Social history in south NSW

A few of the stories written while I was a journalist on an Eastern Riverina Observer, based in Henty but also covering the towns of Lockhart, Culcairn, Walla Walla, Urana, Boree Creek, Yerong Creek, and other hamlets in between.

Amy remembers grand old ladies

Amy Kleeman of Henty still remembers with perfect clarity the years when she would introduce herself as “little Amy Collins of the Alpha” and thinks growing up on Australian paddle-steamers during the early 1900s were the best years of her life.

For much of her childhood her father, Captain William Grimwade Collins, and mother Emmy Louise, operated the “Alpha” as a trading boat, visiting stations and small settlements along the banks of the Murray and Darling Rivers.

“The store sold everything you could think of. Flannels were all the go then. Most men used to wear long johns summer and winter. I know dad did.”

Mrs Kleeman remembers her father was a scrupulously honest trader. “He would bever sell a bag of potatoes without checking it through first. He would throw any rotten ones overboard.

The Alpha as a family-run boat. “We used to get an engineer occasionally, but they would get drunk when we pulled into ports, and we would never see them again.”

This meant Mrs Collins ended up with the job. “She was running all of the time quickly to the brakes, up and down to the stokehole.

“The engine had to be surveyed each year for safety. The inspectors used to beg mum to get her engineer’s ticket. They said no one could have done a better job than her.

“When we pulled into stations mum would get all cleaned up to work in the shop. She always wore a silk blouse and long black skirt.”

Mrs Kleeman said the Alpha never had a fence around the top, so as young children they were tied up when her mother was working in the shop.

“My brother Norman used to love being tied up to the treadle sewing machine. He would get on the pedal and push it up and down like mad.”

Mrs Kleeman said as the children got older they were given jobs. “Because I was the oldest I was given lots of them.

“I would use a light sapling pole to leap from the boat to the bank to tie the boat up. Sometimes it would stick and I would slike down the pole into the mud.

“If we got stuck on sand I would have to row the dinghy while dad paid out a wire to attach to the bank. By the time I finished my little hands would be bleeding from blisters.”

Mrs Kleeman said possibly her worst job was calling soundings when the river was low. “I would sit on the bow for hours and hours, singing out the depth.

“We could all drive the engine and steer the boat. My sister Pearl was the only woman to genuinely get a skipper’s ticket, and throughout the 1940s was the owner and master of her own boat, the Kookaburra.”

Mrs Kleeman said from age nine or ten her brothers could steer the boat, standing on a box so they could see over the wheel. “Many a barge they brought out of the Darling, and they never hit a bank or sank a boat.”

According to Mrs Kleeman in the many years on the river her father never sank a boat, and of her family her brother Morris was the only to have a boat sink under him.

“My brother Bill, who was a fine shopwright, was replacing some rotten planks in the Alpha, but could not get the job finished before the river rose. The boat had to be carefully steered to avoid bumping those planks.

“Morris was only 20 or so when he and some covers took the boat out. He pulled in to get wood and the next thing water was pouring in, as a submerged root pierced a rotten plank. Morris steered her, sinking, across the river, and managed to get her on a sandbar.”

Mrs Kleeman still has a memorial of this event, her mother’s prized piano, which was on board the Alpha. “The boys went down as she got on the sandbar and lifted that lovely old piano on to a table. The water was lapping the top of the table, but it didn’t touch the piano.”

Mrs Kleeman said after the boat was repaired, sge, Morris and his new wife took the Alpha to Euston Weir, a major undertaking.

“I did all of the steering, while Morris did the firing. His new wife knew nothing at all about boats.

“I thought I would take a shortcut, as father often did, but I didn’t know the route and we ended up trapped in the middle of a billabong, with trees all around us. A big storm came up and I was never more frightened in all my time on the river than on that night.

“We couldn’t turn around, so the next morning Morris had to steer the boat out, stern first, whil I acted as engineer.”

Mrs Kleeman said the trip took so long the small party ran out of food. “We caught a couple of rabbits isolated on little islands because the river was high, and a friendly man gave us some flour. It was full of weevils, but we were too hungry to care.

“Morris was so scared of holing the boat again that he wouldn’t go close to the bank. I had to swim in with the painter, checking there were no submerged snags. I swam like a fish, but I didn’t like swimming in strange sections of the river.”

Mrs Kleeman said the river offered active children plenty of opportunities for mischief. “One year Bill, Norman and I dug out a dinghy, which had been stuck on the mud of the bank for at least a year, swam across the river and tied it behind the Alpha.

“We all had to be involved so we wouldn’t tell on one another. We thought dad wouldn’t notice it, but he saw it all right, and we were in big trouble. He reckoned it was stealing.”

Mrs Kleeman said the Alpha regularly carried casks from the Angove distillery at Renmark. “We children found a little boring tool which would make a tiny hole in the casks.

“I would drink wine and the boys would drink true-proof, a very powerful alcohol used in making spirits. We would drink the alcohol as it squirted from the casks, or collect it in muds. When we had enough we would put a match in the hole. I would soak up the fluid and swell, sealing the hole.

“Dad never found out about that. He would have killed us if he had known.”

Even actions with good intentions sometimes went wrong. “On one occasion down at Renmark, when the boys were ten or so, a snake got down the hold.

“Bill got a gun and shot it, but put a hole in the boat in the process. Water started squirting in and the boys were so scared they sat over the hole to stop the water. They were debating what to do when dad came on the scene.”

The Alpha was not a spacious boat, even though the Cllins family extended it during their ownership. “There were only two cabins. The funnel ran through our parents’ and the whistle pipe ran through ours. “Poor Morris, one morning when he was not very awake he leant back against it and got a nasty burn on his buttocks.

“But they came in handy during the influenze epidemic. Mum painted them with tar to help ward off infection. She would also peel great big onions and put half under each bed to soak up the infection. None of us were seriously ill, although hundreds of people were dying.”

Mrs Kleeman said her family had survived on the river remarkably well. “We loved to climb, we’d climb every tree we could find. We should have broken our legs, or our necks.”

Mrs Kleeman follows the fate of the remaining paddle-steamers with great interest. “My brother Morris sold the Alpha when he went to Echuca. He had no right to do it. I have been mad all of my life over that. The man who bought it said to get it back I’d have to marry him, but I wouldn’t do that.

“Now she is lying just above the Mildura bridge, on the NSW side. You can only see her when the river is low. She’s just a hull, with the boiler still in her. “I ache over that.”

One of Mrs Kleeman’s most treasured possessions is a small padlock off a safety valve off the Alpha. It is all she has left of her old family home.”

(Note for non-Australian readers: “station” means a large farm.)

From the Southern Weekly Magazine (I haven’t saved the date but it would have been 1988 or 1989.)

Correspondent clocks up 50 years of writing news

Any local newspaper like the Observer depends much on the many contributors who write about the events in our own community.

One of our most regular and loyal correspondents, Myrtle Jenkyn, is approaching her 50th year of contributing to her local paper. She has spent 40 years chronicling the joys and sorrows of the communities of Yuluma and Boree Creek.

Mrs Jenkyn grew up at Boort, a town midway between Melbourne and Mildura, on the edge of the Mallee.

The eldest of seven children, Mrs Jenkyn left school at age 13 and a half to help her mother when the youngest child was born. “It was harvest time when the baby was expected and mum just couldn’t get any good help, as she had for the previous babies.

“I also used to help dad, doing a fair amount of riding and stock work. Occasionally I would do some work for pocket money.”

Mrs Jenkyn said despite leaving school early she was still recommended for the merit certificate, for pupils who completed Grade 8. So I guess I didn’t do too badly.

“We were lucky at Boort. Because the town had raised so much money for the war effort during the First World War, we were given a higher elementary school before we really had the numbers.

“We had a local Methodist Minister who had a degree in English. He taught us English, so we studied work far above the standard of what was expected.

“I can remember one day when he got really angry with one boy, who couldn’t understand what a red road horse was,” Mrs Jenkyn said with a chuckle. “He eventually yelled: ‘It’s what your father uses to drive the dust cart.'”

Mrs Jenkyn met her husband, Bert, after visiting an aunty in an area about 25 miles from her home. “We were both playing tennis. I used to play for Buckbranyule, which was a tiny town with a hotel, a church and a hall.

“In those days there were hotels every three or four miles. You can’t expect a man, after he has been on the header all day, to drive 20 or 30 miles to get a beer.”

Mrs Jenkyn said there was a great social life in the country in those days. “We had an active social club, and had regular dances. If a girl was going to get married we would give her a social tea.”

During World War II Mrs Jenkyn lived at Seymour. “I wanted to stay on the farm, but Bert insisted I move and I didn’t want to worry him, particularly when he went to New Guinea.

“It was an educational time, an exciting time and a terrible time. There were 17,000 men camped under canvas. Not many women have an opportunity to meet so many people as I did during that time.”

Mrs Jenkyn said she first became involved in writing for her local paper in Charlton, a large town near Boort.”I was in the Red Cross and the RSL Auxiliary. I was president of the Red Cross just because no one else would do it.

“As old Jack’s father would say: ‘She’s been in every dog fight around the place,’ but I only joined the fight when no one else would. I prefer to just be a worker behind the scenes.”

Mrs Jenkyn moved to Yuluma with her husband and family in June 1950. “Will I ever forget it. It was winter and we got bogged getting away from down there and we got bogged getting here.”

Mrs Jenkyn said they had decided to move to Yuluma because the property in Victoria was too small, as her sons all wanted to go on the land.

Soon after coming to Yuluma, Mrs Jenkyn became involved in the local Lockhart paper. “We were having a real battle to get a school out here. There were blazing headlines in the paper.

“It had quite a history, but eventually we got a school moved here.

“All the locals put a lot into it. We had to pay a sub-teacher and various families boarded the teacher for free. “But the school has been sitting idle for 10 years now. It was practically built by the local people out there, so the Department left it there.”

Mrs Jenkyn said she is “still involved in everything”, from the hospital auxiliary to the RSL auxiliary, around Yuluma and Lockhart.

“But I haven’t been to town much lately. I like to stay around in the fire station. I can’t do much myself, but I can tell other people where the sheep are.”

One of Mrs Jenkyn’s main interests has been the National Party. “When I can I go to the National Party state conference. I am hoping to go to Cobar this year.

“I have always been interested in politics. Dad was always a member, although he did not have time to be a worker.

“But I guess I took up his interest. I have always been a serious reader, although I have never read a book since I left school But I read lots of newspapers and journals.”

Mrs Jenkyn said she was concerned about the lack of discipline in children today. You have got to apply discipline from the time the little beggars can squawk.

“Also today I think they are keeping them at school too long. The one’s that are not so bright are getting frustrated.”

“All these drugs and things, I just can’t understand it. I never smoked a cigarette, never drank intoxicating liquor.

“When I was 13 I saw a drunk girl, with her head covered with a heap of blood, being pushed along by a big policeman.

“I learnt the next day the girl was only 18 and had come up from Melbourne to work in a boarding house. She hadn’t been there long and she was supposed to have infected 50 men with venereal disease. The police put her on the train and sent her back to Melbourne.

“Thirteen is an impressionable age and I was determined then never to be pushed around like that.”

Mrs Jenkyn said in Boort she did not know any women who drank. “In a radius of about 50 miles there would only have been two women who drank. There were also only two divorced people. Things were so different then.”

From the Eastern Riverina Observer, February 7, 1990

Dorothy Ross AM: trying to retire

by Natalie Bennett

Following a career in the grass roots of rural politics spanning three decades, perhaps Australia’s best known rural woman, Dorothy Ross, claims she has no ambition to “do big things any more”.

The former CWA Australia President was granted the highest honour possible in the this year’s Australia Day Honours List, when she was made a member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM).

Miss Ross has retired from active positions in the CWA and has sold most of the farming property she developed and ran for 30 years.

But she retains interests in many organisations, including the Press Council of Australia, the school board of Frensham and the Holbrook Community Education Centre.

Today she prefers to devote her time to reading and bushwalking.

But as always. Miss Ross has strong opinions on a broad range of issues, and is often consulted by those looking for a rural woman’s viewpoint.

Despite her forthright stance on a variety of issues, she professes to be surprised at being described in a local newspaper as a “women’s right campaigner”.

“I have never thought of myself that way. I have fought for better conditions for rural women, but you can’t get that without also gaining better conditions for rural men and children.”

Miss Ross said she was out of sympathy with those women’s rights campaigners who wanted affirmative actions to advance the place of women in public life.

“I am a great admirer of women and women’s brains. I believe they can make their own way to the top.

“It is belittling to suggest a certain number of places should be reserved for women.”

She says she never personally experienced discrimination, even though she began operating a farm in her own right 30 years ago, when farming was “very much a man’s world”.

Miss Ross supports women in all tiers of government. “But I doubt if there will be a female Prime Minister in my lifetime. Australia, and the political system, is built on male mateship.”

Miss Ross stood for the Senate as a Country Party candidate in 1975 and 1977, but resigned from the party when she became CWA National President, and has not rejoined.

She believes there should be one conservative and one non- conservative party in Australia.

“It is a terrible waste of resources to have two conservative parties. “Before it changed its name, the Country Party really was the party for country people, but since it decided to try to win city seats it is not quite the same.

“The single party won’t come from an amalgamation of the Liberals and National Party, there are too many hard-nosed people in each party who will never give an inch – I am talking about a fresh start, which historically has happened from time to time.

“I think it will probably evolve if there is not a change of government at the next election.”

Miss Ross said she is “sad” that politicians are held in such poor esteem in Australia.

“While they bring a lot of ridicule upon them- selves, I don’t think this attitude is all their fault. It makes it hard for good decisions to be made.

“For fifty per cent of our lives we are governed by NSW and the rest of the time by the Commonwealth. Half of the time you don’t know which one to appeal to.

“I would abolish the states and invest more in local government. But it will never happen. The States will never give up their sovereignty.”

Even in her quieter times, walking through the bush, issues are never far from Miss Ross’s thoughts. Walking along the Murray, Miss Ross is saddened to see so much land given over to pine plantations and is concerned about the environmental implications of the plantings.

“They are cold, uninteresting things. ‘But I sympathise with the need of people to sell their properties. If they can find no other buyer for the property than the Forestry Commission, then it is their right to sell.

“This is a free country; there is already quite enough government interference.”

Miss Ross said she believed the same argument applied when the discussion of foreign ownership of Australian land arose. “What do we say to Australians who can find no Australian buyer – ‘Sorry, you just have to go broke’?.

“I wish it didn’t have to happen, but if you look at the big companies and banks, they are often overseas owned. We have to live on other countries’ money because our population is so small.”

Despite the current economic climate. Miss Ross has confidence in the long term future of Australia. “The situation does look grim but then the bottom always falling out of the market for some rural commodity or another.

“Unfortunately each time a lot of people don’t recover. All we can do hope it won’t be us.”

Miss Ross believes in social life, commonsense is starting to prevail. “There is a return to what used to be called old fashioned values – framework of law and order is beginning to prevail. “We have been through a very selfish, self seeking period, but the fall of the entrepreneurs has been sobering for a lot of people. “I believe we are now heading in the right direction.”

From the Eastern Riverina Observer, February 7, 1990

Postscript: Dorothy Ross died in 1998.

‘Curly’ Heckendorf

When I called to find Curly Heckendorf for this interview he was in the place where he is now probably most commonly found, his beloved Lockhart museum.

He was working on a photo of the 1935 Lockhart Show Committee, attempting to identify its members. Curly said with a chuckle there was only three or four people he could not identify, so he was doing better than anyone else who had looked at the photo.

Ernest Heckendorf, universally known around Lockhart as “Curly”, has been one of the town’s leading citizens for many years and there is hardly an organisation in which Curly has not played a part at some time or another.

“I have been interested in pretty well everything in town, since the war particularly,” Curly said.

Curly served five years in the army World War II, including over three years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese on the Burma Railway.

“We were thrown together as a group. You begin to feel a part of someone else. That is a sense of togetherness you don’t normally get in life.

“It produced a very considerable change in my outlook”.

Curly served 12 years on the Lockhart Shire Council and 25 years as a director of the Pastures Protection Board.

“It has always been a philosophy of mine that you should never be critical of something unless you take part in it”.

“I don’t like people who sit on the outside of meetings and criticise what happens”.

Curly said all of this work would not have been possible without the support of his wife. “For anyone in public affairs the support of their wife is vital”.

Curly recalls that he thought about the Museum and tried to get people interested for five or six years before finally “taking the bull by the horns” and calling a public meeting in 1971.

“For a few years before the Historical Society had run displays at the show which built up interest”.

In October 1972 the museum officially opened when the Society purchased what Curly described as a “ramshackle, broken down old building” for $2,000 with the help of a Council loan.

Curly said he has always been interested in history and geography and his interest in the museum has grown from that.

According to Curly the most important things in the museum are photos and documents.

“Once these are destroyed they can never be replaced. Heavy articles are not so important because they will survive for quite a while anyway”.

But Curly said that he does not have a favourite item in the museum.

“I like it all. Everything is presented as it was used in the district. There is very little that has not been in use in the Lockhart district.”

Curly said by doing this the museum traces the development of the area through people and organisations.

Since moving to Lockhart from the family farm about three months ago, Curly said he is spending more time in the museum, on average “a couple of half days a week”.

‘”We are replacing an old shed at the moment and we continually get documents, photos and articles which have to be numbered, listed and displayed”.

Curly said from virtually nothing the museum had grown to a good building and four sheds which would probably be worth $80,000.

“That is not what it cost us. Most of the value came from voluntary labour, although we did raise $10,000 to put a new roof on it”.

Curly said school holidays are the busiest periods in the museum. “We rely very heavily on the travelling public for support, although we often get people in who say they have been told to come to look at Lockhart’s museum”.

Curly said he enjoyed the challenge of his 12 years on Council.

“You are always coming up against something which needs doing that you can’t afford to do it”.

Curly said a lot of things had been achieved during his time on Council, although not necessarily by him.

“All my time on Council I fought for the Green Street verandahs. I didn’t succeed while I was on there, but I am pleased they are being preserved now”.

“They will be a tremendous asset to the town of Lockhart”.

Curly said he believed his greatest achievement in public life was the control of flood waters along the Old Man Creek Basin.

“We had country flooded in about 1933 and a scheme was evolved to dry some of it”.

“We got the support of the Water Commission and overcame local objections”.

“It was successful and after the war was extended so it now protects many thousands of acres. Places where you could once boat are now being farmed”.

Curly said his other main continuing interest is the development of Galore Hill.

“It has been a long-standing love of mine.

We lived near it and used to climb it on picnics”.

“I always had a vision of tracks and roads which would open it up to many people”.

“I probably planted the first trees up there, although Frank Pritchard was responsible for the first main plantation”.

Curly said from now until about November, Galore Hill “is going to be a picture”. “The wattles are coming out and the native grevillias will be in profusion”.

On being asked if he had the chance if there was anything in his life he would change. Curly said he did not think so.

“I have had good health and enjoyed the things I participated in. I think that is all you can hope for in life”.

Postscript: Curly died in 1991.


  • September 6, 2016 - 2:35 pm | Permalink

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  • September 9, 2016 - 2:41 am | Permalink

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  • September 9, 2016 - 9:18 am | Permalink

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