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Miss Roberts Remembers
Life on a dairy farm and
as a dairy farmer's wife.

By Beryl Newton

(Miss Roberts Came to Maleny as a school teacher.    She was a city girl coming to the country and taught at the Curramore State School.     She married a Maleny farmer and lived a very happy life in the Maleny District with Bill, her husband who passed away in the late 1990's.    Miss Roberts is better known to us today as Mrs. Beryl Newton.)

The older generation often believe that the old days had little to offer for them, times were tough and money scarce.

I came to Curramore as a relieving teacher in April 1936.   It was to be for four months but I am still here in 2005.

Curramore was a one teacher school, with 14 or 15 students, whose ages ranged from 6 years to 13 years.   They were in four classes, or grades, and beside the usual english, arithmetic, history and geography, I taught civics and morals, which included an odd subject – “good manners” – from a chart.   As well there was physiology, sewing, singing, drawing, gardening and the treatment of cuts and bruises.    Once a quarter, the whole school and furniture had to be scrubbed and polished whilst the desks and the other furniture were out on the verandah.

I held dances, when the whole neighbourhood turned up.   I had taught the children the waltz, fox trot, barn dance and the one step.    Music was supplied by Gunboat Smith of Elamon Creek.    He played the accordion, and how he used to chuckle as we tried to match steps to the beat as we polka-ed.

Most of the children walked or rode horses, though on the cream bus days, a couple came in on that and faced a walk of two or three miles home in the afternoon.   Five rode their horses up the long ridge from Cedar Creek.   One afternoon, during the winter, one of those kiddies raced to tell me that Murray Rapp had an accident on the way home.    Cantering through the bush, a small dry branch had penetrated the calf of his leg.   I sent one of the children to phone for the ambulance and sent the others home to Cedar Creek to tell the parents what had happened.   By this time I was with Murray, so I sat with him in arms, while the sun sank lower and lower and the mosquitos descended in droves.

We were both very glad to see Alex Myers and my landlady’s husband arrive with a stretcher.   Murray was carried up the long steep slope and spent some weeks in hospital.

Murray still limps today.           click here

There was not a square foot of level ground in the school grounds, which were almost covered in fallen logs, rocks, wild raspberry vines, snakes and in the wet weather, leeches.

The door of the outside toilet was shielded by an ill shaped corrugated iron wall.   One of the children rushed in yelling, “Miss Roberts, Miss Roberts, there’s a snake in the girls’ toilet.

Of course I went to investigate, followed by fourteen pupils.   I stepped into the toilet to be greeted by a a huge snake, which reared up to confront me.    I don’t know how I did it with fourteen children between me and safety, but I was first out of that toilet.

It was a carpet snake so Murray and I got a couple of sticks to carry it down to the back fence, but as we walked past some rocks a second large snake reared up to bar our way.   That did it!!!   We killed both snakes at once.

The children came mostly from the dairy farms, and most of them helped milk in the morning before school and then again in the afternoon after they got home.   Not everyone had milking machines, so the bigger the family the more milkers there were.   I don’t think I ever gave those children homework.

How beautiful was the Maleny District.   The high rainfall ensured that the dairy farms were lush and green with paspalum though kikuyu was creeping in.

The roads, generally muddy, wound in around steep hills and deep valleys.    Often the Conondale valley was full of mist with the top of the mountains sticking up out of the mist like islands.

Of course it was cold in the winters and the days could be bleak.     On those days I would light the little iron stove on legs in the room and we would all be cosy and warm.
 

"Often the Conondale valley was full of mist".

The timber trucks passed frequently, bringing huge logs from the forests round the foot of Donovan’s Knob.   One afternoon, Henry Vandrickes truck apparently ran out of petrol near the junction of Curramore and Kidaman Creek Roads so he left it there and walked home.   Next morning as I walked to school through the paddocks bordering the junction there were three bulls;  they were elephant size to me and they were roaring and pawing the ground.   Not for me to continue my way, I climbed up onto the logs, prepared to stay there until doomsday.

Luckily for me over the hill came Lindy Cavanough, the father of one of the pupils.   To his eternal credit he did not laugh aloud but asked me gravely if I was scared.   I climbed down from my perch and he walked with me up the road to the school.

Arbour day, when we planted trees (some of which are still growing in the old school ground) and Breaking Up Day were celebrated with a picnic, races and a dance.   We used to charge a shilling for the dances.    From this we bought books and toys for the under-fivers.    We also bought christmas lollies and fruits.

Mothers cooked and prepared the food whilst the men lit the fire and boiled the billy.

Before the four month stint was up I had asked to become the permanent teacher at the school.   Single men teachers were always welcome at country schools – very often they would marry a local girl.    Single girls were not so popular, unless they were engaged when they arrived as they were seen as a rival for farmer’s sons’ affections.   There was always the worry about whether they could milk or be suitable farmers’ wives.

Be that as it may, I became engaged to one of the men, Bill Newton.    Bill and I were married in November 1938.   Perhaps Freud could explain how when I was so terrified of bulls elected to be prepared to spend my life on a dairy farm.   Was it a coincidence that Bill’s birthday sign was Taurus.

We started on half shares on the number 2 dairy of Mom and Pop Newton.    The family had bought it and the home farm in 1927 – just before the beginning of the Great Depression.   The farms had to be paid for during the next couple of years.   The price of butter and cream fell.

We had also bought a small Bedford Truck and that had to be paid for out of our earnings.

One of our young nieces came to help with the milking.   In the season we had between 50 and 60 cows.   We milked by hand.    Bill milked up to 40 of them and Claris milked about 18.    I also soon learnt to do my share but my limit was about 12.

Beside milking I learnt to make butter, no easy job in the hot humid weather.    To make the butter I had to shuffle an eight pound syrup tin up and down on my knee till the cream turned to butter and butter milk.

The cream truck came three times a week during the year but in summer it came four times a week.
To do shopping for the farm I would write my orders for meat, break and vegetables and put them into clean rolled sugar bags and gave them to the cream carrier.   They would be returned on the following cream day filled with my order.

Mail and papers also came the same way.   We did not have a refrigerator but an ice chest.   Ice would also be delivered by the cream truck.   We also had a Coolgardie safe.   There was no phone or electricity.   Neither did we have a washing machine.

I cooked on a wood stove so until I became more proficient I think my cooking was something of an adventure, but I learned.

We grew our own vegetables and kept hens so we had plenty of eggs and poultry.   We got our fruit in cases – peaches and apricots from a friend in Stanthorpe.   Besides fresh I preserved some and bottled them or made jam.

I had a second hand sewing machine and made our clothes and did mending so we made do.

Every so often, about every 2 or 3 months we went to Brisbane and picked up supplies from Q.P.S.    These trips entailed rising about 2.30 am to do the milking which was still done by hand.   We would leave the farm about 6.30am.    It would take about 3 hours to get to Brisbane.

We would do any necessary shopping then I would see my mother and sister who then lived in Brisbane.
Following this we would return to the farm, another 3 hours journey.   On our arrival back home we would have to milk the cows again.

We had many good friends whilst we lived on the farm.   Many of them are still living, some still in our area.

Life, a good one went on but less than a year after we were married World War 11 broke out and its repercussions were felt in all corners of the British Empire.   Our life was changed for ever.

The Rt Hon Sir Robert Gordon MENZIES, KT, AK, CH, FRS, QC
Prime Minister of Australia at the outbreak of WW11:

Click here to hear Mr Menzies, P.M. Declare War.  War was declared on 3 September 1939, 9.15 p.m.

(Requires Real Player - will open in a blank page.
Close this blank page to continue.)

To read full speech by Mr Menzies:

 

Apart from the war, the most important happening in Maleny in 1939 was the coming of the link up of electric power to the town.    It meant a great changeover to all the homes and farms and businesses, just be the flick of a switch.    Maleny electrician, (Jack) Callaway wired most people's homes.   He had an electrical shop in Maple Street, now the Up Front Club.   Curramore residents had to wait until 1956 for theirs when Curramore was hooked up to the Kenilworth circuit, so it was still petrol irons and Aladdin lamps for us until Bill installed a 32 volt lighting plant run off the milking machine engine.

Otherwise, life went on pretty much as usual.    Horses and wagons and some motor trucks con tinued to bring in cream to the butter factory from some three hundred suppliers along nine different routes around Maleny and Conondale.     In some cases the farms joined the very fences of town houses and businesses.     The drivers of those milk trucks did a magnificent job, rain, hail or shin e, and believe me, when it rained it really rained.

From January to April we had rain, wind, mud and slush from the South East Trades, monsoons and cyclones.    Of course it rained during the rest of the year, but that was the “wet season”.     Weather like this made a lush countryside, caused slips and landsides all over the mountains and hillsides and a great deal of misery in the cowyards.    Three or four pair of boots, wet and smelly raincoats and sugarbag hoods cluttered up every back door.

The butter factory provided employment for many local men, as did Tesch’s sawmill at Witta, and of course there were professional men and women as well.

Almost without exception, buildings were of timber with a few of fibro-cement. The first brick home in Maleny was not built in 1970.    Today the town has retained many of the buildings in existence in 1940, with replacements, renovations and facelifts.

We had the services of a resident Doctor, dentists and chemist.     The Doctor looked after the sick, accident victims and new mothers in the old Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.     The new hospital is on the opposite side of the road, and when the old hospital was demolished a new Ambulance Centre was built.     The Ambulance Service consisted of an Ambulance man and volunteer drivers.

Three shops provided food, clothing and soft goods.    The factory stocked dairy and farm supplies.    There were cafes, butchers and bakers’ shops, a saddlery and leather goods shop, barbers, a garage and a hotel.    As well there was a boarding house for single men and women employed locally.

There was also a post office, bank, school and school house.     The School of Arts had a library attached; pictures were shown there weekly and balls and dances were held regularly.    Four churches looked after the town’s spiritual needs.

The event of the year was the annual two-day show held in the showgrounds and the pavilion. It was held in May, but it wouldn’t have mattered when it was held, we could generally bet that it would rain on at least one of those days.    The show itself was always proceeded by the Show Ball, the social event of the year when the Show Princess was crowned.    Everyone wore their best bib and tucker in evening clothes.

All these services and amenities contributed to a sense of well-being and the knowledge.   People enjoyed a simple life and worked hard.

Quite a few local men and women joined up when war was declared and went away for training in the armed forces.    Others were already on their way overseas.

One day we were all saddened to hear that one of “our lads” had been shot.    So he had been, but in those days “shot” was the slang term for being drunk.    We had forgotten that fact so we were all pleased and relieved to find that his state had been caused by his imbibing too freely of unaccustomed spiritual beverages.    He made a full recovery and still lives in Maleny today.

Suddenly, in mid 1940, the “phoney” war in Europe came to an end, with the British retreat from Dunkirk, the collapse of France, Belgium, Holland and the Battle of Brittain.     Life now became very real and earnest and we anxiously listened to every broadcast of news bulletins on the wireless.

There was a rationing of meat, butter, sugar and tea as well as petrol and tyres.    We in the country were much better off than people in towns and though we were forbidden to do so, we swapped our butter and meat coupons for their tea and sugar coupons.

Magazines and newspapers sprouted with recipes, hints and suggestions as to how we might make our supplies go further.

We always seemed to have enough petrol but tyres were a different matter.   Bill and others put rubber sleeves on inner tubes and tyres to make them last longer.   The roads at that time were not conducive to long lives for those commodities.

Ironically, the government paid a subsidy on butter fat in cream.   It takes approximately two pounds of cream to make one pound of butter, and it was cheaper to buy factory butter than make it at home.   Prices for butter and other goods had increased significally as a result we were much better off financially than before the war.

The shadowy danger from the north deepeened and strengthened.  It also crept nearer when the Japonese armed forces struck with bewildering and frightening success when they declared war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Malaya, Singapore, the Phillipines, New Guinea fell and Darwin was bombed.

We had taken a few days' holidays in Caloundra at the end of January 1942 and many a property could have been bought there for a pittance, their owners having left for safer pastures.

An invasion of Brisbane could have taken place at any time, and the air and seas off Caloundra would have been thich with ships and planes.

On 20 July 1942, General MacArthur moved his Headquarters to Brisbane.     He set up his headquarters in the AMP building on the corner of Queens and Edward Streets in the heart of the city a few doors away from the General Post Office.    There was a communications centre established in the basement of the AMP building.

One of his intelligence groups, Central Bureau Intelligence immediately relocated to Brisbane, establishing its headquarters in a huge house at 21 Henry Street, high on a hill in the suburb of Ascot, not far from the new American airfield at Eagle Farm.

Photo right:   McArthurs H.Q. in Brisbane - later the A.M.P. Building in Queen Street

 

Although it has been strenously denied the rumour was that our government had decided to abandon anything north of Brisbane.   It might have been good strategy, but that was cold comfort to us who lived to Brisbane's north.  

 

General McArthur who had escaped from the Phillipines, vetoed the plan.   Suddenly there were men of the American armed forces everywhere in Brisbane, the first US troops having arrived in Australia at Brisbane on Christmas Eve, 1941.    Almost one million American servicemen passed through Australia during WW11

(Photo left:  General McArthur at a US Army Camp in Queensland - 1942.)

We might not have liked them very much as many of them were very brash, know-alls, and had much more money than our lads.    Their "know-how" and "things-have-to-be-done" attitude was tremendous though.

Whilst the Aussie men's opinion of the yankie forces generally was  that they were "overpaid, oversexed, overfed and over here"  but our girls loved them.   About 7,000 Australian women, including three of my nieces married their American boy friends and travelled to the USA as war brides with their soldier husbands.   Although they never forgot their Australia, they became loyal Americans.

The men and boys who were left to work the farms around Maleny all joined the local V.D.C. (Volunteer Defence Corps) and went off to practice every Sunday between milkings, under the tutelage of Bill Rough.

(Photo right  -   VDF training was important for the safety of our local area)

 

The governmennt  outfitted them with uniforms, boots, and provided each of them with a rifle.   Bill's was a .303 vintage circa 1897.   It had a rusty barrel and and resisted all of Bill's efforts to remove it.   He tried to remove the rust with boiling water, turpentine, petrol, Bon Ami, acid and vinegar.   Bill Rough gave him three bullets to try to do the job.

My Bill went along the ridge from our farm house and fireds them.   Nobody knows where the bullets went, but the rust remained.   Luckily, the barrel did not explode.   I suppose that the rifle could have been used as a club if it came to hand-to-hand fighting.

One weekend the troop went camping down the Obi Valley.   By all accounts fun was had by all, stumbling around in the dark, frightening the native animals and birds.

Thank God the invasion never came.   Thanks too to the Australian and American forces and the Freedom Fighters in the islands, but it was a near thing.

After the collapse of the Italian Army in the Western Desert in North Africa, some of the P.O.W's were interned in Australia.   Some of them were alloted to farmers in Queensland to help out.   Two of them were sent to our home farm.   They were no trouble and worked happily for the most part, and vvery glad to be out of the fighting.

They could become very depressed if they received no letters from their family at home, knowing that fierce fighting between the Allied and German forces was taking place up the length and breadth of Italy.   One of the prisonners made rings out of coins with "jewels" out of coloured tooth brush handles.   The other did exquisite holy pictures with threads pulled from a scarf he had.

One day, hearing a commotion from the hens, which meant that a goanna was around, I grabbed a .22 rifle and aimed it at the animal which was by now three parts up the iron bark tree.   By the greatest of good luck, I hit the goanna in a vital spot and it fell to the ground - dead.

In my excitement, I hadn't noticed two P.O.W's from the next farm walking down the track near our back gate.   They stopped ion their tracks, turned around and went back the way from which they had come.   I bet they had a tale to take back home with them to Italy at the end of the War.

The main camp in our area was at Kenilworth and when the army canteen came around once a month the prisoners could purchase cocoa, biscuits, milo, tomato sauce, sweets and cordials - all things we Australians could NOT purchase.

Most of the P.O.W's were very fond of children and where there were kiddies in the household in which they were working the P.O.W's seemed more content.

When we "borrowed" a prisoner from a neighbour whose husband had to be absent for a fortnight (they weren't allowed to be allotted to a farm where there was a woman alone), our eldest, aged 4, and the P.O.W got on very well together, without knowing each other's language.

Of course we all learnt some basic Italian or English.

At last the war was over, it was then time for the P.O.W's to return home to Italy.   The day after peace was declared a bus collected all the delighted prisoners and took them down to the river at Kenilworth and they had a swim.   Sadly, one of them never saw Italy again as whilst they were skylarking he drowned.

At the home farm, the only sign that they had been around still is their initials pressed into the then wet concrete that they had been working on in the cow bails.

By 1946 things were starting to settle down and we were returning to civilian life.   By this time Bill and I had three sons - incidentally, of the 18 children born in our little community during the war, eighteen of them were boys.   Now that we had five permanent residents in our house we could get a permit to buy a refrigerator.

Oh, the joy of owning that wonderful "Silent Night" kerosene fridge.   No longer did we have to have oily butter, no more meat or milk "on-the-turn" no more wobbly jelly.   The vegies and fruit kept fresher longer.

In 1946 we came "home" to the home farm.

click here

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