Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

My Formative Years: Part 2

© 2015, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

This is the second part of a series of essays about my life on a 4,000-acre wheat and sheep farm in Australia and in several other places from 1961–1970, from age 7–16.

In Part 1, we covered the farm and its annual cereal-growing cycle; domestic animals and pets; wildlife, game, and hunting; personal vehicles; the fuel supply; utilities, appliances, and services; and radio, TV, and newspapers.

Thursday was Market Day

Back then, Loxton was served by three Stock and Station Agencies (US: farmers' cooperatives): Bennett and Fishers, Elders/Goldsborough Mort (later Elders GM, and now Elders), and Farmers Union (later Southern Farmers). From these, farmers could buy all their farm-related supplies for fencing, shearing, spraying, and so on. These three companies took it in turns to manage the regional livestock sale, which was held every Thursday.

When I was a kid, the sale yards were right in the town on the main road, next to the railway station. [In the late 1960's, new sale yards were built on the southeastern edge of town, right next to the railway line. There was plenty of space and things were quite organized. However, the new place never quite had the charisma of the old one. Sadly, that is all gone now, and the weekly market is no more.]

Although animals probably were shipped in/out by train in previous years, in my time, they were all transported by trucks and semitrailers (US: tractor-trailers), most of which came complete with at least one working sheep or cattle dog (usually kelpies or blue heelers, respectively). There were beef cattle yards and a circular auction place with tiered seats for the bidders. There were many sheep yards with flat planks along the top of some of the fences for the auctioneers to walk along from one pen to the next. There was also a shed with pigsties. Most weeks there were chickens and, sometimes, other birds in cages. Sundries included grain and bits of machinery. A group of women ran the "tuck shop," a small tin shed with a dirt floor and a front that opened up as a serving area. From there, they sold hot meat pies, pasties, and sausage rolls with and without tomato sauce (US: ketchup), cold drinks, and probably buns and tarts.

The weekly market in Loxton was one of the biggest in the region and attracted people from far and wide. Many farmers living more than 20 miles out of town came to town that day for the market, to buy groceries, and to have business and medical appointments. For a kid it was a huge event to witness the sights, sounds, and smells of the old sale yards.

[In 2005, I visited Australia and I spent a great afternoon with one of my oldest cousins, Gordon. Until that time, I probably hadn't seen him more than a few times in my life, and certainly none that I remembered. When Gordon and his older brother Headley lived in Adelaide, during the school holidays, their parents would send them up to our maternal grandparents in New Residence. (They were only about five and seven years old, respectively, and they rode on their own on the tram to the main train station in Adelaide, and then rode a train some three or more hours where they were put off at an unmanned station in the middle of nowhere, to be picked up.) Gordon told me a great story, which I'll pass along here. By that time, our Uncle Gary ran the farm on which Grandpa (and Grandma) lived, and each Thursday, they'd drive into Loxton for the market. On this particular occasion, they took a truckload of sheep to sell, and Headley and Gordon rode on the back with the sheep. Now apparently Grandpa could be quite animated when he talked, and he waved his hands around a lot. When it was time to auction off his and Uncle Gary's sheep, he was off to the side talking with some friends, waving his hands around, as usual. Well, the auctioneer took his gestures as bids, and, Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, Grandpa ended up buying his own sheep! And even worse, he had to pay commission to the auctioneers for the privilege! On the way back home, with said sheep loaded back on the truck, the window at the back of the truck cab was open, and the boys could hear clearly Uncle Gary yelling and swearing at Grandpa for being so "bloody stupid."]

Unrelated to Market Day was a special kind of sale, called a clearing sale. This happened when a farmer or share farmer retired or quit farming. This sale was held on the farm and usually involved the sale of farm machinery, supplies, and, sometimes, household goods and vehicles. It could even involve an auction of the land itself. The seller commissioned one of the Stock and Station Agencies to manage the whole thing for a percentage of the sale price. The seller usually provided an 18-gallon keg of beer, from which glasses were made available free of charge to the patrons. Often, some women's auxiliary group catered the food to raise money for their programs. [When Mum was retired, she and her sister Vera visited numerous clearing sales, not to buy anything, but just to have a look around at so-and-so's house and outbuildings, and to have a free beer and lunch.] These days, sales are much more formal with intending bidders having to register and get some sort of bidding card. And it's been a long while since a beer keg was provided.

The House

The house was large, built of local stone, and faced north. However, we never used the front entrance. Instead, the track coming in from the road ran behind the house to the garage and on to the outbuildings. So, we entered through a backdoor into a short passage. To the left was a narrow passage that led to the small bathroom, which had a wood-fired chip heater for making hot water. Before the bathroom was a doorway to the right that led to the large pantry where all the store-bought (an American term) and homemade things were stored.

To the right of the entrance passage was the doorway into the long, narrow kitchen. First came the kitchen table (we had no separate dining room). And as well as having regular chairs to sit on, on the long side back against the wall was a 3-person wooden bench that we called a form. The sink and some low cupboards were midway down on the right. Opposite the sink was a wood stove with hot-water storage tank on the right side. Once liquid gas in tanks became available, we had a gas stove mounted on a table to the left of the sink. This had two burners and a small oven and was connected to a large gas cylinder by a pipe that ran through a hole in the outside wall. The other door of the kitchen led to the verandah outside.

Going straight ahead in the back entrance, led one to the large lounge room, which contained a fireplace that we used each autumn (US: fall) and winter. On the left wall was a large, high sideboard, a nice piece of furniture in which Mum kept her good china and cutlery, and fine linen. On top on the left sat a set of Arthur Mee encyclopedias in a wooden stand that brother Ken had made in woodworking class at school. On the right top sat a Kreisler Radiogram (combined AM radio and record player). It was powered by a huge, rectangular 9-volt battery, and played records at a number of different speeds. We had some 45-rpm singles and 33-rpm albums. I don't recall we ever had any 78-rpm records or a player for such. Under the window stood Mum's Singer treadle sewing machine. In the left corner was a door that led to the bathroom.

Along the right wall of the lounge room was the door to the girls' bedroom. Sister Pat slept there and Dawn too when she visited us. For a term or so, soon after we arrived at Nadda, the Nadda schoolteacher boarded with us and shared Pat's room.

Running towards the front of the house from the lounge was a passage on the left of which was Mum and Dad's bedroom. My bedroom was on the right. Each of the three main bedrooms had a fireplace although we never used them as such. Each fireplace had a long mantelpiece. The one over the lounge room fire held Mum's chiming clock.

The ceilings were quite high, which helped keep the inside cool in summer. A verandah ran almost around three sides of the house and on its edge was the toilet, which had a flush system out to a septic tank. The toilet was a popular place for me to sit and read while Mum was waiting for me to come and dry the dishes. If I waited long enough, she'd either run out of room or patience, and she'd start drying them herself.

The roof was made of corrugated, galvanized-iron sheets. [When I've mentioned this to my American friends, they've often asked, "Isn't it noisy when it rains?" To which I reply, "We didn't get much of that in a 10-inch rainfall area, and when it did come, we were more than happy to hear it!"]

Facing the back entrance, two rooms had been added on to the right. Adjoining the kitchen, but only reachable from its own two outside doors was the laundry. This housed the washing machine, wash troughs, and hand-operated wringer. I remember a later-model washer had a kick-start motor like a small motorcycle. Hot water was boiled in a copper—a big copper tub that hung over a wood fire inside a cast-iron frame—in the back yard. Against one wall stood a very large, old clothes closet whose side panels had large rectangular holes cut in them. These were covered over with fly wire (US: wire screening), which allowed air to circulate freely in and out of the cupboard. This is where fresh and cured meat was hung; we called it a meat safe. Next to it, was a large, wooden table on which we cured hams and bacons for smoking, put meat through a grinder, and filled sausage into casings (made from cleaned animal intestines). On another table sat the separator, used to separate the cream from milk.

The final room was the older boys' bedroom where Brother Terry lived the five years I was there, and where Ken stayed when he came home. It had one door, to the backside of the house and I'm sure the room was quite a bit smaller than the one I had all to myself. I remember being in there with Terry when he had a crystal radio set. Then later, he had a small portable radio and eventually a small reel-to-reel tape recorder.

Whenever we had a house with a verandah, we always had a single bed out there where one could lie and read or sleep on a hot summer's night. I also slept out there some winter nights, wrapped up "as snug as a bug in a rug" with dog Ringa lying down near my feet. I recall that he was not at all fond of lightening or thunder, and when they occurred, he wanted to get in bed with me. I remember that some of our heavy blankets were really 180-pound wheat bags sewn inside cloth covers.

One fine day, I got it in my head to paint my name on the outside windowsill of my bedroom. [It must have seemed like a good idea at the time!] 30 years later, when I visited the farm on a trip back from the US, there it still was, "Rex J" in large, white letters!

The Outbuildings

A private dirt track came from the public dirt road, on the south side of the farmhouse. To the left was the back of the house, which we used as our main entrance. To the right was the stand-alone garage. Right next to that was the doghouse, and behind were the remains of an old mallee stump wood heap. Next up on the left was an overhead diesel tank and a ground-level petrol tank. Opposite and a bit further down was a long, stone implement shed with several walled bays and a galvanized-iron extension on the eastern end that covered the header (US: combine harvester).

Opposite the implement shed was a shed that housed bags and bins of grain for feeding domestic animals. On the south end of that was an open-fronted blacksmith shop. Although we didn't use it as such—there was no forge or bellows—that's where Dad kept most of his tools. It had a dirt floor. Beyond the grain shed was the duck pond and chook house (US: chicken coop) and large, fenced-in run. Opposite was a large stone water tank with surrounding horse trough. Another small shed was next to that, and that held stuff for the pigs, which were in large sties behind the tank.

After the implement shed, the road through the home yard forked with the left branch going to the shearing shed, and the right one going out towards an area of the farm called "Hollywood" for some unknown reason. (Located there was another wood-and-iron shed, set off the ground and insulated to keep mice out.) On the south end of the shearing shed was the cow barn with feed stalls.

Food

We had limited refrigerator space and no freezer.

Back then, farmers were self-sufficient in every way. And being descended from German stock, the men in my family all learned how to kill and butcher animals and poultry. And as we always ran sheep, there was no shortage of lamb, or more probably, mutton. [I ate so much of it that, to this day, I am not fond of lamb or even the smell of it cooking!] Many times, I helped Dad kill and butcher a sheep; however, I never did get to do it myself. On the other hand, Ken started out butchering quite young and got very good at it. Terry learned too but didn't get too much practice before he left the farm.

We had a smokehouse, made from an old, galvanized rainwater tank. A door was cut into the side to allow one to climb inside, and a small hole was cut into one side next to the bottom. That hole was connected to an upside-down metal, sheep water trough that formed a sort-of tunnel that looked a bit like the entrance to an igloo. Near the open end of this tunnel, we built a fire and fed it with sawdust, so it would smolder and generate a lot of smoke over a number of days. The smoke went along the tunnel and into the tank where hams, bacons, and sausage links were hanging on wooden racks. Prior to smoking, the hams and bacon had to be "cured" with a brine solution, and I often operated the hand pump used to inject that solution into the meat.

Mum often used an axe (US: ax) to cut the head off a chicken and scolded the chicken in boiling water to pluck it then dress it. When we needed a large number prepared, there was a production line: someone killed them, the next person dunked them in the open copper of boiling water just long enough but no longer, the next person plucked, the next one took out the innards keeping the choice bits, and finally, I singed off the pin feathers over a flame burning in a metal lid containing methylated spirits.

We had a large vegetable garden and quite a few fruit trees and grape vines. I remember helping Mum preserve (US: can) fruit and vegetables. As my hand was quite small, I could get it completely inside the tall glass jars. Later, when I got bigger, we both slid fruit halves down a ruler to put them in place. Mum made up a large supply of sugar water, which we used to top-up each jar before applying a thick rubber ring, metal lid, and metal clip. A dozen or so were then put into the Vacola preserving unit, which stood on the wood stove in the kitchen. We also made lots of jam, especially apricot.

In the case of vegetables, I recall helping Mum fill jars with sliced tomatoes. Oftentimes, she added in some sort of pasta tubes and pieces.

Like most good German stock, my family was right into dilled cucumbers and cauliflower pickles, neither of which I cared for. For that, we needed a supply of dill (which we got from somebody who grew it) and fresh grapevine leaves.

Whenever we had dairy cows, there was fresh milk twice a day. When we didn't, we made milk from powder that came in large tins. We only had cream when we were milking.

I vaguely recall turning the handle of a butter churn, but that was early on. We always had chicken eggs, and Mum kept the excess for up to six months in a cool, dry place by putting a layer of Keep-Egg preservative on each one. These eggs were only good for cooking/baking, not for frying and such.

As explained above, Thursday was Market Day, and that's when farmers went to town to do their shopping. We bought the following: salt, spices, sugar, flour (back then, Loxton had a big flour mill), tea, and coffee. Regarding coffee, unlike the US, Australia did not use ground coffee. Instead, until instant coffee was invented, we poured boiling water onto a teaspoon of coffee-and-chicory essence, which came from Bickford's and was in a tall, dark bottle. Tea was in 1-pound packets and was usually Red-Signal or Green-Signal, with an Indian brand name of Amgoorie. [A 100 or more of these packets were packed into a tea chest, a thin plywood cube that was much sought after for all sorts of uses, including storing clothes away from silverfish.]

Our bread came on the train several times a week; I don't recall Mum ever making any at home, although she made plenty of cakes and biscuits (US: cookies).

Like all rural residents, we shopped at our local store, where we kept an account that was paid at the end of each month. [There are almost none of those country stores left now in the Riverland area.]

The Town of Nadda

Calling Nadda a town is being generous. Although a township had been surveyed, when I lived in the area Nadda consisted of a combination general store and post office with a house attached, some outbuildings, the public Institute (hall, that is), in which school was held, two tennis courts, and a railway siding. [In much earlier times, there was an Australian Rules Football oval.]

The store-cum-post office was owned by the Zimmermann family, and the wife ran the manual telephone exchange.

Nadda had a tennis team in the Browns Well competition.

Although the railway siding was unmanned, a train with freight wagons, one or two passenger carriages, and guard's van (US: caboose), came through several times a week. Machinery and fertilizer were shipped in, and bags of grain were shipped out. A locked box was used to hold the mailbag that the postmistress put there for collection and recovery. Bread also came several times a week with unsliced "sandwich" and "hi-top" loaves roughly sewn into one or more 180-pound wheat bags. At one end of the rail yard stood a locked phone booth that train staff could use. The school was just across the road, and we boys hid our fags (Aussie slang for cigarettes) around the back of this booth. One year, the grain trains were so long and heavy that we put pennies (large coins Australia used before decimal currency came along in 1966) on the rail to see how thin and spread-out they'd get when 100–200 trucks of wheat had run over them.

The Town of Taplan

Before bulk handling of grain and silos (US: grain elevators) were introduced, Taplan had huge wheat stacks where many thousands of 180-lb (82 kg) bags were piled high. In the railway yard, there were several "ganger's" houses, which were occupied by railway workers from time to time.

Mr. and Mrs. Hammond owned the post office with a small shop. In 1965, I was in First Year at Loxton High School, but unlike the other local kids, and like Terry and Pat before me, I boarded in Loxton during the week and rode the bus in from Taplan on Monday mornings and back home on Friday nights. Sometime in that year, the main street in Taplan was paved and there was a lot of large gravel left lying along its edges, including right in front of the post office. Local identity, Gus Vogelsang, a friendly chap, was "deaf in one ear and couldn't hear out of the other." He drove an original Model T Ford, and he wore an old felt hat. As kids, we were dropped off the bus at the Post Office and we waited there to be picked up to go home. As Gus climbed up the steep steps to the Post Office front, one of us boys put some pieces of gravel on the top of his hat without his knowing. When he went inside, he always took off his hat for Mrs. Hammond, and the stones went flying on the floor. She'd get cross, but he always laughed it off.

Just east of the railway crossing, on Hampel's farm, there was a sheaf-tossing rig where competitors used to try and out-do each other by tossing a sheaf of wheat over a bar. Although I never saw it in action, I understood that much fun was had by all competing.

Bob and Dot Lindsay ran the rabbit-buying business and had a refrigerated chiller out back. In the later few years I lived at Nadda, I trapped rabbits on a regular basis, and Bob would come by before I went to school to buy what I'd caught. For a young boy, there was serious money to be made from rabbits. And from time-to-time, we'd go spotlighting, catching up to 100 pair a night. Bob's chiller was also the place to store an 18-gallon keg of beer until the evening of an after-football or 21st-birthday party.

[Taplan has its 100th anniversary in 2013.]

Church and Sunday School

My family attended St. John's Lutheran Church in Taplan, usually at 10 am on Sunday mornings. It was a nice stone building with pine trees shading the west-side parking area. At that time, each service saw 20–30 adults and children. Most weeks we had a lay reader; oftentimes it was Gus Zimmermann. [Gus was one of four bachelor-and-spinster siblings who lived together their whole lives. The two sisters taught Sunday School.] Sometimes, the lay reader was my brother Ken. Mum sometimes played the organ. Once a month, a Lutheran pastor conducted the service, usually with Holy Communion.

Back then, the Australian Lutheran Church was divided into two distinct groups: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA) and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (UELCA). Taplan was UELCA, and I well remember that each Sunday, the Nitschke family—who lived near the church—drove past it on their way to the ELCA church in the neighboring town of Nangari.

Early on, Sunday School was held in the church vestry. However, during my time there, the church bought a small, transportable building for use as Sunday-School rooms.

Each year, we had a Sunday-School picnic, and the ones I remember were held in the mallee scrub on Sunset Station through the border in the state of Victoria. We had footraces, egg-and-spoon races, three-legged races, sack races, a potato race, and other events. Winners, second place, and third place got a silver coin, probably a shilling, sixpence, and three pence, respectively.

Every Christmas, we performed in a Nativity Play, and all Sunday-School students received a book of fiction. [I still have several of mine.]

The Graue family went to that church, and the father, Elmore, drove what I recall being a Ford Customline car. In any event, what I remember about him is that he was the only person I ever saw that wore a car coat, a holdover from the days of early autos when the doors and windows didn't seal particularly well, and the dust came inside.

Taplan also has a cemetery. I don't recall ever having attended a burial there, but a number of my relatives are interred there, including my paternal grandparents.

[The Taplan church closed in late 2000, and was offered for sale.]

Sports and Social Activities

One of the places I went to often was the Taplan football oval. Ken was secretary for some years until he moved away. He and Terry both played.

A retired couple, Jack and Nita Hamdorf, lived opposite the entrance to the football oval, and on home-game days, Jack was the man in the suit at the entrance with his leather cash bag collecting the entrance fees. When I was 10 or 11, I served as boundary umpire, for which I received 5 shillings (50 cents), a game.

Taplan won the Browns Well League competition two consecutive years during which I lived in the area.

About once a month, after a home game, the club hosted a pasty supper and dance in the Taplan Institute. Kids were invited too, and it was in that era that at about age 10, I learned the Military Two-Step, the Evening Three-Step, the Progressive Barn Dance, and various waltzes. After every three or so dances, Floor-Speed (a commercially packaged kind of sawdust) was sprinkled on the dance floor and us kids pulled around a heavy sack to re-polish the surface. Ken was often the Master-of-Ceremonies (MC) and he even had a set of fancy dancing shoes, called pumps. I seem to recall that no alcohol was allowed within 100 yards of the hall, and that there was no shortage of beer bottles being passed around outside. At the end of the evening, there was a late-night supper (US: desert and hot drinks), the highlight of which I recall being cream puffs.

While the men played football on Saturday afternoons in winter, the women and girls played netball right next door.

Although Taplan had a tennis team in earlier days, it no longer existed in 1961.

Each year, the Taplan Strawberry Fete was held in the institute.

From time to time, a traveling show came to town. The one I remember was the Harold Raymond Concert. Harold was blind and played violin, and he sure could make that fiddle "talk."

Playtime

Even though I was one of five children, I was five years younger than the next oldest, and for the most part, three of my siblings lived there not at all or only on occasion. As such, I really was like an only child. The nearest neighbors with a kid of my age lived about two miles away.

So, what did I do for fun? A popular activity for rural boys was bird nesting, which involved the climbing of trees and the taking and blowing of their eggs (removing the contents through a small hole by blowing) from bird's nests to make an egg collection. Sparrows were rife, and Dad encouraged me to destroy their nests at every opportunity. Many nests were at the top of stone walls of various implement sheds just beneath the corrugated-iron roofs. One summer's day, I put my hand in such a nest to remove any eggs when something strange touched me. Then out popped the head of a rather large snake that had somehow gotten up to there to eat the eggs. After that, it took me a while to get up the courage to put my hand back into that kind of nest. Magpies didn't take kindly to having their nests robbed, and they would often swoop down on the heads of anyone climbing up a tree to their nest. And their beaks were sharp. Other birds that had nests were crows, tomtits, and pigeons.

We had a large stone tank, which was surrounded by a wide, stone horse trough. In the summer, we could sort-of swim in the tank. One summer, I took swimming lessons in Loxton.

Terry had outgrown his Meccano construction set, so I inherited that, and I loved it. [I would have absolutely loved Lego if it had have existed back then!] As well as the usual metal struts and plates, it had a clockwork "engine." I also collected stamps and coins and listened to several kids' programs on the radio. I loved to read comics, mostly WWII Commando, The Phantom, and stuff from Disney. From time to time, I built a fort or a treehouse.

To earn some serious pocket money, I trapped rabbits, although I seemed to have a problem remembering exactly where I'd set all of them, so sometimes I came home one or two short. When I had traps set, I had to get up early and go around them, especially in summer, to make sure the rabbits didn't die of heat. On school days, this meant a very early start.

I also shot a .22 rifle at birds. At that time, we had an 11-shot Browning automatic that one loaded from the back of the stock up a long cavity.

One summer, before Ken was married, I stayed with him in his old caravan in Peebinga, burning brush and porcupine bushes on newly cleared ground where he share-farmed.

The Big Car Crash

It was 1962, and it was a Thursday, Market Day, and when I got home from school, I was on my own. No doubt, I had chores to do, but then it got dark, and still no one came. Quite some time later, a neighbor came to tell me that my parents had been in a car accident, and that I should go with him to his family's place nearby to stay the night. I did.

As it happened, Dad had driven the Ford Zephyr right up the back of someone's truck on the dirt road not far from the turn off to Nadda, a bit more than three miles from home. One corner of the truck's tray top came through the passenger-side of the windscreen and went into Mum's neck. The accident occurred more than 25 miles from the nearest town and ambulance service (in Loxton), and by the time someone got to a telephone and notified the police and ambulance, and they arrived on-site, Mum had lost a lot of blood.

Mum spent quite some weeks in Loxton hospital. A hole was bored through her wrist bone, and that arm was hung up via a metal piece through that hole, attached to a rail over her bed. She never was able to lift that arm very high again and was permanently disabled in other ways. It certainly was a tragic event. Many years later, she told me that Dad was driving drunk!

One or other young women lived with us to help Mum after she came home from the hospital.

At that time, we had an old pickup truck, which we used to drive to Loxton to visit Mum in hospital. One night as Dad and I were driving in, a wheel came off the truck and rolled off into the dark along the side of the road. Some of the bolts had sheared off the hub. I found the very-hot wheel off in the bushes. Somehow, we must have repaired things to limp into town, but I have no recollection of how.

School

While living at Nadda, I attended Primary School at Nadda then at Taplan. (See my essay from July 2020, "School Days: Part 1" for the details.) In my final year on the farm, I attended Loxton High School. (See my essay from July 2020, "School Days: Part 2" for the details.)

Conclusion

Stay tuned for Part 3, which covers my life in the village of Pata, and then on the outskirts of Loxton.

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