exploration

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 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.

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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 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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