Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME' by Gertrude Ruston (pp. 51-58) (Where possible I have added photographs to embellish the story a little).
We Start The Great Adventure
Harry was determined to become a farmer and spend the rest of his life, if possible, in the open air rather than at an office desk. However, he had very little knowledge of farming and certainly knew nothing of Australian conditions and methods. One of his brothers-in-law was a gentleman farmer in England in a small way, and Harry's only knowledge had been gained when he had spent a few days there from time to time.
While considering our next move, Harry was approached by a man named Benstead and invited to go out to a farm on the Hay River, about 38 miles from Albany, where he was to work for food only (or "tucker" in Aussie lingo), and be taught something about sheep and cattle farming. As we had a reasonable bank account Harry thought this a good opportunity to obtain some basic knowledge and so he accepted the offer.
Benstead had one of the few "T" model Ford vehicles about the district and he drove us out, dropping me at Narrikup siding, where I was to board with a Mrs Elliott, about ten or twelve miles from where Harry would be working, so that we were all three living separately at that time. Harry was told he could ride or drive in to see me occasionally and fetch goods and mail for the farm.
Mrs Elliott was a dear old Australian woman for whom I developed a very warm regard. It was from her I learnt very much about the country and the people. One of the first things she told me was that it was unwise to speak to one person about another in the district, as they were practically all related, having descended from early settlers who had, of necessity, intermarried.
It was in Mrs Elliott's home that I first tasted kangaroo and squeaker and quite enjoyed both, although I probably would not have done so had I known beforehand what I was eating. The squeaker tasted like chicken, and the kangaroo minced with bacon was most tasty. I was often glad to eat both in later years when times were hard and we were reduced to living off the land. (Note: I know the 'squeaker" is a bird of some kind but unsure exactly which. When I googled "squeaker" it showed the currawong which is native to southern Western Australia, so perhaps that is the bird that tasted like chicken.)
Narrikup siding is on the Great Southern Railway Line, handling a large amount of goods and many passsengers for an extensive farming area. At that time it had a small post office and a bush school, while Mrs Elliott's house was close by. Later a man named Sam Jolly built a small store in Hay River Road, near the siding, and Williamson and Pugh started up as dealers in produce, adjacent to the railway." (Note: When Phil and I visited Narrikup many years ago I took these photos of the old produce store and shop mentioned in mum's book. We visited the shop which had been Jolly's store and which is now run as a tearooms and souvenir/craft shop. We had morning tea and I bought a table lamp base made from a blackboy (now called a grass tree to be politically correct). I imagine at some time in my young years I would have gone into these stores with mum and dad. It was a strange feeling going into the shop so many years after I had left Narrikup. Quite eerie. Trains no longer run from Perth to Albany and haven't done so for many years which is a great pity.)
One man rather frightened me as I thought he might have improper designs, so I always got off the road when I saw him coming. Later I found him to be extremely nice, pleasant and quite harmless, and he told me he only watched my comings and goings because he knew I was a "new chum" and might not know the danger of wandering in the bush.
Harry was not having a good time. He had been given the job of collecting large pieces of ironstone in a spring cart over a 50 acre paddock, and he had not seen one animal. He asked Benstead about the animals and was told that the paddock had to be cleared before he could do anything about the sheep and cattle. Harry, whose hands were very sore from the unaccustomed rough work, realising he would be lifting ironstone for many more weeks, told Benstead that he was leaving as he felt he had been taken on under false pretences. Benstead must have been a very hard man because he wanted to charge Harry for his food, and refused to cart him and his gear to the siding.
So ended Harry's efforts to gain experience before actually starting farming on his own behalf. My stay with Mrs Elliott also ended, but I often stayed with her overnight when planning to catch the train into Albany in the early morning, and we remained friends for many years.
Our First Home in Western Australia
We decided to look for a small farm to rent in the Narrikup area and were told of a vacant place about four miles out from the siding which belonged to a widow named Mrs Parker. It had a small cottage on it and was partly furnished with the simple basics. As the rental was reasonable we arranged to take it over for a short period in order to gain experience. We had our crates sent up from Albany and bought the few additional items of furniture that we needed.
There was a small uncleared swamp on the block covered with tall rushes, and Harry decided to clear and plant it with potatoes as our first farming venture.
There was an old horse on the property and a poor looking single furrow plough with which Harry considered he might be able to make a start. Before doing anything else we were pesuaded to buy a few cows to provide us with milk, cream and butter, and to purchase some pedigree pigs from which to breed and, finally a small quantity of seed potatoes with which to plant the swamp.
I have head of much criticism of 'pommies' in Australia, and must agree that some of it appears to be deserved. On the other hand I must say that, from our personal experience, starting with Benstead, there are some Australians who will, without any compunction, take down any newcomer with whom they do business and considered it smart to do so.
Harry went to a man who was said to be a reputable agent, explained that we were newly arrived and inexperienced, and asked him to find us four really decent cows; a pedigree boar and sow; and a small quantity of seed potatoes. Later we discovered the cows were very poor; the boar was sterile; and the so-called seed potatoes were throw-outs, known as 'piggies'.
We should, of course, have taken legal action against the people concerned, but it was some time before we discovered how badly we had been taken down, so that was another unfortunate experience we had to write off. We later heard that the people in question had boasted about their smart deals and thought it a joke to take down a new chum. We never again trusted an Australian without a thorough investigation, and one family in particular became very suspect as far as we were concerned.
We had a spring cart and the one horse with which we carted our goods from the siding and we moved in, young and enthusiastic, determined to let nothing deter us from making a success of our farming venture.
Len, of course, was boarding in Albany, so Harry and I, two Simple Simons as far as living and farming in Australia were concerned, started the great adventure.
We decided to have a cup of tea and, for this, discovered that our only water was from the tank outside, fortunately full as there had been good rains. The Metters No. 1 stove was entirely different from anything we had seen before but we realised that, if we wanted to heat our water, we had to find some wood, and Harry gathered some twigs and kindling which boiled the kettle without trouble.
It was cool weather and we required some decent wood to keep the stove going in order to warm the cottage and cook our meals. Harry found a good dry log not far from the house and decided to split it up. His tools, brought from England, consisted of a small cold chisel and the usual domestic hammer. In addition he had a tomahawk and a small hand saw. In England, with our soft white wood, the log would have presented no problems, but this was very old and very dry jarrah, and although Harry did manage to get the cold chisel into a crack he never got it out again, nor did he make any impression on the log. This was our first experience of hard wood, and we ended up looking for dry boughs we could use until we had the correct tools to tackle the jarrah.
There were three neighbours within walking distance. The nearest, adjoining us was owned by an old English farmer type named Archer and his wife, together with their adult son and daughter (twins). They were certainly not friendly or neighbourly in any sense of the word and we left them well alone.
Beyond them and adjoining the Archers were Mr and Mrs Wallinger, also English with a family of small childrem and beyond them again was an elderly woman with a middle aged daughter, whose names I cannot recall." (I can remember over the years, mum talking fondly about the Wallinger family).
"Mr Wallinger came over to see us and was most friendly and helpful, and from him we learned that we needed a maul and wedges to deal with the jarrah log. He also told Harry to make a jarrah roller, and for this he required to cut down a straight tree from which to cut a length of about 6ft . Having found a likely tree Harry proceeded to cut straight through it. Of course, as soon as he neared the end the weight of the tree made it split up. After three attempts he woke up to the fact that he had to cut halfway from both sides and he finally achieved his purpose. I often wondered if anybody had written a book telling mugs what to do when they first came out to pioneer in Australia.
Thanks to acquaintances in Albany I was able to bake bread, and was delighted when my first attempt proved eatable. I had bought bread tins in Albany and, most important, a large dish in which to mix the dough and a small bath which served many purposes. We stood in the latter in order to have a daily washover.
We had acquired a number of kerosene tins, full and empty, and the boxes in which they were packed, and these filled a number of needs. For years my washing was boiled in a kerosene tin, we carried water in them, they were out milk buckets, our rubbish bins our washing-up dishes and, turned upside down, we used to sit on them and the boxes made good cupboards.
Everything we did was a source of amusement. and a good sense of humour carried us over many small tragedies. We often stopped and looked at one another and thought how different we were from the precise people who had left England a short time before.
Next we started on the swamp. We made everything a combined effort, and we had two new spades which had been sharpened according to Mr Wallinger's advice. Instead of cutting through the rushes on the surface and being left with the stubble, we were told to slide the spade below the surface under the rushes. when the whole thing came away clean.
It was a very hot day but we thought we had to get used to the heat and so we plodded away, stopping every now and again for a breather. We had not been going long when Mr Wallinger came along and told us we were quite made as it was 105ºF and nobody worked outside in the heat. It sas wonderful to be told that we could stop and not be thought slackers, and we took him in with us and we all enjoyed a cup of tea.
We finished clearing the swamp when the weather cooled, and then Harry started to plough it with the horse and single furrow plough. It was his first attempt at ploughing and he and the horse did not see eye to eye. I have never seen a more crooked furrow!"
How about we leave mum and dad there with mum feeling proud about her bread baking efforts and dad and the horse trying to come to terms with each other. When I come back I will have more tales to tell of the experiences that happened to this inexperienced twosome.