Timothy Smiddy (Ned) Higgins

Born: 16th December 1906
Married Sylvia May Stevens 2nd March 1931
Died: 15th September 1993 at the age of 87.

PREFACE BY TONY CRITCH

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s in the Geraldton Region and particularly in Tenindewa itself, where the Higgins family farmed, was to grow up on an eternal feed of the feats and deeds of Ned Higgins. A week would not go by and a new story would emerge or an old one would re-surface where Ned and his boys (Tim and Des) would have dug a dam or built a barn or saved the day one way or another and it was always done, it seemed, in flamboyant and often unconventional style and most likely in record time.

Everyone had a Higgins story or a repertoire of stories depending on how long and how closely associated they were to Ned and to his operations. Those operations to name a few were farming, earthmoving, clearing, water boring or in the more corporate sense, being the mover and shaker at the Mullewa Road Board (Shire Council as Local Government is now known).

In the centennial year of Tenindewa 2014, or actually just after in 2015, I was lucky enough to make contact with Mrs Christine Loundes who resides in Fremantle but is of Higgins family fame. Christine is the daughter of one of Ned’s sons in the late Des Higgins. With a little persuading, this gracious lady conceded to put together as much of her grandfather’s life as she was able to, which I know the reader will agree is a wonderful gesture for posterity especially, but more essentially because, as you will read, many of the tasks he undertook and executed were literally the stuff that movies are made of.

From my own point of view it would have been a travesty of history not to have conveyed Ned’s stories on to succeeding generations.  I firmly believe that he was one of the most exceptional personalities ever to have contributed to the advancement of rural WA, especially in the opening-up of  new land for broad-acre agriculture.

Ned was spoken of as man of great generosity and known for his “never say die” attitude. No task was too big or too small and he could always make time. When you read the stories of the lives of our pioneers on this www.tenindewa.com site you will note like with any district there is a range of characters from innovators to mystery men but Ned was and still is, a legend. Also as you read on you will also come to know him as nothing short of  a “peace-time hero”.

Higgin’s AEC Semi delivering the Tenindewa Hall Top Row; Keith Butler Middle Row; Peter Pipkin, Jack Brenkley and Doug Brenkley Ground Row; Nelson Edwards (Higgins Driver), Unknown, Frank Butler, Alec Butler and Walter Brenkley

 

Iris Ryan in front of the Tenindewa Hall sometime after it re-erection. It was formally an RAAF building at the Geraldton Airport. (Photo 1959)

 

Tenindewa as it was in 1977. The Hall on the left, Fosters House and Garage to the right of the Shop and the Tenindewa Railway Station in the foreground. Only the Shop still stands.

In collecting supporting anecdotes and hearing from various people who encountered Ned over the years to add to Christine’s work I had the absolute pleasure of hearing first hand the heartfelt esteem that is held for him to this day.

The common theme is that he was a man that had no fear and whose word was his bond. He was generous but firm with his staff and in return most were in absolute admiration of him. He was referred to affectionately by employees as “The King” but he remained always unpretentious. He never asked anyone, be they friend or otherwise, to undertake a task that he would not or could not undertake himself. Another outstanding attribute that shines through in these conversations was his work ethic. It seems his capacity for work and his natural strength stood him above most others of his field and era.

 

CHRISTINE’S BIOGRAPHY BEGINS:

Christine Loundes, Granddaughter of Ned and Daughter of Des Higgins

Timothy Smiddy Higgins, my paternal grandfather, affectionately known by me as Grandpa Ned was, according to many stories, a very colourful character. He was also a great gentleman and that is how I remember him. I recall wandering over to the shed one day, when I was probably in my early thirties, to call the blokes over to the house for morning tea. Did I get a roasting for not calling out to let them know that I was on my way! Grandpa explained to me that things were said in the shed that no lady should be listening to and I should “sing out” when I was coming over. I never heard a bad word from either of my grandfathers, my father, my husband or my brothers in my early years. In fact it wasn’t until I went to work in Social Security, as it was then called, at the age of 33 that I heard bad language. Not just from the customers either. Yep I quickly discovered I had led a very sheltered life!

It has to be said Ned wasn’t a saint by any means but he could be a very generous man who shared his good fortune with his family and friends. He never paid his sons wages when they worked on the farm and consequently when they wanted anything they booked it up to him. My dad bought his first plane, a Tiger-Moth, in that way. My dad (Des) used to tell the story of the time they were sitting around the breakfast table one day when Ned was going through his accounts and all of a sudden he looked up and said “a Tiger-Moth!!! Des!!!”……………. Dad, probably 17 or 18 years old at that time, “lit out” and “stayed out” until Ned calmed down. It must be said that a Tiger-Moth (aircraft) probably didn’t have the same price tag on it all those years ago that it (an aircraft) might conjure up today.

Incidentally Danny Williamson recalls that Des called this little bi-plane his “Tiger-Schmitt”.  Des did this as a running joke mockingly comparing it to dreaded German fighter plane of that time in the Messerschmitt.

Ned bought houses for his own parents and his mother-in-law in Victoria Park and Rivervale in later years. In addition he applied for and was successful in acquiring a lot of land in and around Geraldton under the conditional purchase scheme. Because he had the wherewithal to make the necessary improvements to the land he eventually got a lot of it freehold. When he gave one block to his mate, Frank Lemon, mum says she told him if he was giving it away then she and dad could do with a block themselves. And so he did, and this was where they built their home in Hutchinson Street in Geraldton. Outside of family he was also known to “rescue” men who were down and out and particularly drunks. When I had to take my kids to Perth from Broome each year grandpa Ned always had a car organised for me so that I wouldn’t be without transport.

Life was not always that easy for him and grandma though and the many stories surrounding their years together would more than likely fill a book on their own. Many people have reminisced with me telling their own stories of Ned’s exploits and I’ve tried to record them here. I have used Grandpa Ned’s own notes that he wrote at the instigation of his daughter-in-law, my late Aunty Brenda, and notes my cousin Jenny (Tim and Brenda’s daughter) made after talking to her dad before he died, plus family stories and things I’ve remembered myself to piece together the following story. Where I’ve found newspaper articles these are referenced.

NOTES AND POEM BY SHEILA RICKARD (Nee Higgins, Ned’s Sister)

Dad and Mum (Ted and Katie) first lived in Fremantle in 1901 and Dad bought some land at Westfield while he was working in Fremantle. Mum taught at Westfield (originally named Armadale) and they lived in the schoolhouse. Here they lost a premature child and Ned was born in 1906. They moved onto the block and from one cow they eventually built up a dairy herd; Dad was blacksmith in Armadale and the kids had to help with the milking – mainly Ned, Katie, Kevin and Mary. Unfortunately as cycles go, they bought when prices were high and although they sold when the farm was prosperous, the Gosnells house was never paid for and in the depression they could not keep up the payments. They left with very little equity when they moved to Kelmscott in 1932.

THE EARLY YEARS

Cow Yard Days
“Get up, you lads”, called mum at dawn
As across our brows her soft hands drawn;
The day is breaking cold and bright
She hoped we’d slept in peace that night.

Then out we’d roll and find our pants
The wrong, or right, the girls perchance!
Then struggled to the kitchen stove
Our sleepy eyes longed for more repose.

While warming our hands and drinking our tea
We waited for more light to see.
Now grabbed our buckets and our stools
We went to milk the cows like fools.

The poor old cows their tits we’d pull
And when t’was over chase the bull;
Maybe a fight with sister Kate
A black eye oft would be my fate.

Then thru the air Mum’s shoe would fly
I jumped aside to let it by.
Those twenty cows or more we’d milk
No simple chore, like measuring silk.

And now to school, our tummies full
Of book learning to take our pull
But the dreary lessons of the day
Seemed only work without the pay

Pot-bellied teachers, such miserable pests
Who could pass their fiendish tests?
We’d read and write and muddle thru
And success I fear was just taboo!

Home on the train; something to eat
Then out in the scrub with hardened feet
The bushes were prickly; the going was hard
But the cows once more were in the yard.

I pulled a plait of Sister Kit’s
And thru the air a spray did fly
A squirt of milk right in the eye;
Mum yelled out, I’ll get you yet
You’re the worst spalpeen I’ve ever met!”

And tea complete and early night
Off to bed in fancy flight
To dream of bulls, red rags and things
And all the glory victory brings
And as a smile on my face did stray
There dawned another “Cow of a Day

 

THOSE HIGGINS BOYS (CHRISTINE)

Not only were there cows to milk it seems that as young boys Jack and Ned were also pig keepers amongst their other exploits and in 1914 they may have got their first pig. The Boys Pig Club acknowledged the gift of a sucker to their club from Master Thomas Leslie Bell, Hexham Dairy Farm, Kelmscott. This sucker was awarded to Masters Patrick John (AKA Jack) Higgins, 14 years, and Timothy Smiddy (AKA Ned) Higgins, 11 years, both of Westfield, (or Armadale).

“One pig between two brothers”, the paper quoted, “fortunate lads”.(3)

By 1919 Jack and Ned Higgins of Westfield, report in the Sunday Times that their “Boys’ Pig Club” sow has had a litter of five sows and three boars, all fine healthy pigs.(4)

And later in the year, via the Paper, they’re offering the three sows and three boars for sale. “They are well bred Berkshires. Intending buyers should write direct to Masters Higgins” (5)

3 The Sunday Times (Perth WA: 1902 – 1954) Sunday 23 December 1914 p11
4 The Sunday Times (Perth WA: 1902 – 1954) Sunday 19January 1919 p12
5 The Sunday Times (Perth WA: 1902 – 1954) Sunday 23 March 1919 p10

NED WRITES OF HIS FAMILY

My mother was a humorist and sharp as a tack. I loved my mother very much and we were great mates. She loved music and had all her four daughters taught music. My brother Jack was taught the violin. I started to learn also but I need to say, if I swallowed the music book no music would come out! My sisters played for all the dances from Armadale to “Vic Park”. It was Jack’s and my job to take them to the dance and wait for them. Dad never let them go out on their own.

Ellie started school teaching and went in with dad when he went to work; she caught the train to Queens Park where she taught. Jack started a year later. I ran afoul of my teachers and never made it. Still I have never been short of a feed so I’m not complaining. I took over from Jack going to school at Fremantle when he went away teaching but I ran away from school when I was 14 ½ years old.

MEMORIES OF THOSE  SCHOOL DAYS AS TOLD BY NED

A few memories of my life, good and bad times:

I was born in a building built onto a school room at what was Armadale, later named Westfield, where my mother was a school teacher. My dad opened a blacksmith shop at Armadale and carried on there for some years. He had another blacksmith’s shop at Kelmscott. My dad had also bought 160 acres of land on the Wungong River which ran through the property. He was a Victorian and came over every year duck shooting and he bought his own swamp. My mother eventually came to live on the farm, where she started with a couple of cows, and heifer calves from the neighbours, who didn’t want them but wanted the milk. She finished up with about 30 cows and had a good dairy going when I was about 7 or 8 years old. We kids had to get up early to help milk the cows. Dad never helped to milk! As long as I can remember Dad used to have two boiled eggs and two slices of toast for breakfast and then he took the milk to Kelmscott to put on the train for Perth. Mother spent all the money she got on us kids. There were eight of us. Dad bought all the stores and drank anything he had left over, but again, we were never short of a feed.

We went to the same school where I was born until I was 14. I was in 7th grade Commercial, in my last year there, and as there was no higher grade, I started going to Fremantle, to the Christian Brothers in High Street. The train from Collie to Fremantle was a coal train with one passenger carriage on the end of it. It took two hours from Westfield to Fremantle. My brother Jack had been going to the same school for three years before me.

In the winter when the rails were wet the steel wheels used to slip and the fireman and guard went along on each side putting sand on the rails to get a grip for the wheels, and of course I was often late for school and got the cuts. (ie One or several hits across the palm of the hands with a thick leather strap about 50cm long). So they, the Brothers, outlawed me from the start. My own brother, who was one of their pets, had left the Christmas before I started. He used to take eggs and cream from the farm that my mother had sent to the Brothers, but I would not do that, which helped to make me even more unpopular.

An incident that I remember was when a male passenger asked the guard could he get off the train and pick some flowers? This question actually was meant as a sort of a backhanded jibe as to the wheels slipping going up Banjup hill. The guard said “there are no flowers here”. The chap said “I know, but I have some seeds in my pocket”.

My school days lasted for one year and nine months at that college and they were a were a waste of time. I was always quick at my work. I had done most of the work they gave me previously at the State School so when I finished my work in ten minutes I had another twenty minutes over as they gave us up to thirty minutes for a lesson. So of course I used to read Buffalo Bill books and I got the cuts nearly daily. I started wagging school and used to go on the wharf fishing under the jetty. It is something I regretted very much afterwards because my poor mother trusted me and I let her down badly. I wanted to leave but she wouldn’t let me. She was paying 12 shillings and 6 pence ($1.25) per month for my education.

To finish the recollection of that blot in my life, I remember very well when Bully Brennan, the head teacher and Christian Brother went to Ireland for three months holiday and I was under a Brother Ryan.
Jack Hetherington, who was a monitor, said “Ned, watch your step. I heard Brennan tell Ryan that you were impossible to control.”
That didn’t worry me; I was used to taking it. However, he ignored me that day, but the next day I was reading a “Deadwood Dick”, [a fictional character that featured in a series of stories written in the late 1800’s] which they called those books in those days. As the teacher walked behind our desks looking at our work we had to sit up with our arms folded. I was in the back row and I knew he was headed for me. My Buffalo Bill book was inside my history book, which was closed up.
He picked my work up, looked at it and said “all correct and neat and you’re doing good boy.” He picked up my history book and of course out fell the “Buffalo Bill”.
[William Cody was a famous buffalo hunter about whom stories were written and titled “Buffalo Bill” stories. He died in 1917] He said, “Why put your book in the history book?”
I said “if I’m caught reading it I will get the cuts”. Well the dressing down he gave me I have never forgotten. He said, “Why don’t you read your history book?”
I said, “I know it off by heart.” He picked up the book and asked me a few questions from different parts and I told him the chapter off by heart.
He is the only person who ever brought tears to my eyes.
He said, “I hate cheats, and you are a cheat.”
I didn’t think I was a cheat because I had nothing else to do. However, he told me that when I’d finished my work I was to take it up to him, which I did do in the next lesson. I made especially sure it was correct and extra neat. After he looked at it he asked whether I’d like to pick up the papers around the yard.
I said “Yes Sir” and down the stairs I went. Our room was upstairs. I had a nail on the end of a stick and ran around and picked up all the papers. I was just finished and in the gym swinging on the bars when down he came. I then thought I was a born loser.
He said “what about the papers?” I said that the yard was clean sir, which it was. He told me to go back to the lessons, his room joined the gym. When he came back I was finished my work and he called me up with it, had a look at it and asked whether I’d like to go to the gym. I thought, where’s the trap? This is too good to be true. This went on all day. The other boys complained and he told them to get their work done correctly and then they could probably join me.
The next day he took me down to what was known as 8th grade Commercial and I stayed there until Brother Brennan came back. I could do the work quite easily.

JUST YOU WAIT SMIDDY HIGGINS

Jack told me that when Brother Brennan came back he asked Brother Ryan how he’d got on with me and Ryan said I was one of the best boys he had and that I was in his class now.
Brennan said “send him back up here.” Which of course he did. Anyway Brennan couldn’t take it and after a week back someone yelled out in class.
He called me out and said “what did you do?”
I said “nothing sir.”
He said “who did?’
“I don’t know sir”
“If you didn’t do it you know who did,” he said, “bend over the desk.”
I said “sir I will never take a bender, you can belt me on the hands as much as you like but I will never bend over a desk”.
That was one of his specials for the other kids. Anyway he belted me over the back and shoulders until he had to take a rest. I had my tongue between my teeth so as not to make a noise. He went back to his table and I went back to my seat, picked up my books and started to walk out.
He said “where are you going?’
I said “I’m leaving sir, look at my hands sir.” They were bleeding up the wrist where he’d hit me with a hard leather trace soaked in vinegar and salt to make it sting.
He said “get back to your seat” and he walked over to the door. I followed. He backed over to the door.
I looked around him and put my hand up and said “no don’t” to an imaginary person. As he turned round I hit him out of the way with my shoulder and went down the stairs as fast as I could go. He sent two boys after me. I remember one was Paddy Troy, of Communist Party and Trades Hall fame. I let them catch up to me and took them down to the wharf where I got them a feed of bananas. I knew a lot of the Lumpers from having lived near the wharf. They used to drop a case of bananas and break it open and ask us to help them pick them up and fill your shirt up.
They said “what will we say to Brother Brennan?”
“Just say we couldn’t catch him, he knows that.”

THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF NED’S LIFE

Anyway I still had 12 shillings and 6 pence in my pocket so I went to the railway station and asked for a ticket, somewhere, but not over 12/6d. ($1.25)
The railway chap said “are you running away from school?”
I said, “No I’m going for a holiday”. He asked where and I said “anywhere”.
I think he woke up something was wrong so I got a program of trains and Burracoppin looked good. I went to another window and asked the chap how much to Burracoppin. He said “8/6d (85 cents) half fare, for a school boy”. I still had my college cap on.
I caught the 5pm express at Perth and got into Burracoppin at 1.00 am in the morning, without a rug or anything. I went into the big shed and found a tarpaulin, rolled myself up and went to sleep. I woke up early and got up, frozen and hungry.

There was a farm adjoining Burracoppin, called Arthur Ray’s, and I went over to him (Mr Ray) and asked him for a job. He asked what I could do and I said “anything” and I meant it.
He said “well you can go chopping down trees, clearing for 10 shillings per acre and keep yourself”
I said “I have to get an axe and some tucker”. He took me over to Millar’s Store and asked them to give me a month’s credit, he would guarantee the money. Well I camped in the shed, I found some old bales in the daylight, and I was right. I worked from daylight till dusk cutting down trees, after two weeks I had just held my own, but I could pay for my tucker.

As soon as I’d got to Burracoppin I wrote to my mother, told her what I was doing, and not to worry because I was on top of the world. My dad came up for a week to take me home but I wouldn’t go. So he stayed a week and helped me. He was a great axeman and we really shook up the paddock I was clearing. My dad told me that if I went back with him, and worked with him until I was 19, he would give me a blacksmith shop as he had two, one at Gosnells and one at Kelmscott. But he was too hard a man to work for. I used to work for him on weekends but he expected me to be as good as his men, so no go!

NED GETS A START

Just as I finished with Ray a surveyor came along and camped at the railway shed for the night. They were heading off next morning, north. Well the wagon and horses came on the train. They knew nothing about horses. The cook was trying to catch the horse, holding the winkers out in front of him and walking after the horse, expecting the horse to put his head into the winkers. Anyway I took the winkers off him, caught the horse and yoked him up. The surveyor had seen this and asked me if I wanted a job, and so I started at £1 per week ($2.00) and keep. I was away.

We went 25 miles (40 Km) up the rabbit proof fence to Geelakin Rock and started surveying from there. There was another line clearer as well as myself. After a week, the other chap who was a townie could not use an axe, so I kept the line going without him. After a couple of days the surveyor and I pegged the line as we went.
After a week the cook said “Ned, Mr Christie, the surveyor, wants to see you upstairs. Sorry Ned anyone who goes up those stairs has got the sack.”
I said “well I’ve done my best”. When I got upstairs he asked me how I thought I was going and I replied that I was doing my best but I had to get better. He said that if I kept going the way I was that was good enough and that he was giving me £3 per week, ($6.00) the same as the men. Well I floated down the stairs. After seven months I went home with £80 ($160) and mum put up the money to £160 ($320) and I bought a Model T Ford truck and I have owned a Ford ever since.
End of School Days!

CHRISTINE’S COMMENTS:

That T Ford truck stood him in good stead when he went carting logs and cutting sleepers in the southwest. He gets a mention in the Memoirs of the Gosnells Football Club 1911 to 1964 as told by Scott Armstrong in 1964. The football ground was acquired and the clearing of the huge trees commenced with the aid of a steam tractor. The football and cricket club in a mighty combined effort, had the ground ready for playing by 1924. We must not forget such persons as Harry Cutten (Gosnells Railway Station Master for many years), Archie Morrison, Harry Rogers, Charlie Hook and Artie Williams in the development of the ground.

It was Ned Higgins (“Wild Ned”; a Gosnells player), who brought the goal posts from the forest beyond Bedfordale. These posts, conveyed on Ned’s old type table top truck, were practically touching ground back and front. The posts are there to this day.(1964)

Devils Creek FC Presented by Leo.Thomas ESQ 1933

Ned played in the Mullewa league as well in the 1930s

TIMBER CUTTING DAYS (By Ned)

Dad (Ted) was working at Canning Mills in the timber mill and he got me a job with Jack Sharpe, a wood cutter, who had a horse and dray to cart the wood into Karragullen and load it into railway trucks to go to Perth. He told me that if I used my truck to cart the wood he would give me a half share in the business. I took him up on the offer. We went well for a few months and I bought a power chain saw with my money and we put on two woodcutters as we got a lot more yards in Perth to supply with wood.

We were going real well until one day he decided to use the saw. Well he jammed the blade in the log and the blade flipped back and caught him on the shoulder and across the jaw. I took him to Royal Perth. I went back to the job and kept carting wood. After the second week he had not arrived home and I had to go to Perth to call on the wood-yards to get some money to pay our two woodcutters. The yards told me that Sharpe had called in and collected all the money. I thought that was ok and went back. He arrived home that night, drunk and with no money! It appeared he was only one week in hospital and the other week was on the spree. He owed me £800 for my share but he had nothing. He told me that he had owed a lot of money when I’d started with him and had now paid off all his debts. I could take all the money we made until I was paid up. So I went and saw Dad. He said, “Just pull out from Sharpe and go and see all the wood-yards and get the jobs as he can’t carry on”. He had sold his horse and dray when I went with him. Dad said “you’ve learnt the best lesson you will ever learn” He also said “go on your own and stay on your own, you are only young, but you’ll never forget” which I haven’t.

 

CHRISTINE COMMENTS:

Unfortunately Grandpa Ned did forget and eventually lost his farm when he went into another joint-venture years later and was again hung out to dry! This in fact was a huge chapter in Ned’s business destiny and it pertains to the biggest venture he ever undertook in the earthworks construction associated with the building of the Esperance Port in the 1960s.

TIMBER CUTTING DAYS CONT. (Ned)

I went to Perth and saw the wood-yards. Some let me supply them but others didn’t want to leave Sharpe. I told them he couldn’t supply them so when they wanted wood to let me know. I got a good paddock of wood near Jarrahdale and took the two cutters and started delivering from Jarrahdale. I paid the wood choppers what we both owed them and started again. In a couple of months I was on top again going good. An advertisement came in the paper for sleeper carting at Wanneroo. I put in a price and got the job. The wood cutting and carting was hard work and not a lot of money in it so I gave the yards a week’s notice that I was going.

I was carting sleepers for a chap named Rouse and got other jobs from sleeper cutters. One in particular was Ike Stevens. I was carting his sleepers and had reason to call to his place one day and met a nice shy girl at the door. She said her dad was not home. However I’d met my future wife, but didn’t know it then. That story will come later. I was only 17  and had never bothered about girls, I was working every minute I had.

TENINDEWA BEGINNINGS

My next move was to Sandstone. I went up there with a chap named Bert O’Hara to Dandaraga Station. O’Hara’s mate, Bill McDonald was a plumber and taught me to make tanks. After 12 months McDonald said “Ned go out on your own, you’re just making money for us.” O’Hara’s nephew, Tom Clift, was working with us and he came with me. We went to Meekatharra putting up mills and making tanks. After 12 months we finished up and I took my brother Kevin with me and we carried on for a couple of years.

 

The Tenindewa Store and Post Office as it was when Higgins’ arrived in that locality

 

(Ned) Timothy Smiddy Higgins aged 21

In the meantime, a friend of mine Charlie Armstrong, who worked in the Agricultural Bank, got me two thousand acres from the government. Under what was termed a Conditional Purchase Agreement or a “CP Block” My Dad and brother Brian, who had just left school, went up on the block and started clearing because if so many improvements weren’t made yearly, the government would cancel the lease on the CP block. I moved down from Sandstone to Mullewa on 23.12.1929 and settled in to clear the block and make a farm.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR

Sylvia

Now back to Sylvia. When I was at Sandstone, Ike Pusey, a detective, bought the Sandstone pub and who should come up but his niece, Sylvia Stevens. She had been a dressmaker since leaving school and her aunty gave her a job as a waitress to teach her how to cook etc. Well the race was on; she was a perfect doll. The local station owners were all trying to do a line. I decided I had to win her, no matter how. I told the young bloods and squatters she was mine and if they took her to a dance when I was out in the bush I would take them apart. They knew me well enough to know I would. They eventually got the message; one chap said to someone she was not worth dying for, so my job was half finished. I only had to win her, which I did do. After going out with her for 6 months I went down to the farm. She came down to Geraldton and started dressmaking. After a couple of years we got married and her life of slavery started on a farm in the worst depression of the century. And after 60 odd years we have never had a real row.     (“Mmmmm” says grand-daughter Christine) 

A BLAST FROM THE PAST (Christine)

Grandpa Ned also told a story of when he and one of his bothers Kevin were well sinking, in his younger days before he’d bought the farm. The story as I heard it was that Ned had been giving Kevin a hard time about the fact that instead of using the pliers to crimp the fuse to the detonator he’d use his teeth. Ned had often told him to stop it or he may blow himself up. One day Ned was at the bottom of the well and his brother was at the top, on the winch. Kevin set off a stick of gelignite (away from the well) on purpose, then took off into town. Ned was at the bottom of the well, without the winch, and yelling out for his brother who he thought had possibly killed himself or was seriously wounded. When he couldn’t get an answer and thus he said he had to cut his way out of the well; that is, cut steps up the side of the well to get out. Of course when he did get to the top of the well his brother was nowhere to be found. It was common knowledge Ned had a quick temper but once he’d walked to town and found his brother he says he could see the funny side of the situation and they didn’t come to blows after all. I don’t think his brother used his teeth again though. They were often playing practical jokes on each other and skylarking around if the stories told were even half true!

Ned’s sister Sheila wrote about her brother Ned in a poem and from which I have drawn the following story:

My first fond memory of Ned was his sense of fun. I was “the baby” and mostly ignored by my other brothers and sisters but except when I was thrown up high by the bright one, Ned.
Anything was possible when Ned walked in. Dad’s eyes lit up and Mum’s spirits rose.
There’s merriment now where sadness has been, who was this man who defied the Depression? He didn’t know that daunting word “can’t”. He created his own “atmosphere” Sheila recalls that on one occasion he took them out in his truck for a day at Mt Pleasant, which included joyous singing and splashing; the blue sky so clear.
As the Depression deepened and debts accrued their mother worried and saw no end in sight. Ned was away working with Kevin and he sent money home to help out. He, Ned, was much loved and his mother would say “My Neddy is such and such…”
He had an intangible charisma and although seemingly good fortune may have raised a pang or two of jealousy much was always forgiven because he was extremely generous and shared this good fortune with the family.

MARRIAGE AND FARMING

Ned married Sylvia in Geraldton in March 1931 and took her as a bride to Yuna in the same year. The farm house was a one roomed, wooden structure (described as a hall) with dirt floors. There was a bough shed out back where they lived the majority of the time as it was cooler than the house. The farm was called “Atlasta” and Ned started with 2000 acres and continuously bought his neighbour’s out around him when they were selling up. The farm eventually ended up as a 25,000 acres property.

Ned and Silvia with unknown gentleman. The harvester is a German machine and the brand is Class

Ned, his brother Brian and Ned’s father, Ted (whose real name was also Timothy Smiddy) cleared the land by hand (1000 acres). In those days it was hard work using axes and shovels, ring-barking the trees and burning them the following year. Ned cleared more land when he had his machinery. He was a careful farmer and always left stands of trees amongst his clearing so that his sheep had somewhere to shelter from the elements. He also used a three year rotation method with his farming and generally had good yields. Horse and Cart was the way they got around on the farms the majority of the time and they eventually had horse teams for clearing and carting etc.

 

AN EARLY SETBACK

In 1934 their house burnt down and they lost everything, right down to their wedding photos. (There are none in existence, unfortunately). This was reported in the West Australian, Country News section, YUNA, June 26. — Mr Ned Higgins, of Wanaara, had the misfortune to have his house burnt to the ground on June 23, while he was at work in the field. His wife had only time to get their two little children to safety, the place was not insured.

Noelene, Jack’s daughter remembers arriving home from an outing to find Uncle Ned waiting for them and Aunty Sylvia and the two boys tucked up in their (hers and her sister’s) beds. She can’t remember how long they stayed but as she said, it was what families did then.

 REBUILDING

Ned and Sylvia then built another house roughly 3 miles away as a temporary dwelling and this was called a bag house. This was literally a house made of a wooden frame (bush timber), super bags which were white washed and a dirt floor. As they rebuilt, cleared land and burnt the trees Ned was travelling the countryside sinking bore holes and making wells. Ned’s brothers and father were on the farm clearing and some wheat was being farmed. Ned was back and forward all the time and together they built the farm.
The farm eventually had 15,000 head of sheep and 4,000 acres of wheat (share farming) and 4000 acres of his own.
(In the 1969 Wheat Quota Period Ned acquired the highest wheat quota for this farm).

An example of a “Bag House” This one made of woolpacks

GOING RETAIL

Around 1938 Ned bought the Yuna General Store from Mr T.P. Crothers which was located between Bawden’s and Wilton’s. (We were told he bought it because it had a fuel bowser). We are not sure why or for how long Ned and his family lived in Yuna (town).

“Those Bowsers” at the Yuna General Store

 

The Yuna Bin in downtown Yuna. 1930

Tim recalls when he was a kid the population of Yuna was about 8 people. It consisted of the families, Crothers, Wilton’s and Wally Bawden (who was the mechanic and who did the gas conversions to vehicles in the war years) and the Higgins’s.

Wally Bawden’s service vehicle complete with Gas Producer. Note the CU registration plate. It represents Upper Chapman Road Board

Tim also remembers walking, with his brother Des, to school. He thinks the school was about three miles from where they lived. The two brothers, Tim and Des, tried to burn the school down and when asked, why, they replied, because we hated it! This trick backfired some and they were packed off to St Pats in Geraldton as boarders quite quickly!

Des and Tim in their College regalia post their expulsion from Yuna (1946)

Ned was reputed to be a very hard but fair man, and it is said he had 15 men working at one time for him, that is, 5 coming, 5 working and 5 going! Although tough, he was an extremely kind hearted man and couldn’t bear to see men down on their luck. He used to bring men home in the depression and would plead with Sylvia if he could keep them. He did this all his life, especially alcoholics because I’m sure that he thought if they had a chance to “dry out” they’d be ok. They would work on the farm for their board and lodging.

The mail truck came every Friday night, driven by Murphy and then Phil Cooper and they used to go 5 miles to the mail box, light a bonfire and wait for mailman. He not only brought the mail but would bring anything else that was needed. This was a real highlight of the week.

THE MARTINS AND THE COYS

For some reason, known only to themselves, Ned and his eldest brother Jack had a falling out and never spoke to each other afterwards. Anytime anything went missing, Jack Higgins got the blame. Tim recalls the time his father, Ned, found he was 40 head of cattle down. Where were they? Yes well “Jack must have pinched them!” So Ted (Ned’s father), Brian and Kevin (Ned’s brothers) and Ned himself jumped on their horses, rode to Jack’s place armed with rifles and ‘shot the place up’. Tim remembers them as really wild Irishmen. This “feud” was very hard on the sister-in-laws, Lillian (married to Jack Higgins) who was the founding member of the Yuna Country Women’s Association and Sylvia who also joined at the same time. They enjoyed each other’s company and got on quite well according to Lillian’s daughter, Noelene and my mother Merle.

(Interestingly to this day, Noelene Drage (Jacks daughter) cannot for the life of her recall what the feud was all about and humorously suggests, “and probably nor could they”)

THE WAR YEARS (Christine)

Although Grandpa Ned tried to enlist at least twice during the war years, as a farmer he was exempted from service, and indeed one time when he tried to enlist using a false name he almost succeeded until someone recognised him. I never heard what Gran’dma Sylvia thought of all this though!

SALVAGING THE CATALINA FLYING BOAT

On 22 February 1942, US troops arrived in Western Australia and by early March they had established a naval presence that was to continue until the end of the war. The port of Fremantle was established as the base for submarines and repairs to naval vessels for the SWPA. In Perth, the US Navy established a base for Catalina Flying Boats at Crawley Bay on the Swan River, with mess and other facilities at the University of Western Australia. By March 1942, US officers and enlisted men, as well as a small number of military nurses, had a notable presence at Perth’s hotels, cinemas and as guests in the homes of many local people.

 

Photograph supplied by Doug Brenkley. Doug has written a comprehensive story on the RAAF and it’s time in Geraldton between 1940 to 1945

18.04.42 Saturday. Three Catalina flying boats arrived in Geraldton harbour for patrol duties. One breached on a reef partly under water; salvage in operation, but hull badly damaged.(10)

(The scene of this incident was some 50 metres off the beach in the suburb of Bluff point adjacent to St Georges Beach and about 6 kilometres north of the Geraldton CBD. There is now a plaque marking this spot )

Note the CBH Silos in the distant background

 

From a photograph taken at the time. Note the Catalina dead ahead

In April 1942 on a flight to Geraldton one of these US Catalina Flying Boats came to grief on a reef there. The Vacuum Oil Depot was a short distance on the town side of where the Catalina went onto the reef. Frank Lemmon, the manager and district representative, was in contact with the Americans after observing the difficulty they were having trying to salvage the Catalina. He suggested Ned Higgins was the man they needed for the job.

In a transcript of an interview done with Ned and Tim (his eldest son) in 1988, Ned tells the following story:

A little Yank arrived at the farm and he inquired,
“Are you Mr Higgins?”
“’Ned will do”, I said.
The Yank continued, “We have got a boat on a reef in there and they tell me you can get it off”
“I’ve got no men”, I replied, “They are all away at the War”.
“Well, you will have to see it first, to see if you can get it off”, he said,
I replied “If someone put it there, I can get if off, don’t worry about that!”
He told me “We’ve got 100 sailors there you can have”.
“Righto, I will be in Thursday morning” I said.

This is a photograph from the Higgins collection. It is titled “The Yankee”. It turns out after investigation that this young man was Clyde Smith, Number 1 Patrol, US Navy, Geraldton 1942

On Thursday morning as I went into town, I saw a flying boat sitting out on the reef. I went down and they had a dinghy there to take me out to the reef to have a look at it.
“Well! What are you going to do?” asked the Yank.
“Dismantle it here”, I replied.
He told me I couldn’t do that because if the engines got wet, the fins would be no good. In a Flying Boat, if the engines get wet they are no good? Doing it your way they would have to get wet! The Yank explained that they were positioned 19 feet (6 metres) above water so they never got wet”.
“Alright” I said, “I’ll dismantle it here, and they won’t get wet!”
“How will you stop it?” He asked.
“I will build a raft, put sand bags on the raft up to the engines, put a railway tarpaulin over it and wrap the engines in the tarpaulin”.
“The job is yours,” he said.

So we started. I had 4 days of the best fun I ever had. Telling the yanks to jump to it and so the yanks hated the sight of me. One of the blokes, Tex Crawford, was a really cranky type.
“What’s wrong with Tex?” I asked the chief.
He replied, “He hates farmers”. “They call them [farmers] utility men in the States: Or truck farmers or they even call them halfwits,” he said.
Anyway, I was pulling it [the plane] to pieces. They didn’t like me a bit. They didn’t ask me to go for a drink with them at night time or anything”.
Interviewer: You made them work hard, that was the trouble wasn’t it Ned?”
Ned: “No, I just told them what to do and they objected to being told: so I only told the chief what they had to do and they had to do it. The chief was telling them that they had to take orders from Mr Higgins!”

Anyway, when it came to taking the main wings off the aircraft I asked how long it would take to get them off.
“A good man can do it in 4 hours”, he said.
“Well, that’s two hours for an Aussie”, I said under my breath, but loud enough for him to hear.
“What did you say”?
“Nothing, I was just thinking out aloud”, I said.
“There is no Goddam Aussie ever born that can take that off in 2 hours!” He said.

“Look, I’m an average Australian”, I said, “put the best man that you have got on that side and I will get on this side”. After 2 and a quarter hours I called out for the men to be sent out because the wing was about ready to be removed. The section we were taking off was about 30 foot (9 metres) long, it may have been more. We had to get the men to hold it from falling into the water.
I called out, “Are you going to send some men out to hang onto this?”
“Ah, don’t shoot me that rubbish!” he said. “
OK!” I said, “There’s 2 bolts holding it and if they are not here in 10 seconds, it will be dropped into the drink and Mondorf (the big chief) will have something to say to you!”
So the men were sent out. I had it off in a few minutes and the other bloke was only half way around. They weren’t used to work, the Yanks. They’d put gloves on their hands before they picked up a spanner, that’s how they worked. But after all that, I could do no wrong. They invited me down at night to have a drink. They really gave me the red carpet treatment.

Then Mondorf came up from Perth wanting to know how much they owed me for the salvage.
“Put the bill in” he said.
“What’s a bill?” I said. “Look, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ve got the plane off, you beat the Japs and I will be alive after the war and that is all I want!”
He said, “Don’t worry about that, we will beat the Japs, no worries. It will take us time, that’s all!”
“Well, it’s a deal”, I said.
He said “no” and then worked out what it was worth in our pounds, £250,000. ($500,000)
“I could use the £250,000 right now”, I said, “But I made a deal with you and that’s that! That’s how it stands!”

They invited Sylvia and me down for dinner at Fremantle with the Rear Admiral. We went down and they put this huge dinner on for us. There was a lot of talk going on, you know, and one chap, he stood up and said, “This man should have been an American!” And at the finish they said “Come on, respond”.
I said “I wouldn’t know what to say” but after some pressure I said, “Well all I can say is thank you very much for all the nice things you have said. There was one thing I heard a chap say; I should have been an American. I can’t quite work that out because my estimate of you chaps the week I was working with you was that 2 Americans makes one average Australian!”
They all laughed out the corners of their mouths. They didn’t like it!

Anyway the big chief sitting there said “You won’t take money for the salvage!” Then he addressed his men “If I hear any of you chaps saying the Australians are robbing you again, it’s straight to Exmouth!” (Exmouth was a black spot for them in the war years, there was nothing there. I believe the threat of being sent to Exmouth was often used as an incentive.).
He remarked, “Here is a man who has told us what to do with our 250,000 pounds. Is there anything we can do for you at all?”
“No, just beat the Japs”, I replied.
“What about gas?” one of the chiefs asked. They called petrol, gas.
I said “Well, I won’t knock that back because it is rationed here pretty hard”.
And he turned around to a chap and he said, “See he gets all the gas he wants, and when his machines and his trucks go into Geraldton, make sure they are greased and oiled up. Look after them for him”. Anyway, when I got back to Geraldton they gave me a letter they reckoned was equal to a Navy Cross.

When next in town with one of my men, Wally Pierce, I asked him to take the Ute down because if I went down, I thought, they will only fill the tank, but if he went down, they would probably put a 44 gallon drum in the back. Later I was in the hotel playing darts when Wally came to the door. He was white as a sheet and I thought, hell, he has had an accident and I rushed to the door.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. He couldn’t talk. “What’s the matter?” I asked again.
“Look!” he said. When I went out there were 44 X 44·gallon drums (ie 44 X 200 litres drums) on the back of the semi.
“Get to the farm! Get the hell out of here! Get out to the bush! Get Going!”
I should explain, that before all of this happened, the navy coloured their petrol so it could be recognised. If anybody was found with it then it was usually stolen. There was actually a chap who got pinched (charged) for having 4 gallons. He took one of the sailors out and the sailor gave it to him and then he got pinched. A mechanic chap I think.

I went and saw the detective, Tommy Trite, because I just didn’t know what to do about all this petrol I had been given. Tommy didn’t know either so we ended up ringing the Skipper up at the base because I didn’t want to go to jail over it.
“Where is it?” Tommy asked.
“It has just gone out to the bush”, I replied. I didn’t tell him that had I sent the driver out there. After getting through to the Skipper he told Tommy,
“If Ned Higgins has got a Catalina plane on the back of his truck, we gave it to him. Anything he’s got, we gave it to him!” So, that fixed that!
I was pretty embarrassed. I had to finish up hiding the semitrailer when we went to town. The sailors got to know it and they would pick it up, load it and take it back to where it was. At one time I had almost 380, 44-gallon drums of fuel on the farm.
I did tell a sailor, “I don’t want anymore” but his reply was
“The chief told us you have to have gas and you’re going to get gas”.
I could do no wrong! The chief, Bedell, was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. (He was a manager of a bank down south in the US before the war.)

I was on the Chapman Valley Road Board (Shire Council) and I use to go to Perth once a week in a straight 8Buick. The secretary of the road board reported me for running to Perth on petrol when petrol was very, very, scarce. So I thought to myself, if he has reported me the petrol rationing people they would cancel all my petrol for the farm, for carting wheat and all that, they would cancel all my freedom. I didn’t know what to do so I thought I had better go down and see Mundorf in Perth. He was right on the top floor of the MLC building. So I went to Perth and showed Mundorf the letter.
He read it and said, “Let me handle this”. So he rang them and spoke to the chief of the Fuel Board.
“I see where you say the Americans are supplying a civilian with petrol, a Mr Higgins. You have cancelled his license?”
The bloke must have said, “Yes, that’s right”, “A civilian?
A civilian!” said Mundorf. “I don’t know a T S Higgins, a civilian.”
I thought, Oh! My God!
Mundorf said, “Do you know what you have done?” The chap must’ve said “No”’, and Mundorf said, “Surely you’re not mixing him up with the T S Higgins, Navy Contractor?”
The bloke must have said something else as Mundorf told him that the licenses had to be reinstated immediately.
Mundorf said, “How long will it take for you to reinstate those licenses?”
I don’t know what the bloke said, but Mundorf replied, “Can you do it in 5 minutes because it will take 5 minutes for him to get around there. If they are not reinstated, I will get straight onto your Melbourne office and have you removed and get some intelligent person in there to run your business.”

Mundorf then asked me if I had enough petrol, I told him yes. I wasn’t using the tickets anyway, it was what would happen after the war that I was frightened of. If after the war it was cancelled, it may have been years before I could get any more and I had to have fuel to run the farm. (There was still petrol rationing in 1950, the day Menzies was elected).

Vintage Tim and Des

 

CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM AT BOOKARA 1942  T. A. HIGGINS.

Interviewer: What do you recall about this time Tim (Ned’s Eldest Son)?

Tim: Well, on Sundays we would go down visiting the Yanks and they would feed us up and load us up with all the stuff we could take back. They would even fly us out in the Catalina over the farm and we would throw the shopping out to mum. This happened at Bookara (South of Geraldton) and the Yuna farm (North-east of Geraldton).

Interviewer: What about the Christmas when the Yanks went out to the farm?

Tim: Dad (Ned) and Smithy came down with a couple of other Yanks, all half cut in the GMC bus. We had tucker, but just enough for the family and that was all. Mum got hold of Dad and told him, “You had better take these blokes back, we haven’t got enough here for Christmas dinner for everyone!”. Grandpa Ned and Grandma Sylvia were always very hospitable and, as I remember, Grandma always managed to have something on the table no matter who turned up. The war years would’ve been hard though.
So, Dad said to Smithy, “Listen Smithy, things are short. We haven’t got enough tucker”. Smithy said “Goddam! Why didn’t you tell me, just lend me that jalopy”. He went back to town and came back with the biggest heap of stuff that you have ever seen in your life. Stuff like cherries, tins of ham, safety razors and turkeys, things we had only seen in books. They just brought stuff that we had never even read about let alone bought! That was a Christmas and a half! We had tommy guns and a 30-30 carbine, we had everything! Once they rang up as they wanted to choose a pup from the farm and they came out in a Catalina; they would fly the flying boats anywhere! Uncle Tim and Dad (Des) never forgot that Christmas and would often regale us kids with the story. The ingredients may have changed but never their memory of the largess and great time that they all had.

DASH TO PERTH

Interviewer: What about the time the woman got her eyes burnt with ashes and an American went down to Perth with you in a car? Was that through the war years?

Ned: Yes, that was a girl called Penny. She cleaned their offices. She was sweeping the floor when she saw this little yellow thing, a detonator, she swept it up and threw it in the stove and as she was brushing the ashes in, it exploded and blew hot ashes in her eyes.

At 10pm that night I was at the Freemasons Hotel, next door to where she was at the doctors. They went to the police (the doctor) and asked who they could get to take her to Perth. The Yanks didn’t have a Catalina or any type of flying boat in the bay at the time. “Who can we get to drive a car the fastest to Perth?”
“If Higgins is in town, get him” the police said. (I had thought I was pretty cunning with my travelling to Perth; I used to travel pretty fast. I didn’t think anybody knew about my speeding!)
“Higgins?” the doctor said. “God, Higgins: Yes we know him. We can get him immediately!”

Anyway they rang me at the pub. I was in bed. I went down to the Base and they gave me this big Chevrolet car with glaring headlights. They never put any blackout covers over the lights; they said blackout headlights wouldn’t help you if the Japs came.
”No good at all”, they said.
“How long will it take you to get to Perth?” they asked. I told them I didn’t really know because it was night time, I just wasn’t sure.
The Doctor asked, “Can you get her to St John of God? If you get her down quick, we might save her sight.”
“Well, I will get there as quick as I can.” I said. “But look, I’ll get pinched for this because there are army check posts all along the way and they will just pull me up with a Yankee car and put me in jail!”
“Oh no, we will send a Provost Marshall with you”, said one of the yanks. The Provost Marshalls name, I will never forget it, Jack Hobbs. (How I remember it was the same as the cricketer), I never forgot Hobbs.

Interviewer: Of course it wasn’t the highway that we have got now was it?

Ned: Gravel road and ‘narrower’. I was asked again how long it would take to get down and again I told them I wasn’t sure. I wouldn’t admit that I would go down very fast. The doctor said he would ring ahead and let the hospital know that I was on my way down.
We left at 11pm. I scared myself a couple of times on the way down. I went as fast as I could. Of course it was night-time and there was not much traffic on the road then. Nobody had any petrol and there were no cars, you nearly had a clear go. No traffic, so there was no worry there and those glaring headlights!
The police pulled us up near Dongara, the first checkpoint. As soon as they saw the car they implied, because I was a civilian, I had pinched it.
“All right boys, American Navy”, said Jack.
I told them about the girl getting red hot ashes in her eyes and of how I had to get her to Perth as quickly as possible.
The guard (police) said, “Well, we’ll ring through and give you a clear passage.”
This was good. They must have been able to contact each other along the way.

Well, I had 2 spare tyres. I got a puncture and a blowout. I used the spares up. It only took a few minutes to change them. One was at Arrino; there was a bad S-bend there. I was doing about 90 miles an hour and I came onto this S-Bend. I just forgot it for the moment and of course I had to leave the road and take a straight cut through the railway yard, through the fence and out again. Anyhow I got this blowout and the Yank, Jack, just sat there. He wouldn’t get out and help me and I thought “You lousy dog!” It only took me 3 or 4 minutes in those days to change a wheel; anyway, I put it on and away we went again. We got to St John’s Hospital in Subiaco just before 3 am.
When we arrived I explained that I had this girl from Geraldton.
“God, not another one, surely!” said the nurse.
“This one has burnt her eyes”, I explained.
“Yes” she said, “but we were told she wouldn’t be here until at least 5 am.
“This is the woman!” I said. “Can you get this into your head, because you have to work quickly!” Anyhow, eventually they woke up that this was the girl they were expecting.

We went around to Crawley after that. I used to stay at Crawley with the Yanks when I came to Perth because they invited me to stay at their quarters while they were there. We go to Crawley and Hobbs didn’t talk to me. He wouldn’t talk at all.
We walked in, they call each other by surname, and they said, “G’Day Hobbs!”
He never spoke. He walked straight over to the bar and said, “Bottle of Scotch”. He tipped out a full one and knocked it off and tipped out another one and knocked that off.
I was asked by some chap, “What’s wrong with Hobbs?” “I don’t know”, I said.
Again Hobbs poured himself another, knocked it back, turned and said, “You blokes reckon you saw something in Pearl Harbour? You saw nothing! I’ve faced death more times tonight than you ever did there!” He eventually came over and spoke with me. He was having a bit of a grin, I think. He said, “I suppose you thought I was funny when I didn’t help you change the tyres?”
I did, but I said “Oh No, I didn’t think it was funny. I knew I could do it”.
“I could not move”, he said. “I was paralysed. If the vehicle had rolled over, I could not have helped myself”

The following morning I said, “Well, come on, we have to go back”.
“I’m not going back with you” he said.
“I’ll have to ring Bedell to tell him that you don’t want to come back”, I said.
“You can ring him!” he said.
So I rang Bedell and told him that Hobbs didn’t want to come back with me. Bedell asked me to put Hobbs on the phone.
I heard Hobbs say ‘‘Sir, you can court martial me, you can put me up against the wall and shoot me but I’m not going back in that car!”
I told Hobbs that he could drive and I explained that I had to come down fast, I just had to, to try and save the girls sight, I didn’t think it was dangerous. I didn’t do anything I thought was stupid. I admitted that I had to cut a comer off because I couldn’t take the bend. Hobbs said he didn’t want to drive and that they could take him back some other way. He would wait for a flying boat. Anyway Bedell must have told him that he had to come back with me.
I said “Well, you drive.”
In the finish he said, “All right! I will drive!” He got rotten drunk.
Later I went and picked him up. He got in but couldn’t drive for nuts! We got 20 miles out to a place called Gingers and he said, “I can’t go on!”
“Well,” I said, “we will have a sleep here and in the morning when we wake up you will be right to drive back.” “Good idea.” he said.
I told him because he was bigger than I that he should have the back seat and I would sleep in the front. He got into the back. He was drunk and was snoring in 2 minutes and I knew that he wouldn’t wake, so I drove back to the yard in Geraldton.
By the time we pulled up, it was nearly daylight. Hobbs was still asleep so I went in and had breakfast with the yanks.
Hobbs eventually woke and came in. “”Where am I? What happened?” He said, “How did I get here?’”
I explained that he had fallen asleep and I figured I had better drive.
“Goddam!” he said as he walked around the car. “I didn’t think it could happen twice!”
He was actually a very funny man, a nice chap, an original navy man. They were all good blokes.

Interviewer: Did you save the girl’s sight?     Ned: They managed to save one eye.

A DAY OF TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH (Christine)

October 20th 1956 Royal Humane Society, Silver Medal
Ken McAuliffe, aged two and half years, fell down an uncased borehole on his parents property at Woongoondy south of Mullewa on a Sunday in 1956. There are of course a number of newspaper reports detailing the event and his mother Pat recalls the day in detail 21 years later in a story published in the Geraldton Guardian, Tuesday, April 26 1977. Coincidently his sister Grace who was a babe in arms at the time and my sister Dianne went to school together and became and remain the very best of friends to this day.
In later years Grandpa Ned writes, “About 20 miles (32 km) out of Mullewa a young lad fell down a bore hole on a farm. I was driving sheep 30 mile away (50Km) when I heard a police message come on the car wireless about the accident. I left the sheep and called my young son Des to let the sheep go and come with me. It took about half an hour to get there. They had just pulled Reg Melbourne out of the well they’d sunk; he was smothered in the hole. So I sank another hole away from the bore hole, got down past where the lad had fallen in and dug a channel into where the child was and we got him out still alive.”

My mother, Merle, tells the story of Dad and Grandpa Ned’s involvement. By the time they arrived, Reg Melbourne had already perished in the attempt to rescue Ken. The stories people tell now was that Grandpa Ned took charge, ringing Marsden and arranging for him to bring the cement rings out. I can imagine Grandpa Ned taking an active part in organising the rest of the exercise. He had been mining himself and was conscious of the dangers of “holes”. Mum says he drew a line around the well, gave dad a shovel and told him that if anyone attempted to cross the line he was to knock him out. Apparently a senior policeman did attempt to approach the well and dad told him to stay back. The ensuring conversation is left to your imagination, but the gist of it, as mum tells it, is that when questioned dad said no one could cross the line because his dad was down the well and he’d told him to keep everyone at bay. No-one crossed the line. Ken was rescued and the men involved were awarded Royal Humane Society Citations and medals for their part in the rescue. Grandpa Ned’s citation and medal is these days in the safekeeping of  his grandson Ned. The following named are an extract from The Royal Humane Society of Australasia Inc. contained in 7000 Brave Australians: A History of The Royal Humane Society of Australasia 1874-1994 p21

SILVER MEDAL-6791
BRIAN SOMERVILLE HEBITON, Wongoondy, via Mullewa, (W.A.), farmer;
SILVER MEDAL-6792
JOHN HUGH ROWE, Mendel, via Mullewa, (W.A.), farm labourer, aged 23years,
SILVER MEDAL- 6793
LIONEL EDWARD JACOB, Mendel, via Mullewa, (W.A.), farmer, aged 26 years;
SILVER MEDAL-6794
TIMOTHY SMIDDY HIGGINS, Yuna, (W.A.), farmer;
SILVER MEDAL-6795
COLIN MARSDEN, Wonthella, via Geraldton, (W.A.), farmer and contractor, aged 29 years, in rescuing Kenneth McAuliffe, aged 2 years, from a bore hole at Mendel, south of Mullewa, on 20th October, 1956,

About 8.30 a.m. the child fell down the borehole, which was 40 feet deep, and contained ten feet of water, but he was wedged about 19 feet down. Many people attended when the alarm was given, and it was decided to sink another shaft three-four feet away from the bore. A sloping trench, 30 feet long, was also dug leading into the new shaft, in order to facilitate the removal of the sand from the shaft. When the shaft was nine feet deep Reginald Charles Melbourne, Hebiton, Rowe and Jacob took over the digging in relay. The shaft was being sunk in sand, slightly damp but without any binding matter. Nothing was available for lining the shaft, but the work went ahead, as speed was considered essential. A small fall of sand buried Melbourne to his knees. When the shaft was 19 feet deep it was about ten feet below the trench which was being dug, and a fall of several tons of sand completely buried Melbourne.

It was two hours before Melbourne was dug out; he was dead. A telephone call had been made to Geraldton, and Marsden arrived about 1.30 p.m., with Higgins, with a load of three-foot concrete pipes, two feet long. The shaft was re-made and the pipes sunk into it, Higgins digging inside the pipes. At 19 feet he placed chocks to hold up the pipes and a small tunnel, sloping downwards, was dug by Higgins and Marsden to the bore. It was not possible to use timbering because of the small space, and great care was taken in order not to disturb the child or the sand in the bore. There was room for one only in the tunnel, but when the bore was reached Higgins grasped the child’s leg while Marsden carefully enlarged the area around him so that they could pull the child into the tunnel. They retreated carefully and speedily. It was now about 4 p.m.

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CHRISTINE CONCLUDES:

On a personal note I don’t think Grandpa Ned would’ve considered himself any sort of hero. It was a job that needed doing and he just did it. I guess they sat down and had a beer afterwards, thanked God that they’d got the boy out alive and mourned the bloke who hadn’t made it.

Life for all of them then went back to everyday farming and the highs and lows that this entailed.  

In 1963 Grandpa Ned got involved in working on the Esperance breakwater. This led to him eventually selling his farm in 1964 to cover the debt he incurred in this venture. It was unfortunate that his Irish pride and stubbornness got in the way of good business sense and he wouldn’t listen to either of his sons when they suggested that he could recover from this “disaster” without selling the farm.

Following the sale of the farm he bought approximately 20 acres (8 hectares) at Bullsbrook and started wheeling and dealing from there. His diaries indicate that in addition to buying and selling a few sheep he bought and sold machinery. He was also involved with carting sand and stone in the area. At one stage he talks about Uncle Tim working a dozer for him. He may not have been a super astute businessman but he always made a quid and was never still, always on the go and thinking of new ways and schemes.

He sold Bullsbrook in 1973 to go in with his sons to buy Waterbank Station just outside of Broome. It was extremely unfortunate that early in 1974 a huge flood wiped out the station stock and this venture folded as a result of the losses incurred by the floods. The station went back to the Snyder Estate, who owned the lease on Waterbank, because the family couldn’t meet the mortgage payments. My Dad and Mum stayed on to manage the station, which was back on the market, until they went into business with mum’s brother who put up security and bought a third share in Waterbank so that they could stay on. Mum’s brother had a successful steel business in Melbourne and remained a silent partner in the station until his death in 1987. 

In the meantime Grandpa Ned bought a property at Hazelmere near Midland and this was to be their final home. This was where Grandma Sylvia spent her time when she wasn’t visiting either the Station or Geraldton, Grandpa on the other hand couldn’t resist the lure of the north and spent at least six to nine months of every year living with Mum and Dad and working (or annoying his grandsons) the cattle, carting drums when things got tough and any other venture that appealed to him. He probably would’ve lived there permanently except that there wasn’t anywhere for grandma to live. He lived in an old caravan and the rest of the family lived in a converted shed. Mum Merle would push him each year when she thought he should go check out how “Mumma” was going.

I remember his 80th birthday. We had a little party for him at the station and I asked him what it felt like to be 80. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know love; I still feel 21, it’s just that my body can’t keep up with me”. I guess that just about sums him up really, he was always thinking of new things to do and ways to do them, although he was a bit of a liability as he got older because he wasn’t as quick as he probably needed to be. Not long before he turned 80 he broke his ribs because he found he couldn’t actually jump across the culvert after all. He was so surprised.

Just before his 85th Birthday, in December 1991, aged 83, Grandma Sylvia, his lodestar, died and he was never the same after this. He missed her terribly and told mum that he would never see her again because he wouldn’t get to heaven, as he hadn’t been very good in this life. Mum had the presence of mind to tell him that of course he would because hadn’t Our Lord said “that if anyone gives a person a cup of water in my name, clothes the poor and feeds the hungry then he would receive his reward”. She then reminded him of the many times he had helped out others over his lifetime and I think he felt comforted by that thought.

He grew increasingly feeble after Sylvia’s death and early dementia set in. Aunty Bren (Brenda) found him in the kitchen cooking breakfast very early one morning and asked him what he was doing. He informed her that he thought he should have some breakfast ready for the boys when they got back from delivering the wheat. On the 15th September 1993 at almost 87 years of age he died.

Funeral mass’s for the both of them were held at St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Geraldton and on each occasion their respective ashes were interred in the Anglican Garden of Remembrance at the Anglican Cathedral in Geraldton.

 MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF YUNA/TENINDEWA DAYS

Apart from the preceding stories so many stories are told of the exploits of Ned Higgins and “the boys” that one of my brothers once said to me when I asked him to tell me some of those stories that as “a girl” I’d missed out on, “no one would believe most of them Christine”. However, on a visit to Geraldton in April 2015 to attend the opening of the Tenindewa School Replica, so many people came up to me and reminisced about Ned and Des and Tim that at the urging of Tony Critch who remembers Ned as “that well loved and respected raconteur, hero, and legend” I have endeavoured to record some of those stories.

Opening Day. Tenindewa Replica School. April 2015

Those Anecdotal Stories

Keith Butler, Jack Brenkley, Bill Cox, Albert Cream and Doug Brenkley  (photo taken about 1950)

 

ALBERT CREAM, a former Tenindewa farmer who was raised on the family farm at Eradu, recalled Ned and his digging of a coal mine at Eradu at about the same time he salvaged the Catalina. “It must have certainly been was a great effort”, Albert explains “Ned had a mine going, and a chap by the name of Chess Morrow was doing the same thing about one hundred metres away, it was a race to see who would win, as it turned out they both struck coal the same day, the coal was not far below one hundred feet, but the water was the trouble, between them they were pumping one hundred and twenty thousand gallons an hour, the water trickled down the river to a pool just south of Eradu. I don’t know if many recall the poppet legs above the mine. It was a great shame when they were burnt down. As a kid I well remember the day Ned stood on top of them dressed in shorts and a black singlet, no safety gear at all bolting them together”
Albert witnessed first-hand the revolution of clearing land the Higgins way. A way of clearing that had not been seen on this planet before. Albert continues, “Ned’s exploits in the clearing of the heavy timber with metres of heavy ship’s anchor chain between two gigantic International crawler tractors; that was a God-send for us at Dave’s Heelan’s farm even though it took about another thirty years to completely clean up’ (Mallee roots would surface almost, it seemed, for eternity after the initial chain and burn)

Albert further explains ‘Ned employed two massive TD 24 International Crawler tractors to pull 12 tonne of ships anchor chain stretched like a giant skipping rope between the two. The drivers of these two hulks of machinery were on many occasions two young lads that Ned had given a start to in Peter Broderick, an orphan lad from St Mary Agricultural College at Tardun, and the very young Colin (Rusty) Edwards of Eradu. In the tall and robust timber a third and equally impressive beast, in the form of D6 Caterpillar with a “pusher bar” followed the chain and “pinch hit” on the tough trees as they inevitably appeared. This then gave the entire process the combined horsepower thus the grunt (about 700 horse-power) to move the operation forward seamlessly. Son Des was generally the operator of this third dimension of the process and he was considered to be extremely skilled at not only executing his task but remarkably skilled at intuitively picking a likely trouble making tree before it offended.

 

Another of Ned’s array of earthmovers. A Caterpillar D6 with a “wire cable type lift” which were superseded by hydraulic blade lifts soon after.

Remarkably the cost to the land owner was modest for the day and seems incredibly cheap now. Albert says it varied as time went on but the general tariff he can remember was 25 shillings per acre in the York gum country and 15 shillings per acre in the scrubbier Sand-plain situations. (ie $6.25 per hectare and $3.75 hectare)

“I also, remember” says Albert, “Kevin Critch and Ned being on the Mullewa Shire Council at the same time, and it wasn’t long before they had the old kerosene Fordson graders replaced with shiny Caterpillars. “I think Ned would have had a bit to do with that” concludes Albert.

Ned is second from right middle row and Kevin Critch to Ned’s left

(Ned, as he might, in fact served on two Road Boards simultaneously. He was a member of the Upper Chapman Road Board as well. This entity eventually morphed into the Chapman Valley Shire Council. Its no wonder he drove fast cars!)

Sylvia and Ned 30 Mar 1960

Albert Cream has written his own story about his farming days at Tenindewa Albert Cream – My Farming Life at Ajax 1951 – 1987 and below are the paragraphs extracted from that story that relate to Ned:

I remember driving in Dave’s Bedford truck to the Tenindewa Store to get the mail. Although the truck was new, it had bad headlights, and also when you put your foot on the brake it would lock up one wheel and you seemed to go faster. One incident I recall with that truck was with the Higgins’s.’ I got to the lane-way between Ryan’s and Hayes’ place, and I ran through a ring lock fence (which had been “strung up” temporarily, dangerously and illegally) and thankfully just stopped short of a mob of sheep!! Ned Higgins owned the place adjacent at that time and he had fenced 3 000 sheep there for the night. A big tall man came toward me to see what I was doing. He approached me and held a hurricane lamp about six inches from my nose. It turned out to be Ned’s father. I had heard a lot of stories about Ned’s father and, had I known it was him coming towards me, I would have been somewhere else. To my surprise and relief he was quite pleasant and helped me put the fence back up. When I asked him what he was doing with the sheep, he told me ‘the mob was ewes and wethers mixed and the next day Ned was going to ‘put them in the paddock and chase them until the wethers hit the front’. He would then split them into two mobs- “not a perfect method but near enough for Ned”.

I first met Ned Higgins when I was about 17 yrs old when he came to Eradu to dig for coal. Ned had just rescued a Catalina Flying boat off a reef in Geraldton. This is well documented in other stories. Ned’s work at the mine saw him raising poppet legs over the mine site. These poppet legs supported a big wheel for the wire ropes to run over when pulling the soil from the mine. From memory Ned would stand on top of the first two poppet legs, which were previously erected using a tractor, and then he would bolt the other poppet legs in when they were raised. With a 14 lb hammer he drove big bolts through the timbers to complete the job. It was an amazing effort for one man to do. At different times other men helped him. I remember some of these men as being his brother Kevin Higgins, Joe Jefferies and Neil Mitchell (of boxing fame).

(This was all about a State sponsored exploratory exercise to attempt to identify viable coal deposits in WA. Clearly it was quite competitive but low on OH&S!!)

The mine was just over the road from my family’s home. Chess Morrow was also mining for coal 200 yards further down the road. Ned and Chess competed with each other and the race was on to see which could get to the coal first. I think they only had to dig to a depth of 120 ft, but water was a big problem. Between the two mines they pumped 120 000 gallons (540,000 litres)of water an hour. Ned put steel cylinders down the shaft and pumped cement behind them to try and stop the inflow of water.

Ned’s mine – Albert Creams family home in the background

 

Chess Morrow

Ned and Chess Morrow struck coal the same day. It had taken months of hard work but they had simultaneously achieved their goals. The Minister for Mines was to arrive by train to inspect their work. Chess waited at the station in Mullewa for his arrival but meanwhile Ned had discovered which way the minister was coming so jumped into his car and met him in Geraldton. We had a lot to do with Ned and his team while they were there and sometimes his wife Sylvia would come to visit him at the mine. We all thought of her as being a lovely woman. Ned was a strongly built man and looked quite handsome when he put his ‘town togs’ on. I remember him getting into his car to go to Geraldton. He would pull the cigarette lighter from the dashboard of his car and plug in a shaver so he could have a shave on the way. This gave him five extra minutes of time before leaving to go to Geraldton.

Remnants of Ned’s mine, Eradu. (taken about 1955)

Although machines were hard to come by, Ned seemed to get them. I had a ten disc plough compared to Ned who had 3 x10 disc ploughs. He turned these into a 30 disc plough by pulling them behind a huge crawler tractor. I also remember seeing Ned’s sons, Tim and Des, harvesting on Ned’s property but I did not have much to do with them. I met them one weekend when they were taking two girls out to see their farm. One of the girls, Merle, later became Des’ wife.

Two 20 disk “Sunder Cut”  Seeders behind a TD 14. Ned was always a trailblazer with new concepts

 

The Higgin’s were first in the area to adopt scale. Depicted here are  2 X 24 Chamberlain Disc Seeders behind a “Westinghouse” rubber tyred Bulldozer

                    

I remember an encounter with Ned in Geraldton when I was driving from Durlacher Street into Marine Terrace. I was met by Ned who was driving his big AEC semi truck and travelling in the opposite direction. He stopped me and between the both of us we had completely blocked the traffic, not that the traffic was very busy those days and no one seemed to mind, least of all Ned. He climbed onto the back of his semi to uncover 2 lovely watermelons and handed them to Jean as he thought she “would enjoy them”.

Ned’s very faithful AEC Semi Trailer (Associated Equipment Company. British; 1912 to 1979)

Later Ned went on to become a Councillor in the Mullewa Shire. George Eves, another Shire Councillor and prominent farmer told me a story about Ned in the Mullewa Bowling club one night. George told me he had gone to Perth one time with Ned to a shire conference and stayed with Ned and Sylvia. Ned and George had just started having a drink out on the veranda while the evening meal was being prepared when the phone rang. Ned went to answer it and George waited and waited for Ned’s return for a long time before knocking on the front door. When Ned opened the door he was aghast as he realised he had forgotten George was out there. He was very apologetic and Sylvia was ashamed. George told me that night at the Bowling Club “Creamy, Ned is a good man but I won’t go with him again. I couldn’t keep up with him.”

George and Grace Eves. This amazing couple contributed enormously to virtually every aspect of the Mullewa Community in addition to Local Government.

Ned cleared a lot of land in the district and beyond and also bored for water. He achieved more than most men in his days at Tenindewa. I think he eventually left Tenindewa to settle in Broome. It was with sadness that I attended Ned’s funeral at the Geraldton Cathedral. Merle, his daughter-in-law, invited us all to come up to the front of the church to join the family as there were not a lot of people who attended his funeral. A good man had gone to rest.

International TD-24 _ Tractor & Construction Plant Wiki _ Fandom powered by Wikia – Copy

Click on the above to see the specs of the Giant TD 24

Christine Again

Anyway back to the living Ned. I’m not sure who it was that related the story of Ned and another trip to Perth. Ned often went up and down that road which was not the highway it is today and the common theme throughout all the stories told about him was that Ned only knew two speeds. Stopped and flat out! He never changed. The story goes that Ned was leaving for Perth when he met a mate who was catching the plane from Geraldton to Perth so Ned took him to the airport, dropped him off and said “see you at the airport in Perth”. And indeed when his mate got off the plane Ned was at the airport to pick him up. Probably not an achievable feat today but when one considers the amount of time it takes to board the plane, fly in the plane, and land the plane it’s feasible.

That Higgins gang; Tim, Ned and Des early 1990s. Sadly this little band of troopers have all gone to God

Funnily enough I don’t remember his speeding. Once I was driving him, no idea why, and approaching a bend in the road near Bookara I slowed down to take the bend. Grandpa asked why was I slowing down (I must’ve just got my licence) and when I said I was slowing down for the bend he explained to me that there was no such thing as a bend, all the road directly in front of me was straight so I should just drive along that straight bit of road. It worked! 

 

BERT CHRISTOFF, a Geraldton identity, relates the story of when he was visiting the family in Broome when we were all working on the cattle station. He, Ned and the boys were out sinking a bore hole and needed something that had been left back at the homestead. So Ned was sent back for whatever it was and Bert went with him. The vehicle would’ve been an old open top Suzuki or similar and they were roaring along the dirt track and Ned (who was in his late 70s) said to Bert. “I don’t see so well these days so could you tell me when we’re coming up to the gate” Bert was hanging on for dear life and noted that Ned was doing very well ducking and diving along the track missing all the small trees and scrub, so he reckoned he could see perfectly well and held his tongue even when they roared up to the gate and stopped within an inch of it. Ned turned to him and said “why didn’t you tell me about the gate?” Bert replied “because you could see it well enough yourself!” Bert said Ned gave him a big grin.

JACK BRENKLEY also a Tenindewa farmer, told me that in the early days after the war Ned had a Willies Jeep which he and the boys converted by exchanging the original motor with a V8. The boys then would tear along in it and pass the other cars that fast you could hear a “ping” as they went by. Jack was also pretty impressed with Des’s ability to weld without a mask. Knowing how strict Dad was always about welding and using the mask and not being around when he was welding etc I guess that this was a “party trick”. Jack assures me he witnessed him doing this perfectly so I guess he could!

Two of the Willy’s Jeeps in the Higgins stable of old. Probably one of these was the “offending” vehicle?

DANNY WILLIAMSON  of Yuna fame expands the Willies Jeep story a degree or two. He concurs with Jacks “Ping” stories and further he explains that the Jeep and particularly the V8 motor got tested to the full over a year or two and not surprisingly it, the V8, got a little tired. Conveniently and coincidently Ned had a oldish truck on the property he had purchased some time back and he decided to list it for sale. Danny explains that as far as Ned knew this truck had a relatively new “side banger Ford V8” motor under the bonnet which is exactly how he advertised it and how he eventually sold it to no other than to Jim Williamson. The Williamsons soon discovered, but Ned was to never know, that “newish side bagger V8” had been swapped out of the truck and into the Jeep under the cover of darkness by no other than his sons Tim and Des! This of course extended that legendry Jeeps conquests for years to come.

PETER BRODERICK worked for Ned when he was almost just a kid. Peter was a Christian Brothers College (CBC) boy from Tardun who because he was an orphan was what was known then as a Ward of the State. Interestingly one of the first jobs he did with Ned along with Des, Ned’s second son and others, was the mammoth task of levelling the sand hills at the back of St Patrick’s School in Geraldton. “St Pats” as it was called was run by those same Christian Brothers who were at Tardun and who had the responsibility of educating and rearing Peter but more to the point they were the same group of Christian Brothers that Ned had “waged war with” at Fremantle all those years earlier.

St Patricks College, Geraldton (maybe 1950)

 

St Pats boys at what was known as College Beach. Just north of where Skeetas Restaurant now resides.

Peter thinks that the task of leveling the sand hills and simultaneously filling in the then “town rubbish tip” was done under a very concessional contract to the Brothers, but that was Ned.
In employing a “Ward of the State” there were very strict rules to be adhered to. An inspector would call to the home property every six months to check on issues like general welfare, wages and to make certain a mandatory contribution was being paid into a type of Superannuation fund set up for the likes of Peter.

Evidently however it was Sylvia that was the “mother and carer” to Peter and to this day he is eternally grateful to “that beautiful lady” as he calls her, that had cared for him all those years ago. On the other hand he remembers Ned as being a little liaises-faire and particularly when it came to issues such as wages. Peter recalls there was no such thing as regular pay-days and on occasions, on Ned’s instructions, he would have to collect part or all of his pay in cash from Dudley Neville the then Freemason’s Hotel owner. But that was Ned.

Peter became an integral part of the Higgins clearing enterprise and managed that entire sector of the operation on the many occasions Des was called away for various reasons.

Video: Clearing land at Ajax in 1959. Peter Broderick is on the nearest tractor; The camera was a Bell & Howard spring loaded (wind up) movie camera that Dave Hellen bought in Europe while on holiday in 1954. I took the movie of the clearing in September 1959. (Albert Cream)

Peter stayed in touch with both Ned and Silvia in their declining years. In fact Maureen, Peter’s wife, worked with the Sisters of Nazareth at the aged care home of “Nazareth House” or “Nazzi House” as it is still affectionately called. Silvia saw out her final years at Nazzi House and Maureen recalls Ned bringing flowers to Sylvia every single day. Ned too spent his final years there explains Peter.

 

Peter beside his first worldly possession in this Zephyr 6 ute. Taken at Higgin’s property 1955

 

Grief came to this vehicle when it rolled into a dam at the property. It sank to the bottom. According to Norm Tunbridge this became know as “Zephyr Dam” forever after

 

Ned decided to trawl the dam with two tractors and a light rope until they snagged it (That’s Peter on the front tractor) According to Peter it (the ute) lived on for many years after. No doubt it received some mouth to mouth (so to speak) at the time of its resurfacing!!

 

LES BAUMGARTEN farmed in the Mullewa area in his own right for many years but he worked for some considerable period for Ned in the heyday of the Higgins Tenindewa farm. He describes the conditions there as somewhat Spartan and the operation as “kind of cavalier.” “But Ned was not noted for frills” says Bommy. He describes an event that has become a hallmark of that Higgins cavalier approach. The background is that there was a strict regimen in regard to the use of electricity and also the use of radios within the homestead area. As with most rural properties at the time 32 Volt power was generated and stored in batteries on site to run compliances and lights by the property owner. Under Ned’s rules when 9.00 PM came it was generator off, lights out and wireless sets (radios) silenced to preserve battery power and maintain the quiet.

“On one occasion a worker had gone to sleep and/or forgotten to turn his radio off at the prescribed time so Ned just excused himself from the conversation he was having with his son Des and Peter Broderick, nonchalantly picked up the 44 Winchester that always hung at the front door of the homestead and put a shot through the roof of the offenders dwelling which created an immediate and deafening silence”. But that was Ned and Ned only said what had to be said.

Les explained that despite this iron fisted attitude with staff he would defend these same staff to the hilt. He relates getting himself into a spot of bother with a small group of “bar thugs” back in the late 50s in Geraldton. To his great relief Ned chanced upon the scene and made a very quick call. His instructions were simple “out of the way Bommy.” “I’ll smack em you stack em.” And that is pretty much the way it played out. Suffice to say Ned had a reputation with his fists. There are anecdotal stories of the wartime tensions between some American Servicemen and the locals for “various reasons”. Again suffice to say those particular visitors soon learned to keep out of Ned’s affairs. Looking back and with consideration to the norms of today it all seems a little unsavoury but that was Ned and it wasn’t today, it was wartime.

Meanwhile “back at the ranch” so to speak, Les recalls, Ned deciding to go into cattle in a reasonably big way but a couple of things cropped up that he had not counted on. Cattle under most circumstances don’t respect fences all that much, but, particularly if you have the Greenough River running through your property. So keeping these beasts at home was not easy. Further Ned had not factored in that the neighbouring property to the north east was owned at that time by a man almost as notorious as himself by the name of Mr.Bert Bowtell. “Now Bert was no angel either” says Les “but in this case Bert had an advantage in the cattle game by way of his access to the Mullewa Abattoir and ownership of the Mullewa Butcher Shop and thus in the end it all got a bit too uneconomic to persevere with for Ned. So common sense and economic self preservation prevailed as he came to a point where he “just ran out of cattle”. At this point he wisely retreated to the traditional wool and wheat enterprises.

 

Ned drilling down and getting definitely dirty.

Generally Ned was never daunted and to say he loved a challenge was an understatement. He took on the battle to eradicate “Mesquite” in the Onslow area late 1950’s. Mesquite is a “declared plant” in WA which says that it must be reported and controlled. The plant in question is a South American exotic plant which sports spiny branches with invasive characteristics and that was the problem pastoralists faced. Ned contracted to the Government of the day in WA to clear tens of thousands of acres of this pest that had gone feral. He undertook this task using his tractors and the anchor chain method. Bomey explains that they would pull a thousand feet (300 metres) of this massive chain between two massive TD 24s and could achieve 1000 acres a day in those low scrub type conditions. (400 hectares in today’s measure).

Other notable tasks he contracted to do locally were the leveling of the area where the Geraldton Regional Hospital now stands and the earthworks that are now the Geraldton Airport runways and Buildings. Ned was also a boring contractor and he sank many holes for farmers, government and pastoralists over the years. One can just imagine how hectic life might have been working with the Higgins clan.

Acknowledgments (Tony Critch)

The great thing about a story such as this, and it residing on a website, is that it is never finished. It can be added to, enhanced, corrected and all the rest as information comes to hand. But what has to be acknowledged right up front, in this case is, that not only did the majority of this information come from Des and Merle’s daughter (Ned’s grand-daughter) in Christine Loundes but her long term intention is to develop this story further into a book. We all eagerly look forward to that.

Noelene Drage is the daughter of Ned’s brother Jack. Noelene is not only a delightful 87 year old who still lives self-sufficiently in Northampton but has become our living link to the past. Noelene has unravelled some of the myth associated with the Higgins’s but has also guided us to some previously unknown facts of interest.

Kerry Marriott (Bamford) is a Mullewa native so to speak and although she left the town at the age of 12 her heart is still there. Kerry has voluntarily read through the story time and time and tidied the odd grammar and spelling error and inserted the photographs at the appropriate places and thus generally has turned this into a lovely, readable story.

 

Below is a selection of very good photographs of folk that must have crossed the Higgins path. Some crop up several times in Christine’s collection? Who are they? Do you know?

Noleen Drage ne. Higgins suggests this attractive lady became Mrs Keith Drage

 

 

 

Peter Broderick identifies this gentleman as Wally Carvel who was the cook at the property in about 1953 to 1955

 

 

Comments

  1. “Ned Higgins started farming in the middle of the greatest depression the world has ever known and succeeded at a time when other farmers were walking off in their droves.
    I think Ned’s story is a testament to setting goals and achieving them.
    Wonderful story and enjoyed the read of this great character.”

  2. What an amazing story, what an amazing man and family. Looking forward to the book Christine. You have certainly got great material which has got MOVIE written all over it – good luck.
    I was at St Pat’s in Geraldton in 1964-65 when Des spent untold hours on a large crawler tractor filling and leveling the bottom (north) oval – it was well known the work was done at little or no cost to the brothers. I always thought of that as being extremely generous on the part of the Higgins family but all the more so when I see it coincided with a hiccup in the family finances.

  3. Nice family, the Higgin’s. My Mum and her family knew Ned in the old days and most probably his parents, I read where he mentioned my Uncle Scott (my Grandpa Walter Armstrong’s brother).

    My Grandpa Walter used to live in Rockingham at the turn of the century, and right up until 1930 odd.
    He used to work at Wungung cutting timber. My mum’s name was Gladys, and I’m pretty sure they met again in the 70’s just after he sold the Bullsbrook property.

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