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(from the memoirs of my brother Bill who died in 1992)
Location, History,Geography, Climate, Vegetation, Topography


A STORY OF SETTLEMENT (from the memoirs of my brother Bill who died in 1992) Location, History,Geography, Climate, Vegetation, Topography. In the north western corner of Victoria is a stretch of country known as the Millewa after the official County name or as it is now more practically known, The Sunset Country.

The County boundaries are precisely defined, being the 142nd degree of east longitude on the east and the 35th degree of south latitude on the south, the South Australian Border on the west and the Murray River or New South Wales Border on the north. The boundaries of the Sunset Country are more informal but generally can be considered to include those parts of Mildura Shire, exclusive of the Sunraysia Fruit Growing Area, west of the Calder Highway and south of the railway from Redcliffs to Morkalla.

In addition those parts of Walpeup?(Witcheproof )Shire north of the agricultural lands along the Ouyen-Murrayville railway line can be included even lands over the South Australian Border lying generally to the east of the Loxton railway line, may be claimed. One may ask "What's so important about the Millewa?" The answer is that it was the location of one of the more extensive closer settlement projects carried out after World War I.

As a prelude to this settlement, a light branch railway was constructed from Redcliffs to Morkalla and a system of water supply channels supplied from pumps at Lake Cullulleraine provided. These channels provided water for stock watering and domestic purposes but no provision was made for irrigation. Actual water storage was in excavated tanks both public and private and loss from seepage and evaporation was extremely high. This settlement was the Millewa Scheme and something like eight hundred settlers and their families were placed on blocks during the late 1920s.

At its peak, about 1933 or 34 , the district would have had possibly five thousand residents. A further scheme to place settlers in the Sunset country proper i.e, south of the Millewa Settlement got only as far as the construction of the first few miles of a railway running west from Hattah Junction through Nowingi and onwards into the Mount Crozier area.. For water the settlers were to be provided with large galvanized iron catchments, supplying tanks, and a number of these were constructed mainly as public watering places. With the onset of the depression in 1930 this scheme was not proceeded with and no settlers were placed on the blocks.

When regard is had to the subsequent fortunes of most of the Millewa settlers , this is one of the few results of the depression which can be considered a blessing. Having briefly touched on the settlement of the area it might now be opportune to consider the physical environment. Along the northern extremity of the county, and generally being the lands to the north of the Sturt Highway, is an area forming part of the flood plain of the Murray River This area is occupied by a number of large, by Victorian standards, and old established sheep stations.

This land was not included in the closer settlement area and except for proximity, had no real connection with that area. Its use was not changed by the settlement nor has it been affected by the retreat of the settlers. To the south of the flood plain is an area of more elevated country which before settlement was traversed by a succession of stabilsed sand dunes with a generally east west access and covered with mallee scrub and other semi-arid land shrubbery with belts of cypress pine and leopard wood on some of the higher ridges.

Interspersed through this country were occasional clay pans and other stretches of more open country. In the areas of regular dunes they were about half a mile from crest to crest and from hollow to crest the difference in elevation would only be about ten to twelve feet with an increase to possibly twenty five feet in the inner fastnesses. When I say the country was more elevated one should not think in terms of the Himalayas or even the Barrier Range. The highest point in the area, Mount Crozier, is barely three hundred feet above sea level but this height is sufficient to force the course of the Murray River north, to pass the ridge.

The average annual rainfall at Mildura to the east of the Millewa is ten inches per annum, at Ouyen to the south east, about twelve inches and at Loxton , over the South Australian border, something less than twelve inches. When settlement took place the country was supposed to be within the twelve inch rainfall isohyet, but in retrospect this appears to have been optimistic and the real year in year out average would be nearer to eleven inches at Morkalla and as low as nine inches at Merrinee and Parlta ? Besides this absolute scarcity of rainfall there was considerable variation from year to year and the "Atlas of Australian Resources" shows the ten percentile rainfall figure to be six inches per annum and the ninety percentile figure below 16 inches per year.

The fifty percentile figure is less than ten inches. From the same Atlas the maximum shade temperature experienced is said to be in excess of 51 degrees Celsius and the minimum, - 6.7 degrees Celsius. From these statistics one can gather it can be pretty warm in Summer and quite nippy in Winter. Having demonstrated in figures at least the salubrity of the climate of the area, ones next question is " What were the settlers supposed to produce?" This is easy. They were going to grow WHEAT and may be a little WOOL and anything that did not require irrigation. In other words mixed dry farming with emphasis on the DRY.

And how did they get on? Not too well because not only was the annual rainfall unreliable but its seasonal distribution left something to be desired. Also when the Mallee scrub was cleared from the land, the stabilized dunes became unstable and in the drought years of the middle and late thirties and the early forties began to drift until the stage was reached where some of the dunes would not be out of place in the Rub el Khali. I do not have access to complete crop statistics for the area but I have a recollection of reading that in the period 1924 when the first returns were made, until 1974, wheat production in the County of Millewa was virtually nil in 17 years and below ten bushels per acre sown on 22 other years.

A paying crop was therefore received in only about one year in five and by this yardstick the settlement did not exactly flourish. Added to this paucity of good seasons is the fact that of the approximately eleven crop years where production was worthwhile, at least three including the bumper year for the district, 1933, were in seasons when the wheat market collapsed and the cost of harvesting and marketing exceeded the price paid for the product. These figures could be slightly pessimistic in that the location of the district with state borders on two sides of it is condusive to moonlighting over the border and there is a history of cockies with heavy liens on their crops not putting the harvested grain through the normal channels but selling for cash to interstate end users and reporting a partial or total crop failure.

However with this qualification the figures hardly suggest that the area was a land of milk and honey. So much for the wheat! Now what is the situation regarding the grazing capacity of the district? Again I am only relying on hearsay figures but I understand that for the whole of the Mildura Shire, sheep numbers year in, year out, are seldom more than 250 000 whilst cattle numbers are about 6000 head. These figures include the flood plain country and the irrigation areas of Sunraysia and therefore for the area under discussion the carrying capacity is still about one sheep to forty acres which is what it was before closer settlement commenced.

The cattle are a bonus however because prior to establishment of excavated dams the only stock water was bore water of a salinity barely acceptable to sheep and too great for cattle. What else is produced you might ask? Well there is a gypsum mine at Nowingi and that's about all except mallee stumps! So what is this all about and why have I introduced this glorious stretch of country to you my reader (or if I am lucky, readers )? Simple! My dear old darling Daddy was one of the eight hundred odd settlers mentioned earlier and on 21st July 1930 at Werrimull which is south of Lake Cullulleraine , yours truly was born.

Who is yours truly? You may well ask! I have been asking myself that for getting on fifty years and I'm not sure whether I have a complete answer yet. (This places Bill's time of writing as around 1980) However a partial answer is that I am an overweight public servant of indifferent attainment with time on my hands which I am trying to fill by scribbling these words. This is something I do whenever things get a bit slack but the many starts have so far not amounted to much. My name is of little moment and might get me a job in the mouth from some character who feels he has been aspersed if I reveal it, so I will leave it to the discerning to spot the clues as I go along. I will not be so coy regarding Christian names however and will freely sprinkle them throughout this narrative.

Family Story My father Alec was a World War I returned soldier who had served in Egypt, Gallipoli and France. Prior to his marriage in 1927, he had been basically a bushy all his life. His family had resided in country towns or in rural localities since arriving in Australia in the 1850s and therefore he was no stranger to farming. In the early 1920s on their return from overseas, he and his brothers Jack and Lionel had farmed in partnership, at Colinrobie between Narrandera and Barellan in New South Wales. Upon the dissolution of this partnership, Alec went back and worked for a former employer of his at Rosebery in the Old Mallee area of Victoria and some one hundred to two hundred miles from the scene of my childhood.

The Old Mallee is also dry farming country but generally is much safer country climate wise. It is also much less saline. Still Dad was not a complete stranger to dry country as before World War I, he had spent some time at a property, owned or managed by one of his uncles by marriage near Oodnadatta where the average annual rainfall is only five or six inches. About the time of Dad's marriage Jack, his elder brother had been allocated a block in the Millewa settlement about ten miles south of Meringur and in the last tier of the subdivision.

In explanation the settlement area was about 60 miles wide and fifteen miles deep with blocks each about one hundred chains deep by roughly sixty chains wide in rows or tiers of about eighty blocks each stretching in about twelve strips from east to west across the settlement. I am aware that these figures give more than 800 blocks, in fact, 960 if my dimensioning is accurate but the discrepancy is accounted for by firstly the approximate nature of the dimensions and second by the reservation of certain areas for public purposes, such as forestry reserves, and traveling stock and camping reserves.

School sites, townships and tank sites would also further reduce the area available. However to revert to the story. Jack had been allocated a block. Dad had selected a block which was eventually allocated in the tier immediately north of Jack's block and two blocks east thereof.. Jack and Grandpa, otherwise Willy, had moved up and kept sending messages to the newly weds, Alec and Glad, to come up but they were a little reluctant to do so until they could be reasonably assured of accommodation.

Jack kept assuring them that they could put them up so finally they set off in a horse drawn van also sometimes referred to as a covered waggon driving up in the summer heat. Upon their arrival they found Jack and Grandpa camped in an open fronted galvanized iron shed on the block to the west of Jack's and nothing else in the way of a building for miles around except Archie Bennier's stone house, the only structure of this material in the whole of the settlement.

With this limitation on accommodation, the newly weds camped in the waggon ( see photo )for the next several months while Dad and his father who was a carpenter, built the house on Dad's block which had now come through. While this may have been a bit of a trial for Alec, his country background would have given him some training for it, but imagine poor Gladys who had been an urbanite all her life other than country holidays and was suddenly roughing it. Still she had some previous experience with the climate as she had spent two years teaching at Broken Hill where the country and climate were possibly even more trying than the Millewa but hardly under the same conditions.

The cottage which was of timber frame construction, with weather board cladding and galvanized iron roof, comprised four main rooms lined with three ply to dado height with fibrous plaster above and fibrous plaster ceilings. The lot stood on red gum piers, about eighteen inches above the ground and was surrounded by a verandah on all sides, about twelve feet wide. The rear verandah was enclosed and had a workman's room at one end and a bathroom at the other. The northern side verandah had no floor and was used to garage the car, a 1924 Hupmobile.

The rear half of the south side verandah also had no floor and was utilized as the laundry. A fuel copper on iron stand and two tin tubs comprised the laundry equipment which were in the yard. Water supply was obtained from two 1000 gallon tanks which stored roof water and supplied the bathroom and an outside tap. There was no water to the kitchen, washing up being done in a large dish and the only hot water was obtained either by lighting the copper or by putting the kettle on the stove.

The stove was a fuel stove burning mallee roots which make an excellent fire and there was an open fireplace in the lounge. Lighting was by kerosene lamps and the toilet was an earth closet, the contents of which it was Dad's pleasure to empty and bury at frequent intervals. Drainage was non existent and bath water, washing up water and any thing that could be spared, was used to water Mum's Passion Fruit Vine( Mum tried to grow these vines wherever she went) and any vegetables which could be grown. There was no such thing as domestic refrigeration and ice was unobtainable in the district therefore the only means of keeping food cool was to use a Coolgardie Safe.

This basically consists of a wooden framework with hessian sides standing in a drip tray with another tray full of water as a top with strips of cloth hanging over the sides from the top tray so that the hessian is kept damp. Evaporation provides cooling and when there is a breeze, the effect is not too bad. Water was similarly cooled in water bags to which a handful of oatmeal was added. This was the house occupied by the family when I was born and was to remain my home until late 1936 when we moved to Mildura. The move to Mildura was an abandonment of the farm and was the culmination of a series of poor seasons and low prices. We were by no means the first family in the area to walk off and were certainly not the last.

I lack data on the present population but would be surprised if in the whole of the Millewa more than six hundred people still reside. Just because we went broke doesn't mean that the whole of life was a struggle or that nobody had any fun. In the first few years, before the depression really bit, the young family people in the area had a fair sort of social life and lived fairly well.They held dances and At Homes where those musically or dramatically inclined would provide the entertainment. Mum played te piano by ear and records let them know the tunes popular around the time. A tennis court was built from ant nests and a cricket pitch.

Agricultural Shows were held at which Dad and his horses were a success as was his dairy cow until the drought hit. However by 1934 most people would have realized the settlement was not a goer and the last few years before Dad got out would have been pretty grim. For that matter the first few years in Mildura were even grimmer to him, and it wasn't until we moved to New South Wales that things started to look up a bit. This is not an aspersion on the state of Victoria, but is a commentary on the hard times of the 30's. I was still quite small when we left the farm having just gone six, and due to the remoteness of the locality my only regular playmates were my three sisters, one of whom was older than me, and two younger, the youngest being about eighteen months old at the time of our moving to Mildura.

As well, there were my cousins, Janet and Ken, the first about my age and the other Lynette's my second sister. We saw them pretty regularly, and as we got older were within walking distance of about two miles. These were Jack's children he having married in the district after moving up. Others who were in walking distance were a large family called Pawker who lived about a mile and a half north of us, and an even larger tribe named McMahon about the same distance to the south east. Both these families were older than any of us except the youngest of the Pawkers, and so we didn't get to know them really well.

As well as these neighbours there were a few more children more my age belonging to various friends of Mum and Dads who were on the visiting circuit, but other than odd recollections helped by family reminiscences I know little more than their names, and except as one may cop a passing mention as I progress with this tale all that needs to be said about them has been said. What sort of life did we kids have in this remote locale with limited facilities and towards the end little or no money? Probably as good if not better than most during the depression years.

We ate well and didn't need much in the way of clothes. What did we eat? Well we had chooks and our own milking cows. We made our own butter and killed our own meat. Grain was ground by itinerent mobile mills on the basis of one bag for the miller and one for the farmer. Other requirements were obtained by a bit of barter, surplus eggs and butter being our contribution to the trade. In retrospect it was a pretty spartan existence but the consumer society had hardly got under way at that time and one didn't miss what one hadn't had.

Still to revert to my story. I think the last thing that has happened so far is that I was born. Pam was born about fifteen months before this and had had a visit to be shown off to her admiring maternal grandmother in Sydney. She also had a visit somewhat later to go to said Grandmother's funeral. With the death of her mother, Mum was left with no blood relatives other than her children at that time , one and one in the can me, so that as far as we are concerned all family are Dad's relatives. When I was about fifteen months old the whole family had a holiday by the sea at Port Noarlunga in South Australia, but with increasing financial stringency this was the last family holiday we had.

When I was barely old enough to remember Dad went down to Melbourne for the Show and took Pam and me with him. We stayed at Lionel's place but all I can remember is the concrete in the back yard and wondering where all the endless supply of water came from without tanks. In these early years Dad and Mum played tennis and Dad cricket and possibly even football but with the aggravation of hard times and the movement of people from the district these activities were a thing of the past by the last couple of years. Schooling There was a school at Tunart about five miles from our place and another at Kurnwil, about the same distance away.

By the time Pam and I were old enough to start school both these had been closed and the only suitable school was at Meringur ten miles distance,so Mum who was a teacher gave us our early lessons in the three R's. In those days there were no free rural school buses or for that matter no public transport of any kind within the Millewa except a weekly train service which wasn't much use to us so that this isolation was the first straw leading to our departure from the farm. Glarnky I did have one playmate who has not been mentioned to date and that was " Glarnky".

Where the name "Glarnky" came from you may ask and there by hangs a slight tale. The block immediately to the north of our home block was a Forestry Reserve upon which the only millable timber was a variety of Cypress Pine {Callitras Glauca}. This reserve was an irresistible temptation to Dad who kept filching timber from it. About the time I was four, Dad decided to build a cellar and knocked off quite a bit of timber to do it. As a result he had a cellar, a fine for cutting timber without approval and several off cuts of logs, one of which, about 18 to 20 inches long was Glarnky; this being the closest I could get to glauca having been told the name of the tree.

Over a period of about two years, that is from the time of the cellar to the time we left the farm, Glarnky was to blame for most of the trouble I got into. He was the instigator and even Pam fell back on him as a scapegoat the time we poisoned Lynette by feeding her mud and pickled wheat pies. Fortunately there were seemingly no permanent ill effects. Eggs and Beer Having built his cellar and paid his fine, Dad now had to find a use for said cellar.

He had a kerosene heated incubator which he hadn't used for some time and he decided the time was ripe for a setting of eggs to be put down. One small problem was that the Old Red Rooster had gone the way all of his tribe Who"can't do what they yuster"go. That is he had ended up in the oven for Sunday dinner and therefore any eggs our chooks laid were infertile. To have any chance of getting any chickens we had to get a setting of fertile eggs so Dad went over to McMahon's to get them. He took me with him and there I met Joe, the youngest of that breed who was a knowing sophisticate of about eight or nine. I was most impressed by this "man of the world" and for quite a long while after, he was my hero although this is the only time I can remember actually meeting him. Having got the eggs, the incubator was put into operation and we looked forward with confidence to lots of little chickies.

The incubator was in the cellar and the eggs had to be turned every Twenty four hours. Lots of other things were also happening at this time, one of them being that Gladys was expecting what turned out to be Dorothy , my youngest sister. In anticipation of this happy event dear old Daddy , not so old really , in fact about ten years younger than I am now , decided he better lay in a supply of amber fluid to suitably wet the head of the new baby. Now one of the peculiarities of Victoria was a law reminiscent of the prohibition era in the United States of America and stemming from the same movement called" Local Option". This meant various areas could decide by plebisite or referendum whether the demon drink could be sold in the area and as a result of this law it was extremely difficult to secure a licence to sell liquor in a new area. The Millewa was no exception to this rule and therefore as well as being dry climatically, it was also dry grog wise.

As an aside to this remark, the whole of the New Mallee is deficient in hotels and as a consequence the establishment of social clubs, one of which the Mildura Worker's Club, claims to have the longest bar in the world, took place well in advance of their proliferation in other areas. ( Sadly, since Bill wrote, the "longest bar" is no more. ) Therefore to buy grog one had three sources available. The first and dearest was the grocer in Meringur who by arrangement and previous order would supply bottled beer in cartons of a dozen, he having that other peculiarity of the liquor laws, a two gallon licence. The second was to go to Mildura and buy the beer at the Club, in Dad's case the Settler's Club, where bottled draft beer could be purchased very cheaply but the round trip of perhaps one hundred and fifty miles over unsealed roads was a fair sort of deterant.

The third source of supply was over the border in South Australia at the township of Taplan which was perhaps fifteen miles from the farm where a former pharmacist from Adelaide , without benefit of licence dispensed a brew known locally as Whomby Bitter? I have heard various stories from both Dad and Jack as to the method of concoction of the joy juice but all agreed in one essential that although nominally beer, the pharmacist's secret formula gave it a potency somewhat akin to the kick of a mule. In reality our chemist was probably only anticipating by a generation or so the so called Premium Beers now put out by most Australian brewers.

A further deterent to the purchase of beer by 1935 was a general lack of money and therefore Dad decided to put down a batch of home brew. Having imported his ingredients and prepared the brew it only needed to stop working before being bottled. However before this happened, Mum's time came and as she was to have her achouchment in Mildura, better than seventy miles away, a decision had to be made whether the beer could be bottled prematurely or whether it should be allowed to stand until Dad returned. The decision was made to bottle and this was done. The filled bottles were stored in the cellar and the kids were left in charge of Grandma who had come over from Jack's place to look after us.

Dad's parting instruction to his dear Mama was not to touch the beer. This of course was like a red rag to a bull and he was no sooner out of sight than she had a bottle open. Needless to say the beer at that stage was not very palatable but it was still the only bottle out of which anyone had any enjoyment. When taking the beer, Grandma said " Don't tell your father I touched the beer". This message we took to heart and when he returned next day Pam and I were down at the gate to greet him, saying in chorus " Grandma didn't touch the beer" which he somehow construed as she had.

The beer lay quietly for the next several days and the eggs were duly turned as required. Dad returned to Mildura to collect Mother and child and while he was away an ominous mysterious explosion shook the place. Some hours later a further explosion took place and before Dad's return, a third. He was greeted with this news and as he was poo poohing it,a regular fusillade let fly. It was the prematurely bottled grog still working. A quick glance into the cellar showed broken glass everywhere and it was quite evident that anyone venturing in would be at risk of life and limb and therefore a visit was postponed until things settled down. The fusillade kept up for the next thirty six hours with occasional individual bangs for the next twenty four.

Finally after thins had been quiescent for twelve hours , Dad braved the field and made an inspection. Every bottle was shattered. Broken glass was embedded in the cellar walls and all the eggs had been lost. The bottle of beer drunk by Grandma was therefore one of the dearest ever consumed and she didn't even enjoy it. "Eat a plate Bill?" When they first went onto the farm, Mum and Dad employed a number of young chaps as farm workers but with the tightening money situation as the thirties went on this practice ceased. However before it did a few events which have been handed down as family folk lore occurred.

Most of these related to a rather simple soul named Bill , a name which occurs with fair frequency throughout this tale. Now Bill had come to the place with oodles of references which suggests he had had many jobs and it became fairly evident early on that he probably lasted not more than a couple of weeks in each. Dad had a herd of prize Ayrshire cattle with which he had a fair amount of Show success. At the time especially with the rough bush feed which was sustaining the cattle, he was concerned with possible problems and as Bill said he was an experienced dairy hand he was deputed to milk the cows and keep his eyes open to spot if anything was wrong.

Milking was done by hand in an open yard or corral made of surprise surprise Cypress pine logs and there was only the one bail. The stables were on the hill better than a hundred yards away and were constructed of Gl and Cypress pine. One day shortly after Bill's employment, Dad was up at the stables cutting chaff for the horses and saw our hero walking up the hill from the cow yard with his hand held out in front of him and cupped. On reaching the stables he shoved his cupped hand , in which was about a dessertspoon full of milk, under Dad's nose and said " Look at that". "What's wrong?" asked Dad. "Nothing " says our hero :I just thought you'd like to know". With that he returned to his milking.

A few days later harvesting was taking place when Bill got stung on the big toe. He made a great to do about it but was finally persuaded that it was unlikely to be fatal and went back to work. At tea that night, Mum in all innocence asked " How's the foot Bill?" He said " Pretty sore" and proceeded to take his boot and sock off and put his foot on the table for any one to inspect. Minute inspection was made and Mum said doubtfully that she couldn't notice anything wrong. Bill had a look himself and said "You're right. It must be the other foot " and proceeded to take that boot and sock off to make sure.

His other little ideosyncracy was to eat everything on his plate then go round picking up the bread crumbs with his licked finger. I must have noticed this because one day when he was vigorously scraping away at his plate , I , Little Willie, says "Eat a plate Bill?" I wasn't his favourite thereafter. This became a family joke, asked if anyone was obviously enjoying the last of a meal. The last was seen of Bill not long after and then shortly thereafter, the long term hand Ron, also left mainly because he could no longer be afforded. We thereafter had no permanent help until shortly after the grog episode in the last chapter when Dad employed Arthur an older brother of Joe, my hero.

I was rather a finicky eater at this time and wouldn't eat lots of things. To get round this Mum and Arthur developed a little act. The script read something like this :- Mum; "Eat up your cauliflower Bill" Willy; "Don't like it" Arthur to the world in general; " If there's one thing Joe loves it's a good bit of cauli with white sauce. Joe just loves cauli" Cauliflower gets eaten and there is no more trouble until a week or so later when - Mum; "Eat up your cabbage Bill" Willy;" Don't like it" Arthur again to the world in general " If there's one thing Joe loves its cabbage specially with cornbeef. " Cabbage joins Cauliflower on the approved list. . So it went on with success,carrots, pumpkin, spinach and a host of other goodies til one day Mum;"Eat up your marrow Bill (for the uninitiated read squash). Willy: " Don't like them" Arthur: " If my brother Joe saw a paddock of marrows he'd be over the fence to get at them" Willy; " Well I think Joe's a bloody fool". Shocked horror from Mother that her little darling knows such language and end of Joe as a hero.

Heigh Ho Goldy! By this time I was going on six and Pam was seven and Dad decided it was time we learned to ride. The only horses on the place were Dad's hack Jacky ( real name Monarch) and a large team of Clydesdales , so a suitable pony had to be acquired. To this end Dad purchased a Shetland pony from a bloke named Ern Rukkel (Bill's spelling) who had a property at North Meringur where the remaining settlers are now congregated. Ern had a motto " Them's what don't work don't eat " and as his daughter Daphne had outgrown the pony it looked like it would have a lean time unless sold. Pony was duly acquired , to my knowledge he had no other name, together with suitable gear. The big day arrived and he was saddled up and Pam had first ride. Pony just stood .

A few kicks in the ribs had no effect and swats with the reins were fruitless. He reluctantly moved one foot after the other when led but stopped as soon as the leading ceased. It was now my turn with a repeat performance from Pony. That was not the most exhilarating introduction to the joys and pleasures of equestrian sport but there was always time for improvement when he became familiar with our riding styles. However after several days the only increase in Pony's exertions was to amble slowly towards the fence around the house and scratch himself on the barbed wire preferably with his riders leg, bare in both our cases, interposed between his hide and the wire.

After some weeks of this Pam reckoned she had worked out a method of getting our firey steed to move. On the day in question Dad was fencing round the dam and had just strung the top strand of barbed wire but the rest was still to be strung. Pam produced her secret starter which was a board from a fruit case with the nails protruding through. She belted Pony across the rump with the board with the pointy ends of the nails facing the skin and he took off like a rocket, a very slow rocket to be sure, but much faster than he had ever done before, straight for the new stretch of fence.

Dad with visions of his son and heir hung upon the barbed wire, yelled to me to fall off ,which I promptly did and landed in the supply channel, dry. Pony went straight under the wire and wasn't retrieved for three days. Dad claimed this was the first and only time in my life that I did what I was told without stopping to ask why but I think he might be giving me credit for something I didn't do. I have a faint suspicion that I was coming off whether I willed it or no and whether or not I got orders. Still it is nice to know that Dad thinks I obeyed him once in my life. It was patently obvious by this time that if we were to become riders something more lively than Pony would have to be got.

With this I mind Dad scouted round and came home with a beautiful golden pony with light tail and mane and almost but not quite the colour which later was commonly known as palamino . This little beauty was about thirteen hands high and of much more lively disposition than Pony and looked to be just the thing. He was supposed to be docile and well broken for the use of children but the purchase price of seven pounds ( fourteen dollars to the younger generation) seemed too good to be true even in those days of rock bottom prices and therefore it was decided to try him out before putting the kids up.

Dad and Arthur got him in the cow yard and after a surprising amount of difficulty got him saddled and bridled. Arthur as the younger man, teenage youth more probably, had first try and was dumped unceremoniously at the first jump. He mounted again and was tossed over the rails. This was quite a performance from a docile children's pony but after all, although farm reared, Arthur did not have a reputation as a rough rider. Not so the Old Master himself, star of show ring, screen and Scuthorpe's Wild Australia(see story attached),who proceeded to show the youngster how it was done when he was taming outlaws.

Without further ado said old master alias Alec, alias Dear Old Darling Daddy mounted and with little more ado, and just as promptly, unmounted in a fashion no more dignified than did Arthur. This was very bruising to the pride not to say the posterior and he tried again with no more success. It was Arthur's turn again and then Dad's but neither exactly imposed his will on their mount. After about half an hour of this and with Goldy showing as much fight as ever ,they called it quits and came to the conclusion that the kids would have to wait a little longer to learn to ride. I never did learn to ride and have only been on a horse once or twice since then so I will never know whether Australia lost another Scobie Breasley or Billy Cook but if they did there would have been need for revision of the weight scales as at my best, or worst considering one's point of view , I have only been under thirteen stone once since my eighteenth birthday and have usually ranged between fourteen stone ten pounds, my football weight, and a peak of about nineteen stone.

At the moment I am on an upswing and it looks like " Heigh Ho back to the Weight Watchers. Scuthorpe's Wild Australia Before leaving the subject of equestrian skills I must revert to the reference to Scuthorpe's Wild Australia applied by me to Dad and give a word of explanation. Firstly to the uninitiated the Scuthorpes were a family , father and son and for all I know grandson et al who ran the first successful Rodeo and Wild West Show in Australia. Lance Scuthorpe senior , founded this show well before World War 1 and the occasion of Dad's association with the show was in either 1908 or 1909. The following tale is a bit of family folklore and I have heard versions of it with variations major or minor depending on the narrator whether fom Dad, Grandma, Jack, Lionel , Aunts Helen and Jean and cousin Ken. Ken's derived from his father Jack and Jack's own version differed markedly from the others in the preliminaries but closely matched them in the other particulars so with a bit of poetic licence I accept the story as basically true.

( My sister Lynette has penned a short story based on Dad's version which differs from mine also in minor details) This is not to say that there has been no editing and embellishing over the years but this is true not only with the passed on reminiscences of the older members of the family but also of some of the episodes where I participated. There is an old adage adopted by Dad and endorsed by me that there is no need to spoil a good story by sticking to the literal and unarguable truth. Truth is in the eye of the beholder and will be treated as such throughout this memoir. Some years before the scenes now to be described Dad had been clobbered by a golf club wielded by his mother and suffered a fractured skull.

After convalescence he went down to his uncle's Donald's farm, known as the Dairy, which for many years I thought was the property but which I subsequently found out was the local name for the district of Mumbannar in the extreme south western corner of Victoria as opposed to the extreme north western corner of the Millewa. While at the dairy where he resided for several years Dad became a very competent rider far more so than his brothers and sisters who continued to reside in country towns with only occasional visits to the real country.

The whole family had come down from Ararat to Melbourne for the Melbourne Show and were staying at digs at Royal Park. Dad was about twelve at the time and after his sojourn at the Dairy reasonably flush or so he thought. Jack was in his first pair of long pants at the time and was trying to impress as a man of the world. The three boys set off to the show and whether by Jack's design or by accident , met a girl named Vi Hawkins ( this name is consistent in almost all versions of the story but didn't cop a mention in Jack's) . Vi was somewhat older than Jack and should have had better things to do than tag around with a tem of kids.

Jack was about fourteen and reputed to be a good looking fellow. He was trying to impress Vi as a man of the world and the last of the big spenders. Every side show, exhibition, game of chance and ride they came to Jack the new Creosus said " It's alright boys, its on me". Nothing loth the two taggers along went in with their ears back and tried everything. This was great until about five o'clock when Vi left and Jack rendered his account. This skinned them both out as they had managed to go through a week's worth of thrills in a day.

To enable them to get home Jack gave them each a zack ( sixpence, now five cents) and disappeared . Leaving the grounds our two heroes passed a tent with a spruker shouting " See the Wild Man From Borneo. He eats raw meat, he bends bars with his teeth, he's chained down and can't hurt you" Having heard of orangatangs being the Wild Men from Borneo our heroes assumed that this was what was being exhibited and after an agonizing debate , listening to the spruiker, decided to blow their fares on this rare sight.. They surrendered their zacks , entered the tent and were confronted by a youth dressed in black stockingette tights and long sleeved singlet shackled lightly with a dog chain and doing simple gymnastics on a high bar.

Strategically placed were a few bent pieces of reinforcing rod and a half chewed leg of mutton. So much for the Wild Man from Borneo! Now fully broke the two hopefuls were now faced with a journey of about three miles to get back to their temporary home. Lionel as the younger risked a tram ride home relying on a sympathetic lady to pay his fare but Alec was older and made of sterner stuff ,or alternatively dumber, and walked. The two were very quiet at tea and weren't game to tell their mother they were broke so had to devise some means of raising the wind. As soon as tea was over Jack titivated himself up in anticipation of going out to meet vivacious Vi once more and our two heroes did the same.

When Jack walked out they followed and when he wanted to know where they were going he was informed" We're foxing you". This was not in accord with his plans so he slung them two bob each to lay off. Now in funds the two hopefuls set off for town and near the Princes Bridge they saw a sign, " Come to Scuthorpe's Wild Australia tonight". This was all that was needed and they followed the crowd to a big marquee where the show was being held. It was typical of rodeo shows which have changed little over the years, the main attraction being exhibition rides by name riders and invitations to budding aspirants to fame, to ride famous outlaws for prize money.

Anybody familiar with Tex Morton's " Rocky Ned" will know the score.( Bill was partial to Western songs) At one stage during the evening there was an invitation to the boys in the audience to ride the donkey for a prize of five shillings, big money in those days. There was of course a bun rush to the ring including in its number Alec and Lionel. The donkey had to be ridden bare back with only a bridle for gear and the first couple of triers were merely shrugged off as they tried to climb on. It then became Lionel's turn and he emptied all his pockets handing all paraphernalia carried by small boys, one piece at a time , to Alec, mounted , got promptly dumped, accepted his goods back one piece at a time and left the ring without a word being said.

The turn of Alec now came up. He caught the donkey without difficulty, swung himself on and rode it to a halt. This performance was so impressive that they let him try one of the less renowned buckjumpers which he did with some success to the cheers of " Come on Short Pants" from the audience. On the strength of that performance he was invited back to catch the donkey for the other aspiring riders and to give exhibition rides on buckjumpers on a firm commitment basis. He therefore had a remunerative job for the period of the Show and Lionel as his sidekick and manager was also copping a little of the backwash. Things went on famously for some days until one day his mother got bailed up in Bourke Street by Donald the uncle mentioned before who said "Come hear Jessie.

I want you to see something" and wheeled her into a Newsreel Theatrette. These Theatrettes were common to all the major cities from the earliest days of the movies until the introduction of television and ran a continuous programme turning over every hour to eighty minutes, newsreels, shorts, and in latter days , cartoons. The show Uncle Donald wanted Grandma to see was a newsreel or current affairs short titled " In Melbourne This Week". He sat her down and shortly after the sought after production appeared. One of the events featured was" Scuthorpes Wild Australia" and when it came on Donald asked " What do you see?" " Good God it's Alec" Grandma exclaimed and immediately after leaving the theatrette, rounded up the rest of her relatives to have a look.

Not satisfied with this brief glimpse of the budding Ajax, she then arranged for a party to attend the exhibition live. On the appointed night , little Alec went through his routine but conscious of his audience didn't pay as much attention to the preliminary, the catching of the donkey. He got careless and was nipped on the ear. This resulted in blood everywhere and a promising career in Show business was nipped in the bud by his mother as a consequence. As a sequel to this introduction to rough riding Dad became a performer in races and steeplechasing and show riding over jumps and in fact was recuperating from a cracked coccyx when he met Mum and that, from my point of view, at least, is something to be said for buckjumping.




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