Wednesday, February 11, 2015


We left the pair gradually getting back on their feet after a series of setbacks and thinking about finding a house to live in after 18 months in their makeshift humpy.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston.  (pp 79-83)  (I have added some little pictures to help carry the story along plus two family pics which I am so glad I have.  One of "The Pines" .. the farm in Narrikup...and one of dad using the separating machine.  The other pics are free ones I obtained by googling what I wanted).


We found a suitable place about four miles from Narrikup siding and a short distance from the Hay River Road, and were fortunate enough to obtain it from the government.

The house was not perfect but, after our humpy it seemed a palace to us.  It had four rooms and was built of *jarrah with polished jarrah lining throughout, and we made ourselves quite comfortable there.  Unfortunately white ants had moved in at some time but they did no worry us and they may have left because we did not fall through floors or walls."  (I may be wrong but I seem to remember, as a small child, discovering a room on the back of the house that had no floorboards but you could walk in there on the bearers.  I think it may have been where the white ants had been before they had been destroyed.  I am sure I spoke to mum about it but can't recall exactly what she told me.)

"The kitchen was fairly large, had a good Metters No. 3 wood stove, and it even had a tap through the wall from the tank which saved many steps.  There was not a sink but that would have been an unexpected luxury, and the waste water served to keep the grass growing round the house.

There was a small lake about half a mile away which provided water for stock during dry periods, and in which we were able to have a dip occasionally in the evening when the weather was hot,  There was a reasonably good dam on the farm but we had to cart water for the animals at the end of a long dry summer.

It was mainly on this property at Narrikup that, of necessity, I became proficient at milking, bread making, butter, cheese and bacon producing.  I had, of course, tackled them before but never to the same extent.  Milking was done by hand and separating by hand operated machine.  The herd increased and we took the cream to the siding regularly and received a good monthly cheque.  We were almost self-sufficient and only needed a supply of dry goods and occasional fresh meat.

The swamp was very good peat and produced excellent crops, many of the potatoes being exceptionally large.  We sent a few of these outsize saleables to Boans and Bairds (both now Myer), with whom we dealt.  They both exhibited them in their windows in Perth, and we received orders for the seed from the crops, the proceeds from which we bought our dry goods for the year, everything being ordered in large quantities.

We called the property "The Pines" because it had a magnificent double row of pines on one side of the house and a single row on the other side.  These provided marvellous shade and were also a good wind break."  (I can remember as a child how I used to love to walk under the pines and feel the needles crunch under my feet.  This is the only photo of 'The Pines" that I have and it was probably taken a year or two before I was born, ca 1930-31.  I have a nice little collection of tiny black and white photographs taken in the early 1930s).

"The herd had now increased to 30 cows, which I often milked on my own, starting at about 5 a.m. and finishing about 8 a.m. when it was breakfast time.  The unfortunate thing about cows is that they never have a day off and neither do you if you are milking them.  Meantime Harry was busy with the other work, and he did the separating while I cooked the breakfast."   (I am not sure when this photo of dad with the separator was taken but I imagine it would be in Narrikup as there don't seem to be any other photos prior to that time.  Quite possibly ca 1930/31, a year or two before I arrived on the scene).

"By this time we had realised we were very foolish to buy loads of chaff from the merchants with which to feed the stock.  There was not a great deal of goodness in the chaff, and we thought it much more profitable to start growing our own hay as is done in England.  At this time very few people around had hay stacks but we decided to grow our own grain and chaff it.  We bought a secondhand chaff cutter and were very proud indeed when we had our first stack of hay.  No more carting of chaff!  We had to toss the hay before stacking it to be sure it dried properly, and while doing this one day I was terrified to see an enormous black snake depart hurriedly.  As you can imagine, I watched very closely after that when tossing hay.  Most farmers now have haystacks, and clover is planted in between the trees instead of laboriously clearing the whole paddock as we used to do.
 You often read of people being bitten by snakes so it is strange that, although we had a number of frights and near misses none of us were bitten.  On one occasion, soon after we arrived in W.A., Harry was following me along a narrow cow path and saw me tread on three small snakes.  I was wearing rubber boots, and the snakes were certainly not looking for trouble, but it gave me a jolt and I soon found it necessary to take them seriously.  When fencing, and we did a great deal of that through uncleared bush, snakes reared up and hissed at me but nothing happened when I left them alone.

When we arrived in W.A. the Australian wood stove and camp oven were exciting new experiences but, with kindly help, I had soon become proficient.  I even managed to use a hay box after a few failures.  (You can Google 'hay box' to find out what they are).

Camping out was another new adventure and I recall sleeping under a spring cart and, during hot weather, in the open when planting a crop on a distant block where there was no building.

We needed a cowshed and Harry thought we could copy one from a plan he had seen in a farm magazine.  We erected it by ourselves, and made it large enough to take ten cows at a time.  We would put the feed ready in each bail, the cows would go into their own stalls and, by moving a rod at the end they would all be fixed in automatically.  It was a complete success, especially for a man not particularly good with tools.  We had one old cow named Rosy who was extremely wise and an expert at moving sliprails.  If we were not watching she would let the rails down and let all the animals in or out, depending on what she wanted to do."  (It may not have been quite as flash as this but I imagine the cow shed looked similar to this one).

"The cows would often be feeding on a hill nearby and we only had to tell our dog to fetch them and down they would all come.  She also fetched the horses for us and they used to race her down to the shed.

It was on that same hill paddock in the early morning that we often watched kangaroos feeding.  Sometimes they appeared to be having a fight and, strange to say, they fight as men do, using their fists like boxing gloves.  Quite interesting and entertaining to watch, but annoying to see them eating our precious feed, especially when there were a dozen or so in the paddock.

At times we used, from necessity, to kill kangaroos when we had no meat  There were times when we were obliged to eat kangaroo for long periods - we either did so or went hungry.  The tail makes excellent soup.

In the winter, when there were ducks on the swamp, Harry would sometimes be lucky enough to shoot one or two for us to eat, which made a welcome change of diet.  When visiting in the bush I have eaten many meals without knowing of what they consisted.

There were times when it was not possible to write home as we had no money for a postage stamp, nor indeed for anything.  We mostly had a bag of flour so that we could make bread a bag or part of a bag of sugar to keep us going, butter and cream from the farm; pork and all that was necessary to make bacon. as well as some bacon hanging up in bags from the last curing.  We could live from the land, and we were undoubtedly more fortunate than many folks during the Depression, as we wee not hungry at any time.  We had learned the way to catch our own food and managed to get some rabbits at times.

Tommy, the cat, often raided a rabbit burrow and brought home one or two small rabbits, which he had caught overnight.  He used to put them behind the kitchen door, which was left open, and next morning we might suddenly see a small paw sticking out.  He apparently ate his fill and brought the rest into the house to store.  I don't know whether or not he could count, but he didn't seem to mind sharing his catch.  Rabbits were trapped all over the bush for food and skins, as this was before the wholesale poisoning commenced.

With everything that had been happening I think we were beginning to get on each other's nerves somewhat and at times I found it difficult to do anything to please Harry and seemed to be constantly in hot water.  I remember one particular morning when I had taken all I could stand and he came along grumbling about something or other.  I was at the kitchen door and had a dish of washing-up water in my hands ready to throw on the garden, and I let fly with it.  Harry stood there with the water dripping all over him and didn't say a word.  It was wonderful to get my own back and I really shocked him that time.

After a long period of hard work and no relaxation there was to be a friendly social in the Narrikup Hall.  Everybody turned up to these neighbourly affairs with their children and, of course, a plate of eats.  Harry didn't dance and refused to go along and, to his annoyance, I accepted an invitation to go with a nearby family.  He was quite cross when I reached home with the neighbours after a pleasant evening and then he handed me a telegram addressed to me telling me of my grandmother's death.  I felt he had held on to the telegram for a day or two and then given it to me to spoil what had been a pleasant evening.  I was really cross and I hit him and he hit me back - the only time that I can remember that happening."  (I never knew dad to be spiteful but with the pressure they had been under, mum's going off without him may have been just too much for him and, although I am sure he trusted here, he had a jealous nature.)

*Jarrah is a Western Australian hardwood, very long wearing and said to be reasonably resistant to white ants (termites).   Much of the jarrah forest was chopped down by the early settlers and in fact some of the streets of London were lined with jarrah blocks which gives an indication of how hardwearing it is.   In later years it developed jarrah dieback which decimated much of the forest and strict laws were brought in to endeavour to stop the spread of this disease.

Boans and Bairds are two Perth stores I remember so well from my youth.  Bairds was the store that most farmers dealt with and the slogan was they sold everything from a nail to an anchor or something similar.  Boans was bought by Myer who promised to faithfully keep the name Boans but it only took a couple of years before the name of Boans disappeared from Perth city.  Bairds was rebuilt and a very large Myer store now stands in its place  ....  or at least I think it does as it is some years since I was in the city.

I am going to leave my good folks there (neither in the best of humour) as I don't want to make these episodes too long or they will become boring.  Would you prefer I left the pics out (except any that are my own) or do you think they help with the story?  Your wish is my command.


  1. I have got very spoilt. I do like running water inside. One of our early homes didn't have it, and I remember how much work it made.
    Your parents worked so very hard. It must have been terrifying sometimes wondering how (and whether) they could keep the wolf from the door.

    1. I too like running water although at one time I didn't have a sink for a while.
      I still find it difficult to comprehend how two people from England managed to survive all they did and live through it. Talk about tenacity.

  2. Hari OM
    Crikey Mimsie, this is as good a read as A Town Like Alice... regarding the piccies - illustrations are always good! YAM xx

    1. Thanks Yam. Actually Fremantle Press (whom mum had read the manuscript) likened her story to A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey. They wanted her to split her book into two but she refused so went to another publisher who I feel, in many ways, let her down badly by wanting her to contribute to costs.
      Will continue to add pics as and where I think they are appropriate. Hopefully as the book progresses I will have our own photos to include. xx

    2. Hari OM
      Oh yes, I had momentarily forgotten A Fortunate Life - another excellent OZ-tale!!! I suppose the splitting in two would have been perhaps to generate a wider income, getting folk to buy into the ongoing story... Have to say publishing has not changed that much - most of the time authors have to fork out some cash somewhere along the line. Even in e-publishing! xx

  3. Sounds like things are starting to look up for them here. I don't mind if the pictures stay or go...I know they are a lot of work to insert. I would ask you to rethink red print as it is very very hard to read.

    1. I don't find the pics too difficult to pop in so will try and keep them relevant to the story.
      Sorry about the red print. On my screen it is a brilliant colour but all computer are different. From now, no more red print. : )

  4. Laughing at your Mum letting fly with the waste water!
    I don't mind the pictures, they break up a long text. I like reading a long story, but if my eyes are feeling tired a picture helps to 'rest' them a bit.

    1. Mum must have been really fed up to do that as she was usually such a well composed lady.
      I will try to keep the episodes a little shorter but at times it is difficult to know where to stop in order not to break up the story too much.
      Thanks so much for sticking with us.