MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN KINGSTON, TASMANIA
Looking back on my childhood, I had significantly more freedom than my own children do now and quite a 1950’s upbringing compared to my friends. I lived in Kingston, near the beach in southern Tasmania in the 80s and 90s. The third of five children in a heavily religious family. My dad worked for the government and my mother stayed at home.
My mother was incredibly talented with sewing, cooking, preserving and always found a bargain. She cut our hair, as well as the hair of our friends and pretty much let us roam free. We’d explore the beach, ride our bikes all day then come home at sunset for dinner.
It was a close knit community where everyone looked out for everyone and I couldn’t go anywhere without people knowing who my parents were. I loved that I was free to explore, run along the beach, take my little sister to feed the ducks and do what we wanted.
Weekends were spent playing sports, watching dad play football, going to community activities, visiting family and attending church on a Sunday. It was a family simple life, but I feel lucky to have had it.
My younger sister and I used to explore the beach a lot. One time we were pretending to be pirates and saw a bottle on the sand. I told her to pretend there was a note in it. Imagine our surprise when we approached and there was an actual note in the bottle!
We looked forward to every Easter and Christmas, when our family camped with another family. Easter was a Port Arthur, after Christmas was camping at Southport. We’d go fishing as our friends family had a boat, we’d go bush walking, play at the park, ride bikes, swim at the beach, collect shells, climb the rocks and explore. We wandered back to the campsites when we were hungry, the fire would burn of an evening and we’d toast marshmallows as we old ghost stories until we went to bed excited to do it all again the next day.
My mother grew up on a farm, my dad was a ‘townie’ meaning he grew up near Hobart. His father worked at Cadbury’s, so he grew up on Cadbury estate. His parents were older and I think the combination of my mums country upbringing with dad’s older parents meant my upbringing was resembles what you would expect for someone in their 50’s. As a result I have always related to people older than myself.
With mum being raised in the country, she was taught to grow vegetables, tend fruit trees, forage, sew, clean and make something out of nothing. She taught my siblings and I to bottle apricots, make jam, cook cakes, roast chicken, sew clothes and essentially be self sufficient before we were teens. We frequently visited her family, with my aunts and uncles living on acreage we had even more freedom. Looking back now, having my own daughters, I wonder what my parents were thinking!
We could wander off into the bush, made cubbies out of whatever was lying around, often disturbing spiders and all sorts of creatures in the process. One of my aunties had a barn on her property which we played cops and robbers in, including tying each other up. This barn was falling to pieces, how it never collapsed on us is beyond me.
I’m so grateful I had the freedom to explore the world around me with the innocence of a child, doing whatever we wanted, learning for ourselves and even though I now live in the middle of Melbourne, I try to get my kids out to the country as much as possible so they have a taste of the freedom and learn the skills only a country lifestyle has.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD ON PITCAIRN STATION, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
I was born in the city (Adelaide, capital of South Australia), but raised on our family sheep station in the north eastern pastoral district of that state. In those days I do not think I really thought much about the ‘different’ childhood that I had – indeed, I don’t seem to recall thinking much about it at all. It’s only in recent years that I have really come to appreciate just how different and unique – and wonderful – my childhood really was. And that I would not have swapped it for the world.
Like most isolated children living in Australia’s outback on our remote sheep and cattle stations, my primary education was provided through the School of the Air (these days, it is also called ‘Distance Education’) and the correspondence school, which, at the time, was based in Adelaide. The latter is now defunct and I believe absolutely everything is taught through the School of the Air or in other ways.
I do hold very fond memories of those days. I was the youngest in my family, with three older brothers. We were all taught this way for our primary years, but I seem to recall that all my brothers had young governesses. And I remember the last three of these young ladies, all of whom, I think, did teach me, until my very last year of primary school before following in the lead of my brothers and so many other isolated children, in being sent to Adelaide to attend boarding school for my secondary years. By the time I reached grade seven, however, I think all our governesses had moved on and there was talk of sending me down to Adelaide a year earlier than planned. Problem was, the school my parents had chosen for me was only for secondary students – and I still had to complete grade seven in primary school. It was then arranged that I would board with an aunt and uncle for that year before moving into the school itself for the first year of secondary school. Sadly, my cousin died shortly before the end of my final primary year and I found myself becoming one of the first primary aged boarders my old school accepted.
Thinking back, I can vividly recall the old wireless that we used, complete with the hand piece, with button attached that we had to press when speaking. I can visualise all of this as clearly as if it happened yesterday. What amazing memories. I also clearly remember that my mother used to be able to listen into to my on air lessons – which never bothered me except for one particular occasion. It was a Friday and my birthday was on the weekend. The teachers usually mentioned birthdays so I was a tad disappointed when the end of the lesson came, our teacher bade us a lovely weekend and I realised I had to speak quickly if I was going to remind them all of my very special day. But I did and my teacher responded, telling me she had remembered but was going to mention it on Monday. I thanked her and hung up. And it was then that I heard the footsteps. I heard them coming down the verandah, closer and closer until they reached me – and they meant business! My mother! And she was angry – very angry. Apparently I did completely the wrong thing by reminding my teacher about my very special day. It’s something I have never forgotten. And it did manage to ruin my birthday and the entire weekend and I dreaded speaking to the teacher on the Monday. Many more stories could be told…
My childhood in the country was quiet. Lonely I guess you could say, only I didn’t really realise it. Our social outings consisted of occasional trips to the local (60ks) town and also to Adelaide – both of which were done very quickly so we could return home as quickly as possible. Also we did attend local horse racing carnivals and the occasional dinner parties held on other stations. And then there was the annual end of year get together for the School of the Air students and families. All lots of fun – but give me the peace and quiet, solitude of the outback any day.
To this day, even though I have lived in urban Australia for most of my life, I will always remain passionate about the outback, about the way of life out there. The peace. The quiet – indeed the silence which is often described as ‘eerie’. But I love it.
Article by Lannah Sawers-Diggins
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN THE BAROSSA VALLEY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
I grew up in the Barossa, on ten acres of land with a creek slipping along our eastern fence line. My house rested in a valley among pale gold hills, eucalypts and wattle, orange dust and barbed wire fences. I might say it was a typical Australian landscape, but to me it will always have a unique feel – in the rhythm of the wind, the weight of the sunlight, or the stippled pattern of leaves against the pale horizon. My dad kept rusted old farm machinery behind his shed because he still occasionally used it. And an old abandoned house watched over us from the top of the tallest hill, with two dark windows for eyes.
There were many pleasures in growing up in this place: We could wake in the morning to the sounds of native birds and walk up the hill around the back of our house to meet the sunrise. Dad decided to sow a field of peas for a few years, and when they were ready we would sit among them in wide-brimmed hats, collecting more of the sweet, fresh peas in our mouths than in our buckets. As winter neared, we would go on excursions to find and chop firewood. The floor of the bushland crunched under our feet as we moved between the trees.
And then there were the afternoons when we could just sit by the deep black creek, which softly ran by us, a velvet ribbon pinned to the earth with reeds. When we first bought the property, we settled under a huge red gum by the creek and Dad roped a couple of wooden chairs to the branches so we could swing on them. Mosquitoes and dragonflies examined the water’s surface. Occasionally a frog would murmur. Somehow, every sound seemed to contribute to a deeper silence.
So the parties we had at our house were surprisingly rambunctious. I had notorious birthday parties in my pre-teen years. With so much land to run around on, the scavenger hunts were like long-distance races, except we got to fill our pockets with treasures as we went. A couple of times, my Dad put a king size mattress in his trailer and we’d ride around the property, laughing and squealing and bouncing around. We had ride-on lawnmower races around a little course marked out with orange cones. My dad actually built us a lot of toys and games over the years; we still have the seesaw he made for us sitting out by the chicken coop.
At night, there was always a bonfire. After we’d finished running around in the dark playing storm the lantern, we’d light it up. For the rest of the year, we compiled large branches or wooden pallets that were too big to burn in our fireplace. The pile would grow bigger and bigger as we approached winter, like a countdown to the next big party. Not long after the fire was lit, we’d all have to step back and stand at least six metres away from it as it got too hot. It was a huge tower of light, flaring upwards, and dwarfing our silhouettes. The heat slammed against our faces and made our eyebrows tingle. We stood around the bonfire and watched our pile slowly burn down.
Being our silly, eleven-year-old selves, my troop of friends and I once got particularly excited and started doing vaguely ‘tribal’ dancing and singing around the fire. We sat down finally, out of breath and laughing at each other. As the night deepened we would roast marshmallows on sticks, moving our chairs around the fire as the smoke shifted, and watching rivers of sparks flit up to the stars. My family always over-catered and we’d have a huge barbecue to get through, plus three different courses of dessert and snacks between each course. There were many leftovers to enjoy later.
Now that I’m older, when I come back from the city for a bonfire, it’s more of a mellow affair with fewer games and more conversation. The friends I invite talk about films and books. The food is fancier and healthier; we use lemon slices and thyme. We drink tea rather than hot chocolate. But the fire burns just as high.
Article by Miranda Richardson
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN NHILL, VICTORIA
I’m not quite sure how he did it, but Dad managed to convince Mum to move to Nhill in 1983. A city girl through and through she, unexpectedly, said yes ‘infamously’ agreeing to give it a year. Yet here I am writing about the wonderful upbringing I had in the country 33 years later, in fact I couldn’t have ever imagined living in the ‘big smoke’ and glad we didn’t.
We lived ‘in town’ which you would often establish with mates you would meet at school when the question arose of where you lived. Many were out on farms, which is a whole new level of country living to which I am not privy. Growing up I was fortunate to have had the company of a little sister and two mischievous brothers, which meant a whole gang eager for adventure.
Mum and Dad chose a home for us with a big garden. Dad’s mum, my Nonna, was Italian which meant growing veggies for us at least seemed to be in the blood. Our favourites were the crops of corn where we would happily hide in the tall, lanky plants, choose a ripe cob, peel and eat it raw.
The ‘very back’ as it was known, the backyard behind the backyard, was also full of fruit trees. How wonderful to reflect on times sitting under them eating our bellies full with mandarins, loquats, blackberries and figs to name a few. It was lucky the garden was bursting with natures treats as Mum’s golden rule, much to our dismay, was that the only thing to eat between meals was fruit!
Having a huge garden also had its pitfalls however. We all remember hot summer’s days sitting on blue tarp in the backyard busily peeling hundreds of broad beans – broad beans of all things! What can you even use them in, soup? That was all I remember having them in. Surely Mum would never have used even a quarter of them in winter! In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if she still has some dried and ‘soup ready’ from the eighties. We also joke now how Dad would also love it when we would have friends over. This would mean we could all enjoy a working bee weeding the veggie garden – while Dad would chime ‘many hands make light work.’
My sister Laura and I also loved the beautiful flowers in Mum’s garden – a true country garden, somewhat reminiscent of an English Rose garden, in fact, on many occasion, it has featured in garden walks. As little kids, we would hold weddings out the back on the lawn with our toys and play fairies amongst the blooms. In October, for Nhill Show, we would also meticulously create plates of flowers to enter for prizes. The Show, well to be honest, all country shows in general, are a whole magnificent story in themselves. The greatest treasures of all in Mum’s garden though were her roses with so many exquisite varieties each with their own unique colour and fragrance. In Spring the garden was always bursting with colour and the sweetest aromas.
The backyard was also the perfect venue for the greatest cubbies. Thanks to the ‘big tree’ we would spend many an arvo climbing up and down. The boys even rigged up a pulley once so Mum could send home made bikkies up! However our greatest achievement was the two storey cubby which we wedged between the fence and the garage.
Aside from the backyard there was a whole new world just a short walk from our house in the Nhill Lake and swamp. With my oldest brother Simon ‘in charge’, we were allowed to go down there exploring. Mum’s golden rule, like many growing up, was to always be home when it got dark for dinner. I vividly remember one day the four of us went exploring down the swamp together with one of Sime’s mates Ben. I think this particular adventure may have been a ‘frog finding’ mission, which involved lifting logs to find them. Perhaps the boys had an ulterior motive but to me it came as a great shock when one of them lifted up a piece of wrought iron tin to reveal a coiled up, hibernating snake. Thank goodness it must have been winter and this sleepy beast wasn’t quick to respond. The tin went down and we all raced back to tell Mum what we had seen. The crazy part is I recall that after all telling Mum what we had seen, the older boys also then decided to ‘go back for another look.’ Not wanting to miss the action, Laura, Daniel and I also followed. Why Mum let us all go back is beyond me? Maybe it was a case of ‘snake who cried wolf?’ Or Mum was up to her neck in an apple pie production line? Who knows? Anyway we all marched back down. Boys being boys and not content with just ‘seeing’ the poor sleepy snake they decided they’d try wake it up... This involved a little prodding with a stick – insert wide eyed emoticon! I can still see the boy’s rapid movement up onto a nearby farm fence as the snake suddenly sprang to attention. All while us ‘youngens’, watched from a ‘safe distance’ of course! Thankfully both the snake and the boys decided against any further jousting and we all retreated home – in time for tea of course with the ultimate tale to tell Dad when he got home.
Article by Sallie Koenig
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN KINGLAKE, VICTORIA
It is funny when I think back to my childhood. Sometimes I wonder if my memories are truly my own or if they are a combination of my two sisters and mine, some wonderful imaginations and the stories from our parents thrown in between. The excitement and adventures we had were stuff of storybooks, i.e. the Famous Five meets Lost. The characters we met and loved were the full spectrum of the sweet old lady across the road to scary villains who lived in big old haunted houses. Well, it all felt like that when you were six years old.
As two teachers with fairly limited resources but huge enthusiasm, Mum and Dad decided that a change was needed. So after spending many weekends searching for their ideal place, they sold the family home, packed up the maroon Ford Fairlane and headed, quite literally, for the hills. Three hours from Melbourne, Kinglake was surrounded by dense National Parks. Where native wildlife wandered freely and there was more vacant paddocks than there were homes. When we arrived, there were only a handful of families that made up the town. It was split in to Kinglake East, Kinglake West and Kinglake Centre (or Middle Kinglake) as the locals liked to call it. In Middle Kinglake, we were the newest family to arrive in the area for many years. Neighbours from one end of the road to the other were all related; sometimes closely, sometimes distant cousins, but mostly they all shared the same gene pool, and plenty of history. We were somewhat of a novelty to the locals, but everyone accepted us in with open arms. The country community was a close one and one of support, respect and mateship.
Our property overlooked the Toolangi Mountain Ranges which was as vast as the eye could see. The deep-blue mountains sat at the foot of the 88 acres and in between was lush volcanic soil that had endless possibilities. Barely fenced, the rolling hills were a blank canvas for Mum and Dad, and every night Mum and Dad sat down with a notepad and filled each of the 88 acres and some with their enthusiasm, and aspirations.
While the land was being cleared to build our house, we rented an old house down the road from the paddock. The Pekins house (owned by the Pekins), was an old miners style cottage with a front and back veranda, an outdoor dunny and enough holes in the weatherboard to make it whistle. We knew it was temporary but for all its misgivings it was cheap and close to the building site. The weekly event that was met with excitement and great fear was the digging of the hole for the toilet. The bag of lime came out of the shed and the biggest shovel. To the amusement of my Dad the cheekiest kid, or slowest to run away after taunting him would be held upside down over the pit and dangled just high enough to feel the fear and experience the smell of what lay beneath! The escapees would by now, be rolling around on the grass laughing hysterically at the expense of our doomed sibling. We all knew full well that we would never be dropped ‘really’, but the excitement and fear and fun kept us going for hours later fearful of the next time that it would be our turn!
Every waking hour that our parents had was spent building the new house themselves. Still very little my sister and I would often need an afternoon sleep. It was still back at a time when leaving kids at home alone was perfectly acceptable. We would wake up and take up a basket of cordial and afternoon tea (biscuits if we could find them, more often Salada biscuits with thick butter and vegemite) up to the house for Mum and Dad and our eldest sister. Once my little sister who was only 3 or 4 made the journey on her own, escorted by our big black Rottweiler Sophie who never left her side. It was a blessed, safe life for kids like us who had only known the suburbs but now thought that the whole town was our own.
Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN BEACONSFIELD, VICTORIA
Upon reflection, one thing I have realized about my childhood is the fact that we were always outside despite the weather. I don’t recall a lot of time being inside the house.
We lived in the countryside surrounded by paddocks, a pine plantation, fruit orchards and Australian native flora & fauna.
Winter conjures up images of gumboots and raincoats. Running along small creek beds as the water rushed past. Twisting reeds together to make little rafts and holding a regatta equal in excitement to any Olympics.
Then there was the smell of wet pine needles that perfumed the air as poorly built lean-to’s offered little to no protection but again, it didn’t matter. There is always pride associated with being an owner builder.
We would drink from the creeks and steal apples from a neighbouring orchard to avoid the danger of entering the house in case we weren’t allowed back out. (The threat of being asked to clean your room was always too real. Ha!)
Summers were about swimming in the dams and billabongs and taking long walks through unchartered territory. There was one occasion where we stumbled across a deserted & derelict house that had no access point just sitting alone in the forest. Was it haunted? We had no idea. But we convinced ourselves it was and made it home in record time. Plucking up the courage to return a few days later we were unable to find it. Secretly this was a relief.
Climbing to the top of pine saplings where the trunk is still very flexible I remember being able to build enough momentum to literally have it bend in half and then gravity would fling the tree upright again. How I was never launched into the next postcode is beyond me. I’m laughing just thinking about that.
Slinging a backpack over your shoulder and ‘maybe’ some food & water if you could be bothered was also an enjoyable way to spend a day outdoors. Surviving a day without food was ok but we would always find water. Even if it was a puddle on the side of a dirt road. We would skim our hand over the top to remove any film (if there was any at all) and then drink, face down and bum up.
Sometimes we would ride for miles and miles.
As we started to get braver and more adventurous we had to find ways to get back home. I don’t remember seeing any road signs on these dirt roads but I do remember that when we stopped at crossroads we would get off our bikes and build arrows out of stones on the side of the road to give direction on the return journey. It never occurred to us that a car could easily destroy these sign but that was because we never saw cars on these rides.
Animals have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, rabbits and even a kangaroo at one stage.
Memories of eating meat in my childhood are sketchy at best. I do however; recall all the ‘new’ vegetarian meals being critiqued each mealtime.
Between that point in my story to now is a ‘Gone with the Wind’ novel & involved city living to the suburbs.
But here I am having lapped the sun 46 times, back living in the countryside surrounded by animals, gumboots at the back door and rain coats hanging nearby.
The only difference; I’m now vegan.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN WALHALLA, VICTORIA
When I was a little girl, at a very specific and special time most evenings, I would walk, barefoot, out of the front door of our house. The grass would feel cool and inviting underfoot, and above me, the Milky Way had only just begun to twinkle. I would search for a particular star, spot it, close my eyes, stretch out my hands, take a deep breath and make a wish. All around me... silence! Except for the gentle generators of Walhalla which would hum their soothing song, and the whole world would feel just right.
I remember going for long walks with my dad, when my family owned a small cafe in Walhalla. We would talk and talk and laugh, and explore the old town until we were spent. Living in the country allowed me to focus purely on my early relationships, and as most country people do, I have strongly maintained these relationships until today with family and friends because of how they were formed.
When I was a little older, we spent our time in Traralgon. This was a little different to Walhalla, and so it had other experiences and lessons for me.
There was a strong community around this paper mill town. Even the housing was specific to the mill and my father worked here for many years. Needless to say, the women of the town formed an important part of the fabric of this place. To this day, my beautiful mother is a volunteer emergency worker in the town.
As I grew, the freedom of the country allowed me to build qualities in a different way had I lived in the city. I grew an appreciation for pure and organic foods, purchased easily in the country, and the long rambling country roads, where I first learned to drive. I did boyish things, like climbing and trekking and so on. To this day I seek out the purest foods I can, and enjoy long drives on my own, and have retained my sense of adventure whilst being a lady.
As a young girl, I credit living in the country for turning me into a proper lady. The extreme wealth of friendships I had with people of all ages taught me how to act, react and treat any situation with grace. This isn't exclusive to the country of course, but I believe that when you live in the country, you focus more on these things, most of all, because you have beauty around you. It is impossible to not grow grace in the presence of beauty.
In later years, as I became a teenager, and then an early adult, the switch of rebellion that goes off in all teenagers went off in us, too. This was understandable. The country is a place that is pure, simple, wholesome. Most teenagers and early adults crave attention, excitement, pushing the boundaries. It was, and is, inevitable that when you are a young adult in the country, at some point you begin to tell yourself that you want to move out of of there. And so that was the common theme that most teenagers and young adults bond over.
Today, I can look back and credit who I am with the fact that I grew up in the country. I cherish those memories, those lessons, those friendships. I cherish the wishes I made in that old mining town while looking up at the night sky, untouched by the city lights. I cherish the community I still consider myself a part of, and I cherish the bonds I have in the form of lifelong friendships.
I loved growing up in the country.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA
Serving in a country general store in the 1950s was good training for a would-be writer. I lived in a house attached to a general store in Gippsland for two years. Open 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.; seven days a week, we sold everything.
Our store was a newsagency, a bank, and a ‘corner grocery store’. We also sold hardware supplies like nails, paint and glue. Although it was not a garage, the store sold petrol and oil. Farmers would come in once a week for their food orders. They’d leave squiggly lists, or say, ‘The usual’. Then I’d have to work out what they wanted.
Once I put in a tube of ‘fastglue’ instead of ‘ toothpaste’ One customer had‘sticky’ teeth that night!
I learnt to mix up milk-shakes and make ‘spiders’ (lemonade, ice cream and flavouring with a straw). I hand-pumped petrol on the old bowser. And on the scales, I weighed and bagged sugar, pollard and bran. Once, using the big meat slicer, I nearly sliced my hand instead of the ham.
I still remember the general store smell of‘mixed-up’ food and fuel. It was special, spicy and yet disinfected.
Country people often share surnames. Some even look like each other. And they expected us to know who was who.
To help, Dad kept a little name- book.
‘And exactly how do you spell your name?’ he’d say politely.
‘B.I.L.L. S.M.I.T.H.’ laughed the farmer.
All the customers smiled. So did Dad.
Getting the names right was important, especially for newcomers. And you were considered a newcomer for about 20 years.
In between customers, I was supposed to stack shelves. Instead I read all the magazines, books and newspapers.
I listened to customers’ stories. ‘Serving’ meant learning to speak to people of all ages. I learnt to control nuisances and to challenge shoplifters. I also learnt how to say ‘No,’ when people asked for credit, but my father often helped families who were having a hard time. That was part of the reason we eventually went broke ourselves, people didn’t pay their bills.
I especially remember the bushfires. In a country town, everybody belonged to the Country Fire Authority. C.F.A.
Dad gave free petrol, drinks and sandwiches to the fire-fighters. I remember the smell of burning bush, smoke and the sweaty fire- fighters. Once the smoke drifted across our general store, a worry because of our petrol tank. The good news was that the fire-fighters turned the fire in time.
‘News’ and ‘gossip’ were swapped at dances too.
At the Saturday night ‘footy’ dances at the Mechanics Hall, Dad got me up for the Barn Dance, where you change partners in a circle. At that time, it wasn’t ‘nerdy’ to dance with your father in that sort of place. Then they had the Mexican Hat Dance. You jump up and down, in time to the band. Unluckily, it was a very old hall.
The dance floor fell in.
Too many, heavy dancers!
That’s when I decided I wouldn’t be a dancer. I’d be a writer.
My first published novel was ‘General Store’ where the setting only was autobiographical. After it was translated into Finnish, I realised that a book could travel, even further than the author, and into other cultures.
Hazel Edwards is the author of the children’s classic picture book ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’. Her over 200 books have gone into many languages, including Chinese, Russian, Auslan signing and Braille. In 2001, she went on an Antarctic expedition as author. She has co-written ‘Cycling Solo; Ireland to Istanbul’ and ‘Trail Magic: Going Walkabout for 2184 Miles on the Appalachian Trail’ with her son Trevelyan Quest Edwards who inspired the original cake-eating hippo books. Her quirky memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author’ (Brolga Publishing) will be released in late 2015.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN COOTAMUNDRA, NEW SOUTH WALES
My very first memory is of my 3rd birthday party, which was held with family friends on our farm. After that initial memory, they all just flowed - of picking daisies and making daisy chains, sitting on the tractor to keep my Dad company, moving sheep, helping my Mum in the house, riding my pushbike to visit my grandparents. It was very much a free childhood and my parents were always busy on the farm, so we would be helping them. I was the oldest child, by far the bossiest, but perhaps the most organised. I always felt it that I owed it to my younger siblings to look after them. It was an eldest child thing.
We had puppies, kittens, pet birds, pet lambs, and even pigs. We didn't care what we wore and we didn't need much. Our farm was where we spent most of our time, and we didn't care about having the latest clothes, toys etc. We learnt to drive young, I mean very young. I couldn't reach the pedals, so my parents would need to start me off then jump out. It was fine when I just needed to drive from paddock to paddock with open gates. The innocence.
So I grew up near Cootamundra, and attended a very small school for my primary years. We would drive our mini car to the bus stop (with the booster seat so we could see over the steering wheel). Often it would flood and the creek would be up so we couldn't go to school. We loved those days and were so excited that we didn't have to go to school. But then Dad bought a boat, so we could get out every time it flooded - and we could then get to school.
Mum loved to bake cakes and we could smell the baking as we arrived back home in the afternoons. When I was 10, my mother had her last child, a little boy. My sisters and I were so delighted - we had a real little doll to play with. We adored him, and mothered him so much. He often says now how he felt like he had 4 mothers when he was growing up.
I went to boarding school in Sydney when I was 12. That was a huge contrast to my farm way of life living. I was grateful that my sister followed me the next year, so there was 2 of us. All of the boarders were in the same boat though, and we were all homesick - but ever so grateful for the opportunities we were given. When my youngest sister arrived, she wasn't homesick at all as she was so ready to come - having spent so much time visiting us both, she couldn't wait to get there and be with her big sisters. We would long for the holidays though, when we could return to our farms. To smell the fresh air, to ride our bikes, to talk as loudly as we wanted, to drive around and look at the crops and sheep and to enjoy the freedom. It was the complete opposite to boarding school where we couldn't raise our voices, we lived by rules, and we couldn't just take off when we felt like clearing our heads. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time at school - but it really was a different life to living on the farm.
After marrying my husband, I moved to his family farm and we started our lives together. We had both enjoyed our city experiences, but were ready to come home and lead a quieter, rural life. It was where we wanted to bring up our own children, so they could enjoy the same childhood we did.
Now my children are growing up too quickly, and nearing the end of their primary school years. They too have gone to the local school, which is only small - and will head to boarding school for their high school years to gain that city experience.
I am sure though, the day will come when each of our boys will come back home to the farm.
Melissa is in her 5th year of running her boutique wedding planning business. She thrives on each and every country wedding that she does. They are all completely different and each have a fabulous story to tell. Last weekends wedding involved a lot of rain and guests having to be transported on the back of cattle trucks in to the wedding on a farm as the buses could not travel on the wet and slippery roads. Most of the guests were from the city, so it was a great country experience for them all. Perhaps not what they were expecting, but it makes for a good story to tell for a long time.
Some of her brides only need help on the day, or some prefer guidance the whole way through the wedding planning process. Most families find it rather daunting having a wedding on their own farm, so they look to Melissa to take some pressure off.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN HARDEN, NEW SOUTH WALES
When I look back at my country childhood it is interesting to discover which memories are the most vivid. I remember running to school and sliding across the frosty grass footpath on a 1-degree winters morning. I remember jumping on my friends horse and encouraging it to run when I didn’t know how to ride. I remember climbing as high as I possibly could, into the oak tree at the front of our house. I remember helping the stray cat raise her new kittens at the back of the tennis court clubhouse.
Children filled the streets in the small country towns we lived in. We all rode our bicycles to the local pool and spent hot afternoons diving deep into the water and laying on the warm edges of the pool to dry. Every single afternoon involved a sporting activity from ballet to tennis, football to back yard cricket. Our neighbour would come over to watch Dad playing football in our front yard with my two brothers each afternoon after work.
I remember visiting the elderly lady next door and playing the piano for her, showing off my new dance and drinking cordial on the front verandah while she did the rosary. I had taken it upon myself to make sure she was ok. She seemed lonely and I loved having someone who had their undivided attention on my so-called talents at the age of 9yrs old. I remember the day Mum took me to visit her in the retirement village. She had forgotten who I was. I didn’t understand Alzheimer’s disease until that day.
It was a simple life. We didn’t need a lot of material things. The outdoors was our spacious backyard that didn’t stop at the fence line. I felt fit, happy, a part of a community and a sense of belonging to Australia was innate and strong.
My mother is one of 10 children and Dad is one of 7, so aside from all of our friends, we kept in close contact with our extended family. My fondest memories of my childhood are of the many times sitting around the kitchen tables with my grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles and cousins; eating cake and drinking tea, looking at everyone’s faces and listening to their voices.
I remember when my Mum's Dad passed away. I remember climbing into bed with my Nan and staying with her a few nights so she wasn’t alone. I remember how incredibly comfortable and warm that bed felt and how good it was to be there for my Nan. I didn’t understand the power of kindness until those nights.
When I gather all my vivid country childhood memories together and share them with you, I realise what a privilege it was to be raised in a small country town by a community that was allowing us to feel incredible free and connected to the outdoors. I see now that my parents didn’t have to raise us alone, it was a loving team effort of a whole community working together; one that taught the children the value of friendship, compassion, teamwork and hard work. I will be forever grateful for that.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN BERRY, NEW SOUTH WALES
I was born and bred in the beautiful country town of Berry N.S.W, I was baby number four and the only girl. I often reflect back on my childhood and have such a sense of gratitude for the peaceful fun safe childhood my three Brothers and I experienced, of course as a child you have no idea how this upbringing will serve you later in life, how growing up in the country builds resilience and the appreciation of simplicity.
My earliest memories are living on the dairy farm, my Mother saying how it was a constant source of entertainment for four children. There were tractor rides on the Massey Ferguson with Dad and when cousins visited, sitting in paddocks for hours while vegetables were being planted, eating apple cucumbers and raddishes one after an other, playing in the hay shed and spending time in the dairy bales drinking milk straight from the vat. Growing up on a dairy farm and spending countless weekends at my Uncles dairy farm allowed "us" kids to experience incidental risks and adventures that our city cousins could only dream off.
One morning as a curious three year old I put on my big Brothers oversized gumboots and made my way down to the dairy, stopping to pat "Sophia" our prize winning cows, calf. Sofia stepped into protection mode and charged at me the clumsy curious Toddler. I set off running back up to the farmhouse in those huge gumboots making this all the more difficult. My three Brothers were sat on the paddock gate yelling yelling in unison "RUN GAI". My Mother looked out of the farm house window wondering what all the commotion was , knowing she was too far away to assist me she just joined in the chorus "RUN GAI". I made it safely back to the farm house, after all it was just another morning on the farm.
By the time I was five years old we had moved off the farm and into town, when I say town I mean one main street where I spent most of my childhood. The main street was where kids came together after school meeting at the only milk bar. Happy memories of 5 cent cobbers and redskins and a 20 cent lolly bag that seemed to overflow. Bill and Beryl welcomed everyone to their humble milk bar it became the meeting hub for sports teams on a Saturday morning. Bill loved to have a joke and bet you a chocolate thick shake that his beloved St George Dragons would beat your favourite football team, come the weekend.
Everyone knew everyone and with the main street consisting of little more than the post office, grocery store, chemist, bakery, butcher, saddlery, haberdashery, newsagent, 2 pubs and 2 service stations it was the meeting place for locals catching up as they went about there daily errands. As a kid it was a fun and safe place to be, someone always knew who your were and didn’t mind telling you when it was time to go home. I remember bread so hot and fresh that the bakery couldn’t slice it, I remember sitting in the back our white valiant no seat belts and sweaty red vinyl interior "Stan" telling us kids to behave while he pumped petrol, washed the windscreen and checked the oil, of course this was standard service back than.
Sport was a huge part of country living. Rugby League, Hockey, Cricket seemed to be the favourites, for a small town we played with plenty of heart and spirit often winning premierships across all three codes, resilience serving us well. We revelled in the excitement of the annual Berry Show held the first weekend in February. The anticipation of watching the side show trucks arrive into the show ground and knowing by the weekend it would be fairy floss, the big dipper, cattle and horses in the Grand Parade, screaming and cheers from the wood chop ring.
The long year wait made everything so much more special the sights of horse floats, Cattle with ribbons, sounds of side show alley and smells of dogwood dogs, it was like Berry came alive for forty eight hours that February weekend. The locals came together rain hail or shine celebrating live stock, produce, or just a chance to talk weather, sport, and who would take out the title of the prestigious "Miss Berry Show Girl" and who won biggest pumpkin in the Agricultural pavilion.
Now 41 years on Berry has progressed and grown into a sophisticated stylish boutique town, although to me Berry will always be a town that rushed for no one, a town that protected local families, a town that came together in tragedy and triumph, a town of cold winter morning frosts, a town of quaint houses, a town that instilled values and ethics and a town that gave us the freedom to have an adventurous childhood through simplistic living.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN YERRINBOOL, NEW SOUTH WALES
The frosty Southern Highlands of NSW is where I was born and grew up. It’s a place of rolling green hills, bush and August winds. It inspires art and writing and good food. The deep and far-reaching roots of my family remain there. My parents, sister, aunties, uncles, right through to third cousins call this place home. I have friends for life from the highlands. My relationship with the area is long and my connection deep.
When I was five, Mum and Dad built a house on a large block in Yerrinbool. The day we moved in, snow meandered down like ice blossoms. Next to our house was bush where, together with our neighbours, my sister and I would play for hours. We constructed cubby houses from sticks and dug in the dirt. In our own backyard, Dad built us a cubby house next to the veggie patch. We shared many birthday parties with friends and family during our years at this house. Mum always let us choose our birthday cake from the Woman’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book.
My family owned a restaurant in Berrima in an old sandstone inn built by Francis Breen in the 1840s, and for a time we lived above the restaurant. The building's shuttered windows, ageing sandstone, sweeping veranda created an atmosphere of intrigue. It's location, across the road from the sandstone gaol, along with rumours of tunnels running between the two, added to the place's mystery. And what was even more exciting for a young child was the restaurant's own ghost: Lucretia Dunkley, or Mrs Dunkley as we called to her. Mrs Dunkley was hung at the gaol along with her lover for the axe murder of her husband. Some say she could be spotted on the worn front stairs which led down to the highway from the veranda. Needless to say, I fluctuated between being thrilled and scared to death about living there!
For me, the restaurant was especially scary at night when it was empty. My passage to the restaurant meant I had to creep down the stairs, past a painting of a man whose eyes followed my every step, while ignoring my wildly beating heart. Once I entered the restaurant, I would sprint across squeaking floorboards, past the shadowy antique furniture, grab what I needed and scoot back. These precautions ensured I never once met Mrs Dunkley!
In the safety of daylight though, my sister and I would frequently go into the enormous cool room to sneak chocolates. We also demolished our fair share of home-made pumpkin soup, damper, apple pie and chocolate mousse.
Although the area is well known for its chilly winters, I remember, equally well, long summer days. We spent a lot of time at the Mittagong pools where tall gum trees provided shade from the sun. With suncream smears on our legs, we would splash about for hours. And when we needed a rest from the water, we would hurry out, pig tails plastered to the sides of our faces, to slurp at ice-creams which dripped down our arms.
Every Christmas was spent at my grandparents’ house in Bowral. It was always heaving with aunties, uncles and cousins, all talking over each other and vying for attention. We ate roasts, hams and salads, ending with Grandma’s Christmas pudding. We sat in the backyard under numerous tarps connected to the Hills Hoist, in an effort to create shade from the sizzle of the afternoon. Strawberries crept along the side of the house and beans crawled up the fence. A crown of rhubarb was the centrepiece in the veggie patch. All these carefully tended plants hinted at Grandpa’s own childhood on a farm in faraway Mullumbimby.
It took many years to appreciate the effect the Southern Highlands had on my childhood. Now that I have my own little ones, I understand the freedom, space and safety it afforded me. And through writing this piece, I realise that my love of food and writing and art started in this special place. I now live in the Blue Mountains which is similar in climate, community feeling and spectacular scenery to the highlands of my childhood. At particular lookouts I can see all the way to Mittagong. I can only cross my fingers and hope that my children will feel the same way about growing up in the country.
Leigh van der Veen
Writer of children’s stories
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN OURIMBAH, NEW SOUTH WALES
Stepping one foot in front of the other, my little brother trailing not far behind, I carefully followed the narrow and well-worn cattle tracks up the green hills. Hundreds of hooves had marched along those same paths before me - and continued for a long time after my visits - but when I was a young girl I thought these paths were perfect for small feet to tread.
As a child growing up on the NSW Central Coast I spent many hours exploring the vast paddocks of our grandparents’ farm. They had a small herd of cattle, some of which were sold at the local cattle sales every year, but most roamed those same green paddocks in which I played, their huge and gentle brown eyes watching my brother and I contentedly as their tails swished away the flies.
My family lived on a smaller neighbouring property until I was four and then we moved a few minutes’ drive away, closer to the centre of Ourimbah. Our new home backed on to the bush, which provided a host of other adventures, but it was during our weekend visits to “The Farm” that we got to explore freely, watching tadpoles morph into frogs in the tiny pools that formed when fallen tree branches dammed parts of Ourimbah Creek.
Here I saw my grandmother fight a losing battle against fireweed spreading, walking along and talking one minute and then crouched on the ground digging around the roots of the hated weed the next. But one of my most treasured memories of the farm was driving in through the gate and, after savouring the wobbly feeling from the cattle grid beneath, looking to see if there were any water lilies in the dam. My favourite colour was pink, but I was almost as satisfied by seeing a mauve or yellow lily amongst all those round green lily pads.
My delight at this rural scene never waned, even after our family moved from the sleepy little regional town towards the coast. Our new home still had enough land for a pair of sheep, a goat, some chickens and a small orchard, but it also had the added draw card of being close to the beach. My foggy winter mornings where I felt the telltale crunch of frost underfoot, were swapped for fresh salty air and sea mist at a deserted beach.
One of the beach jewels of the Central Coast region, about two hours north of Sydney, Terrigal was a favourite playground for the city crowd, but became ours again once the long summer days gave way to the golden hues of autumn. We still spent time visiting my grandparents at the farm, but our weekends now also included mornings building sand castles at the beach, afternoons exploring the water and wind eroded honeycomb rock formations and twilight picnics on the sand as the sky changed from blue to orange, pink and purple.
At the time I didn’t think about how lucky we were to have the beach a mere walk away from the school. However as a parent now, I see the wonder that was swimming lessons and PE on the sand and in the sea water. I had changed from a girl who was comfortable in a farm environment where a rooster woke us up in the mornings, to a teenager who loved to spends hours sitting on a deserted beach and watch the waves break.
Now an adult who lives in regional Tasmania, rolling green hills dotted with cows and sheep and the brisk, salty breeze of the beach on a gusty day have equal pull on my senses. Those childhood memories of place stay strong.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN KANDOS, NEW SOUTH WALES
Growing up in country mid-west NSW was a continuous adventure playground: there was so much to explore and so many things to make and do in and around our yard and the paddocks beyond. As long as we were home by tea time, we were free to roam, create and play. Everyone knew everybody so we were immersed in a safe and carefree world.
Our father was the principal of Kandos Public School in the early 70’s, and for four years we lived in the 1884 original sandstone school house on the western edge of town. Taking a short cut across the railway line, it was a 15 minute walk to the present day school and I usually made it each day with my older brother and sister. If I didn’t sleep in. It was my first year of school and I remember struggling to get out of bed in the mornings. Perhaps I just preferred to get a ride in with mum; as the craft teacher she was going there anyway.
Ours was a typical country Australian childhood. When the afternoon bell rang, we would race home together to play all manner of things: riding bikes, billy carting, flying kites and climbing trees. We turned the old, outside weatherboard dunny at the far end of the yard near the veggie garden into a clubhouse. Only members were allowed in: me, my brother, two of my brother’s friends and our dog Blackie. Sometimes we would pretend Blackie was a tiger in the jungle and spy on her roaming outside the clubhouse through our hand drilled peephole. We would fire her with stolen wheat seeds spat out through our Bic biro casings. To play this game, we used to sneak into the back yard across the road and help ourselves to a handful of seeds from a large hessian sack. It didn’t seem to faze us that it belonged to the local policeman. That was about as naughty as we ever were.
Influenced by the era of Western movies, we often played Cowboys and Indians. Mum made me a special outfit: cotton, mustard-coloured shorts and shirt complete with Rickrack trim. One day, my sister and brother ganged up on me and lashed me to one of the giant peppercorn trees near our front gate; one foot off the ground. It took a lot of hollering to attract someone’s (mum’s) attention to free me. Meanwhile, the ‘cowboys’ were looking on from our multi-level tree house nailed up in one of the many enormous pines in the paddock next door.
Whenever my brother planned a new project, we would pull the billy cart to the local rubbish tip, and load it up with bits of wire, wood and anything else useful to a teenage boy inventor. I loved hanging out with my brother: we always did fun and exciting stuff. Even going to the tip was an adventure.
On weekends we often explored further afield with our parents and family friends, which invariably included teachers. Dunns Swamp in nearby Wollemi National Park was a regular spot for picnics. Located on the Cudgegong River, this perfect swimming hole was created when the weir was formed in the 1920’s to provide water for the newly developed cement plant in town. We would spend hours splashing around and scrambling over the rock formations before being ushered on a bushwalk with the adults. Another fascinating place to explore was Ferntree Gully Reserve, a deep and narrow gully of eroded sandstone filled with lush rainforest. Blackberry picking was another popular outing: I grew up on blackberry jam.
Kandos Cement Plant, or The Works as it was referred to, proudly supplied all the cement for many of Sydney’s buildings including the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Underground Railway. It was the heart of Kandos; its constant around-the-clock rumble and uninterrupted steam flow from its towers was a part of everyday life. At night it was lit up like a Christmas tree, and as the provider of the local tennis courts it was a unique backdrop for our weekly evening tennis games. It’s closed now, after 97 years of operation, and the town is silent. When I visited a couple of years ago, that’s the only thing that had changed. Our old house is still the same with the ‘clubhouse’ still standing, and palings from our tree house are still visible. The billy cart hill we used to charge down is there too, although it doesn’t look as big as it used to.
Article by Katherine Sellers
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN MACLEAN, NEW SOUTH WALES
I always knew we were getting close to my grandparents’ house in Maclean in northern New South Wales by the changing vegetation outside our car window.
Long stretches of the Pacific Highway would whizz past before we finally caught sight of rows of banana plantations, sweeping up the hillsides of Coffs Harbour. Several hours up the road, bananas gave way to the purple of jacarandas which embraced the streets of Grafton and were, in turn, replaced by swaying fields of sugar cane. Cane fields were the most exotic because it meant we had travelled the furthest north we ever went from Sydney. It also meant we were nearly there.
Trundling alongside the Clarence River, we finally reached Maclean, known as the ‘Scottish Town in Australia’. That’s due to the large number of Scottish immigrants who settled there in the late 19th century, building the Free Presbyterian Church in 1867.
These days there is a large cairn of rocks gathered from around Scotland and Australia in the local park, street signs with Gaelic translations, power poles in the tartan of local clans and Scottish cuisine, such as haggis, available at the local pub.
As a child in the 1970s, I didn’t question all the Scottish-ness in this sleepy Australian riverside town. One of our visits coincided with the Easter Highland Gathering, held for over a century. When we heard the bagpipes start up in the main street, we ran down the hill from my grandparents’ house to watch the parade go by. The band led the way, the pipers in their bearskin and Glengarry hats, followed by the drum corps, then tartan-clad dancers executing highland flings on top of floats, decked out by the townsfolk of Maclean, all of whom my grandparents knew by name. After the parade, we gathered for the Highland Games which featured intriguingly-named contests such as Putting the Stone, Caber Toss, Hammers and Log Wrestle.
Maclean is also the southern gateway of Australia’s sugar industry and one time our grandfather took us on a tour of Harwood Island Sugar Mill, the oldest continuous working mill in Australia, crushing cane since 1874. I remember being fascinated by the towering hills of white, brown and raw sugar and by the bamboo-like sticks of cane the workers gave us which we gnawed at like pandas.
Some nights, spot fires of burning cane would light up the countryside’s quiet darkness. The stench would make us fear an approaching bushfire...but these were benevolent fires, delivering a bounty to local cane farmers. These days, pre-harvest burning in the area has been almost completely phased out and replaced by green harvesting.
My grandmother’s house was busy with craft and baking. Tea cosies, dolls clothes, crocheted handkerchiefs and Lady Flo’s pumpkin scones - made for us or the local fete. At the Rotary Fair, I would watch my grandfather run the chocolate wheel, dishing out whole chooks to the winners.
By day, we would climb over the back fence to play with the older children who lived there, running out some of our energy on their tennis court or we would pop in to explore the church next door which was always left unlocked. Often our parents would drive us to the beaches of Yamba and Brooms Head or take our car over on the punt across the Clarence River to visit the little township of Lawrence.
Leisurely childhood country holidays, spent fishing from a boat with my grandfather who taught me the beauty of sitting quietly or amid the swirl of kaftans, frocks and cocktails of large country parties, with my grandparents entertaining guests all day and into the night.
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN PALMWOODS, QUEENSLAND
I lived on the Sunshine Coast for the first 15 years of my life. My twin sister, Ellen, and I were born on 18 March 1930 at the Palmwoods Hospital, a small private hospital in Palmwoods which is located in the eastern foothills of the Blackall Range. I was christened Isobel Mary but I have been called Pixie since the day I was born.
We grew up with our older brother Don on a small farm three kilometres from Palmwoods. My father had served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, and after World War I, he and my mother, who had been the graduating Gold Medallist nurse at the Brisbane Hospital before her marriage, bought the farm. We had no electricity or running water, but we had a happy childhood and helped our parents on the 16-hectare property.
My parents, and particularly my father, worked very hard on the farm which was on the side of the Montville range. The farm itself was very productive, so we grew pineapples and pawpaw on the upper slopes and small crops like tomatoes and cucumbers on the creek flats that went through our farm. The creek always ran. We had a swimming hole there, and Ellie and I would throw two pebbles in to see if anything moved. If nothing moved, we thought that it meant there were no black snakes. We would dive in if nothing moved, otherwise we would shoot up to the house to our Mum like rockets.
One job Ellie and I had on the farm was to build wooden pineapple cases, and we would help our father load pineapples onto a slide, ready for them to be packed. Dad would have all the pineapple cases ready to be loaded for the carter to take to the Palmwoods station. Ellie and I used to look up the road to see when the truck was coming towards our farm, and we’d tell our Dad that the “big red Allen Brown truck” was at the top line. Dad had to make sure all the cases of fruit were ready to be loaded.
Our family owned about a dozen cows, and another of our jobs as children was to help with the milking. Ellie and I went with our father on many mornings to milk the cows, and afterwards we led them up to a paddock not far from the farmhouse.
A big treat for Ellie and I was a monthly trip to town to see a Saturday picture show. Mum would take us to Palmwoods in the horse and sulky, leave our horse Panshine in the police yard at the top of the hill, and then the three of us would walk to the picture show held in the Memorial Hall. She also stopped in regularly to see Sister Malone and Sister Perry at Palmwoods Hospital – Mum was one of two ex-nurses in the district and they sometimes asked her opinion on particular medical matters.
Ellie and I attended Palmwoods State School and we rode Bessie to school from the age of five. If we fell off, we were too small to get back on again. So the farmers on the two miles between our farm and the school knew that if they saw Bessie standing still in the middle of the road – and she wouldn’t move, trucks had to go around her – we had fallen off. So one of the farmers would come and put us back on and off we would go again. We had a saddle and a packsaddle on the back of that, which Dad had made – I rode in front to school every day and Ellie was in front going home.
Our family’s cattle dog, a black kelpie called Toby, usually accompanied Bessie, Ellie and I on the journey to and from school. On the way home, he would leave us at about the second-last corner before the farm and take off, go in and find Mum, wagging his tail, and she’d say, “The kids are coming, are they, boy?” And Bessie always brought us home safely.
After Bessie became too old for us to ride her to school, we walked for a few years and then we got second hand bikes. We attended Nambour State High School. We rode into Palmwoods, left our bicycles under Mrs McIntyre’s house (they owned one of the big stores in Palmwoods and were friends of Mum and Dad’s) and we’d go up to school. Then in the afternoon we’d catch the Brisbane train home, it left Gympie at a certain time and passed through Nambour. We had really long days but we were used to it.
Later, when it became too far to travel to Nambour every day, we boarded at a private home. The house was high up near the Nambour Hospital and had big bay windows. Sometimes, before the wartime blackouts started, we would just sit and stare out of the windows at the streetlights. We’d never seen streetlights before, living on the farm, so we thought this was marvellous.
We often had holidays close to the beach. After my parents sold the farm in 1945, and before we moved to Brisbane, we camped at Cotton Tree, Maroochydore – camping was a common way to holiday in those days.
What finished us at Palmwoods was after the end of World War II, the farmers had been promised that electricity was coming from Nambour. The electricity was supposed to come up the Palmwoods-Montville Road where all the farms were, but for some reason it was decided to take electricity out through Hunchy. So my parents decided to sell the farm, my mother did not want to live any longer without electricity. So we moved to Brisbane and my parents bought a corner store with a small living area at the back – there was a housing shortage at the time and that was the only way we could get a house.
Article by Pixie Annat
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN MOSSMAN, QUEENSLAND
The jolting of the wooden seats jarred my mother’s aching body into a permanent wakefulness. My brother and I slept on oblivious.
This was a forty-five hour journey from Brisbane to Cairns on the Sunshine Express. It followed a 15 1/2 hour train journey from Sydney; and before that, a six-week nightmare by sea from our native Italy. Destination: Mossman, Queensland—in 1951, a town seemingly at the ends of the earth.
It was the sugar industry’s northernmost outpost, accessible since 1933 by a precarious drive from Cairns on the rugged Cook Highway. Prior to that, transport was via launch to Port Douglas and a buggy ride or horseback to Mossman.
My mother, my brother and I were on our way to join our father, who had migrated to Australia the year before. He was waiting at Cairns railway station when we arrived after nightfall, and we all piled onto a friend’s truck, along with our luggage. Fifty miles of narrow, treacherous road, winding its way around precipitous cliffs, separated us from our destination.
Mossman was a sleepy town, population approximately 3000, dependent on the area’s expanding sugar industry. The sugar mill was a prominent feature of the town, the population swelling by hundreds after ‘sign-on’ day in the crushing season, with an influx of seasonal workers. Manual cane cutting in Mossman was to continue until 1978.
Corrugated iron cane cutters’ barracks on a small cane farming property awaited us, 8 1/2 miles north, in the Whyanbeel Valley. Later, we moved even further, eleven miles from town, in the foothills of Upper Whyanbeel.
As children we adapted quickly—to the climate, food, conditions and the language. For my parents, it was a culture shock hitherto unknown. Back-wrenching work wielding a knife in the cane fields in drenching monsoonal weather, washing clothes in the creek, cooking on a wood stove in a corrugated iron hut, isolation with no means of transport and being flood bound for months were the norm. Riding a bike five miles to school over rough pot-holed roads, chopping wood, carting water from the creek, digging gardens and working in the paddocks alongside our parents was our life. Our survival demanded that we all contribute, especially after my father became ill and was unable to work. In the pristine country air, we led an active outdoor lifestyle, courtesy of the best fitness regime in the world!
Amid the hardship, the neighbourly kindness of a country town prevailed. Neighbours offered a ride to town to buy groceries or go to the doctor, acting as interpreters for official matters until we knew the language enough to accompany our parents.
It was an age when store owners gave credit to tide battlers over a lean patch, when a handshake was more binding than a signed contract and when a friendly hand was extended to anyone in need. Stretching the rules was not uncommon—police turning a blind eye to a fifteen-year-old’s unlicensed driving to visit a sick father in hospital, or a local doctor treating the wounds of a dog badly mauled by a feral pig.
Schooldays were carefree. We made our way along the bush track, leaving early after all the chores, stopping to pick guavas or ‘five-corner’ fruit by the roadside along the way. The two-roomed, two-teacher school was a welcome place of learning for all races and creed. Our only gripes were when constant floodwaters kept us from attending.
School ‘Cinderella’ nights were social highlights. Students in fancy dress appeared through an archway during the grand march, the light beaming onto the grassy oval provided by a generator connected to a tractor. Laughing children danced the Boston Two-Step, Progressive Barn Dance and square dances to music from a wind-up gramophone and a piano played by an older student.
At a recent school reunion, the old country hospitality was still evident. Visitors enjoyed a spread fit for a queen’s banquet, all parent contributions; and the warmth of neighbourly goodwill permeated the event.
The small country town has expanded in recent years, although the sugar industry is struggling. Better roads and means of transport have conquered the tyranny of isolation in surrounding areas, visitors finding instead a respite from the city ‘rat-race’. The resurgence of nearby Port Douglas from ghost town to tourist Mecca has brought some flow-on effect to the town. Country folk are adaptable, some branching out into more viable livelihoods.
There is now a modern library, swimming pool, high school, sporting clubs, motels, shopping centres, a roundabout and even a traffic light! The mill chimney is still a prominent feature and the main street still seems the same, albeit with some new buildings; but what caught me by surprise is that these days there is some jostling for a parking spot!
A trip to Mossman—no longer a venture to the ends of the earth.
Article by Maria Bianco
A ‘native’ of Far North Queensland for over sixty years, Maria Bianco lives in Cairns with her husband and a large dog. As a three-year-old in 1951, she, with her mother and brother, migrated to Australia to join her father—in the era of manual cane cutting and real horsepower cultivation.
Her historical memoir, Three Trunks and a Cardboard Case, is a revelation of that vanished way of life. Emerging from a backdrop of world, national and local historical events, it successfully unites a love of writing and interest in local history.
Other publications include an historical essay in James Cook University’s Lectures on North Queensland History No. 5, a second-prize-winning short story, creative non-fiction stories in Tropical Writers anthologies, and monthly themed non-fiction contributions to the ABC Open website.
Maria plans to continue writing amid the tropical beauty of the far north.
Read more at: www.threetrunksmemoir.com
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN ALBANY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
I chuckle when I hear people say “I love spending time in the country. It’s so quiet”. Growing up on a farm north of Albany, Western Australia, I did not experience quiet nights. As a child I drifted to sleep listening to the calls of insects and frogs, dogs barking in the distance, small animals scurrying across the tin roof and animals hollering across the valley. At times, the silence felt deafening. It’s one of my most treasured memories of growing up in the country.
I realise now how blessed I was to fall asleep to the sounds of nature and awaken to the chirping of birds and a breakfast surrounded by acres of pasture, trees and animals. If I awoke early enough, on the extra special mornings, I could look out the kitchen window and see a mob of kangaroos grazing on the dewy grass only metres from the house, nestled in the morning fog. It was such a peaceful, quite and special part of growing up in the country.
The smells, the sounds and the fresh morning air met me in the morning and filled me with a sense of excitement of the new adventures that surely lay ahead. Weekends were spent exploring with my little brother. The old sheds were a treasure chest, filled with old farm equipment, tools and salvage materials. We would use these materials to build forts and an old blackboard, much older than I, was where I would host my make believe ‘I’m the teacher’ spelling classes.
Every Saturday my brother and I would dress in our country kid uniform - gumboots, a t-shirt, trackies and a stick. We would head off on our adventure to explore the spring fed dam located in the lower paddock. The stick was a necessary part of getting to the dam, serving as a grass wacker so we could part the sea of waist high grass and make our way along a trail we had slowly carved. Walking through a sea of grass on a hot summer day felt like running a gauntlet. We would walk with the hope that we wouldn’t encounter a snake, at times only able to see the tip of our dog’s tail as she bounded through the grass. It was an adventure and we felt like explorers, throwing sticks for our dog to retrieve and looking for tadpoles and hoping to spot frogs and marron.
Cutting wood with Dad, and stacking what seemed like endless piles of wood for the stove and fire was a never ending endeavour. Watching for redback spiders and small snakes became second nature. We would climb trees always in the hopes of climbing higher than we could ever reach. We would climb the water tanks, the old windmill in the bottom corner paddock (sorry mum and dad, we knew we weren’t allowed) and the apricot orchard trees where we would sit for hours eating the most delicious and sweet apricots, everyday hoping to beat the flocks of birds that would surely attack the fruit. The water troughs attracted wildlife and we would watch as kangaroos huddled together and drank water.
Living on the farm bought out our creativity. A thunder storm and strong wind was an opportunity to run outside and pretend we were explorers in the arctic, using old farm equipment and materials to build igloos. The local town hall hosted an annual Christmas party where families from around the Shire gathered for a BBQ and Santa bought gifts. The school bus driver knew every family and would wait if kids were late to the bus stop. We would navigate any electric fences and swing on the gates as they opened and closed.
Growing up in the country was a wonderful adventure and one that moulded who I am today. The smells and the sounds will forever be preserved in my memory.
Article by Anita Woodmass
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN ENGLAND
Although we never lived on a farm or had much land during my childhood we always lived in rural villages surrounded by the lovely British countryside. From the moment we lived in England my father bought a dog and two cats almost immediately and throughout my childhood we always had dogs and cats over the years and budgies and Koi fish in large ponds outside. One of my fondest and clearest memories are of the freedom to cycle on ones own safely, along country lanes, narrow and lined with trees, at one point I used to pretend my bike was a horse and ride to the fields opposite and let the “horse” have a feed!
Riding to the end of the road and waiting for ages to see if a car would go by was another pastime and walking to the shops with my head just level to the glass counter and choose some sweets. Always a great treat.
In spring the woods would be a carpet of bluebells, the beautiful soft blue among the green leaves as I would sit on an old log and just breathe the beauty in. In one of the villages we lived in we were near a lovely forest and in front of us fields and a river nearby. I have memories of playing by an old fallen tree near the river and sometimes even swimming in it. There was a herd of cattle in the field near the river and they were always interested in the dogs and would come running towards us and I would have to run as fast as I could to climb over the fence to the other field. That always got my heart racing.
The wonderful thing about England is you did not have to worry about snakes, spiders, ants, the intense heat, crocodiles in the river or jelly fish in the sea! So there really was the ability to be free, lie in the fields and gaze at the sky, look at the clouds and see what shapes you could make out of them.
At one time while I used to walk the dog along an unused railway line that had been turned into a lovely walking lane. I would stop at the same tree, hold the same branch and have a good old conversation with it. When I was about 10 years old I realised that probably was not quite right! So I made myself walk past and not talk to the tree anymore.
The old railway line made a really interesting walk, with the lovely old bridges and tunnels it always made an interesting walk and was a short cut to the doctors surgery and village shops. People could even ride their horses along the track. There are many old railway lines in England that have now been turned into walking lanes and in Derbyshire there was a 36mile one along breathtaking scenery and the old railway stations along the way had been turned into cafes and bicycle shops. Some of the farms along the side would advertise cream teas and we would stop and have one along the way.
As it was never too cold or too hot in the South of England we really were outside all year round, children would play in the roads, the parks and village greens all year round and in all weather conditions. Either soaking wet or enjoying the gentle sunshine or making snowmen in the snow during the winter and throwing snowballs at the dustbin men and they would throw them back!
In the Autumn we had a special walk we would regularly drive to which was spectacular with all the autumn colours and we would play in the falling leaves. We would walk to the top of the hill and there were benches where you could sit and enjoy the view. A small café was at the top and we would enjoy a cup of tea! There was a single red brick tower and you could climb to the top and enjoy even greater views but I don’t know what the tower was there for, probably some kind of look out as you could see for many miles.
In this special place of my childhood memories my parents are buried side by side at the local old church, they could not be in a more picturesque part of the world.
Article by Kate Caldecourt
MY CHILDHOOD HOLIDAY MEMORIES
Looking back I think I had a very fortunate childhood. Obviously I didn’t realise or appreciate it at the time, but I guess as you get older and you leave the nest you realise just how hard life can be!
My family consisted of my dad, my mum, my sister who is 2 ½ years older than me (the ½ is very important!!) and myself. From the age of about 7 or 8 until I was about 14 we spent every family holiday in France. We would travel to a different area of France every year and camp, We always stayed in a mobile home/static caravan. We stayed along the west coast of France and also the south of France.
I loved these holidays. As a child you are carefree but I guess my mum spent weeks beforehand packing and getting organised and weeks after unpacking and doing the washing! But as a child I loved it!
I remember being woken at what seemed the middle of the night but was probably the early hours of the morning and getting into a loaded car. These were the days before seatbelts and my sister and I would sit in the back of the car with the pillows off our beds beneath us as cushions. I remember being full of excitement but still half asleep.
We drove to Dover to get the ferry across to Calais. This drive seemed to take for ages (I hate to think how many times we asked if we were nearly there yet!!) but I remember getting really excited as we drove through the Dartford tunnel. It was such a long tunnel with lights all the way through and was such a novelty.
I remember queuing for the ferry and a man from customs asking if we had any pets on board my dad replied ‘only the kids in the back!’ we laughed but the man didn’t seem amused – I guess he heard it all the time!!
The ferry crossings varied from smooth to rough but I enjoyed it all the same!
When in France my dad always tended to avoid the motorways and take the scenic route. We often used to have an overnight stop in a little French B&B. I think this was when we drove to the south of France. The B&B’s used to be typically French. My dad asking in his best French ‘Avez vous un chamber pour cat person siv’il plas’ He always managed to find somewhere nice to stop and obviously this was way before internet. I think he had a little book of places to stay. We always had a room with 2 double beds so I always had to share with my sister, I’m sure we used to complain about that!! I remember they didn’t have pillows like we did, they would have 1 long pillow that went the width of the bed I remember thinking that was really weird! Also at breakfast we had croissants, no toast. I found this most strange! I’m sure I’d never had croissants before – probably not available in the UK!!
The campsites we stayed on were always near the beach and had a pool. I didn’t share a bedroom with my sister, sometimes there were bunkbeds and sometimes single beds. I remember 1 mobilehome we stayed in, my sister and I were so excited because it had a car cassette radio build into the unit!
I remember buying fresh baguettes everyday, what a novelty! And having lots of bbq’s. My dad would always find a fresh fish market and we would have to spend ages looking at the fish – and the smell!! – Phewy! But it would be fun looking at the live ones! My dad loves oysters so would always get them, I tried them once – never again!!
We would spend most days by the beach or pool, but somehow my dad always managed to find a winery or brandy distillery to look around! My mum would always make lovely baguettes to eat on the beach and we used to carry everything to the beach, a big coolbox full of food, large bottles of water (which we never had at home) beach mats, parasol, towels, lilos, buckets and spades – you name it we took it!
I remember before coming home we would always stop at a Carrefore or Mammouth supermarket and every nook and craney of the car was filled with beer and wine, this was in the times of duty free. I remember the foot wells being full of boxes of beer and having boxes of beer stacked between my sister and I! I remember being so cramped in the back and having to sit with my legs up on the seat.
The car journeys always seemed so long and cramped but these were the best holidays. I loved camping in France. I wish I had the opportunity to take my son on holidays like these every year, we camp but in England. I just hope when he is older he can look back at our holidays with such fond memories like I can.
Article by Sue Hardy
MY CHILDHOOD CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
When I was young, probably the first Christmas I can recall was at the age of four. This must have been when I grasped the magic of Christmas. The bucket of water and some grass or carrots left for the reindeer on Christmas Eve, a biscuit or two and a glass of drink for Father Christmas - all mysteriously gone on Christmas morning apart from a few crumbs and a letter from him.
That particular Christmas, my younger sister was a toddler and I remember us excitedly running to check out the gifts that had appeared under the tree through the night. Mine was a large red tricycle with a bell, covered with a white sheet in the lounge room. Funnily I also remember some hand held ‘jingle bells’ we both received in our ‘Santa sacks’. I remember asking questions leading up to Christmas about the way Father Christmas would enter our house without a chimney. I recall being out with my parents late on Christmas Eve and being strapped into our car seats half asleep. I was so worried Father Christmas wouldn’t visit our house because we weren’t home yet, despite my parents’ reassurance, keeping a sleepy eye open, watching the whole way home.
As the years went by, other fond memories include going for walks on Christmas Eve. I remember the absolute thrill we felt imagining we caught a glimpse of Father Christmas’ sleigh in the indigo sky. My sister and I also loved counting houses with Christmas decorations as we went. I used to sneak a look at the night sky from my bed hoping to see a glimpse of the reindeer pulling the sleigh. I was sure I heard jingle bells ringing through the night air.
My sister and I used to make an advent calendar for each other out of cut out old Christmas cards and decorate our room with homemade decorations. We would also scour the TV guide for ‘Christmas specials’ to ensure we didn’t miss one.
I fondly remember staying at my Grandma’s house the year my parents would have separated when I was seven. It was made even more exciting by the fact Grandma had an open fire and even though it was the middle of summer, it seemed ideal that Father Christmas would deliver my presents via the chimney. Grandma’s Christmas tree had bough’s that looked more like bottle brushes, not very life-like at all, but the ornate decorations that hung on each sparse branch were lovely and some of the glass baubles hang on my tree today.
Lunch was usually at my Mum’s or my Grandma’s and was a traditional hot meal. The table was set with candles and the best dinner ware. Us kids were allowed to drink soft drink from crystal wine glasses and there was always an abundance of delicious food.
Tea was often celebrated with my Dad’s side, my memories are mostly of my Nana’s house. I can still recall the plastic Christmas table cloths, paper crowns from bonbons, bad jokes and a long table set in the lounge to accommodate everyone. Tea was usually cold meat and salad with oodles of sweet treats. The tree was adorned with old fashioned ornaments, again some of which take pride of place on my own tree now.
I don’t remember my parents making much fuss about Christmas really so I’m not sure why it remains so magical for me. I do remember after starting to doubt if Father Christmas was true, my Dad telling me that he believed he wasn’t really the man in the red suit, but a magical being who lived in the hearts of those who believed, and told me he still did. This was everything I needed. Some of my memories have become traditions for my own family now. I make a few Christmas slices and Christmas chocolates like my Mum does. Most of them are my Mum’s recipes and we sample them on Christmas Eve while watching the carols on TV. One of my favourite memories with my Mum was the year we made these at my house together, after deciding who was making which one. I really enjoy making them with my boys and they help choose which ones they want to make. The Christmas tree is decorated as a family, with Christmas Carols playing in the background. I love that the kids place a present for a child their age under the ‘wishing tree’ and they decorate our road property sign with tinsel and lights. One year we even decorated the two pine trees in the front paddock while the sheep watched on.
Father Christmas still visits our house and the magic of Christmas has lived on through my children. Although my boys are getting older, I think my youngest believes, like I did, in the words of my Dad. Father Christmas writes a letter back to my kids and his gift is placed unwrapped in the ‘Santa sacks’ if they’ll fit! My kids are fairly spoilt on Christmas day, not only by us but by our large extended family. Our gifts are not extravagant, but I tend to save up lots of smaller essential items like underwear and PJ’s with some special items to wrap and place under the tree individually, as I know how much fun we have Christmas morning opening presents. We do an additional ‘Secret Santa’ for our own little family which was the kids idea and we give small gifts to our pets and ensure the farm animals are spoiled.
There is a town near us called Lobethal which has a large Christmas light display, although it seems a lot more people decorate their houses with lights in other areas now, too. Sometimes I sit in the lounge at night, this time of year, admiring our Christmas tree with its magical lights twinkling in the front window, listening to Carols and remember the magic of Christmas and its true meaning.
The country Christmas I know now is the smell of warm gum leaves, spotting distant Christmas lights on other properties, and cockatoos. It’s the fragrance of roses in vases, the view of golden fields through clean windows and participating in the community Christmas Pageant. Get togethers with friends, Carols in the park, and alfresco dining on the deck. It’s balmy, starry nights with wine and swims in the pool. I also think Christmas brings closure on the year for me. Maybe this is why I still write Christmas cards to my friends and family. It’s the time to reflect and celebrate our achievements.
When I reminisce, I realise my fondest memories are of simple things and the way I felt. My Christmas is all of these traditions with some new ones all rolled into one. My wish is for my children share the wonder of Christmas with their families and that I will be able to enjoy it with them for many years to come.
Article by Charise Middleton-Frew
Deck The Hills Carpentry