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Friday, April 22, 2011

More Calliope tales (pt 1): electrifying events

pt 1 <<you are here | pt 2 | pt 3 | pt 4 | more stories from my past | home
In a tiny country town in central Queensland in the 1950s and 60s, there are a million stories to tell. In fact, there are stories everywhere in the world. They just need a narrator and an audience interested enough to want to hear or read them. Come, come along with me - I want to tell you another little one, apart from all those others I've already told; a tale that leads on seamlessly to yet more yarns.

   All in good time - hold your horses! I  can only write so much in a couple of hours, you know.

   Calliope in the early 50s could have been set in the 1930s rather than the 1950s, and that applied particularly to our farm, Sunny Hills.

   Sunny Hills. We kids named it that. You'd never have guessed we'd come up with something quite so sophisticated as a title, would you, but it was a perfect match for our place, and the name stuck. The hills were definitely sunny. No-one could argue with that. Often they were way too sunny, in drought times, but we thought sunny and grassy and tree dotted, not the bad bits. Life for us kids was good. Think Hobbitsville from LOTR. That was us, right down to a few Bilbo Bagginses.

"Sunny Hills"
The eastern boundary ran along that farthest hill in the distance
   There were things we didn't have early in the 50s so fundamental to existence now that life must be next to unimaginable without them. Chief amongst these was electricity. In spite of the fact that we were sitting on billions of years and millions of tons of coal just up the Boyne Valley, no-one had thought to build a power station close enough to Calliope to light up our life.

   But progress happens. The day came when the township was fully wired and ready to go. Ice-chests would give way to fridges. Custard and jelly, which could be kept alive in a Coolgardie safe, would yield to freezer-based ice-cream, home-made. Wood stoves would be hurled out of kitchens and replaced by electric ones. Flat-irons on the woodstoves for electric irons; some whoo-hoo steam and dry models! Electric mantle radios would see off the last of the car-battery-driven console wirelesses you could hear from 50 metres away. Eventually, TV would come, but it would take several more years. I guess you shouldn't have too much of a good thing all at once.

   Everyone would receive electricity bills for the first time in their lives. No-one enjoyed that bit.

   There was a ceremony in the centre of town to mark the Turning On of the Lights. Oh, go on, snigger all you want at our formerly primitive existence - this was HUGE for Calliope. We all put on good clothes one evening and went down to the Diggers Arms Hall where lights had been strung across to the Diggers Arms Hotel. Nowhere else could have been more central to our social existence than that spot, for reasons I've described in wondrous detail elsewhere.

   The Shire Council President made a speech about Progress that he deliberately extended in order to increase the dramatic tension, to ensure the evening would be dark enough, and guarantee that people would appreciate to the fullest the role of the Council in bringing real artificial light to our starlit evenings. The switch was thrown and we clapped in glee as the lights all came on simultaneously, not one of them missing their cue.

   We could now start to catch up with Gladstone, which had several neon signs. Some of them flashed on and off.

   But for us at dear old Sunny Hills, there was an ache deep in our hearts. Should I wait till next time I get round to writing to tell you what it is?

   No, that would be too cruel. You'll die of curiosity or go off in a huff, so I'll tell you.

   Electricity would be denied to us on our kero-lamp property for more than a year. Why? Because we were the End of the Line. For us to be electrified, several new poles would be needed to straddle our property. A swathe of tree cutting would be required to create a clear pathway for the electric wires.

   A large amount of money would be demanded to get those wires across the gully to our house from the former end of the line at Aunty Anne's. The booster transformer there would need upgrading. Legal requirements had to be met. We would have to guarantee to use a minimum amount of electric power for the next 500 years or so. Well, maybe not quite that long.
Sunny Hills in relation to modern day Calliope. Our house is indicated.
The End of the Electricity Line in 1955! Thanks, Google Maps.

   But it would all cost money - thousands of pounds. We found it somehow, eventually.

pt 1 <<you are here | pt 2 | pt 3 | pt 4 | more stories from my past | home

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