Len Petschel

Len Petschel

Len’s Story

One day while visiting Dawn Petschel she handed me a bag containing a pile of typed and hand written pages and asked if I could sort them out and finish writing her husband lens story for her. Len had started writing it many years ago and she was typing it on a type writer for him. Changes and mistyping had made the task difficult, so Len purchased a word processor for her to make the task easier.  Then Len got too ill to continue, so the story stopped.

The pile of papers was about three centimetres thick, so I asked if the pages were numbered and with her normal cheeky grin she replied “sort of”.

On returning home I opened the bag to have a look at what I had. What a tangle of pages I had some of them repeated up to six times but each a little different and only some of them numbered. The task was now to sort them into what resembled an order starting with the numbered pages and then reading each page to place the un-numbered pages in what looked like their place in the story. Then came the task of converting pages to type and re-typing large sections.

It was Dawns wish that I didn’t change Lens language as that was what was part of his story and people would be able to gain an understanding of Lens character from the language as well as the story. I have done and hope that you can read between the lines to gain a picture of the character that was Len Petschel.

Dawn first met Len while working in the café and although he was with another girl at the time and had come to the café at interval time at the Rainbow Mecca picture theatre. Dawn was attracted to him and decided that he would be a good catch. It wasn’t long before Dawn had started talking to him when he was in town. Then came the dating and a short time later they were married.

Dawns plan had worked and she had her man.

This was to be the last task Dawn was to ask me to help with as she died not long after.

Following is Lens story and in keeping with Dawns wishes it is as Len laid it out, including the headings. I have added the pictures. I hope you enjoy this insight into the generation that took over from the selectors.

Dawn this is for you. Your Lens story.


Opening the Mallee

The squatting runs around Lake Hindmarsh and further north were seeing their last days. Rabbits were in plague proportions and eating away every blade of grass that was able to grow.

Politicians visited in January 1883 to view the Mallee with the possibility of opening it for pastoral selection. Imagine the city politicians of those days travelling the mallee sand hills by buggy in January heat! Apparently they took plenty of alcoholic refreshment. Afterwards one politician was reported to have declared that he wouldn’t take the Mallee if it was offered to him! Regardless of their experiences the Mallee Pastoral Leases Act of 1883 opened the land up into blocks for five year leases. There was a provision that the leasee begin taking steps to remove rabbits within three years.

With the improvements in implements and clearing methods the mallee was no longer considered uneconomical to clear and farm. Without government approval large portions of the leased land was subdivided and sold to farmers. Large acreages were cleared and sowed. In 1889 a township called Jeparit was surveyed and subdivid­ed and allotments advertised for sale. Sales began in 1890. The railway eventually followed and serviced the growing wheat country. In 1898, to provide jobs for the unemployed, a line from Jeparit to Albacutya was approved. It never reached a town named Albacutya, but a wildflower-covered, rainbow-shaped sand hill. The township of Rainbow was surveyed but not settled until after the drought broke. The boom years after the drought with record yields and high wheat prices established the Mallee farmers and the towns.

The Ni Ni Petschel children were growing up during these years up to 1900. They could not all find work at home, so as young men they worked around the local farms. When work was hard to find during the drought years they moved further afield. The opening of the Mallee naturally lured some of them north. They were not financial enough to secure holdings for themselves when they were first subdivided and sold but the work of clearing and fencing kept them in employment. Johannes(Jack) and Gottlieb Petschel found work as far north as Hopetoun. Jack married and took his young bride up there to live. He eventually bought land at Yaapeet about 1910 and with hard work, cleared and cropped that sandy mallee area. Gottlieb returned south to Stawell after 1909.

Two of Carl’s daughters eventually settled in the Mallee. Christiana (Tine) married Adolph (Dolph) Strauss whose interests lay in the commercial area. He was quick to see the future importance of the Mallee towns and established general stores in some of them. His first store was at Lorquon but after the township of Rainbow was surveyed he rode by bicycle from Lorquon to investigate prospects there. In 1903 he began business there and with the farming boom of the next decade the business boomed too. (In 1909 Rainbow railway station had more wheat carted to it than any other in the state.) Carl’s daughter Caroline (Carrie) moved to the Mallee some years later. She married Carl (Charlie) Miatke. They lived at Katyil for a few years as Charlie was a smithy there, but eventually he and his boys went share farming to Rainbow in 1914.

The farm was only partially cleared so they laboured removing mallee roots and carting them. They weren’t the only Petschel families to pioneer the Mallee. Wilhelm’s son Chris and his boys had land at Ouyen about 1926 but they stayed only two seasons as crops were poor and financially they could not carry over until better times. Chris’s eldest son Theodore farmed in the Millewa region west of Mildura, about the same time. He was there for many years and cleared and cropped the mallee with the help of a few of his younger brothers at different times.

Alfred helped with the initial clearing and Edmund and Charles worked some seasons for him. The name Petschel may not represent fame or wealth in our history but we can proudly say our fathers were pioneers in our land.

We can say the name represented honest, hard work. They worked hard pioneering firstly in the Barossa, South Australia, then at Hamilton, and in the Wimmera and Mallee districts of Victoria.


Memoirs of Leonard Reginald Petschel. Born on 1st June 1913 to Johannes and Adelaide Caroline Petschel. Place of birth at home on the farm. Midwife Mrs. Bill White. I was named by Mrs. Annie Byrne six months before the birth of her own son who she named Lenard George.

I am a descendant of Christian Gotthelf and Anna Rosina Petschel who migrated from Neukirch, Saxony, Germany in the sailing vessel “The Alfred” in 1848. They had chosen to migrate to escape the religious persecution and fear of war within their country. With them came their three young children, the eldest of whom was my Grandfather. He was Carl Christian Petschel who in the mid 1860’s married Anna Rosina Schneider. Their sixth child was Johannes who in 1902 married Adelaide Caroline Strauss and I was the last of their family of six children.

Just a short resume of my ancestors migration trip from Hamburg. Johann, my Great, Great Grandfather booked the passage with the Godeffroy line sailing from Hamburg on 20th August 1848 in the three mast sailing ship called The Alfred. It weighed 635 tons. Its master was H. Decker. Each passenger had to pay £12 for their fare. The trip began by being towed down the river Elbe about nineteen miles by a small steamer to Hamburg. Passengers embarked on 13th of August and after taking on supplies sailed on the 20th. Early next morning all signs of Hamburg had vanished. German, Danish relations were very strained at the time as they were quarrelling over the possession of Schleswig-Holstein a small state between the two countries, so The Alfred was chased by a Danish man of war called The Meander for 8 hours during which time they had 8 shots fired at them. Captain Decker was a very good seaman and was able to out run and outwit his pursuers. Further reference of the journey out is recorded in the book “The Petschel History”.

Little is known about the Strauss family, except that Grandfather, Carl Wilhelm Strauss was twenty years old when he migrated from Danzig, Germany in 1845. He married Maria Elisabeth Neumann and my mother was the eleventh child of that family.

It appears that my parents met at Ni Ni Well where my father’s parents owned land and where my mother’s brother, August, owned the adjacent block. Mum had come over from Mannum, South Australia, to housekeep for uncle August when his first wife died.

I was born in our home which was in the farming district of Yaapeet in Victoria’s Mallee area. This is one of the drier parts of Victoria, the average rainfall being about thirteen and a half inches a year and mostly falls during the winter months. Lack of water caused many hardships to the pioneers.

I start this story with memories dating back to 1917 when I was about four years old with the thoughts of some of the things that happened and how things have changed. Some of the dates that I quote may be disputed but in some cases they are approximate, on the other hand we were among the poor people of the district so richer farmers could have been five to ten years advanced on us but they had passed through this stage at some time.

An 1898 map shows that the block number 21 Gaalanungah of land on which I was raised was first selected by A.H. Hastings. My father used to say Symes’s and Jim Meany occupied it before he and Mum came on it with five small children in 1910.

When my parents shifted onto this block it had a settlers house on it consisting of a kitchen and cellar on one side and two bedrooms on the other with a space of about twenty four feet in between. It was made of limestone which had been picked up near by, the mortar used was lime which seemed to be of poor quality as it was soft and chalky.

The story was always told that heavy rains fell in the summer of the year they arrived causing the chimney to collapse almost falling on my brother Percy who was in the pram in the kitchen at the time. Rainfall records show that 503 points of rain fell in March 1910 so perhaps that is when the chimney collapsed.

Seeing the place had a chimney I presume that the roof would have been iron and maybe that iron was used for another purpose because I remember us kids finding it a fascinating place to play around when we were small, when the roof was covered in straw.

The family did not live in it for long. A new 4 roomed house was built of galvanized iron about 20 chains to the north east of it on a sandy patch which was more suitable for a garden and where the present house stands. The inside walls were half inch board on the lower part and paper glued to hessian on the upper section. White ants damaged this house and it became pretty bad so it was replaced with the present cement house of three bedrooms, lounge, kitchen, pantry and bathroom with a wide passageway, full length of the house and a veranda all round. It cost £1,150). There was a shallow dam and log tank about twenty chains south of the original settlers house. I understand that the log tank was to conserve water, having a roof to prevent evaporation. Water catchments were used in suitable areas on the side of hills to fill small dams where ever possible. Thunderstorms were a good source of water which was so vital for survival.

The house being small, we were unable to catch much rainwater so dam water was used in summer months to bath and wash our clothes. Washing was done with a washing board in a galvanized tub of hot water. The clothes were dunked and rubbed with soap and then rubbed vigorously on the board (some boards were wooden, some were crinkled iron and some glass). The procedure was repeated until the article was considered clean. White clothes were always boiled in a copper. Housewives always endeavoured to have their washing a nice white colour in spite of using dam water. They achieved a self satisfaction from a good result, the water was saved and poured onto the garden.

Home made soap was always used for washing clothes. Soap was made in a copper which in those days sat in the corner of the wash house (the word laundry became popular in updated housing in later years). Making soap was a tedious job. The ingredients were rendered mutton fat, borax, caustic soda, resin and water. this was always boiled for two or three hours and caution had to be taken as the mixture came to boiling point as it frothed up quickly. If it boiled over you would have a fire on your hands. Someone usually stood by with some cold water and added a little if it looked like boiling over. We would also remove some fire from under the copper to reduce the heat too if necessary.

We poured the “soap” mixture into the bottom of the wash tub and let it stand to set. When cold it was tipped out and cut into long bars and then into hand sized cakes (about three inch cubes) ready for use. It lasted longer if it was allowed to dry out for a period of time before use.

During this era we had no motorized power of any kind on the farm. Power was supplied by man or by horses. Just imagine life without motor cars, trucks, tractors and electric light. The roads were unmade and the various types of engines used on present day farms were unheard of and that they would ever happen was never envisaged.

In the women’s world there were no refrigerators, hot water services, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners radio, TV, telephone, electric iron or even sinks or wash troughs.

At this period of time land was thick with mallee shoots or suckers and stumps which came up so thick when ploughed with a five furrow mould board plough that they were picked up and placed in heaps and burnt on the spot and lit up by stumps from heaps which were already burning. At night they resembled the bright lights of a city. This was done repeatedly until 1921 or 1922 when stumps began to thin out, then, some were carted to Yaapeet by horse and wagon and later a Mr Douglas whose name I think was Bill had a solid rubber tyred truck which he used for carting the stumps to the Yaapeet railhead. This truck had a chain drive with sprockets on each rear wheel and they wore out very quickly and the truck got bogged easily.

Mr Douglas used to get the stumps for nothing from the farmers for picking them up off the ploughed ground. if the farmers were to store them in heaps the rabbits would get into them and breed up and would soon be a nuisance, so, it was best to get rid of them as soon as possible. They were carted from Yaapeet to Melbourne by train where they were sold.

The mallee stump was excellent for heating purposes like stoves and open fireplaces. The stump would turn into nice coals which lasted a long time before turning to ash. It also made quality charcoal for blacksmiths.

Mr Ernie Ey had a coal burning business for many years. I think from about the 1920’s to 1939. He, with the help of his wife and young family put stumps into pits where it was set alight and left to die. The black coal was delivered to local blacksmiths. It was a good and useful way to dispose of the stumps. I understand Dawsons of Rainbow ran their engines on this coal. Purchase price was one shilling and three pence per bag. A bag was the ordinary wheat sack.

Mr Ted Ey informed me that Dawsons refused to pay one shilling and three pence a bag at one stage and they tried to get it for one shilling (one shilling but the Ey family were already cut to the breadline and after about six months the Dawsons came back and paid shilling and three pence as they were unable to get it anywhere else.


Our horse stables were made out of box posts cut from the Albacutya Lake Reserve and the pine rafters and spars from the sand hills on the east side of the lake. In those days there was an abundance of good timber. Two men would leave very early in the morning and come home by night time with a good load on the wagon drawn by five horses.

We also used to cut suitable boughs from the trees along the roads for walls of the horse stables. They were packed between two wires top and bottom making it almost wind proof. The roofs were recovered with straw every one or two years. This was a job for January or February when stubbles were fresh and new. A well covered shed was waterproof.

This type of shed was also built for machinery. They were cool in the summer and warm in the winter, the only cost being labour. Sparrows used to revel in building nests in the straw roofing and at night we would take the lantern and go down to the sheds and prod the roof with a stick to make the sparrows fly out and we would try and hit them with bats made from boards. (sparrows were pests)

The house cats were encouraged to come along with us. They would soon realize what it was all about and as the sparrows fluttered out of the nests as a result of the prodding the cats would leap to great heights to catch a bird or two, growling as they munched on the juicy morsel. They would get sick of it after awhile and lose interest but it was good fun while it lasted. We had boards which we shaped like bats by making a handle on one end so when the cats tired we would join in with the bats to reduce the sparrow numbers. Having these straw sheds to nest in was an ideal breeding ground for these pests so we tried to keep their numbers down by every means possible. Cats in action was quite exciting as they could catch a bird in full flight.


The horse was a very important part of our lives. Draught horses were used for pulling the cultivating implements and the light horses or hacks for transport such as pulling buggies and gigs and for riding. Horses were usually broken in to team work at two and a half years and probably if you had enough horses for the first six months they were worked half a day at a time exchanging with another horse, their main working life was three to fifteen years. After that their ability started to fall away as they grew old you reverted back to the half day system practiced in their early life.

Dad had an eight horse team, these had to be well fed on oats and chaff when working so that you got the best out of them. The daily routine began between 5 and 6 a.m. Routine was important in their welfare. First they were watered first thing in the morning and then they were fed and groomed to brush the previous day’s sweat off their coats. Then you would have your breakfast, usually porridge followed by bacon and eggs and toast and tea (weeties etc did not exist then but we did have a ground up wheaten porridge). After breakfast we would go out and harness the horses and try to be working in about one and a half hours from the time you got up. You would knock off at 12 o’clock and give the horses one and a quarter to one and a half hours to eat their mid day meal and have another drink and after the afternoon’s work you nearly always had them back in the stable by sundown so that their coats had time to dry by night.

It was advantageous if they had access to water at all times. After tea we took the lantern down to the stable and fed them again before we went to bed. Horses fed on green feed were weak and sweated profusely which cut down the amount of work you were able to do with them so you fed them chaff if you expected a lot of work from them. It was important that they had good sheds.

The early draughts we had were of the English type with heavy boned legs with a lot of hair on the fetlocks. In later years the Clydesdale, a Scottish breed was introduced to Australia. It was lighter in the leg bones and less hairy. It was assumed that they gave a better day’s work. Another problem with hairy fetlocks was when working on sticky ground hard balls of mud used to form and we had to cut these off which wasn’t so easy if the horse was a kicker, As a horse became old and his working ability fell away they were usually exchanged with another horse or if suitable (this means quiet and staunch) used in the dray for carting seed and super to the paddock at sowing time and the many other jobs about the place when necessary.

Most farmers used to breed one or two foals a year from their best mares for replacements. In this way they kept a good team discarding the unsuitable. Horses had personalities some were jibs, some lazy, some too fast and others were cranky and kept throwing their heads in the air thus jerking other horses in the mouth on either side of them. This was a bad fault as it was a habit that could spread throughout the whole team.

A farmer here and there owned a stallion which they led on horseback around the district. The usual procedure was to call on you every nine days. I think four mares was the most a stallion could serve in the one day. The service fee for a mare was £3 to £5 a foal guaranteed. The farmer having to board the man leading the stallion overnight if he arrived in the evening. This was done in the spring time only. Well known local identity, Jackie Burns was a professional stallion leader.

The speed of an average horse team was three miles per hour and a good light buggy horse can travel twelve miles an hour. Sores on horse’s shoulders caused from pressure of the collar was also something we always had to keep watch for, the best method to cure these was to wash the shoulder with warm soap and water in the evening and fold a jute bag double under the collar to keep the pressure near the base of the neck. Ointments kept the sore damp and made it worse.

In the early 1930’s the horses become lousy with lice on their legs. They broke down fences rubbed on everything they could back up against in an effort to relieve the itch caused by the lice. We sprayed their legs with phenyl with no results. Fred Fisher of Yaapeet put down a dip. The water containing a special chemical coming half way up the horse’s body. We poured dip over their backs and this was effective. The charge was two and sixpence per horse.

Lens Horses


In our early childhood every Saturday afternoon was “bath” day for us kids. The copper was filled with water and it was heated to warm the bath water. The galvanized wash tub was sat on the earthen floor of our wash house and one by one we were “put through”. I can remember one occasion so well when Ruby had to wash me. She was a bit long in coming and “nature called” for me. When she returned she felt around in the tub for the soap, I can still see the disgusted look on her face as she held that hard turd in her hand and chucked it out the door madly and called me a dirty little spud. You know Ruby still gets disgusted with me to this day when I tease her about it, I think she can still feel it in her hand!!!

During our childhood it was common in most families for the mother to administer a good dose of either Castor Oil, Senna Tea made from Senna Leaves or Epsom Salts each weekend to each child in the family. This was termed “opening medicine” (and it did just that, We usually had the choice of which medicine we would prefer to take but it was all “VILE” and it was always a major operation to get it down each kid’s neck!!

One day mum held my nose and gruffly told me to drink it (Epsom salts) I got one mouthful down and then “chucked” heaving my heart out, I later discovered that was a real good idea because I was never made to take it again. Now after rearing my own family I realize that us kids never suffered from worms but this was a problem with my own kids, so, I now presume that this weekly “punishment” flushed the worms out of us and kept our “inner man” clean and made us reasonably healthy.

Another very early memory when I must have been four years old was being in Dr Ryan’s surgery at Nhill with my mother and sister Olly. Dr Ryan had apparently diagnosed Olly’s complaint as appendicitis, which was a very big operation at that time. The incision to remove the offending piece of bowel was about 6 inches long. Dr Ryan was considered to be one of the best doctors up in the north west but he was also very grumpy. He went mad at mum for not bringing Olly sooner. I don’t remember how we got to Nhill but after Olly was admitted Aunty Mary Albrecht of Gerang Gerung who owned a car and one of the Albrecht boys took me home, Aunty Mary staying with us and dad returning to Nhill to be with mum and 0lly. I believe that appendicitis had not been discovered very long before this period, most people who got it died and it was referred to as ” inflammation of the bowel”.

I clearly remember the Peace Celebrations at Yaapeet after the first world war. Dad put sides on a four wheeled trolley and us kids took part in the procession. The trolley was pulled by a very quiet old horse called “Cap”. We also had another very quiet old horse called “Ross”. They were used by us kids a lot in those early years because they were so very quiet. in the same procession the J.T.Fisher’s family horse called “The Shrimp” dropped dead.


In those early days there were no combines to sow wheat. It was either sowed with a disc or hoe drill (you could either put discs or hoes on the drill). Each had its draw back, wet dirt stuck to the discs, the mallee shoots used to block the hoes as no one ever thought of spacing one row 18 inches or so in front of the other. Our first combine, a Massey Harris, was bought in 1920 or 1921 and it was a long way from perfection. The rows of tynes were too close together to let much rubbish or trash through. The stumps were still thick in the ground and were still being pulled up stretching the tynes which were not adjustable, were fastened by a single bolt through the tyne. H.V.McKay made a better type whereby their tynes were clamped as they are today and they were adjustable but the rows were still too close together.

One finds it hard to believe that it was quite a lot of years later before they thought of spacing the rows of tynes six inches further apart. This extra clearance eliminated blocks. In the years of the stripper the cocky chaff was always saved for stock feed and some would be carted home and stored in a shed. The balance was covered with straw on the spot and used during the year, usually for feeding young horses and cattle. It was also used for feeding our milking cows with the addition of oats, bran and molasses if we ran short of hay for chaff.

That was another job for Perc and me to bag this cocky chaff out of the heaps in the paddock and bring it home on the trolley to the house shed to be fed out. This was usually a Saturday job. The wheat was stripped with a 5 foot stripper pulled by three horses. This was emptied into heaps and then after harvest Jack Cook came in with a horse winnower and cleaned the husk from the grain. I think he charged about four pence a bag for cleaned wheat. It took about 4 men and 2 heavy horses to operate the machine. One man was kept busy keeping the heaps forked up, another fed it into the elevator with a chaff fork, another taking the bags of cleaned grain off the winnower and the fourth used to keep the cocky chaff cleaned away from the back of the winnower and when the uncleaned heap became some distance away he also helped fork it in closer to the machine. It was very hard work for the horses in the treader as this was set on an up hill grade. (This in turn worked the winnower. Refer to Jeparit or Swan Hill museum as it is too difficult to explain the mechanism).

Horse Winnower

The sweat from their bodies making the red gum treading blocks slippery. The horses had to be changed every 20 to 30 minutes. One often thinks today that a shade over the horse when he was working would have helped a lot. Nobody ever thought of a shade for man or beast. Comfort was nothing so it was never considered. Three hundred bags of cleaned wheat was considered a very good day’s work in clean crops. Very often these heaps of grain had the leaves from mallee shoots, cockspurs or mustard mingled in them which always slowed the cleaning down considerably. Before the introduction of the horse treader the winnower was used and it was turned by man, mother and kids depending upon the status of the farmer. I can only remember the winnower being used for cleaning seed wheat.

The seed wheat was pickled wet with bluestone in a wooden barrel. The bluestone was dissolved in a porcelain gerry bed chamber with hot water because it would eat out metal. As wet pickled wheat would not keep more than a few days the pickling was done on this pattern.

An empty bag with a hoop on the top to hold the bag open was lowered into the brine then about 2 bushels of wheat was poured in so that all the grain was wetted. Any chaff or rubbish floated to the top and was skimmed off. It was then lifted out of the pickle with a pole on a tripod and left there so all the pickle would drain back into the barrel. While this was draining Dad would feed the horses then on returning he would swing the butt of wheat to the side and the procedure would be repeated while he had breakfast, then again at dinner time and again at tea time and after tea into the night until he had enough pickled for the next day’s sowing. I must point out that only about 15 to 20 acres were sown each day so it only required about 5 or 6 bags of seed for a day’s sowing. Later Formalin came in to take the place of bluestone. This was a big advantage because it was not as corrosive as was bluestone. A perforated galvanized bucket could be used in the pickle. After drainage took place a trap door on the bottom was opened and the wheat bagged. Then a great wheat pickling revolution. The dry powder copper carbonate was discovered. Wheat could be pickled months before it was to be used. A revolving tumbler was used. A measured quantity of wheat and powder were put in together and spun around for a few minutes to distribute the dust over the grain. Then, various other devices came in which cleaned and pickled the wheat in a continuous operation. I think this dry pickling method came in about 1922 as I remember Ab Henman who used to come to our place as our girls were about the same age, complaining about the cough he got from using it in a closed shed at Jim Fishers.

For several years we used to hire a small Hannaford machine from Watty Byrne, Jim Sheehy and George Barnes who had bought one between them. About 1934 or 1935 Alf Hannaford, based at Dimboola, started sending his machines into the district. They used to pickle about 30 bags an hour. Some of us farmers thought they were too expensive but in a few years Alf Hannaford captured the entire seed pickling in the district. Before his death in 1972 he was knighted for his services to the farming community which included the introduction of clovers to increase production


As I remember most blocks of six hundred and forty acres were fenced in with a 6 wire fence (five plain and one barbed wire) as a boundary fence. The internal fences in the early years of settlement were two barbed wires held up by mallee stakes and attached by nails. The stakes were cut from mallee trees either from the property or along the roads. They were sharpened to a point and driven into the ground. The erection of this type of fence was quick and was sufficient to hold cattle or horses in paddocks where required. The mallee stakes did not last many years as white ants attacked them when they dried out. This was especially so with the white mallee.

When land was cleared of trees and farmers desired to run sheep the wire fence was replaced with a six wire fence the same as the boundary. The five lower wires were plain while the top was barbed. This prevented the horses and cattle from pressing through after feed. Cows always seemed to think the feed was better in the next paddock even though it wasn’t.

Better quality posts were used for the six wire fences. The box trees were excellent timber for this. They grew along the creeks and in the lake beds and any low lying ground that had been flooded from time to time over the centuries. The box posts were white ant proof and did not rot. They remained serviceable for forty to sixty years or even more. Our Albacutya block still has posts that are probably ninety years old.

The box posts were usually cut and split by contract workers for £20 to £25 per hundred. Two men felled the trees with a cross cut saw and after cutting into suitable lengths they split the posts with sledge hammer and wedges. As good trees got scarce the cost got higher. The post cutters mostly lived in tents close to their work. Today the steel or cement post has completely replaced the wooden ones and trees that remain around these areas are being preserved.


Cutting shoots, which were suckers from the tree stumps still in the ground, with a shoot cutter (a piece of steel with very sharp edges on a wooden handle) used in a swinging action to and fro used to be a very time consuming job. If you were lucky enough to have a heavy stubble from a good season you could burn in February and it would kill most of the suckers. February is the best month of the year to kill Mallee trees as the sap flows then.

During these years Indians were quite numerous and they did this kind of work, picking stumps, cutting shoots and also they did a lot of hawking of clothes using a covered in van pulled by two horses, their goods being stacked in shelves on each side and at the back. The doors were hinged at the top and lifted outwards and propped open with specially designed props so their goods were well displayed at a glance. This was always a very exciting time for us kids as new clothes were rare and any bought clothes were purchased this way. Jeans that are so popular and so expensive today were bought for three or four shillings.

I think I must mention here that two of these Indian hawkers, one called Nuttah and another called Channon were very clean in their cooking and used to give us kids some of their delicious Johnny cakes and curry when they cooked their evening meal. No white person could master their art for they could never get the flavour that these Indians managed to obtain a great treat for us kids at a Christmas Concert.


When Mum and Dad went to Yaapeet for supplies which was usually once a week they usually brought us a few boiled lollies home. My Uncle, A.G.Strauss had one of the early grocer shops in Yaapeet. Bill Westphalen and Alf Egel were his managers for awhile and after they left he had others who I think were in this rotation Dick Nankervis, Bill Janey and Alec Bruce who was Ian Fisher’s Grandfather. The shop was where Col Mathews now lives (1992). Bill Westphalen (Mrs Jack Mellington’s father ) later opened his own shop in opposition (roughly 1925.) Alf Egel went farming and got killed when moving to his farm with his new bride (Lena Jende). He was travelling with a team of horses in a wagon with a combine tied on behind. He stopped and went back to his bride who was coming along in a buggy and the and the horses took fright and bolted Being a very athletic type Alf made every endeavour to stop them. He tried to jump on the wagon and fell under the combine and was killed with his wife witnessing the tragedy. It was very sad for her.

There were also two greengrocers, one owned by Stan Millgate and Bill Rowan was in the other. Ray Matters owned a Saddlers shop and Jack Darley (Mrs Ferdy Butler’s father) and Jim Mathews (Dulcie Hogan’s Grandfather) each had Blacksmiths shops. I think Jim Mathews bought his shop from people called Fischers ( the Nhill Fischers) who had a blacksmiths shop in Yaapeet before the people mentioned. I can vaguely remember playing with their kids when I went to Yaapeet.


On the 29th December 1921 when I was eight years old, in the Christmas holidays, I was playing in the stable yard when I noticed a big black cloud of smoke over towards Byrnes’s. I ran in and told Mum, panic broke loose. It was a south west wind blowing the fire straight towards our crop and the homestead. A horse called Queenie who we had bought at Steve Fisher’s clearing sale was yoked in the gig, by this time the neighbours and wheat carters with their horse teams were arriving at the house so Mum ran a galloping relay service taking the men to the fire.

Dad, who was stripping had to take the horses and stripper to the nearest fallow paddock which I think was south of the house and let them go before he could do anything. The fire burnt right across the south west paddock of one hundred and sixty acres. Some wheat was stripped in heaps and some not stripped. The men saved one or two of the heaps from the fire. I remember The fire burnt right across the south west paddock of one hundred and sixty acres. Some wheat was stripped in heaps and some not stripped.

The men saved one or two of the heaps from the fire. I remember it burnt over one big wheat heap but it did not burn very well on account of the wheat in the chaff.

I don’t know how the men got up on top of the wheat heap but they smothered the fire by rolling the uncleaned wheat down from the top with their bare hands. This saved the centre of the heap. It was a sad night at our place as we were very poor and practically all our harvest burnt. No insurance and no compensation.

I understand that a hot bearing on Charlie Byrnes’s machine started the fire and it also burnt about forty acres of their crop.


In about 1923 Dad bought our first Big ” E” harvester made by T.Robinson & Co. This was a big improvement on the strippers. It had a 9 foot cut (or a nine foot comb) and was pulled by five good horses. It had ground drive and a grain box holding 18 bushels choc a block full.

The wheat those days were late maturing varieties so a lot of stripping was done in our Christmas school holidays so Perc and I usually sowed the wheat bags and when Dad come in to empty the harvester one of us oiled the machine while Dad emptied the grain.

It only had small oil holes on most of the bearings. It seemed to need oil about every half an hour. The oil can supplied with the harvester had a long barrel two inches in diameter by about fifteen inches long with a spout. We used to call it a “Long Tom”. As the oil was heavy (or thick) it did not run very freely when cold. All sorts of oil was used to try and make it go further between oilings. I remember one really stringy oil we tried later. A thin string of oil used to stretch from one bearing hole to the other. It was dreadful stuff. The A.L.Harvester made by H. V. McKay had a better oiling system. It had a well with a wick feed on most bearings. The wick was a piece of knitting wool which drew the oil out of the well providing the oil was thin enough.

Strange as it may seem most oils were heavy, about S.A.E. 50 or heavier. The tractors and cars used S.A.E. 50 oil. I think it was about 1935 when they discovered by using S.A.E.30 oil that engines lasted longer and were easier to start when cold.

Referring back to bag sewing, us boys had to sew bags at a very young age, nine or ten years old. Perc was older than I so he had to use the bag filler which allowed another five or six pounds more of wheat into each bag and then you would finish off sewing it up. The filler was very heavy to use, too heavy for us kids really, so with Dad grizzling about us not getting the bags tight enough the only way for Perc to stretch the seams of the bags which were nearly always new was to lever the filler sideways. Sometimes this hit me on the head when I would be sewing the next bag. Then there would be a hell of a row between the two of us.

A bag filler was a piece of two inch down pipe with a round (tin) container which held about ten pounds of wheat, The cover was hinged half way across for a lid which had a spring clip for quick opening and shutting. The bag was sewn across the top leaving the last three inches to put the spout of the filler in, then this was forced down to the bottom of the bag. The filler was filled with wheat and moved up and down with a pumping action into the bag getting as much wheat in as possible before you finished sewing the top of the bag. Strange to say we discovered that by having eleven and a half inch downpipe instead of two inch the filler was a lot easier to use and we were able to get more wheat into a bag. If we’d only known this earlier. It would have been a lot easier for us boys.

big E harvester


The first silent movie I saw at about eight or nine years of age was on a Christmas Eve in Hopetoun. There was eight or ten of us kids on the stairs landing fighting for position to peep through the window to get a look. Talking pictures came some years later. Most popular film star of the silent movies of the time was Charlie Chaplin the comedian. Dad and Dave was also a favourites picture show with everybody.

I saw The Ten Commandments as a silent movie and again in later years when “Talkies ” (the term given to movies with talking) came in and the version was quite different and did not seem nearly as good as the first time I saw it.

Originally none of the district halls had supper rooms attached so a fire was always lit outside in the open early in the evening. Wood used was the good old mallee stump which burnt to coals that gave off a lot of heat and lasted a long time. The stumps were supplied free by the nearby farmers.

A brantus was used over the fire to boil two or three kerosene buckets of water for making tea, coffee and hot water for washing the dishes.

About a cup of tea leaves or coffee grounds were thrown into each bucket and let boil a few minutes so that the dregs sank to the bottom.

At supper time cups were taken around in a preserving pan or wash up dish to the people seated around the hall and standing at the door. The tea and coffee was dipped out of the buckets with jugs and cups were filled. The ladies attending functions always provided supper and the young girls took food around the hall on plates and in baskets.

Little kids used to delight in skylarking around the fire outside when they weren’t skidding on the slippery floor inside between dances.

It wasn’t a bad place to sneak a smoke from a cigarette or roll one if we had been able to pinch some tobacco from one of the Dad’s that smoked.

At other times there was a bit of strife between the bunches of kids from different schools. It was a natural rivalry.

Dances were held in various halls and barns as a fund raiser for things like adding supper rooms to existing halls etc. The music was supplied by locals, Ern Millard,(piano) Gus McKenzie (violin) Mrs Watty Frew (piano) Joe Wishart (piano & accordion) Norm Scott (accordion & electrical saw) Max Taylor (piano accordion & saxophone ) Betty Poulton (piano). Most of these people played for no charge at all or a very small fee of about five shillings. Many years later Joan Gosling (Mrs Ballenger) and Val Mellington (Mrs Hoffmaier) tickled the ivories for us to dance to and it was superb music too. They gave locals many hours of pleasure for no compensation whatsoever. Halls we frequented were Albacutya, Glenore, Hopevale, Hopetoun West, Kenmare, Echunga, Wyperfeld, Yaapeet and Hazeldene. School was held in all these halls and they used to hold their annual picnics in the springtime. They were always followed by a dance so quite often we got to several in a year. There was a lot of rivalry between districts so it was always an especially good outing to look forward to each spring.

To give you an example of what it cost to attend one of these functions I was Secretary of the Glenore Tennis Club and we had a Ball on May 10th 1933 and the advertisement reads, “Double door ticket two and sixpence, extra lady one shilling Fast floor, Good Orchestra and Supper free”. Most functions made a small profit as expenses were also small and organizations achieved their goal in the long run.


Being able to keep meat fresh was a real problem during those pioneering days as we did not have the means of doing so. We always run a lot of pigs as most of the meat could be pickled or made into ham or bacon and smoked. The head, heart, liver and other oddments were made into black or white puddings (a type of sausage) as they kept for a long time.

There was one disagreeable job in making black sausage. The pig was usually tied up by the snout (a pig always hangs back if tied up in this manner). He had been starved for the day because he was going to be killed. We would give it a bit of grain in a feeder and that is when we would hook the noose onto his top jaw and so have him so we could tie him up by the snout when we got him positioned to the desired spot for slaughtering. Then, he was stabbed. The sharp knife entering the throat and thrust deeply towards the heart. There was a bit of an art in this it needed practice. Then a basin was held underneath the stab wound to catch the spurting blood and one of us kids had to keep stirring it with a handful of salt added until it got cold to prevent it from clotting or going thick. This was used in the mixture that went into black puddings and sausage.

 Killing a pig was an all day job. A lot of boiling water was needed so usually two brantus’s each with two kerosene tins (four gallons each tin) of water plus the copper back at the house were heated to boiling point. The kerosene tins on the brantus’s were boiled at the spot where the pig was to be killed for convenience. The fire having to be constantly stoked.

 A shallow trench had been dug and lined with straw prior to the killing. The pig was rolled into this. The straw kept the body clean. After it was killed and the blood saved came the part where the body was scalded and scraped free of hair. A corn sack or some hessian was laid over part of the body. Then the water, two parts hot, one part cold was poured onto the bag or hessian and left to steam for one or two minutes until the hair and the fine layer of outer skin scraped off easily. Then you would scrape like hell to get it all off clean while it was still warm. This was repeated until the whole pig was done. You had to use your judgment with the water depending on the weather conditions on the day. A little more cold water could be added on a fine warm day but a cold day would require more heat.

 Three people could work on the scraping at the one time or one could pour water on while at the same time keep moving the bag along to get a good clean scald. If the water was too cold it would not scald and if it was too hot the hair would scald on and was then very hard to get off no matter what you did. After this was done you would hang the pig up then split it right down the middle and gut it.(remove its inners)

 After recovering the heart, liver etc a good grassy spot was sought out for cleaning the intestines for use for sausage skins. You would select a long length of intestine (as long as possible), separate it from the rest of the intestines then you would squeeze the contents out by running the bowel between your thumb and forefinger then you would flush it out with water. You would keep pouring water through until it was quite clean and then came the exciting part, for us kids any rate.

 You’d turn a few inches of the end of the bowel inside out then slip it onto the end of a funnel, then pour water into the funnel and at the same time feeding the bowel into it so it slipped inside out. It used to quickly slip along the grass like a slippery snake until it was completely inside out. The membrane was then scraped off the inside of the bowel which after this operation is now the outside. After thorough cleaning it was washed in plenty if clean water then stored in a bowl of salt water until it was needed for making sausages. Good Tucker!!!!

 I almost forgot about the trotters. They are the bottom part of the legs and feet, from the elbows down. They were scalded in straight boiling water until you could pull the toe nails off with a knife. The thick skin between the toes was scraped off too. These trotters were usually pickled and eaten cold or made into potted meat (fresh, not pickled) along with the ears and other oddments of the meat. The jelly like substance from the ears and trotters made a wonderful setting substance and made it delicious. Quite often when men got on the booze they bought cooked pigs trotters from the shops to eat. They were equal to yabbies for such an occasion.

 Two or three pigs weighing between two hundred and three hundred pounds were killed every year. Some meat was roasted and eaten fresh but usually the majority of it was pickled and made into ham and bacon.

 Some bacon and ham was dry cured, This method was done by rubbing a mixture of salt, saltpetre and brown sugar into the meat daily for a couple of weeks. Then the meat was smoked in a specially erected “smoke house” which was a little place like a “dunny ” (toilet in today’s language).

 An old saying was that you never kill a pig in a month that had the letter “r” in it. It will be noted that the winter months do not contain the letter “r”.

 Brine Pickle was the other method. You would put enough water in a wooden cask to cover the meat and you would add salt and stir it with a stick until it was dissolved. When you could float a fresh egg in the brine you had the required amount of salt and then saltpetre was added. Meat, whether it was mutton or pork, would be put in and left the desired time. A scum which was caused by blood coming from the meat would form on the top of the brine after a few days so you had to skim that off daily and after a few days you would bring the brine to the boil and allow it to cool and put the meat back in to finish pickling. You would hang it to dry and then smoke the ham or bacon. Mutton in the summer months was put in a coolgardie safe in the daytime and hung out under a tree at night when the evenings cooled down. Meat soon become mouldy if left in the damp safe continuously.

 We continued to battle with this system of trying to keep meat until 1947 when Dawn and I were able to buy a “Cold Flame” refrigerator. They had been on the market for awhile.

 What a difference it made to our lives. We were able to keep our meat fresh for several weeks and our butter, cream and milk was always sweet and fresh and after that we even made our own ice cream. We then only had to deliver our cream to the factory once a week.

 We had to fill the refrigerator fuel tank with lighting kerosene every four days.


I started school at Gaalanungah when I was five, Eva, Ruby, and Perc were still going at the time. We drove to school in a double seated buggy pulled by either of the two quiet old horses we had (“Cap ” and “Ross”) cutting across the paddock south of the house which still had lot of trees on it, then across the south west paddock east of Byrnes’s house where we picked up four Byrnes children, Norma, Doreen, Sylvia and Len and so on to Gaalanungah.

In the winter time the buggy wheels used to sink three or four inches into the ground as we were going across the paddocks. The roads were very little better as they had not been formed at that stage. There was quite a deep crab hole just west of the intersection of Byrnes’s and Jordon’s blocks.

Wheels on the buggy always seemed to be a problem. Dad acquired a three seater cab which was our next conveyance. It had one seat across the front and two small ones, one on each side. At the back there was a step in the centre. This was convenient for us kids to get out of and have a run which we often did. It was great fun. In 1920 Fred Henman shifted from the block where Jack McMillan now lives to the block on the north of us and from then on three of their kids, Muriel, Janey, and Jack walked to our place and joined us and then we went on to Byrnes’s where we picked up their kids and off we went to school in our cab, so eleven children all went in this cab drawn by one horse. Alf Perry graded half a mile of road running east of Gaalanungah with eight horses yoked four and four tandem in the grader. From that time on the council began to get the heavy flats graded or formed up. This made a big difference to our roads. By this time Dad had bought us another horse called “Sailor”. He was very lazy. We always had to hit him under the belly to make him go. He was a biting old bugger. If you went too close to his head he would bite you on the head or arm or whatever was closest to him. We discovered that if anybody rode in front of him on a horse we could get him to gallop which was exciting.

Mrs Vians, a dear old lady opposite Bill Whites (now Les Whites) used to drive to Yaapeet each week for supplies. She would always pull up and have a talk to us. One day Eva promised to bring her some lettuce plants the next week. When next week come we could see Mrs Vians coming — and Eva had forgotten the plants so, we jumped out of the buggy and got some mallee leaves and wrapped them up in our lunch papers and gave them to her when she got to us. The next week we had the plants for her but Mrs Vians didn’t forgive us, she reckoned it wasn’t a very nice joke to play on an old lady.

My first teacher was Miss Brophy, then Miss Patterson, Miss Silcock and after her came Harriet Johns who married Cr, Wood from Warracknabeal, then came Moira Bartley who married Fred Warman.


During the 1920 to 1928 era things were quite prosperous in the farming area. Wheat was between five and six shillings a bushel. The price of land rose from £2 or £3 an acre up to around about £5. Everybody bought motor cars. They spent a bit more time at sport and in the pubs and spent money on things that appeared to be extravagant at that Our standard of living lifted considerably and in 1924 fourteen residents east of Yaapeet decided to get together and make arrangements for a much needed telephone service. The meetings were always held at our place. Mum and Dad were presented with a beautiful silver cake dish with the inscription, For Services Rendered. From, The Yaapeet East Telephone League. They decided to go ahead with plans to lay the phone on to the neighbouring farms. Members of each party line were as follows J Harnath and Norm Boehm. Bill Buchanan, Jack Edelsten and Jack and George Edelsten J Petschel, Fred Henman, Jim McPherson, Andy Miller, and Bert Miller. Bob Fraser, Horace Gould and Cliff Cook.

They paid Lex Gould and his father to erect the line as far as our corner. I think the spur lines were put up by the parties of each individual line themselves.

Lex Gould told me the job was taken by contract and they were paid two and six a post with cross arms and four insulators and £1:10:0. a mile for each wire including tying it on to the insulators.

Having a phone was terrific. We knew more of what was going on because for the first time we had contact with the outside world and we could also listen in on the neighbour’s conversations. We could even hear people talking on other lines and sometimes we would save the cost of a call if we heard a person we wished to speak to talking. We would call out to them and they usually heard us and we would tell them what we wanted and so save the cost.

In this period of time the open market system operated in selling wheat. Some of the merchants names were Bruntons, Dreyfies, Bungy, Thos Darling and Thomas’s who owned our local flour mill here in Rainbow.

When I left school at the end of 1927 all wheat, oats and barley was delivered by horses and wagons to Yaapeet railway station and stacked on dunnage. Each agent had his own stack and employed men to lump the bags. They were known as “lumpers” Stacks were built up to fourteen or fifteen bags high. The dunnage was long thin, straight stringy bark rails imported from stringy bark forests. These rails kept the bags of grain off the ground and prevented them from rotting. A roof of galvanized iron protected the stack from the weather. Some agents erected two foot high plain iron fences around the stacks to guard against mice, Some fences were left standing and used from year to year while the agent was still able to rent the site.

Prices varied from day to day. Sometimes one buyer would be a halfpenny or a penny above the others. You either sold as you delivered or if you thought the price was going to rise you could store it with the merchants for six to twelve months free of storage charge. Rumours of war or something serious like that would force the price up.

About 1927-28 merchants, because wheat was falling in price, advanced some farmers who had wheat stored with them, three and sixpence a bushel. It gradually fell lower during the year. The merchants in many cases warned the farmers to sell as there appeared to be a big build up of wheat stocks in the world. In some cases the merchants sold their wheat when it fell to three and six advanced but in other cases the farmers held on. They did not trust the buyers as they thought they were having them on. The final round up ended in these farmers having to repay the buyers some of the money advanced as wheat kept falling down as low as one and ninepence per bushel in 1930-31 Disaster had struck.

It was also a drought year. Most of our wheat was shrivelled so we were docked another three pence a bushel which brought the price back to one and sixpence per bushel. Not only was this a drought year but we received flood rains in December. Harry Fisher’s, which I bought in 1944, and right through to Edsons and Ken McMillan’s had five inches of rain in one afternoon. We finished up with 11 inches in the one rain. The sheaved hay was washed up against the fences and many, many wheat crops under water.

I clearly remember that at Fisher’s and Kelly’s flats (they are our home blocks now.) the water was up to the top plain wire in the fences on each side. The strainer post at Bill Whites (now Les Whites) council dam corner was just showing out of the water and it was the same on both of Edson’s flats. The water started flowing north from this area through Kelly’s and Byrnes’s blocks (now Reuben Roll’s and Errol McMillan’s. Water flowed over the main road by Les Puckles’ in a stream about thirty chains wide inundating Miller’s crop and barn. Millers owned Les Puckles block at the time. The course the water took flowed out north-east of Puckles and flowed on almost keeping to the road running north to the council dam in the corner of Healeys flowing another eleven and a half miles ending in a hollow basin in Ross and Todd Cooks.

Although we did not have as much rain at home the ground was saturated with the further showers that we received. If I remember rightly it took the water six weeks before it finished flowing as it was impeded as it flowed through the crops.

It was a heartbreak scene. Sheep were marooned on islands and had to be got off to dry areas. Many heaps of bagged oats stood in water up to two feet deep. Rafts were made in an effort to save them. It was discovered that if the bags of oats were got out of the water within a couple of days very little grain was damaged.

The water was over the house floor at Harry Fishers.(Trevor’s now). The stains were still on the plaster when I bought the place in 1944. this water flowed west through Flavels into a hollow in Mathews which is now owned by Clarrie Huf.

We had several thunder storms after we bought Fishers. The water came up to the edge of the veranda on several occasions so we had the house lifted two feet and carted sand around it in about 1953 so hopefully it will never flood again.

The 1930 flood was the beginning of the great depression. People who owed money were in trouble. We had trouble in getting enough money to buy the bare necessities of life leave alone pay interest or debts. Luckily we were not in debt. Farmers were being sold up. Their assets bringing practically nothing at clearing sales and in some cases neighbours stopped people from bidding at the clearing sales so that the farmer being sold up could buy back his plant for a few shillings.

The situation was ugly and could quite easily have become violent. The repossession of land was in most cases frowned upon by neighbours. In fact one case of tar and feathering happened between Nhill and Jeparit.

According to information at hand two farmers between Jeparit and Nhill were sentenced to three months imprisonment and ten other farmers were each fined £3 with three and ninepence costs for their involvement in this offence.

The Government of the day could see that this was going to be disastrous so they brought in the Moratorium Bill which prevented farmers who applied from being sold up once application was made for this protection and by 1937 Four thousand farmers had made applications. Later on their debts were adjusted and creditors were paid accordingly.

The farmers assets were then valued at their depressed value and the Government after quite a number of years paid the creditors the percentage of debt owing. In some cases this was as low as two shillings in the pound.

They called this Bill the Debt Adjustment Bill. It had some very unjust clauses. If a person was under the Debt Adjustment and you did not know and sold them something believing the sale to be cash they could put it in under the Debt Adjustment and you would only be paid the same amount as the creditors and perhaps you would have to wait three or four years for the money even though the deal was made at the depressed price. In those days it was normal for the business people to carry the debt owed to them by many farmers from year to year. It was a great burden on them and they lost thousands of pounds. I believe my Uncle A.G.Strauss who was a big business man at the time carried many farmers over the years lost about £100,000 through this debt adjustment.

There were many farmers who could have gone under the Debt Adjustment but chose not to and paid all their just debts years later when things become better. I think it was the acts of these farmers that still gave the business men confidence in the honest person.

During the 1930’s wheat prices gradually improved and in 1934 and 1935 it was back to three and six a bushel In the 1936-37 harvest it was five shillings a bushel. The next year it dropped back to four shillings and even this was a good price as the cost of production was very low from the depression. I believe many of the creditors were not paid by the government until 1940. Many who were under it had become financial in these years of higher wheat prices and could have paid their debts quite easily but they came along with new cars etc while people who had a conscience were still battling to pay their past debts.


Mum and us kids used to milk ten or twelve cows by hand. We were indeed fortunate that we did not have to milk cows before we went to school but we had to get them home from the paddock and milk them and separate the milk at night. My two eldest sisters Ella and 0lly had left school when I started.

Mum made butter for our own use and also to sell and this along with the money she used to get from the sale of eggs bought all of our groceries and clothing. Of course a lot of our clothes were home made too.

Bread was always home made. Potatoes and hop yeast was used to make it and this mixture had to be kept ” working” from week to week. If it turned sour a new batch would have to be made. If this happened it was always a big upset in the kitchen as a sour mixture could not be used to make bread as it would have a sour taste also.

Flour was always purchased in three bushel bags. People were able to take a few bags of wheat in to the flour mill and get it grist into flour and then they collected it from the mill as they needed it throughout the year at a small fee.

Butter making was always a problem in the hot weather. The Coolgardie Safe was not cold enough for the cream, so we used to get up at about 4 A.M. to take advantage of the cool of the night to churn the butter.

Seven or eight pounds of butter were made at a time. We a hand operated Cherry Churn. If the cream was too warm it would take a long time to turn to butter and if this happened this butter would be of poor quality because the buttermilk could not be properly worked out of the butter. Cream of the right temperature would quickly turn to butter and the butter-milk was easily worked out. Several washes in clean, cold water would give the perfect pound of butter. Salt was added to the cream before you commenced to churn it so it worked through evenly because it was important not to have streaky butter.

This method of home budgeting was carried out until the 1930’s. By this time my three eldest sisters were married and us two boys had got another block of land to work which was a better proposition. We rented Edson’s from Uncle A.G.Strauss for four shillings an acre. Uncle had reclaimed this land from Charlie Edson for money owing. £5 an acre was owing on the land and that was more than it was worth at the time. This was before the Government of the time introduced the Debt Adjustment. When we got this land to work it left Mum, Dad and Ruby to milk the cows and to attend to the butter making etc so cow numbers were reduced accordingly.


Fashions have always been part of life in dress, hair etc When I was going to school, the ladies wore their dresses on the long side, schoolgirls wore their hair in plaits and the Older ones wore buns.

Men wore moustaches and beards and boys always wore short pants until they were well developed.

Just before I left school men shaved their beards and moustaches and we liked our Dad’s a lot better without them. They looked years younger. It is rather amusing for me to make comparisons today, the old men are clean shaven and perhaps that is through force of habit but the young like beards It is quite the reverse to my day.

The young ladies and older women cut their hair to a bob just below the ears putting waves in with curling tongs which had to be heated on a few coals raked out of the fire. Then came the etoncrop cut when the back of the hair was cut two or three inches shorter and since then the permanent wave came in and is still fashionable today. Of course the spike and a few other way out styles have also been in vogue in later years.

Dresses have also varied in length from time to time. We have seen long, really short and the length just above the knees to three quarter length.

When I first grew up men wore pointed toed shoes and their trousers legs were three or four inches above the shoes with pretty coloured socks showing. The shirt collars were detachable from the body of the shirt for easy washing and they were starched stiff. For many years now we have had the shirt collars attached as they are now.

In the late thirties and early forties men’s suits were double breasted with very wide trouser legs. During the war the Government prohibited them from being made on account of the amount of material that it took to make them.

During the war years everything was rationed Firstly we were issued with Identity cards which had to be presented when applying for Ration Books for clothing, linen, food such as butter, meat, tea and sugar. This happened on 13/6/1942. Petrol rationing had already been introduced from 27/9/1940. Charlie Dorrington was the first person to buy rationed petrol in Rainbow. He purchased two ticket’s worth. Daylight Saving was also on during those years


At clearing sales in the early 20’s and 30’s the sale of horses was always the main feature of the sale. The crowd always hastened to the stable yard to gain the best vantage point for themselves.

This was understandable because farming depended on good horses. Most farmers were proud of a good horse team. The horses were led into the centre of the stable yard, walked around several times and then backed back. A horse that had been founded at some stage of its life had difficulty in stepping backwards as it stiffened in the legs. These horses had a shorter working life.

Rings around the hooves indicated the horse had been founded also. Good hooves were important in a horse. People usually put on a nine gallon cask of beer after a sale had ended. It was usual for a fight or two to break out amongst the rougher element when the beer ran out. This was added entertainment that the kids especially enjoyed.


Another early memory was when some astronomers predicted that the world would come to an end on February 14th 1923. It was thought that a comet was on a collision course with the earth. It was something us kids talked about a lot for quite some time beforehand.

I think it was on the morning of 14th Feb. that we were sent off to school as per usual. It was a hot north wind and quite a miserable day. We got about half a mile from home near the row of trees between our farm and Tooheys when we hit a big stump with the buggy wheel. It was the old type of wheel with a wooden knave. The wheel almost collapsed so we turned around and home we went. We were sort of real pleased when we had to go home as we sort of thought it would be better being at home with Mum and Dad than at school in our last hours should the world come to an end.

The wind grew stronger, the dust got thick in the air and by two o’clock in the afternoon it become dark as the dust blotted out the sun and we had to light our kerosene lights while we waited for the supposed end to come. Towards evening the wind died down, the dust settled and we all slept well. Next morning was bright and clear and what a wonderful world it seemed. (but I guess there were buckets of dust and dirt to be cleaned from the house.)


Tennis was the first summer sport to take on in our area. Glenore put down a court in about 1923. A year or so later our family became interested. We had a dirt court out west of the house well, it was a clear area with a hard surface. A piece of wire netting acted as a net. There was no fence around so we made sure we stopped every ball or else we were chasing them all the time. That helped to make us good players!!!!

The cheapest racquet was a Greenwood which cost seven and sixpence to buy. We could not afford racquets so we shaped boards and used those. I remember Aggie McPherson (Jim & Harry Morley’s mother) coming and having a game with us. She could play pretty well having played down at Mt Gambier. She certainly was good at using the board. It wasn’t long before we managed to buy racquets for all- even a Greenwood was better than a board. We used to play at Glenore on Saturday afternoons. Other centres soon got going so it wasn’t long before we got a competition going with Yaapeet, Hopetoun West, Hopevale, Werrivivial, Albacutya, and Tardikeeper. We all had dirt courts except Yaapeet where they had two concrete courts which Mr A Snell of Hopetoun put down in October 1927 for the price of £95 per court.

Perc and I played quite a lot of tennis after dinner while we waited for the horses to finish feeding. Sunday afternoons were filled in with playing tennis too.

I played competition tennis at the age of twelve years and Ted Edelsten was my partner for many years. Ted was exceptional at the net. I developed a fairly strong serve that broke onto the opponent’s backhand which often resulted in a weak return and that made it easy for Ted to finish off at the net. Later I played a lot with Ted’s son, Gordon. As age caught up I become slow. I think I was fifty two when I stopped playing.


The 1929 summer flood rains caused continuous green feed growth and hares and rabbits bred up in plague numbers. Hare shoots were held for several years to follow. This was quite good sport. The method used was that fifty or sixty men gathered with shot guns and they would surround a one square mile block and walk towards the centre disturbing hares and foxes as you advanced.

Hares and foxes disturbed on one side would go in towards the centre or try to escape on the other side. Some would escape through the circle especially when it was large but as the shooters drew in closer their escape was less likely. Of course this depended on the marksmanship of shooters.

Usually two two ton Chev. trucks were used to drop men off around the perimeter of the block and later they would come along and pick up the shooters in the middle of the paddock. The men carried what they shot until the truck arrived. If you were having a good day the greatest problem was carrying the hares and foxes as they are jolly heavy if you have to carry them any distance. We were always glad to see the truck arrive. Bill Marks and Frank Solly who were local carriers usually supplied the trucks for the job.

A good average shoot would bag about three hundred hares and three or four foxes but up six hundred hares were recorded in one day at that time. They were put into a freezer ungutted and I understand they were sold to France.

The proceeds after paying the carriers went to Horsham Base Hospital. Our local hospitals were privately operated at that stage. We paid for our own cartridges which later on gained us a subsidy from the Government. The cheapest cartridges we bought at the time was as low as three and ninepence for a box of twenty five. It was a good day’s sport that men enjoyed.


During the late thirties we discovered spotlight shooting at night. The economic situation had improved and the “A” Model Ford tourer was ideal for the purpose. It was light in weight and also the balloon tyres made it possible to travel over most paddocks except loose sand. Most cars were also fitted with a spotlight on the side of the windscreen as standard equipment. These had a bulb spring loaded to retract a short length of flex probably so that it could be used as a trouble light for flat tyres or engine trouble if needed at night.

This made an excellent spot light for foxes. We stood on the running boards on each side, one person with a gun and the other with the light. They did not make utilities at that time. As far as I can remember utilities only came after sedan bodies became fashionable about 1935 to 40. Spotlighting soon reduced the hare population as well as foxes. The poor hare was easily shot because they don’t have burrows to hide in or escape to for safety. They were also easily dazzled with the spotlight.

Spotlighting became one of our greatest pleasures. Even foxes were easy prey as they were only used to vehicles passing them by on the roads. They would lay down and watch us as we drove towards them with their eyes shining like jewels in the bright beam of light. It was not many years before the wily old fox became aware of the danger and learned to slink away further and look at you very little. We had to experiment in getting stronger spotlights that could pick them up at long distances even when they were running away from us.

A good night’s result would be about six to eight foxes and sometimes as many as 12. In those days we found good hunting country was on the fringe of the scrub about one or two miles from the edge of the timber. It appeared that they camped in the scrub in the daytime and coming out at night into the cleared land looking for mice, afterbirth from lambing ewes and lambs that had died at birth or soon after.

We opened stomachs of many of the foxes we shot. They nearly always contained mice, grasshoppers and at times the hard fat from around the kidneys of dead sheep. This is why I do not encourage shooting foxes indiscriminately today because I believe they keep the mouse population down out in the paddocks and I also have the same opinion about the snakes along roads. The foxes liked eating birds and rabbits and a chook or two.

The only time I worry about catching foxes today is when I know they are killing lambs and this happens occasionally. They are such very cruel animals. They bite the lamb at the back of the head, the teeth marks are quite visible and they will eat a lamb’s tongue out so you can see why farmers hate them.

Killer foxes are nearly always old or mangy or maybe had a foot cut off in a trap. In the springtime bitch foxes kill to feed their young. Our lambing time is in April, May and June so it has finished by spring when foxes are breeding.


Mouse plagues have always occurred down through the years. They were dirty little devils. They polluted the chaff for the horses. There was no way we could make the chaff houses mouse proof as they were usually built onto the end of the horse stables. They swarmed into the feeders and contaminated the horses food even though we wrapped iron around the manger legs in an effort to keep them from getting into them.

We had mouse proof stands made for our seed and other grain kept on the farm. We did not have barns then. These stands were about twenty four inches high as mice could only jump a height of about fifteen inches. Each of the posts underneath usually had an opened kerosene tin over them so mice couldn’t get up onto the stand. To protect the sides from sparrows we opened corn sacks down the sides and sewed them together to make protective sheets. They could last for years if looked after when not in use.

We tried poisoning mice by mixing strychnine with vinegar and treating wheat with the solution. The poisoned grain was quite successful but the big worry was that if a dog or cat or even a bird ate the poisoned mice they in turn could die. We had dogs come home frothing at the mouth and blown up in the stomach, as soon as we realized they were poisoned we grabbed them by the back legs and swung them around to make them sick so got rid of the bate. Sometimes we saved them but if they had started convulsing it was too late and they would die.

We also dug holes beside the fences around the stacks. We put water in the holes so that the mice drowned when they fell in – of course we had to empty these holes each day.

Our houses had to be mouse proof but if it was not possible we had to assure that all cupboards and wardrobes were mouse proof or the little terrors played havoc.

Mice were able to smell grain from some distance so they always travelled to it. When they had eaten everything that was edible they started eating one another. Disease soon set in and they disappeared by the combination of self destruction and disease.

I heard a story told by a neighbour whose house was not mouse proof that mice tried to get up onto a chair as they could smell food on the table. The chair legs were smooth so by excreting a small amount of sticky substance onto the chair leg each time they jumped up they were able to climb onto the chair. I think this excreta was what made mice and where they had been so smelly.



In 1931 Dad and us boys took on share farming Edson’s property. We only had a horse team then so it meant that when we had to plough or cultivate the ground there, we also had to cut and bag chaff and take it along too.

The flood rains in the previous December caused the old sheds to fall over so we made a yard for the horses nearer the dam and we made feeders too.

The swings and chains had to be loaded onto the wagon at home. Putting them down in order when we got to Edson’s was always a test to our memory. Everything had to be in the right place for ten horses. Our living quarters were only one small bedroom just big enough for a double bed and kitchen safe for our food and utensils. We had to cook and boil our water outside on an open fire. We used to sit beside the fire with our overcoats on in the cold winter nights to keep warm.

Len at Edson camp

After share farming for two years Uncle agreed to rent the land to Perc and me for four shillings an acre. We had to pay the Shire and Water Rates and there was also a smaller Government Tax we had to pay to make it freehold. I understand this tax was to pay back to the Government I think about £2 an acre which was spread over a period of say fifty years. Before this amount was paid off the land was called leasehold and after it was paid the title was known as freehold.

Charlotte Edson by this time was living over at Ken and Eva McMillan’s but she still had her furniture in a bedroom and kitchen. We still had only the one bedroom and we were cooking outside so life was very inconvenient and miserable.

We were renting the land and doing it the hard way so we asked her to remove her few things from the kitchen which was a large room. When we shifted into the kitchen which had a large fireplace life was good and it was easier to keep warm in winter and easier to keep food cool longer in summer.

During this time there was plenty of good pine trees in the house yard so Dad and I built a good horse stable from them. We also pulled an old house down on another of Uncle’s blocks (McMillans, now owned by Warrie Strauss) From this we built a chaff house large enough to hold twelve month’s supply of chaff.

We usually filled the shed as we carted the hay in from the paddock to cut out double handling. Cutting chaff was a terrible dusty job.

As mentioned earlier this is the block we put two miles of boundary fence around for the total cost of £28

We worked this land together for 16 years and my brother took the lease over then as I had been able to buy and lease other land.

In 1933 we bought a new six inch tiered table top wagon for about £100. This proved to be one of our big mistakes for within three or four years we had bought a Fargo Truck (At the time of writing this Kel Mitchell owned it.

The story goes something like this. In 1936 the block of ground known as Fairley’s that Perc’s wife Rita lives on now came on the market for £3 per acre. We heard about it but had little money and our plant was not big enough to cultivate any more ground than what we already occupied. This farm had a new house consisting of two bedrooms, lounge, kitchen, pantry and bathroom.

We drove around it in the horse and gig, our only means of transport and were suitably impressed. If only we could get the money and still have a down payment on a tractor so that we had a good plant to work it with it would be an opportunity of a lifetime.

We put the suggestion to our Uncle that he lend us all the money required to buy the land at four percent leaving us with £100 for the first payment on the tractor. Uncle growled and said we weren’t the only iron he had in the fire.

We told the solicitor we would take the land at that price and then came the settling day. Uncle and us two boys go over to the solicitor, and of course Perc and I are green about big business deals like this so we just sit there and leave it all to Uncle. We are a bit uneasy about whether we would have to put our bit of money in but Uncle brings out the cheque book and pays the lot. We ordered our tractor on time payment.

When we bought this land it was the beginning of mechanization on our farm. Uncle owned a garage and was trying to get some agencies together so when we finally decided to buy a W30 International Tractor he applied and got the agency and sold it to us.

We were able to cultivate the ground and the crop went in nicely and it was a good year. October and Rainbow Show came and we needed a truck to handle the harvest but no money just then. Uncle is there. The price of wheat is near the 5 shilling mark and Uncle suggests that he will buy the truck for us and we pay him after harvest and this suited us fine. We got our truck right away and Uncle got the Fargo and De Soto agencies.

We bought our tractor on steel wheels. We discovered that they were useless on sandy ground. They were only good on loam or heavy soil. After twelve months the Dunlop Company gave us a demonstration on what the W30 would do with rubber tyres sand type tread. It was amazing. The tractor also had thirty percent more power as it did not have to push the grips into the soil for traction but when winter came we found that the sand or diamond treads had traction. After two years the walls on the tyres cracked as the firm had told us to put only eight pound per square inch of air in them.

We took them back to Dunlop’s in Melbourne and complained and they said they would replace them for £28. When it came to loading the new tyres on the truck they wanted to know which tread pattern we wanted sand or mud. We didn’t know. They suggested we try mud. The mud grip made the tractor a real goer. All tractors for cultivation are now fitted with mud grip tyres. It is the success story of tractors. As the years have gone by they have made much larger tyres which gives them added traction in proportion to the weight of the tractor.


Len became too ill to continue with his story at this time so it comes to an end when his reminisces had reached about 1947 which is when he and Dawn had purchased the kerosene fridge.

Len married Neita Dawn Holland (Dawn)on the twenty third of January 1946 in Rainbow Victoria. They worked their farm together. They had six children but lost one in infancy. Neville Grant, Joylene Lynette, Trevor John, Lenda Adelyn, Yvonne Pamela (died age nine months) and Rhonda Kaye. The children grew up in Yaapeet attending Wheatlands and Yaapeet primary schools and Rainbow High school and having an involvement in the local sporting clubs. Neville represented the community as a councillor in the Karkarooc shire council.

Len and Dawn farmed the land which was originally the homestead site for the Albacutya Run owned by squatter John Coppock from 1846 to his death on the property in 1865. John Coppock is buried on a rise in front of the area where he lived. Len and Dawn donated the log cabins constructed by John Coppock to the Wimmera Mallee museum in Jeparit.

Len and Dawn retired from farming in 1976 and moved to King Street Rainbow where they took an interest in many community organisations, researching the graves in the cemetery where records were lost or mixed and identifying unmarked graves and also took a working interest in the Rainbow archives which was located across the road from their home as well as many other community activities.

Len died in 2000 in Rainbow and is buried in the Rainbow cemetery.

Lens family still owned the farm at the time of publication in 2015.

Some of Lens notes he had jotted down for his story.

These notes were amongst his finished documents for future chapters in his book. They are included for the reader to decide how Len would have written this part of the story.





Photo Album

 Len & Dawn Petschel-2Len & Dawn Petschel going away-2

Len & Dawn Petschel 2

outlet creek flowing 1

outlet creek flowing 2


As written by Len.

Johannes (Jack) Petschel was just two years old when his family moved from Hamilton to Wail in the Wimmera during 1877. His father Carl Christian Petschel had established a workable existence there having a dwelling and farm buildings and cultivated land by 1881, by 1885 he had paid for that land and also 320 acres at Ni Ni Well and purchased extra land and settled there a short time later. The family settled at Ni Ni Well and it was from here that Jack Petschel left home just after the turn of the century.

At this time the Mallee had been thrown open for selection and he had found work grubbing out Bulloak trees for Mr Jack Sawtell at Hopetoun. He often related how he rode a horse taking the shortest route through the scrub from Ni Ni Well to Hopetoun and how he often ran into a single barbed wire fence where settlers had erected boundary fences.

Jack helped to cut the posts for the first bridge which was built to cater for the overflow from the lakes on the northern side of Hopetoun. He took up share farming a few miles north of Hopetoun and then in 1910 he took possession of No 21 Parish of Gaalanungah which lies six miles east of Yaapeet. By this time he was married and had five small children.

The family settled in a pine and pug dwelling that was already on the place but the kitchen chimney collapsed during heavy rains in that year.

This settlers house consisted of a large kitchen and cellar on the north side and two detached bedrooms about twenty feet away on the southern side. There was a log tank nearby. These tanks were common in that era. they were dug by hand, and were about twelve feet square and lined with logs to stop dirt from falling into the hole and they were covered with a straw roof to prevent evaporation. It appears that these tanks were an emergency water supply. Luckily there was an abundance of beautiful straight pines in the area.

Because of the weather damage to that dwelling another four roomed house was soon built a short distance away to replace the older one.

Water was always the greatest problem and it appears that the early settlers would have had to cart water from Lake Albacutya, that being the closest supply. The urgency for water was because of the amount that the animals consume especially if they were working horses.

The then Karkarook Shire Council had the foresight to put down dams in 1906 at strategic points to have them ready when the channels were excavated. There are four council dams on the Hopetoun – Rainbow road that were put down at that time.

They were fitted with Douglas Monkey Tail Pumps on high stands for settlers to fill tanks on their wagons. Two four hundred gallon tanks fitted nicely into the wagon bodies and they were pulled with five horses.

When the catchment dams went dry the farmers had to cart water from these council dams for stock and domestic use. It was just amazing how much water was used and it makes one realize why it was such a precious commodity and therefore every caution was taken not to waste it. People washed in a dish and that water was used to water the garden plants. Vegetables would have first priority. Hardy plants were chosen to brighten up the home and peppercorn trees and sugar gums were popular for planting then.

On Saturdays the copper was boiled and the entire family mostly bathed in the same water in a wash tub in front of the fire because Bathrooms and Bath tubs as we know today were not in vogue then. The bath water was also bucketed onto the garden.

The farm had been selected between 1898 and 1900 and had been occupied by J. J. Meany before Petschels so some of it had been logged which enabled some crops to be sown. Green Mallee stumps grew suckers that were a real problem to the farmer. Leaves from the shoots would taint the grain if too many were left to grow and get into the stripper at harvest time.

They soon learnt that burning heavy stubble in February when the sap was running in the mallee suckers seemed to kill the stumps. While the stumps were allowed to remain green they sent out suckers for many years after the ground had been cleared enough for growing crops

Crops were reaped with strippers and the cocky chaff was saved for fodder for the animals (horses and cows)

The tools of trade were so meagre and inadequate in comparison with machinery of the 1900 era. In the early part of the century there was no motor power whatsoever. The only power was by bullocks, horses or humans. Father, Mother and all the children were called upon to perform farming duties whatever they were and whenever necessary.

The one thing that was plentiful was firewood. The wonderful Mallee stump is noted for its long lasting coals that gave off excellent heat are still valued for that purpose if you are lucky enough to have them today.

The hard work and courage of the pioneer families has to be admired I believe they were happy in their achievements.

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15 thoughts on “Len Petschel”

  1. What a monumental effort – good work. Most interesting and brought back memories of stories by my parents and Harley’s of the “good old days”. It must have taken you so long to compile this.

  2. It has taken a while and there are a lot of other stories in the pipeline for the future. First I have to check the facts before placing the stories on the web site.

  3. What a wonderful story. My aunt married Arthur Petschel from that district so believe family will be connected. They married later in life and had one daughter and then sadly Arthur died. Will do some digging with all that information.

  4. great work amazing memories can relate it very much to what my family would have gone through (Watt family At Werrap)

  5. What a fantastic walk back in time. Written history like this needs to be preserved. Len’s wife Dawn helped me with my Family Tree, we chatted over the phone and by mail, sadly I didn’t get the chance to meet her. My mother was a Rainbow girl, and my grandfather Clem Cooke, was a pioneer of the district. My mum, Elsie, was a school friend of Dawn. Dawn and I had wonderful chats about Rainbow.

  6. Thank you for such a interesting story of a wonderful Man Len and Dawn deeply loved by my family they were the best of friends to Meryvn and Dorothy Fisher
    Rosemary Smith (Fisher)

  7. These memories from our pioneers are precious and it’s great that Len’s are here for all to read. I have just collated my family’s history. My maternal grandmothers family were pioneers in the Albuctya district and are part of the Rainbow founding fathers donating land for a church and Darts avenue named for them.
    Unfortunately mine is not from firsthand memories. Len’s are so much better written in his words.

  8. Hello Merran and thank you for your comment. I am constantly looking for diaries etc on the local pioneers to preserve the history of the people that built this town. Your forefather was also responsible for the rebuilding of the shops on the corner of Federal Street and butter factory lane after the previous building was burnt down on the same day as the Pascoe building (originally the Cust emporium) burnt down on the other side of the lane. They are still referred to as the Darts building by some.

  9. Great to read a story on our history amazing how hard things were but they made it work . Without this hard work we wouldn’t have the life we have today .

  10. Oh I am forever looking up any Petschel Family history as my relative is one of the Petschel families that stayed in the Barossa Valley while others went to Victoria and then of course up to Rainbow etc. My relative’s name was Freidrich and I have not been able to find out much about his family at all, so would love to know if he had any connection to this Family.

  11. All I can tell you at the moment is that the Petschels traveled on the Alfred to South Australia in 1848. The list I have on the ship is Christian Gotthelf Petschel aged 23 his wife Anna Rosina two sons and a daughter, Christian Karl Petschel 23 Christian Gustav Wilhelm Petschel age 17.

  12. I read this story with great interest as my husband’s family is connected to the Bothe and Petschel families. I have a copy of the ‘Petschel History’ and many other family histories as well. Some of my school days were spent in Nhill and I have an enduring interest in the region and especially the German immigrants that contributed so much to the area. Thank you for posting Len’s story for us to read today.

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