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Far North Memories

By Jean Attenborough, wife of Police Mounted Constable J C Attenborough

(Story given to FRG Volunteer Bob Brownlee by Ian Attenborough in May 2011)



On July I0th 1945, our son Ian’s second birthday, we left Millicent after spending the first five years of our married life there for places unknown. After spending a few days in Adelaide we commenced the next stage of our journey, reaching Quorn that night. We were travelling by road, having four months earlier, become the proud owners of our first motor car, a second hand (1926) Oakland tourer (which cost 90 pounds). Not far out of Quorn the made road ended, the red dirt road was not bad until we came to a boggy patch, rain had fallen in the area not many days before. Fortunately road workers helped us through and we continued on to Hawker, another stopover. Next day, along tracks, across creeks through Brachina Gorge to Parachi1na. We were now well into the Flinders Ranges. Along very bumpy, but fairly firm tracks. The scenery was beautiful, but we felt as though we were getting further and further away from civilization. On through Beltana calling into the Police Station there (one always called at the Police Station as they were so isolated) and onto Copley where the landscape was beginning to get more stark, the wheel tracks deeper, more sand and gibbers and low tufty grass. The Copley Hotel came in sight not too far away, but the track seemed to end at a fence Jack had several attempts to find a way through, until he finally climbed the fence and reached the hotel. Mr. Pierpoint, the licensee, came out and guided us in.


After a meal and a ‘sleep” we were off again through the original Leigh Creek township and onto Lyndhurst, we felt that we were nearly at our Journey’s end. Over the railway line at Lyndhurst and straight into sand ‑ it had rained there recently ‑ in the process of trying to get through the car got more hopelessly bogged and eventually the clutch gave out. Fortunately it was not far to walk back to the Lyndhurst Pub and get help, a tow back and a very dejected family. We unpacked all the gear one seems to accumulate in a car when moving house and packed it into cardboard cartons. We then had to wait for the train to come through that night. Ken Crombie fixed the car and put it on a later train.


We arrived at Farina 10pm that night. I think the bush telegraph had been working overtime and most of the locals were there to collect their provisions and to probably have a look at the new policeman, it was a bit hard as there were only kerosene lights around. No platform, so we had to climb and jump down from the train. Our transport was to be with an old local identity, Bob Martin, on a flat top trolley pulled by an old sleepy horse and an old hurricane lamp swinging on the back. We were supposed to go to Patterson’s boarding house!! As I was 2 months pregnant, I’d had enough of travelling and no way would I go anywhere but to the Police Station. Eventually an old ute took us there and we slept, or tried to, on the floor of what was to be our home for the next 3 years. Daylight revealed saltbush, gibbers and sand.


Did you know trains could have square wheels? Well our furniture truck was supposed to have one ‑ actually it was a flat tyre and could have caused a derailment. It was probably an old mans tale and being gullible, 1 believed it. However, with help we soon had an empty house looking more like home.  The outback people are marvelous and we soon met and got to know everyone. The house had 4 stone rooms, a passage and it was galvanised iron across the back ‑ the office one end, open all hours ‑ and a bathroom with a chip heater and tin bath at the other. In between was a large area containing a built in copper and some troughs. The only water laid on was in this area. and came from the railway dam (solar heated in the pipes). There was no heating, no electricity ‑ we had no refrigerator, only a cool safe and a wood stove with a kettle always ready to boil when callers dropped in, which was fairly often. Flynn of the Inland and the, Bishop of Willochre ‑ Dr Thomas ‑ were regular visitors. The padre from Leigh Creek would stay with us when travelling through. 1 don’t know if we needed special attention, even our two cats would follow us to church. The winter weather was warm and pleasant with cold nights. The summer very hot usually, nights as well as days. The end of 1945 was 100oF and over in our passage day and, night for at least 6 weeks. Outside the evenings were delightful. A favourite pastime for Ian was to try and count the stars as they came out in. a beautiful blue velvet sky and we taught him every nursery rhyme we could find. Often we would sleep outdoors, but would need a blanket before morning.


Long before our arrival, Farina was a thriving town; the camel trains from the interior would come into the railhead before the railway went through to Marree. It had a number of hotels, several stores and a hospital so we were told. In 1945 there were two stores, no hospital and no hotels, but it had a post office and telephone exchange, a school plus of course the police station, most everything else was in ruins and covered with sand.


As in most country towns there were folk who considered themselves a leader in the town and called on new residents. Farina was no exception, and Mrs Bell, the wife of one of the storekeepers called on me, then I was invited back and was accepted ‑ I had passed the test. We became very friendly with the owners of Willpooina Station just out of town, Jean and Keith Will. Jean was Scotch and an A.I.M. sister, she had big expressive eyes and thick glasses and could look very serious, she had some very, very funny tales to tell. One I will always remember was of an Afghan who needed medication, she said the last she saw of him was with his robes flashing, and going “whoosh” over the hill, you can imagine what medicine she gave him.


The original Leigh Creek coal field and township were still in their infancy, and we went down to the opening of the very well equipped A1M. (Australian Inland Mission) Hospital. Six months after our arrival in Farina Ian and I went back to Quorn by train ‑ the old Ghan ‑ and then on to Prospect by road to my grandparent’s home to await the arrival of our second baby. I saw the doctor for the 2nd time during my pregnancy and on February 20th 1946, our daughter Heather was born. Jack came down about 6 weeks later and at the end of his leave we returned home.


There would be a dance nearly every Saturday night in a big old garage at the Paterson store. Most people from surrounding stations would come into the town for their mail and provisions and join in. Mrs Bell was the pianist ‑all she could play was ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ and it was played for all dances at the appropriate tempo. When Heather was old enough, we would take her in the pram up the sandy track and she would go to sleep right by the piano and Ian would lie on a form nearby. As she progressed beyond the pram and became old enough to stay in the car, Jack would drive up and park in front of the door and the children would watch until they were tired, then go to sleep on a bed made up in the back of the car. This went on for the rest of the time we were in Farina. We didn’t have reason to worry about our children in those days, even though there were station hands and aboriginals standing around the door watching the dancing.


There were no roads as such, you drove were the track looked the best. Sometimes with a bit of luck a grader may have gone through recently. One never travelled anywhere without a water bag, tin of petrol, an axe and a shovel and perhaps a few bags. One Sunday there was a cricket match at Marree, 30 miles to the north, so of course we had to go and support our team. During Jack’s wicket keeping, a rising ball hit him on the nose ‑ hence a black eye and a broken nose. The match was out of the town, no water ‑someone had emptied our water bag and I had visions of him bleeding to death on, the way home. That never happened, but fie was pretty groggy for a few days, and it had to be straightened when next on leave in the city,


Race meetings were held annually at Marree it was a big social event, with a ball at night. Jack had to go up on duty in the morning one particular time. I went up later in the day with Marjan and Mick Moyses for the ball. Marjjan was a beautiful, tall dark young woman ‑part Afghan. However, by the time we arrived, I had what felt like a ball of fire in my arms. Fortunately 2 A.I.M. sisters had arrived the day before and Heather was a very sick baby. Had the sisters not been there the ball patrons would have had to circle the racetrack with car lights for the Flying Doctor to land. Midway through the evening Heather hadn’t improved, so Marian and Mick took me home ‑ Jack had to stay till the ball finished. I packed a few things and as soon as we saw the car lights coming along the track I was ready and we left then on the 150 mile journey to Hawker which was the nearest town with a doctor ‑ arriving at 7am. Mick, Jack and Ian then had to drive the 150 miles back again. I stayed on my own at the hotel for three days ‑ not being allowed to see our baby all that time. The hotel proprietors, Mr and Mrs Curyer, treated me like one of the family. By Wednesday Heather was over her ear problems and we were able to return on that day’s train. Mr Curyer drove us to the station and Mrs Curyer packed food and a thermos of tea and milk for Heather and we returned home. More examples of the wonderful hospitality, help and friendship of the outback.


Not long after the previous episode it was back to Marree for injections, it was an extremely hot day and on the way home the car would overheat, so it was turned into a searing hot north wind to lower the car temperature, so we could get a little nearer home ‑ a nightmare journey. Jack had to get back to the Police Station to catch the train that night to help Max Homes from Marree on escort duty to Port Augusta.


Jean Will tells another story about the Attenboroughs, we were invited out to Willpoorina Station and we arrived, plus the dog and a crate of chickens on the carrier at the back of the car.


The school committee always held a Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve for all the children and one year in particular was wet. During the evening the Witchelina and Copley Creeks came down in flood and Jean and Keith Will couldn’t get home to the station, so they stayed with us, sleeping on the floor in the passage. Next day Keith killed another chook and Jean prepared it and we cooked our Christmas dinner and we had a really terrific Christmas Day.


We would have very severe wind storms and when Heather was a baby I would often sit up holding her at night with Ian in the middle of the bed, wondering if the roof would be blown off.


Another time it was New Year’s Eve and we were at Patterson’s store. At midnight everyone walked along past Bell’s store. Mr Bell could sell liquor by the bottle, so we sang ‘Roll out the Barrel’ for him. Mrs Bell was a Garden lover so we helped to build a rockery with stones and greenery by the door of the house for her. Someone knew it was the Bishop of Willochera’s birthday and he was staying with the Bells, so “Fill ’em, up, fill ’em up it is my birthday” for his benefit. I don’t know if Mrs Bell found out the culprits, but she said she knew I would not do anything like that.


As the children became older, I would put them in the bath when it was very hot. Tiny the dog would lie underneath on the cement and get the splashes. There was about a 3″ hole in the end wall of the bathroom and they both liked to look through at the trains carrying army vehicles back from Alice Springs. If Heather would not let Ian look, there would be some hair pulling and loud wails. They loved splashing in a small canvas paddling pool on the front verandah. The water didn’t always look too good, but in those days we didn’t know about all the bugs and diseases in the water, but neither have been affected at all.


Jack’s territory reached from Lake Torrens in the west to the New South Wales border in the east, adjoining the officers from Marree in the north and Leigh Creek in the South,


Later Jean and Keith Will moved south and Dick and Dulcie Conrick came as managers and they were at Willpoorina for about 12 months before we left. I also had trips out to Witchelina, managed by Mr and Mrs Phil Gourlay, they would call and see us when they were in Farina. Likewise Mr Charley Downer would be a visitor when in town. I also had a trip out to Mt Lyndhurst, which was east of us. Mr Downer managed that station.


Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, even though some of the men tried to get our time extended, one had to go when posted elsewhere and we reluctantly said farewell, leaving about mid July 1948. We were due to leave early morning but left about 4pm, getting as far as Copley that day. We arrived at Wirrabara in time to help unpack the van. Heather, however, echoed our sentiments ‑ she cried that first night and wanted to go home to her own bed although she didn’t realise she was already in it.


Thus ended our wonderful and happy three years in the far north of South Australia.


P.S. about 3 weeks ago we saw in the Advertiser the death of Mrs Pierpoint aged 98 years. We had lost touch in the intervening 42 years, so we hope to have lots more life left yet. I doubt if there would be more than one or two folk still living from those years.


Just before Christmas I saw the following in the Advertiser:

Moyses, Clarence Andrew (Mick). ‑ Passed away Suddenly at Cleve Hospital, on December 3, 1990 ‑ Loving husband of Marjan, devoted father of Barry and special poppa of Scott, Cathy and Tully. Aged 81 years. A loving soul resting peacefully, a battler of yester‑year.