A farm holiday? For farm kids?
But the Boyne River could be deep and wide, and eventually flowed into the sea. It had shoals of mullet in it, and other fish, and large turtles, and in flood times could be a wide and dangerous piece of water. All this made holidays at Taragoola different, and special.
The Nordic connection
Uncle Siv surely came from Viking stock and he still retained a hint of the accent or pronunciation idiosyncrasies of his Nordic ancestors – the word we will all remember was how he said ‘Byoot-ee-ful’.
‘They was beaut-ee-ful, Joan – Jan – June….’
It was wonderful that there were so many byooteeful things in his life, the grey-haired patriarch with those Scandinavian blue eyes and a wicked glint in them. Oh yes, they were wicked - I don't know how much voolee-vooing he did in France during WW1 when he was 17, but he could certainly parlee-voo quite a bit - and I'll wager he didn't learn it from les hommes.
Their sons Mervyn and Neville were not that much younger than our parents – because when Mum was posted to Riverston school when she first started teaching there at the age of about 18, she taught Neville, so he was probably eight or so years younger than she. Mum boarded with Uncle Siv and Aunty Daisy as a teacher and that’s how she met Dad in the first place. Mervyn and Neville then treated us like much younger siblings, teasing us unmercifully and indulging us in ways one’s peers don’t.
"No moon landings!"
‘Maybe they will,’ someone would bravely venture.
‘No!’ he would declare with total conviction. ‘And do you know why?’
He'd roll a smoke and light it.
He'd draw in deeply as the tobacco smoke lazily curled out the wide-open windows.
An even better one that we could have differing opinions on was this doozy.
‘Yes…. That’s right.’
‘He’ll never get out,’ we say. ‘But he can jump as many jumps as he likes,’ says Uncle Siv, ‘So he’s got to get out sometime!’
Apparently Uncle Siv and George debated the question for quite some time, with George writing down a set of mathematical calculations ending in larger and larger numbers after the decimal point, in order to introduce Uncle Siv to notions of infinitely smaller froggie jumps within the circle.
The thing that fascinated me about Christmas at the Jensons, or just being at their place anytime, was that they always had mechanical devices that my father never used on our place. We had a horse and sulky [buggy] in the earliest days, they had utes, and tractors with steel spiked back wheels instead of rubber tyres. To state the bleedin’ obvious, the tractor wasn’t designed to go on roads or car tracks, but the spikes must have done a damn fine job of aerating the rich river-flat soil with deep puncture marks into the ground. I got to drive theirs sometimes and loved it, even if it was just on the straight bit of grass beside the car tracks up to the dairy.
|This is an antique tractor from the 30s. The Jensons' was much more upmarket and super-cool, |
but you can see how the spiked wheels worked. http://tinyurl.com/2d3e5k4
At night they would use a pressure lamp for the dining room instead of what we had at home – we had plain kerosene lamps that bathed the room in a soft yellow glow. The pressure lamp had a mantle, and the fuel under pressure was atomised on to the delicate web-like mantle inside, creating a brilliant white light that attracted moths and beetles for miles. The sound of the pressure lamp was a distinctive low roar or hiss. It was exciting. To us, it sounded and smelt of warm summer nights by the river.
At Christmas time, they also strung up real electric lights in the house. Of course, as in our case for a lot of the 1950s, there was no power grid to service rural properties, so if you were going to have anything electric, you made your own.
Mervyn rigged up a DC lighting system running off 12 volt batteries that were recharged by a generator. It was magic to have real electric lights for Christmas, and the insects loved them just as much as they did the pressure lamplight. When you were eating, you had to watch out for beetles or moths that might have suicided in your gravy, or in your Christmas pudding with the silver sixpences in it. Christmas beetles taste foul, I can tell you, even with Aunty Daisy’s custard.
The other thing that fascinated me was that Mervyn and Neville each had portable transistor radios. Sometimes they would have them on at each end of the same room, and as I walked between them, the sound would seemingly pass through my head and at some point seem to come from right in the middle of my brain. You aren’t impressed? You have studio quality ambient noise cancelling wireless Senheisser headphones? Well, bully for you… so do I. But in the 50s, the sheer wanton luxury of a portable transistor radio at each end of the room was just as magical, so there.
The penultimate thing I’ll mention was the one-holer dunny at the Jensons’ place. This was an amazing piece of sanitation engineering. If you opened the lid and looked in, which you always did, of course, the hole simply descended into blackness. It was so deep I was fairly sure that there was lava at the bottom of it. If it wasn’t lava, well…. let’s not explore that too deeply. I just didn’t think it was humanly possible to dig a hole that deep without bringing in Caltex or Shell.
And, of course, they had the party-line telephone, another piece of magic that Jan has described already. A real telephone that you could speak to people in other houses round about the river and beyond.
Each house had its own allotted ring combo, so if you wanted to ring Jean Stark across the river, you'd do a sort of Morse Code short-short-long-short turn of the ringer handle and she'd know someone was calling her. Confusions, accidental or deliberate, often led to multiple conversations between A, B, and C, which could be even better than two-way, except if A and B wanted to gossip about C or about something that C shouldn't hear. Party line conversations could be fraught with danger - though mostly it was just good fun, and could save a life in an accident.
Tragically, the phone didn't save Neville's life, when the river bank close to where he was ploughing gave way, and the tractor plunged fifteen metres down the high crumbling bank to the water's edge below. That was heart-breaking for us all and would have happened in about 1969. Nev, the gentlest soul in all the world, had a pretty good voice and I'll never forget him sitting there milking by hand, head tilted to one side, in a world of his own, and singing the Slim Whitman classic, China Doll.
Copy and paste the link below into a new page in your browser. I tried to embed it here but it didn't work. It is so evocative it will make my sisters cry when they hear it. This is the 50s and it is the country, don't forget!!
But let's smile again because no-one should grieve forever. There are a million things I might have written about, including the snottaberries and the Buffs, but you’ve probably had enough by now. It was a magical world, with magical people, with those blue, blue mountains as a backdrop, and how lucky we were as kids to experience it.
|Our mother's painting of the old steam engine, the Boyne and the mountains|