Early memories of a spirited red-head

Barbara Maxwell   Sydney U3A

I am 82 years old; I’ve been widowed three times and live in a retirement village. I am still active and feel I still have a spirit of adventure. This is my story …..

Early days.

One of my earliest memories was a beautiful sunny spring day when I was about four years old. There was a beautiful golden banksia bush and tea-trees in flower. Underneath in the damp earth was a carpet of lovely green moss with some red sundews. Nearby a tiny spring made the area slippery and later it was good having slippery slides there with my brother and later a younger brother.

This day, for company I had only the old blue cattle dog Barney. Due to some misdemeanour I had run away from home, having packed my teddy bear, Sandy, in a small suitcase. I took Sandy out and showed him the banksia flowers, which were the same colour he was. So I named the banksia flowers ‘teddy bears’. As I looked around at the beauty of the bush it was familiar territory to me.

Then I thought it was time to go home again across the paddock, past turpentine and iron bark trees, through the slip-rails, up the lane, past the orchard of orange trees, through the slip-rails next to the cow bail and home. I think I was surprised to hear my Grandfather shout “Here she is!” I wondered why my Mother was upset and in tears at my disappearance. After all, I knew where I was.

I was born 30th March 1931 in a small Private Hospital in Naremburn, a suburb of Sydney. When I was older my mother told me it was an easy birth but I was somewhat unusual, having shoulder length red hair. My parents both had soft, light brown hair. The nurses nick-named me ‘the red-headed brat. My mother had a very good milk supply, more than I needed so the Sister asked her if she wouldn’t mind feeding a baby from the next room whose mother was unable to produce much milk. My mother was happy to oblige. After two weeks in hospital, the usual lenght of time in those days, we went to stay with my paternal grandparents and my maiden aunt Phyllis at Thornleigh.  They had been minding my two-and-a-half year old brother. My father probably didn’t see me until I was about a month old when we returned home to our rented house on a farm at Morisset.

My father, a technical engineer who was out of work due to the effects of the deepening Great Depression, had taken a job on this small farm, hand milking twelve cows daily. Transport then between Morisset and Sydney was by steam train or road. with a punt which took traffic across the Hawkesbury River at Peat’s Ferry, near Hornsby. At that time my father had an old Delourney car. Later we moved in with my maternal grandfather, a widower, at Naremburn.

In March 1932 the Sydney Harbour Bridge was finally completed and there were celebrations for the Grand Opening, so my family was there on that day. I was almost a year old so saw the proceedings, carried in my father’s arms.

Money and food in 1932 became a problem for almost everyone across the country. My elderly grandfather had been a sheep father at Gulgong before his retirement to Naremburn, so decided to buy a small farm of 23 acres at Dural in the Hills District, half of which was natural bush. This is what I remember best, the lovely wildflowers, blue orchids, boronias and waratahs and the sounds of the bush. In the creek frogs croaked and there were lovely black tadpoles,

Even though money was short, we had shelter and food. There was a small weatherboard house with a barn and sheds. Grandfather and Dad worked the farm. They built a blacksmith shed where tools and horseshoes were hand-made. Grandfather bought an old Clydesdale horse and ploughed a large area fenced for a vegetable garden. Next to the garden he built a bush shed of stringy bark for his garden tools and his shelter from the rain, being some distance from the house. With the horse and a scoop he dug a shallow dam to obtain water for the garden. Next to the garden was a paddock where we found an abundance of mushrooms after rain. I remember Dad ploughing up a big area to sow oats, feed for the animals.

We had a cow called Penelope so had plenty of milk and Mum made butter by hand. I learned to milk at an early age. Later Dad decided to keep poultry so at one time we had about 500 white hens and a few roosters running in the orange orchard. Mum cleaned eggs and packed them into wooden boxes, which were then sent to the Egg Board.

Wood came from the bush. Dad by this time had a Studebaker car so the old Delourney was set up as power for the saw mill. We had an open fire and Mum cooked on the fuel stove. Many a time Mum would give a plate of stew and vegetables to “swaggies” who survived in those Depression days by calling on housewives to beg food.

We had tank and well water. A copper was boiled for washing. We bathed in an old tin tub in front of the fire. We had no electricity. A near neighbour had a crystal-set radio and I remember going to their house to listen to the broadcast of the Coronation in London of King George VI.

Those early days on the little farm I remember well; life then was good. We seemed to have all we needed. Many more adventures in life awaited me as a freckled-faced and sometimes spirited redhead. But that is another story.