Sunday, April 11, 2010

Holidays at a cattle station

WHEN I see kids today with mobile phones and all that other crazy modern electronic stuff they can't seem to do without in this crazy modern world, I wonder how they would have coped back in the 1940s and 50s, a long, long time before those things were invented?
Could they be happy just playing in the back yard or in the bush on non-school days, and listening to the war news or one or two serials, like Dad and Dave, on the wireless of a night ... if they have been good kids, that is?
Probably not, but I look back on my growing years, during and not long after the Second World War, as some of the greatest times in my life, maybe because it had a lot to do with nature and the wildlife. As a kid I spent most of my spare time in the bush, firstly in Yeppoon and then Maryborough.
When I was in my very early teens after we moved from Yeppoon to Maryborough I used to trap, breed and sell finches like Double Bars, Red Heads and Bullies because that was the only way you got pocket money. We didn't get pocket money from our parents so most kids either did that or worked on milk trucks or delivered newspapers for pocket money.
I used to make six-door bird traps out of timber and wire my big brother, Marty, and I found out at the town dump. Dumps were pretty important places for kids like us and we used to scavenge through the dump regularly for material we needed.
All of the material I needed to build my main bird cage, about double the size of the backyard dunny but not as high, came from the dump. In fact, Marty and I took over a year to find enough discarded old bicycle parts to build our two bikes. They weren't that good to look at but they sure got us to school each day and into the Wallum trapping finches or chasing brumbies most weekends.
The town dump was a pretty special place for us. Not only could you get all the material you needed to build toys like planes and trucks and bird traps but the dump could be a very entertaining place as well. Whenever we got bored we'd take a trip to the dump, spend an hour or two collecting old bottles, line them up about 30 yards away, pull out our gings ... that's shanghais to you young fellas .... and blast hell out of them over the next hour. Broken glass bottles didn't bother anyone in the dump.
I was a lot more fortunate than most of my mates back in Yeppoon and Maryborough though, because my old man, Martin, was born a bushie and all his relatives were on cattle and sheep stations out in the central west.
Unfortunately for me, though, he married mum, who was a bush publican's daughter, and they moved into various pubs. Blast it! I could have been a filthy rich cattle baron by now.
But at least I was one of the few kids in my circle who could spend my holidays on cattle stations. So on school holidays I could jump on the old steam train and headed out to Springsure where my relatives would pick me up and take me out to Vandyke station on the road to Tambo.
What a life that was back then, before helicopters and motorbikes replaced the old stock horse. I'd spend the whole holidays mustering, branding, dipping, milking, fencing and when I had time off, shooting, which wasn't too good for the wildlife unfortunately, because I did a fair bit of shooting pigs and 'roos and trapping the occasional dingo.
It was the normal thing for bush kids to do back then because we got no pocket money, as I said, and there were pretty good pest bounties from shire councils back then.
We'd get 2/6 (25c) for pig snouts and tails, three pence ( 6c) for 'roos' ears and a guinea ($2.10) for dingo scalps, although dingoes were not that easy to skittle. Forget about the dingoes you see roaming around openly on Fraser Island today.
Back when I was a kid out west you very rarely saw a dingo because they were too cunning. You'd hear them howling at night but they remained well hidden of a daytime.
We'd catch them with heavy iron-jaw traps, which was not a real pleasant way for the dingo to part this wildlife.
You would open the trap jaws, which was very hard, and set the iron plate which would release the jaws once paw-pressure was put on the plate.
The trap would be set slightly below ground level, covered with a sheet of newspaper, with dust and grass sprinkled over it and the whole trap held tight by a chain which was spiked into the ground nearby. You would then sprinkle dog poo from the station cattle dogs around the surface to attract the dingoes.
Early next day, if you were lucky and the dingo unlucky, you would find a dingo trapped by either front leg. One good close shot to the head would end the dingo's misery and put at least one guinea in your pocket next time you visited the local shire council.
Of course you had to dip the scalps, pig snouts and roos' ears in poison once back at the station to preserve them until you could take the lot to the council.
Money from those more than covered the western train trip and holiday.
Those western holidays went on from my school days to when I turned 30 in the mid 1960s and was sitting on King's Beach, Caloundra, with my wife and kids and saw an old bloke striding our of the surf carrying a surfboard. I thought he'd make a good feature for The Courier-Mail and grabbed him as he walked past. His name was Ben "Pa" Bendall, the now famous grandad of Queensland surfing.
I got to know him and his wife, Marjory, very well over the years and right after the feature appeared I started surfing with Ma and Pa.
That led to 43 years of boardriding at every opportunity and an eventual move to the coast.
It also ended my cattle station holidays.