Chapter 19 FRUIT PICKER 1952
At Huonville, about thirty miles south of Hobart, I enquired if I could get a job nearby. The local police pointed out H.B. Woolley who happened to be in town that day. Before I knew where I was, I was sitting in his truck, saying good-bye to June and Betty, who were then proceeding home to Sydney. I was young, rather naive and sitting next to a complete stranger. Suddenly I felt very much alone so far from home. H.B. Woolley lived in a little village called Glen Huon. From Glen Huon, another chap was asked to take me two or three miles further on, up a frightful track. There on the top was "Glen Ayr", Glen Huon, Tasmania, owned by C. Woolley, father of Mary and Lindsay.
From my account of the trip:
On my Own and a Thousand Miles from Home
C Woolley, very tall and unshaven, was putting hay in his barn when I arrived, and went to consult his wife (quite dumpy and wearing the weirdest hat). She and the two children were picking black currants when they saw a stranger arrive, dressed in aqua slacks and a red jacket and sitting in a familiar car.
"Is she a cousin?" they wondered. "No she looks like a stranger."
Their mother took the strange female inside, gave her a pair of dirty, torn overalls, the only spare ones, about three inches too short in the leg, and brought her back outside again. Mr C. Woolley found a good bush to show her how to pick black currants and Mrs Woolley returned to her position at the top of the patch and broke the terrible news to the children. "She's from the Teachers' College in Sydney."
Mary aged 16 soon finished her bush and had to start a new row next to the city girl.
"Hullo," she said tentatively.
"Hullo. You're very quick. I suppose you've had a lot of practice."
"Yes. I've been doing it every year since I can remember."
"I expect I'll be pretty slow. So long as I earn enough money to pay for my fare back to Sydney." The two girls were soon friends.
Her older brother was harder to convince. When work was finished for the day, the five pickers weighed up their tins of currants and went to tea. Lindsay had to go to Glen Huon to fetch the bread. He seemed relieved to be alone, away from the stranger.
The girls found plenty to talk about and the city girl wrote letters to her mother and her aunt at Pennant Hills.
A note to June and Betty said:
Well old stickos, do tell me everything you do now that you have managed to get rid of me. Tell Johno?Johnoh? John not to hurt his spine by bashing it too much, and do spare a thought occasionally for the black currant bushes and
PS Mr Woolley knows the Ranger at Lake St Clair and says he helped put through lots of tracks in the Reserve. He knows all about the places we saw, but he hasn't been in the Reserve since they built the new Pelion Chalet.
PPS Mary is getting up at 4.30 to start picking and I've asked her to call me.
Mary and Lindsay, both a little younger than I was, had never known any life other than the farm. We went rabbiting to augment the cooking pot. It was like being back at Colo Heights in a small family. There were delicious feeds of strawberries and cream, views to admire, crosswords, games of cricket and "bobs" as well as raspberries and black currants.
A week after I arrived Mary, Lindsay and I went to the pictures in Huonville, travelling from Glen Huon in the school bus, meant for small children. It was a boring show, but at least a break from the routine of work. I wore my frock and sandals which I had intended to wear on the "Taroona". We had three miles to walk home from the bus. Mary and Lindsay each took one of my hands and together we marched up the hill, the two on the outside having to pick up the one in the middle who kept tripping over in the dark. What a road!
About a week later I went with H.B. Woolley to book my fare home. He collected the barrels of fruit from "Glen Ayr" and we set off for Hobart in a rickety old truck with doors that kept flying open, a self-starter that wouldn't start and a driver who swore when provoked.
At the Huoncry factory in Hobart, the tubs of black currants were exchanged for empty tubs (and a docket). The crank had to be used on the @%&$*# truck. The brake wasn't on. The truck was in gear. Suddenly it shot forward and lurched into the side of another truck, shaking me up a bit and somewhat annoying H.B. who had to leap aside waving his fist and saying things.
On the way from Glen Huon up "the road" to "Glen Ayr" some of the above-mentioned empty barrels went for a roll off the truck and down the road. It was too steep to stop there so H.B. and I had fun trundling the runaway tubs up the stony track, heaving them back on to the vehicle and tying them on more securely this time.
After three weeks on the farm, one of my t-shirts had departed this world and the other was full of holes, my fingers were nearly worn through and my whole hands were the colour of the currants. A short while picking raspberries had the effect of cleaning the hands of currant stains. Unfortunately the last picking was currants which left me with stained hands. The last time I was on the track, wearing woollen slacks, my "holey" T shirt, covered by a red jacket I had bought, my gear in my rucksack, I set out on Belle, Lindsay's horse. I'm no horsewoman so the owner walked by my side. I was very grateful to Lindsay who walked the three miles to Glen Huon, from where I caught the bus to Hobart. The airline bus took me to the airport. 7th February, two days before my birthday, 1952. Back in civilisation in the airport lounge, for the first time in many weeks I heard a news broadcast. People were listening with silent intensity. I wondered how the world was progressing in my absence and drew closer to listen.
"The King is dead. Long live the Queen."
At first the trip was rough and my tummy felt most unhappy. But crossing Bass Straight at 7000' was really beautiful and I certainly enjoyed my first plane trip although I couldn't see much.
My attire had been quite comfortable when I left "Glen Ayr", more appropriate to sitting on a horse than sitting in a plane, where my fellow passengers were dressed in more conservative clothes. I should have changed into my frock and sandals. I occupied myself with thoughts of the King's death and of my return to studies, assignments, lectures, exams, practice teaching, but mainly bushwalking, club meetings, balls, youth concerts and parties. College didn't present any problems. It didn't interfere with my other activities. In twelve months my horizons had already broadened beyond expectations and there was always talk and interest in the world outside Australia. The Milford Track in New Zealand was an ambition for many walkers, not beyond possibility.
Arriving home in the evening, Sydney was experiencing a heat wave - and I could not take my jacket off to reveal my holey t-shirt!
* * *
We began our second year at college. Margaret and I and others (all girls) who had elected to become infants' teachers, were now specialising in what we had chosen while at school. For my elective of physical education I was required to go for my Bronze Certificate in Lifesaving. I also did some fencing and Scottish dancing and excelled in broad jumping.
When it came time for the next bushwalking ball I persuaded Cecily to come to make up numbers although she was not really the bushwalking type, being more ladylike and less boisterous than the rest of us. She enjoyed herself of course and she and John started going out together.
On a walking trip in the May holidays we went to Barrington Tops, near Scone and on the way down towards Barrington Guest House on the Dungog side, I slipped on the loose gravel on a steep slope. I cried out and sat down. Malcolm helped me ease off my boot and we watched my foot swell up like a football.
"This is the same ankle I sprained when I was about eleven, falling down the steps at Erskineville Station running for a train, and hurt my right knee and ankle. My knee hurt more at the time, but my ankle has been weak ever since."
Malcolm was already strapping my foot. Each of the boys took some of my gear, leaving an empty rucksack for Malcolm.
"This is the second time you've carried my pack," I commented remembering Tasmania. "Just don't make a habit of it," he said teasing me. "Or we'll have to restrain you forcibly. Can't have you knocking yourself about."
"Trouble is that we go practice teaching next week, and I'm going to be limping around."
"Can't you get leave if you're not well enough?"
"I guess, if I really can't walk. But I'll be OK."
My clothes and sleeping bag having been distributed and a hasty cup of tea brewed while I took a breather, we were soon ready to continue to the Guest House from where we intended to catch the bus to Dungog. Brian had gone on ahead as soon as I had fallen. At the Guest House he arranged for a horse to be brought back to fetch me. They hoisted me up and I proceeded in state if not exactly in triumph.
Rucksack Club Members at Stewards Brook, Barrington Tops April 1952
Photo by Brian Petrie
Auntie Clytie was not surprised at my injury. She had been predicting that sooner or later something would happen to convince me to give up my radical behaviour and take up some more genteel activity. My aunt was always outspoken and I was always a little awed. After a few days' rest the doctor pronounced me fit for practice teaching, provided I did not stand too much and wore flat shoes. Bushwalking and dancing were temporarily out of the question and I should start again with short easy walks, nothing too strenuous. In the meantime I joined some of the family activities with my cousins and less energetic activities with Cecily.
As the end of second year approached we looked forward to graduating and earning REAL money. At my final Practice Teaching another girl and I had sole charge of a class whose teacher was supervising student teachers at another school. This meant more opportunity, independence and responsibility although we had never been told that we were in any way better than average students. Mum was pleased for me but no longer suggested that my successes were due to my God-given talents.
We had to choose the age at which we would retire. Our superannuation contributions varied according to the age which we selected. I said 55 which meant slightly higher deductions than if I had said 60, but I had no intention of working more than a few years. I don't think our male colleagues had a choice. A representative of the union said that we must join the Teachers' Federation or risk being accused by parents of negligence in case of an accident. It was a new and frightening prospect to think that we could be sued. At the time the idea of suing or being sued was unheard of. In fact we were not given the choice of joining, union fees would automatically be deducted from our wages. I learnt later that the Department of Education would support us in a dispute so long as we had not been negligent in our duty. I did voluntarily arrange for a small regular deduction from my pay for a contribution to Stewart House where needy children could have a beach holiday, financed by teachers.
Our scholarships had involved a bond to the Department of Education and the guarantee of a job. We would teach for three years wherever we were sent. This did not seem at all unreasonable, for most people finding a job was their own responsibility and they took what they could get and went where the jobs were. We had had two years of education plus a modest allowance, had enjoyed social activities and regular college dances and other facilities where we could meet people. We did not need a lot of money to have fun as we had all grown up knowing how to entertain ourselves.
My sojourn at Pennant Hills had been arranged for the remainder of my student days and it was always understood that I would be leaving as soon as I was through college. Auntie Clytie intended in the near future to join Uncle Viv in Rabaul.
Knowing it was difficult to get flats I went in to the Department of Education towards the end of January to see if I could get a clue about my appointment so that I could start flat-hunting. School would begin in two weeks.
"We can't tell you anything yet, but around the Strathfield area would be a good possibility."
At one accommodation agency I was kept waiting hopefully for three hours before they admitted there was nothing suitable. At the next place I paid £3/3/0 (a third of my expected wage) to have my name put on their books. It was a dismal task. Mum had gone through all this when she and I left Bankstown.
On 20th January my appointment to Granville Infants' School arrived and I set out in earnest to find accommodation. After a long day trudging from place to place, I eventually saw a room at Strathfield with shared bathroom, laundry and kitchen, which I decided to take, temporarily at least. I would have a bedroom of my own for the first time in my life. There was a telephone, the house was close to shops and the station and I could be in the city within twenty minutes. My dream of a self-contained flat where I could be independent and entertain my friends as I pleased had evaporated.
Uncle Viv's oldest son and his wife lived at Thornleigh, the next suburb to Pennant Hills. They had two children and were expecting another baby. Ted was a high school teacher and was due for promotion. The new baby was likely to put in an appearance just before the expected move. But problems like that were to be solved systematically. They made plans and were prepared for both events. Of course the children were regular visitors at Pennant Hills to see their grandma and as the time approached for the new arrival, they sometimes came to stay overnight.
A week before the new school year they had a little sister, who arrived about 7.30 one morning. Ted brought the other two to stay with grandma for a week, while he finished arrangements for the big move which turned out to be to Cooma. Naturally I found myself doing some extra chores around the house, running after the children and trying to reduce the pile of ironing in the basket. Auntie Clytie suffered from high blood pressure and her two lively grandchildren were tiring if welcome company.
Ted organised the removal of the furniture and saw it into the removalist van. He went down and back by train to receive it and have things in order before taking his family.
Cecily's boyfriend John got his appointment at Wollongong, 50 miles south. They were glad it was not too distant. It could have been the proverbial Tibooburra.
Into my suitcase went my clothes, into my rucksack my bushwalking gear, my books in a box and I was ready for a new life as a wage-earner and world explorer.