Family Holidays at Childers Farm
I was the eldest grandchild and the first one of many to come and enjoy a holiday on the farm. My uncles and aunts were much older than me so my time on the farm was spent mostly amusing myself and possibly being a nuisance to others, but I think of them as good days.
Our house was a typical four room arrangement with a wide hall down the centre and a wide veranda all around . The house faced North-East and the four rooms opened to the hall and the veranda . The veranda at the back of the house was enclosed to make another bed room one side of the hall, and the dining room was opposite . At the back of the dining room was an annex consisting of a large kitchen, a bathroom and two side verandas. The kitchen opened to each veranda and to the dining room and contained two large tables, a large kitchen cabinet and shelves, and a large wood stove at the far end. The stove stood on a concrete base about four feet wide running the full width of the kitchen. To one side a large box held firewood and at the other side was a built-in cupboard for pots, pans and kitchen utensils . This kitchen was the working centre. There was a bench one side of the stove where the washing up was done, but this was more often done on the kitchen table in a large basin after our meals. The house was over six feet off the ground . This accommodated a small dairy room, an open laundry area, and the rest was used as a storage area for farm equipment, including a sulky, which was my Uncle Roy’s pride and joy. There were three stairways , the front one having an intermediate landing with stairs each side and the other two leading to the landings on the verandas each side of the kitchen.
There was no water or electricity connected. Water came from rain collected from the roof and stored in five elevated galvanised iron tanks and one underground tank. Kerosene lights were used and it was a daily chore for someone to collect all the lanterns or lights, see all the glasses were clean and fill each light with kerosene. The kerosene was stored in square four gallon steel tins and the lights were filled from these using a metal hand pump. The wicks were trimmed if necessary, any spillage cleaned up and the lights returned to the shelf ready for use. This was one of my jobs during the holidays and I think now that it was a way of showing me that everyone had a part to play.
It was red soil country and no town water was connected to the laundry; bathing, too, posed the problem of not wasting water. The men would finish work covered in red dust so at mid-afternoon several kerosene tins of water were put on the stove top and heated to ensure there would be a bucket of hot water for everyone. The bathroom contained a wash-stand with china basin and a concrete bath tub. Cold water was connected to the tub from an elevated tank outside the bathroom; this tank was filled from an underground tank below by using a rotary hand pump which provided some control on water usage. After dinner cleaning up and clearing away, each one would go about their business or sit in the squatters chairs on the front veranda and talk over the events of the day, or, just watch the sunset.
My grandparents’ house was built about one hundred metres back from the road which was the Bruce Highway going north. The highway, at the time, was unsealed and the house, built on the top of the hill, commanded a view of all traffic heading north or south. It was surrounded by mango trees of different varieties such as common, strawberry, turpentine, or bullock heart; all bore fruit and to pick mangoes ripe from the tree was a treat I enjoyed. The garden area had persimmon trees, peach trees and nut trees; roses and bougainvillea grew along the fence. There was also a very large Jacaranda tree alongside the house and a fern-house on the opposite veranda which backed onto the dining room.
The telephone was connected by aerials from the road to the house to the phone which was wall mounted in the hallway. You had to turn a handle several times to ring the telephone exchange to raise the switch operator and book a call. The switch girl would then put your call through and it was said there was not much happening that she did not know. The phone was earthed to a copper rod in the ground below the phone itself, and my uncle would pour water over this earth rod whenever an electrical storm threatened.
The next big water user was the laundry, consisting of a copper boiler on a bricked in base for boiling clothes and four large tubs, two of which were wooden and two of galvanised iron, set on a bench for rinsing clothes. One tub contained blue water from Recketts blue …“out of the bluest blue comes the whitest wash” — so the add says. There was a hand operated wringer or mangle where the clothes were put through the wringer before being put on the clothes line and the blue rinse was kept in the last tub. The tubs were emptied or filled as required and the water was used on the garden or for scrubbing down the verandas and the toilet seat. The floor to this laundry was just timber slabs on the ground. Two other essential items were the scrubbing board and the boiler stick. The scrubbing board was a pine board with corrugated surface in a frame and the wet clothes were placed on this, the soap was rubbed onto the clothes and then scrubbed with a scrubbing brush before going to the boiler or wringer. The boiler stick was like a broom handle and was used to move clothes around in the copper and remove them to the laundry tubs when clean, it was always a bleached white colour. The clothes line was the usual three wire, pivoted arm each end, arrangement, with a timber clothes prop to prop up and raise the wires to keep the clothes off the ground; this was important since my grandmother was not very tall. The whole procedure was labour intensive, but simple and effective. My grandmother would save all the fat, lard, and dripping and melt it down to make soap when my father visited. They would melt the fat in the copper, add caustic soda and other ingredients, and stir it round and round until the right consistency was reached. The soap was then ladled into kerosene tins and allowed to cool and set. When ready the tin was cut away leaving a big block of free standing soap. This was then cut with a wire, a saw or cane knife, into long bars about two inches square and then stacked on the bearers under the floor joists to dry out and harden . It would keep for years and would remove dirt from clothes, or body, and it was kind to the skin .
Under the house was a sandstone grinding or sharpening wheel used for sharpening axes, tools, hoes etc. and I would play with this to make knives from broken saw blades. It was explained to me in no uncertain terms what would happen if I cut a groove in the stone; I was learning early there was a right and a wrong way to do things. The dairy was a small room with a concrete floor. It was clean, cool and dark; an Alpha Laval separator was mounted on a post set in the floor. Milk was put into the machine and the cream was separated from the milk by turning a handle at a constant speed. The cream was used for making butter and the separated milk was fed to the pigs. With a large family, especially at Christmas, my grandmother was always busy. There was always butter to be made, trays of currants and sultanas drying on the veranda after being washed and assorted biscuits and cakes for smokos and for visitors. There were large jars of lemon peel encrusted with sugar and the sugar and flour were kept in large milk containers. The Christmas cake and pudding were specialties. The cake was coated with hard icing sugar and had the aroma of rum when cut though, though I don’t think there was much rum in it. The puddings were dark, full of fruit and boiled in a cloth and always had three penny or six penny pieces in them.
The lounge in front of the house was always closed unless there were visitors, usually on a Sunday afternoon. The room had windows, sash controlled, and one door to the hall and double doors to the veranda. The ceiling was embossed metal, the floor covered in carpet, and the lounge suite protected from the sun by heavy burgundy curtains. The furniture consisted of a three piece lounge suite and an upright piano. A large His Masters Voice gramophone, in a cabinet, stored records underneath. There was also an HMV portable gramophone and a “what-not” in the comer. Two paintings of an alpine scene with stags, were on the wall, but I think the mandatory four china ducks were missing. I was aware this was a special room and I was pleased to be allowed to go in and play the gramophone records. The needle holder was heavy, and the needles, like small tacks, had to be changed regularly. They came in small tins containing a hundred or so needles in each tin. The records were seventy-eights and there was a wide variety ranging from country and western to opera. Two I recall were “The Isle of Capri ‘ and ‘ The Prisoners Song’. The piano was used for accompanying singers on Sunday afternoons but I have forgotten who played.
The barn was in the paddock down the hill from the house and the cow pen was between the barn and the house. The cows were herded morning and evening for milking by hand and several buckets of milk were taken to the dairy for household use; as well, the cream was separated to make butter. There was a black kelpie dog called Digger, or it may have been Nigger, who herded the cows with little effort on your part. As I got older helping to milk the cows was another job to keep me out of the way.
The barn was typical of the time, a pole structure with a galvanised roof. One half was timber floor about three feet off the ground used for storing fertiliser, fodder, grain, molasses etc., and the height matched the height of the dray or spring cart so as to minimise lifting . Adjoining this floor was an annex which housed a single cylinder motor for operating chaff cutter, corn grinder, and circular saw to cut firewood; it was belt-driven from the motor pulley. The motor was water -cooled and had a magneto, it was started on petrol and when warmed up switched over to run on kerosene. You could hear the chung, chung, chung, noise of the motor running from some distance down the paddock. It was hand started by turning the flywheel and its main use was cutting wood for the house stove and copper, and also cutting ‘chop-chop’ for the horses. This was sugar cane tops chopped into small pieces and mixed with corn molasses and other additives for the horses.
My grandparents used draft horses for heavy work such as ploughing, scarifying, planting etc., there were, altogether four or five horses. Each horse had its stall on either side of the central aisle in the barn. There was a timber feed box in each stall which was filled from the central aisle. The supporting posts were utilised for hanging the leather harness to keep it protected from the weather and have it ready for use. There was a heavy leather collar which was horsehair filled. Steel hames were curved pieces of iron to be attached to the collar, and traces were attached to the hames . These traces were two side straps of leather, or chain, or rope, but usually chain, attached to the implement through the swingle bar. This bar was a cross-bar pivoted in the middle with the traces attached each end. In this way the horse power was transferred from the horse collar and harries, through the traces, to the swingle bar, to the implement. It was simple for one horse, but often two or more were used and they were connected through the swingle bars. Other items of harness were the bridle and blinkers. The bridle was a piece of headgear which was fitted over the horse’s head and its purpose was to hold the bit in the horse’s mouth. The reins were attached to rings each side of the bit and at eye level, blinkers, attached to the bridle, prevented the horse from seeing sideways. All of this harness needed care and the leather was kept supple by treatment with Dubbin or lanolin. There were also saddle horses for my uncles and for my grandfather who had been a Light Horseman in the Boer War. The barn also had the mandatory carpet snake in the ceiling and this kept rats and mice under control.
There was a well in the barn paddock to ensure there was ample water for the animals. The well was about three feet square, dug by hand, and lined with timber planks to prevent the sides caving in. A windlass at the top brought water up in a bucket for distribution to the water trough and a heavy cover prevented little ones, like me, from falling in. Its position was located by using a divining rod. A forked willow stick is held by the diviner, one end in each hand, and with the fork facing forward and as the diviner walks over an underground stream, the rod dips towards the ground. The spot is marked and tested by approaching from other directions, so locating the most likely position for water. Different people use different rods. Some use bent fencing wire while others have a rod of wood from a special tree, but they all work in the same way. My father had this gift for divining water.
Memories of those days include the cane burning; this occurred when the trash around the cane stalk was burnt. Care had to be taken to select a night with the wind in the right direction, or else the whole area could be burnt out. The alternative was hand stripping but this was too labour intensive and the fine hairs on the trash was a constant source of irritation. Cane harvesters were to come much later. The cane was cut by gangs of men, rarely women; they would cut the stalk at ground level. then cut the top off bundling the stalks together and loading on the cane tram or vehicle for the mill . They were paid by the ton cut, so everyone in the gang worked hard. Laying and relaying tracks for the cane locomotive and trucks was part of the deal. After cutting all day the men were black with ash and sweat; at least the burn-off got the snakes out of the cane .
There was a creek running through the paddocks and I spent many hours down there playing but I had to let my parents know where I would be. Watching the paddocks being ploughed for planting, using a disc plough pulled by several draft horses, followed by harrowing to remove the rubbish, then planting, by dropping cut lengths through a hopper, was a constant source of interest and the never ending job of chipping weeds kept everyone busy.
Next to the house was a garage for the car. It was a basic asbestos cement sheeted shed with double doors and a dirt floor. The car was a T model Ford tourer with folding fabric roof, running boards, and crank handle; it had good ground clearance and served my grandparents well until around 1938 when they bought a Vauxhall Wyvern sedan . The farm was three miles out of Childers and Saturday afternoon was play time and I think was also shopping time. The T model would be loaded up, and Uncle Roy would drive his sulky into town and all would attend to business; I always ended up with a malted milk at Crow’s cafe before returning to the farm.
Childers boasted having seven hotels and a picture theatre. The main street was wide, possibly for use as a stock route in the settler days with the business houses and shops one side and the services offices the other side. The street was tree-lined each side with mainly Leopard trees for shelter, and the horses were tethered under the trees; the street gutters were wide and deep to take the heavy rain encountered. Even today the street has kept its character and is like a time warp; though now there are traffic lights and parking signs . The Isis mill is a couple of miles north of the town and Apple Tree Creek, further north, was popular for its rodeos and dance hall. It also accommodated the cemetery for the district. The approach to Childers is dominated by the concrete water tower and I think this was built just before World War 2. The depression was over during these years but there was still a lot of unemployment and men would ‘hump their bluey ‘ or carry their swag long distances looking for work .It was not a rare event for a swagman to come to the house and ask for money or for a meal in return for work such as chopping wood or gardening.