Friday, January 28, 2011

FSO - The Letter F

My 6th grandchild was due on 15 January and I was hoping to have photos of his cute little feet and fists for this week's topic. 

Instead the best I can do is his expectant mother's fingers holding the little shoes that await his feet.


In the past week I've seen lots of summer sights:
Floaties

Summer fruit

A fin.  Well, there were more than one but one is all I got.

Ferns

But newborn babies - nah, not a sign!

To see what F words (sorry, I bet I'm not the only one who couldn't resist that!) the rest of the team thought of, just pop over here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

FSO Black and White

I missed the FSO last Friday.
 
I was enjoying having family visitors from England and don’t have the time or the inclination to give much thought to the topic.  I just had this one photo ready that I liked.  It was taken early one morning last March when I went for a walk at Noosa and followed a path that lead to this.  The path disappeared into the sea and was replaced by a dead tree across my path.   At the time I thought it was significant of something but wasn't sure what....still not. 

driftwood

Friday, January 14, 2011

FSO–Weird stuff

Our topic this week is weird stuff in our town.   I couldn’t find anything relating to the supernatural as suggested by Collins English Dictionary.  And the trouble, for me, about strange or bizarre is what I think is odd may be perfectly normal for someone else (and often is) and vice versa.  

But I found a few things that fit the bill for me.  Pink sheep not only look weird, I think it is downright wrong to do that to them but you can’t argue that they catch the eye of passersby at Sheepworld.

sheep3

I happened across a gathering of vintage cars last weekend and this one caught my eye:

tail

And this one.  Maybe not weird to you, but I’ve certainly never seen a motor like this up close before and the owner didn’t object to me saying it was weird.   In fact he seemed quite amused (laughing up his sleeve perhaps?)

motor

To see what's weird in other peoples towns, just pop over here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

FSO–Macro shots

I know I shouldn’t make excuses for my lack of ability but honestly, my camera just doesn’t do macro shots very well.  

I’ve only been out three times since Christmas – to a family reunion, for a beach walk and to take my car to the panelbeaters (mishap in the beach carpark).   

fishing rod
thongs in hand1
lucy's feet

And in the garden, the only thing of interest was cobwebs:

dew drops and cob webs 1

But, thank heavens there is a but, to see some wonderful macro shots, just pop over here to see what the rest of the team has come up with.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Floods

Every time there are devastating floods in Australia I think of the floods of my childhood.  This year it is Rockhampton and surrounding area’s turn; that’s an area the size of France and Germany combined!

I wrote the following in 2008 when floods hit Mackay, not far from where I lived at one time.  I think I posted it somewhere along the line but I often forget to add labels and can’t find it. 

Floods and bushfires are part of Australian bush life.  Bushfires were never a big issue in the area where my grandparents lived.  They happened but not to the extent that we have seen over the years in Victoria.  Sometimes during a storm (I must write about the storms one day, they had terrific storms!) there would be a lightning strike in the mountains and any fire that resulted would be watched carefully but nothing drastic ever happened as a result.  To us kids it was an interesting diversion to daily life.  If we knew about the use of the modern “cool” we would have said it was cool to watch the fires come up one side of the valley, run around the back of the house to watch it continue on its course and guess whether it would go back down the other side of the valley.  Grandad would sometimes mount his horse and ride off to see how far down the mountain it had come, whether he had lost any fences, but that was not a venture on which we were permitted to join him.
But floods were a different story.  They are a very real part of life in this valley.  The creek played a vital part in the welfare of the valley with its beautiful fertile cropping soil and highly producing creek flats.  I remember terrible floods when I was a girl and Grandad saying they were the worst Laidley had seen in his lifetime.  I think it was 1959.  I’ve found a reference to this flood in the Thornton-Townson Centenary Reunion (1881, 1981) booklet.  “At Mt Mistake (at the head of the creek) rain fell at 3 inches per hour for six hours and recorded 23 inches in 8 hours."

Grandad had a wonderful way of teaching us to respect the power of nature.  During those bad floods he took the four oldest of us down to the creek for an up close look (two on each side of him, Esme and Peter holding his hands and me and Dennis on the outside of them holding their hands).  The rest of the kids had to be satisfied looking at the little gully behind the house which had turned into something quite impressive.  We had grown used to the background roar from the creek during the previous two days but couldn't even hear Grandad when we got close to it.  The lovely clean, clear water of our creek had turned a murky, dirty brown and was rushing along at a frightening speed, carrying branches and trees and two cows, one dead, one still alive, and a snake.  

Grandad let go of our hands, one at a time, a little way into the creek so we could feel the force of the water.   Being the oldest I felt I had to go one step further than the others, still only knee deep, and it was terrifying although there was no way I would let on.

It was all so long ago but when I sit and think about it, it all comes flooding (no pun intended) back.  I think one of the advantages of growing older and not having my mind on so many other things, is I can allow myself the luxury of staring at a wall and allowing my mind to go back to visit my youth.  

creek
This is where vehicles cross the creek to my grandparents former home, after recent rain.
There was a car on the other side so I guess the current occupants had parked then walked across the creek to a vehicle waiting on this side. 

Those floods happened during our seven-week Christmas holidays.  When it first started raining we rejoiced that there would be water in the creek for swimming.  The first thing we always did when we got to Grandma and Grandad's was check the creek for water holes.  That big flood changed the path of the creek forever; the swimming water holes were never as good afterwards.  Or maybe I was growing up and not taking as much pleasure from the activities of my earlier childhood.  The flood washed away the vehicle track we used to get from the road to the house; the creek was left much wider and therefore the water holes more shallow.  

The best water hole that summer was a fair way from the house, around the roots of a tree that had been washed away, leaving just the dead roots in the middle of the creek and the deep hole that had been gouged around it.   It wasn't a very big hole, the tree roots took up most of the space, there were no shallow edges and the water was very deep in close to the roots.  So, although it was great for the older kids, it was rather dangerous for the younger ones who couldn't swim.  The hole itself was in a lovely sunny spot with shady trees close by.  

The next best hole was in the opposite direction and much closer to the house, in a wide section of the creek.  There was lots of shallow water along one bank and it got very gradually deeper until you were nearly to the other side.  But the other side was hard up against a steep hill, which we could not climb up.  That side was always in the shadow of the hill in the afternoon and the trees were thick on the shallow side, so that it always appeared gloomy.

After that big flood I had to learn about negotiation and trade offs.  Yes, we could go for a swim as long as we took the little ones along.  If I had not been behaving responsibly either that or the previous day (like the day Michael nearly drowned in the dangerous hole) I would not be entrusted with the kids at the “dangerous hole” and we would have to go to the "Dark Hole" as we used to call it.  Then, of course, Peter would vent his displeasure at me.  And when Peter was pissed off he could be a real handful.   He had a terrible temper and would go off like a firecracker.  Denis was always easy going, Esme and Tricia were not born water babies like Peter and didn't particularly care where we went.  Danny and Bernie were also water babes but were young enough to not care which water they went in as long as it was water.  

I think I started to learn techniques on “How to Handle Difficult People” after that flood.  The fact that I didn’t purposely drown Peter speaks for itself.  He turned into the Brother from Hell every time we had to go to the “Dark Hole”.  He had always been adventurous and competitive, always determined to keep up with, if not beat, we three older kids, and he hated the Dark Hole because it was so tame and safe and “babyish”.  When he got shitty he would make life miserable for Esme (one older) and Tricia (one younger).  He’d have them both in tears given half a chance and that would mean that I’d be in trouble when we got home and Esme went crying to Gran.  Thank heavens Dennis was such an easy going bugger, although at the time I wished he wasn’t such a dreamer and would share some of the responsibility I had as the oldest.  I was sure if someone said to him “You’re the oldest boy, it’s your responsibility” he would stop being a dreamer and be responsible, but I guess I was the dreamer thinking that. 

(With apologies to Dennis who apparently takes exception to my references to him as a dreamer.  But these are my memories, Den.  And there have been many times when I’ve wished I had your lovely nature!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My first school

I started school at Thornton in the Laidley Valley in south east Queensland, before the Ward family farm was sold and Grandma and Aunty Dolly moved to Sandgate to live and we moved to Nudgee, 3 train stops and a bus ride away.

Recently, at my aunt’s funeral, a second cousin introduced himself and said he had gone to school with me. Before I could respond that I’d only gone to school at Thornton for about 6 months, he said, “You started school at Thornton, didn’t you?  I was there at the same time.”  I’m sure if I had Ron’s memory, I would have lots more interesting stories to tell!  I wasn’t there long enough to have many concrete memories of life at a small country school.  It was a one-teacher school with Mr Titmarch the teacher. My introduction to innuendo was hearing the emphasis placed on the "Tit" by the older kids and admiring their naughtiness.

My two ambitions in first grade were to swim as well as the big kids and to really ride a horse. I don't recall any desire to read or write or do sums. My transport to and from school was on the back of Marion Gerke's horse.  Marion was a "big girl", probably 12 or 13, who lived down the lane and across the creek from my home.

Dsc_0037 Marion lived where you can just see a roof on the left hand side of this photo, which was taken from in front of the Ward family home.

Because she had such a small passenger she had to sedately plod the mile to and from school instead of galloping fearlessly as I knew she could. I thought she was the nicest person I'd ever met and I was aware I was a responsibility who spoilt her opportunity to receive the admiration which was her due from the younger pupils.  I so badly wanted to be able to gallop and win the race to school.

Instead I sat behind her on her horse with my arms wrapped around her. She had lovely long hair, which I liked to feel on my face. When it rained she would put her raincoat around the both of us, so I had no chance of getting wet with my own coat, and hers as well, to protect me.  In the late 70s Marion came to visit us at Te Kopuru (my grandmother had stayed in touch with her family) and I was happy to discover she is indeed a lovely, gentle person.

The creek (the same one which ran behind Grandma and Grandad Osborne's house and the other side of which Marion lived) passed by the back of the school, and served as a swimming hole at lunch time when there was water in it. I was mortified that I was a "baby" and was only permitted to play in its shallows and not able to win the races to the other side and back. (Where does competitiveness come from? I know I had it at five.)

But I remember the creek more clearly than anything else at that, my first school. Further up along the creek, by Grandma and Grandad's, the swimming holes were stony bottomed but here the banks were muddy and, although the water looked clear when we first rushed into it, it soon turned very dirty and muddy with all 14 pupils swimming, jumping and thrashing around. These days, children would not be allowed to swim in it for fear of them catching some dreadful disease but it served the purpose for us. We would emerge a lot dirtier than when we entered, but we were cooler and had used up a lot of energy.

After lunch another child and I (the new entrants) were sat at the back of the classroom and instructed to have a short sleep, leaning forward, with our arms folded over the desk. It was a matter of principle with me to stay awake longer than the other kid and, if possible, not go to sleep at all!

One afternoon a week the teacher’s wife, Mrs Titmarsh would come to take the girls for what I suppose was called 'Handcrafts' or something similar. Once again I was considered too young to do needlework like the older girls and would be given a sheet of thick grey paper and a few crayons and instructed to draw something. I used to draw trees, maybe because I loved them but more likely because I couldn't draw anything else (and still can't!). Another possible reason was it gave me an excuse to sit by a window and look out at the trees instead of in my usual mortifying position in the front row.

The school at Thornton is now a Bed and Breakfast Country Retreat – they even offer a massage!

thornton school
The old Thornton school, photo copied from the Country Retreat website.

Who would have thought?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Noodles or muffins

My front deck and back steps are made of wood that has never been painted.  Last summer I scrubbed them down but didn't get around to painting them.  This summer I am determined to do it.
 
This morning I made a start with the water blaster.  I say made a start because after a couple of hours of getting drenched I ran into a few technical difficulties.    The connection between the water hose and the machine kept coming loose.   Never the most patient of people, I was ready to blow my stack so packed it in for the day instead. 

I may see the problem more clearly tomorrow.

Georgia and her Best Friend Ever, Archer, came to visit in the afternoon.  They arrived each with a packet of noodles in their hands and asked to make muffins.  Muffins or noodles I asked.  Muffins first because they are quick and we are hungry, then we will make the muffins and eat the noodles while they are cooking, they replied.  Got to admire the time management!  (Or is that Granny management?)

As they were mixing the muffins Georgia asked Archer, “Do you think I should be more blonde?” 
And what did he reply?  “I like you the way you are!”  Charm just comes naturally to some guys!

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They are so funny these two kids.  They get on so well but from time to time argue like an old married couple.  Archer was showing me his loose teeth and gaps where other have fallen out.  Georgia was whinging because he had lost a tooth that she hasn’t.  “It will fall out soon, Georgia.  We can’t stay  seven forever!”
 
IMG_0304
IMG_0306

Ahh, if only they could!!

Snake dogs and Orphan Boy

A favourite activity when holidaying at Townson with our grandparents 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 (the seventh child), 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 for milking.  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.  We had to make sure we didn’t go near fences or gates at a gallop or he would be up and over it before we could slow him down, leaving us on the ground on the other side.   I also learned the hard way not to go too fast near corner posts because he got a special thrill out of cutting corners.   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 Esme nearly stepped on a snake.   We never hesitated to run after that. 

We knew the farm was in “snake country”.   Hearing conversations littered with Death AddersTaipans and Big Browns instilled respect for these potential killers.   And then there was the adults’ reactions to any sighting of a snake.   An early memory, I think it was before I started school, is sitting at the table eating lunch and hearing men shouting from across the other side of the creek where my Grandmother’s brother farmed.  Grandad leapt to his feet, went outside to put on his boots and headed to the shed to get his gun.  Gran explained Uncle Dave must have seen a snake.  I asked could I go with Grandad and she said alright but stay out of the way.  So off I raced, trying to keep up with Grandad who was running.  He used to always say Gran could “run like the wind”  when she was a girl but that day he was doing a pretty good job himself.  

When we reached the recently ploughed paddock along the banks of the creek, Grandad hoisted me up to sit on a fence post with the instruction, “Now don’t move!”

What excitement!  Men shouting, pointing, Grandad firing off shots, Uncle Dave and Uncle Archie wielding pitch forks.  I spotted it once and managed to stand up on the post to keep it in sight and pointed the men in its direction.  I was so excited, I don’t know how I kept my balance.  The whole episode probably only lasted a few minutes but to me it was a monumental occasion – I had been on a snake hunt!  And Grandad sure knew how to make a big deal of little kids.  I was lifted down off the post and joined in the post event discussion with the men.  They all made such a fuss of me.  Then Grandad put me on his shoulders and carried me in triumph back to the house saying things like, “We got him, Paulie.  You’re a good snake spotter.  Wouldn’t have got him without you”.   I was on top of the world – I always was when I was on Grandad shoulders.  

Snakes are now protected in Australia and I agree that all native animals should be.  But our childhood wouldn’t have been near as much fun if they had been when we were kids.  Gran and Grandad were fierce in their efforts to keep snakes away from the house and us kids.  When one was spotted they would spring into action.   Gran did all the dangerous stuff, poking around with a stick or whatever implement was handy, shaking bushes, doing anything she could to lure the prey from its cover.  She had such quick reactions and sure needed them because often she had to leap out of the way of either the snake or Grandad’s bullets.  I remember once when Grandad shot a snake that was just inches from her feet.  How we laughed that Grandad had nearly shot Gran’s toes!  Grandad was our hero and a crack shot – we knew her toes had been safe!

One of my scariest experiences was as a teenager and illustrates to me the trust we had in our grandparents.  I was laying on a bed reading one hot afternoon and had drifted off to sleep.  I awoke to Gran’s whisper, “Paulie, don’t move!”  I opened my eyes and looked towards the door where Gran was standing, to see her pointing to my feet then making a stay still motion with her hands.  When I moved my eyes downward I saw a snake weaving it’s way in and out of the wrought iron work on the foot of the bed.  It disappeared from sight and I kept my eyes on Gran.  She stepped back to check that it wasn’t coming under the bed in her direction, then I saw her signal with her eyes towards the window and there it was going up the wall and out the window.  The minute it disappeared from our view, the shout went out and all hell broke loose.   Someone spotted it heading towards the gully at the back of the house.  That one got away. 

I was 14 before power was installed “up the creek”.   Early to bed, early to rise was the order of the day.  Gran’s kerosene lanterns were a novelty for us.  We loved to sit around in their soft light and listen to Grandad’s stories in the evenings.  He would entertain us with finger shadows on the wall.   The kitchen was always warmed in winter by Gran’s big old wood stove.  One of the boys’ jobs was to keep the stove supplied with wood and, as they got older, to chop enough to keep her supplied for a while after we had gone.  Gran seemed to be constantly baking, her cake tins were always full.  How she managed it in summer when it was hot enough outside and twice as hot in the kitchen I will never know.  

I don’t know when the telephone line was installed.  I know the service had only gone as far as my father’s family home when he was a young man as any telegrams that came for people further up the road during the war (WWII) would be left with his mother.  It was Dad’s duty to saddle up the horse regardless of time of day or night, and weather and deliver the telegrams.  What an awful duty for a man who had enlisted and been on his way north for jungle training and then to fight in New Guinea when he was told he had been demobbed and was to return to the farm as it was important to keep the troops fed and no farm could be left without anyone to farm it.  I wonder how many unwelcome telegrams he delivered, how his neighbours would have shuddered to see or hear him approaching and followed his progress if he went past, wondering which family was about to be shattered.   

When we were children Mrs Day ran the local telephone exchange and post office.  If Gran needed to make a call (Grandad would have nothing to do with “that damned contraption”) she would look at the clock and decide if it was a good time for Mrs Day to put through the call – would she be outside doing such or such or was she going to town today or was it dinner time.  She offered a wonderful community service.  If we rang from Brisbane and Mrs Day got no reply when she put through the call, we would leave a message with her and she would relay it on for us.  She passed on warnings about floods and bush fires and, in earlier days, would saddle the horse and take urgent messages to those without phones – and it was often her turn to do the horrible duty that had once been my father’s.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Day Two–just as good

One of the best things about summer is barbeques and the fact that men know it is their job to do the cooking.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman complain about a badly cooked barby.  But when my son-in-law takes the helm you know you are going to get beautifully cooked meat. 
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When my children were young it was a family tradition for our family and my sister-in-law’s family to gather at Waipu on New Years Day for the Caledonian Games.  The day was (and still is) mostly about Piping, Drumming, Highland Dancing, Highland Heavyweight Field Events and Fiddling but athletics were also on the agenda and our kids all loved to run and compete.  This year the two youngest in our families arranged a re-union on 2 January at s-in-law, Rosalie’s home in Warkworth.  Thank you Justine and Kieran.  It was a wonderful idea and a fabulous day. 
j and k
Justine and Keiran
The children are now all in their 30s and 40s but they still love catching up, although they aren’t as active as they used to be.  It was up to the next generation to do the running and chasing.
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They also did their share of chatting and eating.
eating
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stacey
It was worth the horrendous traffic on the drive to Warkworth to have such a lovely day of family togetherness.   We were lucky that Danny and Heather’s overnight visitors had left heading south shortly before we did and sent us a text message telling us where they were at a standstill in traffic.  With local knowledge and having no fear of dirt roads, we turned off the main highway and took a back road to quicken our journey.  We were heading in the right direction going home and, for me, the trip passed quickly as I slept most of the way.  Ah, it is nice to not be the driver sometimes.  Thanks, Dan.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The first day

It’s too long since I walked on the beach.  Today, for the first time this summer, I went for a beach walk with friends.  A perfect day and a perfect way to kick off a new year.  Others thought so too:

bird and kids 01.01.11
2 kids
boogie board 01.01.11
dog and feather 01.01.11
two dogs 01.01.11
But for some, it was all a bit too much!
boy resting 01.01.11

In days gone by

When I was a child I was quite sure that no one, absolutely no one, had Christmases as wonderful as ours.   Should a modern child experience such a Christmas I’m sure they would be horribly disappointed – no Christmas tree, no decorations, no Christmas crackers and the like, no loads of colourful food.  There weren’t loads of presents either, just one present from Santa, which turned into one from Mum and Dad when you stopped believing in Santa.  Being the oldest child I managed to hold my faith in Santa until I was nearly a teenager so as not to disillusion the younger kids.   

All my Christmases until I grew up and left home were spent at Grandma and Grandad Osborne’s.   In the earlier days the whole family would make the trip with Mum, and Dad would stay at work until the day before.  It must have been a real ordeal for Mum, getting us and our bags down to the train station, on to the train, off again at Roma Street station, changing platforms and then on to the train to Toowoomba.   I remember once for some unknown reason we had to change again at Ipswich, but having learnt the pitfall in that manoeuvre, it didn’t happen again until I was a teenager and the rail service had changed, making this change necessary.  

When Dennis and I were old enough we were allowed to make the trip by ourselves as soon as the school holidays began.  Each year we were joined by another sibling.  I can clearly remember having Bernie (7th child) aged around five with us as the youngest and getting pissed off with him for jumping all over the place and getting Danny (one older) to join him in his nonsense.   I must have started high school the following year and my school holidays started on a different week, so I got away from being accompanied by the younger siblings but Bernie still had to travel with me.   Obviously he was too big a handful for Esme (Dennis was never to be relied upon to look after the littlies, he tended to drift off into dream world and forget he was in charge).  My girlfriend Denise always got Danny and Bernie mixed up and to differentiate used to say, “Danny – drop dead gorgeous” and in that way could figure out who was who.  This used to upset me because, although Bernie was often a little shit and Danny was generally a good kid, I thought Bernie’s cuteness was being ignored.  I guess that started me favouring Bernie.

As we drew close to Laidley the train went through one last tunnel (we knew it was the last because it was the longest) and did a big sort of half circle sweep around farmland where the grass always seemed greener than it was on the other side of the tunnel, and our excitement would grow.   Once we got off the train, in the earlier days when there were just of few of us kids travelling together, we would hump our bags to the Post Office and get a ride to the Post Mistresses house at Townson where we would be collected by either Grandad or an Uncle – sometimes on horseback.  All the way up the valley to Townson we would be praying that we’d have a horseback ride the rest of the way.  We all loved the top of the valley where my grandparents lived and we’d feast our eyes on all the familiar sights, check out how high the neighbours corn was and keep an eye out for water melon crops.  This could be done much more successfully by horseback.

There was no big lead up to Christmas.  We’d know it was close because we were on holiday but the count down didn’t start till there were “2 more sleeps”.   2 more sleeps and the activity would start, the highlight of which was when Gran made a major production of choosing  and killing the Christmas dinner chooks and ducks.  Not this one or that one, they were good layers, perhaps that one, no, not fat enough.  There would be much squeeling and laughter as we caught the selected birds and handed them to Gran, then out would come the axe, the bird's neck was laid out over the chopping block by the woodpile and off with its head.  This was followed by what I'm sure was Gran's favourite part of the exercise, letting go of the bird to scare us all witless as it ran around headless.  The adults would be yelling “Catch it!” or “Watch out, it's coming after you!”  We would run and shriek, sure it was chasing us.  And Gran would be making more noise than the rest of us, Lord how that woman loved to torment!  That was the fun part, followed by the truly awful part.  The poultry would be hung along the clothesline to bleed out, then they would have to be cleaned out.  I just hated putting my hands into the cavity Gran made in the carcass to remove the guts, but there was fun to be had frightening the littles  with the entrails.  And I preferred that to the plucking.  If I had to do it for more than a few minutes I would literally have to scream, the monotony, the boredom of it I used to think was driving me crazy.   

We’d all go to bed early on Christmas Eve and the oldest kids would be woken early the next morning to go with Grandad to help with milking the cows and the chores so he could get back to the house earlier than usual.  Those early mornings were very special, moving quietly around the house so as not to wake the little ones, having a cup of tea (which we were usually not allowed) and a piece of cake in the kitchen with Grandma and Grandad took on an air of conspiracy, and we felt special to be old enough to be regarded as helpful.  

Grandad loved Christmas.  He was always a cheerful man, I only ever saw him angry twice but on Christmas morning he would be like a big, happy kid telling us even more outlandish stories than usual, doing his best to make us laugh and make light of the work.  

When we got back to the house the lovely smells of Christmas dinner would already we wafting through the house, we’d have a quick wash, and then it would be present opening time.   Grandad would have a field day fooling around and handing out the gifts, teasing and tormenting but never pushing it so that he upset anyone.  Our presents were humble compared to what kids receive these days.  Humble compared to what other kids got even then but we didn’t realise that and wouldn’t have cared even if we had.  Our friends may have received more expensive presents but none of them had grandparents to compare with ours or a place they loved as we loved Townson.  If we girls got dolls, the dolls clothes would have been handmade by Mum or Grandma and even when we were quite young we appreciated the time that must have taken in their busy lives.  The boys’ guns might have been fashioned from a piece of wood but they were made especially for them, and that was what was most important.

And Christmas Dinner!  Roast chicken and duck (who would get the wishbone??). 

As well as the birds there were lots of baked vegies and Gran’s lovely thick gravy.  Gran had well and truly mastered that old wood stove that stood at one end of the kitchen.  And on Christmas Day it wasn't such a chore feeding it with wood whenever Gran instructed.  I always wondered how she knew what temperature it was but I guess after years of experience she had learnt to judge from how hot she got standing near it.  She always produced the best baked vegies (as well as wonderful cakes and biscuits).  A choice at meal times was unknown to us except at Christmas.  But the best part was the desserts, Gran’s Christmas pudding with lots of threepenny and sixpenny pieces, and her home made icecream, to which passionfruit was added on special occasions as a treat and we could choose whether to have the plain or the flavoured.  Every mouthful had to be chewed very slowly and carefully in case we swallowed a coin.  (With the introduction of decimal currency this custom died as the coins weren’t suitable for heating apparently.)   

What little pigs we made of ourselves!  With such full tummies we’d have little energy for helping with the dishes but at least I think we did them a bit more quietly than usual, as we all understood a never spoken rule – no fighting on Christmas Day.  While we did the dishes, the younger kids would be put down for a sleep then the rest of us would also lay down for a snooze.   There could be up to six adults and kids on some beds, and none on others, it was always a sort of communal sleep.  When the littlies woke, the rest of us would be ready to get on with the afternoon treats and games.   Firstly it was always a game of cricket and around this time the uncles, aunts, great aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins would begin arriving.  When everyone who was expected was there, it would be time for kids to make themselves scarce for an hour or so while the adults had cups of tea or a few beers.  If there was water in the creek we would all go for a swim; if not, we would have rides down the hill behind the house on sugar sacks or go playing along the banks of the creek.

We would take it in turns to be the one to “listen” for the call from the house – “Watermelon!!”   That soon sorted out who were the fastest runners, let me tell you!  Watermelon followed by lemonade!  No children in history could have been more delighted.  The rest of the afternoon would be spent in games with the adults.  We loved it when our uncles joined us for cricket or rounders or whatever.

When it was time for Grandad to once again milk the cows there would be no shortage of willing helpers, although those who could get away with it would disappear pretty quickly into the gully beside the cow shed.

After milking, when Grandad and the dogs came back to the house was one of the favourite times if Uncle George or Uncle Reg were still there.  It would be coming on dark by now and they would get out the mouth organs and would the dogs go crazy!   Their howls would fill the valley and if they shut up for a minute or two we would hear the dingoes in the hills echoing their howls.  And we would fall about laughing till we hurt and have to beg them to stop.

We were never made to eat dinner at night if we didn’t want any and this alone made it a special day.   With dinner and dishes out of the way, came another of our favourite activities.   We would sit around on the verandah waiting for the cooler night air, Grandma would light her old lamps (there was no electricity) and Grandad would make finger shadows.  None of us ever tired of seeing the same tricks over and over, year after year and we all had our favourites.  One year I remember very clearly is the year we had a storm at this time.  Evening storms at Townson were always a treat but to have one on Christmas Day was doubly good.
Quilts, pillows and blankets were dragged out and we all sat or lay there on the verandah floor with the adults on seats behind us and watched the nature show.  With the farm being at the top of the valley from our Dress Circle seats we could see the storm following the mountains up one side of the valley, heard it go around behind us at the top of the valley and then watched it come back down the other side.  The thunder crashed and shook the house and the lightning was magnificent and very close.  A grass fire started up in the hills and turned them into a twinkling fairyland.   The sight of Grandad on his horse, his silhouette lit by the lightning, riding off to check the fire was the stuff movies were made of.  I was allowed to wait up with Gran for him to return.  He was soaking wet but still in high spirits and let me have a glass of port with him and Gran, grinning and whispering “Don’t let your father find out!”  

Ahh, that was some Christmas!