Thursday, January 29, 2015


We left mum and dad wanting to acquire more land as they felt they would not make a living on their present property.  Here we also read about 'how the other half lives" and how sheer grit and determination wins the day once again.  Not a lot of excitement in this episode but to me still quite interesting, but then I suppose it would be as after all, they were my folks.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston (pp. 62-66)     (with pictures added by yours truly to embellish the tale a little).

"The Second Property

Close by Chorkerup siding there was another small swamp which was unoccupied.  Harry made application for it and it was granted to him.  Nearby there was a family which was rather well-known in the district for 'borrowing', and we were warned to avoid 'lending' because that would mean the article or item of food would not be returned.

The father seemed to spend his days by the fire with books and could quote Henry Lawson to all and sundry, while his wife and daughter had to cart water from a distant swamp.  The living quarters were a humpy; the bags rather the worse for wear; the beds were made of bush timber and bags; kerosene tins and boxes provided the furniture; while a birch broom provided the only means of sweeping out the rubbish.

There were five children - 2 girls and 3 boys - and everybody sat around on the floor and dipped into a saucepan of soup mostly made of kangaroo, rabbit, squeaker or some other wild creature, which the boys had managed to shoot with their .22 rifle.  Even the eight year old had a gun, and they were all encouraged to go shooting for tucker.  I often had a lucky escape from their shots.

The mother and father were educated people but they never bothered to send their children to the bush school, nor they they have decent clothes.  The mother was generally wearing a chaff bag with a hole cut for the neck and two for her arms, and two slits fastened with safety pins to permit her to feed the baby.  I often wondered how an educated woman could sink so low.

Once again we set about planting potatoes, but this time we had a 3-furrow plough, three horses, as well as good seed potatoes and the required amount of fertiliser.  The soil was not the best but we had a reasonable crop of spuds, and the neighbour's boys came to dig for us.  They were quite nice boys and we paid them the ruling rate for the job, so much per bag  However, we were living away from the property, and there was no way of knowing how many potatoes went home with the boys each night or were gathered after dark!

Being close to the siding the carting of the saleables was reasonably easy and empty trucks were left for the purpose.  The smaller potatoes were brought home for me to sort into seed potatoes and those suitable only for the pigs or fowls.

We rigged up a sloping sorting table with a wire netting base, which allowed the dirt and small potatoes to fall through, and made it quite easy to sort the good seed from the rejects, and the seed was retained for the next crop.  Williamson and Pugh handled most of the potatoes in the district. although Harry used to sell some direct to Barnetts in exchange for goods, and to an agent by the name of Knight.

This was one more step on the way to achieving our goal but we were still hoping for something better.

We Move

It had become known that we were looking for another property, preferably with a swamp, and Harry was approached by a man named Jim Carty, a railway ganger from Redmond, a district nearby, whose wife ran a small local post office there.  Carty owned a property about a mile from Redmond siding on which there was a large peat swamp which had never been cleared and which was extremely boggy.  He offered Harry the use of the swamp and property for a limited period in return for us clearing and ploughing it.  Local people warned Harry that the swamp, about ten acres, was so very boggy that he would never be able to plough it.  It was winter time when we saw it and it was under water, but Harry had made up his mind that we could and would do it, and he agreed to the terms.

There was no house on the property but there was a house on the other side of the adjacent bush road belonging to a man named Harry Tanner.  The Tanners wanted to leave the district and told Harry we could occupy the house if we took over an extremely good vegetable garden and cared for it until it matured, when we were to sell the produce and pay the owner half the proceeds.  It was a very good offer and we were delighted to accept it.

The house was a four roomed jarrah structure lined with match boarding, which was excellent for our needs and quite good by bush standards.

We spent a great deal of time caring for those wonderful vegetables, and when they were ready to market they were absolutely magnificent.  Harry and I decided to go to Albany together to arrange for their disposal and we were offered a very good price.

Imagine our horror when we returned at night to find a herd of cows feeding on the vegetables, and what they had not eaten they had trampled down.  Had it been our own produce it would have been bad enough, but we had just arranged to sell them on behalf of the owner, and I think Harry would have shot the beasts had he possessed a gun.  As it was he decided to milk them and drove them into the cowshed.  He found all the cows were dry and the last in line was a bull!!

The place was very well fenced and we felt sure it had been deliberately broken down to allow the cattle into the property, as it was the first time we had seen them anywhere near, and the only time we had been absent at the same time.

Harry demanded compensation but without success, and we had the very unpleasant job of explaining the disaster to Mr Tanner.  He was very decent about it and we felt possibly some of the neighbours had told him what happened.  Fortunately we were allowed to continue living in the house.

The locals had not exaggerated when they warned us about Carty's swamp.  Clearing and planting it was a nightmare.  First of all we had to clear and burn the rushes which were about 5ft high, and it was so boggy that we could hardly stand up on it.  It was a tremendous job to cover the large area, and we had to follow the water down and stack the rushes to dry before burning.  I remember we both had to wear rubber boots or our feet would have been wet all the time.  However, everything comes to an end, and eventually we had the satisfaction of seeing the rushes cleared and burnt and the swamp dry enough to commence potato planting.

We had bought excellent seed potatoes and the necessary potato fertiliser.  All the locals said we would never be able to plant the swamp. and there were times when we wondered how far we would get.  It was not possible to employ labour as our capital was going downhill, and we had to look at every penny in order to keep Len at Albany High School as long as possible.

A short trial run proved that the horses could not pull the plough without becoming bogged, but they were able to do the job if we put a carpet of potato bags down to stop them sinking.  The horses were scared of the swamp but as long as the bags were there to hold them up, they were able to carry on.  This meant we could only plough a few yards at a time and then pull out the bags and rearrange them after the horses had trodden them into the peat.

I planted the seed potatoes, Harry ploughed and replenished the fertiliser distributor from time to time, and we both arranged the bags for our poor horses.  It was hard work for the animals but they had frequent rests while we changed the bags, and there was a respite at the end of each furrow.  I doubt whether Australians would have undertaken this task and I am sure that they thought us quite mad.  It was a mammoth task, but we accomplished it and the resultant crop was magnificent.  Once ploughed the swamp firmed down and there was no more trouble.  In later years a machine called a rotatiller was available, which was capable of going over the surface and breaking up the peat so that it could be ploughed.

It was impossible to wear shoes in the wet peat and rubber boots were too clumsy for planting, so I had to wrap my feet in rags to prevent them from becoming sore.  Over the years Harry and I planted some hundred of acres of potatoes and we had some excellent crops despite scab, frost and floods on various properties.  When crops were ready we engaged men at contract rates per bag to dig the potatoes.  They picked up the larger ones, known as saleables, first and then the seed size and piggies together for sorting at the shed.  We would follow along and sew the tops of the bags ready for carting.  The saleables were put in stencilled bags and sent to the siding to be railed for marketing, the name of the grower and origin being clearly marked.

After sending them away we would wait anxiously to hear whether there would be enough from their sale to buy food and fertiliser to see us through another year. *A great deal depended on the Eastern States; if they had surplus crops they often flooded our market and dragged down the price, and the Federal constitution prevented action being taken to stop them dumping their excess interstate.

A rough calculation of the size of the crop as it was dug gave a fair indication of the possible result.  It was estimated that a bag of saleables standing every chain (22 yards) meant a four ton crop per acre."

There we once again leave the busy farmers working away,  and next we see how they meet up with others in the area and lead a more social life which they richly deserve.

* Western Australians often felt 'put upon' by those in the eastern states of Australia and on 8 April, 1933 a secession referendum was held in Western Australia on the topic of withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth.  The proposal was accepted and a petition was sent to London where a Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament ruled it invalid because it had come from a State and not the Commonwealth.  Voting was compulsory and the result was 138,653 in favour of secession with 70,706 against.   The establishment of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in 1933 did help address some of the grievances that motivated the secessionist movement.  A strong secessionist movement still exists in Western Australia and the subject frequently comes up in discussions about how many Western Australians feel about the matter in general.  (Whenever I feel W.A. has been hardly done by I say to Phil "It's time to secede!!!" and at times he agrees with me.)


  1. If people today had to work that hard to survive they would just throw up their hands and quit.

    1. I couldn't agree more Delores although I think in some countries people still have many uphill battles to earn a living.

  2. Delores is right. The cost of our food in sheer effort is largely hidden.

    1. We in Australia in particular do take too much for granted and forget the labour involved in production of many food products.

  3. The worked involved is staggering! Excellent recounting of a hard life.

    1. Thank you Susan. Even today I still admire the fortitude those two wonderful people had to continue battling on regardless of all setbacks.

  4. Even now we are still put upon by the Eastern states. I'm sure many of them think there is nothing at all west of the Blue Mountains. Perhaps they should all read blogs and "discover" us. Ha Ha.
    Interesting story about the potato planting, like I said earlier, I wouldn't have thought a swamp would be at all suitable, but now I've learned that once plowed a swamp settles down. Glad to hear your parents got such good yields, that's a lot of chips and mash!
    How awful to read of those cows being deliberately let in to that vegetable patch though. Utterly reprehensible!

    1. So our neighbours in SA feel somewhat as we in WA do? Perhaps our 2 states and the NT should all secede and pit our wits against those eastern staters? That would really put the cat among the pigeons.
      Your vivid imagination is showing when you speak of chips and mash in regard to the volume of spuds grown. I had to mile at that.
      From what mum and dad said over the years there appeared to be a lot of jealousy between some farmers and, in mum and dad's case, may be resentment that 'new chums' would dare to persevere the way they did.

  5. Hari OM
    Just realised that the comment I thought I had left must have been 'swallowed' by the ether - I was here I promise!!! YAM xx

    1. No worries my friend, a I know you are always close by in spirit if not in person.
      I wish they'd find the monster out there that sometimes 'swallows' our comments or the one that at times doesn't even allow one to post a comment. Modern technology is wonderful and will be even better when they iron out all the kinks. xx