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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.

Val & Kids with Truck_Tambo_Enhanced Arcsoft

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

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

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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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