Saturday, February 21, 2009

Holidays in the 50s

This is an old photo (from the 70s when photos never retained their true colours) taken from the mountains at the back of my maternal grandparents' farm, looking down the valley - or, as the locals say, "down the creek".

When we arrived on holidays at the farm, Grandad would always fill us in on where wallabies and dingoes had been sighted, and how many snakes had been seen lately. If a snake had been killed recently it would be hanging over the fence for us to look at and to learn to identify the different sorts (and to remind us of their danger). The house was only about six steps high and they had a huge birdcage under it, right beside the front steps. Gran would trap parrots down along the creek before we arrived so we always had some to look at and learn about.

Holidays were spent running wild around the hills and along the creek. We always had an ‘expedition’ into the mountains in search of wallabies and once we even managed to get up close to them. One special memory is a holiday when I was about 17 and the only one staying at the farm. Grandad said the wallabies had been coming down to drink in the evening in the Top Paddock, the one closest to the mountains. So, he and I set out on foot shortly after lunchtime with just a drink of water each.

We found a good spot under some bushes and settled down on our bellies to wait. It seemed a long afternoon. It was hot and got uncomfortable and we only spoke occasionally in whispers. But we were rewarded. Just as I was giving up hope, Grandad poked me in the ribs and pointed. And sure enough, what looked like three families of wallabies were approaching. They came up to the water hole slowly, warily, and I was sure my breathing would frighten them away. But they drank, then played for a while before hopping away. It was such a special moment and extra special to be sharing it with my Grandad. It wasn’t until I was 50 and living in North Queensland that I got to see wallabies in their natural environment like that again.

There was usually a parrot trapping expedition as well but these only made us wonder at Gran’s skill. We used the same equipment she used but without the same results; we lacked the timing. We’d have a box with the lid missing. This would be turned upside down and propped up with a little stick attacked to a length of string. Seeds the birds liked (Gran always knew which seeds to use) would be placed under the box and the idea was when a bird went under the box to eat the seeds, we would pull the string and trap it. To start with we weren’t very good at sitting quietly under a bush, and on the rare occasions when we did and a bird approached we would either pull the string too soon, or, in our excitement, make a noise that frightened it away.

The creek

The creek and gully had to be explored every holiday in search of water holes, swimming holes and goannas. I remember one big old goanna inhabited the same place for years. It was exciting on the first day of the holidays to climb a little hill and come down it on the other side on our bellies to see if we could spot him laying in the sun. We only had that one chance because he was a wary old devil and would disappear after our first day on the scene. I guess we were a noisy bunch!

A favourite activity was sliding down the hill on the other side of the gully from the house on cardboard or flour sacks. Cardboard was best but wasn’t always available. At the bottom of the hill was a barbed wire fence and the thrill was not baling off before the fence but to go under it at full speed. We knew that if we weren’t laying flat, we would be cut to pieces. That game was forbidden for a while after Bernie, who was always so fearless in his attempts to keep up with the older kids, lifted his head at the wrong time and was nearly scalped. He was only about four and there was blood everywhere! He was a tough little bugger, didn’t cry or carry on, and was all for keeping it a secret, but there was no way we could with all that blood on his clothes.

Grandad had a horse called Orphan Boy which had been around for as long as I could remember. When we were old enough we were allowed to ride him to bring in the cows. It seems he had been ridden by at least one generation of kids before us because he knew all the tricks on getting rid of his rider. It would be a battle of wits, keeping him away from overhanging branches or logs on the ground, as he loved to jump or wipe his rider off on a low hanging branch. I also had to make sure I didn’t approach fences or gates at a gallop or he would be up and over it before I could slow him down, leaving me on the ground on the other side. I also learned the hard way not to go too fast near corner posts. I spent days with my leg in bandages before I learnt that one.

I was glad when Grandad considered me a good enough rider to move on to another horse and for the younger kids to learn how to ride on Orphan Boy. Whenever we went ‘exploring’ or on an ‘expedition’ we were always accompanied by one of Grandad’s blue heeler dogs. He always had one that was a ‘snake dog’ and this one would be our companion whenever we left the house. The dog always trotted on ahead and we kept an eye on him to see if he was showing interest in anything or ‘pointing’ to something. If the dog stopped and stared at something in the grass or amongst the trees we would turn around and race back to the house. We only ever doubted the dog once and went looking to see what it was interested in and Dennis nearly stepped on a snake. We never hesitated to run after that.

Me, left and my sister, Esme aged around 7 and 5 I think.
And, yes, I think I still have that grin!

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