© 2015, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
This is the third part of a series of essays about my life from age 7–16, from 1961–1970. In Part 1, we covered the farm at Nadda 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. Part 2 covered market day, the farmhouse, the outbuildings, the food we ate, the local towns, church and Sunday school, sports and social activities, and the Big Car Crash.
Pata: 1966–1968, age 12–15
Early in 1966, we moved from the farm at Nadda to Pata, a "town" nine miles from Loxton on the paved road running south along the railway line to Veitch, Alawoona, Murray Bridge, and on to Adelaide. At that time, the general store/Post Office was owned by Johnny Scholz who also had the store/Post Office at the neighboring town of Veitch. Dad bought the Pata business, the attached house, and surrounding land.
The house was huge! The front faced east, and although we never used the front entrance, here's the house layout entering from that place. Facing the front of the house, it was two large rooms wide. Attached to the right side was the store/Post Office. Walking through the front metal gate, one went under a large overhead trellis covered with roses. There was a wide verandah along the front dead-ending on the right at the store wall and around the left-end, all the way back. The front garden had many bushes and flowers.
The front door led into a wide passage. The room to the right was my bedroom, and the one to the left was sister Pat's. The passage ended at a T-junction with another wide passage. The right arm went to Dad and Mum's bedroom and then to the side door of the store/Post Office. The left arm went to a door out to the side verandah. Along the way, another door led off to the right to the lounge room, which had an open fireplace.
On the opposite side of the lounge room a door led directly into the kitchen. A short, narrow passage off to the left from there led to the bathroom and then to a small bedroom that was brother Terry's. (Sometime after we moved in, we installed a hot-water system in the bathroom. I don't recall where we got hot water for bathing before that.) A door from the right side of the kitchen led to a small room that had two refrigerators (and later, a refrigerator and a large freezer). Next to those, another door led to the shop storeroom. Yet another door from that little room led to a very wide passage that ran along to the door leading out to the garage. Off this passage were two large rooms. Mum used the first as an ironing room, while I used the second as a "play" room. The left end of the passage had a door to the outside.
The left-back door of the kitchen led to the long, narrow laundry, one side of which was a long bench that was actually part of the roof of the large, underground, rainwater tank. There were doors to the outside at each end of the laundry.
Attached to the right side of the house was a very large 2-car garage, complete with an in-the-ground pit for servicing a vehicle. A tool bench ran all the way across the back wall.
Not counting doors in the shop or storeroom, seven doors led directly outside; eleven more went between rooms or from passages to rooms.
The Outbuildings and Surrounds
In the immediate back yard, there was a shed that housed a 32-volt DC electricity generating plant, and the back half of the house was still wired for that. However, that served only as a backup, as the house was wired with 240-volt AC mains power. (As such, this was the first time we could have a freezer, and TV-on-demand.) To the right of that room was the toilet. When we first moved there, it consisted of a seat on top of a large container that had to be emptied every so often. Sometime later, we had a flush toilet installed with a septic tank buried out back. Behind these small buildings was a vegetable garden.
Beyond the garden fence was a large, open area with several long, wire clotheslines. Then behind all that was a long row of sheds that housed chicken runs and nesting areas, and chicken feed. Off to the right of those was a large shed built high on stilts. This was used to store 44-gallon petrol (US: 55-gallon gasoline) drums in former days when the shopkeeper sold bulk fuel.
To the left and back we constructed a long row of pigsties from railway sleepers (US: railway ties), each of which had a small run out the back. Then even further left were very large, open yards where pigs could root around. In front of all those yards was an acre of lucerne (US: alfalfa), which we irrigated by a sprinkler that was moved along. We cut the lucerne in one of three ways: with a scythe (which I never was able to master), with sheep shears (small metal shears used for hand-shearing sheep), and later a self-propelled machine that cut a 3-foot-wide swath. We fed lucerne to the chickens and to the pigs. We also had an old, hand-cranked chaff cutter that, as its name suggests, was for cutting chaff back in the old days. It was very efficient at cutting handfuls of lucerne as well.
An old dirt track ran along the south end of the property. Across it was a 5-acre lot of Crown Land that Dad leased from the State Government. We built several large pig yards there with straw-covered roofs.
Later, Dad leased 50-odd acres of Crown Land that lay between the town boundary to the north and the neighboring farm. We fenced that off, got water connected to it, and ran sheep there.
To the right of the house was a large lot that may well have had a separate title. I recall that we had some grapes growing there and some vegetables, but mostly it went unused. I seem to recall that the wastewater from the kitchen and laundry drained away out there.
The Store and Post Office
The business area consisted of a large, long room. One entered from the street up some steep steps onto a stone verandah. The door was in the center. To its left was a window that slid up to deal with the Post Office, although we rarely used that. Inside the door, there was a long counter down each side with shelving going up to the top of the 12-foot ceiling. Immediately on the left side was the Post Office set into a small room that adjoined the outside service window. That room housed a stack of wooden mailboxes. Customers could not access their own box directly; instead, they asked for their mail. The mail came by train several days each week and was in a lead-sealed bag that was put into a locked cabinet at the station across the road. By this time, the area had automated telephone service, so that was no longer provided by the Post Office.
At the rear of the shop was a staff-only area with some cabinets, a couple of work desks, and a filing cabinet for records. A side door led into the house. The backdoor led into a cavernous storeroom that in older times was, no doubt filled up with all sorts of things. For a time, Dad was an agent for various kinds of animal-feed pellets—which were stored there—but much of the time it was empty. It had a very wide door that led outside for loading and unloading.
Operating a Post Office was a serious business, as it was an agency of the Federal Government. So, Mum had to be certified to do that. There was one so-called remote postal area, at Pyap West, that didn't have easy access to mail delivery. As such, Mum had a contract to drive there each Friday to deliver the mail.
Once or twice a month, someone would drive the 20 miles to Berri to a grocery wholesaler to buy goods for the shop. I went a few times. [Frankly, we didn't do a lot of business, as the death knell had sounded for small, rural shops and Post Offices. Besides, my Dad was hardly a businessman, so I doubt that buying that business was a good decision.]
To the right of the shop was a petrol bowser (US: gasoline pump). It was manually operated using a hand pump and could measure out up to five gallons at a time. I remember well one local identity, Vic Pascoe, coming to buy petrol. Vic lived in a broken-down old house a few miles to the south on the Biggins farm. Now although he owned a working Ford Prefect car, it wasn't registered, and I don't expect he had a driving license or insurance. Anyway, now and then, he risked driving his car the few miles on the main road up to our shop to buy petrol. One day as I was filling his tank, he proudly showed me his new "registration sticker." And yes, right there in the corner of the windscreen (US: windshield), where the registration was required to be, was affixed a large Southwark beer bottle label. [At that time, South Australia had two breweries: Southwark and West End.] So, I guess he was registered by the "State of Intoxication!" But that wasn't the biggest surprise. He opened up the boot (US: trunk) and there sitting in the middle of his spare tyre (US: tire) was a hen, complete with eggs! Sometimes Vic would bring his faithful dog, which would wait outside the store on the verandah. Vic would take out his mouth organ (US: harmonica) and play a tune, and the dog would sing/howl along. Much of the time we were at Pata, he had a woman friend living with him, one Sylvia Bartels. The thing I remember about her is that once each month, she'd receive a package in the mail containing one or more packs of cigarettes. It never was clear to me why she couldn't buy them locally for the same price.
Another local identity was Oscar Schroeder, a retired bachelor who lived several miles away on a dirt road. (I don't think his house had electricity.) Anyway, once a week, Oscar rode his bicycle to the shop to get his mail and to buy a few things. To carry them home he had a 10-pound sugar bag tied over his shoulder with a piece of cord. He was quite a gregarious character.
Another local was Charlie Nicolai who with his wife Sarah and son Mervyn farmed just beyond Oscar's place. Charlie's favorite ending to various sentences was "Thank you please." [Charlie died in the room next to me when I was in hospital with a broken leg. See below for more details.]
Pigs, Pigs, and More Pigs
My guess is that at most times, we ran more than 200 pigs, many of which we bred. My job after school each weekday was to feed those pigs buckets of crushed grain. I also had to clean the cement water troughs. This was made a bit more challenging when I had a half- and then full cast on my broken leg.
All the sties had straw roofs and dirt floors, and in the summer, it got quite hot. At the hottest, we had sprinklers in some of the pens to help the pigs cool down.
I remember one particular incident, which happened so quickly, I had no time to think that I was "going to die." As I mentioned earlier, the smaller sties had a small run out the back, and that was reached by a small opening in the wall at the back. Dad wanted to vaccinate (or do something or other) to a large sow, so he told me to bring her into the main pen from the run, and then to sit in that back opening, blocking it as an escape route. Well, the sow knew the opening was right behind me, and when she wanted "out," she put all her force behind her 200+ pounds of weight and fairly well charged pretty much through me. Fortunately, I was pushed back and to the side, rather than being wedged against the opening wall or trampled. Having me sit there certainly wasn't the smartest idea my Dad had, that's for sure!
We used a large tractor-driven hammer mill to crush grain, which then was augured up into a small silo. That was noisy and dusty work, and I sure don't remember anyone wearing earplugs! And anyone who has worked around certain types of cereal grain will know how itchy that dust can be.
I found pigs to be very intelligent and I liked working with them. [To this day, when I'm at a farm or livestock show, I always reach into the pigpen and give one a scratch on the ears, head, and back, just to hear that contented grunt.]
When we moved from Nadda, we still had the 1966 HD Holden automatic. Next, Dad bought a 1967, light green, HR Holden. The following year, he bought a 4-door Holden Torana, GMH's first small car.
For at least half the time at Pata, Dad owned a cream-colored Chrysler Valiant ute (utility vehicle), which he used to drive to/from work and to haul supplies and animals to/from market. At times, he also used that to pull a tandem (4-wheeled, that is) trailer loaded with animals. Later, he sold the ute and trailer, and bought a small, red truck, which could haul bigger loads.
The Town of Pata
Although the township plan was probably a half-mile square, there was only a handful of buildings, and most lots were still owned by the Crown (that is, the government).
Next to the store/Post Office was a large house and side lot used for a garden. At the back of that place was a former tennis court. (Our lucerne patch ran behind this.) I don't recall this place being occupied when we moved in, but not long after, a family moved in.
Across the dirt road, running east west by the store was the Pata Institute (hall that is). It was rarely used even back then, as there were no longer any sporting or social activities left in the area. Everything was done in Loxton, which was only 10–15 minutes' drive away. [The hall has since been demolished.]
On the dirt road leading in from the highway there stood a one-teacher school with an adjoining teacher's house. The old school was no longer in use and was filled with all sorts of junk.
Almost hidden in tall hop bushes there were the remains of two blacktop tennis courts. The neighbor kids and I tried to clean them off to play, but the surface was too cracked and uneven.
Opposite the store entrance was a large weighbridge, which had been built to weigh full and empty trucks back when grain was handled in bags through the railway yards. Although the large open-sided, mouse-proof, wheat-stack buildings still stood there, they had been retired with the coming of bulk handling and silos (US: grain elevators).
Behind the weighbridge was the railway yard. There was a short platform with a shed to hold the mailbag lockbox, and several lines for shunting cargo trucks. There were one or two railway employee "ganger" houses there when we arrived, but they were soon sold and moved. All railway maintenance men came on caseys (motorized carts) from Loxton or Alawoona.
Church and Confirmation
My family attended St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Loxton, usually at 10 am on Sunday mornings. The right-of-passage in the Australian Lutheran church was via confirmation, a yearlong process of religious study usually done around age 11–12. For me that was calendar year 1966. [The calendar year is also the school year, at least from February to December back then.] Each Saturday morning, I would attend confirmation classes at the Lutheran Day School (a parochial primary school that I had attended from 1959–1961) in Loxton. Classes ran for 2½ hours and were taught by one or other of the Lutheran ministers. My guess is that we had projects and reading to do during the week, and we probably had some sort of tests on a regular basis. Frankly, I don't remember much about the classes themselves other than I was definitely there against my will.
At the end of the year, the whole congregation assembled in the church on a Saturday night and we 24–30 students sat in chairs up on the raised area in front of the altar, facing one sidewall. There stood one of the ministers who proceeded to give us an oral exam, in public, the first round of individual questions being done with us speaking into a microphone for all the world to hear! Talk about pressure. [Of course, I don't remember any of the actual questions we had to answer, but I do remember the ones we joked about throughout the year. "When were motor vehicles first mentioned in the Bible? When Moses roared down the hill in his Triumph!" And then there was "Come forth my Son," but he tripped and fell and came fifth! And "How long did Cain hate his brother? As long as he was Abel!"]
All the kids that year passed the test, and so the following morning, there was the confirmation service. All the boys were dressed in black suits and all the girls in white dresses. We walked in boy-girl pairs down one of the aisles and sat right down the front. And when it came time to take Holy Communion, we got first shot at the port wine and wafers. Yes!
I do remember that the main minister was one John Boehm, a very nice man with a young family. The other minister was a quite old Danish man, Pastor Larson, whose primary job was to minister to the residents of the Loxton Riverview Rest Home (run by the Lutheran church) as well as to rural congregations. He had a thick accent, and he always started his sermons "My Dear People."
Once one was confirmed, one no longer attended Sunday School. Instead, one was a full member of the church with all its obligations. The main thing I remember is that each member was assigned a membership number and was given a box of envelopes with that number stamped on the outside. Each time one attended church and the collection (that is, offering) plate came around, one put in one's envelope with one's contribution sealed inside, and the amount written on the outside. Then after church ended, a committee (that later on included my Mum) counted all the offerings and recorded the amounts against each member name.
In the three years I lived in Pata, I attended my second, third, and fourth years of high school. (See "School Days: Part 2" from October 2020 for more details.) To get to school I rode the bus that went out from Loxton to the Pyap West corner and Pata. It was owned by dad's brother, Uncle Paul Jaeschke.
Sports and Social Activities
In the winter, I played Australian Rules Football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team. In the summer, I played tennis for the Veitch club, which was part of the Brows Well league.
For the last year or so in Pata, I got a job after school and on Saturday mornings at Clarks Foodland supermarket in Loxton. In the summer holidays, I also cut and, later, picked apricots.
Well, after riding a bus home from school and walking from the stop, feeding pigs, and then doing homework, there wasn't much spare time during the week. And then on Saturdays, it was sports time. However, I did spend time playing with the kids next door, and I recall hitting a tennis ball against the storeroom outside wall.
My one passion was to own my very own Scalextrix 1/32-scale electric slot-car racing set. I bought a basic set and then proceeded to build a large table from material I "found" around the old wheat stacks in the railway yard. And as the shop storeroom was huge and mostly empty, I built and set up my table there. Now the set ran off a 12-volt power supply, but rather than spend 12 whole dollars on a 240-volt-to-12-volt converter, I pulled one of the cars up to the storeroom door and ran a cable to its battery. After all, $12 could buy 12 lengths of track or a car or two, so no point wasting money on the transformer! Anyway, I acquired quite a circuit complete with outbuildings, crossovers, bridges, and even miniature people. There really was no end to what one could buy or make. Now my good friend and schoolmate, Peter May, lived no more than a mile and a half away, and he had a set as well. However, in his case, his parents renovated an old cellar for him to house his set, and they bought him a transformer as well. We spent time at each other's houses racing and re-arranging our layouts.
My Broken Leg
In 1968, I was in Year 11 at High school, and my football team—the Loxton Tigers Colts—made it to the Grand Final, which was played at the oval in Barmera. In the dying stages of the game, I was running in to pick the ball off the ground when a player from the opposing team, Berri, ran in to kick the ball off the ground. [Nowadays, that results in a penalty and is referred to as "kicking in danger."] He missed the ball and got me right in the shin of my right leg, and down I went. After a brief lie on the ground, with the help of the trainers (the guys who run out onto the field with water, towels, and to help with minor medical problems) I managed to walk off the field. Not long after, the final siren sounded, and we'd won the game and the championship.
As was always the case, at each local sporting event involving bodily contact or other chances for injury, the non-profit St. Johns' Ambulance Brigade always provided an ambulance and several (usually volunteer) first-aid people. They looked me over, put my leg in an inflatable splint, and figured I'd need to go to the hospital to have the leg X-rayed. However, rather than go to the Barmera hospital and possibly stay overnight in a town away from home, they agreed to drive me back to Loxton, and my Dad rode in the ambulance with me. At the Loxton hospital, the X-ray showed a multiple fracture (without any sideways displacement, which was why I was able to walk off the playing field), so the doctor and nurses put a plaster cast on the lower leg leaving the front open to accommodate the swelling. Several days later, they wrapped plaster around to provide a somewhat thin cover over the front.
I stayed in hospital for a couple of nights. I was in a bed right up in the far corner in the large men's ward. Through a door nearby was a room where male patients were put if they were unlikely to survive. I believe it was referred to as the "Death Ward!" Anyway, while I was in hospital, old Charlie Nicolai from Pata was wheeled in there, and his family came to say "goodbye" along with the Lutheran minister. Charlie was on some sort of breathing device that made quite a sound. In the middle of the night, I woke up and heard that sound stop, and I figured Charlie had gone to that great farm in the sky. So, I buzzed the nurse to let her know. The next morning, nurses were wheeling equipment out of that room and generally cleaning it up, but no one would say that Charlie had died; they had to keep up the morale of the other patients, I guess, lest we thought it was a result of the hospital food.
For some reason, the doctor did not put a heel on my cast, which made it difficult to walk. I'm guessing that was the point, to keep me off that foot. Of course, I had crutches, but I still put weight on the foot. Once I was out of hospital, I had checkups at the doctor's office every two weeks. Given the temporary nature of the first cast with the front closed after the swelling went down, and my general abuse of it, that cast lasted only a few weeks, and the doctor replaced it with a new one. But when I broke that—because I was driving a stick shift vehicle and getting around without my crutches to feed the pigs—the doctor put on a full cast, right up to my thigh. That made it impossible to sit on the front seat of a car, let alone drive, so it had the desired intent, to slow me down. Bugger!
I soon got into the swing of using crutches, but it made it awkward to use them and to carry a school satchel the half mile to/from the bus stop from the house, and to get around school with books and such.
To use the ambulance service, one generally became a member for an annual fee, and that entitled one to unlimited usage, as needed. As such, whenever I had to go to the doctor's office, I scheduled a pickup by an ambulance. And some days, the driver would be a bit bored, and he'd use the siren as we drove the couple of miles from the high school through the town. At the beginning, I rode in a special passenger seat. However, once I had a full cast, I could no longer fit there, so they had to open the back, lay me on the bed, and strap me in. It was quite a production when kids saw me being loaded in at the school. I know I enjoyed it. One nice day, when I was done at the doctor's office the driver said something like, "Where to Sir?" and I said, "It's such a nice afternoon, why don't I skip school for the rest of the day, and have you drive me home?" He thought that was a fine idea, and as he had nothing better to do, we drove the nine miles to Pata where he came into the house and had a cup of tea with Mum.
Other Family Members
Dad always had a job when we lived at Pata. Mainly, he worked as the groundskeeper at the Loxton High School; however, that was not a fulltime job. Each weekday morning and night, he drove a school bus for Kaesler's bus service. (The proprietors were Felix and Hilda, with Hilda being Mum's older sister.) On Thursdays after he'd finished the bus run, he'd go to the new sale yards and hose out the pigpens after that day's market. Sometimes he'd pick me up after work at Clarks and I'd help him. Then sometimes on the way home, we'd pull off to the side of the road where wild turnip was growing in big thick clumps, and we'd dig up a whole ute load and take it home to feed the pigs. They just loved it. Other times, we'd pick up all the kitchen waste from a local family restaurant, The Magpie Café. That too was fed to the pigs. And in season, some fruit growers would grow a variety of pumpkins and marrows in their orchards and drill them into the soil for nitrogen or some such benefit. We'd go by and get a load of them for pig feed.
Brother Ken was living in Peebinga and by the time we left Pata, he was married. Sister Dawn was also married and living at the Aboriginal Mission in Hermannsburg. Near the end of 1968, I took the train to Alice Springs and then stayed with her and her family. Afterwards, we all drove back to South Australia, as they were visiting family and friends before moving to Queensland. Brother Terry lived with us in Pata until he was married in 1967. When Sister Pat came back from Renmark, she worked in the store for a few months, but then went to Clarks Foodland in Loxton. After she met Trevor Lange (who lived in the old Pata school), they started dating, and eventually married.
During the Vietnam War, Australia had the military draft for men aged 20, who were chosen via a lottery to serve 18 months National Service ("Nasho"). To avoid the lottery, one could volunteer to serve six years in the Citizen's Military Forces (CMF), which involved training one night each week, one weekend each month, and two full weeks each year. Terry and Trevor joined the CMF!
On the Edge of Loxton: 1969–1970, age 15–16
Once the Pata place was sold, we moved to the edge of the irrigated area of Loxton East. The house was part of a fruit property (called a fruit block); however, we only rented the house.
When the fruit blocks in the area were developed, each came with a 2-bedroom house that was in one of two styles, with one being a mirror image of the other. The front door entered directly into a short passage with the lounge room through a door to the right. To the left was a long room at the end of which was a partition for a small office where Dad kept his writing bureau, and I had a homework desk. Off to the right were doors to bedrooms for Dad and Mum, and me. The front passage led to the kitchen, off of which were a pantry and a bathroom. I seem to recall that the toilet was outside the back door, which opened from the kitchen.
The Outbuildings and Surrounds
When a fruit property was first developed, a military-surplus Nissan hut (US: Quonset hut) was erected. Half of it was lined and divided into several small rooms to make a temporary residence for the fruit grower. The other end was used to house a tractor and various implements used to work the citrus trees, stone fruits, and/or grape vines on the property. Once the main house was built, the fruit grower moved there and then used the Nissan hut as pickers' quarters; that is, to house itinerant workers who came through the area to pick fruit, to prune vines, or do any number of other jobs. During the 1950's and 1960's, most of these people were of Italian or Greek extraction.
From the creation of the fruit properties until the 1970's, irrigation was by way of concrete-lined V-shaped channels that were 4–5 feet deep and probably 5–6 feet across. One of these ran behind the Nissan hut near our house. [In later years, the channels were replaced by pipelines, which eliminated the evaporation.]
Near the house was a large implement shed used by the grower who ran the block. We kept our main car in one of its bays.
The driveway came in from the road and ran past the house, which was on the right. To the left was a long row of very tall Athol-pine trees. The large front yard was covered in lawn around which Mum had some shrubs and flowers.
Personal Vehicles and Driving
We still had the Holden Torana from Pata. Dad must have sold the truck, as I recall his having a grey Holden ute with a canopy over the back. He used this to drive to work, and to drive people and equipment around on the job.
I turned 16 in December of 1969, so was eligible to get my driving license. However, I failed my first attempt at doing so. Basically, the policeman told me to "drive like I'd been taught" and I did! He failed me for speeding and one other infraction I don't recall, so I had to wait at least two weeks to try again. The second time, I passed. [Back then all written and practical license testing was done by the State Police, which had a station in Loxton. Nowadays, it's done by employees of the State Motor Vehicles Department.]
In the year I lived at the house, I attended my fifth (and final) year of high school.
Sports and Social Activities
In the winter, I played football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team. I was also involved with athletics at school and with the Loxton Harriers Club.
I'm not sure that I continued work at Clark's Foodland, because if I did, I don't know how I would have gotten home after work. I was the only child still living at home, I had no driving license, and Dad was no longer working in the town or driving school buses. I might have still worked there Saturday mornings, however.
With Year 12 came a lot of homework, so even though I no longer had any pigs to feed, I doubt I had that much free time.
I do remember that I'd grown out of my slot-car racing phase, so I sold my whole set, in which I'd invested so much time (and a non-trivial amount of money).
Other Family Members
Each day, Dad worked at a huge American-owned fruit property. Then once I finished high school, early in December 1969, I worked there fulltime as well, until I moved to Adelaide in March 1970. Mum was a homemaker.
In March of 1970, at the grand age of 16 years and 2 months, I moved to Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia. There, I worked fulltime, played semi-pro football during the winter, and attended university as a part-time, evening student.