Saturday, 14 December 2013

 Reminiscing  on the 40’s and 50’s
by Barry McKnight.

Mount Morgan, in Queensland, Australia, was once the richest gold mine in the world. It is situated in the ranges south west of Rockhampton, just south the Tropic of Capricorn.
It once had a population of around 15,000 but this varied as the mine had many problems to cope with during its existence. It finally closed in 1981 and the population has now levelled out at approximately 3,000. When gold was discovered in 1882 many travelled there from Great Britain seeking a new life. My grandparents, on my mother’s side, John and Omilla Matthews, who lived in Wales, set sail from London in the S.S. “Merkara” in 1885.. John was the eldest of five brothers and had an older sister, Sarah Jane. Their departure must have been a terrible wrench for the close family, for when my cousin Bronwen was doing research on them, she discovered a letter written by Henry Waldo Matthews (known as Waldo), the youngest of the brothers. He was clearly heart broken by the departure of his brother and his family and wrote “The morning that you went away, we younger boys crawled down the old stone stairs and stood crying at the bottom. I well remember my prevailing feeling then to be that I should never see you and Millie again and my heart was in my throat and I could do nothing but cry. If there is a chance that, over those thousands of miles, we should come together again, you will be received with the same love, the same embrace, the same fond kiss.”

The crossing could take anything from four to eight weeks, depending on the weather, with conditions far removed from what is offered by the luxury liners of today. The “Merkara” sailed to Queensland via Torres Strait and was the first overseas steamer to anchor in Keppel Bay. The family went to Mount Morgan in 1887, where John built the first home there to house his growing family. The house is still standing today. He opened the first newsagency in the town and was also involved in the construction of  the Baptist Church. In 1893 he became mayor of the booming gold mining town. As for Waldo, he accompanied his elder brother Ivor, to Rockhampton in later years as Ivor had tuberculosis and had been advised to go to a warmer climate. With a first class education Waldo quickly found employment with the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company and proved to be very popular with his fellow employees. He also became a firm favourite with his newly met nephews and nieces and was very active in the East Street Baptist Church. Unfortunately he died in 1901 at the age of only 25 after catching a more virulent strain of the decease that did eventually kill Ivor. The three surviving brothers were later to name their sons after their dearly loved younger brother. Unfortunately tragedy was never far away from this Welsh family for in 1896 John’s Newsagency was burnt to the ground when a disastrous fire destroyed all the shops in East Street. He then took up working at the mine as a cabinet maker but died suddenly at the age of 54. In later life the book loving Omillia was robbed of her sight when she was stricken with glaucoma. My brother Claude once told me that he used to ride his bicycle up to the house on Chelmer Hill to read to his beloved grandmother. .On my father’s side my grandfather, Joseph McKnight, came from Northern Ireland, and my grandmother, Margaret Garland, came from Scotland. They met here in Australia where they married and went to Mount Morgan in 1903. One of their sons, John, was also involved in running an auctioneer’s business in the town while another, Joseph, fought in World War 1 and was awarded a Military Medal for bravery. Unfortunately, another son, Roderick, was killed in 1933 by a premature explosion while working on the construction of the Cairns to Port Douglas coastal road.

 I was born on the 27th June 1935. My mother was thirty seven when I came along so I guess I would be called a late child. I had two older brothers Claude Jnr and Ronald Roderick, who were 15 years and 12 years older, respectively, than I was. Consequently I don’t remember much of them as a child as both had married and left home when I was young. Both sets of  grandparents had also died before I was born. It was no problem though, for I adopted one. She was a dear elderly lady who lived nearby, and was a member of our Baptist Church. I called her Aunty Dine (her name was Dinah) and would visit her frequently taking her flowers if I could find some. One time I couldn’t find any so I made her some out of coloured paper with a little basket made from cardboard to put them in. They forever sat on the antique sideboard in her lounge room until she died in the early seventies. The sad fact was that she couldn’t really see them as she was almost totally blind.

Despite not having siblings of a similar age group, life was pretty good and I never felt lonely as there were many families in the neighbourhood who did have children of a compatible age. Every afternoon after school we all met on the dusty old road at the top of the hill to play games, or, better still, at a place we called The Green at the bottom of the hill. Living in an area of Queensland that was noted for its lack of rain, calling it a “Green” was somewhat of a euphuism. The “Brown” would have been more appropriate. Still it was a wonderful place for get-togethers like Guy Fawkes night and other special occasions. Guy Fawkes night occurred then on the 5th November, at the start of the bushfire season. Looking back on it now it seems a miracle that the houses around we not burnt down as we always built a huge bonfire, and had lots of very flammable fireworks and skyrockets to ignite. I only remember one incident when a boy who carried his fireworks about in his pocket somehow managed to ignite the lot while they sat there. He was then forever the stuff of speculation and legend, with the truth being lost in the general confusion and panic that resulted. However, I believe that he went on to marry in later life and successfully fathered children without any trouble. Of course we made up a guy out of old clothes and straw and carried him about the neighbourhood calling out  “A penny for the guy!”.

School was a massive inconvenience in my life. There was no pre school, or kindergarten in those days to soften the impact. You just grabbed your little school bag and went! I clearly remember having to be dragged out from my hiding place under a bed on the verandah and forced to attend on that first day. Everyone kept saying to me that it would be alright and that I would get to like it. Well it wasn’t and I didn’t!. As it was the opening years of World War 2, most of the eligible young men and women had enlisted, which left our school with a group of rather elderly grumpy teachers who had only one purpose in life and that was to make our’s miserable. Sure, they force fed us our reading, riting and rithmetic, with a little geography thrown in, but I saw school as an unwanted intrusion into my own quite satisfactory existence.  There were trees to climb, the bush to explore and many creeks to paddle about in. I had discovered the wonderful world of Nature and wanted to be part of it and its mysteries, not spending days sitting in a restrictive classroom where I was told to do this and told to do that or else face physical punishment. There was one unfortunate boy in my class who was the son of the male teacher. The poor lad was clearly just not as bright as his father wanted him to be and he was always being whacked and thumped in front of the class. I guess the teacher/father thought he could pound intelligence into him. The son took all the abuse quietly without any retaliation. I remember feeling so sorry for him as his torture would not end when he walked outside the school doors. It would be waiting for him at home as well. I believe the stutter that I have always had to live with began with the beginning of my schooling. My life otherwise was one spent almost entirely out doors. The only time spent indoors was meal times, sleep times and listening to the radio times.  Even when it rained I could usually be found out playing in the rain building dams or planting things to grow. I dearly loved to push seeds or cuttings into the ground and watch them grow, which, without rain, was quite a problem as there was no town water supply in Mount Morgan at that time. A sad fact that led to most of the town’s shopping centre being destroyed by fire just before Christmas in 1939.

All homes had to have water tanks to catch the rain that fell on the roof and channel it into the tanks. We initially had two large water tanks which were sufficient as long as we had a regular rainfall. However in times of drought, when the tanks were empty, my father had a yolk with two kerosene tins attached. He would have to carry these to a well at the bottom of the hill to fill and then carry back up the hill to keep us supplied with precious water. When I look back on it, those water tanks were far from hygienic, and often used to contain mosquito larvae, which were referred to as “wrigglies”. One evening, when I was quite small, my brother found me with some in a cup carefully eating the minute creatures. “Barry, what are you doing?” he asked in horror. I believe my reply was something like “I’m doing what the man on the radio told me to do!” “What do you mean the man on the radio told you to do it!” he queried . “He said to chew wrigglies, they’re good for you!” I replied. As there was no TV in those days, I didn’t know that it was an advertisement for Wrigley's Chewing Gum!! A small cotton cloth tied across the tap outlet usually strained away the wrigglies, but a more serious problem were the frogs. Somehow one of these green tree frogs would find its way into the tank and die there. This would contaminate the water in the tank and make it undrinkable, only suitable for using it for washing. Mum had a big copper for that which was out in the yard and every Monday she would pile wood underneath it and light a fire to get the water boiling first before she put the clothes in with chunks of laundry soap.  Everyone in the whole town always did their washing on Mondays and pegged it out on to thick wire lines, held up by what were called clothes props. Other washing was done in round galvanised iron tubs, which also served as bath tubs, and makeshift drums which were carried about and beaten with a heavy chunk of wood. I remember last using one for that purpose on August 15th 1945 when peace was declared and we neighbourhood kids organised a street march with a flag tied to a stick and me utilising mum’s washing tub as the drum.

 Later we had our “V” for Victory concert where the neighbourhood kids got together at our house and put on a concert where we dressed up and sang all the latest hit songs, or songs from the movies. All for the admission price of one silver coin. This was not the only concert that we put on for ours was a very musical neighbourhood with about six girls who loved to sing and three or four other boys who could easily be persuaded to join in. The costumes were made of colourful crepe paper and the words to our songs came from a small booklet that could be bought from the local newsagent. I guess the war somewhat dominated our lives, so much so that at its conclusion I wondered what the newspapers would do to fill their pages. Up until the war’s end the daily papers were always taken up with the latest war news with many maps to show the recent advancements or retreats. There was rationing in our town, but it never seemed to be a problem in our house as we had our own chooks that produced eggs, cows that produced milk, and my father and brother Ron had an interest in beef cattle that they kept on a property in conjunction with Fred Moller, one of the local butchers. We also owned a paddock behind the house to keep horses and milking cows in. My brother Ron milked the cows every morning before he went to work. My mother was a horsewoman too and would go riding every Sunday afternoon on a beautiful horse called “Lester”. Lester would even nod his head politely when being introduced to anyone. In those years there was a large American base at nearby Rockhampton and the soldiers often traveled up to Mount Morgan for what we would now call “R&R”. I was too young to understand at the time, but the American soldiers had a certain reputation. Not all of it was good. Apparently, one day when my mother was out riding, an American soldier came up to her and grabbed the horse’s reins, saying something like “Mighty fine horse you got there Ma’am” - and she whacked him with her riding crop and galloped away. In today’s terms - not a good way to promote international relations!!

 My father also rode horses for a living as he was one of the town’s two postmen. Because of the very hilly nature of the town and the access problems with some homes, horses were considered to be the best way to deliver the mail.  My father enjoyed his work, for he was the deliverer of all kinds of news from far away loved ones.  He knew everyone on his route, and knew when their birthdays were because he would be delivering their cards and often got slices of birthday cake for his efforts. People knew his whistle as he blew it after placing letters in a letterbox and he often found them waiting for him at their letter box. If there was no mail they had a little chat anyway. Very few people had the telephone on in those days, so the mail was the very important means of communication. Time was of no concern to him as the run was finished when the last letter was delivered. I don’t think that there was such a thing as overtime in those days. Having a Government job meant we were unaffected when the mine closed the first time in 1921. It was a bad time for the town with many residents moving out. Some even took their houses with them. The others mysteriously caught fire for the insurance money. I remember my parents telling me how they would sit out on the verandah at night and watch the houses burn. The mine reopened again in 1932 under new management with a plan to make it an open cut mine, which would be more efficient than working it as an underground mine which it had been previously. Fortunately the reopening the mine helped offset the effects of the great depression that griped the country at that time. I had a horse also and sometimes I would ride part of the way accompanying dad on his route. One cloudy, rainy day when I was with him on a hill near our house a very large American warplane towing a transport glider came flying low just above our heads. They circled around to the north and disappeared just below the opposite hill. When the plane appeared again the glider had gone. Apparently, because of the bad weather it was unable to climb above it and had to release the glider to give both of them a chance of survival. I knew where the glider was hoping to land so I left Dad and went to investigate the situation. The pilot of the plane had seen what appeared to be an open space that included the town’s golf links. However what he did not notice from above was that there was a raised railway siding through the middle of it. When I got there I discovered that the glider, in avoiding crashing into the raised railway siding, had run out of room and crashed down into a small quarry. The crew had been taken away by the time that I got there, but apparently there were no serious injuries.

As for other memories of the war I can recall one day standing at our front door and gazing out at the western sky and seeing it full of aeroplanes traveling north. I guess it was a huge aerial armada on its way to fight the Japanese who were in the islands to the north of the country. Because of the war petrol was severely rationed and many who really needed their cars for business had to install cumbersome gas producers on the back of their cars. These complicated looking things burnt wood to produce a gas which would ignite and give power to run the engine. They were rather messy and very smelly.

Although not owning a car ourselves I remember frequently traveling in cars or trucks. Our neighbours opposite possessed a small car that had a cabin for two or three and a dickie seat that opened out from where the boot would normally be. As their son Hugh and I were mates I often had the thrill of traveling with them seated with Hugh in the dickie seat. Down at the bottom of the hill were the Holt family who had a flat bed truck that Alec, the dad, used to collect dead wood to sell as firewood. Consequently their son, Lewis, and I often traveled out into the bush with him while he collected the dead trees to later cut up and deliver as firewood. Most houses had wood burning stoves (as had ours), so it was a good business. Alec was also on the town council and a member of the ARP(Air Raid Precautions) so to practice what he preached their home had an air raid shelter in the yard which was very useful for playing games in. My father tried digging one in our back yard but gave up on the enterprise when he hit solid rock. Air raid trenches were dug in the grounds of the Central State School and we sometimes had air raid drill. This entailed marching out in an orderly manner carrying our cloth air raid kit bag with us. I cannot remember what these kits contained, except for a rubber clothes peg. It mystified my then what we were supposed to do with the rubber peg, and it still does. Sweet potato vines were planted around the trenches which I thought was a very good idea. If we were there a long time we could dig up the sweet potatoes and eat them as they were delicious raw. However the Japanese never came and the bombs were never dropped - except for Darwin and a midget sub attack in Sydney Harbour.

When I think back on it it’s amazing how well we got along with no car and no public transport.  Anywhere we wanted to go we walked. The shortest distance between our house and the town, about half a mile away, was to walk directly up East Street Extended as it was called, until it became just East Street, the start of the shopping centre. The alternative was via James street, which was a little bit longer, but flatter. The shortest way had a large hill in the middle and passed over the old traffic bridge, which had been condemned and was open to pedestrians only. This was above the Dee River - a euphuism if there ever was one! Dee Creek would be far more accurate. However this old bridge had the advantage of passing over the creek bed which was often the camp area for the wandering Gypsies. They came annually, stayed a few weeks and then moved on to their next place. The  bridge passed above their camp on the creek bed and it was absolutely fascinating watching these strange people with their bright clothing, colourful wagons, dogs, and kids running around everywhere. My mother warned me often about the Gypsy camp, and told me not to go anywhere near it because they take little boys like me away with them. It was supposed to frighten me, but observing them I thought it would be great to live with them roaming about the countryside with lots of kids and dogs to play with, and, best of all, never having to go to school. At night they played their guitars and danced around the camp fire, according to the movies. It seemed a pretty good life to me.

Gypsy Folk
But what was I afraid of then? That’s an easy answer - Santa Clause and Nuns!. I guess I had a bit of a phobia about people’s faces, in that I did not like them to be hidden in any way. I looked upon Santa Clause with his outlandish red clothing and face surrounded by false white hair as a very suspicious person and would not go near him. Likewise the Nuns who dressed in full black flowing robes with large white bonnets that partly concealed their faces. They clomped along wearing what looked like boots and I always remember hiding behind my mother’s dress when they approached. I was very pleased when they entered the modern age and were allowed to dress in normal clothing. Now I sometimes tremble at the thought of what my reaction would have been if, at that age, I was confronted by a Muslim woman wearing a full Burqa with eye slits!.....My mum went shopping every Friday afternoon and I had to meet her after school and walk home with her. I sometimes wondered why she had this routine as a lot of delivery men called at the house anyway. Possibly it was more of a get together thing where women met each other and caught up on the latest gossip. I could always tell when they were gossiping because they would lower their voices so I couldn’t hear.(they thought!).. The grocery man from Hoare’s big shop at Baree came once a week with his order book and mum would go through the cupboards to see what she needed. The order would then be delivered a couple of days later.(There was no such things as Supermarkets with weekly specials and shopping trolleys). Then there was the Ice Man who delivered a large block of ice every day, which was then wrapped up in newspaper and put in the top of the Ice Chest. In later years we got a refrigerator which never failed to break down when the weather got really hot. Another street vendor was the Fruit and Vegie man, but my favourite was Mr Luitz, the Ice Cream Man. He made his own ice cream and sold it from his horse drawn cart, after ringing a bell to announce his arrival in the neighbourhood. Fresh bread was collected from Ward’s Bakery which was on the way home from school. It was beautiful bread, fresh and crusty and few kids could resist the temptation to gnaw into it before they reached home. To avoid any confrontation, I usually managed to get our's home intact. I think that I was a reasonably well behaved boy, but I probably strained relations somewhat as I was always bringing home Kittens, Finches, Pigeons, Guinea Pigs, Goldfish and once a baby Possum. In the rainy season I could be found at the little creek that appeared at the bottom of the street catching tadpoles to put into a spare fish tank. These would later turn into lovely Green Frogs that hopped all about the house. On the occasions when I was really disobedient I remember that my Mother would lock me in the bathroom as punishment, thinking that depriving me of my liberty would do the job. The bathroom however, was about eight feet above the ground and had a window. I would simply climb out the window, lower myself to the horizontal support beam at the bottom and carefully walk along it to the tank stand which acted as a bridge to the diagonal battens that enclosed the bottom part of the house on that side. All I had to do then was to simply climb down the battens and take off with my faithful dog Maxie who would be waiting at the bottom to assist me with my disappearing act until Mum cooled down.

My father looked upon discipline as my mother's job which was okay by me as mum cooled down quickly and had a sense of humour.  However this escape route was cut off after a big cyclone hit one year and our house narrowly escaped damage. Dad then had the house outside weatherboarded, and the verandah enclosed to make it safer. As I grew older I created a real refuge for myself. Our house had two large Mango trees that supplied us, the Rainbow Lorikeets and  the Flying Foxes with fruit throughout the summer. I was an expert at climbing both trees and could disappear into their branches in a flash if need be. The large thick leafy branches were ideal for hiding away from the world.  I only came unstuck once when my brother Ron was courting his girlfriend Irene, who later became his wife. I don’t know why I did it but I liked to tease them, and became quite a “Dennis the Menace”. One day Irene had had enough and when I began the Dennis the Menace routine she warned me that if I continued to tease them she would thump me. Of course I still persisted and when she lost her patience again she came after me to give me my promised punishment, so I took off and raced up the Mango tree. To my absolute dismay, Irene, without the least hesitation, quickly climbed up the Mango tree and carried out her threat. I never teased them again!.. In time I built a rough tree house in the strong thick branches. It caught the breezes and during the summer sweet delicious food was just an arms length away. It did not have a roof though and in winter it caught the warm sunshine, which was very pleasant. Eventually I learnt that it was it was better for all concerned if I behaved myself anyway!…
                               (See poem "The Mango Tree" at the end of the narration)
And what were my happiest days when growing up? Oddly it has nothing to do with Birthday parties or grand holidays or Christmas. It was just sitting on our front verandah with the doors open on a warm summer’s night and listening to my mother and father talking to each other. They would get into reminiscing about old times and talk about people and events that I had never known.  In the distance the lights of the mine twinkled beneath a sky full of stars, where occasionally one of their number would suddenly appear streaking towards the Earth. More often than not a passer by, out for an evening stroll, would drop in for a chat. No one watched television in those days as there wasn’t any, and people communicated with each other. As a late child I had missed out on the companionship and love of their early relationship, and sensed that as time went by they became a little bored with each other. As they almost never went out together I ended up becoming my mother’s companion when ever she went anywhere.  I guess that is why listening to them communicating with each other was so important to me.  My school holidays were mostly spent in Brisbane where my mother had a sister, Ivy, that she was close to. As young girls together they were pretty much inseparable.

                                                         Fay Matthews(Mum) &(Aunt) Ivy Matthews

Aunt Ivy was very much into religion and large families. She also had a wonderful husband, Les who was an easy going bloke who drove a big American car that they called “Gertie”. Sometimes they would all drive up to Mount Morgan in it. Aunt Ivy’s youngest daughter, Margaret, was only a couple of years older than me and we were pretty good mates. Years later Uncle Les wanted a change from Brisbane so he bought a farm at Yandina, a picturesque rural town about 110 kms to the north. The farm did not have the amenities of their home in Brisbane but it had a beautiful creek flowing through it and it was here that Margaret taught me how to swim. It was a gift that saw me take to the water like a duck forever after. Years later, in the new millennium when Margaret and I re-established contact again, she told me that she holds dear to her heart an outing at the beach when both our families somehow managed to squeeze into their car and we drove to Yeppoon for the day. On the way we stopped at a farm and my Dad bought a large watermelon for us to eat. Margaret says that it was the largest and the sweetest that she has ever had and always remembers it as “The Watermelon Day”. She was even able to produce a photograph taken that day. I was amazed as it was one that I had never seen before. The only family members missing in the photograph were my brother Claude, who was elsewhere in the state and Margaret’s brother Bob who took the photograph. It was an extreme rarity for my mother and father to be in a picture together, yet here we had both our families together. It must have been taken about 1939. Another one of them together was taken on a visit to the Mc Camley’s cattle property south of Mount Morgan when Claude and Ron were just kids. It was probably taken around 1928 and I liked it because it seemed to echo the “Roaring Twenties” era. I could no way imagine them dancing the Charleston together though, as my father could not dance. My mother, with another partner however, had won at least one dancing competition that I know of.

The thing I really hated about school holidays was that they had to come to an end. It upset me to see the shop displays of “Back to School” items.  Our neighbourhood really brightened up, however, with the arrival of the Bowen family who bought a house on the opposite hill, They had a son around my age, and four girls who loved to sing. Mr Bowen also had a grey utility, and soon I was travelling about with them also - usually singing with the girls in the back of the ute as we travelled along. Some times Fred Moller, Dad’s butcher friend( Dad said that Fred was the only butcher he knew that could cut Rump Steak off any part of the cow!) would collect him and they would drive out to the grazing property that they shared to check on everything. This was a double bonus for me as I could go along with them to explore the bush instead of sitting in Sunday School, which even at that early age, I regarded as a load of old rubbish. My father’s involvement with Fred Moller often had him driving herds of cattle through the town on Sundays, to the holding yards out near the showground. My brother Ron and a couple of other helpers were always part of the team that would drive them from Moonmera, up the Razor Back range and through the town via East Street Extended. When they reached our house they halted the cattle which completely blocked the road. The cattle waited out there the on the dry dusty road, while the stockmen all came in and had a roast dinner that mum had cooked for them. Of course there was very little road traffic in those days, and any car that did come by simply turned around and found another way to their destination. It seems strange to think of it now that herds of cattle were actually driven through the town as part of every day life.

Dad always had a love of cattle and horses and kept a sulky in the garage of the house next door. It was owned by Jim Draper who did not have a car to put in it anyway,so he let dad use it. Sometimes Dad harnessed a horse to the sulky and we went to visit my dad’s brother Joe who lived alone in the bush about twelve miles out of town. It was rather fun clip clopping along at a leisurely pace waving to friends and watching the tree branches slipping by overhead. I think my father thought that the motor car was just a passing fad and that we would all return to riding about in horse drawn carriages again. At that age, however, my legs were my chief means of transport, and they sure got a lot of use. My mates and I walked everywhere exploring my first love: the bush. I explored it endlessly pursuing its mysteries and seeking out water holes to swim in. A favourite place was the Basin, a popular swimming hole in one of the creeks that ran in to the Big Dam. To reach it was a long hike(usually bare footed) across the hills at the back of our house. It was a lengthy journey so we always took a lunch with us and made a day trip out of it. Unfortunately because of the depth of the water some amount of care had to be exercised when exploring its depths. No one is sure what happened, but one of the boys in our school class was drowned there and we had to form a guard of honour at his funeral. When I became mobile with my first bicycle my range of exploration was extended. With the bicycle I discovered the natural paradise of Struck Oil. Apparently its name has nothing to do with finding oil there, but was instead the name of a stage show that happened to be in the area at the time of the gold discovery. The village that sprung up after the gold rush had now mostly disappeared. What was left behind though, was an old road that gave access to the creek with all its natural swimming holes. For a lengthier trip, rides to the Bouldy (Bouldercombe) Falls were not uncommon. It was breathtakingly exciting to go travelling as fast as we dared down the range on our bicycles. However, returning home up the steep range road wasn’t much fun at all. The falls were nothing special, but the pool at the bottom was good for swimming and the nature of the river stones that filled the gorge made for a particularly exciting camp fire. For some reason if a fire was built on top of them they would explode with a loud crack.  This was always a good excuse to boil the billy, and hide behind the nearest tree to escape any shrapnel from the exploding stones.

When brother Claude bought himself a motor bike he would sometimes sit me on the petrol tank and, as I got older, allowed me to take the handle bars. In today’s language - I thought that was real cool! As soon as I was old enough I had a motor bike of my own.

 I never really took to horses though, and never trusted them. However, my brother Ron was a natural rider, having practiced on billy goats from an early age.The end of my relationship with horses came when a pack of dogs frightened the horse I was riding and it bolted. Having no control of it anymore I jumped off and managed to limp home. When I got my first bicycle it gave me  transport that I could control and an even wider world opened up to me. The surroundings of the physical world however, paled in comparison to the other magical world that possessed me - the world of the cinema. My mother loved the cinema - or “the pictures” as we used to call it them and we went to the pictures every Saturday night. She had a permanent booking for two seats on the aisle, upstairs, for every Saturday night. My father never went. Fortunately I shared my mother’s love of the movies, especially the musicals. We both loved singing and dancing. Mum said it was our Welsh heritage as her parents came out from Wales. I even learnt to play the violin.(I really wanted to play the piano!) My most honest critic was my Cocker Spaniel dog, Monty, who, whenever I started to play the violin, would put his tail between his legs, give me the saddest look he could muster, and slink away out of the house to get as far away as possible.  He loved hats though! My father’s in particular. Hats were an essential item in those days for both men and women. A man could not venture forth upon the streets of Mount Morgan without a hat. Being seen in public hatless was akin to walking about naked. Well, it certainly was that way with my father anyway. I clearly remember one household crisis that was caused by Monty when he was a hyper active large puppy. He was a beautiful dog, well behaved, except that he liked chewing holes in dad’s hats. Unfortunately dad was in the habit of throwing his hat on a chair when he arrived home from work. This of course put in within reach of the mischievous puppy who would reach up, grab the hat and take it away to some hiding place where he would happily proceed to chew a hole in the top of it. So successful was he in this enterprise that he chewed a hole in every hat that my father had, except one. My mother kept warning him not to leave it on the chair, but one day he did and when he was hurrying off to work the next day it started… “Where’s my hat?” says dad “Has anybody seen my hat?” Naturally a household search was immediately put into action and the hat was eventually found under a bed on the verandah. Yep! You guessed it. The top was all chewed out. Of course he was furious, but stubborn just the same and announced “I can’t go to work without my hat!” and put the chewed up hat on his head and went marching off down the hill with all the dignity that he could muster. My mother and I watched with mixed emotions as he began his long walk to the Post Office where he worked. In those days very few people had motor cars, so if you wanted to go anywhere, you walked. The social isolation of the motor car was yet to come. When you walked you greeted people along the way, or stopped for a chat. Here is where there was also a strict hat etiquette. If a man, or boy greeted a woman he always raised his hat. When walking along the street and a funeral procession came by we always removed our hats and turned to face the procession, as a mark of respect. Of course now if you happened to be wearing a hat and you tipped it as a mark of respect in the presence of a woman you would probably be accused of being sexist!.. Then again, it would be difficult to tip your hat anyway if wearing one of the silly useless American baseball caps. Especially if wearing it backwards!!

Putting the violin aside, I was manipulated into taking tap dancing lessons with a school friend called Lennie Allen. We were both in the same class at school and our mothers were Bowls players together so they decided that we should learn the art of tap dancing. My mother had seen me trying to copy the girl next door who was an accomplished taper and decided that, with a few lessons, I could be the next Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. We both tried hard (sort of!) and we even successfully entertained at a couple of ladies tea party events in the School of Arts, but sadly it all came undone when our teacher thought we should enter into the Rockhampton Eisteddfod for the experience. It was an experience alright. The girls that we were competing against were all in the Ann Miller class and absolutely humiliated us. We both then decided that junior Astairs or Kellys we weren’t, and refused to attend any more classes.


However I still enjoyed watching the big Hollywood musicals at the Mount Morgan Olympia Cinema.They portrayed  a way of life that was so far removed from a small dusty little town in Queensland that they could have been filmed on another planet. They were way over the top, especially the lavish musicals directed by Busby Berkeley that showed night clubs with stages that seemed to be enormous with tumbling waterfalls falling into great pools of water packed with beautiful swim suited ladies. People tap danced everywhere and Ruby Keeler sang about what life was like on Forty Second Street, New York. Later Stanley Donen directed Gene Kelly in a movie that showed us how wonderful it was to sing and dance in the rain. I was absolutely entranced. It was all part of another world, far, far away. Movies in those day all had stories to tell and took us to exotic places, and, unlike the movies of today, they did it well - all in an hour and a half. There were always two movies shown, the support and the feature, with an intermission between them. This enabled everyone to run out and buy fish and chips or a hot pie from the pie man parked outside the doors. Every session started with “God Save the Queen” when we all had to stand up to show our respect. (except pregnant ladies). It was then followed by the latest Newsreel and trailers for coming soon movies. For the summer months the Olympia management opened up their nearby open air cinema which had canvas seats. The upstairs had tiered seating while the downstairs seats were laid out across the weedy dirt floor. During the movies a seat sometimes collapsed dumping all the occupants in a most undignified manner on to the floor. This brought screams from the occupants and laughter from the others. On those rare occasions when it rained the projectionist turned off the projectors, unlaced the film and we all walked around to the more weatherproof Olympia to watch the rest of it.

Olympia Cinema. Mount Morgan

The day after we saw an action movie my mates and I often met to act out the various roles. Our favourites were the Tarzan movies because we had a place called The Gully, full of wild rubber vines that entwined themselves up into the tall trees. With a bit of imagination it made a more than passable wild jungle. I guess, with very few toys available, imagination was everything. Growing up during the war years made us very resourceful as well. We made our own pea guns out of a few bits of wood and rubber bands. Toy daggers and many other things could be made by melting down the lead found in old car batteries and pouring it into a mould, usually made of sand. Rubber balls were made from catching the rubber sap from the wild rubber vine bushes that abounded in the area. I think there may have been a protection order on them in case the Government needed to collect their rubber sap for the war effort. Fortunately that never happened so we local lads were able to harvest the sticky sap for our own fun. For the Mulberry season we invented our own game, which today is called Paintball - but we thought of it first!.. Our home had two large Mulberry trees which, in the Mulberry season, became laden with large soft sweet purple/black fruit. There is only a certain amount of these delectable items that a young lad can eat however. So what to do with the rest of the soft spongy fruit? Why throw them at each other of course! Just fill up the nearest container and see how many direct hits one can get on the opponent. The only problem was that they left a very visible stain on bare flesh, and a terrible splotch on clothing which was difficult to remove. Needless to say our Mums very much disapproved of this “game” and would threaten us with all sorts of dire consequences should we participate in it again!! I guess the most useful home enterprise, and most practical, was that we discovered how to build canoes from discarded sheets of roofing iron, a few pieces of wood, old rags, tar and some nails or tacks. We then carried the finished canoes upturned on our heads down to the little creek that flowed into the Dee River at the bottom of the tailings dump. This was only practical to do after the rainy season when the creek was flowing well and the waterholes were full. In the windy season we made kites using homemade flour paste, a few bits of wood, brown paper and a ball of string. Fortunately there was no lack of hills in Mount Morgan from which to launch out kites. It was a great social occasion too for all the children in the area would be there flying their kites as well. When the war had ended and I grew a bit older I began making model aeroplanes. Our house had a paddock out the back which was in part a sloping hill and was an ideal place for the launching of model gliders or the rubber band powered flying models. Later, engine powered control line model aeroplanes came in so we had to take them down to what was then called the Golf Links to fly. My mate, and fellow flyer then, was a boy called Albert. He was rather shortish and when I was going off to meet him to go flying my mother would say “Watch out for the lion!”. It was an in joke between us as she was a fan of Stanley Holloway, the British comedian, who had a very popular monologue at that time that was built around a family trip to the zoo where “…the lion ate Albert!”.

When I was twelve my brother Ron and wife Irene had a baby boy. They named him Roderick Claude (Rick). Three years later Helen Claudine arrived, a daughter for my eldest brother Claude and wife Ailsa. Helen was followed by Geoffrey, Margaret and much later, Alison. I was overjoyed at their arrival because I regarded them as my new brothers and sisters. Rick especially so, as his mother frequently left him at our place for my Mum to look after while she was away playing golf. I adored all of them. They were such great kids. They never misbehaved or fought with one another or demanded attention.

I made it through my Primary Schooling and then went on to the High School which was okay, as I was taking more interest in education by then. One or two teachers even showed signs of being human.

 It did not have as large a playground as the Primary School, but it did have a large games field adjoining the river. One fellow in our class who was a bit of a tearaway took advantage of this and after getting permission to visit the toilet, he would instead go down to the river bank and search for birds nests to steal their eggs. He would then smuggle the eggs back into the classroom, and after making small holes in the ends, would blow the egg substance out into an inkwell. They would then be ready for his egg collection. However, on one occasion the egg contained an embryo which finished up in the inkwell of one of the more studious girls so that when she put her pen into the inkwell it came out with the embryo substance sticking to the end of it. I forget the precise outcome of the hullabaloo that resulted, but I guess that Patrick was sent to the Principal for punishment, as frequently happened. Years later, after we had left school there was a terrible murder in the town - the first one in living memory. The local Newsagent, a Mister Dingwall, (referred to as “Dingie”) lived in a room behind the shop and was found dead with multiple stab wounds to his body and the shop robbed. It was a mystery and had many detectives in the town asking questions trying to solve it. Our neighbour, who drove the town’s taxi, was their only lead as he remembered driving a lone male down to the train station that night. However the murder remained unsolved, until the police got a tip off that there was a station hand out west boasting about a murder he had committed in Mount Morgan. The police acted and arrested him and our next door neighbour was able to give a positive identification. I was shocked to learn that it was our school mate Patrick. How he could graduate from robbing birds nests to becoming a vicious cold blooded murderer caused me much speculation. Had the killer turned out to another boy I knew who callously killed a beautiful Peaceful Dove with his sling shot, I might have understood better…..


When I was in my mid teens I discovered Classical music. We had good friends who had moved from Mount Morgan to Bowen and they had been to Brisbane for a holiday. On their way back they called in for a visit. I had always been mates with their son Brian and he had a few records with him that he had bought in Brisbane. One was Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” and another was Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet. I had a record player to play the latest pop songs, so he put Beethoven’s Fifth on the turntable to let my listen to it. I was stunned! Never before had I heard music of such depth and power. “Swan Lake” was equally as stunning though more colourful and emotional. It was like I had discovered that I could understand another language. When I bought Tchaikovsky’s Sixth symphony from the World Record Club in later years I listened to it and thought “I know this guy. I know what he is feeling and why he is in such despair.” That was well before I learnt the full truth about this tortured man. Apart from Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”, Mount Morgan had always been a dead zone for classical music and the classics were never played on the radio at that time.  I passed out of High School with fairly good grades and got a job at the offices of Mount Morgan Limited, the company that owned the gold and copper mine that gave the town its living. At first I went into the drawing office as a cadet Engineer, but I decided that Engineering was not for me and then transferred to the Survey Department as a cadet Surveyor.

This got me drawing Survey maps, with many outdoor excursions as well doing survey work learning to use a theodolite. The department also had the part time services of a photographer, an American called Bill Madlung. (he was also known as the Hank the Yank!). He was actually the husband of the sister of my dancing partner Lennie. They met during the war years, got married and went to New York, but returned later to Australia because she missed her family. As the most junior member of the staff I was often assigned to be Bill’s assistant. Fortunately, I always had an interest in photography so this helped me extend my knowledge further. Bill also had a Geiger Counter, an instrument designed to register the presence of radioactivity. This was again a plus for Bill as the Survey Department was involved in the geological nature of the area as well, so Bill was assigned to search areas outside the town for any signs which may indicate the presence of a body of Uranium ore. Again, I was assigned to be his assistant. Well, despite our efforts we did not find any signs of Uranium deposits, but one day after some heavy rain Bill decided to skip the Geiger Counter business and go to Struck Oil instead and search for alluvial gold. It was a truly beautiful day full of bright sunshine that shattered into sparkling diamonds where it touched  the stream. How much better this is than sitting in a boring office I thought. “Don’t tell anyone!” Bill said “This will be our secret.”


Well, it was, until this day around sixty years later. Did we find any Gold? Yes, a few little bits, which Bill later took to the town’s gold buyer, an elderly gent referred to as “Froggy” Jones. Why he was called that, I have no idea!….Bill and family returned to the U.S.A. a few years later - and I missed him!. Later I was also required to assist our Geologist, a really nice guy called Ross Staines. He had discovered some Dinosaur footprints in what we called the caves, but were actually man made caves formed when the fireclay they contained was dug out to make bricks to line the smelting furnaces in the mine. It was Ross’s intention to make a plaster cast of the largest print. The problem, however was that the footprints were on the ceiling more than twenty feet above the floor. I guess I would have been one of the first people to ask “What are Dinosaur footprints doing on the ceiling?”. Resisting the urge to make any of the usual jokes about it, the ever patient Ross carefully explained the geological process that occurred through the ages to cause them to be that way. To get his print Ross made a wooden frame, larger than the footprint, and gave it a plywood base which was to the hold the soft dental wax that would enable him to get an impression. He had to get this by climbing the ladder and holding it tight up against the print on the ceiling. I had to make sure the ladder remained steady while he got his impression. Once the impression was formed in the soft wax all he had to do then was to mix up some plaster of Paris and pour it into the wax mould to give him a replica of the print on the ceiling……
                                                            Dinosaur Footprint

 So far I have not mentioned my boss; the highly respected, and perhaps feared, Mr Benjamin Gilmore Patterson, mostly referred to as “Banjo” or “BG” though never to his face. Men admired and respected him, but women feared him as he did not look kindly upon them and delighted in making their lives difficult. There were rumours that an unhappy love affair in his past left him with a grudge against women. He was over six feet tall and came across as a very much no nonsense character. However, by accident, I discovered that he did, indeed, have a good sense of humour. My workplace was a bench beside the connecting door to his office where I worked as a Survey Draughtsman. After we drew up a plan according to a surveyor’s readings in his survey book, we then had to trace the plan with Indian ink on to treated transparent linen to enable prints to be made. Before working on the treated linen the surface had to be made porous so it would accept the ink. This was done by shaking a small amount of talcum powder on the surface and wiping it in. Consequently there was always a container of talcum powder readily at hand to treat the surface in this manner. As we had only one container of the powder in the office it meant having to share it around. As an act of mischief it was almost obligatory that the person nearest the talcum container got a flick of the powder as the potential user collected it. It was that kind of place! On this day my work mate Alan, who was about to begin a new tracing job, saw the talc on my bench and came over to borrow it. Seeing that Banjo was not in his office, he flicked the container over my head as he departed. The trouble was that the top came off and I was showered from head to toe with its entire contents. I was so completely covered with the fine white powder that it fell off my eyelids when I blinked. We were both frozen in shock momentarily, then as Alan began apologising I got up and dashed downstairs to the toilet block to try and clean myself up. As I ran out the Survey Office door I glanced back and saw to my dismay that I had left a trail of white powder from my bench to the exit door with my footprints clearly showing on the highly polished floor. Down stairs I cleaned myself up as best I could hoping that no one came into the toilet block and asked awkward questions. When I returned later I got the rest of the story from Alan. It appears that just after I fled, Banjo returned to his office and walked over to the open connecting door where he stood gazing at the trail of white powder plus footprints that went right across the room from my bench to the doorway. As he did so he tilted his head downwards so he could look over his glasses to see the scene more clearly.  He went “Hmmmp”, then turned around and went back into his office and closed the connecting door. The guys all swore that they could hear him laughing even though the door was closed…………

Survey Map Mine Area July 1959

 One of the good things about my job was that it got me out doors, so I was not confined to a sitting at a desk all day. However, in Mount Morgan, you were never quite sure what was going to happen. We were once doing a survey job in the hills to the west of the mine and, as it was a fairly big job there were two surveyors, Keith and myself, together with our chainmen (assistants). To get to the site we drove the survey van along the road to the western tailings dump, unloaded the gear, and walked the rest of the way to our destination. In the afternoon, after the completion of our task, we were returning to our van when I noticed a group of men working on the nearby tailings dump. So did one of our chainmen, Stalks Voss. His real Christian name was Vivian, but he somehow got called Stalks. As to why he had such a nick name, I chose not to ask. As we were approaching our vehicle Stalks turned towards the group of workmen and called out very loudly “nanny goats!”  This seemed to enrage one of the men who began yelling and screaming. Undeterred, Stalks then made a noise imitating the bleating of a goat, which enraged the man further and he started running towards us throwing rocks. “Run for the van!” yelled Keith. Now walking anywhere carrying a bulky tripod with an expensive theodolite attached is a task that required the utmost care at all times. Running with it slung over the shoulder is almost impossible. Fortunately it was only a short distance to the van and we all somehow made it and clambered  aboard before the fusillade of rocks hit us. Even then, as we got the van started and roared off, Stalks couldn’t resist putting his head out the window and again calling out “nanny goats”, followed by more goat like bleating.  “What was that all about?” I said to Keith as we put distance between us and the enraged man. His answer, put in more polite terms, was that the man was rumoured to have sexual relations with his female goats!!…Mount Morgan had quite a few eccentric characters that one always remembers. Lena Kupke who attended every wedding in the town to take photographs of the happy couples with her Kodak Box Brownie camera, while her son, Billy, wore the crown as the village idiot and pedalled about the town on various bicycles that he had put together himself. One Saturday morning I happened to find myself beside him as he parked his latest bicycle creation outside Chenery’s Hardware shop. I said “Hello” and admired his bicycle. As he began telling me all about it, in his mangled English, I realised that he had built something that I couldn’t do myself. It had complex gearing and other innovations that no other bicycles had. It would take a special mind to conceive and execute such design modifications. From that day on I began to see Billy and his mother in an entirely different way. Like Andy Graham who always proudly led every Anzac Day parade. He saw that as his job and was always treated with respect. As for me, well, growing up had its problems. I had a good job with a bright future. I had a girl friend with whom I had much in common; even soul mates perhaps. My future should be looking bright …. Except!… It wasn’t!. Things that were supposed to gel, didn’t.. During this period I read a science fiction book called “Slan” by E Van Vogt, about a boy who discovers that he is different from all those about him and he has to hide those differences for if he is found out he will be put to death. Somehow I identified with this boy. In the early Fifties Britain had a major spy scandal involving the government itself. This caused it to embark on a witch hunt for homosexuals, many of whom were jailed because it was a criminal offence. It was the first time that I had seen that word in print, and I didn’t know what it meant. I suspected that I should probably not ask my Mum or Dad about it, so I later asked a university educated work friend. He spluttered a bit, then changed the subject. Remember that this is a time when the word Gay still only meant something like merry or happy. (Unlike today when you sometimes wish that the news media would talk about something else!!).. It was now 1954 and the time had come for me to do my National Service Training. Having always had a keen interest in aeroplanes, I applied for the Air Force and got it. I was not the only one from our town as Keith Oates and John Fern were there as well. It was a six month stint and I learnt a lot, and made some good friends. At Amberley Air Force Base near Brisbane I found myself in a room with three others, Ron, Ian and Alan. Ian was also a draughtsman and, because he had leadership qualities, he was soon promoted to Corporal, and Alan somehow got to be the projectionist at the base Cinema. Ron came from Rockhampton, and was also a Baptist, so we attended the Sunday Service together (Though he was more enthusiastic about his religion than I was). I learnt to obey orders, I learnt self discipline and I sure learnt to eat any food that was given out to me as all that exercise made one very hungry. One of my proudest achievements in that area was that I learnt to eat Vegemite and cabbage (though not together!). I was, however a bit of a failure on the rifle range. I can still hear the Sergeant screaming at me saying “Aircraftsman McKnight!! When you squeeze the ferkin trigger, don’t shut yer ferkin eyes!!”. I still had one up on him though, as I had (illegal) secret shoulder padding hidden under my overalls to help absorb the almighty kick from the .303 rifle. It was what I imagined a shoulder kick from a horse would be like. However, I was good at marching and more complex drill routines, particularly when the band was playing. I guess they figured that should we be attacked we could confuse the enemy with our complicated marching drills. A lot of the training was like playing glorified games of “Cowboys and Indians”, with one Squadron trying to out manoeuvre or capture members of the other Squadron. We always went into Brisbane for leave by catching a bus from the base to nearby Ipswich, then hitchhiking the rest of the way into Brisbane. Drivers had no problem at all with giving  lifts to guys in uniform.  One evening I was returning to the base and had a bit of time to spend in Ipswich before the bus left. I heard music somewhere and after a short walk discovered that it was coming from a large hall which had a side door open, so I stood there and looked inside. Three ladies were on the stage wearing what appeared to be Japanese costumes and were singing about “three little maids from school”. Again I was stunned! Never before had I heard such bright joyful music. The set was full of colour as were the costumes and the staccato type lyrics popped out with a melody that bounced about the hall. I wanted to hear more and stood there mesmerised for the next twenty minutes. It was my introduction to Comic Opera and the world of Gilbert and Sullivan - and it almost made me miss my bus!…

One of the special projects that the Amberley Base was involved in was providing assistance to the Montrose Home for Crippled Children in Brisbane. Every Saturday afternoon a group of volunteers from the base would be driven by bus to the home to do odd jobs like lawn mowing and general maintenance. It was good P.R. for the Base and heart warming for we Nashos to interact with the kids. One Saturday afternoon when it was our Flight’s turn, it so happened that my cousin Margaret was getting married in Brisbane that same afternoon. Ian, who would be in charge, hatched a plot where by he would stop the bus at the nearest point to the Church, let me  out to attend the wedding, and I would make my own way back to the base afterwards. It would cause me to be A.W.O.L (if caught)  but it seemed a workable plan and would be a wonderful surprise for Margaret. However, as fate would have it, one of our N.C.O’s got a lift into Brisbane with us and arranged for our bus to collect him on the way back. Our plan had come unstuck! He was getting off before my jump off point, but would probably notice my absence when he was picked up again for the return journey. Ian and I argued about it. He urged me to do it anyway, but he would be in trouble and would probably lose his stripe if my absence was noticed. I said it's best we forget it, so unfortunately it didn't happen. One of the memories that I carried away with me from those days helping at the Home was the incredible strength in the hands and arms of the unfortunate children who were unable to walk..
The Short Arm Inspection: Perhaps those with more delicate sensibilities should not read any further. When the first rumours of a short arm inspection began to surface, the news was met with general sniggers and chuckles by those in the know. When I asked my all knowledgeable room mate, Ian, about the short arm inspection he replied saying “It’s nothing! We just have to stand out in the bullring with our dicks hanging out to be checked for V.D.”
“We what!” says me.
“Nothing to worry about. It’s done by the M.O.” (Medical Officer) They can’t send anyone home with V.D. can they?”
I was sort of speechless for a while, and it must have shown on my face.
“You don’t play around. You’ll be okay.” he said.
“That’s hardly the point!" I said "You mean to say that the whole squadron has to stand in the bullring with their dicks hanging out?”
Anyway folks, that’s really how it happened, only we just had to whip it out as the M.O. approached, and put it away again after it was checked. As I write this in today’s world with men and women training together in the forces, I am left wondering what the procedure is now. Something tells me that the days of the short arm inspections on the bullring are now a thing of the past...
As our term was nearing an end there were rumours about a scandal in the other Squadron where some of the N.C.O’s had been accused of taking “inappropriate” pictures of the boys. It was the city boy’s Squadron however that was involved, not our Squadron which was composed of country boys, and, as we did not associate with one another, we never got the whole story. We had our passing out parade where a Sabre jet broke the sound barrier and we showed off our marching and drill skills in front of friends and family. Not long after that we all boarded the train that would take us northward to our respective destinations. I kept in touch with Ian and Ron and attended Ron's wedding a couple of years later in Rocky.

The Really Great Adventure : As for the other two Mount Morgan boys at the base, well Keith and I had known each other for a long time, and actually worked together in the Survey Office at the mine. John Fern was one of the group of us who were into motor bikes, and we kept on being mates when we returned home. One day I mentioned that I had heard of a place called “The Sheets” somewhere in the ranges far to the south of the town, adding that I thought it was more legend than fact.
“I’ll take you there.” said John “I know where it is.”
“You’re joking!” says I.
“No! I’ve been there once. I reckon I can find the way there again.”
That was enough for me, so, when a suitable weekend came up, we set forth. There was a group of us riding our motor bikes and carrying pillion seat passengers, all putting out trust in one guy. We had no maps, no mobile phones or GPS trackers should we get lost. Once we left the main road south of Mount Morgan, we first travelled on a dirt road that serviced the various cattle properties in the area, and sometimes travelled through them, opening and shutting gates as we did so. Eventually the road gave out and we found ourselves following a vague track that took us in the direction of a mountain range ahead. I have no idea how long the journey was but eventually the track led us up, then over that mountain range. As we went down the other side we suddenly found ourselves in a pristine gorge with rocky cliffs on either side. The creek that flowed through the gorge was flowing quite strongly as the area had recently had heavy rains. This caused us to be very careful when crossing some creeks along the way also. However the water was clear and pure and we found a sandy campsite beneath a huge hanging rock. The sense of isolation was complete. The area looked as if no humans had ever been there before. Opposite our chosen campsite was a large pool with a rock face above the southern side which was perfect for jumping or diving from. We had our food supplies and pure clear flowing water for drinking or swimming in and no sense of civilisation at all. It was like we had discovered the “Lost World”. All that was missing were a few Dinosaurs roaming around. The next day, wearing just our swimming trunks, we explored the gorge upstream, often wading through the swiftly flowing water. There were absolutely no signs that humans had been there before us. It was exhilarating! When it became time to leave we were reluctant to do so, but our food had run out and we had jobs to go back to. Fortunately, John got us back safely, and for many years after I dreamed of going back there again. Now, decades later, observing the behaviour of teenagers today, I sometimes think back to that time. Today a trip such as that would be just an excuse for a pill popping booze up. The environment would be trashed with empty beer cans, and probably one or two of their number would be injured and have to be rescued by SES helicopter. With the drinking age then at twenty one, it did not even occur to us to carry any booze on our journey anyway. Unfortunately only two photos of that adventure have survived.

In the New Year of 1955, with the help of my brother Claude, I upgraded my mode of transport from go carts, bicycles and motor bikes to a blue Hillman Minx motor car. He taught me to ride a motor bike, now he now taught me to drive a car. His emphasis was always on safety and consideration for the for the mechanical aspects of the vehicle. The Hillman had a side valve engine which he said was more reliable than the over head valve engines now in fashion. It was certainly reliable, except on very hot tropical days when the petrol in the pipes evaporated. Fortunately it had a crank handle, or if on a hill, I could get it rolling down the hill to get it started. 1955 also saw the Rock ‘n Roll era really take off.  Bill Haley and his Comets had burst upon the scene and much was happening in the world of the young. Even in Rockhampton teenagers were going to the cinema to see Rock ‘n Roll movies and dancing in the isles. My favourite toy, before all toys vanished from the shelves with WW2, was a toy gramophone. It used to play nursery rhymes and I had them all memorised so I could sing them anywhere, anytime. Now I had a more updated version -  a portable record player and amplifier that I could play all the latest Rock’n Roll records on. However my old nursery rhyme songs probably made more sense than the Rock’n Roll songs. “A frog he would a wooing go. Heigh ho said Rowley” makes more sense than “ Tutti Fruity oh Rudy, Tutti Fruity oh Rudy, Tutti Fruity oh Rudy, Wop Bop a loom a Blop Bam Boom” as sung by Little Richard... Because of my portable system that could dish out a loud sound, I soon found myself in demand for parties at various homes and halls around the town. At a party one night it happened. A blonde haired youth came in late after spending the day at the beach.  He was carrying his gym shoes, because they contained sand and he was looking for a place to put them. Whammo! It was the old joke about cupid’s arrow. Suddenly there was no one else at the party, only him. We got to talking and introduced each other. His name was Noel and we agreed to go somewhere the next night. We found that we had much in common as we were both interested in photography, and amateur movie making. I had just bought myself a small battery powered movie camera and, as he was an apprentice Fitter and Turner, he offered to make a portable lighting unit for it so I could film the Rock ‘n Roll dancing at the parties. It was a crazy time with much fun and laughter. Dances every Friday night and movies every Saturday night, followed by days at the beach and usually one or two parties during the week. I don’t know how I ever found  time for night school and studies.The first Rock parties were held in the CWA Hall in Mount Morgan, but the hall was a bit of a worry as the walls swayed slightly with the beat of the music. I guess the floor was also bouncing up and down with the dancing feet which then caused the walls to sway as well. After a couple of parties there Rock ‘n Rollers were banned from using the premises. We then went out to the Baree School of Arts which was a larger building and more able to take the punishment. Many years later in the new Millennium  I was on a visit to Mount Morgan and was surprised to see that the old CWA hall was still standing. It must have been tougher than everyone thought. There was quite a fuss about Rock ‘n Roll dancing at the time. It was said to be corrupting the Nation’s youth and putting them on the path to moral degradation. I even wrote a letter to the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin in defence of the “Devil’s Dancers” as someone called us. After all, the dance was similar to the Jitterbug so popular in the Forties, which perhaps boosted the morale of the soldiers and maybe helped them win the war..

The association with Noel lasted a couple of years, but was ultimately disastrous as he “swung both ways” as we say now. Things were going okay until we both attended the wedding of my Air Force room mate Ron, and Noel went off with his sister. Their romance lasted a year or so and they got as far as planning the wedding, but something happened and it did not go ahead.….I, in the meantime, had turned 21. It was a big deal in those days, for it meant that you were officially an adult and could legally drink alcohol and vote. Neither fact interested me much but the traditional party was great for it got together all my family and friends.

I was now getting into actual surveying more and as a sideline, with my new Rolleiflex camera, I became the mine’s photographer as well. The mining company, however, also owned an underground coal mine at Baralaba where we sometimes had to go and do surveys. Wandering about in the semi darkness of an underground coal mine has to be one of the worst experiences ever - and my hat goes off to all those who do it on a daily basis. I was now becoming more and more unsettled with the idea of spending my working life in mining as I hated what it did to the earth. In Mount Morgan especially, it made me sad to see how the run off from the mine polluted the Dee river that flowed past it. One should not be too harsh on the mine, however, for it was the mine, as the town’s major employer, that gave the town such a strong sense of community. The mine working environment caused people to get together on both a professional and personal level which was a good thing for boosting the community spirit. Sporting events were always well patronised as was everything else that brought people together. I remember my mother working hard in the kitchen making toffee, coconut ice and all the other confectionery treats that went into the sweets stall at the annual Baptist Fete. It was something that all the church guilds did to raise funds for their churches. However there was one social activity that united everyone, young and the not so young………..

Mount Morgan Hospital Ball 1910

An Invitation to the Dance…By some miracle of foresight the students of the Central State School, at that time, were given dancing lessons. That suited me just fine as I was utterly bored sitting at a desk in a school room. However, dancing, whether folk or ballroom, helped reduce that boredom, even for a short period. As a class we held hands with our prospective partners(mine named Olive or Kathy) and crossed the busy main road to the School of Arts where we put our knowledge of arithmetic to practical application with the basic count of 1.2.3.  as we learnt the Waltz. It was all very good preparation for the busy social life of the small mining town as a lot of it revolved around dancing. Certainly the annual Masonic Ball and Show Ball were highlights of the year. (and who can forget the Red Cross Concerts run by Mrs Glen Shields and her band of busy helpers.) In today’s world formal dancing seems part of an era that is now largely gone. Dancing now appears to consist of gyrating wildly on the one spot as if you have ants in your pants or just spinning about on your head. At least that is how it was on a dreadful American T.V. show called “Let’s Dance” that I watched once. Dancing used to be about boy meeting girl and getting to know each other as they moved gracefully about the dance floor. Yes, our generation had Rock ‘n Roll, and the one before that had the Jitterbug, but those dances still required you to have a partner. It was a great way for the young folk, and older folk to get together. We in Mount Morgan were of course spoilt by having one of the best dance bands in the country; the Fred Cole Trio, who were always there to provide music for the town’s dancers. Fred was a musical genius who had never had lessons on how to play the piano, nor how to read music, yet he was able to sit down and play anything that he had heard. On the drums was Harry Weir, a teacher at the Central State School, and playing saxophone was Noel Underwood, an engineering draughtsman with Mount Morgan Limited. They could play anything. I especially loved their repertoire of 30’s music. Great dance tunes like “Anything Goes” and “White Tie, Top Hat and Tails” were their speciality.

  Now the dance culture of old, as a means of meeting members of the opposite sex, seems to have been replaced by something called “on line dating”. One does not need to be an Einstein to figure that such a dating system is fraught with hazards. The biggest event for the younger set in Mount Morgan was the annual Debutante Ball. Weeks, or months even, went into the planning and preparation for the very special occasion. For a young lady it was second only to her wedding day in importance and for the guys it was a matter of not stuffing things up, and taking on the responsibility of looking after the young lady who had asked you to be her partner. Certainly in the case of the Deb. Ball it meant that you had to be able to dance and attend the rehearsals.
At this stage in my life I had grown out of the RocknRoll dance craze and was ready for something  different - or should I say something more mature? I had the honour of partnering two young ladies, a responsibility that I did not take lightly. The general dance scene was very busy with dances every Friday and Saturday nights either in Mount Morgan or Rockhampton. However, if a guy and his mates went to a dance it did not mean that they would do any actual  dancing. The macho thing to do was to hang around outside the dance hall and watch as the girls were forced to dance with each other inside. Should one of their number be courageous enough to be seen dancing with a girl he would be the subject of such comments as “What’s wrong with Davo?. He’s in there dancing! Is he a poofter or something?“ ..The problem of course was that most of the guys could not dance and were afraid of making fools of themselves on the dance floor. What they were really doing was waiting for the last dance when they could finally muster up enough courage to ask their chosen girl to dance so they could offer to take her home as they stumbled about the dance floor.

 One of the most popular dances, although it was not really a dance, was the Conga. It originally started out as a South American dance, but somehow it became a group thing called the Conga Line which anyone could join in regardless of their dancing skills. It had a leader at the head and the rest of the dancers fell into line behind the leader holding on to each other’s waists. When the music began the line progressed forward to the beat of the music which had a count of “One, Two, Three, Kick!”  An orderly Conga Line just progressed in a circle around the dance hall, but this rarely happened. It all depended on the sense of humour of the leader. In the case of the Masonic Hall it often moved out the front door to go around the side of the building to the verandah, where it re entered the hall via the side door. Sometimes if the dancers were feeling particularly exuberant the line went down the street outside and back again. After one of these dance nights, with spirits still high, a few of us met at the Big Dam afterwards and did a Conga Line dance across the dam wall and back again. It could have been a case of “one, two, three, splash!”  In those days the dam wall was easily accessible to foolish youths who were carried away by its glittering waters as lit by the light of a full moon.

No 7 dam Mount Morgan in flood

 After that risky escapade with the boys came a rather unusual outing with the girls. Perhaps I shall call it “Jean Shrimpton and the mushroom pickers!”
I am not sure how it happened, or whose idea it was, but after work one day, after the summer rains, we decided to go mushroom picking. We who worked at the General Office all knocked off at five o’clock so I usually gave a few of the girls a lift over to the town. This particular afternoon, however, seemed too nice an afternoon to spend indoors in our homes, so someone suggested that we go looking for mushrooms. We all agreed that it was a wonderful idea, but then the question came up of where to go. “I know just the place!” said I and swung the car around to head for the Struck Oil turnoff. None of us really thought about the practicalities of the situation: like the need for a container to put them in. I guess we thought that we might only get a handful at the very most. When I turned off the main road and stopped a little way along the old gravel road we all piled out of the car and set forth in different directions to see what we could find. There were mushrooms there all right, white on top and pink underneath, all scattered about the field.  Fortunately I had an old hat to carry with me to put mine in, but I had nothing else to offer the girls. When we all caught up with each other a while later I was quite astonished and more than a little amused to see how they had solved the mushroom transportation problem. They were holding their skirts out in front of them to make a receptacle to hold the gathered mushrooms and it worked perfectly. Before the reader thinks that they were doing something rude I must defend their virtue by informing you that at that time the hemline for women’s dresses was many inches below the knee, so they had plenty of room for say half a bucket of mushrooms and still maintain their modesty. Anyway I congratulated them on their ingenuity and we all patted ourselves on the back for getting a nice haul of mushrooms. I couldn’t help chuckling inwardly though as it looked so funny seeing the three of them walking about with their dresses held out in front of them, weighted down in the middle with the gathered mushrooms. It was many years later, that the English model, Jean Shrimpton, made world headlines by appearing at the 1965 Melbourne Cup wearing a dress with a hemline that was well above the knee. Not only that, she was also hatless and gloveless. The Melbourne establishment was shocked, but the English press were delighted. They loved tipping the bucket on Australia and its old fashioned attitudes. It was the beginning of the age of the mini-skirt, and the young ladies of Mount Morgan would no longer use their long skirts to go  gathering mushrooms.

While the girls were multi skilled and innovative, the boys still remained behind when it came to dancing skills. Mount Morgan, however, was a lot more fortunate than other country towns as it had the High School Past Pupils Association......
The Dancing Class :  The Association was a great way to meet people and to discover one’s hidden talents. The heart and soul of the organisation was Miss Bette Broom, who one day came up with the idea that it would be a good thing if we all, particularly the youth of the town, learnt to dance. The guys grumbled a bit, but the girls all thought that it was a very good idea, so a dancing teacher was found and a hall hired for the weekly lessons. That was the wonderful thing about Mount Morgan; everybody pitched in and supported an idea. The lessons became a popular weekly event, where those who could dance improved their skills, while those who couldn’t at least learnt how to avoid making fools of themselves on the dance floor and gained a lot of self confidence. In no time everyone was dancing and having a great time. We learnt to Foxtrot, Quickstep, Slow Waltz(with reverse turns), the Cha-Cha and many others. The first dance night in the Masonic Hall saw everyone dancing like pros. However when the Cha- Cha (one, two - cha cha cha!) was announced, members of the dance class got up to show their skills, and unconsciously formed a complete circle around the hall, just the way we did it in dancing class. It looked a bit funny to see everyone doing the Cha-Cha in a formal circle, but nobody had the courage to break the circle and go off dancing elsewhere by themselves. Word of the success of the dancing class spread, and when the formal ceremony for the reopening of the newly improved swimming pool was announced the Past Pupils Association was asked to provide some light entertainment in the form of a dance. We thought about it and decided that a conventional dance, such as a Waltz or Quickstep, would be out of the question on the rough concrete base surrounding the pool, so it would have to be something less conventional. Noel Batchelor, one of the dance class members, came forward with the information that he had just returned from a holiday in the village of Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains, and while there he learnt to do a dance called the Thredbo Stomp. When he demonstrated it for us we agreed that it would do nicely for a light hearted stomp at the pool opening and, as it didn’t need partners, there was no problem with the surface of the pool sides. I wrote a simple 4/4 melody with some lyrics and Fred Cole learnt to play it for us. In line with all the silly dance crazes that came and went I called it the “Ooogly Ooo!” and wrote some equally silly lyrics to go with it. As we rehearsed it someone came up with the idea that as a finale to the dance, we should all jump into the pool. Everyone agreed, except Fred’s daughter Chris who said “But I can’t swim!”  I assured her that it would be no problem as I would stand beside her and grab her before she sank to the bottom. She agreed to this and on the day it all went well, with the gathered crowd loving it, and nobody drowning.. We even made the television news that night as shown on Rockhamton’s newly opened television station. Many years later these dancing skills were put into operation when a group of us from Mount Morgan met again in London and attended a major ball together. The Aussies got many favourable comments from the Pommies who thought we must have been professional dancers!!……This was not the only highlight for this P.P. dancing class member for two or three years later on a night out in Montreal, Canada, we went to a night club with the Film Lab manager and his wife. As they had a large dance floor with a good orchestra I asked the manager’s wife if she would like to dance. She jumped at the opportunity and was a very good dancer. While we danced the Quick Step, (slow, slow, quick, quick, slow!) the other dancers moved off the floor to watch and everyone gave us a round of applause at the end; just like in the movies that I saw when I was a kid. I wish our stay in Montreal had gone as well as that first night, but sadly it was not to be.....The years with the Past Pupils was a very positive period for all concerned. We held sporting events, a car rally, frequent dances and staged team nights where two teams were pitted against each other in a challenge to provide an hours entertainment for the rest of the members and friends. As often happens one thing leads to another thing. The following summer, after our team night, was as dry as they come. The usual early summer storms had avoided the town and everywhere was a dust bowl. If you happened to live beside an unpaved road, which would include most of the town,  you copped a cloud of dust every time a car drove by. Washing days were a nightmare and every garment had to be given a good shake before it was folded up and put in a drawer. It was under these circumstances that the Past Pupils Association decided to do something to celebrate Christmas; something traditional. During rehearsals for our teams night somehow the rehearsal bit was forgotten and the teams decided to have some fun by sabotaging each other's rehearsals. One of the pranks that our team played was to gather outside the hall where our rivals were trying to rehearse and sing Christmas Carols. (even if it was only September!). As Fred Cole provided the music for the various teams he was involved in the rehearsals as well. When our team disrupted the rehearsal of our rival team, Fred ,who was with them at the time, thought that the carol singing sounded quite nice and hit upon the idea of going around the town on Christmas Eve, doing just that; singing Christmas carols. His idea took off and, as Christmas approached, we began rehearsing our carols. I started brushing up on the words of carols like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The First Noel” and arrived at the first rehearsal all ready to go. Fred, however, being a true blue Aussie, said that we should sing some Australian Christmas carols too. What Australian Christmas Carols we all said??…I had never heard of such a thing! During the next few weeks we learnt to sing all the old favourite carols as well as a selection of Australian carols. These Australian carols were really beautiful and were written by South Australians, William James and John Wheeler. My personal favourite was one called “The Three Drovers” because it had a beautiful melody. It began with the words -
“Across the plains one Christmas night,
Three drovers riding blithe and gay”
Now these lyrics in the Mount Morgan of the early sixties were accepted at face value, for gay at that time still meant happy. When the hot Christmas Eve night came we all scrambled aboard a flat bed truck that Fred had borrowed and somehow managed to load his piano aboard and away we all went. It was a very successful night, and got the approval from homeowners who liked the Christmassy feeling it gave; although being enveloped in a cloud of dust every time a car went past wasn’t very pleasant for us.  A couple of years later when working in a Film Laboratory in London, a few of us were in the canteen having morning tea one day just before Christmas when the subject of Christmas Carols came up. I then volunteered the information that in Australia we had our own Christmas Carols. “Sing us one.” someone said.
So I started singing - “Across the plains one Christmas night
                                        Three drovers riding blithe and gay…….”
At that point Bob, my workmate, interrupted me by saying “Barry! Stop right there!. You mean to say you went all around your town singing about three Gay drovers?”
“Your kidding right?”
There was a lot more conversation and much laughter and each year after that, as Christmas approached, I was always asked to sing the Aussie Christmas carol about the three gay drovers.

The Past Pupils team nights, where I had written a lot of the music, also resulted in a request coming from the High School Principal, Mr Gavin Semple,  for me to write the High School song. I considered it a great honour and a challenge at  the time, but now in hindsight I feel a little bit embarrassed by it. The words are okay as they came from the heart, but the music was not very original and technically flawed. Of course I couldn’t really write music anyway as I skipped the theory part of it, and Fred Cole couldn't read it anyway. Consequently all I had to do was to teach a few others to sing along with me, and Fred, in no time, picked up the melody and away we went. Later it was written down and arranged by the town‘s music teacher Mrs K Cain. The words to the song are -

                  Mount Morgan High School Song
“Non Sibi Sed Omnibus, stands for the things dear to us.
It has a part in every heart, that nothing else can replace.
Fond memories we’ll share of our Mount Morgan High.
Though we’ll be everywhere, these days will never die.
We think of tomorrow, and of the road ahead,
But of these things, the future brings, we shall not meet them unprepared.
Armed with the light of learning, we face the dark unknown.
It is the torch that’s burning, forever there when we’re alone.
We stand before a door and proudly hold the key,
that opens all our dreams to life’s reality.
And, with these years behind us, we’ll face any test,
With heads held high, we’ll always try to give nothing but the best.
Non Sebi Sed Omnibus, stands for the things dear to us.
It has a part in every heart that nothing else can replace.”

                           Barry with choir Mistress Irene Sturgess and High School Choir. 1982

The Latin used is the school motto which means “not for one but for all“. When I was at High School they also had a war cry for sporting events. It went something like “Nigger, nigger, raw potato, half caste alligator. Mount Morgan High School. Rah! Rah! Rah..” I don’t know who wrote that, but I would say that those words would have become victim to the P.C. age and fallen by the wayside long ago now…Anyway, the team nights were lots of fun and led directly to the formation of the Mount Morgan Amateur Drama Group. It was a busy creative period for everyone including many of the teachers. It was here that cupid’s arrow struck again. As fate would have it, it was another tall blonde with the same name - Noel. He was more solidly built though, having played competitive football in his university days. This guy was mister personality plus. Again the attraction was mutual and another association began.  He was a very charismatic school teacher and loved to laugh, and to make other people laugh. Nothing was ever so serious that he could not get a laugh out of it.

                                        We were once stranded in the Central Australian desert with a caravan that had a broken something, yet he was able to get us laughing at our predicament. It was in the days when the road from Alice Springs to Port Augusta was just a narrow gravel goat track with many very rough creek crossings. Of course there was no water in them, just large rocks, one of which caused the damage. It was not all bad news however as we discovered that we were near a homestead and places like that, out there in the middle of nowhere, often had a workshop for repairing equipment used on the property. We managed to get under the van and remove the bits that had broken and ventured forth to the homestead to see what could be done about it. In true outback hospitality the guy said “Sure no trouble!” and welded the two pieces together. He cautioned us however that the support arm was now weakened and that we should get to the garage in Coober Pedy to see if they could replace it. Getting to Coober Pedy was a little bit more difficult than we anticipated as we had to drive through a raging dust storm. When we got there we were surprised to see that everyone had red hair. How unusual we both thought - until we looked at each other’s hair and discovered that we were covered with the same red dust. It was not difficult to find the garage as it was the only one and in the main street. The mechanic said that there was not much he could do and advised us to travel to the rail head at Kingoonya, about 150 miles away, and put the van on a train to get it to Adelaide where it could be repaired properly. He also said that it would be okay to leave the van parked outside the garage if we wished to spend the night there. This seemed the best thing to do and we could leave the next day. Coober Pedy is a very interesting Opal mining town with summers so hot that the people choose to live underground to escape the heat. One of the few buildings above the ground was the pub. It had a raised boardwalk footpath with a horse hitching rail outside in the street. When we arrived in town it even had horses tied up there. All it needed was John Wayne leaning on one of the supports to greet us with “Howdy Pardners” as we drove by. That night we went to the movies. The cinema was roofless with large open windows on the side to let the air flow through. The white townspeople paid the admission price to sit inside, while all the Aborigines sat on the bank outside and watched the movies for free. The next morning we were awakened early with a loud roaring noise. “What the Hell’s that?” Noel said. As I was on the side with the window facing the street I pulled the curtain aside and was astonished to see an aeroplane taxiing past our window.  Apparently the main street served as an aircraft runway too. We left a few hours later and, despite a lot of rough patches, managed to arrive safely at Kingoonya without any further damage to the van. It was now Friday night and we discovered that the next train for Adelaide was not due until Monday, so we had to spend the weekend in Kingoonya. It had about a dozen houses, one General Store, a pub and a Community Hall. Again we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. We thought of risking it and travelling on to Adelaide, but as the van was hired we decided to play it safe and stick to our original plan, so we parked it in a side street near the Community Hall ready for loading on to the train on Monday. On the Saturday night they had a movie screening in the Hall. We had seen it before but there was nowhere else to go as the pub closed at 6pm so we went again anyway. We watched it until almost the end but decided to slip out before the crowd surge at the end of the movie. The projector was set up in the entrance foyer of the hall, but there was no one there operating it. As the door was ajar we closed it as we walked out and heard it lock behind us. However, as we stepped outside, we now saw the projectionist who had apparently gone outside for a smoke. He was now in full panic mode as we had unintentionally locked him out of his “projection room” and he was unable to turn off his projector or turn the house lights on. “Oh” I said “What should we do?”. “Unless you’re a locksmith, we keep on walking!” said Noel. The next day we went for a drive. We could either go west or east. It didn’t matter anyway for the scenery was exactly the same on either side - flat with low scrub. After travelling east for a while we turned around and drove west, then turned off the road and drove into the scrub. We got out of the car and sat on the bonnet looking at the ragged bushes. Suddenly an Aboriginal person emerged from the bushes and started talking to us. He seemed friendly enough but we couldn’t understand a word he saying as he was apparently talking in his tribal language.  He was quite tall, very black with deep dark eyes that seemed to reach into ages past. I had never seen a full blooded Aboriginal before, let alone come face to face with one, and he was quite impressive. Noel, being Noel, jumped in at any pause in his chatter and said things like “Is that so?” , “That’s quite interesting” or “Well I didn’t know that!”…..After a while the man gave us a sort of wave and disappeared into the scrub again. “What was that all about?” I said to Noel, who answered saying “I have no idea!”…The train arrived the next day and the van was loaded leaving us to continue our journey, now much easier going without the cumbersome crippled van. We arrived at Port Augusta and booked into a luxurious(we thought) air conditioned Motel and had long, long showers to wash the Outback dust off our bodies. The van was properly repaired in Adelaide and we were able to continue with our journey, south to Melbourne, then back up the eastern coast….

The Fifties had now rolled over into the Sixties. Unfortunately, as before with the other Noel, I was to discover that he swung both ways. This problem was increasing, and together with the fact that he was a devout Catholic and always going to confession, I knew that I was in trouble again. Especially so when his confessional priest asked to meet me!. However, I knew that I couldn’t change what I was despite trying. Relationships with girls just did not work for me and it broke my heart when I had to end things. The future was looking pretty bleak. I was in the world of “Slan” where everyone is the enemy and I am completely alone. Worse still, in the eyes of the law I was a criminal! In my despair I contemplated taking my life twice. The first was a wild high speed drive where I was going to crash the car. However my hands were unable to give that final thrust to the steering wheel that would send the car flying off the edge.  My next was a decision to gas myself with the car exhaust. On the chosen day I drove the car out into the bush to a nice spot that I knew that was on a rise overlooking the valley. I put a hose, that I attached to the car exhaust, through a gap that I had left in one window, started the engine and sat there waiting. With the exhaust gas now coming in the window and slowly filling the car, I sat gazing out the through the windscreen taking a last look at the scenery. After a while I saw a horseman approaching driving some cattle. As he drew near I could hardly believe it. It was my brother Ron. He was driving some cattle to our uncle Joe’s property a few miles away. As he got near he saw the car and gave me a wave and carried on driving his cattle. I just sat there gaping. Here I am trying to commit suicide and I get sprung by my brother! Then the whole stupidity of the situation hit home so I pulled  the hose away from the exhaust and went home… The problem was not solved however, but was waiting for another day. That day came when I met Noel in town one Saturday morning many months later. Bright and breezy as always he said “I just heard that Margie Thomas is in England. How about we go to England too?”.. Suddenly a way out had presented itself. A chance for a new life. When the inevitable big bust up between us came it would be better that it happened on the other side of the world, than here in Mount Morgan…. I said “Yes!”.  It was a decision that would change both our lives completely.

 “The Mango Tree” 
      by Barry McKnight

I heard of it when I was old.
The house where I grew up was sold.
But the very worst for me,
was they chopped down the mango tree.

My thoughts went to that other time,
and to the tree I used to climb,
that came to be in many ways,
a shelter for those childhood days.

Images appeared to me,
through a misty memory
of a place I used to sing
while in motion on the swing.
I heard the laughter of a day
when happy children came to play,
beneath the branches that were made
to give them all protective shade.

As a bonus it would treat
them with delicious fruit to eat,
with a flavour so sublime,
through the long hot summertime.

Again the sound of laughter greets,
a drunken flock of Lorikeets,
eating fruit that had begun
fermenting in the tropic sun.

It even stood there to engage
The winds of a cyclonic rage,
as if it thought it had to be
protector of the family.

I see again the strangest sight
of flying creatures of the night;
raiders coming in to loot,
and feast upon the tasty fruit.

But it enjoyed to have them call,
as it did to one and all;
a giving tree, I was to learn
that asked for nothing in return.

Later in the branches high,
a tree house stood beneath the sky,
In a place where childhood weaves,
A secret world beneath the leaves.

Where I could see the stars at night,
Above the leaves all shining bright;
And dream the dreams of mystery,
Of worlds that were and yet to be.

Later on directions changed,
And lives, as always re-arranged
To choose the paths we hope will be
Leading to our destiny….

As the years seemed to fly,
it stood and watched the world go by,
until its very brutal end.
And now I feel I’ve lost a friend.

"Life is a journey and we are the travellers"


A Travellers Journal - Part 1B 

 Letters to my Mother 1964 to 1968"