On the outskirts of Mittagong, Welby was less expensive than the neighbouring towns and villages. The town is idyllic because of the surrounding dense bush. Welby is flat in many areas, it has wide streets and fabulous views of Mount Gibraltar.
Coupled with a deposit, and a loan from the bank, my parents purchased a house in Welby. Father’s dream of owning a farm was the focus. Mother, a fantastic budgeter, contributed to the success of saving for the deposit and paying off the mortgage. Father intended to add to the property, waiting for adjoining properties to become available.
We had paddocks with a variety of fruit trees, a goat, a cow, chickens, and a vegetable garden.
Nearby there is a cemetery and a garbage tip, and often we would end up with some abandoned cats and a dog or two, claiming our house as their home.
Earliest memories of our childhood at Welby was bittersweet. There was a great deal of work as the old settler’s cottage was rudimentary, the walls lined with newspaper and the floor built on the dirt. Dad did his best at a renovation and his bricklaying is evident today.
My father’s employment was with the Department of Main Roads (DMR), and then as a gardener for properties in Bowral and Mittagong, such as Frensham Girls’ School, and Mount Hamilton on the Bowral side of Mount Gibraltar. He was enjoying his employment as a gardener but was keen to develop his own farm.
To get rid of all the pests and fleas father painted the floor of our house with DDT and all the fruit trees were sprayed with the toxic-substance as well. I was a two-year-old toddler, Jos only 4 and Jane a baby.
At dinner time Dad would say grace. I remember my father’s deep and melodious voice reading the Bible to us as little children, sitting on the floor, wide-eyed, and then we would go to bed with nightmares of the destruction of the world called Armageddon.
Dogs and cats could get into the yard just as easily as kids could get out, and from our very early years, we did just that, running up Colo Lane, a grassy laneway leading to interesting neighbours. Australians in blue singlets, with cattle-dogs that nipped at your ankles, lamb roast baking in the oven, pigs in pens, Allan Moffatt glorified on their walls and women who mowed the lawns on hot days wearing only bra and shorts.
You bloody kids better not wander off too far and keep out of the paddock with the old ram, and most of all, keep off the horses too. These bloody kids wondered off all the time, getting on the horses and bucked by the ram. Always in trouble for being gone and lost all day. Sometimes, search parties were sent out, including the local police being called. Only to find us at the McDonalds’ watching cowboys and Indians on their black and white TV. Television, what an invention, of course, we did not have one, not the telephone, nor an old record player to listen to Slim Dusty and American country and western hits of the day.
The Barnes’ taught us about country and western, about Australian sport, Ford muscle cars and best of all of the swear words.
We would come home with all the Australian slang, of swear-words, of stories about sheep stations in the western desert, of mongrel dogs, roos and the bloody wogs everywhere.
I do not remember getting hugs and kisses from my mother, Jos, Jane and I were the eldest and mother had little Bill and baby Robert to take care of. I was however always on my father’s knee, I was his little girl. I close my eyes and see him, strong, tanned, smelling of tobacco, walking with a limp, wearing farm clothes and going out to inspect the property.
One day he was struck by lightning, then he was afflicted by sickness from eating fruit contaminated by DDT, and finally, I remember my mother saying. “Jan, what is that lump on the side of your body”? Dad replied, “nothing it’s been there for a while”. Mother insisted he go to the doctor who gave him a couple of months to live. Liver cancer.
There were five of us kids, I was eleven, my youngest brother only 12 months.
And then he was gone.