Written by Bertha Benoit – born Tenindewa Western Australia
I was born 26 September in the year 1916, on a wheat farm “Sleepy Hollow” in the district of Bindu which is situated some twenty miles from Mullewa in the North, and 36 miles from Geraldton to the South. Somewhere in between is Tenindewa our Railway Siding which was some seven miles from our homestead.
It is hard to recall when one began remembering events for certain. So much one remembers is from events being encountered by ones elders.
Ours was a virgin farm of approximately 800 acres pioneered by my parents (Albert Ernest Benoit and Elizabeth “Betsy” nee Lauder).
I was born in a makeshift humpy whilst the house was being built sometime later.
I was found, so I was told in a bee’s nest, which appears to have satisfied my curiosity for some time.
One of my earliest recollections was being bathed in a large tin tub in front of the kitchen stove. Conveniences were very few or non- existent in the outback in the early days. Both rooms were undreamt of luxuries, indeed one was very lucky to have sufficient water for everyday necessities. Household water was supplied from large tanks placed strategically around the house.
Next to the house was the dam site which was a fenced off area of approximately 1 acre which had drains leading into the dam proper and by which means the rainwater was channeled into the storage area.
At the bottom end of this area to the right was the stables and the cow stalls and sheds.
To the left was a large storage shed and to the right of that the hay stack. It was in this area we kids had great fun playing amongst the sheaves of hay jumping off shed roofs, climbing trees etc.
When the men were busy milking the cows, we children loved to play with the calves, they were locked away each night until their mothers were milked in the morning. I do believe those calves enjoyed this morning frolic as much as we did; they were lovely lovable mischievous young playmates.
Another source of enjoyment was the foals that also enjoyed a young playmate to kick up their heels with.
To the extreme left of this area was the pig pen which came in for its’ share of attention.
Fitted somewhere in this area was the fowl house and nests. They were truly free ranging chooks. Sometimes a broody hen managed to hide her nest in a nearby paddock and quite often brought forth s hoard of lovely yellow chicks with which we loved to spend time to watch mother hen scratching and feeding her young. Mother hen could be quite ferocious and fiercely protective of her hoard.
I remember one amusing incident when my young brother (“Archie” Archibald Edward Benoit) was very small, going to investigate a new chook family who were tucked somewhere cozily behind the stables. In no time little brother came running out with mother hen following closely on his heels and ruffling feather and threatening demeanor.
In this area were some lovely big gum trees, which were ideal for climbing and lent themselves beautifully to playing cubby houses.
All through this site were gum trees when in flower resembled the wattle flower and smelt divine.
One of the most treasured memories is of beautiful fresh spring mornings roaming through the colourful paddocks of blue crow’s feet pink little flowers which we called buttercups but of course were not and other paddocks in yellow dandelions. In the middle of this a lark singing his heart out to the sky, so aptly expressed and reminds me of the poem “An ode to a Lark”. Up! Up! He goes “we hear his song so sweet and heard long after he is out of sight.”
Another favourite piece of nostalgia is walking in a paddock with firstly cut hay and recalling that heavenly smell of new mown hay.
No picture shows us shops or candies for us, but who needs them? We had hundreds of acres of Gods own country to roam and enjoy.
Adjoining our farm was land called “Landmain” [probably Sandplain] which in season produced the most delightful crop of wild flowers most of all the shrubs bloomed, of their correct names, I know not, but roamed for miles enjoying the country side, huge areas of everlastings pink and white and a silky cream one yellow and white pomp oms, a shrub with a beautiful pink flower which my Scottish mother daubed Heather, but which she vowed was more beautiful than the Scottish Heather. There were trees and shrubs with the most delightful perfumes, wild honeysuckles, and of course wattle and gum blossoms. To say nothing of the Fauna, rabbits galore, kangaroos, emus, wild turkeys, ducks, water fowl with the odd fox. Fowl Parrots of every description, Magpies, Pee Wees, Butcher Birds, Crows, Major Mitchells, Willie Wagtails, Blue Tits, and Robin Red Breasts were to be seen. Dozens of exotic parrots came in to the rivers to drink in the more remote parts of the area. Of course there were lizards of all kinds. Mountain devils, a fearful looking little creature but really quite harmless, bungarros, bats etc. were also around the home. Everywhere of course one came across snakes but were really of very little concern, very seldom did one encounter a snake bite but personally I’ve always had a healthy respect for the reptiles. The odd porcupine when encountered always sparked interest. Through the farm ran Cockatea Creek. I recall one year when it flooded, one could hear it rumbling forward before one could see it. Of course we ran along glorying in the water tumbling down seeing rabbits swimming in it and fish rushing along in the water, branches being swept along, it was quite an event because it was really a very dry area. This was the only time I recall it flooding although in winter it did run.
We had lots of fun from that old creek. Playing in its’ dry beds. playing black trackers in the mud. Sliding down its’ banks, and even swimming in Casuarina pool, so named because of a tree growing on its’ bank. We also gathered buckets of mushrooms from its’ surrounds.
When I was about 5 years of age, there was great concern from my and all neighbouring parents because there was no school for their children, So one day of great excitement, a man who I heard called an Inspector came around seemingly to consider a site for the school and a place for the teacher to board. Anyhow an acre was decided in from the adjourning farmer because it was a central location. The school proper was an old building brought Holus Bolus from the Gold Fields, I believe, set up with desks and cupboards. Desk and chairs for teacher, black boards and easel and a pot bellied stove. Teacher found a place to board and Hi Ho we were in business. I well remember this very important day, my first day at school.
Not yet 5 years old accompanied by my elder brother (Arthur Alexander Benoit) and sister (Beryl Benoit) we walked 1 mile to the seat of learning. But because of our previous ramblings the walk was as nothing, that day I remember we came home for lunch, and went back to school, but from then on we took lunch with us.
In those days everybody walked including “Teacher”. Even now I sometimes am secretly amused when I see mothers in cars giving to deposit and pick up children from city schools. But I must remark that country children these days often have long bus rides to school which must make it a long weary day with the advantage of more access to better education.
In the course of time we were obliged to board the teacher which wasn’t a popular decision with mother. Imagine in a 2 bedroom house having a boarder. Anyhow in the cause of education she agreed.
Fortunately we had quite a large front verandah and a very dry climate, so we four children all slept on the verandah much to all our delight, it was much airier and cooler, and in the early mornings we watched the birds swinging and ringing in a large gum tree close to the house.
Everybody dined in the kitchen including teacher and our working man in busy times sometimes more on a long jarrah table.
When my mother went visiting or into the “siding” where one small shop did duty for Post Office and only store this side of Mullewa. Her transport was a horse and sulky. The horse was a lovable rogue called Jimmy, a grey with lots of spunk, but showed some resistance when in the paddock and someone was trying to catch him for duty. Jimmy could run like a race horse and when his pursuer was getting a little too close for Jimmy’s liking and a fence loomed up over he went like the best high jumper. Many a time my father threatened to shoot him out of sheer frustration, but the moment he was caught he behaved like an angel without the slightest trace of guile. He was a very willing worker and never slacked. Sometimes in the sulky Jimmy decided to gallop, which really wasn’t mums’ idea of fun, but we kids loved it. A trip to the siding was a pleasure for mother where sometimes she visited old friends caught up with the latest news and gossip. We saw the trains come and go.
The lumpers (??) handling the wheat in bags in those days, carted laboriously in horse and wagon.
A great treat, got a bag of boiled lollies, at the break up of school for Christmas Holidays. We had a Christmas tree in the school which was a great event for children and parents. All children in the district got a toy and a bag of sweets, handed out by Father Christmas who incidentally was sometimes out father. Supper of savoyries and cakes, tea and soft drinks were handed around, then the grown-ups would dance to the music of a piano accordion and a great time was had by all. After Christmas, which was a great day celebrated with much feasting. Beer for the men and soft drinks for the women and children. Drinks and food offered to all and sundry who called in with compliments of the season. There was a holiday of two or three weeks in Geraldton. The children needed a trip to the seaside to recuperate from the hot summer, my mother said. Firstly there was the thrill of a train ride, we kids jumping from side to side trying to see out both sides at once. Then on arriving, the exciting ride in a Hanson cab to the hotel guest house, private house whichever we were gracing that year. My earliest recollections and to this day when I think if Geraldton, I remember the Hanson cabs, the clip clopping of the brewery horses and the enticing smell of stoned fruit, it always being at that time of year and I loved them all.
There always seemed to be some other family holidaying at the same time which made it a very pleasant time, the mothers fraternizing and the children swimming and playing on the beaches.
As time passed by and we grew a little older what mother described as the mechanical age came into being the horses were sold and how sad, a tractor and truck took their place and a gramophone appeared.
My elder brother (Arthur) who always seemed to have a mechanical mind acquired an old wireless and got it going. At this time he was studying mechanics he came by some old cars and made one work which went very well, (my father named this one Queen Lola) thus opened up other avenues of entertainments such as rides around the farm, turkey and emu shooting, which was rather exciting. My sister (Beryl) and I would go with the boys but always half hoping to catch the turkey and half hoping it got away.
The tractor and truck did away with much of the drudgery and made things a little easier for the men and my brothers.
At one time my young brother (Archie) and I decided to make some money by shooting. Foxes were worth money and so were Eagle Hawks for 5/-. Rabbits and Kangaroo pelts were also worth money. Anyway we armed ourselves with a 22 rifle and a hunting knife and off we went very enthusiastically around the shooting haunts to make our fortunes. At first we very happily discussed what we would spend our loot on. Unfortunately riches were never won on this venture. We discovered there was more rewards to be had rabbiting with the dogs namely a black kelpie called “Smutt”, and a young kangaroo dog named “Paddy”. Incidentally we were accompanied on these expeditions by an old tabby mother cat. When she saw us getting ready to do some rabbiting she invariably lined up with the dogs and worked as hard as any of them. She was worn out at the end but completely contented. We caught up to 8 rabbits a hunt. I can’t recall ever making any financial advancement in that venture.
As time went by and we grew up a little older, the tennis craze began. Everyone was playing. A tennis club was formed at Tenindewa where everyone went on Sundays.
Every farm had a court. We kids, with the help of “Queen Lola” built a clay court in the dam site and some good practice was had.
I think in the last paragraph I jumped the gun a little before this stage. A group of youngster’s used to meet at each other’s farms on Sundays where cakes and all sorts of goodies were baked for afternoon and high teas at night (by the girls). In the afternoons the plans were guys went shooting whilst the girls went walking in the bushlands, strangely enough all gathered at some spot not mentioned, but somehow understood to be the “meeting place”. All the boys had 22 rifles; we all practiced shooting whilst rambling around miraculously no one ever had a shooting accident.
In a central spot in Bindu there was a cricket pitch which was also a favourite recreational spot. Boys played cricket, girls supplied tea and cakes.
What a very charming story of a long ago childhood.
Fantastic story of living on the land in that era- Being a decade younger I can relate to the story and I am amazed at how Bertha describes so well the lifestyle and flora and fauna of the time.