Extracts from ‘Worth the Gamble – The first fifty years. Personal recollections from people who shaped the Peak Downs / Retro holdings 1956 to 2006’
Copies of the book available at Capella Agencies
‘Portion 51, Parish of Lowestoff’
‘Bruce and I designed the L-shaped house that Ken Hornick built for us on Boonal Downs, using coolibah stumps off the place and cypress pine from the Injune Sawmill. The house was situated on the north eastern side of a flat topped basalt ridge, roughly in the middle of the block. It was not too far from the shed; overlooked Table Mountain and part of the Peak Range; was protected from bad storms and cold southerly winter winds and was above frost level. Bruce made sure the house was facing so many degrees north of east to catch the famous evening breezes. Dick Coutts, who was from South Australia, referred to them as the Equinoctial Gales! Ken Hornick built the Moongoo house for Storeys and then the Mt Lowe house for Lou and Mary Brimblecombe before doing ours.
Early in 1960, we were newly married and sleeping on the floor of our bedroom in our nearly finished home. Our bed and dining room table had not arrived and we were still eating over in the shed kitchen. The phone was still there too. I happened to look out, and saw a car light coming over the distant hill. “Bruce, someone is coming!" I said. Then another light followed. By the time Bruce came to look, there were dozens of lights coming down the far hill and up the road to the house. Visitors, lots of visitors! There was a mad panic, as I thrashed around the bedroom; no curtains; lots of windows and no garden fence. I grabbed something to put on in the privacy of the bathroom. Our friends and neighbours, Mary and Dougald included, had decided to tin-kettle the newlyweds.
Our first child David William arrived on 7 July 1961, at the Emerald Base Hospital. A very young Dr Charlie Whitchurch was the only doctor in Emerald then, and Matron Maloney ruled the hospital with an iron hand.
On the 18 April 1963, Susan Jayne arrived at the end of a late wet season. It had been raining constantly for weeks and the black soil roads were becoming impassable. Bruce decided he couldn’t risk keeping his heavily pregnant wife at home any longer. So at about 10pm on a dark showery night he fuelled the 930 Case tractor; loaded me and a suitcase on and set off along the wet weather track. This wound around the basalt ridge just above the black soil; negotiated gullies; squeezed between trees and scrub; went through a couple of fences and over the spewy basalt country on the mail box hill. The Case ploughed heavily up the road to our neighbour, Clarrie Baccon’s. Clarrie lent Bruce his car and to this day, I don’t know how we managed to crawl along that black soil track to Capella. Then, we had to get through stretches of unsealed road to Emerald. We arrived at about 1.30am and booked into the Emerald Hospital for what was left of the night. Susan waited a few more days though.’
‘Portion 56, Parish of Lowestoff’
‘In February 1959, a cyclone came through, dumping 12 inches of rain overnight. We were cut off from town for quite awhile and supplies began to run short. Fortunately, we had some chooks which were good layers - but the egg supply dried up suddenly. Mum went to feed the chooks one day, to find a goanna eating the eggs. The goanna got just as big a fright as she did and ran up the nearest coolibah tree. Mum was so furious, she called out to us kids to bring the single shot 22 and a packet of bullets. She’d never shot out of a gun before but had seen Dad do it while spotlighting, so reckoned it looked easy. She loaded the gun but couldn’t hold it still enough, so she called me over and used my head as a steady. After several shots the goanna’s egg eating habit had been cured. We even sampled kangaroo tail stew and roast plain turkey, before the roads became trafficable again.’
‘Portion 16, Parish of Retro’
‘Fenton, Margaret and I went for a holiday up north and left the boys in charge. When we returned to the property Max said: “I suppose we had better tell you before someone else does!" The news was John and Max had moved the Council grader from where it had been left on Friday afternoon, driving it to a piece of scrub. Apparently there was a big to do - the Council grader had been stolen! A Council meeting was called to cope with the situation. Imagine? Max said he and John had rung the Council to confess and they were told they might go to jail. However they were let off with a caution. Fancy that, two kids could move a grader and hide it for a lark. If a grader couldn’t be tracked, then a dingo would have an odds-on bet!’
‘Portion 52, Parish of Lowestoff’
‘One night Mick Batchelor and I went to see Arthur. When we got there, Arthur was away and Bobby Hamilton was looking after things. At that time Arthur was still living in the corrugated iron boundary rider’s hut near Magenta Creek. Bob was not really comfortable being there by himself. The only light was the old kerosene lamp. While we sat around in this half light, nothing suited Mick better than to fill Bob up with ghost stories and rubbish. As we drove off, it was plain that Bob really did not want us to leave. We drove up the road a few hundred yards, then Mick pulled up. We crept back to the hut and Mick dragged a stick along the tin of the hut, hollowing out at the same time. The noise was thunderous.
Well Bob was always fast, but that night he excelled himself. He came out of that hut taking strides the length of a cricket pitch, cooeeing as if all the devils in hell were on his trail. Until Bob settled down, it was quite clear that Mick and I thought it a lot funnier than Bob. He soon forgave us, but I don’t think he got much sleep that night.
Arthur would call in at any time, day or night, often with Don Brown who worked with Bruce then. The night visits were special when Arthur came home from Capella with a few under his tail. He would talk away then nod off, wake up, start laughing, tell another story, then nod off again. He had so many stories about life. I worked quite a bit for Arthur and his father Dick. Sadly Arthur lost his life in a drowning incident. Sergeant Frank Grace asked me to go with him to find Dick so he could advise him of the terrible news. The worst job of my life.’