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Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 82 (Raw)

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Trish Edith J – Julie
IN 00:00:00 OUT 01:04:09
Trish FitzSimons
Edith Weidenhöfer
Griffith Film School
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Topics in Bold Refers to tape 82_BC_SX Some approximate timecode in this transcript
Interview with Edith McFarlane
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 82
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Edith McFarlane
Interview with Edith McFarlane. Part 3 of 3. Footage of Edith's hands and stills at the end.
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Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 82
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82_BC_SX_MCFARLANE-raw.txt — 22 KB

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                       Interview with Edith McFarlane
                                   Topics in Bold
                           Refers to tape 82_BC_SX
                Some approximate timecode in this transcript
                        T = Trish     E = Edith     J – Julie

T   OK. So it’s Camera Tape No 82. It’s still DAT Tape No 81. This is the
    third camera tape, still second DAT tape. The time code on the camera is
    080651 and it’s the 17th May 2002. We’re interviewing Edith McFarlane
    at her home for the Channels of History project.

T   Tell me Edith about when the Film Australia documentary happened – your –
    what you remember of that.

E   I can’t remember how we first heard about it but the camera crew arrived with
    the um the director of the film and they filmed round – finally at the end they
    filmed round the house, the garden round about the house for publicity,
    overseas publicity purposes. But um the only thing that they did close to the
    house which came into the Channel Country film was the arrival of the
    mailman who was my son Donald and the mail was mailbags stuffed up with
    newspaper, roughly crunched up newspaper, because the mailman wasn’t due
    about that time so we just had a pretend session. And then he filmed – he also
    filmed Donald sitting on the bank of the creek waiting for somebody to come
    across in the boat to take the mail from him, which happened when the creek
    was in flood. And I think he also took him – a photo of him down on the
    crossing. Well of course the river at the time wasn’t in flood but I seem to
    remember Donald said that he did take a photo there but I don’t remember
    seeing it in the original ah film which I saw, the complete film. What I have
    seen recently was only the little bit about the mail being delivered at Tanbar
    and you have seen the film. But what did you see in the film? Did you see
    any stock movements or arrival of aeroplanes or anything like it?

T   Oh yes. All of that. It’s about 10 minutes long. So the scene arriving at
    Tanbar is just one tiny bit.
E   Oh well I see, they, they do have it. Well my daughter-in-law, Donald’s wife,
    have got – or his daughter rather, had seen this but they brought it up to show
    us um at Christmas time and I was so disappointed because that was all I saw.
    Was just that part of the mail arriving at the homestead. Anyway I’m glad that
    they do have the complete film.

T   And Edith, tell me about what I’ve called here ‘pestilences’. You know, what
    do you remember of plagues?

E   Of what?

T   Plagues.

E   Plague? Oh, grasshoppers which stripped the garden and they come in clouds.
    Just great clouds of grasshoppers, and if you’re driving along the road on a
    sunny day and a cloud of grasshoppers came, it was just like a rain cloud
    coming in front of the sun. It would go quite dark. They were – millions,
    millions of them. The other plague was rats and we had three rat plagues.
    Um, they also come in thousands. Ah, the vegetable garden was just at the
    stage of being ready to harvest things and the man who was doing the garden
    was elderly and not a very strong man but he’d worked hard on it. And he
    went down to the garden. The carrots just about ready for picking. There’s a
    little furrow where the carrots had been and all the tops laid neatly along the
    top – beside it. Beside the furrow. Peas ready to be picked. The shells were
    all in a heap at the end of the row empty. Um, our root – all root vegetables
    had gone. This, this would be a period of over a couple of weeks I suppose
    that we lost the lot. And we had grown broccoli and they run up the stems and
    ate all the broccoli until they just left stems standing up this high. And when
    there was nothing else, absolutely nothing else left, they went up and they ate
    the piths out of the – out of these broccoli stalks. They ate lemons. We had
    two huge lemon trees. I think they may have been Lisborne lemons and we’d
    get lemons – well, the juice from them would fill a half pint glass. Beautiful
    lemons. And they used to fall on the ground a lot of them. They were far
    more than we could ever use. And they would clean up what was on the
    ground – what hadn’t been raked up um, then when there’s nothing left on the
    ground, one would run up the tree, nip off the lemon and they’d drop on the
    ground and then three or four of them would sit around the lemon like this –
    like miniature kangaroos sitting there. The rats, if I remember rightly, were
    about this long. I don’t know what that is in centimetres. And ugly, horrible
    looking things. Not like the port rats round a harbour that have ugly teeth.
    These were better looking but they still were ugly and humped back. And
    they would sit round there and their paws on the lemon, like a kangaroo sits up
    with his paws there, and they would clean up the lemon and get another one.

T   Apparently Laura Duncan told her niece when, as an old woman, that that
    Channel Country was too tough for white people to live in. Do you have any
    sympathy with that as a notion?

E   No. You can, you can – well of course, where they lived was a different type
    of country too. They, I think – I didn’t ever go to Mooraberrie but I have an
    idea it was in sand hill country. Well, we had sand hill country and river
    country because it’s such a big place, you see, three thousand square miles
    which is several million acres. Ah, but Mooraberrie was a much smaller place
    and I think they may have had a creek running through it. Or a couple of
    creeks really. But they didn’t have flooded country. And I can well imagine
    that they would consider it very tough country to live in. There was a – the
    smaller places are called selections. Well there was one place about 40 or 50
    miles to the west of us and a family of – I think she had 8, 8 children I think,
    and they had no relief country at all, so they really had a hard time. And that
    is the sort of country I think white women should not live in, but where I lived
    in both cases, we had the relief country so that ordinarily if it was a drought,
    the back country still would carry stock. The river country would be dry. But
    in a flood you - and after the flood had gone and all this beautiful feed, you’d
    put your stock out there and you’d benefit by it too. I mean I couldn’t – I
    never felt that it was country that I shouldn’t be living in. I never did have a
    feeling like that. Not as far as the country was concerned. Durham was a
    different matter because it was the personal business there that made me so
    unhappy. But I never had any regrets at all about living at Tanbar. I was
    perfectly happy there, all the time. Even in a drought. And we seemed to be
    able to cope, partly – partly the fact that I had a husband that was very
    understanding and very good and a good manager for as far as the work was
    concerned. We – he had the greatest respect from the – from the Board, and
    ah they did everything they could for us. The Managing Director said ah the
    first thing he said when he got there was, you’ve got to make this house fit for
    Mrs McFarlane and the baby to live in. You’ve got to do everything you can
    for them and for the 20 odd years we were (dialogue fades)

T   So what made you want to start to write Edith?

E   Well I wrote very very long letters home right from the time I first went away
    to the bush. Sixteen pages of, you know, writing paper. And they kept all my
    letters for me and when I was being married, they gave them all back to me
    and away I went up to the north with them. And one day I read a book written
    by a woman who had gone out to a place – I think it was west of Townsville or
    west of Rockhampton and she had stayed a couple of days there and then she
    went back and she wrote a book about it. And her book sold. And I thought,
    well with the experience that I’d had in the south-west and this of course was
    shortly after I married and I was only up in the north-west then, I thought I
    think I could write better than that and put in more information. So I got all
    these letters out and I started to write and I wrote a number of pages and I read
    it through and I thought, nobody would want to be bothered with this, and I
    threw it away, and I am ashamed to say, I burned all the letters, which was a
    terrible thing to do. So that, that was in 1930. And after I came to live here in
    Cleveland, something suddenly made me think, I really should jot some things
    down for the family. So I started to write and I scribbled away, scribbled
    away, and I’d go to bed and I’d think oh I should’ve put something in about
    this and I’d go and I’d probably ….. ….. and they see such and such and I’d
    write at the bottom and ah then I rewrote all that. And I still thought of more
    things. Until finally I decided I’d done enough, and that was the little book
    that’s in the Library. You found those two books that I put in there to show
    you. You see, the first – the first one is only a little one. And I had 1500
    copies done and they sold fairly quickly. And I began then to write about the
    things I had not written about before. Things I’d remembered. And I had that
    for quite a while before I decided that I would put the two of them together,
    and I – I went ahead then and did that. Sorted out a few different photos for
    the second lot. Some of the first book photos are in the second one, but some
    of the – those in the second one are not in the first one. So I put it altogether
    and I took it up to the printers and said what about it? The same printers that
    did the first one. Considerably more expensive, and um – I think it’s the first
    one, the 1500 copies cost me $1800. The second one cost me um $6,000. Bit
    of a difference.

T   And why – what was it – what was the writing about? Was it to understand
    what you’d been through or for the kids or?

E   No. Well, partly I think, for the family. Partly for other people to get some
    idea of what living out in that country meant. Um, so much of what is written
    about that country puts the bad side on it and not the good side. I know in my
    book I did put the disadvantages but I also put the advantages. Ah, the
    contrast. That’s why I called it Land of Contrast because you do have these
    terrible contrasts of heat, cold, dry, wet, dust, everything that’s not nasty. I
    mean all these sorts of things – it is, it is in fact a land of contrasts. And that’s
    why I called it that, but I think um behind it all was the feeling that I wanted
    people to have some idea of how you lived in that country. How you made the
    best of everything if you wanted to. If you didn’t want to – I know – I know –
    I’ve heard of women who have gone out there and they’ve moaned all the
    time. Well if you decide to marry a man and go and live his life, well I think
    you must accept the good with the bad. Not find all the bad sides and moan all
    the time about it. The majority of bush women are not like that. The majority
    of them do make the most of what they have and try to get through. And if
    they have children, try to do the best for their children.

T   Did you know Mrs Richards? From –

E   Richards?

T   She was from Mt Leonard Station. She was just one who found that country
    very difficult to live in.

E   No. The Lindsays. I knew the Lindsays who were at um ah Mt Leonard, but I
    didn’t know the people who were there before that. The Lindsays – ah Bill
    Lindsay’s father had property outside Winton and he also had an interest in
    Arrabury. A financial interest in Arrabury Station, and then when Mt Leonard
    was looking for a manager – I presume it was Mr Lindsay Senior, who got the
    job for his son. But those properties now are combined. A lot of those
    countries. I mean where Tanbar was one time was – when we were there,
    3,000 square miles, it now is a matter of millions more. They’ve taken in Mt
    Howard which is on the other side of the river. Ah, they’ve taken in some of
    those – I think, even Mt Leonard I think might’ve gone in with it. A lot of
    properties that the company now, which is Stanbroke, Stanbroke now owns
    Tanbar, and they had properties up round Boulia and then they bought Tanbar
    and Rocklands which was the breeding station for Tanbar and that was at
    Camooweal, um so they’ve got enormous areas and enough wealth probably to
    make comfortable homes for the women. Where the people who lived on the
    small properties, it was a struggle all the time to make ends meet. And I think
    that you have to admire those women for having stuck to it.

T   The properties now have many fewer people on them, don’t they?

D   I think so. Yes. I think they, they’re working with far smaller teams of men
    than – even when we let – when we were at Tanbar, I think there were fewer
    men in the stock camp than they had on Durham and I think it’s gradually
    come down, partly because men don’t want to go out there. It’s too far away
    from the coast and all the coastal advantages, or so-called advantages. I
    imagine that’s, that’s why it is, and ah the people out there are having smaller
    families because of the difficulties of education.     I mean they can have
    correspondence lessons but there comes a time when children need to go away
    to a boarding school to learn to live with other children and to be able to
    compete with other children. I would like to have kept my children at home
    all the time but I knew they must go away to boarding school eventually, and
    it’s hard. That comes very very hard. It’s very very lonely once your children
    have gone away. And because mine were all so close in age, I sent all three of
    them at the same time, and I found it was very hard to adjust. If I hadn’t had
    my garden, um and sometimes – well I had no help in the house too after we
    came back from Adelaide. Um, the children went to school in Adelaide and I
    stayed down there. My husband said you’ll have to stay with them. You can’t
    lose all the three children like that at once.    So they had 12 months in
    Adelaide, and then realised that if we had a flood, I wouldn’t get them back to
    Adelaide in time for school. So he was talking to one of the padres, Fred
    McKay's brother, and he said ah I’ll see if there’s any possibility of getting
    them into the schools in Warwick. Presbyterian schools in Warwick. And
    that’s what they made room for them there. Well, we could fly them over the
    river. The Flying Doctor would help us out there, which did happen. For their
    first trip away to school, was a big flood, and Helen had Whooping Cough and
    we got the Flying Doctor out to see her. I didn’t know what it was but I knew
    there was something radically wrong, and at the same time we needed to go
    away so he said well I’ll take you in. And ah he took us into Charleville, and
    with all their luggage, it was a bit of a crowd in the poor little Dragon Rapide
    but we got there safely. It was hard to lift the plane off the ground to begin
    with but once we got off, we were fine.

T   And Edith, in your book you talk about all the big meet – gatherings of
    Aborigines but then there’s some sentence like now there’s hardly any left.

E   Mmm.

T   What happened? Why was it that when you were first there, there was lots of
    Aborigines and by the time you left, there was very few?

E   Well, because – there were none on Tanbar because the – I think I was
    mentioning it before. The manager sent them away to the Mission. And then
    those that had stayed on the station, heard this, and they – before the manager
    got back, and had a chance to take them away, they left and they walked down
    to Durham. So that’s why there were none there. And there were I think one
    or two at Waverney where Mrs Schaffer ran the camp. Um, as far as I know,
    there were no others, in that particular corner. Arrabury. Cordillo I don’t
    think had them. Arrabury had none.

T   The Gorringes I think were at Arrabury but maybe earlier – in the ‘30s.

E   In the ‘30s. Yes, well the Debneys were there for a long long time before we
    went to Tanbar, but – and ah then Mr Debney, the father, retired and his son
    took over. Well now, I don’t know who’s there now but maybe the Gorringes
    took over from – from the Scott – or, not Scott.

T   No. The Gorringes were an Aboriginal family –

E   Oh, they were – they –
T   That were there with the Debneys.

E   Oh I see. They were there in the ‘30s? Yes. Well they would’ve been just
    workers there, wouldn’t they?

T   Yes.

E   Yes. But as far – I don’t – I only went through Arrabury once, coming back
    from Adelaide and we, we came round via Arrabury for some reason or other.
    Instead of coming straight up from Nappamerrie we went to Arrabury, and we
    were only there for 1 night and I don’t remember if there were any – any
    natives there then or not. But know there were not very many out in that
    country then. And I think the thing is, they were not having children, and if
    they did have children, they were half-castes. Mostly. And then the half-caste
    population would scatter elsewhere and they would, they would get some
    education and be sent to the Mission. Get some education there. I think that
    all – that’s the bottom of the whole thing is that they – they weren’t populating
    the country as they did in the old days, before white men came.

T   Because geographers say that there would have been more Aboriginal people
    traditionally than there are white people now. Do you believe that?

E   Well it’s hard to say. I wouldn’t have thought so. I wouldn’t have thought
    that there would have been. Certain areas, yes. Um – up in the north for
    instance, where living would be better because they were near the coast and
    they could – and anywhere down – anywhere near coast where they could fish.
    Ah, but when you got out into that back country, they would have a lot of hard
    times because there’s always been droughts out there.         Ah ever since it
    stopped being an inland sea, they would’ve had droughts in that country
    because of the general conditions of the way the weather works. And they had
    to move from, from one place to another because their water hole was dry or
    some other reason. That they couldn’t get any game. The birds had all flown
    off somewhere where they could get water. They would have to move too.
    Well, if they had to move like that, they were not going to let their – their
    numbers increase. And it is well known that Aboriginal babies were quite
    often killed because they couldn’t afford to keep them, and they couldn’t
    afford it if they were getting too many girls and they wanted boy babies.
    Well, girls would be disposed of as soon as they were born. And even one of
    those women that was at Morestone told me that they didn’t keep babies if
    they couldn’t afford to keep them. If they couldn’t feed them properly. They
    didn’t keep the babies. So I don’t really and truly think that the inland
    population would have increased very greatly, but coastal population may

T   Anything I haven’t asked you about that you think’s important to me
    understanding the life of women in the Channel Country and your life in

E   Well I think you’ve got to have a feeling of um of something very close
    relationship with your husband to begin with.         Um – and then with the
    children. You’ve got your children growing up. Maybe – I mean I was in a
    different position that I’d worked with children at a Catholic kindergarten. I
    was not a qualified primary school teacher or anything but um, I’d had
    sufficient education and with the aid of correspondence lessons, I was able to
    get them through and they’ve all done very well within their various lives.
    They, they have done well. But where a woman perhaps didn’t have the
    advantage that I had had, and couldn’t pass the things on to her children, and
    perhaps didn’t have the same close ties with her husband that I had, it might be
    very difficult for them. And they, as Laura Duncan said, you say, it’s not –
    it’s not a fit place for women to be living. Well I can’t see that at all. That
    provided you’ve got a reasonable amount of commonsense and you can make
    do with the hard times and look forward to the good times, I don’t see any
    reason why you shouldn’t be able to cope with that life.

T   You – obviously it didn’t um it didn’t take years off your life.

E   Oh no. No. I don’t think it did. I mean the people who asked how old do you
    think she is? They would put me in my 70s. Quite often. Or maybe my early
    80s and ah I think it’s partly the fact that I didn’t give way to the hardships
    over there and a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in a very healthy climate
    and a very healthy surroundings, not in a city where you know, where close
    settlement. I had 11 acres to roam round in when I was a child and I was
    happy with that.    Um, I’ve just recently written at my daughter-in-law’s
       request, about my early life, and she and Colin had talked about it and she said
       Colin wants you to write about your life. You’ve done a lot of interesting
       things. And if you talk to him, and I’ll type it down. And I thought, oooh,
       like talking to you, I keep remembering something that's out of plumb and I
       just couldn’t go on from way back up to now in a proper sequence so I decided
       to write it instead while I was waiting for them to come down anyway. They
       don’t come as often as I’d like them to. Um – and so she has typed it all. She
       has put it through the computer and she gave it to me to check. I found a few
       mistakes I’d made. Because of my sight I’d made a few stupid spelling
       mistakes but um – and then I remembered other things that I should’ve put in.
       And she has added that, and when that was done, she said Colin said to me,
       well now you’ve done that, you can write all about Dad’s life too. Well,
       Dad’s had an interesting life too.

Some more interview after this, but no transcript