billy

The Little Digger

Anzacday_2013_webheaderKai (9) and Taj (6) Stitt had something really special for ANZAC parade at South Kolan State School.  Each of them was going to honour a great great grandfather who served Australia in World War 2.  Kai was honouring Bert Wight who served in the RAAF and Taj was honouring Keith Conroy.  What made it special was that they were able wear replicas of Bert and Keith’s medals and what made it even more special was Taj was wearing one of Keith genuine medals.  It was awarded to him posthumously.

Keith Conroy with his daughter Valerie in Hyde Park, Sydney in 1943 while on leave.

The Little Digger.  Keith Conroy with his daughter Valerie in Hyde Park, Sydney in 1943 while on leave. He had just had all of his teeth removed according to standard army procedure.

Grandmother Johanne Stitt had gone to the war service record office to find what each grandfather had been awarded.  She wanted to buy replicas for Kai and Taj for South Kolan School’s ANZAC parade.  She wanted to also order the equivalent of the medals in ribbons for  Charlee and Billy Ironside to wear at their ANZAC parade in Townsville.

However, Johanne discovered an omission from the record.  After a lot of digging and a lot of help from the records office, she uncovered that Keith Conroy had never received one of his awards and so it was awarded to him posthumously.  That meant that Taj was going to  South Kolan State School ANZAC parade wearing an original medal.

Keith Conroy joined the army in Sydney and was fortunate enough to serve around Sydney during the whole of WW2.  He was honoured this ANZAC day by Ashley in Brisbane, Taj in South Kolan and Billy in Townsville.  They all wore his medals.  Little diggers honouring their own Little Digger.

Taj at his school's ANZAC parade with Grandpa Keith Conroy's original medal.

Taj at his school’s ANZAC parade with Grandpa Keith Conroy’s original medal. The medal on the left is the original and the others are replicas.

Keith staying around Sydney was very fortunate for his family, who lived in Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.  He would come home on leave and would light the copper, cut the wood and do a whole lot of things around the house that were difficult for the woman.  Keith’s wife Isobel lived with her grandmother Elizabeth Brown (who was the daughter of 2 convicts) and their little girl Valerie.  Isobel had cerebral palsy from a birth injury and required a lot of help around the house.

Valerie, who is the great grandmother of Kai, Taj, Charlee, Billy, Maddie and Ashley was just 6 years old and she went to school at Darlinghurst Primary School.

Things were very challenging for children during the war.  They had to have ration tickets as well as money for almost everything they wanted to buy.  They could almost never have sweets because everything was in short supply.

The Kuttabul was sunk with loss of life in Sydney Harbour.

The Kuttabul was sunk with loss of life in Sydney Harbour.

Children and their families lived in constant fear of being invaded by the Japanese.  It became more of a real threat after 2 miniature submarines infiltrated Sydney Harbour, sunk some shipping and took some lives.

The thing the Japanese were really trying to do was to have the population living in fear of attack and they succeeded very well at this.

The submarine for sinking shipping in Sydney Harbour.

The submarine reponsible for sinking shipping in Sydney Harbour.

Schools had air-raid drills, so that children knew what to do if there was ever an air-raid.  The school-yard had deep trenches with concrete walls.  There were seats for the children to sit on along the walls of the trenches.  Wardens who wore gas masks and had metal helmets supervised the drills.

Sydney lived in real fear of air-raids, not just during the day, but also at night.  When the air-raid siren sounded at night, everybody had to reduce their lighting to at absolute minimum and draw their curtains, so that there was no light visible from outside.

Coastal cities like Sydney and Newcastle ran low lights at night.

Coastal cities like Sydney and Newcastle ran low lights at night.

If any light was visible from your house, wardens would bang on your door and demand that you turned down the lights and seal your curtains properly.

The fears about attack were very real as submarines were on the East Coast of Australia.

The fears about attack were very real as submarines were off the East Coast of Australia.

Just to ensure that the population was kept in a constant state of anxiety, the Japanese would occasionally shell the major cities like Sydney and Newcastle from submarines.  These tactics would inflict little real damage, but proved that the Japanese could get through defenses.

Manly Beach in Sydney with barbed wire defences. during WW2.

Manly Beach in Sydney with barbed wire defences during WW2.

The level of anxiety in Sydney was very visible at the beach.  Iconic beaches like Manly Beach had barbed-wire barricades.  This was intended to slow down the enemy coming from the sea.  The war was a real threat to civilians, it wasn’t faced only by the troops.  The war was right in Sydney and that is why it was important to have people like Keith serving in Australia.

Valerie was a lucky girl because she saw her Dad quite often, other children didn’t see their dad for years and very sadly, some children never saw their dad again after he left on a troop ship.

While Keith was working hard to make sure that Sydney was defended and Australia was working well with its new United States allies, the other grandpa,  Bert Wight was in service in the RAAF in the Northern Territory.

CAC produced the Wirraway which was designed as a trainer but pulled in to active service

CAC produced the Wirraway which was designed as a trainer but taken into combat service.

Before joining up, Bert Wight worked at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne.  He was engaged in what was termed an ‘essential service’ and was therefore exempted from military service.  However, when Bert had a major argument with wife Dorrie and she kicked him out, he was really angry and in a fit of pique joined the RAAF.  He was posted to Batchelor Air-base in the Northern Territory, which is around 100km south of Darwin.  Batchelor became a major air-base and was home to a joint Dutch East Indies Air Force and the US Air-Force as well as the RAAF.

The Dutch had been overrun in Indonesia (Netherland East Indies) by the Japanese and in Holland by the Germans.  A special joint squadron was formed with the RAAF.  The Dutch war-time parliament ran in exile from Brussels.

The American Mitchell B25 Bomber operated out of Batchelor Airbase.

The American B25-Mitchell Bomber operated out of Batchelor Airbase.

Batchelor became a centre of the Dutch world-wide intelligence radio network.  The Dutch had predicted the rise of the Japanese through their intelligence network in the early 1930’s.  The No 18 NEI (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron of the RAAF flew B25-Mitchell bombers.  It was on one of these planes the Bert flew over NEI as an observer.

Kai with Bert Wight's medals on his chest at the South Kolan State School ANZAC parade.

Kai with Bert Wight’s medals on his chest at the South Kolan State School ANZAC parade.

Kai wore Bert’s medals to the ANZAC parade.  He was very proud of his great great grandfather whose original medals are still in the family.

In the meantime, up in Townsville, Charlee and Billy were attending their own ANZAC service.

Charlee and Billy Ironside wearing the ribbons for Bert Wight and Keith Conroy.

Charlee and Billy Ironside wearing the ribbons for Bert Wight and Keith Conroy. One is each side of their mother Joleen.

Life in Townsville was very much effected by World War 2.   There were multiple bombing raids on this northern outpost by the Japanese.  It was Queensland’s most northern centre of significant resistance to the Japanese advance.

Townsville Sound Detectors

Special set-up to ‘listen’ for Japanese aircraft in Townsville in WW2.

Townsville was geographically closer to where Bert served, than distant Melbourne, where his family lived during the war.  Families had to live together during the war to try to get by.  Bert’s aged father lived with Dorrie and his 2 boys, Bill and Jim.

Bert with Yankee boss at Batchelor Airbase which is about 100 km south on Darwin.

Bert with his Yankee boss at Batchelor Airbase which is about 100 km south of Darwin.

Bert served as a dornier and this meant that he carried intelligence on his American Air-Force Harley Davidson (or Indian) motorcycle.  He was honoured by Madelyn in Brisbane, Kai in South Kolan and Charlee in Townsville.  They wore his medals this ANZAC day.

Meantime Back at the Oil Rig

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Val was in Tambo Hospital confined with her 4th child who had been delivered on 7th September, 1957. Bill was compelled to be superdad for a week.

As it happened, early in that very week, a truck came to the Oil Rig.

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The crane truck was used to load and unload the various trucks that were coming to the Oil Rig as it was taken to pieces to be used in other locations like Weipa and Timor.

Bill needed to operate the crane truck to help unload it and then load it up again.

Bill was in a real bind. He couldn’t operate the crane truck with the 3 children in the truck, because they would be too distracting. He couldn’t leave them at large, because he couldn’t be sure that the children wouldn’t get in the road and into harms way.

What could he do?

The only solution seemed to be to lock them in one of the altents. That’s just what he did. He locked all 3 in the kitchen Altent and dealt with the matter at hand.

When the truck was seen to and gone, he open the door of Altent. Nothing could have prepared him for the what awaited him. 3 children can do a lot an hour, even without assistance. They had managed to get into and open almost everything imaginable – powdered milk, honey, flour…..

The place was a disaster. The kids were a mess. And Bill was on his own. It was like an overdone food-fight scene from a Disney movie.

Oil Rig Site Map

A sketch of the site of the Oil Rig and the Altents were Bill and Val and children lived. Notice the washing area in front of the Altents and water drums on the other site,

He did the best he could to clean up the kitchen and the kids.

Now by this time in addition to the mess from the children there were dirty nappies, dirty clothes and now dirty kids and a dirty kitchen. He’d been batching in primitive conditions for much of the week.

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The wash stand can be seen with a small dish in front of the bonnet of the Land-Rover and the large tubs with handles can be seen over the top of the bonnet.

Bill had to make a serious attack on the washing and that was quite a process at the best of times.

There were were 2 tubs on a washing stand that Bill had made. One tub was used for washing and the other was for rinsing the clothes.

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Val washing up the dishes at the wash stand between the Altents. Notice the bucket in front of the tree used to carry water from the 44 gallon drums to the tubs for washing or for baths or to the kitchen for domestic use.

A kerosene tin was used to boil the clothes that needed boiling since no copper was available.  Polyester clothes were a real hit because they didn’t need boiling.

The water had to be carried in buckets from the three 44 gallon drums which were the water storage.

Those same tubs were used for bathing. They had handle and were lifted down from the wash-stand at bath time. In winter, which was freezing cold, the tub was placed near the cooking fire, which was between the 2 Altents. On the fire-side, you boiled and on the other side you froze – all in the same tub at the same time.

And then there were the dishes…..

Bill, as matron had insisted, was able to get by.she_who_must_be_obeyed_postcards_package_of_8

Blokes, if you think it is tough to manage these days, spare a thought for Bill, who all round had a pretty tough week. He was being superdad in circumstances that were about as difficult as you could get. But, at the insistence of Hospital Boss and Sergeant Eiser, he manned up and got through it.  Job done!imgres-1

A Deferral and a Slap

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It was visiting hours at Tambo Hospital on the 9th September, 1957.

Val had a baby on the preceding Saturday.  Bill had been ordered out of town by the Sergeant Eiser after being overzealous in celebrating.imgres-3

Bill had visited out of hours on Sunday night to plead with Val to come home.

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Bill used the Crane for travel into Tambo because he had hit a pig in the ute and it took some time to repair. The cabin of the truck was big and the whole family could fit. There was no requirement to wear seat-belts in vehicles in 1957.

Bill brought the 3 children in the 25 miles from Oil Rig to pick up their new brother and their mother.

They travelled in the crane truck rather than the ute, because the ute had a stoved-in mudguard from Bill hitting a pig.

He brought the children expectantly into the maternity ward. They would sort out the arrangements and Val would come home with him.

Life was about to return to normal except for the minor distraction of the most celebrated son.

But suddenly, that party was over.

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The matron of a hospital had considerable authority in 1957, particularly in small places like Tambo where there was generally no resident doctor.

In marched the Matron.

‘Nurse, take these children and give them a bath and something to eat.’, she ordered. The nurse dutifully whisked the children off and Bill was left impotently protesting, ‘They are clean and I’ve fed them’.

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Sergeant Eiser had warned Bill that they woud be watching him. Tambo was small and the Oil Rig vehicles were clearly marked so he had no chance of slipping under the radar. Robert De Niro in Meet the Folkers.

There was little doubt that the Police Sergeant Eiser and the Matron had a little child welfare network going and they knew just how to handle fellows like Bill – no ifs or buts.

Bill seethed as he put up with the indignity. He could still hear the Sergeant’s warning, ‘We’re watching you.’ Any objection here would probably involve another lecture from the Sergeant and maybe some time in the lockup.

What was even worse, Val was not coming home. The Matron had put her foot down. ‘Your wife needs rest and she is staying here’, she said in a way that did not brook argument.

Nova-Scotia-nurses

The nurses whisked the 3 children and washed and fed them.

She was bossy enough herself in those days when the matron ruled with a rod of iron. There was little doubt that she had the backing of the local law enforcement officers.

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Johanne, Billy, Lynda and Bill. The children went home scrubbed to the point of shining and full of food. Bill simply had to cop the obvious slap in the face to his standard of washing and feeding children.

Visiting hours over, Bill bundled the super-clean and well-fed children into the crane truck and lumbered 25 mile back to the Oil Rig, resigned to whole week as superdad.

In Bill’s own phraseology, his ears hung down like a mule, as he made his way back over the 25 bumpy miles back to Oil Rig in the crane truck.

He was resigned to his fate, but worse was yet to come.

Bill’s Special Visiting Hours

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Bill was shaken by his run in with the law. But unabashed.

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Bill rammed a boar pig in the ute on the way from Tambo to the Oil Rig.

He had been beaten by the law, but he sure showed that boer pig who was boss.

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Bill had kids and they were driving him crazy.

He drank steadily all day Sunday 8th September, 1957 and dealt with the kids as best he could, but basically they drove him crazy.

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Sergeant Eiser and Constable Andy Stagg had warned Bill, ‘We’re watching you’ and they were as good as their word. Robert De Nero letting Ben Stiller know that he was being watched in ‘Meet the Fockers’.

Bill didn’t make it for visiting hours.  Sergeant Eiser’s ‘We’re watching you’ warning was still ringing in his ears.  He didn’t feel like coming under the watchful eye of the Sergeant or Constable Andy Stagg with ODE decals all over his vehicle.imgres-2

He was now a solo parent and it was in the most difficult circumstances.  He had the obligations of his job with ODE and he had a big maintenance program on the Oil Rig.  In addition, he also had to show visitors around and load and unload trucks as they came to dismantle the Oil Rig.  The Oil Rig had finished its work and the drill hole had been capped.

Bill had to carry water from 5 mile away at the bore.  After bringing it back in 44 gallon drums, they then had to dip buckets into the drums and carry water for household use, washing and bathing.

There were no neighbours for miles around.  There was no family for hundreds of miles.

There was no electricity.

Oil Rig Site Map

Val sketched a rough site map which shows the relative position of the Oil Rig Site and the accommodation. Bill and Val moved to the Altents after the drill hole was capped. Previously they had lived in an annex near Bert & Dorrie’s Wights caravan.

Cooking was done on an open fire between the 2 Altents with a few pot and pans.

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Bill and Val’s Altents. They had guaze and windows and a lockable door as had ventilation in the dome of the roof. They slept in the one on the left and used the one behind the Land-Rover as a kitchen.

They didn’t live in a house, they lived in 2 Altents.  One was for the kitchen and the other for the bedroom and there was open ground in between.

And then there was the kids.

imgres-8Billy was 4 and a knowall. He couldn’t be told anything and never stopped talking.

Johanne was 2½ and highly strung and if her routine was interrupted one little bit, she lost it.

Lynda was 15 months, highly mobile and into everything.

Bill was desperate, he couldn’t keep this up. He formed a desperate plan and headed for Tambo to put it into action.

He drove to the hospital without attracting the attention of Andy or the Sergeant.

He locked the kids in the vehicle and broke into the maternity ward.

He woke Val up. ‘You have to leave right now’. he urged. ‘Today has been a disaster and I can’t have a job and look after the kids’, he pleaded, ‘You need to come home now’.sahm

‘I can’t just leave’, she reasoned, ‘the baby is in the nursery’.  He pleaded for a while longer, and she relented and said, ‘I’ll talk to the Matron and get out tomorrow.’

He left and headed back home to the Oil Rig with the prospect of some welcome relief on the morrow.

A Celebration Too Far

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‘I have a new son!!’ beamed Bill to anyone who would listen in the bar of the Club Hotel in Tambo.  It was Saturday 7th September, 1957.  Val was recovering in the maternity ward of the Tambo Hospital, the new bairn in the nursery and his other 3 children in the car outside.

Whilst birth might now be a family event, in 1957 there was no way that a husband would be allowed into the sanctity of the delivery ward, especially with 3 siblings.

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Bill holding Lynda alongside the ODE International. Bill(y) and Johanne are standing beside him.

Having been ordered out of the way earlier in the day with Billy, Johanne and Lynda, he was officially now on solo father duty.

What would he do?  How would he celebrate being a dad again?

Ah, of course, the Club Hotel bar beckoned.  He would go and have a beer and a chat with John Steer, the publican.

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The International Utility truck belonging to ODE. The Wight children waited in the ute outside the pub all day while Bill drank at the bar. The whole family could fit into the very large cab. The children could sleep in the back. This picture was taken after Val come home with the baby whose birth was being so enthusiastically celebrated.

Kids did sit outside in the car those days.  Probably not without complaint.  But it wouldn’t put a parent in the bind that it would nowadays.

Dutifully, Bill went and checked in progress at the Hospital.  Yes!  Operation a success, his manhood proved again.  Allen had entered the world.

Ushered out of the hospital again, Bill went straight back to the only place to celebrate, the Club Hotel.  Again, the 3 kids sat out in the car, checked on from time to time by Bill who went on celebrating far on into the afternoon.

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The 3 Wight kids spent all day stuck in the car outside the Club Hotel in Tambo on 7th September, 1957.

The kids sitting in the car came to attention of the local police.  For these local police, kids in the car outside of a pub all day was not going to happen on their watch.  In 1957, most things that happened in families was the head of the families’ business.   They decided this matter needed attention.

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The Queensland Police with the motto.

Senior Sergeant  WA Eiser went into the bar and located the celebrating new father.

Sergeant Eiser did his best to apply the ‘Firmness with Courtesy’ principle of the motto of Queensland Police Service.  He pointed out to Bill that he was a family man and that he needed to get the children home and not leave them sitting out in the car.

Bill assured him that everything was under control and he didn’t need the advice.  The kids were just fine.

At the insistance of Sergeant Eiser, they left the bar and went out to the car, so that Bill could show him that the kids were OK.

Then Bill, in his own words, began to mouth off at Sergeant Eiser.   ‘I’m looking after them and they are just fine thank you very much, SIR.  They are being fed and they are are having plenty to drink, SIR.’

Courtesy was not being beamed back to the good Sergeant from Bill, nor respect for the authority of the law.

Bill could be fiery and he had the broken nose scars to prove it.  ‘And I don’t need your bloody help, SIR’, mouthed Bill defiantly.

‘OY Andy!’, yelled Sergeant Eiser and the next thing Bill knew, he was lying over the bonnet of the ute, with his arm up his back in a half-nelson.  Bill was in Constable Andy Stagg’s vice-like grip and he wasn’t going anywhere.  Andy had been quietly waiting around the corner, just in case the matter proved troublesome and was there in a flash when called on.

Qld Police Uniform 1949

Police in uniform in Brisbane around 1949. The Tambo Police Sergeant and Constable Andy would have been dressed similarly to the officers in the middle on the picture. Picture from thetannykid in flickr.

 

With Bill now more cooperative, Sergeant Eiser checked Lynda’s napkin.  Fortunately for Bill, he had recently changed it and it was dry.

Now the lecture began in earnest.  And Bill just had to cop it thanks to Andy.

‘I should put you in the lockup and the only reason I’m not, is that we don’t have a place for those children.’ the Sergeant lectured.

‘Now you – get home – right now!!’, he ordered.

‘And don’t forget, we’re watching you!’, he warned.

Shaken and subdued, Bill got into the ute and hightailed it for the Oil Rig.

 

 

On the way home, he hit a big boer pig and stoved in the mudguard of the ute as he rammed it into the bank of a cutting.

He bragged about ramming the pig for years but not so much the rest of the story.

(**Editor – The source of this story is Bill himself.  He had the ability to laugh at himself.  He could have taken this story to his grave because no-one present at the incident was seen again after 1958, but he revealed this and a few others interesting tales that are part of who he was.)

 

 

 

 

 

Familiarity in Changed Places

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Val drove into Tambo, a little anxious, anticipating the changes wrought by bitumen roads, paved streets and modernisation, but really hoping for the familiar to manifest itself.

It was 55 years since Bill had wallowed into town first the first time at the wheel of the Plymouth Belvedere in June, 1957. Bill had come to take up a job as a roughneck at ODE’s Oil Rig, 25 miles out along the Tambo-Alpha Road.

The Land-Rover was an absolute money pit and the trailer proved too lights for the rigours of Heartbreak Corner

The Land-Rover was an absolute money pit and the trailer proved too lights for the rigours of Heartbreak Corner

It was 54 years since Val had trundled out of town at the wheel of a 1940’s Land-Rover towards a Channel Country thirsting in the clutches of drought. That was in April, 1958.

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Welcome to Tambo sign. Tambo is on the banks of the Barcoo and takes its name from the aboriginal word for ‘hidden place’.

We drove past the Welcome to Tambo sign and did a quick reconnoitre seeking places of the past looking for a connection with the present. Feeling welcome, yes, but wondering what it would be like to visit the places of the distant past.

General Store Tambo

This was Miller’s Store in 1957. Obviously Col Millier sold it and moved on. This is a 1986 picture taken by a University of Queensland country towns project

Millers Store – completely gone – business and premises. A classic general store in a country town that supported the rural community – incredible range, personal service. Col Miller obviously not here.  Val had expected that he would never leave.

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THEN Tambo Bakery was a typical small town bakery in 1957. It served the local community and nearby communities like Alpha. 1986 picture from QU.

The Bakery – business – gone, but the building lives on as the home of the Tambo Teddies.  A typical bakery in 1957 it did the basics well, nothing fancy like you see in the little boutique bakeries of today.  The owner was possibly Col Pengilly and used to drive his bread to Alpha in his truck along the Tambo-Alpha Road past the ODE Oil Rig.

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NOW The bakery was taken up as Tambo Teddies workshop. Some 29,000 teddies have made their way around the world.

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The Tambo Post office was built in 1904. This is where Val used to pick up the pay cheque from ODE.

The Post Office – totally intact. Ahh, the times that Bill & Val travelled the 25 miles in from the Oil Rig to Tambo to check the mail and hope that the cheque from ODE’s head office in Sydney was waiting for them.

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THEN Tambo Hospital much as it was in 1957 and 1958. Val was in the maternity ward which was further on. Billy chatted to people on the front verandah when he stayed overnight in 1958 when he hurt himself at the Oil Rig.

NOW. Val outside of the Tambo Primary Health Centre in 2012. The maternity section she used in 1957 no longer exists.

The Hospital – once a regional facility – downsized and downgraded to a Primary Health Centre. Val came to Tambo with 3 little ones and the next child 3 months away.  Val gave birth in the no longer existing maternity section.

Club Hotel

The Club Hotel in Tambo. One of Bill’s watering holes. Pretty much as it was in 1957 when John Steer was the licencee.

The Club Hotel – Bill’s favourite pub – intact and still selling beer and food. We went there for dinner. There are stories to tell about this place.

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The Royal Hotel now but new in 1957 having been rebuilt in 1954. It was one of the original 4 hotels in the town.

The Royal Carrangarra Hotel – Bill’s other favourite pub – intact and still selling the essentials. In 1957, it was the new hotel having just been constructed. And much to the chagrin of the locals, was virtually totally booked out by those damn yanks from the Oil Rig. And to those damn yanks, it was hardly good enough.  To be good enough it would need to have been ‘AA boy… All American’.

The Police Station and Lockup – where Bill was so close to being a guest – totally renewed.  Bill was so close to spending time in the lockup he’d have been happy to know that it is totally gone and there is a new police station and lockup.

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This is where they serve the Great Tucker at the Club Hotel in Tambo. Val and Bill had dinner here, it was good and there was plenty of it.

The reconnoitre done, it was time to get the lowdown on where to start looking for the Oil Rig site. So as my custom is, I went to the bar of the Club Hotel and looked for a local who might know. In 5 minutes flat we hit paydirt  with Teddy Peacock who had been around since 1965.  We stayed for dinner.

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Our caravan at the Tambo Caravan park. Daphne managed to put us her original van. It was clean and the price was certainly right. Would not have done for some of our more discerning kin but OK for us.

Then off to the budget option in accommodation at the Tambo Caravan Park where our host Daphne Cartwright was friendly and shared plenty of good information to help us in our quest.  Daphne wears many hats and is a veritable local encyclopaedia.  She’s only been in town since 1988 but she knows her way around.

The Transport to Heartbreak Corner

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On our  return to Heartbreak Corner, we zoomed along in veritable lounge chairs, on bitumen road in a vehicle manufactured in Japan.

We listen to stereo music of choice – John Williamson’s Warragul – probably not everybody’s choice, but ours.

Every now and again we tweak the air-conditioning to maintain that perfect level of ambiance for travelling comfort.

 

4 door Plymouth Belvedere

4 door Plymouth Belvedere like Bill and Val purchased in 1957, expect that theirs was a very nice green and didn’t have the chrome to create the different coloured area on the bottom portion.

A lifetime ago, Val wallowed along the corrugated dusty road to the outback in an overstated Yank Tank.

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Steering Wheel and Dash of the Plymouth Belvedere. Apart from being left-hand drive this is the right look.

The windows were open, quarter-glass directing wind to the cool the driver and front passenger. If they passed a vehicle from the other direction, that had to quickly roll the up windows to avoid being smothered in dust. And they followed at a very respectable distance to avoid the dust cloud kicked up by the vehicle in front.

There was the radio for entertainment, when a station was close enough. The radio if it was going to prevail had complete with the roar of wind from open windows. And the seats, their 1957 Plymouth Belvedere had a lounge chair in the front and a lounge chair in the back.

Bill loved American big and beautiful and when he received the first tranche of money from their mineral sands lease being taken up, he paid the deposit to finance a beautiful green version of this car.  Have a listen to how it didn’t run. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8yB0aNbxh0

Plymouth Belvedere 2 door

Plymouth Belvedere 2 door. Bill and Val had the 4 door version of the car. It was a big green and beautiful. Bill licked the steam off it.

After the rest of the money failed to materialise, Bill and Val were stuck with the big Yank Tank and the payments that went with it. Job prospects in Maryborough were poor and so this beauty had to go west for Bill to earn its keep. That’s what set them on the road to Heartbreak Corner.

The trek to Heartbreak Corner was taken just 12 years after WW2 had finished and the US was Australia’s new friend. The general populace were still learning more of the horrors of the Japanese treatment of Australian POW’s in Changai, on the Burma Railway and in other places. A wallowing Yank Tank was in perfect keeping with the times.

 

54 years later, we returned to Heartbreak Corner in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

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The Mitsubishi Pajero in which Bill and Val travelled on the Return to Heartbreak. The sturdy 4WD was much better suited to the 1957 roads than the flashy Plymouth.

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Mitsubishi Zero Fighter from WW2. The Allies couldn’t match it for speed or manoeuvrability until well into the war. This image is of one used in the making the movie Pearl Harbour.

It was Mitsubishi that made the Zero which had a 12 to 1 kill rate against the allies. It was a faster, more maneuverable fighter plane that the allied aircraft could not compete with until 1942.

How times have changed.  It would have been unthinkable to drive a Mitsubishi in 1957.   And now, I wouldn’t even think about buying a American Motor Vehicle.  Although, in Spain, where Pajero means ‘wanker’, I would be driving a Montero.

The Real Heartbreak Corner

DSC_0445 - Version 3Heartbreak Corner is vast, harsh and unforgiving for those who get it wrong. Full credit belongs to those who conquered it and not only made a living but made fortunes of it over the last 150 years.

I googled Heartbreak Corner since we were travelling there to catch up on the past. I came up with a fascinating book with the title Heartbreak Corner by Fleur Lahane. I bought the book and enjoyed the read.

Flear Lahane writes the heroic and sometime tragic story of the Irish immigrant families, the Costellos, Duracks and Tullys who founded the family dynasty of great cattle stations in the South-West corner of Queensland.

3712_HeartbreakCornerOne of her underlying reasons for writing the book was to ’tell the story of the some of the many children who died long ago and whose graves lie out in the far south-west of Queensland.’

She says in the forward ‘Unless one has lived in the country where these graves are to be found, it would be hard to understand just how vast and lonely it can be. The problems encountered by the women of those early days were so great that the worries of the present generation seem petty by comparison.’

As we travelled and reviewed Val’s experiences and those of other woman, I saw how easily life could be lost.

In a year in Tambo, Val had one child who wandered off. She was spotted by some quick thinking by Bert Wight who climbed to the superstructure of the oil rig to get height needed to see her before she wandered too far off.

Another child had an internal injury from a swing and urinated blood.

And none of Val’s children could resist the lure of dicing with death at the water drums which swarmed with bees who were desperate for scarce water.  That year a little boy was stung to death by bees in the region.

When the job near Tambo finished, Bill and Val moved deeper into the grip of drought to the Channel Country.

Thylungra ShedsOn the way to Clifton Station and Windorah, they called at the legendary Thylungra Station for food and fuel. Thylungra Station was established by the very Durack family of the Fleur Lehane’s book.

Return to Heartbreak Corner

DSC_0445 - Version 3

As we approached Roma to stock up some essentials – savoury biscuits, dips, wine and ice – Val contrasted this journey with the last time she travelled this way.  That was a lifetime ago.

After more than half a century, Val and I would return to places that Val had thought about many times over the intervening years and this journey would bring back to her mind people, events and hardships from her long ago.  She would find some answers to oft-mused questions; ‘I wonder what life held for…..’ ‘Is any trace left of…..’’

In 1957, Bill and Val left the electricity, the running water and the paved roads of ‘Joe Doke town’ Maryborough for a tent at an oil exploration rig site by the side of the Tambo-Alpha Road.

Their mission was to take up the employment found to work their way out of the debt from a failed business venture and to support a car they couldn’t afford.  After that job ran out, they went on from this personal Heartbreak Corner to the geographical Heartbreak Corner to Clifton Bore near Windorah in the heart of the Channel Country.

Channel Country Flood Map

A channel country flood map from 1949. Shows the Barcoo where Tambo and the Oil Rig where and Windorah which is near the Cooper Creek.

 

It is rightly called Heartbreak Corner.

And yet, they survived, poorer but richer for the experience.

They saw and experienced the places that inspired Banjo and ‘My Country’ in the late eighteen hundreds.  They saw ‘where the western rivers run’.  They saw ‘where the pelican builds her nest’. They fished for yellowbelly and yabbies in the legendary Cooper Creek.

Alongside that stuff of legend, in the clear skies of that remoteness, they saw the trail of Sputnik which would plummet the modern world further into cold war.

On this return to heartbreak corner, Val did see some traces of yesteryear and she found something of what life held for those she hadn’t heard about for over 50 years.

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