land-rover

Topping the Teatotallers

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Bill had Sergeant Eiser’s ‘we’re watching you’ message confirmed every time he drove into town. The police had him absolutely bluffed.

Bill was absolutely bluffed about the ‘We’re watching you’ warning from Police Sergeant Eiser and Constable Stagg.  The cops were as good as their word. Every time Bill had to go into Tambo, he had it confirmed that they watching.

Billy & Johanne - 1957

All Oil Drilling and Exploration (ODE) vehicles available to Bill were clearly marked with decals like this one on the door of the International ute.

In the end, it just wasn’t worth going to the pub.  Every vehicle had ODE decals on the doors and stood out like a sore thumb.  If he went incognito in the Land-Rover, it would break down and consume more repair time and more money on parts.  In any case, it had Mineral Sands signwriting on it and would be readily noticeable.

Bill had been on a serious alcoholic slide for a couple of years.  He had drunk his way through much of the initial payment for the Fraser Island mineral sands.  If there were more options for single mothers in 1957, he would have been on his own.

But Bill’s slide was arrested with a jolt, after he weighed up some options.

He had no doubt that the Sergeant Eiser didn’t need much incentive to put him in the lockup.  With Val now at home, the Sergeant no longer had to work out what to do with the children.  There was nothing to stop a little ‘holiday’ happening.

Basically, there was no way he could have a drink in peace, so why bother?

Bill decided that he may as well give the grog away altogether.  So he did.

The pendulum swung to the opposite extreme.

Bill and Val  joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Adventists made teetotallers look like indulgers.  The Church embraced most aspects of the Temperance Movement of the mid-nineteenth century and took it a bit further.  “Moderation in the things that are good for you, and abstinence from those things that are bad for you.”  Hard to argue with when you think about it.

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The Adventists had a religious genealogy that harks back to the reformers. And there was certainly something to reform. The title of this brochure borrows from that famous work, The Pilgrims Progress.

Good Adventists didn’t smoke or drink alcohol, didn’t drink tea or coffee, didn’t eat meat, didn’t go to the movies, didn’t work on Saturday, didn’t shop on Saturday, didn’t swim on Saturday…. and paid 10% of their income in tithe.

Adventists topped the teatotallers.

Tea and coffee hit the Adventist list of things that are not good for you and thereby made the ‘thou shalt not’ list.  In that sense, Adventist went further than the Temperance Movement teatotallers.

But that was just what Bill needed.

He could never have just one drink.

However, Bill never gave tea away.  He would have his tea, even if it meant being a Badventist.

All Bill’s pendulum opposite jolt took was a call to his father Bert, who was working on the Seventh Day Adventist Mona Mona Mission near Kuranda.  Before Bill knew it, Adventist Colporteur George Walker was on the case and on the doorstep.  Ironically, as an ex-detective, George was on the case.

So there we have it.  Some ‘Bossy Matron and Caring Cop love’ probably kept a family together.

Now here’s the thing about the ‘topping the teatotallers’ Adventist experience….  Bill and Val enjoyed quality family time and they never got on better together.

As for the tithing, that didn’t seem to do much harm.   They worked their way out of debt and were starting to save.

In fact, they could have had savings at the end of the Heartbreak Corner experience, except they had a hungry Land-Rover to feed, but that’s another story.

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

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.

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