Beach Holidays at Woodgate
My grandparents had another property, a beach house on five acres of sand on the Esplanade at Woodgate. This was the family holiday home, and many Isis farmers had property there.
Woodgate was twenty four miles from Childers with the rail crossing at Goodwood mid-way. There was a gravel road all the way, through scrub country between Childers and Goodwood, after which the country became ‘wallum scrub’, sandy, sparse and uninteresting except for wildflowers, it was useless then and has now been reforested. The last kilometre was a change back to scrub and sand ridges, with salt pans and stagnant pools of salt water from the headwaters of Theodolite Creek. The gravel road had to be strengthened in this area by placing tea-tree logs in the sand, or mud, to support the gravel surface. Corduroy construction was rough to drive over, but you did not get bogged in the sand or mud. There was one more sandhill and then the road joined the Esplanade and my grandparents’ house was on the corner to the right.
The allotment was sand and salt grass and had a large She Oak in the front near the fence where there was post and rail fencing on the two road boundaries. The house was about one hundred metres back from the Esplanade. There was no lawn but plenty of bindi-eyes and ‘farmers friend’ for tender feet.
The house was built just forward of a sand ridge. It was high set, timber framed with fibro cement internal linings and weather boards externally There were two bedrooms, a kitchen, large dining room and a veranda across the front facing out to sea. There were two rainwater tanks, and the toilet was located at the rear of the house on top of the sand ridge. Alongside the walls of the dining room. two large boxes were built-in as storage for blankets, bedding etc., and there were camp stretchers. They also became bunks with mattresses on top. There was nothing flash but it was very comfortable. It had a cold water shower under the house and an enclosure for a large tub for a bath. It was the custom to rinse off after a swim and also to save water.
Woodgate beach was a white sand beach curving from Burrum Heads to Theodolite Creek, approximately eight miles of unbroken white sand backed by sand dunes. There was about one mile of gravel road along one part of the Esplanade servicing houses fronting it. To the north of the road to the beach were houses owned by Cullens, Boultons,and Joses, and further along a Progress Hall was built. To the south was my grand-parent’s house, then Oz , Doug and Stan Kelly, Taylors, Maslins, Andersons and others. Opposite the road junction there was a change room and a swimming enclosure. The enclosure was built from tea-tree poles jetted into the sand and bolted at the top to a hardwood beam. The spacing was as close as possible, as at times you could see sharks swimming in the waves before they broke on the beach. The enclosure was safe from sharks but you had to be wary of oyster shells growing on the piles and you had to be careful not to get washed against them; at times there were jelly fish and blue bottle or Portuguese Man of War stingers. The Esplanade was planted with she oaks all along the front dune . It was really an unspoilt beach where you could walk for miles and not see anyone, and small shells were washed up in abundance. My mother and grandmother would make milk jug covers and similar handcraft using mosquito net and edging them with small shells. The pipi shell with its small hole formed when the shellfish vacated the shell was ideal for this. My mother was never far from her fancywork box or tatting needle when on holidays and I would wander up and down the beach collecting shells .
The sand flies and mosquitoes at the back of the house were vicious and you would not venture there without a good reason. One midge bite would raise a lump on me. The best protection was to cover up and keep away or have a smoke fire burning. Tiger brand mosquito coils were used in the house and my grandmother had a home-made skin cream that was soothing when used after being bitten; it was called Billy and used by all. I also used to burn badly from the sun and often had blisters on my shoulders. The cure was to apply a stiff mix of laundry starch over the burn area. It was messy but at least took the heat away .and of course the best protection was to cover-up . House flies were often a pest in hot weather and these were kept under control by using fly traps. These were rolls of sticky paper which were tacked to the ceiling and uncoiled hanging down about two foot. The insects were attracted to the paper and stuck there until a new roll was put up. Another feature of the time was the wax match. These were about an inch long consisting of a waxed thread stem and flammable match-head. They came in small match tins, were water proof, and could be lit by striking the head on any rough surface . The back of the match tin had a built in striking area but this was rarely used. These matches were later withdrawn for sale and replaced with the safety match with no risk of accidental lighting, in fact it was sometimes difficult to light them at all .
Behind the dune in the scrub there were native bees and ordinary or Italian bees with hives in the trees, and you could see them flying to and from their hives. My father was an expert with bees and often he and one of my uncles would locate a hive cut down the tree and raid the hive. Native bees do not sting but Italian bees do sting so a smoke-pot was used for control when they became vicious. The honey was strained and bottled and the honey left in the comb was a particular treat.
My uncle Roy had a flat bottom dinghy about sixteen feet long called ‘la belle’. It was built for river use and kept at Buxton, up the Burrum River. He and dad decided to take the boat to Woodgate so they rowed it all the way round the heads to Woodgate. I think now of Dad with his wooden leg, with Roy, a person everyone got along with, and their dinghy in the surf off Woodgate beach and I realise they were not stuffy adults but adventure-seeking individuals. I understand the dinghy was nearly swamped a couple of times. Just off the horizon there was a reef with good fishing and this was the reason for their trips. Another interest was catching sharks. They would use a five gallon drum to which a chain and anchor was attached, and also another line for a shark hook. The hook was about one foot long and was baited with meat or fish. The assembly was rowed offshore just beyond the surf line . When a shark took the bait you would see the drum doing odd movements, either bobbing up or down, or being towed by the shark; they would let the shark exhaust itself or hopefully drown itself, and then tow the lot to shore where they would make sure it was dead. It was opened up to see what had been eaten, and its liver removed for the extraction of shark oil. If it was a large shark its jaws were cut out for a trophy, or for the teeth. It was interesting to see how the teeth folded back on each other and to see a sharks heart still beating on the sand after being cut out. The remains were used to bait the hook, and the rest towed out to sea and dumped. The liver was put on a sheet of corrugated iron over a slow fire. The oil would run down the corrugations and be collected in a kerosene tin. Years later a regulation came in force that the carcass had to be buried six feet under, or be dumped about six miles at sea. This had the effect of taking shark catching into the too hard basket .
There was no water or electricity connected , and only a small store run by mister Jose, I think he ran the store more as an interest than for money. I was still a youngster then and cannot remember having other children around my age to play with, so I hung around my uncles or wandered up and down the beach. At night the older ones would gather driftwood together and have a fire on the beach and the people would amuse themselves around the fire, singing, talking or whatever. Later in the war years fires were banned as it broke the blackout regulations.
There was an aboriginal family living around the headwaters of Theodolite Creek. Woppai was the name of the patriarch and he would call around at times selling rough skin pineapples and mud crabs. I can sense the respect he had for my grandfather and vice versa. He was very dark and when my grandfather introduced me to Woppai and we shook hands I am reputed to have looked at my hands to see if the black came off. Anyway that was the story; Woppai was said to have taken it as a huge joke.
Another ex-serviceman friend of my father, Augie, also had a humpy some-where in the headwaters of Theodolite Creek and he eked out a living or his pension there. Later Augie came to Brisbane and Dad helped him organise some land and arrange for a modest war service home to be built at Ormiston. Augie was another character who could not put two words together without a’ bloody’ between them. He grew his own vegetables, made a passionfruit punch that would lift your head, and grew his own tobacco making it into plug tobacco for his pipe. I can still remember the rum and tobacco smell from that plug. There is a recollection of my grandfather’s car fully loaded having a flat tyre at Goodwood. Everything had to be offloaded and I can’t remember if the tube was patched or a spare wheel used but it seemed to be a major incident on the way to Woodgate. Other recollections include tins of condensed milk being boiled to make a caramel toffee and the noise from the cicadas in the she oaks, their shells were left on the branches when their life cycle changed .
Woodgate was truly a sleepy hollow with families who knew each other, mostly related, no traffic problems and plenty of sun and surf. Today its beach remains the same but the hinterland has become a national park and the developments reach from the Burrum River to Theodolite Creek behind the frontal dune and are backed by the reserve; today it is a millionaires’ paradise.