at 'Wrotham Park'. I'm sure
they'll take you on," he assured me with a smile.
I followed his
directions and eventually came upon the place he had mentioned.
Making enquiries, I found out that the chap I had been talking to
was a Scotsman by the name of Walter Lawrence, who had married the
daughter of 'Wrotham Park's' owner. The now widowed Mrs Wright. I
was given the job of working with a chap by the name of Dave
Price, who was a well sinker under contract to put down wells on
One of the well sites
we dug was about five miles from the main homestead, beside a dry
creek bed. The banks were some five feet high where we had set up
our camp. A tent with a bough shed attached for a kitchen. Our
bunks were made from chaff bags placed over bush poles. The dry
season had left the ground bare, but Dave reassured me that a
change was on the way. The well shaft was of a square
construction, dug by pick and shovel with the help of a bit of
jelly in the odd stubborn spots. Timber slabs were cut with axes,
cross-cut saws and adzes, about three or four inches thick and
eight to nine inches wide, to act as boxing around the shaft,
which went to a depth of some fifty to sixty feet.
One morning I was
awoken by Dave's frantic shout as he called from the bough shed. I
scrambled from my bed to find him dancing up and down on one leg,
hollering and pointing at the ground. To my surprise I saw a large
six-foot brown snake in front of him, looking rather bewildered by
his strange antics.
Charlie mate! For heavens sake do something!" was all Dave
The sight of the poor confused snake and old Dave dancing up and
down threw me into a fit of laughter, which rendered me totally
useless. Much to Dave's disgust the snake taking off on its own
accord, thoroughly thrown by our behaviour, only solved the
During our weekends off
I befriended Alex Walters, who was the cook on the 'Park'. Alex
was friendly with a widow, who lived at Mungana, and he had been
agisting his horses there as well as himself on his days off. He
had at times tried his hand at tin mining and often-made mention
of a place he knew down near the Tate River, out from Chillagoe.
"I know a real
good spot there Charlie," he'd always say. "Off the Tate
on Big Black Gin Creek. First gully off to the right. It's a
virgin creek Charlie, a virgin creek."
On one occasion, as I
had a few days off, I had planned to go down to Chillagoe, when I
called in to see Alex at Mungana. During our conversation, the
subject of tin mining came up. Alex suggested I should go with him
to see the place he had always been on about. So, instead of
heading for Chillagoe, Alex and I threw a swag together and we
rode off to find his spot on the Big Black Gin Creek. Sure enough,
Alex had been right. There was tin there for the taking, but as
the gullies were still dry at the time we thought it best to make
a return trip at a later date, when the wet season had arrived and
filled the gullies with the required water needed to help screen
the tin deposits.
Some weeks later back
at the well site, the first of the big rains began to fall and one
night Dave and I could hear this strange noise, which appeared to
be getting closer and closer. With the lantern in hand we went out
to investigate. As we listened, we ascertained that the source was
coming from further up the creek, but heading in our direction.
Suddenly, as we looked up the creek, we could see heaps of frogs
jumping down the dry creek bed and quickly passed us and continued
heading down stream. Next morning we awoke to find the creek near
running a banker and the obvious reason why the frogs were in
flight. By the time we had finished the well, the grass around our
camp was nearly six feet high.
Not long afterwards, I
ran into Alex up at the main homestead and we figured there should
be water enough in the gully down at our tin site and now would be
a good as time as any to go back and work our claim. With this in
mind we waited for the next lot of days off and then made our
move. To our horror, we found that someone else had found our spot
and decided to carry the deposits out dry, cleaning it out
completely. Totally dejected, we returned home empty handed. I
made my mind up to leave 'Wrotham Park' and go tin mining full
time on my own.
THE SNAKE THAT HAD ENOUGH
On 'Wrotham Park' 'round thirty five
I worked with my mate Dave.
Our job was digging wells you see,
a bit like digging graves.
With pick and shovel, sweat and toil,
at times some gelli too,
our well had reached some fifty feet
and water was in view.
This digging made for weary souls;
we worked the whole day through.
And even though our bunks were rough
we slept like dead men do.
One morning sleep came to an end,
disrupted by a shout.
It came from Dave out in the shed;
I quickly ran on out.
And there was Dave mid frantic cries
on one leg, face a frown.
While on the ground three feet away
a six foot mulga brown.
"Do something Charlie, mate!" he cried,
"before it takes a bite!"
The snake bewildered by it all
was mesmerised with fright.
The sight of that there spectacle
brought laughter uncontrolled,
which did not help poor Dave at all,
but left him in the cold.
Brown snake it seemed had seen enough
and could not take the strain,
so slid the scene, which saved the day,
not to be seen again.
continued to exert its control over the country, but around the
Chillagoe district there were some men who were trying to make a
quid from mining. While spending a few days with Alex at Mungana,
I ran into a chap I had met a few times before by the name of
George Ogilvie. George was working for the Mt Wandoo Mine, a
project started by a Scotsman by the name of Alexander McDonald.
He had obtained financial backing from fellow Scotsmen back in his
homeland, which enabled him to pursue the project.
George had suggested
that before I headed off tin mining it may be wise to put a
"I can get you a
job cutting wood for the boilers, Charlie, if you want to take it
on. It's hard work, but an honest quid."
I decided to go along with George and worked there for some twelve
months. Towards the end of my time I had bought a T Model Ford
from the mine overseer for some thirty five pounds, which made
life a bit easier and enabling me to use it in my line of work. I
remember one day a mate and I were returning home from a days
work, when I ran into a concealed stump in the grass, bending the
two tie rods.
it," I said, "looks like we'll have to leave her and
foot it back."
"Don't give up so
easily Charlie," my mate advised, "I reckon with a bit
of bush mechanicing we can get the old girl back on the
He suggested I should get a fire going in a nearby hollow stump,
converting it into a forge, while he began dismantling the tie
rods. Then heating them up on our make shift forge, he hammered
them back into shape. Before long, they were back in place and we
were on our way, much to my amazement.
Not long after that the
Mt Wandoo Mine closed, as it had not been a profitable adventure
and financial backing had dried up. George, never short on ideas,
had suggested we have a go mining flurospar. It was only bringing
thirty six shillings a ton, after taking out twelve schillings a
ton for transport costs, but George figured we would be able to
make a living from it. George had knowledge of a good reef about
twelve miles out of Mungana and the old T Model would come in
handy as transport.
For around another
twelve months, George and I worked together, until I developed
itchy feet. I thought there had to be more money in tin mining,
which is really what I had intended to do since leaving 'Wrotham
Park'. I spent the next few months searching throughout the
district for a suitable site to mine tin and then I came across a
chap working a lime kiln up in the hills. A big man in stature and
Russian by birth, he gathered lime deposits and burnt them in a
kiln, converting them them into fertilizer. He then sold the end
product to cane farmers along the coast. We developed a mutual
friendship and I began helping him cart wood for his kiln. On one
trip, which proved to be my last trip, I ran into a large boulder
hidden in the grass and smashed the spokes of the wheel to pieces.
Like the old Hupmobile it stayed where it stopped.
Around this time I came
to hear about Tate Township, a tin mining town consisting of a
Post Office, Store and the odd house. It had grown from the need
to supply miners with the necessities they required. Word had it
that some miners were doing quite well from tin mining, so I was
determined to give it a go. I headed for the township and
purchased a barrow, digging equipment and camping gear and then
headed out along the Tate River to McCords Creek.
Here I ran into another
two chaps also trying their luck. They had been here a while and
had dug a well some fifteen feet or so to supply them with
permanent fresh water. One of them went by the name of Jack
Priest, the other I do not recall. They suggested there was plenty
of creek for another bloke and though we shared each others
company at times we all worked our independent areas.
After a week or so I
had screened about ten to fifteen pounds of tin, which I took into
Tate, and asked the store keeper if I could use that as part down
payment on goods that I needed to allow me to continue mining. On
the couple of occasions we had met we had hit it off well together
and I had hoped he would extend me the credit.
"You seem an
honest hard working chap Charlie, more than I could say about some
others, so I'll stake you mate."
I loaded the supplies, which consisted of tinned beef, tinned
vegetables, flour, tea, sugar, rice, cream of tartar, curry powder
and a quarter of a side of bacon, into my barrow and headed back
to camp. Fresh meat was always available by shooting wallabies and
ducks with my old 25/20. The rifle had proven to be one of my most
The rains had not yet
started the creeks running in the area and only small waterholes
were to be seen at intervals along their beds. For months I dug
screenings, sieving out the larger rocks and then carted them to
higher ground above the bed. I had made enquires as to where water
levels had risen in previous years so as to be well out of reach
when the waters did start to run. Then I would be able to use the
running water to screen off the tin deposits. I carted the
screenings in kerosene tins tied to a yoke, which I carried over
my shoulders. Over a four-month period, I had built quite an
extensive stockpile of some thirty yards in length, ten yards wide
and some six feet high. All ready and waiting for a decent lot of
rainfall to start the creeks running.
The experience of Alex and I losing our lot at Big Black Gin Creek
was to fade into a minor disappointment compared to what was about
to happen. A tremendous storm hit one afternoon, sending us all to
seek shelter in our tents. The heavy rain poured constantly
throughout the evening and continued on through the night as well.
By daybreak the rains had abated, but the sound of a deafening
roar sent me scurrying down to my screening site.
What met my eyes was
completely soul destroying, as all I could see was a rushing
stream of muddy water and all of my equipment and my stockpile of
screenings were gone. It was all gone. Months and months of work
washed away in one night. Jack Priest and his mate had lost
everything as well and as we sat down on a log watching the raging
water below us, Jack kept muttering,
"But it's never
risen that high before. It's never risen that high before."
We spent the rest of the day finishing off the rum we had in our
The following morning I
gathered what was left of my possessions, placed them in my
barrow, and headed for the Chillagoe and a complete change of
scenery. During the second day on the road, I somehow managed to
lodge a kangaroo grass seed in my eye. It became very irritable
and I was unable to dislodge it. The next two days became a living
nightmare, as the pain in my eye had become near intolerable.
During the day, I had to hold my eyelids open to stop the
irritation and at night, just when I finally got off to sleep, I
would let them go and be awoken by the pain. Near my wits ends, I
was staggering down the road with my barrow, when a utility pulled
up beside me.
Apparently word had got
back to Chillagoe that I was seen heading back towards town and
one of my old mates had come out to get me. He immediately took me
around to the hospital, which was run by one Doctor and a nursing
sister. The Doctor was out of town and the nursing sister, who was
know to hit the bottle, could not be found. Finally, word reached
her - fortunately in a sober state - and after working on my eye
for some ten minutes she was able to extract the cause of all the
Charlie old mate," she said, "if you had left it much
longer, that seed would have done some permanent damage to your
sister," I replied, "I appreciate you getting the darn
After resting up a
week, the old eye was finally coming good, so I had decided to
head to the coast and down to Cairns. To get a few bob together I
sold my fly and what equipment I had to Spud Murphy the local
storekeeper. I didn't see much point in wasting what little money
I had on a train fare, when it was just as easy to climb into one
of the wagons and ride for nothing.
The tarp covered coal
wagon I chose turned out to be a bad choice, as the heavens opened
up and to my disgust it rained for most of the trip. Sleep was
near an impossibility through the long, cold and wet journey and
the only solace was that by morning the sunrise found the train
passing the Barron Falls, which held me in awe as I looked over
the side of the wagon to peer and listen to the tremendous roar of
water cascading down into the river below. As the train pulled
into Cairns I discreetly looked about to see if the coast was
clear and then quickly disembarked. I followed the line away from
the Station and set up camp in a quiet, secluded spot and lit a
fire in order to make some tea and catch up on some badly needed
I slept like a baby until late into the afternoon and was only
awakened by the sound of movement around the camp. A unexpected
human voice frightened the life out of me.
"You must have
been knocked up mate as you've been sleeping for hours." I
quickly raised myself on my elbow and found a stranger placing a
pile of firewood on the ground not far from the fire.
"Hope you don't
mind me sharing your fire mate? I reckoned you wouldn't mind
The smell of food
cooking on the fire distilled the apprehension I felt and as I was
still breathing and all my belongings were still where I had left
them, this chap obviously didn't pose any sort of a threat.
they call me mate, what can I call you?"
just Charlie will do."
Skinny was a New Zealander down on his luck and had heard that the
North may hold out some prospects with regards to changing his lot
in life. He'd also heard there was money to be made tin mining and
was heading up to China Camp to try his luck.
"I was thinking
along those lines myself in fact," I told Skinny and
suggested to him that we should travel together.
Charlie," he replied, "and I suggest you'd better get in
for your chop of this lot before I eat it all.
We sat up late into the night, swapping stories as to where we'd
both been and both of us had good and hard luck tales to tell.
Next morning we headed
for the Daintree, only to find that a couple of days later a
cyclone had been through the area causing all sorts of havoc,
which made traversing the track through to China Camp one hell of
a battle. Eleven times I counted we crossed the Daintree River, as
we worked our way North, finally coming to the base of Mt
Alexander. It took us a full day and a half to find a track around
this peak and all the time it drizzled rain, making the going very
uncomfortable. All night it continued and to keep ourselves from
being sucked to death by leeches, we cut a large pile of lawyer
vine with our machetes, piling it into a heap, and then laid our
swags on top with a fly hung up over the lot to keep some of the
rain off us. The leeches were unable to climb up the vine and we
were thankful for that.
We finally reached
China Camp only to find it was well worked out and the only
inhabitants were a small population of miners along with some
Aboriginal women, who were still getting enough to meet their
needs. We spent a week trying our luck there, but only found small
deposits, hardly worth busting one self working for. The women
told us of a camp up on the Bloomfield where lots of white fellas
were digging, so we decided to head on up that way. On our journey
towards the Bloomfield we came across a hut and on calling out to
see if it was occupied we heard a faint cry from inside. The lone
occupant was delirious and obviously pretty crook. He had been
like that for a while and looked like death warmed up.
While cleaning him up,
we found a scrub tick, which had worked its way into his back and
was poisoning the poor bloke. We burnt the critter out and then
spent a week with him until he looked like getting back on his
feet. He was rather grateful for our help and told us about the
Main Camp on the upper stretches of the Bloomfield where blokes
were doing all right scratching out tin deposits. Then, before we
left, he confided in us and told us that, if we really wanted to
make a bob, the best place to look was where he called the Right
Arm and told us of a particular spot where we would do well and
that we should set up camp there.
Working our way up the
Bloomfield, we finally came across what was obviously the Main
Camp. Here we met two Swedes, who had been dairy farmers, but down
on their luck they had been making a better living tin mining. We
spent a few days with them, learning more about the area and
mentioned the Right Arm to them. They then told us of its location
and had remembered there were about four huts in the area, one of
which they used themselves when up that way, but we were welcome
to use it for the time being. Determined to give it a go, we set
off and worked our way along a bush track and eventually found the
spot the Swedes had made mention of.
Our first encounter
with anyone in the area was with a particular German chap, who we
first sighted standing in water up to his neck mining for tin. He
immediately made it quite clear to us that he did not want company
or any opposition in the area. We never did get on with him the
whole time we were there and on the odd occasion we did bump into
him and converse it usually ended up in a row. We spent some time
working and exploring the area looking for the spot our mate in
the hut had told us about, though without any luck. Skinny figured
he'd had enough and came up with the idea that he would do better
if he went back to China Camp and set up a trading store there,
supplying the Aboriginal folk and any other prospectors with goods
and trading them for tin.
There were miners
scattered throughout the area, who depended on having their stores
brought up from Oluvson Bros. on the lower Bloomfield by Ned Finn,
who with fifteen or so packhorses made the long trek once a month.
He would then on his return journey take our tin deposits back to
the store, where they were labelled and kept in a shed, for a
small commission. Then when the boat came from Cooktown called,
the deposits were sent back to Cooktown and cashed in and credited
to each miner.
Some time after Skinny
left I came across a chap and his nephew working on the Right Arm.
Clarry had been a timber hauler in earlier years, working with his
team of bullocks, carting cedar. He had found himself out of work
and was scratching for tin along with his nephew. He had always
been in a quandary as what to do with all the bullocks and by the
time he come up with any sort of an idea we had eaten them anyway,
which solved the problem. I had finally found the spot I had been
searching for and just as the old fella had said the tin was there
for the taking.
One night while sitting
around the fire chewing on my pipe, I realized it was my birthday
and that it had been some fifteen years now, since I had first set
foot in this incredible country, never having dreamt in a million
years that it would have turned out the way it had. There were so
many memories and so many folk who had been a part of my life.
There had been good times and bad, but I never regretted for a
moment having experienced the life I had led.
It was now 1937 and I
was pushing thirty-one years of age. I wondered how my father and
stepmother were and also my half brother Frederick. I had not been
a good letter writer and fifteen years had passed so quickly. I
decided then and there that night that I'd enough tin in storage
to pay for a trip back to England. With that thought locked in my
mind I made plans to settle my affairs and looked forward with
anticipation to seeing my family once again.
WHERE IS MY HEART?
There is no place like home they say
Or so the saying goes.
'Tis true I guess, I think of home,
My melancholy shows.
I swear my heart though loves this land,
But times they have been tough.
Perhaps a trip back home again
Will tell me soon enough.
I often think of family,
Their mem'ries flood my mind.
It's crossed my thoughts to sail the seas
And leave all this behind.
I've got the cash to buy the fare,
My mining has paid off.
Why not sail home and see my folks
And do it like a toff.
I will in fact, I've made my mind,
'Tis London I will see
And where my heart does really lie
Will be revealed to me.
A VISIT TO
My arrival at Oluvson
Brother's Store co-ordinated with the arrival of the boat from
Cooktown, so I pitched in and helped load my stockpile of tin
aboard and then secured a passage for myself back to Cooktown. At
long last I had something to show for months of hard work.
Settling my account with the Oluvsons, I boarded the boat and was
excited about the opportunity of going back to England.
After cashing in my tin
deposits in Cooktown I organized a return fare to England by ship.
It seemed like an eternity since I had left London with only two
pounds in my pocket and here I was, after all these years, cashed
up and heading home once again. The voyage back was not so
reminiscent of my journey out here those fifteen years ago, as
there was no storm and no Jock.
Father was now living
in Dorsett and retired. Frederick was no longer the little baby I
had pushed around in the perambulator, but a grown man and serving
in the Army. It was good to have a little money in tow and to be
able to relax and enjoy the pleasures of old England, but as I
moved around I soon realized how few memories I had of London as,
having been only sixteen when I left, it was all so very different
I spent my time
visiting various Vaudeville shows and tried my hand at a few good
old English ales, which took a bit of getting used to I must
admit. I spent hours talking to father about my life in Australia
and I think he was rather amazed at what I had been through. He
must have felt I'd sown my oats and had experienced enough of the
hard life, as he offered to help set me up in a Service Station,
if I would consider staying on in England. I gave it a lot of
thought, but I had spent half my life in Australia up to this
point and somehow the old heart strings considered Australia home.
I enjoyed my six-month stay and, as much as I would miss my
family, I was looking forward to returning.
I had no regrets about
blowing almost every penny I had earned and by the time my ship
docked in Brisbane I was nearly flat broke. After a day in the
city I had enough left to purchase a fare to the furthermost bus
depot on the outskirts of Brisbane and then found myself at the
railway yards looking for an open goods wagon and a lift to North
Queensland once more. This mode of transportation eventually
delivered me to Townsville, allowing me to finally disembark late
one evening at the Garbutt yards.
Next morning, with a
ten-shilling note I had found on route, I went and purchased a
steak from the Butchers and proceeded to cook it back at the rail
yards. I was really looking forward to what appeared would be my
last decent meal for a while when a stranger came from behind a
wagon and stood by the fire.
"Names Fred mate,
what might yours be?"
"You can call me
Charlie," I replied. "You been on the wallaby
"Come up from the
South looking for work. Do you think there's any chance of getting
on some place Charlie?"
"Dunno for sure.
I've just come back up this way myself."
Fred seemed intent on
sticking with me and when I jumped the next goods wagon that
afternoon, heading North. Fred followed suit. I had in mind
getting off at Babinda as I had met a chap by the name of Hugh,
who owned cane farms in the area, on the ship's voyage home. I had
gotten on really well with him and he told me to call in and see
him if I was ever looking for work. Unfortunately, when the train
pulled in at the Babinda siding, just as we were looking to see if
the coast was clear, who should be standing there but the local
constable. He caught sight of us immediately and took us both in
Though we spent three
days in his lock up, he was a decent chap and never shut the doors
on us and each day we went about cutting up his wood heap to earn
our board and tucker. So to speak. I must admit that in some ways
it was very tempting to stay there. After our release, Fred and I
stayed in an old machinery shed in the rail yard for a few days
until I could find out where Hugh's farm was exactly. Apparently
during this time some bloke had been running amuck with a .303
rifle and had been indiscriminately shooting at targets. It had
caused a lot of concern in the community and it had not gone
unnoticed by some locals that we were camped in the machinery
They soon began to
befriend us and shouted us drinks and tucker at the local hotel
and all the while they asked questions with regards as to what we
were doing about finding this lunatic who had been shooting up the
place. It soon dawned on us that they thought we were under-cover
detectives, who were investigating the incident and were using the
machinery shed as a cover. We had to be or we would not have been
allowed to stay there. Discretion was the greater part of valor,
we thought, and sensed it was a good time to make a move in the
direction of Hugh's farm. We left immediately.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
They say home is where the heart is, but where does my heart lie?
I'm caught between my land of birth and a land where you do or
My native land has fam'ly ties, a bond my heart does yearn,
Though something is amiss I fear, it's this I must discern.
For here my folk are near at hand, not mem'ries on my mind.
I've tucker, bed and all I want and life is not a grind.
My dad says, "Son, please settle down 'tis England that's
This Southern land is far too harsh for lads like you to roam.
Who wants to tramp a thousand miles along some dusty track,
To hump a swag and all you own upon an aching back?
Who wants to eat some mutton chops you scored the day before,
Along with damper that you baked and begged from Squatter's store?
Who wants to camp beneath the stars and share it with a friend
And warm oneself with gidyea coals till night comes to an end?
Who wants to work beneath the sun that makes you sweat by day,
That turns a land to powdered dust and keeps the rains away?
Who wants to meet the kind of men whose lives are down and out
And turn their hands to anything and tramp their way about?
Who wants to dig and mine the ground for little or no pay,
But live in hope you'll have your dream and wealth will come your
His words had stirred my very soul, it's hard just to explain,
Despite the harsh demanding life my heart saw home again.
This might seem strange to blokes like dad, but that's the way it
It grows on you that Southern land, as ev'ry Aussie knows.
THE BARTLE FRERE GOLD RUSH
Hugh was glad to make
my acquaintance again and he was only too happy to give Fred and I
a job on the place chipping cane fields. It brought back memories
of sucker bashing and stick picking, both of which had never
appealed to me, but, as usual, it was work and tucker and a few
shillings in our pockets. In the evenings High and I discussed the
latest discovery of gold at Bartle Frere. I mentioned my interest
in doing a bit of prospecting, if only I could get some backing
and the needed capital, which would be required to take on such an
It appeared Hugh was
very interested in supporting such a venture and he was only too
willing to back me. Within the week we had secured the goods we
needed and were setting off to try our luck. After disembarking
from the ship in Brisbane, I had in fact paid a visit to the Mines
Department's office and had enquired about new mining activities
in Queensland. They advised me of the Bartle Frere gold strike,
though had warned me that they felt there was no real evidence of
it being a definite long term venture. I had not mentioned this to
Hugh, fearing it may dampen his enthusiasm to back me.
I can't say I really
took to Fred as a mate, as he seemed a little too shifty to me,
but still he was intent on staying by my side and followed me up
to the Bartle Frere fields. I had no intention of spending good
money on purchasing a claim, but roamed the area, working where I
chose. Most title owners were not working their own claims anyway,
but were just investors hoping to cash in at a later date.
Apparently, Hugh had done some investing of his own and had
purchased a battery plant in the area. I had no intention of
working in such a plant, as the dust it produced was enough to
kill any man. Fred, though, took on a job there, but it became
apparent to me that his motives were as shifty as I had expected.
He was knocking off small gold pieces whenever he could get away
Moving around the
diggings, knapping bits off here and there, I had stored up half a
ton of deposits and then sent them off to Chillagoe. The return
was not great, but it kept my enthusiasm alive. I had heard
stories of the old diggings at Swiper's Flat and especially around
Christmas Tree Creek, a tributary off the East Mulgrave River,
which led me to believe that ,maybe, there was still gold there to
be found. Fred, probably aware he had been pushing his luck at the
battery plant, agreed to join me in an expedition to find the
An old timer in the
camp now in his eighties and with a good knowledge of minerals
asked if he could come with us. The poor old bloke could hardly
get around at the best of times, as his pins were giving way on
him, but he was determined he could be an asset to us. We set off
climbing high into the ranges, following goat tracks that were at
times very difficult to negotiate. Should one have slipped in
places, it would have meant falling to one's certain death. We
took turns at helping the old timer, as he found it very difficult
to handle the steep climbs and to this point he proved to be
nothing but a liability.
An old fig tree marked
with a cross and the letter C underneath led us to believe that we
had found Christmas Creek and we followed it high into its source.
Agreeing on a spot where signs indicated the possibility of
finding gold deposits, we began sinking a shaft. For weeks on end
we dug until, at forty five feet, we found some small traces of
gold bearing quartz. I suggested we should dig a shaft sideways to
find a vein, but the old timer argued that if we kept on digging
we would come across even better deposits of quartz, yielding
larger deposits of gold. After a while, it crossed my mind that
the old timer was as shifty as Fred, as he he had been trying to
put Fred and I against each other. He had been running Fred down,
behind his back and apparently , when he was with Fred, he'd been
running me down to him.
At a depth of one
hundred feet we found quartz bearing rock and dug a side shaft
some forty feet, but there was little to nothing in the way of
gold bearing deposits. I was fed up with the whole venture and
sick of putting up with Fred and the old timer, so I told them I
was pulling out and heading South. I heard Hugh had no great
success with the battery stamp, though fortunately he had been
able to sell it to a German buyer.
BACK TO 'WROTHAM PARK'
As I tramped my way
back towards the coast, the district was alive with conversation,
concerning the outbreak of war in Europe and what part Australia
should play. Young men were on the move, heading for recruitment
offices and spoke excitedly about the opportunity of adventures
that might lie ahead. I had not seen such movement on the road
since the early depression years and, as far as the adventures
that lay ahead, my thoughts went back to the stories my father had
told me those many years ago, after he had returned from the great
war in 1918.
I spent a couple of
days resting in Cairns, watching all the hustle and bustle go by,
though allowed myself the privilege of sleeping in each morning.
Something I hadn't done for months. One morning, upon rising, I
showered and put on a change of clothes, then headed on down town
to have some breakfast at one of the local cafes. The newspaper
was full of what was happening in Europe.
The rest of the morning
I spent strolling along the ocean waterfront until midday and then
sat in one of the local hotels for most of the afternoon. One
couldn't get away from the subject of Europe and how it was the
duty of all eligible men to go and fight to defend the mother
country and to do Australia proud. The spirit of the whole thing
had obviously affected me by late afternoon or perhaps it was the
combination of talk and the grog that finally persuaded me to go
down to the recruitment office and join up. After all, I was
English by birth and my home country was under threat.
There were quite a few
lads sitting and waiting at the recruitment office when I arrived
and, as I was feeling a little under the weather, I thought I had
better sit down and wait with the rest of them. After half and
hour or so, I had dozed off somewhat, when I was rudely awoken by
the effects of something digging into my chest. Peering up through
half shut eyes, I saw the formidable figure of a Major standing
before me, poking his cane at me.
"Don't need the
likes of your sort for this effort lad!" he barked and moved
on to inspect the remaining men. Well if that's the way you feel
about it chum, I thought to myself, I'll be only to happy to move
on. I wandered outside onto the footpath to light up a cigarette,
still feeling a little indignant at my rejection, when I heard a
familiar voice call out from behind me.
"Is that you
Turning around, I saw the smile on a face that belonged to my old
mate George Ogilvie.
"George old mate.
How the hell are you?"
After five minutes of cordial greetings and ramblings, we headed
down to the pub to settle into a good old session and a chin wag
about old times.
We eagerly covered the
time we had spent apart and then George asked me if I had any work
at present or any thing in mind. He was working on 'Wrotham Park'
and, as I told him I had nothing on, he suggested I come back to
the 'Park'. According to George, my name had always come up in
conversation from time to time and the Lawrences had always
mentioned that they would give me a job anytime I should want to
come back. It was encouraging to know that, even if the old Major
didn't want my sort, the Lawrences felt they did. Next morning
George and I were on our way back to Wrotham Park and the
travelling by motor vehicle was a pleasant change from jumping
To renew acquaintances
with Mrs Wright and the Lawrences left a good feeling within and I
was offered a position offsiding George, who had been instructed
to build a double dipping yard at 'Drumduff'. For months we worked
at cutting timber in the area for the yards and the dip's
framework, along with the carting of gravel from the creek to make
concrete. It was hard but honest work and to have a regular income
and tucker again suited me just fine. We had set up a tent under a
corrugated iron shelter, which deflected some of the searing heat
as well as protecting us from the rains.
One day, while
finishing off the last of the cementing, I noticed smoke billowing
in the air and coming from the direction of our campsite and made
mention of it to George.
off the hollow log that's cooking our lunch Charlie,"
suggested George, but the increasing volume of black smoke had me
doubting George's theory.
"I don't think so
George old mate. I think we've got more than that on our
hands." George, lifting his head, suddenly dropped everything
and took off in the direction of the camp.
Charlie!" screamed George, as he continued running as fast as
his old legs could carry him. "It looks like the whole camps
George had left some
corned meat cooking in a Kero' tin and a spark had obviously
jumped the firebreak and set the grass alight around the camp. By
the time we got there the flames had reached the tent site. The
canvas tent was well and truly alight, when I remembered the box
of jelly and detonators, which lay between our bunks. I
immediately cut a hole in the back of the tent and looked down to
see the box and flicked the lid open to see the detonators sitting
on top of what was a mass of melted jelly. Realising there was
little I could do, I tried to put as much space between me and the
box as I possibly could.
Concerned more about
our utility, which was surrounded by burning grass, George ran and
jumped through an open window and drove it clear of the fire. I
was headed towards him , when there was a series of explosions
behind me. The detonators had finally exploded and they went off
like bullets, penetrating the corrugated iron above the tent. It
took both George and I another hour to bring the fire under
control, but we had lost most of our belongings in the meantime.
We collected our tools and what little remained of personal
belongings and then headed off to 'Wrotham Park'.
We hadn't gone more
than a few miles, when the first of our tyres blew out, apparently
damaged by the heat of the fire. We changed it for the spare, but
before we had gone another five miles the remaining tyres followed
suite. Resigned to running home on the rims, we set out to cover
the remaining miles. It was the longest and slowest trip I had
ever experienced, even eclipsing my trip in the coal wagon from
Chillagoe to Cairns. It was a strange sight that finally pulled
into 'Wrotham Park' the following day. After organizing new
equipment, Mr Lawrence sent another man out with us to finish off
Over the next few
months, Mr Lawrence had asked if I could do some renovations on
the men's quarters, as they were badly in need of repairs. The
newspapers that came into the 'Park' kept us in news as to the
war's progress in Europe and described the terrible blitzing that
London was taking. This aroused in me, concern for my parents and
and my half-brother Frederick. I was then prompted to write home
in search of the answers to my concerns. My skills learnt from the
old carpenter on 'Nanami' impressed Mr Lawrence so much that he
gave me the job of renovating the main house, along with all the
other homes on the various properties they owned. As I worked on
the main house, I reminisced over what course my life may have
taken, if I had taken up the old carpenter's offer those many
Some weeks later I
received a letter from England and at first I was a little
sceptical about opening it, perhaps fearing the contents may have
bad news to disclose. I was pleasantly relieved when I read that
my father and step-mother were well and the latest news of
Frederick, who was serving in the army, was that he was alive and
well also. Sadly the pages of writing revealed the terrifying
ordeals of the nightly air raids and bombings, which caused mass
destruction and loss of lives. It seemed though that Londoners
were brave of heart and were bouncing right back again.
I can still remember
how I was working on the main homestead when news came through
that the war in Europe was over. Everyone was elated and even more
so when some months later Japan surrendered as well. There were
celebrations reported all over the country. My renovating work
kept me busy over the coming years and to the end of the nineteen
forties. I had spent the last ten years on 'Wrtotham Park' and it
had become very much a part of my life. Occasionally I would have
a holiday down in Cairns or I would spend some of my days off down
in Mareeba. Times had changed and the days of my wandering about
the place were seemingly drawing to an end.
The ears of many Londoners knew well the dreaded sound;
That distant drone ceased all routines as silence would abound.
Then sirens echoed warning calls to those who would take heed;
All knew the bombers overhead had deadly loads indeed.
Long beams of light searched avidly across the inky skies,
While ack ack gunners sought their marks amid loud frantic cries.
The city once aglow with light then darkened black as sin,
As Londoners sought shelters and the safety there within.
Then came that dreaded eerie noise, bombs whistling as they fell,
Anticipation drains the soul as fear casts its dark spell.
The whistling ceases suddenly, destruction takes its place;
Explosive roars than shake the air, hands cover ev'ry face.
The night it never seems to wane, a nightmare without end,
As droning planes and whistling bombs, explosive roars all blend.
When suddenly they disappear and sirens scream retreat;
The raid exacts a heavy toll, fires rage from street to street.
There's always tragic loss of life and all do share the pain,
But brave of heart are Londoners, they'll bounce right back again.
Perhaps one day there'll be no war, as love replaces fears,
And man will learn to live in peace with no more need for tears.
A LADY IN MY LIFE
One evening, while
sitting on my quarter's verandah, my thoughts were of how long it
had been since I first stepped off the ship in Sydney those thirty
years ago. Time had been of no real significance through those
early years, as one learnt to live one day at a time, and
surviving each day was an accomplishment in itself. Survival
through the years had been hard enough as a single man let alone
entertaining the thought of attaching one's self to the fairer
sex, complicating matters even further. In fact the last time I
had even contemplated the thought was away back in Mudgee, when I
had been smitten on young Ivy Rope. My thoughts were momentarily
interrupted, as I pondered over what had become of the lass I had
been to shy to show my affections to.
I had a few days owing
to me, so I decided to go down to Mareeba and have a break away
from the place. There was no need to jump trains any longer as I
had purchased a Chev motor vehicle, which enabled me to travel in
style. I always stayed at one of the local hotels and spent the
days playing cards and drinking with some of the locals I had
become acquainted with over the years. I had all my meals at the
pub and it had not escaped my notice that I had been giving more
than the usual attention to the lady doing the catering. She was a
very friendly and a kindly person and I finally plucked up the
courage to ask her to have a drink with me after she had finished
The lady's name was
Reta and she was a lone mother with a young family to care for. We
enjoyed each others company over the next few days and I had
promised to keep in touch with her until I could come down this
way again. It would seem I had been touched by one of Cupid's
arrows, as Reta was often on my mind now and I had this burning
desire to see her again, and would as soon as the opportunity
presented itself. Over a period of time I was able to visit
Mareeba on a number of occasions and our relationship continued to
During one particular
visit, I was introduced to a Mr Hughes from 'Koolatah', which was
located West of 'Wrotham Park' along the Mitchell River. While
conversing, I had mentioned my renovating work on the 'Park', so
he offered me a position, renovating the buildings on his
property. I had mentioned my commitment to Reta and her family and
I felt I could not move that far away from them. He then informed
me that he could offer Reta a position as cook and accommodation
for her and her family as well. He had obviously observed Reta's
catering abilities during his stay at the hotel.
As all the renovations
had been completed on the buildings at 'Wrotham Park', I said I
would approach the Lawrences and see if they approved of letting
my services go and I would discuss it with Reta as well. My reply
would then be forthcoming as quickly as possible. Reta agreed to
taking the job as cook and though Mr Lawrence was unhappy to lose
me he could see the sense in it as all the renovations had been
completed and he knew Mr Hughes was in need of my services. Within
the fortnight were were off to 'Koolatah' and a change of scenery.
'Wrotham Park' had grown on me over the years and leaving became a
rather emotional experience.
The eighteen months or
so it took to complete the work on 'Koolatah' had been a pleasant
experience and the Hughes family had treated us well. My
relationship with Reta had continued to blossom and we had saved
enough money to make a new life for ourselves back on the east
coast. Our plan to settle on the coast was put on hold though,
when we decided to go to Charters Towers and take up the positions
on offer there first, as this would enable us to set ourselves up
financially, before getting married and finding somewhere to
settle. Leaving 'Koolatah' behind we then made our move to
I had obtained a
position as a navvy on the railway and Reta had obtained a live in
position as a cook at one of the hotels. After a period of some
six months we felt we were in a position to purchase a home and
finally set a marriage date. We were married in Innisfail and
bought a home at Herberton. Thirty odd years of tramping from one
place to another had come to an end and I had finally found a
place that I could call my own in this great country. I now
considered our modest dwelling in Herberton, Queensland,
THE FAIR AND GENTLE SEX
For years Id lived the single life,
No permanent abode
And miles I'd tramp those long, hot days,
Along some dusty road.
Depression years were kind of tough,
They robbed men of their pride.
You asked for rations where you could
And took it in your stride.
At times you'd share life with a mate,
Another weary soul,
Who even though was down and out
His mateship you'd enroll.
This tramping, camping way of life,
Though never did annex
A bloke like me to what they call
The fair and gentle sex.
But time it seems has changed all that,
I met a lady friend.
She stole my heart, my way of life,
We married in the end.
Life in Herberton
agreed with both Reta and I and in 1955 I was to experience one of
lifes greatest joys in that I became a father to a little
daughter. In the 1960's I had the wonderful privilege of meeting
my half brother Frederick again, when he stopped in to see us
while on a world tour. Both my parents had passed away by this
time and Frederick was now a practicing doctor back in England.
Sadly though, I would lose touch with him after his returning
home. Reta and I spent a number of wonderful years in the North
before we decided to move down into New South Wales and settle in
the city I had first set foot in, when first arriving in this
My experience as a
carpenter earned my family a living for many years until I retired
in the 1960's. My family then decided to move back into Queensland
and the town of Bundaberg. While driving up the coast, we stopped
on the side of the road to have some lunch, when an old shed a few
yards inside a paddock took my attention, so I wandered over to
take a look.
It had obviously seen many years and the old bush timbers brought
back a lot of memories. Inside there was an old saddle, which had
been bleached white from redundancy, hanging on the wall and
covered with spiders webs. I was contemplating what kind of a
story it could tell, when I heard a voice from behind me say,
"Can I help you
with something mate?"
Turning, I saw the figure of an elderly man, perhaps the owner,
standing in the doorway.
"Hope you don't
mind?" I said, "I'm just reminiscing. The old bush
carpentry took my eye."
We sat and talked a
while and he told me the story behind the saddle. Apparently it
had been hanging there when he bought the place in the forties. He
told me it was once owned by an old boss drover, who had it bought
at a country fair. He was drowned while crossing a creek with a
mob of cattle and his wife sold it to make ends meet. It had been
purchased by the chap who once owned this place, but a drought had
broken him and he was forced to sell up by the bank. He moved into
town, but left the old saddle on the wall. It has been hanging
there ever since as I never had a need to use it. We chatted some
more about old times, but we were interrupted by the blowing of a
car horn, as my wife and daughter hinted they were wanting to move
on. I shook his hand as I departed and said goodbye.
I was to lose my wife
Reta a couple of years later, which came as a great blow to me,
though I was thankful to have our daughter, who continued to share
her life with me. It was while living in Bundaberg that I came
across the author of my stories. Merv Webster was a bush poet, who
wrote under the pen name of The Goondiwindi Grey. He had such a
love for this country's history and had shown me a copy of a book
he had written, which traced his family history and their roots in
this country. Not Famous - Just Battlers was the title of his book
and I was amazed at the amount of research he had put into
compiling it. The subject of families then got us talking about my
life experiences and it crossed my mind that he might be just the
bloke to find out if my half-brother Frederick was still alive;
something that had been on my mind for many years.
My friendship with The
Goondiwindi Grey flourished and he suggested that I should put my
life experiences down in writing, so that it could be preserved
for future history, to help folk remember what their forebears
endured while making this country a place for them to call home.
To help them to see how a young sixteen year old English boy, who
upon seeing a mural on a wall portraying cane fields, men on horse
back working stock, all set under a large yellow sun where men
wore the biggest hats he had ever seen, could live to see his
dream come true.
In 1996 I had the
privilege to enjoy my 90th birthday and the opportunity to read a
copy of his book, In Days Gone By - The Life of a Dreadnought Boy.
It has brought back the many fine memories of my early days in
this country, the places I lived and worked in, the thousands of
kilometres I tramped over and the many wonderful friends and
characters I shared a part of my life with.
Those days have gone
and will not return again. Not that I would wish the hardships of
those depression years on anyone, but they did build character in
men and women. Something you do not see so much of today. The
world is a very different place and the future of our young ones
is something that concerns me. I hope you enjoy and gain something
from my experiences.
I also hope you enjoy
the various poems penned by The Goondiwindi Grey, which I feel
portray the many reflections of the moments I shared In Days Gone
N.B. My one regret
in life was that I was never to repay the Storekeeper at Tate
township the money I owed him, as he had put his trust in me and I
felt that I let him down. I hope one day I can apologize
personally. [John 5:28,29.]
from the Author:
Charlie passed from
this life not long after the publishing of this book and I feel it
was a privilege to have known the gentleman and feel proud to have
made his acquaintance.
The book was entered in
the Australian Bush Laureate Awards at The Tamworth Country Music
Festival in 1998 and was chosen as one of the five finalists in
the Heritage category.
ęBush Poet and Balladeer
The Goondiwindi Grey