Childhood memories

I started with my uncle Jim at Bathampton, a family homestead some miles out of Bathurst. The land was relatively fertile and - by outback New South Wales standards - theproperty was relatively small. It had originally been quite large, but as the children had grown up, pieces had been split off and given to them. All the properties were linked by a telephone party line, and Aunt Joan, who was full of her own importance, used to ring at 11 o'clock every morning, and expect all the daughters and daughters-in-law to be listening to receive their days instructions.

Party lines used to be quite common in the bush. A number of properties would share a single telephone line, and different ring patterns would be used to indicate who the call was for. Everyone on the line would know when anyone got a call, and it was tacitly accepted that at least some of your neighbours would be listening in. However one of my more distant uncles scandalised his neighbours by connecting an amplifier to the line so that all the conversations were broadcast on a loudspeaker without any tell-tale clicks. That was taking things too far!

I got on well with my Uncle, and reasonably well with my cousins, who were a bit older than I was, but I had a very strained relation with Aunt Joan. Whatever I did was wrong in her eyes, - if I offered to help after dinner I was a guest, and my offer was ungraciously declined, but if I didn't offer I was an ungrateful little so and so, and was told so in no uncertain terms.

The property was very hilly, and the cousins enjoyed showing off by charging up and down the hills in a Land Rover. They were strong, and not overly endowed with common sense. While I was there they bought a new chainsaw -- then a relatively new invention, and to me a decidedly exotic tool. The instructions said that the chain tension should be adjusted so that there was about 3/8 of an inch in slack in the chain when the saw was cold. My strongest cousin adjusted it so that with a good pull he could pull it out the specified amount, but unfortunately this meant it was far too tight, and after a couple of hours of use the carrier for the blade was completely wrecked.

My uncle had a prewar Rolls-Royce, and had horrified all the local enthusiasts by having it converted into a ute. To add insult to injury, the kids had removed the Flying Angel emblem and put it on the Land Rover!

He used it to drive around the paddocks, with the dogs, tools, bales of hay and whatever in the tray, and sometimes a dead sheep in the back seat. Despite all this it was still very impressive piece of engineering. The throttle worked via a governor, and the engine idled very slowly and steadily. The cousins delighted in showing me how if you manually opened the throttle to speed up the engine, and then released it, the throttle would close completely, and then, when you are sure it was going to stop, it would open just enough to resume its tick, tick, tick.

One morning the boys decided to prune some of the large gumtrees overhanging the sheep yards, and as they had no way of climbing them, they tried to use a 303 rifle for the purpose. Unfortunately, after wasting quite a few cartridges, and sending stray bullets richochetting all around the countryside, they realised that a 303 was no substitute for a pruning saw. Probably all they managed to achieve was to weaken some of the branches so that they came down at an inconvenient time in some subsequent storm!

 © Roger Riordan 2004-2019

Meeting the relatives