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Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 14 - 02 of 02 (Raw)

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Interviewer Respondent
IN 00:00:00 OUT 00:37:07
Trish FitzSimons
Rhonda Hill
Griffith Film School
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14 - 02 of 02
5 June 2000
(Tape 14_BC_DV)
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 14 - 02 of 02
Work Childhood
PTB Refers to Part B of Tape 14
Keywords created by Ashleigh in reference to what is on the tape.
Copyright in individual works within this collection belongs to their authors or publishers. Recorded creative work created by permission of the copyright holder.
Rhonda Alexander
Interview with Rhonda Alexander. Tape 1 of 2. No obvious faults in vision or sound.
part of:
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 14 - 02 of 02
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14_BC_DV_PTB_ALEXANDER-raw.txt — 32 KB

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                            5 June 2000
                         (Tape 14_BC_DV)

                     I = Interviewer     R = Respondent


I     This is Trish FitzSimons recording Rhonda Alexander, 5 June 2000, for
      the Channels of History Project.

      Rhonda, could you just start by telling me where you were born and what
      date and what your name was when you were born?

R     Oh, right.   Well I was born in Rockhampton and my name is Rhonda
      Alexander and I came out to Boulia with my mother and she met my father
      as, well, Dad, and she lived in Boulia for a while. She worked at the hotel
      and then she went out to Herbert Downs when I was only a little baby and
      that’s where I stayed.

I     So you’ve grown up with a stepfather?

R     Yes.

I     Yes. So when you were a little baby you came to the Channel Country with
      your mother?

R     Yes.

I     And so your married but, I mean, I’m Trish FitzSimons, ever was, ever will
      be. Am I understanding that you were born Rhonda Alexander?

R     No, I was born Rhonda Hill.

I     Hill?

R     Mmmm. And in May 1946, and I guess I went out to Herbert Downs, it
      would have been about early 1947, no I was too young. 1948.
I   So you probably don’t remember your first view of Herbert Downs but can
    you think, what do you reckon were your earliest memories? Which may
    have nothing to do with the land but if you think back in your life, what are
    your very earliest memories?

R   A very old homestead with dirt floor and us kids used to … eventually there
    were five girls and there was just a dirt floor and we had just a trestle table.
    You put the bowl on one end, you washed up like that, the water ran onto the
    floor and things like that, and we had an old wood stove. No vehicles or
    anything like that. Horses, whatever. And then at night time for our baths …
    all the water had to be carted and that was from what we called Duck Hole,
    and you’d take the sulky down, bring the water back and store it, and we’d
    do that once a week. And while we were getting the water Mum would do
    all our washing in the creek and hang it up on the bushes and that, and us
    kids of course would go swimming and mucking around. And then, with that
    water, it had to last a week so we’d have a great big bathtub. First in was the
    one that was the last in the time before sort of thing, so you at least got one
    clean bath, and you just all had a bath in that one big tub because we just
    didn’t have any other water to spare.

I   And this was the late forties?

R   Yes. And … the house was done up in 1956 so we went right up through to
    1956 before the house was really done up.

I   And this house you’re describing, was this the main homestead of Herbert
    Downs or was this one of the workers’ properties. I must have been thinking
    about your name and I failed to get whether your stepfather was the manager
    or the stockman or what was his relation to Herbert Downs?

R   Dad was the overseer. Herbert Downs was run from Marion Downs Station
    and it still is, so it’s an outstation of Marion Downs and Dad was the
    overseer. And that’s about … no, he used to ride the boundary by horse and
    that’d take probably three or four days on horseback, so Mum would be there
    by herself and just us kids, and if there was a medical problem or anything
    like that – thank goodness there wasn’t – but if there was, well it was touch
    and go. You sort of had to go to Bedalia Station. Dad would nine times out
    of ten ride over to Bedalia Station and they’d come and get us children and
    take us in to Boulia.

I   So Marion Downs must be absolutely huge because Bedalia, I know, is out to
    the west …

R   Yes.

I   … twenty kilometres. Marion is …

R   South.

I   … seventy kilometres south.

R   Sixty-seven.

I   Sixty-seven kilometres south, so how far out of town is Herbert Downs?

R   It’s about fifty miles. To the homestead, that is.

I   But Bedalia would be closer to you than Boulia?

R   Oh Bedalia’s, yes. Yes. It’s about fifteen miles to the homestead at Bedalia
    from the homestead at Herbert Downs. I’m just guessing because it’s a long
    time since I’ve been there.       But Marion Downs, incorporating Herbert
    Downs, and there’s another outstation called Bredolbin which you will go
    through tomorrow going down to Bedourie way, is 5,000 square miles in
    area, so it’s one of the … it is the biggest property in the area.

I   So who were your playmates as children?

R   My sisters. So we had plenty of fights too.

I   And would there have been other stockmen with wives on the property?

R   No. No. We were there by ourselves so it was quite isolated for my mother,
    and quite lonely at times, because Mum was a city girl, whereas Dad wasn’t.
    Dad was from out here all his life just about.
I   So what attitude to the land, like we started talking before we started turning
    on the tape, what attitude to the land do you think you absorbed from your

R   From Mum, I think it was the hard life, but you got in there and made the
    most of it, and from Dad, he just loved the country, and we all grew up
    loving the country. But my other sisters still loved the country but found the
    isolation was just too much for them and I was the only one that stayed here
    and sort of married and went to Marion Downs.

I   So really you’d moved within the one station …

R   Not very far. Not very far. I went away to boarding school, then I came
    back to Mt Isa and worked for a year as a secretary. Then I came down back
    to Dad and Mum at this stage had decided to leave anyway. It was too lonely
    for her. And I just, well muddled around with Dad for a while and then Bill
    came on the scene and we got married ten months after I met him and went
    to Kurabulka. Bill was managing Kurabulka at the time.

I   And you were born on Kurabulka, June, weren’t you?

R   No, no, no. My father was head stockman there when I was small.

I   One thing I need to get straight. How does overseer relate to head stockman?
    I don’t understand that hierarchy.

R   You have your ringers and your jackeroos. Then you move up the ladder to
    head stockman and then to overseer and then to manager. Sometimes you
    might go from head stockman to manager.

I   So overseer is a position of great responsibility on a big station with all the

R   Yes, and he’s directly under the manager, and a lot of times your overseer is
    the one that you leave in charge if you go away. If you’ve got one. But in
    these days it’s very hard to get an overseer so you have a head stockman and
    you can term him as head stockman/overseer if you wanted to, but usually a
    head stockman is a younger man and your overseer is a bit older with more

I   And when you talk about the isolation that your mother experienced, can you
    just explore that a bit? Like, how often would she have seen other women.
    How did she get            in to the kind of the life of the station? Would she
    have been on a wage from the company, for instance?

R   No.

I   What would … if I could get a picture of your mother’s life.

R   Mum … I’ll put it this way. Mum was a city girl, fell in love with Dad, went
    out to this isolated station which was pretty, what’s the word, sort of archaic,
    but most people that knew Mum called her Hilly and she was just a doer.
    She just got in and did things and it didn’t matter if it was hard life or not. I
    think that was the best thing about Mum is that you got in and did it. It
    didn’t matter what it was, but to see another person, she mightn’t see anyone
    for up to six months at a time and it wouldn’t matter who … if you were
    lucky you might see the mailman, if he could get through, and he was in an
    old T Ford, old Sid Jones, wasn’t it? But he was … that was getting on later,
    too. But, yeah, she wouldn’t see any … well she wouldn’t see a woman for
    months, so she just made do, so we had lots of fights with Mum and Dad.
    Mum and Dad had fights because there was nothing else to do and then you
    were great and you went out for walks, you went … yeah, I think Mum just
    took us for walks and things like that, and she cooked for us. If the station, if
    the men from Marion Downs came up, that’s the stock camp, Mum would
    cook for them sometimes, but she still didn’t get paid for it because in those
    days she was just expected to do it. I guess she wasn’t liberated.

I   Do you ever remember her complaining about those things?

R   No. If she didn’t like anyone, she soon let them know. Because she didn’t
    like the head stockman from Marion Downs and every time she knew he was
    coming she used to … we had deck chairs. She’d fill them up with water
    when she knew he was coming and she wouldn’t cook anything for him,
    because he’d come over and he’d want to sit down and have Mum serve him
    tea and biscuits.     So she’d fill everything up with water, she’d wash
    everything and then just tell him he couldn’t come in. But I did see him one
    day come in and he sat in the water just to … oh, he was a horrible fellow.
    But no, on the whole, Mum was just, you know, she accepted it. That’s what
    she was going to.

I   And when you say she might go for months without seeing another woman,
    where for instance would your food have come from? I mean, obviously
    meat would come from the station?

R   Yes.

I   But even like would there not be the odd trip to Boulia for shopping or …?

R   Not really. If you wanted something you’d get it out on the mail and our
    food used to come from Marion Downs, so Dad might go down to Marion
    Downs about once every three months and they’d give him a big order and
    he’d bring it back.

I   So those big stations almost functioned like a town in their own right?

R   Yes.

I   They’d have a ten-gallon thing of honey and give you a gallon of it or that
    sort of thing?

R   Sort of thing, yes. Yeah, you had the two-pound tins of syrup and treacle,
    tea, stuff like that. Big bags of flour. Bag of sugar. Pretty much the basics.
    Tins of peas, beans, not much else. And that was it.

I   You mentioned that isolation might have contributed to the breakup of your
    mother and stepfather’s marriage, I think?

R   Mmmm.

I   Do you want to just talk about that a little bit. I can imagine. I’m not
R   Mum just … it was just too much for Mum eventually and she came and
    lived in Boulia for a while, and then from Boulia she went to Mt Isa and
    lived in Mt Isa. But her and Dad, like they never ever actually got divorced
    and they stayed really good friends because luckily Dad could understand it.
    He was a loner but he knew how other women felt because his mum’s sort of
    like the same … his mum suffered as well. So, no, they were really still
    good friends and well, they’re still good enough friends that Mum died eight
    years ago and Dad wants to be buried beside her. So that’s how they’ve still
    remained like that, because Dad really understood that Mum needed to be
    with people.

I   And were there Aboriginal women or Aboriginal kids on that property when
    you were there?

R   Not at Herbert Downs. Every now and then you might get a couple out
    there. Not a lot. But there were at Marion Downs. There was always a big
    Aboriginal group down there.

I   And at Herbert Downs was there a station that had a family there?

R   No, just us.

I   So as the overseer, you had like the station property of Herbert Downs. So
    he was overseer for all of Marion Downs?

R   No, no, just Herbert Downs.

I   Right.

R   And he did all the bores, the fences, checked the cattle, all that sort of thing,
    and then he’d give a report to the manager at Marion Downs at the time.

I   So you mentioned that for your sisters, like for your mother, the isolation
    was a bit much, but that you stayed on with your father. What was it do you
    think that made you loyal to that way of life?

R   I don’t think it was loyalty to the way of life. It’s just I liked it. That’s it.
    Full stop. I just like it. And I don’t want to leave it.
I   And did that mean that you got involved in your father’s work?

R   I don’t know so much about I got involved, I was made to be involved, and
    we all were, because Dad didn’t have any other help. So as us girls got older
    we all had to help out, and that was with fencing, mustering, the whole lot.

I   So describe for me the kind of jobs you would have done at what sort of age.

R   Probably the one I remember the most when I had to do some fencing for
    Dad. I used to help him with fencing and I would have been about eight or
    nine years old, and that was straining fences, and in those days …

I   Using those ratchety things?

R   We didn’t … they’re modern. We had like a Y strainer, a piece of wood that
    was like a Y with a hold in the end of the Y, and you put that on the wire and
    you just rolled it around. I twisted it around like that and then when you had
    it tight enough, you just pulled it around onto the post and then Dad would
    tie it off. But if you, and in my case I was so small, nine times out of ten it
    used to get away from me, so then I’d be in trouble. ‘Go on, can’t you hold
    onto it!’ So, yeah, and then my sister, she was two years younger than me,
    she followed on as well and then Judy, but the two younger ones didn’t do
    quite as much because by that time Dad could get help.

I   And do you think that if you’d had brothers that would have been different?
    Like, do you think you were the best sons your father ever had, if you know
    what I mean? Or do you think that gender wasn’t a big issue anyway and
    that this was just what kids in the district did?

R   Most kids helped. Boys probably more than girls. Depending on … it
    depended on the father and the mother, too, how they were. Like Dad just
    felt, you know, you just got in and helped. You just got in and worked. It
    didn’t matter whether you were female or male. And Mum, he never ever
    asked Mum to help though, in the hard stuff like that, which was good, but
    no I think if he’d had a boy, yeah the boy probably would have had to work
    harder than us girls.
I   And were you paid extra by the company?

R   No.

I   So this was just part of the service delivered to NAPCO?

R   Yes. I don’t think they really realised what was happening because you
    didn’t see you, the top people much, in those days. And you just got in and
    helped. Yeah, we just helped Dad out because there was no option. But I
    think I would have still helped anyway.

I   So can you fill me in, then. You mentioned that you met your husband and
    ten minutes, not ten minutes what am I saying?

R   Well, yes, it was probably ten minutes, we decided that was it, even though
    he was rotten drunk on rum.

I   So tell me that story. Where did you meet your husband?

R   Oh, in Boulia at the Debutante Ball. I came in with someone else and I met
    Bill in one of the dances. That was it.

I   At your Debut?

R   Mmmm. And we just decided, that was it, and as I say, Bill was rotten
    drunk, could hardly stand up, and I didn’t drink, and the other person I went
    with, he got so wild with me that it wasn’t funny. Usually Dad and I used to
    talk about everything but on the way home I apparently just sat there and
    Dad said ‘Is something wrong?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh, do you like Bill Alexander, do
    you?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Mmmm. Do you think he’s nice?’ ‘Oh, he’s alright.’ And
    that was it.

I   How old would you have been?

R   I would have been 18.

I   The concept of the Debut Ball, as I understand it, was that it was like when
    the girl was entering a social world, potentially entering kind of marriageable
    age. Had you met other boys before Bill Alexander, that you’d known well?
R   Only one. No, I’d been engaged to him and decided to ditch him. For Bill.

I   You were engaged …

R   I wasn’t engaged then but I had been engaged to him before and we just
    decided that it wasn’t right anyway. So I had actually broken off with him
    but he was nice enough to be my partner for the ball. Then, poor fellow …
    so that was it. And then Bill and I got married ten months later.

I   So at the time, at the age of 18, so this would have been, what, late fifties?

R   1964.

I   1964.

    On the 11th November.

I   So when you were envisaging your future, what were your dreams of the
    future as an 18-year-old?

R   I don’t think I really had any. Like, I wanted to write. It was probably the
    one thing I mostly wanted to do was write. But because, well, we were just
    so poor that we just … we just didn’t have dreams, or we probably had them
    but they were in the back of our mind and because our knowledge of life
    wasn’t as broad as probably today’s children, but I think we had probably a
    better life. But, yes, no that was the only thing I can remember and I still
    want to write, so it hasn’t gone away.

I   Where do you think this dream of writing had come from? Did you know
    women who were writers?

R   No, I just loved reading. I can remember pinching Mum’s torch and getting a
    book and getting under the bed at night to read. No, I just always loved
    reading, and I wanted to write.

I   Where was your source of books?

R   Anything I could find. It didn’t matter what it was because we didn’t have
    many books but if someone brought a book there and left it there, I’d read it.
    Like I went through medical books. Mum had a medical book so I read it
    from end to end, sort of thing, and … it didn’t matter what it was, I’d just
    read it.

I   So it was like a hunger that you’d fill with whatever was available?

R   Mmmm. That’s what Bill reckons now. My house is so full of books it isn’t
    funny. He said ‘You’ve got a phobia about books’.

I   No, you’ve got a philia. You can say to him you’ve got a philia. ‘Philia’ is
    ‘love of’. No phobia, philia.

R   So, yes, and I still want to write, so that’s it.

I   Where had you gone to school? We didn’t actually discuss schooling.

R   In Townsville. I went to … I stayed with my father’s mother and went to
    school in Townsville to Year 10.

I   From what age were you in Townsville?

R   Up till I was 17.

I   But from 5 or from …?

R   No, no, from about 12. Yeah, it would have been about 11 or 12. I had a lot
    of catching up to do. Like, they jumped me up … because Mum tried to
    teach us girls but she wasn’t very good at it and, of course, none of us wanted
    to be taught anyway. But we jumped, when I went away to school, they
    jumped us up two or three classes and then, luckily, I could catch up and my
    other sister … and then Dad said to me ‘I can’t afford to send you off to a
    full schooling but the other girls have got to come as well’ and that was how
    we did it.

I   So there wasn’t formal School of the Air or anything?

R   Not then.

I   You just picked up what you could …?
R   Correspondence, you could get correspondence schooling from Brisbane and
    Mum did that with us, and that was all. There was nothing like there is

I   And was that a five days a week undertaking or was it every so often …?

R   It was every so often.      It would be ‘Oh, mate, are the kids spare to
    ?’ ‘Yeah, righto.’ So away we’d go with Dad, and then Mum might spend a
    couple of hours with us in the afternoon, or we might only do two or three
    hours’ work for the whole week because it just worked around what was
    happening, so no we didn’t have a nice regimented schoolwork.

I   And so your family, from the poverty you’re describing, for your family to
    send you away to school in Townsville must have been a big sacrifice.

R   It was. But I wouldn’t use the word ‘poverty’. We never thought of it as
    poverty. It was just our life. And even today, I still don’t think we were hard
    done by because all us girls have gone quite well. I don’t know whether we
    had the brains or what we did, but anyway we sure made the most of it.

I   So going on, then, to your life with your husband, so you were 18 years old,
    he was head stockman did you say?

R   No, manager.

I   Manager.

R   At Kurabulka.

I   But he wouldn’t have been manager at … oh, he’s older than you, is he?

R   Yes, he’s twenty … he’s five years older than me, so I was 19 when I got
    married and he was 24, and he was manager at Kurabulka. So I went there as
    the manager’s wife straight off, which is not the easiest thing to do and
    probably the first five years of being a manager’s wife was the hardest
    because I hadn’t been in that sort of area before.
I   So what was expected of you as a manager’s wife, both by your husband and
    by the company and by yourself? What was expected and what were the
    difficulties of those expectations?

R   Probably looking … when I went to Kurabulka there was a full-time cook,
    full-time cowboy gardener, a full-time housemaid. Now those three people
    were in my care, so at 19 giving instructions to someone, say, 35-40, who
    could cook (and I couldn’t cook) wasn’t the easiest thing to do. So, yes, I
    used to go and put some lipstick on to get brave enough to go and tell the
    cook that was a horrible meal. I wouldn’t dream of doing that today but that
    was my little thing. And then, yeah, that was probably the hardest for me,
    was to tell people what to do. And then our general manager from Brisbane
    came up and he heard the jackeroos calling me Rhonda and he took Bill and
    me aside and he said ‘Look, Rhonda would be better off being called “Mrs
    Alexander”, especially at her age’, so we didn’t want ‘Mrs Alexander’, and
    this is how ‘Mrs A’ came about. And even today, now, I’m still Mrs A to all
    the staff. In fact, my hair goes up if one of the jackeroos ‘Rhonda’. It’s ‘Mrs
    A’ to you. So, yeah, it was the general manager at the time, he was looking
    after me because I was only 19 when I went there, and he just pulled up
    ‘I think for both your sakes, she should be called “Mrs Alexander” or “Mrs
    A”, whichever you like, but not “Rhonda”’.

I   And was being a manager’s wife, were you on a wage from the company …

R   No.

I   … or was it seeing rather that to have all this household help was making
    your life easy?

R   That was making my life easy. And it was easy. It was great. And then over
    the years NAPCO has taken … well, it really started in 1974 when the big
    cattle slump started and they virtually put everyone off overnight, so I went
    from … in 1974 we’d already been transferred over to Marion Downs which
    was a far bigger job than Kurabulka. I was, what, 25 I think, and I had the
    same help again there, only there were two housemaids, a cook, a cowboy,
    Bill had a mechanic, a boreman, things like that he didn’t have at Kurabulka
    because Kurabulka’s smaller. So when we went to Marion Downs it was a
    far, far bigger job for both of us, and being Mrs A really did work because I
    had staff from about 16 to about 70. You know, you’ve got the really old
    hangers-on, because they were really good old men, and by this time I’d got
    a lot more confidence in myself. I’d had to learn to cook by then as well and,
    to me, Marion wasn’t the biggest job as it was when I first went to Kurabulka
    as a 19-year-old. And NAPCO still doesn’t pay the wives, except a small
    amount of money, but if we do the cooking then we get paid award rate for
    whatever it is. But as a team, no we’re still not employed as a team.

I   And I think you said before that at Marion there was quite a large community
    of Aboriginal people. Were they still there when you went there as …?

R   No. We would have had about seven or eight men at the time, a couple of
    housemaids, things like that. But, no, the big community had left before we
    got there.

I   Do you know when that had happened and what had fed into that?

R   It would have been in the 1950s. A lot of them would have come to Boulia.
    There’s still the old sites out there where they lived, and then we had the
    three old buildings that were called the blacks’ quarters, because the manager
    that was there before us would not allow the blacks and the white people to
    eat together. So the blacks had their own kitchen and the cook at the time,
    she would cook the meals and then the housemaid would come and get them,
    because normally the housemaid was a dark girl. She’d come and get the
    meal, take it down to their kitchen and they’d eat it and then bring the dishes
    back. When Bill and I went there, we just didn’t believe in this so we closed
    the Aboriginal kitchen up altogether and made them all eat together, and of
    course a lot of the whitefellas, they pretty much, some pulled out because of
    it, and then also the Aboriginals had to then sleep in the same quarters as the
    white men as well.

I   So we’re talking mid-sixties here?
R       Yes. Well, no, 1972 when we went to Marion Downs, so it was still like that
        in 1972. But that would have probably been mostly the manager that was
        there before us.

I       And so were the Aboriginal staff on the property single men or families?

R       Mostly single men.      Or there would have been married men but their
        families, wives, would have been in town here.

I       So they’d come back to town for weekends?

R       No, not always for weekends. Probably, what, once every three months,
        something like that. It wasn’t much. But they were also under the Act then
        and the men … of the wages, they got the same wage but two-thirds of it
        actually went to the police in Boulia for … they were the protector, sort of
        thing, so two-thirds would go to them, the other third would go to the
        Aboriginal himself, so if he wanted to come to town he’d have that amount
        of cash, but the other two-thirds went to the police. The women would then
        go the police station every Thursday, I think it was, wasn’t it? And they’d
        get like a piece of paper to say that ‘Okay, Jimmy wants a pair of shoes from
        Donohues’. They’d give them a docket to go to Donohues. They wanted
        food from Min Min Store. They’d get so much for food and things like that,
        so the money was actually doled out to them.

I       But in goods in kind?

R       Yes.

I       Yeah. And when did that system break down? I thought that system broke
        down at the end of the sixties but you’re talking …

R       1966 was it? Or ’67?

Other   I think I was working at Donohues at the time.

R       It was in the late sixties that they actually came out from under the Act. But
        some of them did still elect to be under the Act till eventually they just all
        came out and I think they’re worse off now.
I       So how did that … so you got to Marion in ’72 and there were a number of
        Aboriginal men working on the property.

R       Yes.

I       How did that play out? Are they still there working now? Or did that system
        break down?

R       Well, we still employ Aboriginals.       We’ve got two down there at the
        moment. Both of them started with us in their twenties. Oh, well, actually,
        one started with us when he was 17, I think, and he’s sort of on and off.
        Like, actually, I think he might get the sack if he arrives out there today
        because he didn’t come home for work yesterday. But Dougie’s been with
        us on and off for 20 years and John O’Keefe’s been with us on and off for 20
        years and last year we had actually five Aboriginals there last year. So we
        don’t mind having them to work for us.

I       And are their families, then, here in town?

R       Yes.

I       That’s still the way that the system works?

R       Yes. The only difference is if … all their money now goes direct to them, so
        if they paid into an account, to a bank account, and the wives have got a PIN
        number or something like that, they virtually just spend all the boys’ money
        anyway. So by the time the boys get to town they’ve got no money because
        the wives can just get it out, or the girlfriends, or whatever. And they pretty
        much drink it, don’t they, before the fellows get into town.


R       Mmmm. It’s not good.

I       So filling me in, then, on your life, have you had kids Rhonda, along the
R   Mmmm, I’ve got three. My daughter got married in April. She’s 32 and
    she’s managing the Mungallala Pub.

I   Where’s Mungallala?

R   Between Mitchell and Morven. And my son’s been married, what, three
    years, or one of my sons, and he’s managing Boratria Station near
    Longreach. He’s got a little boy. And my younger son, who’s nearly 21,
    he’s at Boratria Station at the moment with his big brother but probably
    heading off to Emerald soon.

I   So you’ve brought up kids that have continued to love the country life. How
    different do you think your children’s childhood was than the one you’d had?

R   Oh, they’re living in luxury now, compared to what we had. I don’t think
    they’re any happier for it, though. In fact, I’m sure they’re not, because they
    want, want, want now. And the two older ones, they’re pretty good. The
    younger one is, I think, almost too outspoken for his own good and when it
    comes to occupational health and safety, it’s got to be spot on, and whereas
    20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, occupational health was
    something that you looked after yourself. In other words, if you were going
    to get on a horse you made sure that your saddle was right and all your gear
    was right and yourself. So you took responsibility for yourself. Today,
    because it’s so enforced, the workforce now looks to the manager, or to the
    person owning the business, to make sure that their saddle is alright. They
    don’t take responsibility for themselves at all. It’s a different ball game

I   So there are tensions within that old company structure that your children

R   Mmmm. Especially the younger one. The older two … there’s a big gap,
    you probably … one’s 32 and one’s 30, and then the younger one’s 21.
    There’s a big gap there so the two older kids were sort of still responsible for
    their actions, whereas the younger one, he has to follow all the rules of
    occupational health and, of course, he’s been away to boarding school, he’s
    done this and that, and he’s the one that’s very aware of it. So if he can get
    out of taking responsibility for himself, he will. He’ll palm it off onto
    someone else because it’s their job. So, yeah, it is different.

I   And talking now about things environmental, you said something really
    interesting about how important it was to look after this country and I know
    you’re involved in a number of different environmental groups. Do you
    want to fill me in how you became active in this area and what’s going on in
    this area now?

R   I don’t really know when it started but I was about 13, I suppose, when I
    started shifting my uncle’s stuff around in his garden and drove him silly.
    And then I went to Kurabulka and there was, well, at Herbert Downs you
    couldn’t have a garden because there was no water, except what you carted
    in yourself. And then Kurabulka had bore water, and that’s when I really
    started wanting to garden and I had to learn then how to use the salty water
    with clay soil. By the time I got to Marion, I was really into trying to work
    things out and eventually I wrote a book on gardening for all this area, on
    looking after it, and because I wanted to write about it, I got interested in the
    Society for Growing Australian Wild Plants.

I   SGAP. I was a one time member.

R   And then I moved from there to Greening Australia and it just sort of kept on
    going from Greening Australia to Landcare and now the issues are becoming
    really environmental on the whole lot and I guess I’ve just got really more
    and more interested in not so much the gardening section now as the whole
    environmental issue, and sustainability of the whole country for not 50 years’
    time or 100 years’ time, it’s for our … just forever. And when you look back
    at the number of animals that are extinct, the number of trees, plants and
    everything extinct, and it’s all because of what we’ve done to the land, that
    we need to really sit down and start doing something about it.