Sunday, February 8, 2009
Homes of my childhood: Dolwendee
In 1919 my maternal grandmother, Margaret Olwen Hughes, arrived on a troop-transport to marry Cecil Roy Selby whom she met in a hospital in London after he had been gassed in the trenches, suffering life-long emphysema and alcoholism as a result. Margaret hailed from Towyn near the Dee River in northern Wales and the farm my father purchased in 1956 was named Dolwendee, in tribute. My father and my older brother, Barry, moved up to the Upper Hunter Valley first - to build a kitchen and a bathroom, anything to please our mother who was dead agin the idea from go to whoa. We lived on the farm from 1956 to 1962. Both my parents were in their late 30s. Barry was just that little bit too old; Ross just that little bit too young. But, Goldilocks was just right living on the farm from the age of 8 'til 14.
Farm life is very hard work: it is constant; there are no days off. Originally, Dad thought he would be a sheep farmer and he stocked the paddocks with left-over sheep from saleyards throughout the nearby towns: Denman, Sandy Hollow, Wybong, Martindale and Aberdeen. However, sheep need to be crutched; they need to be dipped; they need to be drenched; they need to be shorn. On top of this, the Pasture-Protection Board declared us a prickly pear zone and we were forced to commence an eradication plan. Then, wild dogs came in one night and wreaked carnage down on the river flats.
After the massive floods of 1955, the Hunter Valley entered a period of drought: our creek went from a flow, to a trickle, to puddles, to being hidden under sand. The local diviner came in, to our delight, and traipsed the paddocks with forked stick assuring Dad that water was within pile-driving distance. It wasn't. Dad entered into an agreement with old neighbours from Hornsby - Alan French - to grow and sell millet to the Federal Broom Company which was owned by the French family. Unfortunately, millet needs a steady supply of fresh water, not the brackish water that we had to hand. Also, millet needs to be hand picked, dried on racks with regular turning, then threshing to remove the seeds. Millet would have to be the stickiest, itchiest product known to man!
Add to that, the shearing fiasco of 1960, and Dad had to get a job in town with the County Council. By then he had already travelled to the Riverina to build houses for a bloke and Mum had bought an old Commer van which Dad converted so that she could apply for the local school run, morning and evening. I think it fair to say that we were poor.
However, it was the making of me: of my abiding interests, of my work-ethic, of my down-to-earth approach to life. For a tomboy between the ages of 8 and 14 growing up on a farm was glorious.