HOW IT ALL STARTED
My parents were probably the first generation after true pioneers, in the Chinchilla district. Both arrived as small children between 1905 and 1910, and witnessed all the changes from horsepower to internal combustion engines. In later life they did own a TV, but no mobile phones or computers.
Mum’s father was Harry Littleproud, a skilled carpenter and bridge builder. Born in New Zealand, he grew up in a farming community in the small settlement of Mangonui, where his father ran the local boarding house and hotel. As a youth, Harry trained in Auckland as a carpenter, before going home to his parents. He used to tell me stories of how, as a young man, he took part in the trade of digging for kauri gum in the local swamps. He was the eldest of eight children, and must have realised that his future would be limited in New Zealand. So by the middle of the 1880s, he moved to Australia.
His carpentry skills were soon in demand. He told us that he helped to build the historic Carcoar woolshed in western New South Wales. But soon after that, he was working building timber road bridges, in mountainous areas of the State. We think he met his wife, who grew up in Bombala, while bridge-building on the Snowy River in the Monaro District of New South Wales.
He also spent a couple of years on the Western Australian goldfields, without great financial success.
‘I got typhoid fever there,’ he told me. ‘I would have died, too, except that I had a mate who nursed me. That means I was one of the lucky ones.’
He did give me a small tobacco tin holding a few pieces of gold-bearing quartz.
Harry married my Grandmother Agnes in November 1900 in Sydney. Harry alone visited Chinchilla to build a house for his brother-in-law George Rochester, and chose the next-door property, called Hopewood, for his family. The family sailed on the motor coastal vessel the Yongala, in 1910, when my mother Emmie was four. Once in Chinchilla Harry settled his family in a house in the town, while he was employed building one-roomed schools, around the district. He also built bridges on the railway line near Chinchilla. And he took his time before building a house on Hopewood.
By 1914, Emma, always known in the family as Emmie, was in a loving family, living on a thriving dairy farm, and getting a regular education in a local one-teacher school, built by her father. As a teenager,
Emmie and her brother George loved to attend local dances, riding horses to get there in the early evening, spending hours with friends in good and energetic company, and riding home in the early morning. Then they caught a few hours of sleep, before it was time to wake for the first milking of the cows for the day.
Emmie had become a good tennis player during her time at boarding school. She told us that during one of her holidays at home, she and a friend had attended a local tennis match. During the lunch break, they took the chance to have a game on the empty court, but were quite cross when they were joined by at last one attentive young man … Ray Redgen, her future husband.
‘After that,’ he said, ‘I watched her, every time she came to catch the train. I told my friends that I was going to marry her one day!’
But he had to wait some time to do it.
The only story I have retained of their courtship was that he would leave home in Chinchilla early on Sunday morning, to ride the twenty-five or so kilometres to her home. There he spent the day with her family, before leaving after dark to ride back to town, to be ready for work the next day. Sometimes the saddle horse must have been exchanged for a sulky. I heard that her brother George had to chase the sulky for some distance, before the horse was convinced that it had to leave for the drive home.
The couple eventually married in 1929. Before then, Emmie had spent a year as a Governess on Mildura, a sheep station near Barcaldine, teaching two young girls. This was a long way from Chinchilla, and to get there she must have made a long journey; almost 300 km to Brisbane; 550 km to Rockhampton; and another 550 km to Barcaldine, all by steam train. It must have taken several days. I think she quite enjoyed her time, and old newspaper stories indicate that she kept playing tennis there.
Emmie and Ray did not see each other during this time, but there must have been some communication between them. On her return journey, Ray met Emmie’s train in Maryborough, where his married sister lived, still many kilometres away from Chinchilla. Emmie told me that, before then, she had not really made up her mind about continuing the engagement, until she saw him on the platform. That was the true beginning of their fifty-five years of happy marriage.
In 1933, Ray and Emmie moved from Chinchilla, to a small house on the farm Ray had chosen. The only water came from rain that fell on the roof of the house, and was collected in a metal tank. Lighting was candles and kerosene lamps. For heating and cooking, they used the wood-burning stove, which was the bane of Emmie’s life for the next thirty years. Every day, she had to collect ‘chips’, slivers of wood, to start the fire each morning, or if it had gone out at other times. And she also needed sizeable blocks of wood, to keep the fire burning well, during the day. There was no shortage of dead trees to provide the wood, but there was often a shortage of wood split into the lengths and diameters to fit into the firebox of the stove. She learnt to use the axe herself to keep the kitchen ‘wood box’ filled, but it was another job she hated.
In the early 1930s, all the local small farms derived their most reliable income from dairying, providing cream to a butter factory in Chinchilla. And Emmie went back to milking cows, a job she hated.
'I married a grocer', she said, ‘and he turned into a dairy farmer after I married him!’
And that is how I came to grow up on a dairy farm, fifteen km from the nearest town, Chinchilla, and spent my first nine years of schooling in a single room, five km from home.
ps. The photo shows the family about 1914 on the farm. Brother George had a stiff neck that day. My mother is between her brother and big sister Elsie, while little sister Nita sits on her mother's knee.