Life on the farm in the 50s and 60s was full of adventure and sharp learning curves.
When I turned 50 back in 2003, I began to compile a journal of my life story. To begin I tried to remember as much as I could about my childhood and the following is what I wrote as I searched my memory. Photographs that Mum took of us kids from birth till we were teenagers also helped me rediscover my childhood years.
Mum’s heavy black irons that she heated on the wood stove whenever there was ironing to be done.
The wood heap and Mum’s constant warnings about keeping an eye out for snakes.
My brother and I playing inside a wire cage, pretending we were chooks.
We had a dog called Beagle. One day he bit me on the forehead because I tried to clean inside his ears with a paint brush.
The chook yard where lots of Marshmallow weeds grew. Sometimes the chooks would lay their eggs amongst this weed, rather than in the nest boxes. Finding such a nest was good because it usually contained eggs from several days laying. Mum would float these eggs in water to see if any were rotten. There was some sticky, smelly goo called Keepegg that Mum smeared on the good eggs so that they would keep longer.
Dad butchering a sheep. This was almost a weekly task which we observed with much interest. The dogs loved it as they sat around waiting for bits of meat and fat that Dad trimmed from the carcass. The dogs became excited as Dad “dropped the guts” out, and would follow him as he dragged the steaming insides away. Sometimes an uneducated dog would make the mistake of grabbing the trailing intestines which resulted in a quick lesson in manners. Dad was never really happy doing this chore; lots of grunting and swearing. Definitely a time for us kids to be seen and not heard. In those days Mum would render down the fat to make dripping. So each time Dad did the meat job he would at some stage during the operation yell out to Mum… “Do you want to keep the fat?” More often than not Mum didn’t hear him from inside the house, so Dad said “F**k the fat”. And threw it out with the rest of the guts.
Chasing rabbits with the dogs was great fun. We would go up the gully that ran down from the hills behind the house. This gully had huge blackberry bushes growing in it and rabbits were plentiful. We threw rocks into the bushes to chase the bunnies out and the dogs would be off after them. On weekends we would saddle our horses and ride to the back of the property with the dogs trotting along with us. We spent the day setting traps in likely places and usually caught a good swag of rabbits which we carried home slung in pairs over our horses necks.
My first horse was a Shetland pony called Small One. He had a habit of biting me on the bum as I got on him. I learnt to ride on the “little fella” and spent many happy hours with him. Dad often said: ”You can’t ride until you have fallen off seven times”. In the innocence of childhood I thought that hitting the ground seven times would be the end of it. Little did I know.
I always looked forward to visiting Gran and Grandpa for one reason or another but I remember in particular cold winter mornings when I was with Dad and Uncle Col feeding stock on the farm and calling in to Gran’s for smoko. At Gran’s the kettle was always on the boil and she had oodles of homemade biscuits. Anzacs were my favourite (and still are) especially dunked in tea. Grandpa always dunked his biscuits and this is probably how I got a taste for it. Grandma frowned on this practice, but tolerated it.
Grandpa had a 1962 EJ Holden. It was blue with a white roof and had an automatic gearbox. The shed where it was parked had a ramp made out of sheets of iron that came from the gold dredge that had worked the nearby creek in the 1800s. Grandpa had a walking stick and not a lot of feeling in his legs; a legacy of his war service in the Light Horse during the 1st World War. As a result he was a bit heavy on the peddles in the car. Gran always worried about his ability to get the car in and out of the shed. Fears that were well justified by the speed at which the car exited the shed in reverse with Grandpa looking straight ahead rather than to the rear. Out the door and down the ramp with Gran’s chooks squawking and flapping as they scattered in all directions. I think it was towards the end of Grandpa’s driving career that his record of accident free exits from the shed came to an end. Two gammy legs, failing eyesight and partial deafness were of little concern to Grandpa but on this particular morning Murphy’s Law took over. Having positioned himself behind the wheel he started the car up and as usual jammed his foot hard on the accelerator and the car roared to maximum revs. Grandpa accidentally selected D instead of R. The car leapt forward and exited the rear of the shed taking the entire wall out as it went.
Whenever I smell kerosene I am reminded of the kero lamps we had in the early 50s before we got electricity. When it got dark Mum and Dad would light the lamps. Sometimes when Dad had forgotten to refill the lamps during the day he would have to go out to the wash house to fill them. As he thumped around in the darkness we would hear such things as, “Sh*t on it” and “I can’t see a bloody thing out here, bring a candle so a man can see what he’s doing”. We had two lamps; one for the kitchen and the other for the sitting room. The kitchen lamp was used in other parts of the house at bath and bed time. A degree of modernisation came when we got a 32 volt power plant. The house was wired and Dad built the “lighting shed” where the diesel motor, generator and batteries were housed. Mum could now have some electric appliances to make her life easier. Well, that was the theory anyway.
There was an old gnarly gumtree where Starlings nested and there was a stale, musty smell that came from the knot hole where the nest was. Dad said. ”Starlings are dirty bastards. They are covered in lice”.
Mum would rake up the chips around the woodheap and burn them in small heaps. They would burn really well then smoulder for hours. I remember going out on the veranda after dark and seeing the gentle glow from the dying embers.
When we were kids there were many things my brother and I did to amuse ourselves. We built billy carts by the dozen, each an improvement on the one before. The aim was to extract as much speed as possible so the type and size of wheels was important in the design of each billy cart. Wheels were at a premium and we were constantly in search of new or slightly used ones. On our farm there were plenty of hills for billy cart tracks. These hills were steep so speeds were very high. Nerves of steel, balance and skill were the basic requirements for the successful negotiation of any descent.
In the summer time when the grass was dry we used a piece of Masonite as a sled. The design was simply a piece of Masonite about three foot long, wide enough to sit on, shiny side down with a length of rope looped between two holes at the front. The idea was to find a hill with reasonable dry grass coverage, sit on the board, lift the leading edge off the ground with the rope then push off. The only way to brake or steer was with your feet but most times when the thought of slowing down arose it was too late. Maximum velocity had been reached and to hang a leg off the board was a fatal mistake resulting in major skin loss to elbows, knees and/or both bum cheeks.
Summer time also meant swimming in the creek and our creek had an abundance of good swimming holes. The best one was on a big bend in the creek not far from our house. Here the creek flowed over some rocks and into a deep hole. A high bank offered a good spot to jump from and a sandy bottom for a soft landing if you accidently found the shallow part of the swimming hole.
Mum and Dad always encouraged us to make our own fun and to explore our childhood world. This we did in many and varied ways. With our parents guidance we taught ourselves many things and experienced much that has held us in good stead throughout life. For this I am eternally grateful.
What are your memories from your childhood? Were yours similar to Rod’s? What did your mum and dad teach you? Share your stories below.