Saturday, November 7, 2009

Trenches of Yeppoon

HAVE you heard of the Brisbane Line? No? Neither had any of the Queenslanders living north of Brisbane during World War II because the government didn't want to scare us out of our wits.
Why would we be scared if we knew about the Brisbane Line during the war, you ask?
Because the Brisbane Line gave all of Australia north of a line - roughly from Brisbane across to Adelaide - to the Japs. They were welcome to fly into that mass of northern Australia because the big wigs in the south thought they couldn't defend such a vast area and still feel safe down south.
I don't know if my old man, Martin Kavanagh, who ran Yeppoon's Railway Hotel at the time, had any prior knowledge of the Brisbane Line but he sure seemed to be well aware of the dangers because when the Japs started advancing on New Guinea, he sent my two big sisters and my big brother out to board at the Springsure Convent a couple of hundred miles out west.
Dad, the eldest of 14 kids, had been born and raised on his parents' cattle station, Vandyke, about 18 miles southwest of Springsure back in 1894.
With any luck I could have been a filthy rich grazier now, but Dad volunteered for the First World War and was badly injured on the Somme.
A couple of years after he got home he met Mum, a publican's daughter. They married and Dad left the horses, cattle and sheep to go into pubs ... damn it.
Anyway they kept me at Yeppoon because they reckoned I was too young to send to boarding school out west. During the war the whole Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Emu Park areas were packed with American soldiers. Tens of thousands of them.
Being a publican, Dad knew many, many Australian and Yank soldiers of all ranks and could have heard about the Brisbane Line - I don't know.
But Brisbane Line or not, most Queenslanders were ready for a Jap invasion. We had to make all glass windows and doors in shops and homes secure against bomb blasts sending shattered glass flying everywhere and killing people.
To do that we glued strips of material, mainly cut from old bed sheets about as wide as an average bandage, on to the glass. The strips were glued up and across the glass about six inches apart, looking like a design for a really big Noughts and Crosses game.
Up at the Yeppoon Convent, St Ursula's, they had dug big zig-zag trenches in the playground and every now and then the head nun would blow a tin whistle and we'd all dash from the classrooms and jump into the trenches, practising what we would do when we heard the Jap bombers coming to get us.
We would squat down on the trench's clay floor, but not letting our bodies touch the side wall because they told us we could get injured by concussion if a bomb blasted nearby.
They were funny days back in the war years of the early 40s. Everything was rationed, particularly food. Adults were given ration coupons to take to the shop to buy things like butter, tea and sugar and anything else that was in short supply.
These were the days before sewerage and septic dunnies - at least in town and country. We had the old wooden dunny - the thunder box as we used to call it - standing in the back yard.
Out in the country many people had giant dunnies, maybe 100 metres from the homestead, and you don't have to ask why if you know what those country dunnies were like.
They would dig pits, about three to four metres deep and oblong in shape perhaps two metres by a metre. The tin dunny house would sit on top of that hole and the seat was a long board with a big hole for adults and a smaller hole for kids. My cousins played in there sometimes, often hanging by their hands over the pit of poo through the big seat hole.
After a year or two when the giant hole was finally full of poo, they would dig another giant hole.
Not so in our back yard.
Our dunnies had big poo cans, about 10 gallons, which were collected by the dunny man, Mr Buckley, each week and taken away to be buried in a giant poo pit out in the scrub.
One day a local bloke was walking through the scrub and unexpectedly came across Mr Buckley's poo pit.
To the bloke's horror, Mr Buckley was in the poo pit up to his knees, madly shovelling through the poo. The bloke was aghast.
"Mr Buckley, Mr Buckley," he shouted. "For God's sake what in the name of Heaven are you doing standing in the poo pit?"
Mr Buckley stopped shovelling for a second and looked up.
"I've lost my bloody coat and it's in here somewhere," he shouted back.
"But you couldn't possibly wear your coat again after it's been in all that poo," the man said.
"I'm not worried about my bloody coat," said Mr Buckley.
"But my lunch is in the pocket."
And remember, those were the days before you wrapped your lunch in Gladwrap.