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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taragoola and Christmas time – Jan’s story

 "Sing us a song, Jannie!"
(by Jan Stockwell)

We had, a little earlier, consumed a delicious meal that Aunty Daisy had prepared on the efficient old woodburning stove - and after helping her to clean up the kitchen, we would make our way out to the front of the house, where the lounge room led out onto a small verandah. I loved the evenings with Uncle Siv, Aunty Daisy and the boys, in their house on the river bank at Taragoola. It was always a special time of day. 

Aunty Daisy and Uncle Siv Jenson

As usual, Uncle Siv would bring out his beloved accordion and begin proceedings by playing his favourite medley of songs. Then he then would sing his very favourite song of all, "Beautiful Dreamer"......or as HE would sing.... "Beaut-tee-ful Dreamer........." I would listen appreciatively and I knew it was soon going to be my turn. He would turn to me, "Sing us a song, Jannie." I was always somewhat shy about singing in public - but for Uncle Siv, it was different.... and I'd begin to sing. He would sit there with his head slightly raised, a little smile on his face, his eyes half closed, simply enjoying the moment. "That was bee-au-ti-ful, Jannie! Sing another one!" 

A holiday at Taragoola was the most eagerly anticipated event in my life as a kid - I could hardly wait! There was just something magical about the place - and of course, the people. Aunty Daisy and Uncle Siv were gentle, kindly folk who loved one another deeply - and were in turn, dearly loved by everyone else. I don't think I ever heard a bad word spoken about either of them! With their sons Mervyn and Neville, they lived the typical, hardworking, country life - pretty much at peace with the world. They enjoyed company and visitors were welcomed often. We went to stay at least a couple of times a year in the school holidays and our whole family would visit on festive occasions.

Merv teased me mercilessly - which I thoroughly enjoyed, of course. Then there was dear Nev, of whom I was especially fond. I remember his sweet nature and his infinite patience with us. Many happy hours were spent going through the boxes of toys and books from their days as kids - I could always find treasures there. I remember the wooden monkey which was suspended between two rods, which when squeezed together, would make the monkey turn somersaults! I loved the meccano set and looking through Nev's books of lovely drawings that he had done in his teen years. 

The days began very early - as is the way with dairy farms. The house was a fair distance from the dairy - down a flat track along which I would walk with Aunty Daisy a little later. The milking would be in full swing by then - the engine chugging away running the milking machines and I would walk around, taking everything in. If I walked within firing range when Merv was preparing to put the milking cups onto a cow, I would be the recipient of a well aimed squirt of milk. Everybody seemed to be pretty good natured usually, including the cows! On returning home for breakfast after milking, we would wash in a basin of water and a cake of red Lifebuoy soap which was always at the ready at the back door leading into the kitchen. Soon the delicious breakfast aromas would sharpen our appetites and we were all ready to tuck in. Aunty Daisy always helped the men with the milking - but Uncle Siv and the boys would help her with the washing up at mealtime - not always the case in the family life of that era.

There was never any shortage of things to do to fill the day. I would explore an area at the back of the house where there was an old steam engine (which later became the subject of one of Mum's drawings - a particular favourite of mine). I loved playing around it. Beside the house, was a paddock of corn and if I happened to be there at the right time, I'd be lucky enough to score a freshly picked ear of sweet corn. Sometimes I would go with the men in the farm ute, down to the cultivated areas along the river or driving along a very large, level area of land - which we simply called "the flats" - to the property of a relative of Uncle Siv's.

In the daytime, the flats looked like any other large, flat area of grassland - BUT..... at night, at least in my eyes, they took on an aura of eerieness and mystery! The flats were famous in the area as a place you could see what the locals called min min lights - little lights that could often be seen bobbing just above grass level. (Rather less scary than the sightings in some areas in Western Queensland - which I suspect - may have been beefed up somewhat, after it was discovered that they were attracting an increasing number of tourists!) However, there is no doubt there is something there - as they were sometimes visible from the front gate to the house paddock at Taragoola. One night, Uncle Siv pointed them out to me and I never ever felt the same way about the flats from that moment on! The locals were used to the min min lights and there were lots of stories told about them. Many theories have been put forward as to what causes them - some kind of electrical activity in certain atmospheric conditions perhaps......who knows? They certainly spooked me anyway! 

I loved the telephone!! We didn't have a phone at home at this stage - so that was novelty enough - but this was the old party line system where you had a "wind-up" ringing device and privacy was non-existent. Anyone could listen in and some of them did!! One lady who was famous for it, was sprung by Merv one day - when he deliberately mentioned that she had would be listening in - and she indignantly replied, "I am not!!"

A highlight of the day was going down to the river for a swim - the Boyne River fascinated me. I loved the crossing where the water rippled over the flat river stones. That brings to mind a near disaster one Christmas when our whole family was at Taragoola for the day. Lyn and I were paddling in the shallow edge of the crossing. Lyn was about three - Den must have been only a baby - and I think on this occasion, was having an afternoon nap up at the house. Mum was watching us from the river bank. If you went too far in towards the middle of the crossing, the current became quite strong and Lyn was a bit over adventurous. Suddenly, she lost her footing! Down she went into the water and immediately began floating downstream. Mum was wearing a new pair of casual shoes, that she'd just been given for Christmas and I'll never forget her jumping into the water, shoes and all - and grabbing Lyn by the back of her clothes and dragging her out. Poor Mum! She didn't get too many pairs of new shoes!

 What a change the Boyne River was, from the water holes in the creek at home - from which, after a "swim", we would emerge covered in streaks of mud! The road down to the Boyne crossing was steep and the river, with the tall blue mountains quite close in the background, made a very attractive vista. I loved skipping the flat smooth stones across the water. The men occasionally used to go fishing after milking in the evening - they had an old row boat and lines - though I think they mainly used nets. They would bring home some quite decent catches of fish - a fair bit of mullet - and it would be instantly cleaned, filleted and cooked. Pretty good! It wasn't until I was older than I heard about the highly illegal practice occasionally used to catch fish in those days - by igniting a small plug of dynamite under the water. The resulting small explosion would stun the fish in the immediate area - which would then be quickly picked up with nets. This of course, would have been disastrous for the ecology, if it had become common practice - because the small fish were killed outright it would soon have destroyed the fish population in the river. The Boyne as I remember it then, was a beautiful river - an idyllic place to live and work beside. I loved hearing the calls of the water birds at night and in the early mornings. It was a place that made me feel happy. We were not to know that our dear Nev would some years later, lose his life in a tractor accident on the river bank - when it rolled on him, killing him instantly. There were no roll cages on tractors then.

 We were also not to know that someday, that special place would be swallowed up in the waters of Lake Awoonga after the building of the dam - it would have been inconceivable then.


  1. This is such a great idea that I'm thinking of getting my family to do the same! The map is great too. What songs do you remember singing, Jan? Recently visiting my mum in the hostel where she lives, we went to a singalong of songs from the 40s and I was amazed at how many of them I could remember entirely (I was born in 1953)

  2. Songs of the 50s? Oh oh, pick me, pick me! No, I'll wait for Jan to respond, as she is/was a singer and there's not one of the 50s songs that isn't in the Boomerang songster songbooks and beyond that she didn't know and sing. I wonder if you have any of those still, Jan?

  3. But even if born in the 50s, the 40s songs were still around. Naturally I remember the 50s ones also - it makes me so aware of how effortlessly retentive a child's brain is.

  4. Yes, crystal clarity. Jan's not biting - she's got lots to do! - Here's a few that spring immediately to mind.
    Gosh, just go here and take your pick!
    If you don't know most of them practically word for word I'd be surprised! Looking at these is a real trip down memory lane for baby boomers.... Half them I had forgotten about - but they're all there on the hard disk at the back of my brain somewhere.

  5. I LOVE 'Love Letters in the Sand'...they sang "Galway Bay' that day at mum's. I was thinking what beautiful gentle (or humourous) songs they were, so kindly. Other ones I like are 'April Love', 'Friendly Persuasion', 'Secret Love', 'Magic Moments' -oh, lots! I recently bought a cheap CD of Perry Como and a Nat King Cole. but there's lots more :)


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