Thursday, February 5, 2015


We left the farmers, who now have their son Len home with them, still trying to make a go of it.  It's hard to imagine that things could get worse but get worse they certainly do.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston.   (pp 70-75)  (*I have added pictures to help illustrate the story.)

"Flood and Fire

Christmas in Australia always seemed topsyturvy as it occurred in summer instead of winter and although we mostly celebrated it to the best of our ability, it has never really seemed to same. Having our own chickens and ducks we mostly had poultry for Christmas dinner, often accompanied with a piece of our own pork or bacon.

We also had a Christmas pudding, the nearest approach to a traditional Christmas cake, mince pies and other home made goodies.

Somehow we managed to scrape up a few presents, but they were mostly essential items of clothing of which we were sadly in need, and which we could buy on credit from the store, and pay for when the crop came out.  Every farmer depended on his storekeeper for credit.

Country districts mostly hold picnics on Boxing Day and they are very happy affairs, each family taking along a share of the food.  We all started off one hot day dressed for summer and looking forward to a jolly time.  

 All the local neighbours and friends came along, and we were busily engaged organising races and games when one family arrived loaded up with umbrellas and raincoats.  They said it had been predicted by a reliable weather forecaster, whose name I think was Wragg, that there would be very heavy rain later in the day and they had always found him accurate. Nobody took them seriously as it was such a glorious day without a sign of a cloud.  However, towards the end of the afternoon it gradually clouded over and by 5p.m. we certainly were not laughing.  It rained in torrents for hours and we all realised that, unless it stopped, our crops would all be under water in the swamps.

There was to be a fancy dress that evening in the little local hall and we all went along despite the rain, hoping it would stop and that the crops could be saved.  Harry didn't want to dress up but I wore a white suit of his and blackened myself as a darkie, taking care to put some grease on my skin first so that it would wash off easily.  Mrs Levitzke went as a native gin and we paired up.  We tried to enjoy ourselves but the sound of the continual rain on the roof was frightening, and the only ones who really had fun were the youngsters.  Len went as a peirrot, and I remember making his hat with white paper decorated with black paper blobs.

It was still raining when we went home and kept on all night, so next day the crops were under water and a total loss,  It was our last crop on Carty's place and would have been a bumper.  This meant we had no money, bills to meet, and no prospects.

We still had the small place at Chorkerup which had a small swamp on it which was not waterlogged, so we decided to try to plant a quick crop on it in an effort to save something from the tragedy.  There was no building on it, but I put some bags over a framework that had been used for passion vines, and Harry and I slept under that while we started the planting.

While we were away we left Len in charge of the home at Redmond, so that he could take care of the animals which were running on Carty's block, particularly a very nice young foal from my mare Betty.

On the following Sunday morning Len got up and made himself some breakfast and then went out to play cricket.  In the evening when he returned home he found the house burnt to the ground.  It must have been a great shock to him.  There was nothing he could do so he had to come along and tell us the bad news.  It was about the last straw and we wondered how much more we could take.  We were both quite stunned but I don't think we put the blame on Len at all.  The place was near a road and a lighted cigarette end, thrown carelessly, could have done the damage on such a day with the temperature in the vicinity of 105ºF and high wind blowing.

There was not a thing we could do in the dark so we all camped down after giving Len some tea and decided to go over in the morning.  I think Harry felt responsible for having left the boy in charge."  (it must have been heartbreaking arriving home to find a scene similar to this one.  There would have been no walls standing as the house was made of timber)

"Although we knew what had happened, it was still a terrible shock.  The only things left standing were the kitchen stove, the framework of an open fireplace, the burnt iron from the roof and the water tank; even the tank stand had gone.  It seemed impossible to believe that we had lost all our personal treasures, and we scraped about amongst the ashes in the hope that something had survived, but the only thing we found was Harry's M.B.E. medal.  The ribbon and clasp had gone, but the medal itself must contain an allow that does not melt.  (Later the ribbon and clasp were replaced)"  (The medal in its box would probably have looked a lot like this.  This is an MBE from 1918)

Sadly for Harry he lost many medals and a file of newspaper cuttings acquired when he was leading soccer player in England.  He had had his County Cap and had also played for England. " (Dad played as goalie for Tottenham Hotspurs)

 "In addition I lost medals for elocution, singing certificates and a collection of precious photographs.  The frame of a valuable canteen of cutlery, which had been a wedding present, fell to pieces when we touched it.  Being a jarrah dwelling lined with matchboarding it as easy to imagine how quickly it had been consumed.

For the time time in our lives we were almost completely penniless.  The only clothes we had were those we were wearing for work at the time, and we had a meagre supply of camping utensils and food at Chorkerup.  It was very hard to keep a stiff upper lip after this double catastrophe in two weeks and without a roof over our heads.

As far as we were concerned that would have been the end of the matter but neighbours, who were deeply concerned for us, thought the fire could have been deliberately lit, as the owners of the house had a fire some years previously for which they had claimed insurance.

Thinking they were being helpful they advised the police of the fire without our knowledge.  Enquiries revealed that the place was insured and the trackers were called in.  There is no doubt about the ability of native trackers,  It was found that Len had lighted a fire with wood chips to make his breakfast and forgot to close the door of the stove - it was still open.  Without thinking it seemed he had left a container of wood chips in front of the stove and, being a very hot windy day it was assumed that a spark must have blown from the stove, caught the chips alight and the wind did the rest.

When the police found how the accident had happened they asked Harry to go to see them in Albany.  Fortunately we had a little money with us for his fare and to buy a little food. 

While Harry was away I walked down to Redmond to collect our mail and to post a letter to my mother, telling her of the fire, ad asking her to send me any surplus things she and my sister Amy may have about the place, explaining that we had nothing and would welcome anything at all they could spare. 

Poor Len!!  He was, of course, the only one of us who knew what had happened and must have been very worried and felt very guilty.  When I left to go to Redmond, instead of doing a small job on the farm that Harry had asked him to do, Len took his pony and cleared out while we were both absent and didn't even leave note.

When I returned to the camp and discovered that Len had gone I decided to walk to Chorkerup siding to meet Harry at the train, because I wanted to tell him, while other people were present, that Len had
taken his pony and gone before either of us knew the tracker's findings, or had spoken to Len about what they had told us.

Harry had managed to get a very small amount of credit in Albany with which to buy a few necessities, including some clothes for Len.  After a few days we were told he was working a few miles away for a farmer we knew and Harry sent the clothes on to him.  Len did not acknowledge them and we did not see him again for some years.

The last blow, and really a heartbreak to e was the loss of my foal  The poor creature was caught in the fence at Carty's place and had died there.  I sometimes wondered how much more we could really take.

Only a person who has been burnt out can realise that nothing remains - not so much as a duster.  I heard later that the local farmers, badly hit themselves through the flood, had offered us some help but Harry was too proud to accept it.  Once again we had to pass on bad news to the owner of the house, but as he was insured he made no claim against us.  Our association with him regarding the vegetables and the house had been disastrous and we were glad that he had been covered by insurance.

We had to provide ourselves with some decent shelter and there was no money with which to buy anything.  While Harry was working on the crop I went into the bush and cut down straight saplings and put them into the ground in a square to provide a temporary home.  It had to be a lean-to and I cut the necessary lengths for a roof, which Harry put on.

The burnt out iron from the fire was of no value to anybody and we were allowed to take it to keep out the weather.  It had numerous holes in it, of course, some of which we were able to fill with solder.  For the rest I put up an inside system of gutters to take care of any leaks.  The old burnt out fireplace was used, and the stove from the burnt house became the kitchen stove, and stood in what we made the kitchen/living room.

Fertiliser bags, of which we had a good supply, were sewn together to make outer and dividing walls, and also to act as carpets which we changed weekly, hanging the dirty one on the fence for the sand to be beaten out.  The bags on the walls were whitewashed and, if very rough, looked clean and respectable.  I gathered together kerosene tins and boxes of all kinds and made furniture from them.  Even quite comfortable armchairs were made from boxes and bags.  Necessity is certainly the other of invention!

We managed to get a secondhand double bed and a cheap kitchen table while we gradually gathered a few cups, plates, and cutlery, the minimum for our needs.  Annie Dakin got down to basics, bless her, and sent me a few essential personal things including a pair of scissors, pins, needles and some cotton.

Without my family in England things would have been much more difficult.  They sent out surplus clothing, linen, and so many essential and useful items, and being secondhand we did not have to pay duty on them.

Mother was very upset about our misfortunes but I tried to portray things in a humerous light rather than making it sound too tragic.  After all, I said, we were pioneering and were still young enough to make it.

When there is a calamity now (1980) caused by such things as flood, fire and cyclone, help is available from a special fund set up for the purpose, but there was no such assistance in our day and it was simply a case of sink or swim.

Harry was President of the local Farmers' Association, and we had meetings in our bush humpy.  Everybody enjoyed our simple hospitality and applauded what we had done.  They were especially impressed with my indoor guttering system, also whitewashed, which, if not ornamental, certainly worked.

We had a mixed crowd of visitors, some curious, some concerned with farming, others with railway transport, education and so on.  There were enough children living close to Chorkerup siding to warrant a small bush school, and the Education Department had been asked to consider the matter. The Inspector of Schools who came down happened to be a distant cousin of my father's, of whom I had heard and, even had I not known his name I could not have missed the family likeness.

P.R. had told me there was a William Rockliff in W.A. who had been over in England during the 1914/18 war and calling on my father, had expected to be treated as a V.I.P. and to have the local band and red carpet put out for him.  When this did not happen, because they were all too busy with the war, he more or less refused to have anything more to do with the family in England.

He lacked manner and was certainly quite rude to me, and I gathered that our humble abode was beneath his social status,  Perhaps I was paid out for the family's apparent neglect of him in England.  I have since learned that he was most unpopular in the Education Department here.

That is a good place to leave our intrepid pair.  In our next episode we will see if there is any more disaster awaiting them.

*All photos shown so far (except the one of dad using the milk separator) have been obtained free from the internet.   Up to this point I had not arrived on the scene and, of course, all photographs mum and dad had were destroyed in the fire.


  1. Oh this brought tears what a terrible thing to happen. I cannot imagine what that would have been like for you. I DO know tough times while growing up and farming but have never had to deal with anything like that. You are so strong. HUG B

    1. Hi Buttons. Actually while all this disaster was happening I'd not yet arrived on the scene. Len was nearly 21 when I was born and I come along later in the story.
      Whenever I see or hear of people losing their home to fire it always makes me think of what mum and dad went through. xx

  2. It's hard to absorb just how difficult life was for pioneering families.

    1. Yes Delores, even though we've had our own battles through the years, that pioneering spirit was perhaps a tad stronger I think.

  3. Hari OM
    Oh my word - I cannot begin to imagine how that all was for young Len, never mind your parents. They were built of stern stuff... YAM xx

    1. Hi comment disappeared so here I go again.
      I think it was dreadfully difficult for all three of them and I wish the trackers had not been called in by the neighbours. Len, however, would still have known what had happened through his negligence.
      He and dad were reconciled some years later thanks to mum acting as a go-between.
      Stern stuff is definitely the way to describe their attitude to life and all it could throw at them. xx

  4. Replies
    1. Heartbreaking indeed EC for all three of them and my own regret is that I never got t see dad's football medals etc or any photographs they had.

  5. First flood, then fire. She's a harsh country, this land of ours, even now. Back then with so much reliance on wood fires and not much in the way of goods available (no supermarkets and hardware stores) it must have been so hard, yet they just kept on going. That's true pioneer spirit!! Shame about Len though, to have the guilt drive him away.

    1. I feel dad should have sought out Len and told him he forgave him for what had happened to the house. Unfortunately I think dad was a stubborn man and found it hard to forgive. If only the neighbours had minded their own business although, of course, Len still would have known in his own mind what he had done through his own negligence.
      I often wish dad's health hadn't been so bad as I feel if they had stayed in England their life would have been much different and happier for them. Then of course I wouldn't fit into the picture as I have.