Chapter 2 - Growing Up On The Farm
So life on the farm for this newly married couple would undoubtedly have been pretty happy. Their home “The Springs” was often visited by family and friends from the City as well as friends from the surrounding farms. Later on there was the telephone, and it wasn't a party line either, although it was connected through a manual exchange. I still remember the number. It was Popran 19. The phone was one of those lovely old wooden affairs attached to the wall, with a mouthpiece that swivelled up and down to accommodate people of different stature. The earpiece was on the end of a cord and when not in use was hung from a yoke at the side of the box. To raise the operator it was necessary to crank a handle on the other side of the box. This sent a small electric current down the line to ring a bell and actuate an indicator to alert the operator that business was pending. I have, all my life, had a tendency to speak over-loudly when using the phone, and I am sure this is because of the conditioning I received from that old but important piece of electrical machinery.
It would have been the only piece of electrical machinery in the house for many years, too. Power was not connected to The Mountain until after we left in 1936 so we depended on kerosene or petrol devices for lighting and clothes ironing. The kitchen lamp that I first remember was a large affair with a wick. This was later replaced by an Aladdin lamp with a mantle which gave a beautiful strong but soft light. The trouble was the fragility of the mantle and the tendency if the wick was not trimmed properly for a crust of carbon to build up on the mantle and clouds of black smoke to darken the glass chimney and pollute the air. This occurrence usually meant a period of enforced gloom while the wick was turned down to allow the carbon to burn away. Tricks like sprinkling a pinch of salt on the carbon to speed its disintegration were tried but only led to arguments as to whether they worked or not.
For bedroom use there were wick type lamps with glass chimneys or “hurricane” lamps made in China. They, in fact, were the old reliables but, like the Aladdin, were a nuisance when they smoked, generally through turning them up too high and which meant that the glass had to be cleaned. At least the glass chimney was big enough to get one's hand in with some crunched up newspaper to give it a polish. In wintertime we used the hurricane lamps to do the milking and when we wanted to get some wood from the heap or pay a visit to what we called “The Dunny”, a night-time adventure that used to fill me with great fear and revulsion. I think I must have suffered from self-inflicted constipation for the first fifteen years of my life because I hated that place so much. For some reason that I could never understand, that small smelly terrifying building up the path beyond the grapevine and the Dorothy Perkins roses didn't ever seem to worry my parents. But it surely worried me. And it was even worse when I was older and I would report that the dunny was full, only to be told “Well, get a spade and empty it.” I think I developed strong arm and leg muscles from digging great holes in amongst the orange trees and carrying that stinking heavy container thereto. Remember, I was the finicky one who liked to be clean!
Getting back to lamps, there were also a couple of pressure lamps with mantles which ran on kerosene. They were known as Coleman Lamps and were mainly used for night work in the Packing Shed, or helping a calf to be born, or for walking to the neighbours and similar night-time adventures, Of course, if you dropped it and broke the mantle you were in real trouble, as you were indeed if you forgot to pump it up. These pressure lamps gave a great deal more light than the hurricane lamps but were harder to light because they had to be heated up with a swab soaked in methylated spirits similar to a Primus stove. It is a wonder to me that there weren't accidents with the handling of kerosene which was stored in the old square-shaped four-gallon tins in the bathroom, of all places. The tin had a hole punched in the top and into this was placed a rattley little hand pump to draw out the fuel. Frequently it spilled out onto the floor, which was of bare boards but no-one seemed to be too concerned.
We also had some candles and beside each of our beds a candle-stick and box of matches. Sometimes we were allowed to read by candle light which meant that moths were frequently attracted, but fortunately mosquitos were never a problem on The Mountain. Dad also had an electric torch. It was a beauty, about a foot long, silver in colour and with a great bulbous ref lector at the business end. It must have required about six batteries and I recall that they were flat as often as not when the torch was most needed!
Mother's original clothes irons were simply flat “Mrs Potts” irons heated on top of the fuel stove, rubbed on brown paper soaked with candle-grease to clean them and make them slippery and applied to the garment. Later these were supplemented with, and eventually replaced by a pressure iron, with a little tank to hold petrol, the tank sticking out the top like those early solar hot-water heaters with the head-tank perched above the roof. Petrol seems an awfully dangerous fuel for such purposes, but I don't recall any emergencies.
Cooking was done on a wood-fired stove that also doubled as a water heater, having a tank built into the side. It also served as a room-warmer. Unfortunately it warmed the room both winter and summer, but my abiding memory is how cosy it was to sit around the fender (to keep the smaller children from burning themselves) in our dressing gowns after tea while Mother read to us from Arthur Mee's Childrens Bible. After a cup of cocoa we would then go off to bed.
When I was very young and there were only the two of us, or when Lois was still small enough to sleep in the cot in the main bedroom, Wally and I slept in a tiny room between our parent's bedroom and the bathroom. It had originally been a bigger room and bathing was done out in the laundry, a lean-to with dirt floor, fuel copper and concrete tubs which was approached by going down the back steps and turning left. But when we were quite small, the room was divided, a bath installed in one half and our beds in the other. The bathroom half also served as a kind of store-room with many shelves and hooks to hang things on. It smelled a bit like a grocers shop with soap and kerosene predominating.
This little room of ours, however, became the maid's room when Mum and Dad had the luxury of a young woman from Mangrove Creek to help in the house and with the children. I think she arrived after Lois was born. We children then slept on the front verandah, separated from the elements by blinds made of wooden slats wired together in such a way that the blinds could be rolled up with the help of a series of ropes and pulleys. This was a great place to sleep in the summer-time but in the winter it was terrible! The thought of it gives me rheumatic pains in my legs even now. It took ages for legs and feet to warm up, and it's a wonder we children didn't suffocate because we used to sleep with our heads under the blanket when the weather was frosty. I probably suffered more than the others as I was very thin in those days and the rest of the family were, to put it politely, pretty chubby.
I remember those beds quite well. Three of them had black tubular frames with cyclone wire bases and coconut fibre mattresses. They were hard and prickly and oh-so-cold in winter, but Mother swore by them. The fourth bed was originally a drop-side cot occupied successively by each of us until finally Neil was big enough for the sides to be taken off. So we slept out on the verandah in almost all weathers. The exception was during very heavy weather when the blinds allowed the rain to spray onto the bedclothes and we moved the beds into the dining room until the weather cleared.
After the cold, windy damp verandah, the dining room which was in the very centre of the house seemed like a bit of heaven itself!
We children were seldom allowed into the dining room or the spare bedroom as they were kept tidy and dusted for visitors. Our days were spent either in the kitchen which was big enough to have a table at which the six of us generally ate our meals, or on the back verandah which had a large round table. The back verandah was enclosed in zinc gauze on the western side and all the other rooms opened off it, as did the back steps. Immediately outside the back door was a huge orange tree which provided shade and a great place for children to climb. We tended to use it as a cubby-house as well as a place to leave our toys and our bicycles. This monster tree was a variety known as “Parramatta”, the fruit having thick oily skins, little juice and very large pips, and mainly used for making marmalade.
Attached to the back wall and shaded by the orange tree was a drip-safe for cooling the milk, butter and jellies etc. Separately hanging from the tree was a meat safe which was circular in shape, a bit like an old-fashioned canary cage, while the drip safe was like a big square box with a water tank on top, a collecting tray at the bottom and the sides of wire mesh covered with cloth which was kept wet by dripping water from a series of tiny little taps and thus cooled the contents of the safe by evaporation. In some quarters these things were called Coolgardie Safes but we always knew it as the “drip safe.”
Sewing, at which my Mother excelled, was carried out on a “White” treadle machine. It was a drop-head and when the machine was folded inside the stand served as a useful side table.
We also had a portable gramophone. It was an H.M.V. and folded up into a small black case not unlike an attache case. In the dining room was an American Reel Organ which Father used to play. In fact Dad was in demand as an organist in the various churches where he worshipped all through his life. The organ was replaced by a piano when Wally and I were old enough to take piano lessons but neither of us showed much aptitude and it was left to our younger brother Neil to follow in Father's footsteps, if such a term can be used in connection with piano playing.
Radio, or the wireless as we called it in those days was rather a latecomer to our household. My first recollection of hearing the radio and not being very impressed with it was when we were invited with quite a lot of other people one Sunday afternoon to the Bryants, who ran the Popran Telephone Exchange, to hear their new wireless. That was probably about 1928, and the reception left a lot to be desired and a lot of people unimpressed. Soon afterwards Grandpa Pegler got a radio too. It was run off the power and had two dials that had to be synchronised in quite a complicated way to tune into a station of which there weren't too many to choose from in those days. Eventually Dad got one too. As we had no electric power it was run off batteries of which there were two kinds “A” and “B”. The batteries didn't last long and were quite expensive, so Dad somehow connected it up to the car battery with long cables and bulldog clips. From then on the car was parked outside the back door for easy access to the battery rather than in the shed! To pick up the feeble radio signals from faraway Sydney Dad strung up the greatest aerial you could ever imagine. First of all there were two very tall poles about twenty yards apart. These supported a horizontal wire connected to the top of the poles and another wire dropped to an insulated bracket on the wall outside the kitchen and thence passed through the wall to the radio set. It was always carefully disconnected in stormy weather in case of a lightning strike. When I hear the wonderful reception one can get today especially on F.M. Radio and with the smallest of transistorised sets I am amazed at the difference from those early days. But it was still music to the ears, news from around the world, and -wonder of wonders - cricket by shortwave relay all the way from England. The latter involved sitting up all night, and when the reception was too difficult the commentators made up the cricket description by simulating the commentary from the Sydney studios from scores and other information they managed to get in their earphones from London or by cabled summaries.
From the foregoing you will have noticed that we had graduated from horsedrawn to motor transport. The first venture in this regard was a T model Ford truck with an extra wide front seat to accommodate four adults. One of the passengers had to sit on the right hand side of the driver and two sat at the left. I am not sure what happened with hand-signals. Perhaps they had not yet been introduced? They certainly applied later on and graphic pictures of approved hand-signals were displayed on the back of Main Roads Department envelopes and other literature. They remained in force until reliable trafficators were introduced when they were made optional alternatives until relatively recently when they were abolished. Perhaps hand signals on the Ford were a joint effort between the driver and his starboard passenger?
The Ford served from 1925 until late 1926 during which time a long trip was undertaken to Burdenda Sheep Station owned by Hunt Brothers and located near Tottenham on the Bogan River. The trip started out rather badly because a “big-end” seized up while going up the old Lapstone Hill road. It was raining, too, and I suspect the trip was nearly abandoned there and then. However, it was repaired by the roadside and the jodney proceeded. When recalling the event in later life Dad said he should have driven the Ford backwards the steep part of the hill as the big ends were only splash lubricated.
The Ford truck was replaced in late 1926 by a Nash Four. It was a comparatively roomy car with a fold-down hoed over the front and back seats. We have some pictures of the hood folded down when the car was comparatively new but I think the problem of re-erecting the hood was so great that Dad didn't let it down very much once the novelty had worn off. After he had had the Nash for some time, Dad decided it must have been using too much oil or not delivering its full power because he took it to Jack White's garage at Mangrove Mountain and had new rings fitted to the pistons. To my continuing amazement, the method of running the engine in after this operation was to put it into gear and haul it around the paddock at the back of the garage with a tractor. Those rings must surely have been good and tight! But apparently the operation was a success. I recall that the registration number of that Nash car was 28-280.
In April 1928 Mum and Dad bought a tent and we undertook a long trip in the Nash through the northwest of New South Wales. We seemed to spend a lot of the time putting the tent up and taking it down again, but managed to cover a lot of country including visits of old friends of Dad's at Gunnedah and Tamworth. At the former Dad met the Rev. Ernie Wilson who had been with him during their war service and who gave him a Bible which he carried throughout the war. Dad later gave it to me on my tenth birthday, and I later gave it to my eldest Grandson, Jamie on his tenth birthday.
At Tamworth we visited the Wise family who had recently moved there from their orchard at Kulnura. Mum's photo album has several pictures of the tent pitched at various places as far apart as Gulgong and Swansea. On other occasions we used the tent to holiday at places like Avoca Beach and Pearl Beach.
At Gosford there was, and still is in fact, a motor dealer called Parsons Garage. One of the Parsons boys frequently drove the Methodist Minister from Gosford to Kulnura for the Church Service held every other Sunday at the Kulnura Hall. At that time Parsons were the distributors of Chrysler cars and one Sunday early in 1930 Mr. Parsons and the Methodist Parson arrived in a smart looking Chrysler 70 Roadster. After the service the menfolk gathered around and admired this machine that had the very latest of hydraulic brakes on all four wheels. Dad must have shown more than a passing interest in this, because a few days later the car appeared at our front gate with Mr. Parsons in the role of salesman. I can remember Mum saying “Now, George, don't do anything you'll regret later.” Remember that the Depression had started by then although nobody had any idea how traumatic it would turn out to be. Anyway, the upshot of it was that the Hunt family became the proud owners of this very car. It was roomier than the Nash and much more powerful as it had a six cylinder motor. It also had those “wonderful” brakes. Well, I'm sure that car did perform very well. It carried many a load; from a dozen or fifteen kids on their way to Sunday School to bags of produce of various kinds, not only on its fold-down luggage rack above the rear bumperbar, but also on the running boards and in the back with the seat removed. Dad often used it like a truck! The running boards had small lattice-like contraptions that could be folded down when not in use, but pulled up to form a “fence” on the outer edge of the running board to hold luggage, bags of produce or cases of fruit! The Chrysler did its job all through the Depression and was sold only when, unable to afford it any longer, Mum and Dad decided they could manage without it when they moved to Parramatta in 1936.
The one aspect of the car that caused both Dad and me a lot of frustration were those much-vaunted hydraulic brakes. To be fully effective they required a power boost and the method of obtaining it in those days was to open the bonnet of the car and pump up the pressure of the hydraulic oil with a little hand pump. It was a bit like an oversized version of the pump on a Primus stove. Therefore, before going on a trip, and frequently during the trip, it became my lot when I could be found, to raise a blister on the palm of my hand with that confounded little pump.