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One Hundred Years Old – A Bit Weird

It’s a season for something personal, another kind of time travel, a different kind of history. Here is a guest blog authored by my father, Don, a short sketch of his long life so far (he skips over his M.Sc. and careers in science and management). It is based on an article he published in a recent issue of Round-About Hurstbridge, a local newspaper in Victoria, Australia where he lives on the farm. I’ve added links so you can check out the Australiana.

One Hundred Years Old – A Bit Weird

I find being one hundred years old a bit weird. Nothing has changed. Still wobbly on my feet, a side effect Don with card from the Queenof heart pills. I still rely heavily on Joyce, my wife. Still indulge in my two hobbies – fine dining and travel. We plan to combine both on a four-day trip in South Australia. We fly first to Parachilna where the local pub is now famous for its exotic “Road Kill” meals of wallaby, emu and camel.

Over ninety years ago I spent three years of my childhood in Parachilna. At the time there were nine residents and three buildings: the Pub, the “Boarding House” and our family home, a solid stone two-bedroom structure. It is still there! My Dad was the Stationmaster at the then-important stopping station on the old Ghan Railway which ran from Quorn to Oodnadatta. There were two trains a fortnight, one, the “Tucker Train” going north, and the other going south. They arrived at about the same time, the passengers, mostly stockmen, streamed to the Pub while the steam engines topped up water from a huge iron tank. We had water from a pipeline to the Flinders Ranges a few The Ghan near Oodnadatta 1910kilometers away.

When it was time to leave it was fun. The two trains blew their whistles and proceeded part way on their line. Reluctant travelers came out of the station, and it was quite common for someone to get on the wrong train and go back to where they came from.

I had an idyllic childhood. Every year an aboriginal family of two adults and three children spent several months camped in a dry creek bed close to our house. The children, two boys and a girl, became my playmates and mentors. Each morning I would strip off and join them in hunting and gathering. They taught me how to track, how to navigate by the sun, moon and the stars that shone so brilliantly above us. When their father speared a kangaroo, which he often did, I would share a meal with them.

I was free to roam wherever I liked, except to the Pub, the Boarding House and the Afghan Camp when they came with camels heavily laden with produce. I had only one rule: Be home when a meal was served. If late, I didn’t get any.

I sometimes got into trouble. The family was camped at the Spring in the Parachilna Gorge when I bounded over a rocky escarpment to visit a birds nest I was watching. A hunter mistook me for a rock wallaby and a bullet grazed my left arm. I still have the scar.

One day Dad took me and my younger sister Doris on a fettlers truck to Mern Merna a few kilometers south. He wanted a kangaroo to provide some fresh meat to relieve the monotony of the pickled stuff we usually had. We got bored lying on potato sacks, and decided to go for a walk in the saltbush plains. Suddenly storm clouds formed over the Ranges.

We were retracing out footsteps when the rain hit. Within seconds, footprints, our only guide back to the railway line were gone. We were lost.

The Bushman’s Rule – stay where you are. So we huddled under an Ole-Man Saltbush, sucked some water and ate some saltbush.

Next morning was bright and clear and when the blush of dawn appeared I knew the way home. We set off and heard the truck go down the line. The search was on. It was a long way for little legs, but we made it. Well after breakfast time. My first words when we arrived are reputed to have been: “Mum, do you think we could have some breakfast”.

We got into trouble for not staying still; but, with the sun up, I was not lost.

I did not go to school. The nearest school was in Blinman, an old copper mining town high in the Flinders Ranges. It was 32 kilometers away, 5 or 6 hours travel in a horse and buggy. My Dad taught me the three R’s and when I eventually went to school at age 8 I was put into Grade 4.

I have had an eventful life. It would take several books to tell you all about it so I will skip 70 years or so to my more recent foray into Local Government affairs.

The Green Wedge Farmers Association, of which I was Secretary throughout its active life, was formed in1978. Its concern was the high rates farmers were paying the Shire of Eltham. The headline “Farmers want no Rates” ensured we were seldom out of the news thereafter.

The Association turned its attention to the environment and the way the Green Wedge was being mismanaged. We went through years of frustration, enquiries, commissions that got nowhere. In 1986 I put to the Association a document entitled “The case for a restructured Shire of Eltham”. Many options were explored, among them a proposal to bring the entire Green Wedge into one Shire. This was enthusiastically adopted. It became the platform for all my future actions.

When finally we had a Government that was determined to reduce the number of Shires, we had our chance. I had a map of the Shire we wanted and Ron Bailey and I took it to the Commission of Enquiry. We had, along with everyone else, 15 minutes to present it.

When they realized we had a real proposition to consider we were welcomed with open arms, 15 minutes became 2 hours, a sandwich lunch and a glass of wine and on into the afternoon.

Our map was adopted in toto. Well, not quite. Next day I had a phone call, the Shire of Diamond Valley Road kill menu ParachilnaCouncil Chambers had to be added as the Shire of Eltham building was inadequate. I had to agree. So the Shire of Nillumbik was born. It took us 13 years.

It has not lived up to my expectations. Dubbed by a former neighbor of mine “A Toothless Tiger”, it too often neglects its primary responsibility of protecting the Green Wedge. It is time the Toothless Tiger woke up, found its dentures and did something about the destruction. Once again I am, along with other concerned residents, involved in Local Government affairs.

That is another story.

Don Gillespie

Image tags and credits:

Don Gillespie; credit Round-About Hurstbridge community newspaper

Tucker train near Oodnadatta; credit State Library of South Australia

Creek bed and Flinders Ranges; credit Prairie Hotel, Parachilna

Green Wedge scene; credit Shire of Nillumbik

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2 Comments

  1. Jim Carlin February 25, 2016 at 10:27 am #

    above my desk there is a quote for all to see including me
    “there is no freedom without responsibility”

  2. Mike McKernan December 30, 2015 at 4:20 am #

    I loved Don’s article. I had no idea about so much of his wonderful youthful history, especially with Aboriginals.
    I had the most wonderful experiences at his farm with you, Colin, when we went to celebrate one of his mid-90s birthdays, when he showed me an albino kangaroo in the group across the small valley south of the farm, and then again when he showed me a small stout bristly cycad thought by most Aussie botanists as extinct. He had never told anyone where it was, only that he knew that one existed, so as to protect it. He insisted that I find the place with the elected suspension walkways up in the gum trees, which I did (forget where), overwhelmed by the volatile oils from the eucalyptus foliage. In memory of that experience, I went a few times to the steel walkway up in the clouds at Kew Gardens when visiting my son Matthew there last year….
    He’s had an extraordinary life. I hope he is motivated to share some more ‘life chapters’ in future editions of Bigg Fizz (or anywhere), including maybe something of his achievements with CSIRO? Thanks for letting us get to know him (and your history) better.

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