Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Jack Alty

Jack’s story comes from an interview he gave in 1986, and, thanks to his interviewer Helen Davison, we learn something about his life.

John Henry Alty was born in Lambeth England, in 1909, to John and Eveline Alty. His childhood was marked by air-raids and rations. His father worked on special duties with the Army Ordnance Department. His mother had the worry of the family, a deep concern for others in that area of London, and then her own illness. She died in 1924 from tuberculosis. While Jack and his sister were good at school, finances became a problem when their father suffered a mental breakdown. Jack finished school in 1925 and needed to find work.

When a friend in Australia wrote, painting life there in glowing terms Jack, with another boy, decided to see if they could get out there. Jack became a willing participant in the Dreadnought Scheme and was one of 57 boys, who left UK on the Demosthenes in October, arriving in Sydney on 27 November 1925.

Jack spent the summer months at Scheyville where he enjoyed his training, for the new skills and the new friends he gained. He also enjoyed the challenge of his first job, in 1926, at Kiaora at Yiddah, near West Wyalong in NSW. His employers were to become lifelong friends.

Following his time at Yiddah, Jack and a friend (another Jack), went off with their gear, to try further out west. They actually saved a good deal of money even though times were lean, but they managed to live off the land. That meant water and rabbits! Rabbit plagues were denuding the landscape, causing the loss of native animals and minimal farm production. Fumigants, baits, rabbit drives, dogs, guns, clubs did little to control the devastation. As well as eating them, the two Jacks sold many rabbits. They had a regular order from the Leeton Hydro Hotel for three or four rabbits per week. They became expert trappers and made money from the skins. Later, when Jack was given a sow, he fed it on boiled rabbits and wheat and subsequently bred many healthy pigs on this diet.

The impact of irrigation in the Riverina, and on Jack Alty, was very significant. When the two Jacks first reached Leeton, they sat on lush green grass, relishing this product of irrigation. On arrival in nearby Griffith, they heard that the Irrigation Commission needed logs for the fenced farms for the returned soldiers. This was an opportunity to earn some money, so as each load was picked up from them, they were paid for the previous load. Had they stayed, there was work available with horse teams cutting the irrigation channels. But they moved on.

Jack noted that rabbits were still a problem at each property he went onto. While on the property Fairview in 1934, he promoted the use of a tractor rather than a team of horses for them. There was real risk of horses getting hurt in the burrows. It was much simpler to mount a good ripper on the three-point linkage on the back of the tractor, and in that way, he eventually got rid of the rabbits there.

The introduction of the myxomatosis virus in 1950, proved to be the turning point in the overall control of rabbits. The number of sheep Jack could put on his properties was dependent on the prevalence of rabbits - they could eat so much there was little left for the sheep. Myxomatosis opened the way for the Wool Boom years which followed.

In 1934, Jack married Beryl Westrup. Farming at Goolgowi, Jack and Beryl went on to have two sons and two daughters. Jack’s properties were dry area farms and farming was difficult due to the soil and lack of water. He couldn’t even dig a dam because the soil was too sandy and would not hold water. The three bores he sank went 300 to 400 feet underground but were sometimes too brackish, even for the livestock. By 1976, Jack had eased up although still working the farm occasionally. But it thrilled him to see the introduction of the new water supply system, with water pumped to storage and then piped to Jack’s farm and others nearby. What a great relief to be able to plan livestock levels due to regular water!

Jack’s wife Beryl died in 1980. By 1986, he had remarried and was living in Griffith, where he died on 6 February 2002, aged 92 years.

At the end of the interview, Jack reflected on the strands of his story (childhood, Dreadnought boy, friendships, family, farming, rabbits and irrigation) this man of warmth, easy conversation and deep faith observed that a strand of one sort ends and another takes its place, while a thread alongside continues on and yet another weaves differently through, to make up the pattern of a life.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Wollongbar Open Day

On 24 August 2019 the Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute celebrated 125 years of operation, with an open day. There was a good public response to the displays showcasing the Institute’s many activities. Laboratory and farm tours, fishing clinic, demonstrations such as the working dog, and the heavy-lift hexacopter highlighting the use of drone technology.

For many years this place was known as the Wollongbar Experiment Farm, and what we saw was very different from what the Dreadnought Boys who came here, would have known 100 years ago.

The Farm was involved in training of farm apprentices soon after it was established in 1894. Within 20 years, the strong association with the Dreadnought Scheme had begun. This relationship was on display in the Library, which showed the Farm history through books, documents, photographs and other memorabilia.

                                                       Living quarters and offices in 1913

The Dreadnought display centred on the original registers, where members of the public could look up details of a forbear who was trained at Wollongbar. It was great to see the enthusiasm as enquirers read details shown for their particular relative - even when the comments noted about his conduct were confronting.

The Registers showed that 502 Dreadnought boys were sent there for training. The first boy arrived at the Farm on 27 December 1913. Geoffrey Kingston Shaw (19) who came from Surrey in England on the Ballarat, stayed at the farm for seven months before going to work at a store in nearby Alstonville.

The last Dreadnoughts to train at Wollongbar were Edward Uriah Griffiths (18) and his brother Charles Stanley Griffiths (16) who arrived on the Oronsay on 21 November 1929 from Swansea in Wales.

                                                           The Dreadnought Register

The normal stay at the Farm was for three months of training. A select few went on to work at the Farm, but the shortest stay was 11 days! This was one Bruce Cruickshank (19) who reached Sydney on the Jervis Bay on 12 March 1923, arrived at the farm on the 15th and left on the 26th. The register notes say Cleared out probably went to Sydney. There is a subsequent note giving his address as C/o Gus McNaughton, The Tivoli.

Gus McNaughton, a comedian and actor from the music halls of London, was in Australia and performing at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney at that time. Cruickshank had given his previous occupation as Music Hall Artist and probably knew McNaughton in London. We know that McNaughton returned to UK and went on to be a film actor in 72 films, including two with director Alfred Hitchcock. We don’t know what became of young Mr Cruickshank!

Sunday, 14 July 2019


In the recent television series Who Do You Think You Are? one episode looked at the forebears of Kurt Fearnley, the celebrated Australian paralympian. It included the story of his grandfather Harry Fearnley, a Dreadnought Boy. It showed excellent footage of Harry who worked for some years at Coombing Park, an extensive grazing property at Carcoar NSW, and who had become the manager of this historic station. Another Dreadnought success.

In research for this programme, it emerged that there were two Dreadnought boys named Harry Fearnley!
The first Harry to arrive came on the Demosthenes on 14 April 1923, with 58 other boys. Kurt Fearnley’s grandfather arrived with younger brother Jack, on the Beltana on 2 October 1924 in a smaller group of boys. Somehow this group was missed when the records we use were compiled by the Trust staff. They did come in a very busy period for the scheme, when all the other groups had at least 60 boys at a time.

                                                                      SS Beltana

Unfortunately, the programme quoted a wrong figure for the total number of boys in the Dreadnought scheme. The official numbers were 1787 boys brought out up to the First World War with another 5669 coming between the two World Wars. Some additional names were found in training farm records plus extra arrivals such as Jack and Harry Fearnley’s group. This brings the total up to 7,500 Dreadnought Boys – a significant achievement.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Jack Easter

Jack Easter
(Dreadnought Archives)

Jack Stuart Easter was born in 1907 to John and Alice Easter, in St Johns Wood, London. His father was a coach builder, and the first production Bentley motor car was to be delivered in 1921 with ‘bodywork by Easter’.

Jack was educated at Ardingly College in Sussex and Regent Street Polytechnic in London. At fifteen, he decided that a life of stiff collars, bowler hats and pin-striped trousers was not for him, and told his parents he wanted to go to Australia. His father opposed the idea, but Jack was persuasive. He sailed on the Themistocles and arrived in Sydney on 7 August 1923 under the Dreadnought Scheme.

Sent for training at Grafton Experiment Farm, Jack was there from 9 August 1923 to 21 January 1924. This had been an exceptionally wet period, and had taken its toll on Jack. He decided he would return to England, but after less than a year in England, Jack returned to Australia and resumed the life of a Dreadnought Boy. His first job was at a farm at Newrybar, in the coastal hills near Byron Bay. When he first looked out and saw the sea, a wave of homesickness took him, and brought tears. A woman’s voice beside him said, ‘Come on now. No time for that,’ and he was put straight to work milking cows. From then on Jack changed farm jobs fairly often, until he leased a property at Gundurimba, dairying and running a few cattle.

One day in a Lismore street, he saw a very unhappy young man leaning against a street post. Jack learnt that he was a Scottish lad, who had come out to Australia to join an uncle, in business in Lismore. When he arrived, he found the business closed and the uncle gone. Not a rare story in those years. Jack offered him work, ‘I can't afford to pay you but you can have a bed and your keep until you can find something better.’ The young man accepted, and he and Jack worked together for several years.

In 1932, Jack married Margery Joan Thomas and they lived on the property for the first years of married life. During this time Jack’s mother and father came to Australia and stayed with them at Gundurimba. They were somewhat dismayed at the living and working conditions. His father could not understand why Jack chose to put up with the heat, mosquitoes and thunderstorms, when he could be living a life of comfort in England - but Jack refused to be lured back to the comforts of England.

When the lease on the farm ran out in 1934, Jack and Margery moved to Ballina where Jack bought a cream run with agencies for fertilisers, produce and petroleum products. The cream run was between Ballina and Broadwater, with petrol and produce deliveries throughout the district on the off days

Between 1930 and 1948 there was a railway line which brought produce and petrol, and a few passengers to Ballina. When the train arrived about 6 pm with produce, the trucks had to be cleared that night for the 7.15 am return trip the next day. Jack and his wife worked hard, often until early morning, transferring the goods onto their motor lorries and then to their storage sheds. On the non-cream days, the goods then had to be delivered to farms in the district and up river. One old resident commented ‘Jack knew how to handle a 44 gallon drum of petrol’.

Gradually the dairies closed down, the butter factories closed and the cream runs died out. Petroleum products became the main business, as farm mechanisation took over. However, as the years went by, the business prospered and Jack opened an office in Ballina. He bought several farms in the surrounding area, maintaining his interest in dairy, as well as adding sugar cane production. Jack was involved with several producer organisations, and also took a great interest in community affairs. He was a strong supporter of the Anglican Church in Ballina, and was involved in the planning of St Andrew’s Retirement Village.

Jack Easter is best known for his public service. He became an Alderman on Ballina Council in 1941, serving as Mayor of Ballina from 1948—1952 and again from 1971—1974. He became a Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly representing the Lismore electorate in State Parliament from 1953—1959.

Jack is especially remembered for his gift of land on Lennox Head in 1977. This had been part of a dairy farm that he owned. It now gave public access to the most scenic part of the coast, a vantage point to watch migrating whales, and immediately below, board riders surfing the world- renowned point break. It is also a launchpad for hang and paragliders.

Jack Easter died on 2 March 1978, aged 70 years. A Police Guard of Honour escorted his cortege on the way to the crematorium.

He was always likely to do well, and, making the most of his opportunities, was an outstanding example of enterprise and service. A most notable Dreadnought Boy.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Arthur Woodford

The recent fires, which ravaged the Tabulam area in northern NSW, remind us that a number of Dreadnought Boys began their farm life in this area. William Arthur John Woodford was one of them. In 1927 Arthur left the Isle of Wight, as a boy of 16 years and 6 months. He travelled on the SS Beltana with 39 other lads. Some of them were to become life-long friends. Quite a few of Arthur’s classmates from the Grammar School in East Cowes had made plans to go together, but as the time approached only Arthur proved to be the adventurous one, as the others pulled out for one reason or another.

Arthur’s diary of the voyage out showed that, apart from some “blue moments”, it was a remarkably good journey. One day out from Fremantle, on 31 October 1927, Arthur and those travelling with him were paid £2 “landing money”, as well as the assisted passage and the pocket money while in training. On arrival in Sydney on 18 November, Arthur was sent to Grafton Agricultural Experiment Station for his farm training. With him were five others from the SS Beltana, including his mate Les Bown.

Having left behind a loving mother who had just lost twin infant daughters, a young sister, his father and a large extended family on the Isle of Wight, and many friends, Arthur was now placed with a new family – the Hollidays, near Tabulam. Their farm had 800 acres with 7 horses and 97 cattle (according to a 1928 pastoral directory).

Like other boys who were more academically inclined, Arthur Woodford took the opportunity to read widely at night to further his education. There were also good opportunities to be involved in community activities. In later years he would recall riding with other lads to bush dances at the end of the week, with their musical instruments in tow, and then, riding back after the dance to arrive just in time for milking.

However, the Depression changed things for everyone on the land. Both Arthur and Les Bown (who had worked near Casino), headed north and spent time in the Queensland cane-fields.

                                    (Les Bown and Arthur Woodford on the way to the canefields.)
                                                                             Dreadnought Archives

Arthur returned to UK in 1935, but only stayed a year, as he said he ‘felt hemmed in’. He came back to Australia and, in 1936, married Sally. In due course Arthur joined the prison service and worked for the Corrective Services Department in various positions, such as gatekeeper at Maitland Gaol and librarian. He later became a court recorder at Newcastle Supreme Court. He was well-respected in all these positions, and in retirement he wrote a training manual for court recorders.

Arthur’s wife, Sally, died in 1956. He subsequently married Iris, in 1957. Arthur died in Maitland on 10 November 1985. Arthur did return to the Isle of Wight once again in 1984, just before his death.

His decision to travel as a Dreadnought Boy was well and truly justified. Arthur loved the island he came from, but he had made a new life in Australia, and became a respected part of its community, especially in the Hunter Valley Region of NSW.

Friday, 25 January 2019

James Payne

James was born on 11 September 1908 in Birkenhead UK. He started work as a baker’s errand boy in 1922, but within a year was working in the shipyards. He first worked at Cammell Laird and later, in 1924, at the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board de-scaling and cleaning ship boilers.

On 27 May 1926 James Payne emigrated from Liverpool under the Dreadnought Scheme, with £20 and a case of clothes, on Shaw Savill and Albion’s ship, Pakeha. There were 47 other boys in their group on the ship and, after calling in at Cape Town for coal, Albany, Adelaide and Melbourne, they arrived in Sydney on 17 July.

James was immediately sent to train at Grafton Experimental Farm, until 8 October 1926, when he was placed on a farm at Spring Grove, near Casino. The following year he was joined by another ‘English lad’. Farms were being sold up because of drought, but when rain had come bringing the new grass, James’ boss needed another milker. Apart from the milking there was very little to do, and eventually the farm was sold, and the two boys paid off. They headed for Sydney.

Sensing better opportunities, James Payne travelled from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, on the Ulimaroa, on 12 August 1927. He stayed at the Salvation Army Hostel until his money ran out, and went to the Labour Exchange. There were no jobs available but just as he was walking out, he was asked “Can you milk cows? Can you fence? An enquiry has just come in.” He was sent to Mr Charlie Thomas’ farm at nearby Miramar, where he got the job.

For the next two years James worked on several farms in the areas around Wellington and Lake Wairarapa, but on 17 July 1929 a new opportunity came. There was a major earthquake at Murchison on the South Island, followed by a nation-wide call for men to help in the reconstruction. James Payne and others responded. When they arrived in Murchison, they asked the local storekeeper about getting a job. They were told the Public Works Department Foreman would be in that afternoon. When he arrived, they signed on and received a tent fly, an axe, a shovel and a few utensils.

The earthquake had cost 17 lives and done damage over a wide area. Many roads and several rivers were blocked. For his part in the reconstruction, Jim initially worked on access tracks, then stone cages for the sides of the Maruia River and later on the repair or rebuilding of bridges. He continued in the bridge gangs, living in tent camps near the work. In 1932 he brought his bride, Minnie Gibson, to share this life.

By 1938, James Payne was on road work as a permanent surfaceman for the PWD. However, petrol rationing and the need to educate the children well, meant a move to Nelson by 1943. Boarding at first, they were soon in their own home. As Jim had his PWD shot-firer’s ticket he was kept busy around the coast.

As this work eased, he was employed on the highways with the only tarsealing plant in the Nelson District. In 1946 the Tar Sprayer got cancer and Jim was asked by the PWD to take over that position. On doctor’s advice, he later left the job because of the health risk.

After a number of cleaning positions, James became Head Porter at Nelson Public Hospital in 1962. After more than four decades away, he was able to visit his relatives in Birkenhead UK in 1969.

James Payne lived until 1990 when he died, aged 82, after a short battle with cancer. Ironically, the doctor diagnosing the cancer was the son of the doctor who had advised him to leave the tarsealing work.

Friday, 9 November 2018

George Anderson

                                               (Courtesy of National Trust of Australia) 
George Ernest Armstrong Anderson was one of the quiet ones. Born on 17 November 1911 in Bury, Lancashire UK. In 1926, he applied to come to Australia under the Dreadnought Youth Migration Scheme, just as his brother, Hugh, had done the previous year. His younger brother, Horace, followed in 1928. He sailed from London on the Baradine reaching Sydney on 18 November 1926, the day after his 15th birthday. George was immediately sent to the far North Coast to the Wollongbar Agricultural Experiment Farm, for three months training. His first placement was at Binna Burra (near Bangalow NSW), but later moved on to the Central West area near Parkes, in 1928. George subsequently found work as a clerk and then as a mechanic. His family had followed him out to Australia, settling in Sydney, where George joined them.

When he enlisted in the Australian Army, on 20 October 1939, George was working as a lift driver in O’Connell Street Sydney. In the army, he was captured and escaped twice from the Germans on Crete. George was discharged on 15 September 1945 on compassionate grounds, having been a prisoner of war. On his return to Australia, he joined the militia (CMF) reaching the rank of Captain.

While he was away, in early 1941, George’s mother Alexandra moved to Hunter’s Hill, to Vienna Cottage. This became George’s home for nearly 50 years, he was its last tenant. This home is a small artisan’s cottage in Alexandra Street Hunters Hill, built in 1871. Being one of the suburb’s older stone buildings, it is of great interest to local history buffs. It is owned by the National Trust of Australia. Living in the cottage on his own after his mother died, George devoted himself to his garden – with his beloved roses, azaleas and especially his rows of annuals. Getting up at 4am, he had his breakfast and read the paper, then into the garden. A brief break for lunch then back again until dusk.

George was not a communicative man and some people found him brusque and unfriendly. But his neighbours remember the kindness he showed to their children. He was bemused as to why people found Vienna so important. However, he tolerated the inevitable invasion of his privacy and was always co-operative with the local members of the National Trust. When he moved to the Narrabeen War Veterans’ Home in 1991, George left a challenge for the Trust which had no hope of keeping such a high-maintenance garden, while wanting one which recaptured something of the brightness of its past.

George passed away on 16 August 1994, at the age of 82 years.