The Story of Elsie and Harry Mercer by Elaine Costello

Posted by Marg P on

Moving to Ubobo

Anyway, the wood yard went broke for some reason, perhaps it was bad business from the start, or perhaps Dad just didn’t have the connections to sell enough. Harry at this time had suffered from lung damage from the mustard gas in France during the war. It was decided that they take up the offer of a soldier’s settlement dairying farm at UBOBO, so Harry and Elsie packed up and left Wynnum. This was in the Central Queensland area, and is a little fertile area between two lots of hills (actually the coastal range). If you go up north onwards from Gympie you’ll see Gladstone is not far. Well were were on a branch railway line about 42 miles from Gladstone and not far from Many Peaks. I’m wondering about the railway. Was it put in because of the gold, or the soldiers settlement opening up? Mind you there were people there before. The area had been big grazing properties.

I never heard this from Harry and Elsie but it is not hard to see them, baby in tow and all the things needed for a 7 month old child, basic essentials or more likely everything in the world they owned, off loaded at a tiny settlement of about 6 or 7 houses, two little stores-one with a Post Office, a sawmill, a railway station and a one-room school. How did they get to their encampment on a creek edge??? I know they had camp stretchers to sleep on and a tent. It would have to have been by horse drawn vehicle, a dray of buggy. Hardly likely to be a sulky as it would be too small.

They must have had a stopover in Gladstone to organize something, I think now – oh yes what I think was when they came through Gladstone in the early 1920’s and probably bought their tent and necessities from a wholesale retailer there and talked to the man who owned the shop – he seemed to really like them. He supported them with credit on their worst days at the farm – he said to them once, “why haven’t you sent me an order?” and Mum said, “We haven’t any money” and he said “you send me an order and I’ll tell you when to stop, and pay me when you can”. This would have been for basics – tea, sugar, porridge, flour and perhaps dried fruit and rice. I can only think he gave Mum all these factory addresses and helped her to write and even probably gave them a good recommendation so they got a start in the shop, after all even in the homes today we’re looking around to see what there is to eat. There were no fridges or ice. It would have been a fire from twigs just to make a cup of tea. So there had to be a kettle and a few cooking things.

Dad had to walk about two miles to get milk, and I wonder how she felt in the middle of the Australian bush and just left for hours. I do know Mum lay in fear the first night because she heard something coming and she was so afraid. Later they bought a goat.

I never heard her complain about living in these conditions, in fact, she was so thrilled that they found a plant of self-sown gherkins on the creek bank. I don’t know how long they lived there on the creek bank. They would go to the village where it was possible to get bread and I guess twice a week, meat, no refrigeration of course). The baker was probably from the “gold days”. He was in the next township.

As time went by they built “The Hut” (one room). This apparently was a joy after the creek dwelling and then came the house, which was a standard design of four rooms and a front verandah but no bathroom. Dad would shower under the overflow of the tank after rain. This must has been cold but great after sitting in the round tub in the kitchen.

Many Peaks was a fairy story sort of place to me as a child. It had been a gold mining place about 13 miles from us and always fascinated me. You went through this pretty patch of trees, and then and then you went through the sweetest little creek with stone on the bottom and it sang as it went over the stones and there were birds and then you made a right hand turn and suddenly you were there. There were strange buildings and an old hotel, and a wonderful old shop (on the ground) and you went through another door and there were all sorts of different pretty things in the shop. Mum and the shopkeeper were chummy and you’d go through into her private special area and have a cup of tea.

I hated going home. It was like Alice in Wonderland, but then if we stayed too late, and it got dark, it was a bit scary and I was so pleased to see our final bit of track and get inside home and have tea. You never told anyone you were scared but it was nice to see your own bed and feel safe.

We had a gold mine in the other direction too and once we went for a picnic. Mum was petrified that we would fall in, but Betty and I got enough gold-filled stones to fill a tobacco tin, which we had for years. Dad said “No, it was only fool’s gold”, whatever that is, but we didn’t care as it sparkled in the sun and you knew it was real. We came home in the dark from that trip too, and Betty and I were in the back of the utility car. I was so frightened someone would jump in the back and Dad went very slowly because it was only a bush track. I so wanted him to put his foot down and go very fast. But I was alright when we got home.

It surprised me to realize this time ‘on the farm’ was only about ten years and even more so that my mind was thinking well, twenty or so years. About this time they had a letter from a soldier Dad knew. They hadn’t been friends but they respected each other and he asked if he and his wife could pitch a tent on the farmland while they tried to earn some money. Dad said yes and they liked each other and his wife was a wonderful help to Mum. She was a good Australian bush woman and she taught Mum how to make bread and Rosella Jam. This was because it was the depression and the rosellas would have grown wild and cost nothing so they would have had a delicious jam.

By this time Mum would have had Molly who sadly died at 18 months. She like a lot of children put dirt in her mouth when playing. Apparently she took in small stones, which clogged her intestine. They rushed her to the old hospital at Many Peaks but their treatment didn’t work, which lost urgent time, and by the time she was ambulanced to Gladstone – 3 hour trip – nothing could be done.

Harry and Elsie were shattered. Three weeks later Elsie gave birth to Betty who was a breech birth. The attendant was to be a bush nurse but a doctor was rushed from Gladstone. I think this with Molly’s loss was just more sadness.

During this time, Betty and Joan both had diphtheria and gastroenteritis, which meant Gladstone Hospital again. It was very serious and I think it was diphtheria which caused the loss of two little girls from one family. Finally Mum said to Dad, “I think I could run a shop and at least we might survive.”

One comment

  1. A lovely, interesting read. Thank you for taking the time to write your precious memories here for people to wonder at times gone by.

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