Pemberton Family Stories, Western Australia

Dad recently handed me a book called Pemberton Family Stories containing a collection of stories from a number families settling in the Pemberton and Northcliffe area.

I really enjoyed the read and wanted to share it on the blog. However, I didn’t wish to write a book review and risk losing the authenticity and not to mention the character of the words spoken from the families. I knew for copyright purposes I needed permission and I went about tracking down the editor, Alison Daubney. The ladies at Northcliffe Community were kind enough to connect me to Alison which I thought would be near impossible. Alison gave me permission to share some sections of the book and I was so happy when this email came through.

A thank you must be said to Alison for captaining the compilation of these wonderful stories.

For noting, I have reproduced word for word sections of the book to give you a sense of life in Karri country. Please excuse any punctuation errors, I’ve been madly finalising this post since early June 🙂

If you do enjoy the read I highly recommend tracking down the book through your local library or bookstore. Or maybe the tourist centres in the south west of Western Australia. In this book you’ll not only read about the enduring struggles but the inventiveness that arose from challenging situations, humorous light hearted tales, mysteries and adventures. You will read about what life was like without being wrapped up in cotton wool. Also, how different wildlife and the environment was back then and the need to conserve biodiversity found in beautiful forest towns like Pemberton.

Enjoy and please leave a comment below and tell me what you think! For me, I acknowledge that life was tough back then, but the more I read, I would love to have lived in that era!

David (Dave Lindsay Thomson)

Food was kept in a Coolgardie safe. This was a safe with a side made of hessian bag and had a tin container of water on top with a flannel over the side that used to run the water down the hessian bag. The wind blew through and kept the food cool. It had to be on the verandah where there was a breeze.

I remember sending truckloads of cabbages up to Perth and sometimes making a lot of money, other times I’d get the bill back. They went by rail and took two to three days.

On occasions Dad walked to Bridgetown to bank the money. He always dressed as a tramp and one cold night he walked to the fettling gang at Jarnadup who were putting in the railway line. He wanted to sleep the night there and one fellow said he could dosh down with him. Dad had all the money from the store with him but he slept okay, had breakfast the next morning and was leaving when another fellow said ‘is everything okay?’ ‘You doshed down with an ex -murderer. He’s out on parole”

After the war the big gangs came down to put the road through to Northcliffe and the railway went through. There was work everywhere and the population exploded.

The dairy herd was mainly Shorthorn with the odd Jersey and black and white one. We had jersey bulls and I remember Dad getting clever one time and bought a Jersey bull from South Australia for ninety pounds. We got it home but couldn’t handle it. It was that wild it put everyone over the fence.

The Pericles ship was wrecked about 1910 somewhere near Augusta. Dad and Bob Thompson went down to get some butter from it. Butter used to come in fifty six pound square cases in those days and was very precious.

I remember the swimming pool being built because in my last year of school I, along with Phil Oakley, Ossie Kelly and a few others, used to be sent down to help with the wheelbarrow work.

If the mills hadn’t been built Pemberton wouldn’t be here. The mills made the town but now tourism is going to take over. I have no regrets. I’m glad I went farming and I’ve enjoyed my life on the land.

Ethel Mayor

We kids all had chores that had to be done each day after school. We had to bring the cows in, cart firewood and carry water from the well which was way down the hill in a swamp.

Another thing we did was make stilts to cross the creek. It was good fun and most times it turned into a competition to see who could get across without falling in the water. We became experts at stilt walking.

We also bought a ton of flour, a year’s supply from the factory at Boyanup and if it was bad flour we had bad bread for a year! “Dingo” brand was the best.

We killed our own meat and had a good supply of fresh milk and eggs plus vegetables from our garden.

To get creamy and the other two cows to the Manjimup Show we walked them to the crossroads near Rice’s place, 12 miles from our farm, where we fed them hay before going on to the show grounds, a further eight miles. Creamy won first prize for most butterfat. After the show we let the cows out and it took creamy two days to walk the twenty miles home on her own and it took a lot out of her. We still milked her of course however she was never the same. That was the only time we entered cattle in the Manjimup Show.

We grew swedes and made money out of them until the price dropped and then we fed them to the cows. They milked well on the swedes.

Twenty eight of our dairy cows disappeared. We thought they had wandered off into the bush and searched everywhere for them. They were gone for days when one called ‘Fairy’ returned. We never found out what happened to the others. We did find their footprints but they simply disappeared. They must have been driven away as this seemed the only explanation.

Cream was still our main production and keeping up a standard of first grade quality was top priority. A drop in quality meant a reduction in income. Our quality dropped to second grade and we couldn’t work why. It worried us a lot. An inspector arrived to help solve the problem at the time we were feeding the cows potatoes. He said that was the problem.  Stop feeding them spuds and the cream will be okay. Then Wally discovered Fairy had mastitis and so we kept her milk separate from the rest  and lo and behold the quality went back to first grade. We never told the inspector.

We were connected to electricity in 1977. Our only lighting was lamps and we had a kerosene fridge that used to send up black smoke and had to be constantly watched. To flick a switch was sheer heaven. No lamps to light, engines to crank or walls to clean. It was great. I thought I was Lady Muck!

Locomotive Man, Roy Kelly

We moved to Pemberton in 1924 where dad drove horses in the bush for 12 months

The state sawmill planted three acres of fruit trees in the area near where the community hall stands today to supply local residents with fruit as the markets were a long way away.

The settlers for Northcliffe arrived in Pemberton about ten o clock at night. They had to sleep in the carriages and next morning were taken by truck to Northcliffe where they were put into tents or a tin shed.

There were two locomotives and two cleaners and we worked on a loco each. We’d polish all night with the aid of a ‘slush’ light which looked like a funnel turned upside down with a handle and spout added. We also had to keep the fire burning in the locos all night ready for the crew to fire up in the morning. It was the cleaner’s job to wake the crew, consisting of the driver, fireman and guard. The crew didn’t use clocks as that would have woken their families unnecessarily.

Lack of money was the one thing everyone had in common but you could get extra through ‘accidents’ if you were game. If anyone lost an index finger they were paid ninety pounds. The insurance company became suspicious at the number of claims and made a rule that you had to have a witness to the accident.

There were wild brumbys, some believed to be from Brockman’s stock, near the Warren river and five ambitious teenagers decided they would catch a certain stallion and enter him in the races in Perth. They left one morning on their horses with plenty of rope and heaps of confidence. The young blokes met up with the horses and the mares immediately took off in one direction and the stallion in the other. They chased him on horseback and were gradually closing the distance when the stallion suddenly stopped. Turning to face them it pawed the ground then screaming furiously charged at them. Three young blokes scattered in all directions. They lost contact with one another and made their way to Pemberton arriving one by one.

The quokkas were eventually wiped out by foxes and feral cats. The ‘chudditch’, a native cat, was also here but we called them quolls. In the Jarrah areas some small animals are coming back like honey possums and pygmy possums which is good to see. One species I have noticed is slowly disappearing is the bullfrog. I’m not sure whats happening to them but they seem to be getting less in numbers. One thing that has changed is the karri flow of honey. Beekeepers used to come from the Eastern States for the honey and a sign it was flowing was the presence of hundreds of Lorikeets, which we never see in those numbers now. Beekeepers booked sites from one year to the next and it was big business.

Everyone needs time to sit and watch the grass grow. I try to make every day a beautiful day. I love Pemberton. Years ago I threw the anchor out in the kingdom of the Karri and I’ve never found another place I’d rather be.

Welby, Elizabeth Wellburn

There was plenty of food in the ship but accommodation was crowded.

From Fremantle we were taken to the Immigration Home were we were told our destination was Northcliffe. We boarded the train two weeks later and then we were told there was a change of plans and our new destination was Group 65, Pemberton.

The women showed us how to use the wood stove. I’d never seen one before. We had coal stoves in England.

The men drew lots for the farms. Each family settled the site for their house and was responsible for clearing it. During the week the foreman and men worked on each farm clearing the bigger trees on the house sites.

When we first went to site I said to Bob, “What am I going to do with Anita?’. He scraped out a shallow hole in the ground and filled it with ferns. We covered the ferns with a blanket and she slept there while we worked.

Rabbit was our main meat and I cooked it every possible way I could think of. With such a plentiful supply we had fried rabbit, boiled rabbit, baked rabbit, rabbit stew and I had the idea that if you can make Chicken Maryland why not Rabbit Maryland. So I par boiled the rabbit, dipped it in egg and breadcrumbs and fried it. Bob loved it! We had rabbit so often that when I was pregnant with Fred I said to Bob ‘This child will be born with a fur coat on’. Bob looked at me and said ‘Oh, Missus!’

I made cakes in empty tobacco tins and a steak and kidney pie was meat stewed in the frying pan, a crust put on top and cooked in the oven.

Our only social life was a dance held in a shed built on the side of the hill to store hay for the horses. When I was first asked to bring a plate I said ‘ What do they want empty plates for?’ and was told, ‘They don’t want them empty girl, you have to put something on ’em’!’

We planted maize, swedes and mangolds. We used the maize cobs as vegetables and I cooked the mangolds with sugar to make jam or pies. Mangolds were like a large yellow beetroot and when cooked tasted like apple. They were excellent food for cattle and pigs! Everyone had a vegetable garden. We grew potatoes, carrots, beans and onions. We had plenty of food just no money!

Ugo and Linda Moltoni

For work we were given a loaf of bread and a pound of butter and sent out to the bush to cut wood. The wood was cut into five foot lengths using an axe. One time I was in the bush for three years before returning to camp. It wasn’t considered unusual.

Cooking was on an open fire which also had two sticks on either side with a bar across. From this hung a kerosene tin for heating water and a cooking pot on a chain. We used as a camp oven buried in the ashes to make bread.

The main production on the farm was from 12 pedigree Guernsey dairy cows milked by hand, progressing to a milking machine when finances picked up.

When I went past the pub in town I would look the other way, I couldn’t afford a beer.

Nurse May Bamess

I started work on 25 April 1947. There was always a shortage of both domestic and nursing staff.

Night duty at the hospital was a compulsory one week every six weeks and we worked on our own. It was scary at times but I had to accept it and get on with the work. The worst part was going out the back in the dark to stoke the boiler. If i didn’t there wouldn’t be hot water for the morning showers and I’d be in trouble.

Two particular industries in the Pemberton area then, and still are, farming and timber and Doctor Ryan saw many patients with back injuries. He always felt he should be able to do more for them and one time, after he had been away again, he made a traction apparatus to fit over the top of the bed. It included a pulley and started with light weights, gradually increasing to Mrs Potts irons, then a four pound sledge hammer head, up to a seven pound hammer head. It worked on the same principle as the fancy gear used today and was a great success. Doctor Ryan was always on the lookout for new ideas.

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