Monday, January 26, 2015


We left mum baking bread (among other things) and dad having horse problems.  They have just cleared the swamp and now want to plant some potatoes.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME' by Gertrude Ruston (pp. 58-62)    (Where I can I've added a few photos.   I hope I am not making these 'episodes' too long.  It is difficult to know just where to stop without breaking the continuity of the story).

"Mr Wallinger had told us that the seed potatoes we had been sold were only fit for pigs, but we decided to sort and plant the best of them, and I did the planting and put some fertiliser along the rows.  The resultant crop was terrible, but we did manage to obtain sufficient potatoes for our own personal use.

After finishing the swamp Harry decided to plant a vegetable garden, and chose a spot near the house which was covered in grass, and which he thought would be an easy job.  Poor Harry!  The grass turned out to be couch.  We had not seen couch grass before and, of course, the poor horse had no chance of getting through it.  As you may imagine, the result was a horrible mess, the grass patch was spoilt and we had no hope of a vegetable garden near the house.  It took us a long time to make it tidy again using our spades.

We had only been at the block a few weeks when Mr Wallinger came over one day and asked me to help his wife who was about to have a baby.  Although I had been a V.A.D. I had no knowledge of childbirth and told him I could not assist him, much as I would have liked to have done.  He said he could look after the birth as he had brought all his children into the world, but he wanted me to look after the children, do the washing and feed the family.  Can you imagine me faced with this?  I had always had charwomen, maids and housekeepers, and now had to try to wash for a family in kerosene tins, bake bread and cook for all of them.

Well, no doubt there were problems, but I do not remember much about them.  We overcame them, whatever they were, and the mother was soon up again with the new baby.  Nobody seemed the worse for wear for my poor efforts.  It had to be a case of giving a helping hand whenever it was needed in the bush.

In time we visited our other neighbours the elderly mother and her daughter. and were intrigued by their very comfortable home.  It had wooden uprights, and all the walls, inner and outer, were made of fertiliser bags, cleaned and whitewashed.  Flour bags were used for tea towels and aprons.  Furniture was made out of kerosene boxes, and the carpets on the floor were also made of bags.  I remember describing it when writing to mother as having canvas walls, and she wrote back that an old friend of ours had remarked - "how handy - you could paint your pictures straight on to them".

These people had a very nice flower and vegetable garden and we were very impressed with their home and surroundings.  We were very shocked to learn that, not long before we reached Australia, a man named Charlie Hyde, who was the son of the Mrs Parker from whom we were renting our place. had attacked the young woman and attempted to rape her.  He was put in Claremont Mental Asylum and everybody hoped he would remain there.

Meantime we had ordered food for the animals and, when fetching it from the siding in the spring cart, I had visited Mrs Elliott.  She was a widow with grown up children the only unmarried one being a daughter named Grace, a little younger than I.   Grace was working at a boarding house in Albany at the time, and when she came home to see her mother she brought with her a small puppy.  It was a delightful animal and I fell in love with it.  I asked Grace to let me have it she should decide to part with it.

At the time she wanted to keep it and took it back with her to the boarding house.  Like most puppies, it got into mischief and often took shoes, slippers, nighties and other articles belonging to the staff and visitors out onto the law, so Grace was told she could not keep it there.

That is how I became the owner of the puppy.  He name was Flossie and she was a much loved member of our family for many years.  She was beautiful to look at, easy to train, had a wonderful nature, and the whole district loved her.  Sad to say, when she was about 10 years old she developed a growth and the vet could do nothing for her,  She was suffering so we had no choice but to have her put to sleep.  We all grieved and we have never had another dog. " (Note:  I well remember mum talking about her beloved Flossie.  I have an idea she could have been a collie but don't recall ever being told what breed she was.)

"Dairy Farming

The cows had to be milked.  This was one skill that Harry had acquired in England and he taught me.  What a fool I was to learn!  We bought a separator and started to make butter which we sold in Albany.  Then we bought cream cans and sent the cream to Albany by train, receiving a monthly cream cheque from the butter factory; not a very large cheque but a very welcome one."  (Here is dad on the farm using the milk separator.  I have no idea how old this photo is or who took it or even which farm it was on).

" Keeping food was a problem in the bush and the only things available for the purpose were known as Coolgardie safes.  They were actually wooden frames covered in hessian, a water container on top from which strips of cloth carried water onto the hessian to keep it damp, and provided one remembered to replenish the water and take care no flies got in when the door was opened, most if us managed reasonably well.  In the towns they used ice chests and regular deliveries of ice were always available. "

 (The type of Coolgardie safe I remember was similar to the one mum described, but the water container on top had a small tap under it which dripped and kept the hessian covering of the safe damp at all times.  I feel it was a much more efficient cooler than the earlier one and you could regulate the drip rate.  My friend Judy had one of the later type on her back verandah at her home in Katanning n 1950s.)

"It was fun when Len arrived home for school holidays.  On one such occasion he was with us when our sow had to be taken over to a boar on a neighbouring farm.  The pedigree pigs were enormous, like small cows, and we wondered how we could transport it.  Harry had heard that it was possible to drive a pig with a rope on its leg, but our pig had other ideas, so Harry decided he would sink the wheels of the spring cart so that the pig could be driven into it.  Meantime I was told to hold the pig by the rope on its leg but, being very big and heavier than I, she pulled away.  Harry called out "sit on her" which I did and was taken for a ride around the paddock.  Can you imagine a very precise English girl, straight out from London, riding helplessly on a very large and determined black pig? " (I've often tried to imagine my mum on the bag of that pig and perhaps she looked a little like this.)

 "Harry managed to lower the cart and, with some problems we did eventually get "Krojan Jean" into the cart and tied down.  We had a plank which fitted across the sides of the cart for a seat and off we went.  Len opened the gate to let us through and, at that moment, the pig decided she had certainly had enough of this, so up she got and Harry and I and the seat were sent sprawling, much to Len's amusement.  Somehow we finally got the pig to her destination, but I often think how green we were and how the neighbours must have laughed at us.  We could certainly certainly have written a good yarn about our experience similar to "Dad and Dave". "   (Note:  Dad and Dave was a radio serial about a farming family that went to air for many years during the 1940s and perhaps beyond then).

"The pigs were fed with pollard and skim milk and did well; the cows improved and, after a while, having learned the hard way, we continued to work hard but to better purpose, and realised that the farm we were on would not provide us with a living so we began to look around for better land.

One day, while Len was still on holidays, Harry had to go to Albany on business and Len and I drove him to the siding at Chorkerup, a few miles away.  Before leaving I had baked a batch of bread and left it to cool on the kitchen table with a cloth over it.   We watched the train leave and then started for home at a leisurely pace, disturbing a few kangaroos along the way and enjoying the early morning in the bush.  After unharnessing the horse we went into the house to make a cup of tea.

Imagine our astonishment and concern to find a big fat man sitting at the table eating my new bread,  He had found himself some butter and made a cup of tea, having eaten nearly two of the loaves.  I guessed he was the infamous Charlie Hyde and was very scared.  He wanted to know what we were doing there and said it was his place.  I told him his mother had rented it to us and asked him to leave but he refused  There was an old fashioned couch in the kitchen on which he lay down and went to sleep.  I did not know what to do.  I was afraid to leave him alone for fear of him setting fire to the place, and I could not risk leaving Len with him."  (I can imagine what must have been going through mum's mind when confronted by this man that she knew was dangerous."  (I am so glad he slept so soundly and did no harm, apart from helping himself to two loaves of bread.   I borrowed this free picture from the internet and would think the guy would have looked perhaps a little like this.)

"In the end we had some lunch and did a few odds and ends round the house until it was time to fetch Harry from the train.  The man was still asleep and I took Len with me and chanced whether or not it was wise to leave the place.  When we reached home nothing untoward had happened and the visitor was still asleep.   Harry woke him up and told him to get out but he refused and said it was his home.
Apparently he had walked out of Claremont Asylum and continued down the railway line until he reached the farm which must have been about 300 miles, which explained his hunger and the fact that he was very tired.

Harry went to the neighbours and discovered that Charlie had a sister married to Claude Harris, one of the larger local farmers.  The latter arranged to take Charlie over, got in touch with the authorities, and Charlie was returned to Claremont to finish his term.  Years later, in Perth, I saw him in the distance but he did not recognise me.  He was still extremely fat, and the story went that he had been given treatment and was no longer a danger.  Whether or not this was the case we did not discover, but he had obviously been released from the mental hospital.

I took Len back to Albany at the end of his school holidays and stopped overnight at the Clifton boarding house,  It was there that I had my first experience of bed bugs.  I had no idea what they were when I was attacked by them in the dark and was nearly driven made with the irritation.  The rooms were lined with match boarding and, when I put the light on, I saw the wretched things disappearing into the grooves.  I was scared of taking the pests home with me and put everything I had been wearing into disinfectant as a precaution."  (I've heard of bed bugs and even that there is an epidemic of them in some of Perth's suburbs but fortunately we don't have that problem.  This is a picture of the one of the horrible little critters).

"It made a change to spend a few hours in Albany, but I did not wish to remain there.  I was quite happy on the farm and fascinated by the animals and birds and the deadly quiet of the bush at night."

We now have mum and dad settling in nicely and learning the right and wrong ways to farm.  There is a search underway for more, or another, piece of land.   The decision they make will be revealed in the exciting next episode of this epic of the Ruston family.  This is beginning to remind me of one of those radio serials we used to listen to each night when I was a youngster.   I do hope you are continuing to enjoy it.   I know I am enjoying re-reading mum's story and sharing it with you). 


  1. Hari Om
    Indeed, the radio analogy is dead right Mimisie! ..and it is keeping us hooked. &*> Bed bugs? Yeauuuchh,,, I have encountered them once - nasty little blighters. YAM xx

    1. Thanks Yam and next episode along ASAP. It's taking me a while to type these days as the ring finger on my left hand is playing up and is slowing me down a little.
      Have never experienced bed bugs and hate the thought. Once had a run in with fleas when away and that was bad enough. xx

  2. Fascinating story....can't wait to get the next installment.

    1. Thanks installment here soon. Watch this space!!!

  3. Oh Mimsie I do understand their learning the lessons of how to farm and not to farm:) That is a nice big riding pig:) Great story Mimsie. Hug B

    1. Thanks Buttons. You would certainly understand about learning farming lessons. You've been there and done that. xx

  4. It is truly fascinating. Thank you Mimsie.

    1. I find it incredible how two middle class English people could persevere like that. Stiff upper lip and all that perhaps? They were both full of determination not to fail. Thank you EC.

  5. Bed bugs are rampant here in Adelaide too, especially in some of the cheaper hostels where the backpackers stay.
    Dad and Dave certainly did last past the 40s, I remember we all sat around the radio and listened to it about 6.30 in the evenings on Sundays. There was another radio serial too called Greenbottle which was very funny and still another called (I think) Blue Hills.
    I'm having a giggle at the pig stories, imagining your mum sitting on the pig and getting a ride. A bit horrified to think that Charlie Hyde found his way home, but relieved nothing bad happened.
    I'm a little bemused at the "always had charwomen, maids and housekeepers". To me, those are things rich people have.
    Your mum did really well to look after a new mum and all the other kids besides, that's a job and a half for sure!

    1. There were many radio serials and some were on nightly. Apart from Dad and Dave there were Martin's Corner, When a Girl Marries, Courtship and Marriage and of course Greenbottle whom we all loved. I feel Blue Hills came a little later and Mum was a devotee of that one. She amused me when she spoke of "Granny" as though she was a real person. I think it was only for a short time each evening but if you happened to ring mum at that time she'd always say "I'll ring you back. Blue Hills is on."
      I used to try and visualise mum on that pig's back. Hilarious.
      You have to remember mum's father was quite well off and she lived with him until he threw she, her mother and sister out. I still think he supported them quite well and she and dad had a housekeeper when they married. I don't think mum had really had to do a lot of menial tasks prior to them taking up farming but she handled the challenge the same as she handled all challenges in her long life, including looking after that family without mishap.
      I am glad you are enjoying the story of this little family of mine.