Dawn Petschel is one of those icons of an area that you are privileged to meet from time to time, She is a tireless worker involved in any project where she can add value. Her commitment is amazing as she goes about the business of serving the community in any way she can. Dawn has been or is a committed member of almost every community group in Rainbow and works tirelessly in any endeavour she takes on. Following is just some of her community activities over the years.
- She has been a member of the IRIS FESTIVAL. Organising events of interest for Rainbow
- Dawn devoted many years to the school parent club where she would produce a case of goods for every stall.
- Active member of the BACK TO RAINBOW committee.
- Many years a member of the CWA.
- Member of the LADIES FIRE BRIGADE.
- Secretary of the GARDEN CLUB formed to create a garden for Yurunga.
- Years as secretary of the A&P society auxiliary.
- Secretary of WASA (Wimmera show association) Honoured with life membership Dawn is still competing and enters many exhibits (she received an honourable mention for her plum pudding in 2014 at WASSA level)
- Member of the learning group for many years and still does voluntary work at the craft shop.
- Member of the Yurunga homestead Committee. Where she has held many positions and works tirelessly every day to promote the attraction.
- Dawn is a very active member of the archives committee which she has been associated with for many years. It is in this group that Dawn interacts with people from around the world assisting with their family research. Many of these people call her friend and communicate with her years after receiving her assistance. Among these people are writers of history books, a university professor of history and Andrew Denton the TV personality all of whom she has assisted. They continue to call on her socially. Some visiting for a cup of tea and others calling her for a chat such is their affection for her after receiving her help.
Visit Dawn and you will find her baking for some event or tour group, selling raffle tickets in the street, taking her turn in the craft shop, devoting many hours a week to the Yurunga historic homestead or wading through the archives to find a snippet of information for some stranger who had an ancestor that once lived in her town of Rainbow or its surroundings. For a person that has passed 85 her energy and enthusiasm for her town makes you feel humble. I have reproduced her younger years hear from her own writing when she was asked for her story by the local newspaper some 20 years ago. Dawn was also interviewed by the National Library and a set of CD’s were created on her life as a sample of life of girl growing up in a harsh part of Australia and the trials these people went through and not only survived but set an example of what can be done if you just roll up your sleeves and have a go.
I am hopeful of putting the rest of her story together later and have already collected a lot of information but first this is Dawns story. The Paper devoted a column to Dawns story each week for eight weeks.
Childhood Memories of Dawn Petschel
I look back on my childhood with pleasure, and I have been prompted to share a few of those memories with the Rainbow Argus readers. As I was an only child, I had to make my own fun and I feel that I developed an association with nature that not only occupied my time, but also provided me with lots of enjoyment that overcame the loneliness that you could expect in such circumstances. Until 1935, I lived on a farm at Daldee, between Kenmare and Willenabrina. Our house was right beside the road and although it was considered a pretty good house in those days, it would be considered humble by today’s standards, as it did not have a pantry, bathroom or a sink. Maybe it was before those luxuries had been introduced. That house became the Kenmare school house and later it was shifted to another area. I am pretty sure that my Grandfather, Benjamin Holland, owned the property and I think Dad built the house on it as Dad often said: “If you ever build a house on another man’s property, be sure to screw it on blocks so that you can shift the building if you wish, as the law stated that anything nailed down was the property of the land owner.’ Grandfather must have been a hard man as according to Dad, he (Dad) was sick one day and was sitting on a four gallon kerosene tin in the horse stables when Grandfather walked up behind him and kicked the tin from under him. Dad would not have heard him coming because of the chaffy soft earthen floor of the stable. Dad was a cripple and suffered a lot with his disability and stories like this formed a barrier between myself and my Grandparents. I never remember them showing me any loving kindness as a Grandparent naturally does to a grandchild but then I did not see them very often either. Neighbours told me that Grandfather was a good man in many, many ways, but he was also a hard man and I do not doubt that the era and the tough times he faced had a lot to do with his attitude to life. The pioneer’s lot was not an easy one. Grandma always wore long black clothes with beads around her neck. Her hair was probably never cut because she wore it in a twisted knot on top of her head. She was a mid-wife, probably encouraged by her father Richard Johns, who was a doctor. Grandma also showed the serenity of a harsh lifestyle. She is reputed to have delivered many babies in her time and no doubt attended many sick people. I remember wriggling masses of mice in a plague we had before I started to school. Adult conversation stressed that they contaminated the chaff and the horses did not like eating it then. There was also a grasshopper plague in which swarms of them blanketed the sun from the sky. I had great fun putting out large basins of water and when they landed in the water they would drown. The stinging sensation that you felt as they flew into your arms, legs and face is still vividly in my mind – they jolly well hurt! When I was a toddler, we had a sheep dog and we evidently enjoyed each other’s company, for Mum told me that he took me for a walk and she could not find me. She said the dog would walk a little way, then sit and wait for me to catch up and then off he would go again until we were half a mile from home. She was not impressed with the dog. I guess my first real love was for a bony old horse who I believe was thirty three years old and nameless. She was left at our place by a passing, drover and she was beautifully quiet for a small child. I used to crawl along the rails in the stable and when I was close enough I used to crawl onto her back and turn her head and ride bareback out the stable gate and around the house. Maybe Dad left a bridle on her and then maybe she did not have one on at all, because I was certainly too small to put it on by myself. She was a lovely old thing but painfully thin – possibly because of her age, plus the fact that she had been walking the roads where food would not have been too plentiful, nor would it have been suitable for an aging animal. Her back bone was so sharp that I can still feel it, but the sore bottoms I got from riding her without a saddle never deterred me as I was so persistent. I always loved horses and grew to have a sort of natural instinct with them but I guess that was our only mode of transport and horses were a very big part of our life. It must be remembered too that ! was an only child and I probably turned to animals for companionship and entertainment. Later on I rode this old horse two or three miles up the road to play with the Jonnasen family who lived on the way to Warracknabeal. I also rode to Sunday School at Willenabrina one day. When I got there the service had begun and I just stood on the church steps too afraid to go inside but my Aunty Ivy came to my rescue and took me inside. I don’t think I ever rode to church again, but I rode her to school for a while. She was old and slow, but I always got there. I started school, at Daldee State School, No 4513, and some of the other children I remember were Rene, Perc & Ab Roberts, Ken Cross, Gordon Christian, Lorna Dalrymple, Keith Clugston, Linda Spriggs, Merle and Wally Sturrock, Stan and Glenys Smith; and I think my two cousins Roy and Ab Holland, even though I cannot picture them in my mind. We had two teachers, Mr Lyle Derrick and Miss Smythe, during my stay and I think I was about. six years old. One day a jersey bull was on the road and I could not get passed to go to school. He looked as big as an elephant, so seeing I knew no one trusted a jersey bull I turned for home with both eyes full of tears, crying in fear, to tell Dad. He came back with me, shifted him so I could continue on my merry way. We had our mail delivered by a man called Reg Hornibrook. He had a horse and gig and was a mate of Dad’s. (It was always important for a man to have mates). Mum gave him some money to bring stamps on the next run. I was about six at the time, and I ran out and met him and took the stamps inside. After admiring them I put them away for Mum but when she wanted them I had forgotten where I had put them, and Mum growled like anything. That night I went to bed and dreamt that I had put them in a new packet of envelopes Mum had so next morning when I told her about my dream we went through the packet until we found them. All was well then. I do not know how often the mail was delivered, but I remember that Mr Hornibrook was a very nice man and he spent quite a bit of time at our place. For my fifth birthday Mum and Dad bought me a rather large three wheeled bike from Merritts Store in Rainbow. Evidently it was poorly balanced as I always had trouble with it falling over and I got wild with it many times. About the same time, I got a life sized celluloid doll for Christmas. I loved her very much: My cousin Roy Holland bit a hole in her nose the first time he saw her and he lost points with me for that. I had this doll until 1944 when we were burnt out in the bush fires at Nurcoung on January 14th. I always dressed her in baby clothes when I was young but in later years she slept in the bottom of the wardrobe as most dolls do when girls outgrow them. In early 1935 we had a clearing sale and left the district. Apparently my Dad and his brother were forced off the land. This was most likely brought about by the Depression and drought years. I went to school the day of the sale but I remember a crowd of people when I came home that night. A man by the name of Lindsay Johns took over the farm. Strange as it may seem I cannot recall how we transferred our belongings to our new place of abode, but we must have had something big because we had quite good furniture when we lived at Nurcoung and it was the same as we always had, and as I sit here and visualize the size of the house and the furniture contents. It would not have needed to be a very big conveyance at all, because we were living in a two roomed house and I can clearly recall four chairs with Kangaroos carved in the backs, and a medium table, a couch and two armchairs that sat one each side of the fireplace. There was also a sideboard in the kitchen. The room was quite congested. The floor was lino that we took with us too. The bed room was even more cramped because we had a single and double bed, each pushed hard against the wall, a large wardrobe at the foot of Mum and Dad’s bed, with just enough room to squeeze in to open the door, and at the foot of mine was a cupboard made from fruit boxes. It had six shelves and it was my special place for my treasures and clothes. It was painted pale grey. There was also a corner what-not. There was not much room for moving about to make beds and clean the floor. Trucks were mostly buckboards then and they would not carry much. Maybe we used horses and wagon.
On arrival at the new locality, we stayed a few days with neighbours who I discovered years later were Dad’s cousins. Jim, the youngest of the family, was still going to school and he readily filled us in on the teacher and continually referred to him as Mr Gobbler. I was 7 years old, and I had a transfer from Daldee to my new school at Nurcoung State School, No. 2768. Dad took me to school that day to have me enrolled and to talk to the teacher as any parent normally would. Dad knocked on the door and out came this big man and he was standing on the top step and he looked down on us. He looked so big to me. For some unknown reason, Dad changed his mind about calling him Mr Gobbler and instead said, “And what might your name be?” (A favourite saying of Dad’s). You can imagine Dad’s astonishment when he replied, “Ted Turk’!! Nurcoung School was one of small attendance. I made the third girl and the other two girls were cousins, Mavis & Jean Fuller. There was also Stan, Cliff and John Maybery and Jim & Ivan Maybery, and the Prange brothers, Walter and Roy, and Norman Redford (all of whom were related, even to the girls) then Jim and Les Sherriff who had no connection to the rest, so I felt like the odd man out. But we mixed well and had great times together. This would have been about April 1935. The school building in itself was rather large because in addition to the classroom we had a porch and three other rooms which probably had been intended for a teacher’s residence. Twice a week mail was delivered to the school by Mr Leo Knight from Gymbowen and a local girl Edna Redford sorted it and handed it to the children to ‘be taken home each Tuesday and Friday. As pupils we all loved to please our teacher and we all tried to get the excellent stamp on our homework each morning. We had to know our tables up to 25 x 25. I seem to have forgotten beyond 12 x 12, but I suppose that is what we went on using most and that stayed with us. I had my first trip to the mountains when we had a trip arranged through the school. The parents and teacher took us to the Grampians for a day. I remember the fear of falling over the cliffs but the greatest scare of all was when the cars had been following the leader and all of a sudden they decided they were going the wrong way and they turned around on one of the elbow bends. I’ll bet my eyes were big! We rented the house and small farm from a bachelor named Charlie Sherriff. Mum was very disheartened when she first went there and saw this two roomed house with a very small unlined room with a dirt floor built on one end of the veranda, but I never heard her complain: at the same time I knew her heart ached when she thought about the one she had just left. We used the little room for a store room. At first her stove was out in the open. It has a sheet of iron wrapped around it and about eight inches of dirt between the stove and the iron to keep heat in the oven. The iron extended above the height of the stove as a protection to whatever cooking utensil she had on top of it. The wind played havoc with her cooking attempts. Mum had to bake her bread so the outside stove must have been just awful for her, but later we got a stove built into the fireplace in the house. I do not think this stove would have been new, because I am sure we would not have had the money for a new one. We all slept in the only bedroom, which had its only small window covered with a wheat bag because the panes were broken. We, unhooked the bag to get some fresh air. Life for Mum had undoubtedly been a real heartbreak and a backward step but Dad got some work with the local farmers for Thirty Shillings a week and we got a few chooks and a couple of cows, which helped with food and for a short time we sold some cream to the Goroke Butter Factory; and there were plenty of rabbits to eat. Any wonder I do not eat rabbit now. Mum was never a woman for a fanciful domestic flair, but I suppose circumstances under which we lived could have crushed her spirit. Meanwhile, I was attending school regularly, and had no real problem coping with the work or mixing with the kids. I rode a bike to school for awhile, but the road was very sandy and not really suited to bikes – anyway, I had little patience with bikes!! Mostly, I rode the horse but there were odd occasions when I took the horse in the cart. It was a distance of three miles. I think we must have bought the horse, Chester, soon after we went to Nurcoung. He was bred at Casterton to be a race horse, but did not make the grade. I called him Skipper because I liked that name better than Chester. I often wonder if he could have been bred by Sir Chester Manifold, who was a thoroughbred breeder at Casterton. He was a very big, strong chestnut with a white star on the forehead.
Although he was rough to ride, I was so glad that he was not accepted for racing, for he tolerated me fiddling around with him. I brushed him and plaited his tail, mane and forelock, as kids like to. You could ride him with saddle or bareback as the mood struck and I soon trained him to accept the fox terrier dog, Spot, on behind me – but there had to be enough bag or “saddle cloth” for him to dig his toes into or the horse would buck. Spot would shove his head under my arm and ride there enjoying every minute of it. Skipper was quiet enough to ride without the bridle, as it only needed a stroke on the neck to make him turn either way and it only needed the “woa” command for him to stop, but it meant hang on or else he might stop dead. I even sat and rode him back to front and after a few spills I mastered that in a slow canter or trot. It is a queer sensation riding a horse back to front. It used to make. Mum tear her hair out! Nurcoung is always special to me. especially now that I’m older and living away from it. I had not. been accustomed to scrub but the fascination I had for it and what it beheld was a kid’s dream come true. One could study all sorts of birds and animals and determine their behaviour from the footprints in the sand and at nesting time, birds nests were patiently moulded to size and they used the strangest materials to make them a strong and lasting comfortable home for their babies. The habitat being untouched, scrubland was ideal protection for the birds and animals. Kangaroos, foxes, rabbits, lizards and a range of the Cockatoo families in various colours and sizes, and the beautiful little birds like Wrens and Robins with their gorgeous plumage, were busy catching insects all the time. It was such fun to find a porcupine, if you thumped on the ground he would immediately get busy with his spines and burrow into the earth until he was out of sight. One day I caught one and took him home and put him under a large banana case, because I felt he would be a fine pet. Next day to my horror he was gone, box and all, so on investigation I found the box slowly wending its way down. ‘o the dam, a distance of a few hundred yards. He was strong enough to push the box along. Ant nests looked like a gardener had tilled the soil with a shovel ‘after they had feasted there. Porcupines (echidnas or anteaters) have very long tongues which they can poke down ant holes to get a meal of ants. The wild flowers drew me to the bush nearly every day in the spring. The sundews with their clever little tentacles waiting to clutch ants and insects had two varieties. One grew about fifteen inches tall and had lovely little white flowers on the top and the other one had five or six sticky hairy leaves that lay flat on the ground and like its bigger counterpart caught insects and held them fast. The majestic spider orchid, along with Donkey, Greenhood and Spotted Sun, and another that I called a Cat’s tongue orchid grew profusely and bloomed about October. The running postman, Father Christmas’s whiskers and the pink, white and red heath would catch my breath when I found patches of them in full bloom. Of course, there were the shrub-like flowers too. The honeysuckle, tea tree, grevillea and the magnificent kangaroo Tail and numerous others all so beautiful in MY garden. When I was able to ride into the scrub I usually made new discoveries relating to nature. One day I was wandering around on one of my bush ventures when I came across four kittens in a hole, high in a dead burnt-out tree trunk. Oh, I thought I had a wonderful find, but when I put my hand in they spat and scratched and frightened the daylights out of me. I left them to it, but checked them regularly. Since we left there, much of the scrub has been cleared and through this my favourite haunts have been decimated by tractor and plough. I love a drive south through the Nhill scrub but it distresses me that all that was treasure to me is lost and I would love to know if a ploughman ever found the money I so safely hid for Mum that day that she would not hurry, and my impatience caused so much embarrassment later. [More on that later on] We always had a fox terrier who was our watchdog and there was a time we had a staghound for hunting and besides we had a giant yellow tom cat who was quite temperamental. He hated visiting dogs and no matter how big or small, would take them On if they dared to think he was only a cat. He’d let them have it, springing onto the dog’s back, sinking his teeth into its neck and then there was a yelping match – the next thing the dog would head for home helter, skelter, and old Tom stood looking so satisfied and twitching his tail in temper. Everyone with dogs s respected our cat! One day I was busy picking wildflowers in the bush when I looked down the hill and I saw the Indian Hawker at the gate, so I set sail running as fast as I could in case I missed out on something, because Mum was looking in the van. This was great, we did not get visitors very often and to think a chance to buy something was extra special. I was running downhill, gathering pace and dodging prickly bushes and tussocks and next thing out sprang the cat and latched onto my leg behind the knee. It brought me to the ground. I got a fright and so did the cat. but I still had to get down to the Indian’s van, so I hopped up quickly and kept running. By the time I arrived my leg was streaming with blood and my shoes were squelching with it. The old Indian’s eyes nearly popped out and he said ,”If I owned that cat I would put salt on it’s tail!” During the winter months, Dad used to set a few rabbit traps and we’d eat rabbit more often any other meat and of course the skins were sold to the skin buyer who called regularly. This man was of small build and I eagerly awaited his visits as he was a great kid’s friend. His name was Mickey May and he came out from Horsham. I called him Mickey Mouse. He was a lovely little man. I learned a bit about trapping from Dad and soon took on setting a few for myself and enjoyed it so much that on Fridays after school I’d take the horse and cart if it was available and I’d set about 40 and lift them on Sunday. I would skin the catch and pef the skins to dry so I could sell them, but I never- got the money – I had no demand for money anyway because the shops were miles away and we never got off the place.
About this time Dad made me a sledge from the fork of a sugar gum tree. Skipper the horse loved the thrill of pulling this about and Spot the dog loved riding on his back at the same time. I ended up with a beaten track which twisted and turned through the thick scrub. The old horse knew the thrills and soon learnt where to put on an extra spurt so that the sledge swished round corners really fast and each trip threw up sand a bit more on those bends and it gave a more dangerous and more thrilling experience with every trip. You have no idea the fun all three of us, horse, dog and girl had with this outfit but I often wonder how I never broke a leg doing it. It disappoints me that every child couldn’t witness such pleasures as this, especially my own children but as they grew up lifestyle changed and there seemed to be more pressure on the youth with sport and studies absorbing their time. I operated up to 20 rabbit traps with this outfit, sometimes having to make a second trip to bring home the rabbits and then return for the traps if I was pulling them up. You usually knew when to expect a good catch depending when and where the traps were set. I had a box fitted to the front of the sledge if I wanted to carry things and if I was only having fun it could be taken off. Later when I was a bit older I operated up to 120 traps during school holidays. It was quite a task skinning and pegging out the skins if the catch was big. Luckily I never had much luck catching foxes as I found them fearful animals but on the occasions that one was caught they sometimes left a leg behind and got free or if they pulled the trap up and took off with it we would try and locate the offender and if I did I needed help because tears would stream down my face in fear. Foxes yelping in the distance at night still gives me goose-pimples and brings tears to my eyes. One day I was on my way to school and I met three or four men who were trapping in MY territory. I was so indignant, I pulled up my horse and sarcastically asked if they were getting any. The man said, “No” so I quickly told him he wouldn’t either because I had trapped them out. He asked who I was and when I told them they said they’d call on Mum and Dad. Turned out they were relatives from Rainbow and they made sure they told Mum and Dad about our conversation and they laughed and laughed about it, and needless to say they reminded me about that incident many times in later years. I had taught Spot to ride on Skipper’s back when I had the horse yoked in the cart. The bag under the saddle gave him a grip and prevented his claws from sticking into the horse – he’d get bucked off quickly if the claws stuck in. Spot mastered the art quickly and he loved it so much he asked to be given a ride all the time. The cart was a rather heavy two- wheeled trailer so I used to stand at the back to take the weight off Skipper’s back. When I set a lot of traps I always took the horse and cart. The rabbit skins were stretched onto wire pegs made from fencing wire and were stretched tight with a front leg either side of the peg and you always tried to have the knot where you tied the skin of the back legs tied right on the bend of the wire. It was most important to get every bit of skin possible when skinning, so that you had good weight when the skins were sold. They were dried on the wire pegs. We were a terribly, terribly poor family. I can only remember three new dresses that fitted me up until I left school. The Tom Fuller family bought me a lovely brown and white check one once when Mum and Dad looked after their place while they went to Melbourne. Another was cream bemberg silk that Mum bought from shop in Natimuk for two and sixpence. It had red patent leather belt and even though it was quite old fashioned I was very proud of my new outfit, Another was one Mum bought for me from an Indian who called. I can’t remember his name, but the one who visited us at Daldee was a lovely old fellow by the name of Cheap Charlie. He made delicious Johnny Cakes and often put some of his specially made curry on it for me. It was hot but I loved it. A one-man circus came to the district and the man called at the school to tell all the kids about his magical acts and animals that could perform tricks. The venue was on a roadside at the corner of our place and would start at eight o’clock. A lot of people turned up (about 20). He gave a most entertaining program with a dog playing cards and he had a horse that counted and he played a one-man band with drum and mouth organ attached to an accordion. I think he had two monkeys and the horses did extra tricks too. It was a thrill of a lifetime for all the kids to sit on his little seats in his little tent and see his acts. Our teacher was extremely strict. If you happened to be having a bad day you would get the cuts for being dumb or not knowing something – just quietly you suddenly become dumb from fear. Just inside the door there was a picture of King George V. This picture had glass in the frame and after teacher set us working he would stand in front of old King George and gaze at his picture, but what we did not know was we were reflected in the glass, and he was watching what we were up to. Actually we did not wake up to what he was doing until well after we left school and we could not work out how he knew what we were doing when his back was turned all the time. One day we had an English lesson on adverbs and adjectives and I just could not cotton onto what it was all about, so he thumped my desk lid with his clenched fist and yelled and yelled. “What is the matter with you?” Tears came to my eyes and my heart was pounding like mad – I was so scared. Finally I said, “Please Sir, I’ve got heartburn !! (LIAR!) I think I must have rocked him because he just looked astonished and then laughed. Phew! I didn’t get the strap anyway. Dad was always complaining about heartburn so I must have got the idea from him. I had to think quickly or else I knew what I’d be in for and I could have copped the lot. He also had a forty inch ruler that he used to keep us in line with. He’d tell us to bend over the desk, and the next thing Wham! you would get one or two on the backside. On one occasion the boys had been smoking – sometimes it was bark or cow manure but not this time. The teacher had found out so after play we were lined up outside and marched into the classroom and told to sit down. We went to get our books out when the teacher said, “All desk lids up and boys turn out your pockets, I think you’ve been smoking!” Well, I was sitting with Jim Maybery and he went scarlet. He had the whole works for good smoke (he’d pinched some of his father’s) and he was the one who got the cuts every day for not getting his spelling right – he was always getting the cuts! I could see guilt all over his face but luckily the teacher had started investigating at the other end of the room. Jim sat on my right so I gently gave him a nudge to pass the stuff to me. Fortunately he had the smokes in his left hand pocket so I carefully took the heap of tobacco, matches and cigarette papers and slipped it up my pants leg. The girls all wore bloomers and as most of us know they had elastic in the legs so nothing could fall out. We got away with it nicely and it was one day in Jim’s life that he did not get the strap. Had he been caught we would have got the hiding of our life – ooooh, when I think of the risk we took I shudder. I tell everybody that Jim owes his life to me. Jim, Ivan and Sylvia Maybery often walked to school and in winter they had a wet walk because they lived on the edge of a swamp, but sometimes all three rode together on a young draught horse. The school had a stable for us to house our horses and our fathers supplied chaff each week to put into our own boxes for our horses, when we got there each morning
Ted Turk trained us well for the inter school sports which were held in Natimuk annually. As our numbers were few we trained against the clock for the ball games and our time had to improve each day and if they didn’t we stayed there until they did. We were as slick as race horses on sports day. We won for a year or two and what a proud band of kids we were, Our colour was pink and the girls wore pink tunics with white blouses and the boys were in all white with a pink strip down the side of their shorts. We had the smartest gear. When a new teacher arrived Ted’s training stood in good stead then too as those skills stayed with us and full credit must go to Ted Turk. I was a slow runner until I was about twelve years old and then out of the blue I took off and beat Jean Worthy who was the fastest kid in the school. After that it was a good race between us and we shared our wins and losses. I could never manage high jumps but jean was a beauty, she could jump her height. My forte was the hop step and jump and the long jump and I went well in those and skipping. All the kids who rode bikes came through the front gate and out of the blue a large rock appeared in the gateway but all pushed the bikes past it, then teacher moved the stone with us all looking on and he found a sixpence under the rock, we got the message — Make yourself useful, be nice, you may be rewarded !!! He taught us a lesson without speaking a word. Dad and Mum only got the Weekly Times so it was a precious commodity used for setting traps, wrapping lunches and in the toilet after we read it from front to back – actually toilets were Dunnies in those days Toilet is a comparatively new expression as is laundry – they used to be wash houses. School lunches were usually dry and a bit hard to swallow. Lunches were wrapped in white paper and then wrapped in newspaper and then popped into a brown paper bag so dried out easily. I didn’t get cake too often but when I did they were made from dripping. We did not have enough cows to sell much cream so we were careful not to use too much domestically. There were times too when we never had cream or milk because the cow had gone dry. During winter months it was O.K. to take egg sandwiches but the blow flies would find them in the hot weather. I used to have a lot of Golden Syrup, Honey and mashed potato sandwiches for my school lunches. When I think of what we did with spiders my blood runs cold. We’d find Trapdoor Spider holes in the ground and dig them out and then we would put two into a hole about 8 or 10 inches deep and about foot square that we’d dug out with a spade and then poke them with sticks to get them in a state of fury and they would fight savagely until there was only a survivor. We thought that was good fun. About the time I was twelve Dad bought me a lovely looking bay gelding. He had an arched neck and a long black mane and tail and obviously a thoroughbred. For some reason he did not like men. Dad had bought him from a horseman who had worked in a circus. He warned that he could buck but as soon as I set eyes on him I claimed him and rode him everywhere. He was rocking chair smooth to ride so I called him “Rocky Ned”. The popular country western song of the same name may have helped with my decision. I remember Jack Spriggs, the former owner nearly died when he heard I was riding him. He was a proud, shiny sleek horse and pranced about beautifully which pleased me but Mum nearly had heart attacks. I soon found he would jump logs and low fences and getting more courage all the time we took on higher fences and that saved opening gates. One thing for sure I paid him every respect and one thing was for sure the dog never got on his back. We were most compatible. I can only recall one incident that got me into trouble with an experiment I had with Rocky Ned. Not knowing whether he was broken to harness I set about to find out. It was after school and no one was home so that was the time for experimenting!!! I found a swing and chains and I tied the inner rim of a car wheel to the swing with a short length of chain. I had the bridle on the horse so put a collar and harness on and I led him into position and hooked the chains to the flames hooks. The horse began to tremble so I patted his head and neck to reassure him and gently edged him forward but he took fright with the noise and he spun round and round several times with the rim flying wildly like an ocean wave at the local show. I was trying to stop him but he was out of control for he could see what was going on behind him and it kept frightening him even more. Blinkers would have been a better choice so he could not see this thing hurling behind. Finally I got him to stand but he was trembling worse than I could ever explain so I talked to him and patted him and quickly unhitched the chains to free him and it was all over and we stood and trembled together. My heart was in my mouth and I did not do that again, he was a horse for riding only and what a delight to ride. At one stage Dad, decided he would farm the land we were renting so he went to Natimuk to a horse sale and bought three ponies and a half draught who I called Nugget. He was fat, stocky and shining black. Mum often got domestic work with neighbours doing a day’s work here and there when the need arose. This particular day she warned me not to touch those horses. I arrived home from school and ran down to the horse yard and peered through the yard rails. Nugget looked O.K. to me so I got a bridle and he stood quite still for me so I hopped on and rode him about the yard awhile and then set off up the road to meet Mum who was on her way. I can still hear her going crook saying I was a stupid Damn kid. I’d get killed one day. Dad always encouraged me but Mum always thought the worst which is a natural maternal instinct I suppose. My clothes were hand-me-downs from sympathetic neighbours – that is dresses, jumpers and skirts. My underwear was always from the hawkers. I was a skinny kid and the clothes were usually ladies so I must have looked an awful fright in what I wore at times, although I was not unhappy with the clothes I was given because it was something different and although the kids teased me endlessly it never worried me greatly. In winter Mum would buy me a pair of boy’s boots and they were all I had till they wore out. The teacher encouraged us to clean our shoes and I wanted to obey his wishes but we could not afford nugget so I cleaned mine with stove polish and they shone really well – I was quite proud of the fact but when I crossed my legs in school the black lead got all over my legs – they were black and unsightly and I was embarrassed. I mostly ran barefoot at home. Our school was used for church three out of four Sundays of the month. The Salvation Army, Church of England and Methodists held a service a month and everyone attended the lot until the service ceased after the I 944 bush fires. There was a tennis court there too and the teacher said we could play on it if we had gear. Mum and Dad had played in the Malice and they had a few games at Nurcoung too so when I wanted a racquet I was given Dad’s – it was a really good one too. That was one thing I had that was better than the other kids (except for the horses I had). Anyway the kids must have got jealous or something because they cut every string in the racquet so that ended that privilege. The culprit got the cuts and I was heartbroken. When Dad was preparing to farm this land he had to purchase some machinery and when he bought the horses he also bought a twelve run combine and a plough which was very small too — 3 to 4 furrows. Anyway he sowed the crop with this team of ponies. He managed to buy a few draught horses later on. When he stripped the crop he did it with a stripper – these machines gathered the cocky chaff with the grain and when it filled the grain was emptied into heaps in the paddock. Then it was put through a winnower which was turned to clean the grain from the chaff and bagged on the spot. Mum and I helped to hand turn the winnower. It was pretty hard work but we stuck with it. I enjoyed a drive of the horse team when the opportunity arose. That was good fun. Dad also did fencing for people and if I could manage to call and help him on the way home from school I’d bore a few holes in the posts. They were bulloak or red gum posts which had been cut by hand. Firstly the dry tree would be felled, then sawn into lengths with a cross-cut saw and then those lengths would be split to desired size with a sledge hammer and wedges. Dad did this work too. Fie always appreciated any help either Mum or I gave him and we did not mind even though it was hard work. Sometimes I’d go partway home with the other kids and that was extra good fun as there were lots of kids where I was alone on the shortest route to my home but the longer way made the trip five miles. On this particular day after I had parted company with the others I was trotting along with Skipper in the cart, singing away when the horse pricked his ears and held his head high. He had obviously seen something. I could not believe my eyes – there was a white dog trotting slowly in front of us. Imagine my excitement when I realized the dog was a very old Queensland Heeler Dad had given to a man who had taken her to Milltown near Heywood. He’d taken her home to his place a couple of weeks before. Tears of joy rolled down my face, this dear old dog had travelled all those miles to come home to us. She immediately recognized my voice and obeyed my command to, “Hop in” I cuddled and petted her and thought how wonderful she was to love us that much. All excited we took off as quickly as we could go. Mum was not impressed because she hated dogs and cats and she could not understand all the fuss Dad and I were making over the dear old thing. She was tired and very footsore but soon recovered with a few good feeds and a good bed. She hardly had any teeth for she was so old but what a faithful dog she was to walk all those miles to be home again. She must have thought we were good to her in the past.
Once we shifted from Nurcoung to Edenhope where Dad was to be engaged in ringbarking trees on a property Tom Crawford had bought. We knew Tom well because he was a hawker who had a regular run in the district. We were at Edenhope for six months and during this period of time I had correspondence lessons which I did not fully know how to organize. I did all the Arithmetic, then all the English, then all the History etc. where I should have done some of each daily and then it would have been more enjoyable.
It was here that I operated 100 to 120 rabbit traps full time. Rabbits were plentiful and I caught all sorts and sixes and colours. Some were lousy so their skins had no value, in fact we burnt the flea ridden ones. Mum was very busy as she had to care for Tom too but we both got out to help Dad as much as we could. The trees were being ring barked to clear the ground for farming. We had to be sure to take a full ring of bark off and cut into the flesh of the trees so that the sap could not flow through. This was done with a good sharp axe. We kept a keen eye for any dead sheep where we lived and if we had the approval of the land owner we plucked them for the wool. It was a stinking job and sometimes we got prickles in our hands – Wonder we didn’t get blood poisoning from this. If a sheep had just died it was a quick easy job but sometimes they’d been dead so long that all the wool was matted together and we would have to tease it till it was light and fluffy and free from dirt. The price was better for this added effort. If a sheep had been dead a few days they were virtually “alive” but that did not seem to matter. The money for that and the rabbit skins helped us to survive as wages were meagre – (we also plucked sheep in the Nurcoung area too. The landowners were quite willing to allow us to do so.) Our six month contract had expired so we were to return to our Nurcoung base once more and Dad always seemed to get work there anyway. This shift from Edenhope back to Nurcoung was one of six in seven years. It was one of the most memorable moves because of an unbelievable experience. We were one day on the road and pulled up and made camp on the sheltered side to give our rough campsite some protection. The horses were being attended to an Mum was busy preparing some eats when all of a sudden we became aware that all the chooks were out and were heading for the scrub. We tried to direct them back to the wagon which was loaded with furniture and other possessions and the cage, which we had made to transport the fowls in was made from some old wire netting, was on top of everything else at the back of the wagon. It was a hopeless situation with chooks going all directions, chasing insects and picking little morsels here and there in the scrub. They were having a real party and were not going to be caught. We were sure that foxes would get them after nightfall but then the unexpected happened. As dusk set in the chooks all came home to roost and after dark we merely took each bird and popped them back in the cage, and all was well. It was just beautiful to see them all come and fly up onto the loaded wagon and nestle down for the night. That picture will never fade from my memory. Mum had a caller one very hot summer’s day. A young man called and he looked so worn out, hot and tired. He told Mum he had ridden a push bike from Nhill. The road was deep pure white sand at the time and he really did well to make the distance. He carried some gear on the handle bars too. Mum had made some cakes from some nice fresh dripping she had saved, so she offered him a cup of tea and cakes. She said he ate ravishingly and after he collected himself together he set sail for Gymbowen thanking her for her kindness. She said he was such a nice young man and she felt very sorry for him. We were to learn in the next day or so that he broke into the Gymbowen Post Office that night and of course was soon apprehended. Mum was so flabbergasted over that that she was too nervous to stay home alone for awhile, but she soon settled down. The neighbours were very kind to us, often giving us some surplus fruit or vegies and clothes from time to time. Mum had a negative attitude to my learning to cook or sew, and whenever I got the urge to do one or the other she always inferred that I might waste the sugar or I might break the sewing machine. It was a beautiful Singer treadle machine and as good as new, and she hardly ever used it – only to patch Dad’s clothes. It ended up getting burnt in the bush fires so I may as well have had a play with it. I often used to go to a neighbour’s place, when she was cooking on Saturday afternoons, and she used to allow me to do little jobs for her, like make icing or a jelly. I remember making a jelly for her one day and it smelt delicious (cos we couldn’t afford jellies). She left the room for a while so I dipped my finger in and had a little taste, only to dribble bits down the front of me. I was caught out! You DO NOT do these things! This lady taught me quite a bit about household chores and she told her friends. And due to that I got odd jobs. I was two weeks with a lady from Gymbowen who had just had a baby (School holidays) and she gave me fifteen shillings a week, and while there she taught me the basics of typing, but I could not continue because I did not have a typewriter. But that training helped me a lot in later life. When Mum worked for one lady, she would go on a Monday and do the washing and ironing etc. It was a household of four and she was paid two and six for the day, and she paid the lady one and three pence a pound for butter (we couldn’t have had a cow at this time). The washing was done in a large barrel-like washing machine with big cogs and a handle which you turned on top, and this set the washing in motion as it had fins inside, and the sheets and other whites had to be boiled in the copper. The sheets were put through a mangle when dry. This work was very physical and it was a big day for Mum. Anyway, on this particular day the lady told Mum that the price of butter would have to be increased. Mum never said a word but I was standing there too, so I piped up and smartly told her if the butter went up so did the wages. Mum was horrified and told me later that I was a cheeky brat, but Dad agreed with me! I think perhaps I needed a severe reprimand!! My first drink of soft drink was a lemonade when I was ten or eleven. I had gone to Horsham with the Tom Fullers and they took me into a shop and bought me this glass of sparkling, bubbling drink. took a mouthful and the bubbles ran up my nose and took my breath away. I saw stars for awhile as the gas penetrated my nasal passages. It was an awful sensation with my eyes full of tears. I was thirteen when I had my appendix out. I had been sick a couple of days when Mum and gad took me to Horsham to Dr Hutton Jones. He was very nice to me but Mum panicked when he said I had to go straight to Hospital. Of course I needed nighties so down we go to O’Gilpins which would have been in the vicinity of Fossey’s and being winter Mum bought me two flannelette nighties. When the two nurses were putting me to bed I noticed one snigger and she showed the other nurse something that was funny about this nightgown. I took a look at the label when they left my bed and they were O.S. No wonder she was amused because I was such a skinny kid but they were most likely the cheapest we could get; nevertheless I shed a tear in shame. It was most nerve-wrecking when I had a trip to the dentist, because like most mothers, Mum had been in knots for me. This particular day we went on the Tiger (train) and all the way to Horsham she kept asking if I was frightened. When we got a little further she would ask again and again, and she looked terrified until I too became petrified of the dentist, but I did not know why! We went to Mr Lawrence and when he sat me in the chair I sat there a little while, then I shot out of the chair and bolted out the door. Naturally it wasn’t long and I had to face it again so I was taken to Dimboola to Mr Smith, and he made me laugh, and the dentist problem was solved. Although I never enjoyed the trips to the dentist, I coped and I would have done so that day if Mum had been stronger and hid her feelings. I later learnt that Mr Smith administered laughing gas to problem patients. Dad went to Dimboola to visit his sister in the car and when he came home he had this magnificent cabinet radio. None of us had ever seen anything as big and beautiful. Normally our house was calm and peaceful. Mum and Dad never had words but this wireless upset Mum no end and her blood pressure rose intensely. It appears that Uncle and Aunty had bought this radio from Hardinge Bros in Horsham on time payment; and with the Depression and lack of work, they were unable to keep up payments, so they offered it to Dad if he paid it off. Mum was sure we would have it taken from us and she worried madly about it for months, but the radio stayed with us and we enjoyed the news and evening serials, Mittens, the boxing and wrestling. It was a valued asset to our house. Nurcoung School Picnics were fantastic. Kids rolled up in anticipation and Mums took along baskets of food and our favourite lady Glad Maybery would make five gallons of thin vanilla custard and she’d bring it along in a cream can to be churned into the most delicious ice cream. People brought small hand operated ice cream churns and they would put custard in the container which was fitted in a wooden barrel. The space between the container and the barrel was filled with crushed ice and coarse salt, then men would turn the handle continuously until it got too heavy to turn. They opened it up to this scrumptious ice cream and served it to us in cones. The races, rooster chases and ball games were marvellous but nothing could better those ice creams!! School at neighbouring Nurcoung South was held in a room of an old two roomed house on Jim Fuller’s property and when Dad worked for him he camped in the spare room. They held Eucre Parties in the school room. We often attended and I used to fill in if they needed an extra. I liked a game and was pleased if they were short of players. My dealing always drew comment. If Dad was at this but when the kids were singing, our little dog joined in to the delight of the class. Oats were a main crop on the farms and it was cut to store and was cut into chaff. It was not hard to get a job helping Dad stook the hay or cut it into chaff either. Mum and I helped him every time he cut chaff for ourselves. Before we had an engine we used to jack the car up and drive the chaff cutter off the back wheel somehow. The other three wheels had to be chocked so the car did not run away. Then we got a Ronaldson Tippett engine that drove the chaff cutter. It choofed along with a rhythmically rollicking motion that was pleasing to the cars. We had a very good chaff house that we filled. Dad always fed the chaff cutter, I tossed the hay from the top of the haystack to Mum who cut the string on each sheaf then passed it to Dad to feed into the mouth of the chaff cutter. This equipment was probably the best of any we had. Most of our machinery was of a makeshift nature. Like all country women of the era, Mum always ‘saved surplus fat which was stored in four gallon kerosene tins until there was sufficient to make a batch of soap. Using correct quantities of clean fat, borax, resin and caustic soda and water, it was boiled together in a copper for about 2 hours (some added a dash of kerosene). It was poured out into kerosene tins cut in halves lengthways till set. Then it was cut into pieces of suitable size to fit your hand and left to dry a little so that it went further on washday and for washing dishes. It was important to stay with the soap and try to keep it simmering when making it because it could easily boil up and flow over. If this looked like happening a dash of water would settle it down again. Mum was a tolerant person in many ways and more often than not she used to wheel the barrow around the scrub and collect wood for the stove, something I helped with when I was big enough. Dad did some sleeper cutting with Geo McKenzie of Glenlee and at other times split posts for people; and when he was occupied in this manner he’d bring good wood home in the trailer each night. Luckily we lived on the edge of the scrub and wood was plentiful, but the quality of stringy bark does not equal box, red gum or bulloak for heating. Dad was usually away all week and Mum was conscious of the fact that Dad was quite handicapped and suffered a lot with his legs, that she automatically gathered wood to be helpful, but on many, many occasions it was out of necessity. Strange as it may seem after we returned to Rainbow to live, Dad had a mania for sawing wood and storing it up prior to winter, so there was ample for stove and open fire as required.
During the war years of 1939 – 1946 there was an Air Force Base at Nhill and they did some training over the sixteen miles of desert between Nurcoung and Nhill. Often traffic would encounter warning signs on the outer limits of the scrub if planes where active with attacking or bombing exercises in the area. The Aircraft roared low right over the house mostly there where two planes, one chasing the other and firing at a large balloon extended from the first plane. We waved furiously as the pilots looked down on us and responded with broad smiles. They must have used blank bullets because we could hear the gunfire but nothing ever got shot around the place. They where outside their given boundary anyway because their zone ended a couple of miles north of our house. One day Mum and I had words over something and we where snooty with each other. Mum was walking towards the road gate and I was playing with a Shanghai behind her. I suddenly got the urge to fire a stone at her feet. As I aimed I thought to myself, “I’ll make the old bugger hop !!!” and with that I fired. Mum let out a terrifying scream and rose in the air throwing her arms about I had landed the shot fair between the shoulder blades, I thought she was going to die and I thought that I had killed her! Now that I realise the force which the stone hit her I just shudder. After that little episode I never trusted my arm with a Shanghai again,
NOR DO I TRUST ANYONE ELSE !!!
Whenever we went anywhere Mum always seemed to be dragging the chain and like most kids I wanted to get going quickly and her apparently fiddling around for nothing made me mad. On this occasion I went back inside and asked what she was doing. She replied, ” I don’t know where to hide this money!” (We never had much so I guess it was between I pound and 4 pounds) “Some one might pinch it” she explained. Grabbing the tobacco tin with the money in it I said in disgust , “Oh give it to me I’ll hide it where no one can find it .” And with that I went outside and dug a hole in the yard and buried it. We never found it again as far as I know unless someone ploughed it up later. With the exception of the few weeks we lived at Harold Lear’s at Mitre we never ever had a bath in the house until we moved back to Rainbow in 1944. Till then our large bath was a large tub we placed in front of the fire place and we had a weekly bath in that . If we where lucky enough to be going somewhere during the week we would have another but that was not too often. The bath in the Rainbow house was an old tin one but it was a bit of a luxury to have a real bath of our own. As I roll into bed on cold nights and the bed is snug and warm with that marvellous invention , the electric blanket, I often bring back to mind the positively awful bed I had in my childhood. The mattress was lumpy and the blankets few. In earlier times I had sheets but more often than not I slept between thin blankets . To give extra warmth Dad for, half a dozen brand new wheat bags from a man he worked for, and they where sewn together to make a bag wagga for my bed. They were not really wide enough, so you would lay still in bed so the cold air did not come up under the edge of it. We used to heat a brick in the oven and when it was ready we would wrap it up in one of Dad’s flannels and pop it in the bed to warm it up a bit. It was lovely and warm on the feet. We sometimes warmed a flat iron on the stove and wrapped it in something for the same purpose Dad and Mum also had a wagga made from twelve wheat bags , they where terribly heavy on the bed and I’m not sure if they where all that warm, just weighty. I guess that a little extra width may have made it more effective. My education was delayed a year due to the correspondence lessons I had at Edenhope, but I gained a Merit Certificate when I sat for it. Miss Joyce Toole was my teacher at Nurcoung at the time when I had left school. I badly wanted to go on and be a teacher but circumstances did not allow me that opportunity. For one thing there was no money and for another I would have had to board in Horsham to go on to school which was another impossibility and school buses had not been introduced so any other career I dreamed of was quickly diminished. There was a position offering for a telephonist at Mitre but Mum would not hear of it. She was obviously scared of me leaving home. She said I had high and mighty ideas and I was too big for my boots, so I felt I was in no man’s land again. About that time Dad had taken on a contract to work with Les Farnsworth who had opened up a Eucalyptus distilling factory at Nurcoung, so it was decided that the family would work together and we would camp in tents in the scrub cutting bush with eucalypt content to supply the distillery.
The grocer called every second Thursday when Cooks of Horsham where operating a country run early in the piece. Then later jack McClure went into business at Mitre and he made weekly deliveries. He sold to Alf Weiss, who continued the delivery and he also made the weekly visits. What happened was they left in your order from the previous week and got an order for the next. I clearly see the order the grocer left the week before we started out camping in readiness for our new challenge cutting Eucalyptus bush. It was twelve solitary cans of Camp Pie. I was not impressed but that was the order and what’s more we survived having lots of rabbit and sometimes mutton for a change of diet. We had lots of Golden Syrup bought in large tins too. We had three tents that were all the same size and each was covered with an additional piece of canvas, this made them more waterproof. Mum and Dad slept in one, I slept in one and the other was the kitchen where we prepared meals and ate, fighting flies as we ate. It seemed that every time we pitched our tents we chose a position near a bull ants nest quite unintentionally of course. They nested in holes in the ground like meat ants or at the base of a tree or in spinifex which grew in the scrub. Once they were aware of movement they came looking for trouble. They where tough little fellows about an inch long with fierce pinchers and they loved to latch on to a victim. One crawled into my bed during the night and the pain from that sting is something I will never forget. I am afraid of them to this day and I take great caution when I wander about the bush where they could be. Our day began early in the morning and we would usually work in young bush that was about 3 ft to 3 ft 6 in high, but there were times we’d have to open up a new area and so cut down fully grown Mallee trees to give another crop in about three years time. Blue Mallee was the ideal leaf as it was soft to handle and it yielded so well. Black Mallee has a course stiff leaf, gave a poorer yield and was not nearly as pleasant to handle which meant we avoided it if possible. If you take a leaf from a eucalypt in your hand and hold it to the light you will notice little clear spots all over it. Those spots are the oil that they were extracting. The distillery owner once tried a vat of broom bush but they only extracted a very minute amount from that, so never tried it again. Old bush was not profitable either, so naturally we preferred young bush. To harvest the bush you’d part the bush with your arms so you could see the stump and then with one hand you would swing the axe and hit it hard with the back of the axe, where the stump and shoot joined. One blow was enough. The jolt would dislodge the bush and with the free hand you would toss each branch in a heap so it was easy for Mum to gather. She trimmed each branch to manageable size, making sure to remove the knot from the end that had been attached to the stump for if that hit a worker the result may cause serious injury. If she was unable to keep up to Dad and I cutting, we would help her catch up, which rested our backs too. Mum had a free flowing system where she held the bush by the stumpy end in her left hand and with the sickle swished a blow to the under side then the upper side, and maybe another cut for a few stragglers and at the same time laid it nicely onto a heap that was of regular formation for easy loading when the truck arrived. Those heaps were about waist high and the length depended on the quantity of bush and the distance it had to be carried.
One truckload of this bush was pressed tight into a vat by trampling. With a lid firmly placed on top; steam was forced through the leaf from a nearby furnace, then that steam was forced through a network of pipes in a tank of water where the combination of water and oil vapour was cooled and as it condensed it flowed out into a large bucket of water. The oil floated on top and ran off into another container as pure eucalyptus oil. It was stored in forty-four gallon drums and sold to refineries. The plant was erected near a dam as water was a necessary requirement to supply the boiler and the condenser. The leaf was blackened after it had been processed and when it cooled it was taken from the vat by a strong three-pronged grab, and wound up with a crane and loaded onto a truck and laid to dry. Some of it, with a supply of other wood, was used in the furnace. Then all was in readiness for the whole procedure to be repeated. Mrs Farnsworth lived in a small house built at the distillery and she catered for all the workers who were working at the base. We were paid by the pound of oil that was extracted from each individual load of leaf. To encourage cutting fully grown bush which produced a lesser amount of oil, a higher price of 1 /6 a pound was paid to cutters. Foresight was necessary to ensure crops in the future. I!- a pound was paid for the oil from young bush. A vat of treated leaf usually gave a reward of LS and we would average two or three a week. Others may have done better (I do not know tho’). Everything in relation to the job was referred to as “eucy”. We were eucy cutters, the distillery was a eucy factory etc, etc. Cutting and loading took about 2 1/2 days. Loading the truck was done with pitch-forks. Dad and I would stand with our backs to the truck and, inserting the prongs of the forks into the pile of prepared bush, we would heave together until we had each heap loaded. It was then tied tight with ropes to hold the load on. The bush would dry out considerably in hot weather but that did not effect the yield. Thankfully we were healthy and I do not know of a single day’s sickness on that job. The truck driver brought our pay for the previous load when he collected the next. During our eucalyptus cutting period the nights were rather dull and a trifle lonely for all, so I bought some small note books and from the light of a lantern swinging from the rail in the roof of the tent, I chose to write short stories about the bush, the wildlife and even our own activities. Mum thought I was rather crazy but I thoroughly enjoyed putting my observations about my favourite topics on paper. I felt that time passed really quickly and I reckoned I was quite constructive in doing so, because who else had the ideal opportunity to see the antics of nature first-hand every day. Unfortunately all that is lost -it would have been interesting to see what I thought about those stories now, that s if the lead pencil had not faded. It was the pre-biro era you see. Food was a problem when camped in tents – especially meat. When we had a day of rest we would catch a few yabbies for one meal, but by the time you caught and cleaned them you were so hungry and anyway, the yellow water in the dam made them taste so earthy they were not the treat we expected. I was given a break from working when we needed a few supplies from the Mitre store. Mum would make out a list that I had to stick to religiously. One day I over-stepped the mark and added a bottle off tomato sauce to the order and I got into trouble for that. There was never enough milk and we often started the day with weeties sprinkled with sugar and water poured over that – not a lot of nourishment but we appreciated the powered milk mix when we had that luxury with a few slices of toast cooked on the open fire for breakfast. Pufftaloons (a fried scone ) were regular on our table as were potatoes – other food was hard to manage in such circumstances. We had no means of keeping food cool. All this took place when we were camped on a reserve known as “the Sheepwash” at Duffholme where the Jane Duff Memorial stands. There were a few acres with a small dam with very yellow water that the horses did not like to drink, so I took them across the road and railway line to a dam of nice clean water of a morning, lunchtime and evening. Sometimes the train would be passing at lunchtime and I loved the display my horse put on because he did not like the rattle and the whistle of the steam train. On the day of 14th January 1944. we were cutting bush as usual. The northerly wind was hot and quite strong, but it turned to a westerly direction and we soon saw a great cloud of smoke in the west. As we continued working the smoke got thicker and closer, and the wind stronger, so Dad decided that we should investigate. As we had to go via the camp to get to the road, we dropped Mum off, and he and I drove Skipper in the cart towards the smoke. It is always difficult to estimate the distance that a fire is away from you. We soon noticed flying embers of bark and leaves in the smoke-filled sky. Some landed about us igniting the tinder dry grass and the fierce wind swirled the smoke and fire towards us just as we were opposite the gateway to the Brooks’ homestead. People said those embers leapt 2 miles ahead of the main mass of smoke and roaring flames, and before we knew it we were completely cut off from the house. We knew an old lady lived there with her two sons and it was an old building. It was quite a distressing situation with the smoke hurting our eyes and we were having trouble breathing; but we had to get there to see what we could do. Well, the horse was naturally petrified and refused to go through the smoke and flames, so we had to belt him. The fire left an opening as it raced along, crossing the track, so we kept the pressure on him not allowing him an alternative, and we got through to find the house seriously threatened and the lady all alone. There was a hay stack built in the orchard and part of it was almost touching the spout of the house. We gabbed a hose but it was full of holes and there warn t any water pressure anyway, so we let the hose trickle onto a couple of bags and tore limbs from trees, and stood on the veranda and belted the flames with all our might. When the bags were wet enough we alternated them with the branches while we ran the hose on them again. They soon dried out in the heat. We saved the old lady and the house too, but the orchard and the hay stack were too much for us – we had lost them and the stack glowed until the Natimuk Fire brigade attended to it. George Brooks who had been fighting the fire between Gymbowen and Goroke was on his way home and called into the Gymbowen Pub for refreshments, when someone said to him that his haystack was gone. He tore from there in shock for he thought, if that was gone so would the house, and what of his Mother? Men started arriving at the house and when Syd Crick saw us he asked where was Mum. I told him she was at the came with my horse and the dog. He said “Get in this car and believe me we went out that gate on the steering wheel. ( It was really fast to me, but remember I was used to horse power and that is steady!!) I held my breath and we raced along the road and the fire was ahead, and heading for the site of the camp. We got there in time and Mum was in a frightful state. She was frightened, and what’s more, she was afraid of my horse and she did not know what she was going to do. I raced to my tent, lifted the lid of my suitcase and took out my camera I’d been given — if only I’d taken the whole case full of clothes!! Anyway Mum and the animals were safe so we went back to the Brooks’ house where Mum stayed with Mrs Brooks and Dad, and lots of other people, were mopping up fencelines and heaps of cow manure that were still burning. It was most fortunate that we had come along when we did, or else the story may have been a tragic one for the Brooks family; but we were quite unaware that Mum and the camp was in the path of the leaping flames. The excessive heat alone was enough to bear. It could have been a tragedy for us too, and it left me with the everlasting thought that we should assure that our own homes are our main priority in such circumstances. I do not mean that we should not have helped these people. I am proud that we did. What I mean is that everybody should see that their property is satisfactorily protected before you leave home or, better still, stay with your own home. I was panic- stricken and overtaken by fear. When I ran to my suitcase and threw open the lid, I had only taken out my camera which was my treasure. There is no telling how you will react in such circumstances. After Mum’s rescue I ran a shuttle service with the horse and cart taking food, and transporting tired firefighters about, for quite awhile. Then we started to think we should head for the camp and see. the destruction for ourselves. The sight was sickening, everything was blackened and parched, we had a feeling of devastation. The campsite was a heap of smouldering rubble. We turned the horse and headed back in the direction of the house at Nurcoung. The real truth was beginning to hit home and it was dark and we were travelling through the blackened countryside, with the tall dry trees burning high in the darkened sky. Sparks flew about like giant fire crackers and the glowing burning branches were crashing to the ground around us and the heat was still being radiated from the earth. I can still picture large dead gum trees crashing to the ground as the fire became the master. The district was noted for big timber and as we passed by, the huge burning arms crashed aimlessly to the ground and sparks flew about spitting furiously. The roots of some big trees burnt underground for three weeks and we were strongly warned not to walk or ride horses or bikes near them, because the earth gave way over burning roots that could be dangerous. The fire glowing in the night was a magnificent spectacle but our eyes were tired and sore as we wended our way hopefully to get ourselves a good rest, after the hazardous and exhausting day we had experienced. We found the journey a long one and I often wonder how the poor old horse felt, for he had pulled the trailer practically all day and now late into the night. Anyway the worst was to come. Our eyes filled with tears and our hearts sank as we came over the rise to see the brightly glowing remains of our chaff house which had been almost full, and the tangled mess that was the remains of our home. All the sheds were gone – they were just dying embers now. What would we do now?
A nearby farmer had a workers cottage, so we headed off another three miles or so and we were made so welcome. We fell into bed and slept in dirty smelly clothes that night. My overalls had a piece burnt out of one leg; we must have looked wrecks. After a good bath, we went back to the burnt out house next day and sifted through the ash and found a few bits to keep, but the astonishing factor was that the fire had only burnt on a path of about a yard wide from the dam to the house and we presume this is the way it caught alight, but then the burning ash may have drifted like it did at Duffholme and set it alight as the hot ash fell on the house. Who knows, but if it was that little pathway that caused the destruction, it would never have burnt if we had been home. We had lost everything we ever had ever owned, except a dog, two horses and a cart. Next day as we sifted through the ash we found two halfpennies welded together from the heat. For years we would refer to a possession, suddenly realising we no longer had that particular thing. People were very kind to us, giving us clothes and other necessities. Later the Bush Fire relief committee sent us two beds and mattresses and a wardrobe, and I suppose there were other things too but I cannot remember all the things that were to take the place of our humble belongings, and make the new start to life a little easier to accept. We were indeed fortunate to have kind neighbours and friends. The Brooks family gave us a pair of new grey single bed blankets in appreciation of saving their home, and they put a thank you notice to Dad and myself in the Horsham paper. Unfortunately, we were not alone in this sad situation as even though we lost everything, there were others who suffered greater loss, some had to come to terms with loss of life as well as financial loss, but then we were homeless. That day fires swept across other areas in Victoria, leaving a path of destruction, the saddest part was the number of burnt animals that had to be destroyed to ease their suffering. This marks Dawns entry into Rainbow and Yaapeet the small town a few kilometres north of Rainbow. In the next instalment I hope to fill in the years from the 1940 until now.
In 2015 Dawn was awarded the citizen of the year by the Hindmarsh Shire. The presentation was made by the Mayer Councillor Ron Lowe who spoke well of Dawn as he new her well as do most people in the area. The presentation was attended by the Shire CEO Tony Doyle plus a number of council and senior shire staff.
Farewell to a great lady.
Dawn passed away on the 16th July 2015 and the family requested that I speak at her funeral. I decided that the best way to do this was to give those present a short look into Dawns life and what she was to her community.
While I found this a tough assignment, I knew that she would want me to do it and considered it a great honour and privilege to be asked.
Neita Dawn didn’t always have it easy. When only a toddler her birth mother gave her away to the Holland family and she grew up as Neita Dawn Holland.
They lived a meagre life sometimes in farm huts with earthen floors. Food was not always plentiful and at times she went without. This only served to set her resolve that her children would never go hungry. The same attitude carried over to visitors and I at times accused her of having been offered a good price for me by the kilogram and she was trying to fatten me up to get a better price.
Following is the message I delivered at Dawns funeral.
You will recognise some of it from earlier in her story as I used my previous writings to make up her life story in the district.
Dawns passion for her family and the community was something that few could match, she worked tirelessly in any area where she could help, both in Yaapeet and then Rainbow.
Dawn’s activity in the community goes back many years and covered almost every aspect of community life in Rainbow and the surrounding areas. Her home had a revolving door and a constant stream of people from many walks of life were all welcomed with the same friendly smile and a cup of tea or coffee. She showed concern for anyone in the community that needed her attention and while not young herself went out of her way to care for others.
Dawn has been a committed member of almost every community group in Rainbow and worked tirelessly in any endeavour she took on.
Following is just some of her community activities over the years.
Member of the IRIS FESTIVAL
Organising events of interest for Rainbow
Dawn devoted many years to the school parent club where she would produce a case of goods for every fund raising event.
She was an active member of the BACK TO RAINBOW committee.
For many years she was a member of the CWA.
Member of the LADIES FIRE BRIGADE.
Secretary of the GARDEN CLUB formed to create a garden for Yurunga.
12 years as secretary of the A&P society auxiliary.
Secretary of Wimmera show association where she was honoured with life membership
Dawn competed and entered many exhibits in the Rainbow show with her orchards and cooking.
(she received an honourable mention for her plum pudding in 2014)
She was a member of the learning group for many years and still did voluntary work at the craft shop until ill health prevented her from continuing.
She was a member of the Yurunga homestead Committee. Where she held many positions and worked tirelessly every day to promote the attraction.
She was a very active member of the archives committee which she had been associated with for many years.
It is in this group that Dawn interacted with people from around the world assisting with their family research.
Many of these people called her friend and communicated with her years after receiving her assistance.
Among these people are history writers, university professors and Andrew Denton the TV personality who she exchanged birthday cards with.
Dawn assisted all of these people and many others. They continued to call on her socially. Some visiting for a cup of tea and others calling in on her for a chat, such was their affection for her after receiving her help.
Dawn received a life membership of the archives only a few weeks ago.
An award she was very proud of.
She was secretary of the Rainbow cemetery trust for years and while no longer on the committee she still assisted the current committee identifying unmarked graves. She was still wading through old records to complete this task until recently.
Dawn was always available to help visitors to find their ancestors graves or any information she could find in the archives. Wading through old newspapers and other documents, microfiche etc. to assist in any way she could.
Dawn and her husband Len owned the Albacutya Run Homestead built by John Coppock back in the 1840’s and donated the buildings to the Jeparit Museum.
They did this in order to preserve one of the few examples of the early squatters homes left, so they could be viewed by all.
Dawn had a policy of always shopping in Rainbow as she believes that the only way for the shops and town to survive is for the community to support them first.
Dawns commitment to the community was tireless even in her eighties she got involved in everything she could to help out.
Dawns commitment went outside her local community and she was called on as a guest speaker at the Jane Duff found day celebrations in August 2014. Dawn lived in the area and was working cutting gum leaves for eucalyptus oil when a large bushfire broke out. A neighbours house was in danger and 15 year old Dawn and her father helped save the home only to find that their own home was destroyed and she was left with only the cloths she was wearing.
Recently the National library sent a person to interview her and ended up with six CD’s of interview covering Dawn life in the Wimmera Mallee.
If Dawn saw a stranger in town she introduces herself and was soon showing off her Rainbow and the Yurunga homestead. It made no difference whether it was a family or a bus she would just walk over and talk to them.
For her work in the community, Dawn was honoured this year with the Hindmarsh Shire citizen of the year award.
An award she so richly deserved.
Well done Neita Dawn Petschel.
The following is the obituary I placed on the Rainbow face book site.
Goodbye Dawn Petschel.
Rest in peace.
Farewell to a wonderful lady and friend. A tireless worker for her community and a welcoming smile for strangers.
Nothing was too hard for you and you inspired others with your enthusiasm. Your knowledge of the history of the area and the people that lived there will be missed by many for a long time. You were always ready to share what you knew to anyone that asked and if you didn’t have an answer on family tree issues or history, you would search tirelessly to find it for them.
Rainbow is a better place because of you.
Your friendliness, knowledge, hard work and commitment to the community has ensured that.
Rest in peace wonderful lady. Your work is finished and now it is passed on to others. You set a standard that will be hard to measure up to. We will miss you.