The Legacy. Written by Corrie Formston (Mrs Mac)

    Excerpts reproduced with permission.
My first recollection of life in the bush was of watching the bullock teams pass our house on their way to the road. Teams of eight, ten or twelve in pairs pulled enormous logs from the forest on our land. They rested near out house and my Dad would put me up on one. They were long horned - some red and white and others black and white. Each bullock had a name which the driver would shout out while he cracked his long whip. As I sat on the leader’s back I was truly Queen of the Bush!

As time passed, bullocks gave way to horses. Big draught horses in teams of six pulled the logs out, while smaller teams and pairs pulled drays piled high with mine props. Cutting timber was the main occupation in those days. A lot of timber came out of our forest bound for the mills at Erina where it was sawn into planks and shipped out through Brisbane Water and The Rip to the open sea and Sydney. Or the load was taken to Gosford bound for the many other towns by train. It was a common sight then to see mine props piled high on the trains going north to the coal mines.

When timber-getting gradually gave way, orchards and market gardening became the main occupation; only the saw pits remained as a reminder of those early days. They remained so for many years. There was still work at the mills as timber became needed for building houses in the area. but slowly they also disappeared. The cedar that grew in the forests in the 1880s was cut indiscriminately and with little regard for future growth. so that now the forests are decimated.

Time moved slowly when I was small. There was time to talk and to spin yarns over tea from the black billy can which always hung from the side of every dray. workman would call out from the side of the road by the house, “Got some water please. Missus?” and my mother would fill the billy from our black kettle boiling on the stove. The men would sit on a log and have their tea from mugs while they rolled their cigarettes; and I would he there also - learning to roll cigarettes!

In the early mornings as the sun came up the men would gather near our gate to wait for The Boss. Some would bring their younger children to play with me. The frost lay thick and white on the grass and we children with bare chapped feet and red noses, would climb onto the roof of the shed and pull long strips of icicles from the guttering. With these we would chase each other, our hands burning with the cold and our hot breath steaming into the frosty morning air. Clad only in shirts and pants we seemed not to feel any discomfort. The excitement of our exertions kept us warm. If we were not chasing each other we were chasing the horse to catch him up for Dad, or chasing the cows in for milking.

In the evening it was my job to find the cows and bring them in for milking. I knew all their favourite grazing spots but it took long hours to round them up and I would have made so many detours! Sometimes it was to see a rabbit and follow it or to watch a bird feeding her chicks or just to paddle in the creek. Sometimes I would sit and watch the creek flow slowly over logs and watch sticks and leaves being swept into little whirlpools while the sun made patterns between the leaves on the surface of the water. Other times I would wade waist deep heedless of the leeches trying to catch a dragonfly which would keep always just out of reach, flitting gracefully on its gossamer wings.

At times I would come upon our neighbour’s teenage sons swimming in our creek. It was often their habit to swim nude. I did not know then that they had nothing on so I would sit innocently on the bank to watch them. They would not come out of the water for fear of exposing themselves so they would keep on at me to go away and I believed that it was simply that they did not like me!

There were huge blackberry bushes growing on the creek bank and the best fruit hung in luscious bunches right over the water. I would walk along in the water under tunnels made of blackberry bushes, picking and eating handfuls of fat, purplish-black fruit. Suddenly remembering my reason for being out in the bush, I would dash off to round up the cows, often riding one in as if it was a horse.

I helped my Dad with the milking and fed the poddy calves. Then, as always, we chaffed the corn. Dad would turn the handle while I stood on a box and pushed the long stalks of corn into the mouth of the cutter. The blade would slice them into little pieces as they came out the side. When I was only three years old I pushed my finger too close to the spinning blades and it became caught in the cog wheels crushing the end of my index finger. My Dad had to drive me seven miles into Gosford to the doctor to have it attended to and dressed. In those days there was no emergency medical service so we had to dress the finger as best we could.  Years later the scar contracture caused the top of my finger to twist, a common talking point with my children and grandchildren. (“Granny, how did your finger get like that?”) Chaffing the corn was always the last job for the night and sometimes I could hardly keep my eyes open. Tea was always at eight or nine o’clock after all the work had been done. 

My mother had her work also. She cooked the meals, churned the butter and filled the lamps with kerosene. She kept the fires going and tended the chicken brooder seeing that the lamp was lit and everything settled for the night. Of course, if the lamp went out there would be no warmth and the chickens would die.

My sister was little more than a baby and it was a lonely time for my mother. There was a lot of work to be done by the women whose husbands had been obliged to go away to work elsewhere. There were the cows to be milked and chooks to be fed. The pigs were always breaking out and getting lost.

In spring clumps of snowdrops dotted the paddocks and cattle grazed on the new grass. At times mist would cover everything, causing objects to loom out of the fields like ghosts. The big clumps of arum lilies with their white, trumpet-shaped flowers grew everywhere in the low paddocks. In summer there was the ever-present danger of bushfire. Always there was the loneliness.

It was miles to the nearest doctor and there was no telephone if help was needed. People lived by their wits and bartered with their produce. Once when my sister was very ill my mother sent a message to my Dad at his camp near Mooney Mooney Creek. Dad walked   home to Matcham after his work and walked back again to be in time for work the next morning - a distance of over ten miles each way. There was no such thing as taking a day off.  Dad would come home at weekends. He would be dropped at Erina and would walk the couple of miles back to the farm. Walking was quite common. It was not exceptional to walk from Matcham to Erina. or from Erina to Gosford and back again. Time moved slowly in those days. The hurry and haste we know now was not thought of then. It could take a whole day to go to Gosford and come back again. As long as the cows were milked before dark it did not matter how long these trips took.

As a child of seven or eight years old I would ride my pony to Gosford every week, in the season. to deliver two jars of cream and a billy can full of blackberries to Mrs Lewis at the Royal Hotel. The Royal had a paddock at the back and I could tie my pony there while Mrs Lewis gave me a meal. Today the paddock is built over. with only a small part remaining which forms the car park of the Broadwater Hotel. which now stands on the site of the old Royal Hotel. I received sixpence for my work. and two and sixpence was wrapped and tied in a hanky for me to take home to Mum. With my sixpence I bought two cream buns down at Mrs Gregory’s cafe - one for me and one for my pony.
On my way home I would stop and play in the water and chase little mud crabs that scuttled along among the stunted mangrove trees that grew just below Paul’s Comer. A creek ran down from the hills near to where the radio station 2G0 is now, running down the east side of the road and out into Brisbane Water. It was crossed by a bridge with white rails on either side. It is now a covered drain under the park and goes out near the boat ramp.  At East Gosford I could stop and spend my other pennies at the Gum Tree Store. It was a small shop in the front room of a house. Then I could cut through the paddock to the Punt Bridge. At the time there were only half a dozen houses in the whole of that area.  “Stonehurst” was there and I always marvelled at the quarry stones from which it was built. They had a colour and grain within the stone which always intrigued me, even as a child. 

Sometimes at the Punt Bridge a ship would be passing and I would have to wait for the drawbridge to open and a ship to slip through. This was always a good reason to paddle on the edge and wave to those on the ship. When the bridge rolled back I would cross and continue home along the Punt Road, which was then little more than a muddy track over the logs which had been laid there years before by the pioneer road builders as a base for the road across the mangrove swamps between East Gosford and Erina. I could go to Gosford and back again and only pass half a dozen travellers. Perhaps only one of these would be driving a car.

It took a long while for me to make my way along the old Punt Road stopping to wade into the water, or to just sit and watch little fish swimming close to the bank in water made warm and light by the sun. When I came to Erina I would stop at the Smithy where Ike Farrant would let me work the bellows on the forge as I watched him make horse shoes. Then I would go another couple of hundred yards up the road to the Post Office and talk to whoever was there. Further on I would call in at Ducker’s Store and talk to old Granny there until one day I was told she could not see me any more, and they would not let me go into the back room where she had lain. Feeling very sad I wended my way home and to my Dad, and he explained how it was that we had to part with old people when the time came. Because he showed me how to understand death, I was never afraid of people dying after that time. Sad yes, but not afraid of death itself.