However, we did have one place I have always considered special. It was when we were living on a property called 'Billabong', approximately 20k m from Gundagai. I was 4 years old when we moved here, and almost 14 when we left. Up until now, I had lived in four other houses of which I remember very little. My two younger sisters were both born while we lived here, Beth in '64 and Ruth in '72.
Billabong was like heaven. We had a 6 roomed house, with long back veranda, the toilet was at the far end, under cover and flushed. A new concept for us as prior to this we always had the long drop up the back yard. Also a tiny front porch, where we often ate Sunday night tea sitting on the steps or with our feet dangling over the sides. Sometimes this was sandwiches made from produce from the garden, or Mum's amazing jaffles toasted in the jaffle iron in the kitchen stove. The jaffles had Kraft block cheese, tomato and onion & were yummy.
There was a big garden yard, with a large orchard at the bottom, full of all kinds of fruit trees, apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricot, figs and olives; citrus trees and a huge vegetable garden which kept us well supplied with fresh fruit and vegies.
Outside our garden fence was another big yard which housed 'the old building', the original property homestead. In it we were allowed to play in some of the rooms, others were locked and full of treasures unknown. On one side of this old building were low acacia trees which made great cubbies and where I made the best mud pies with peppercorn seeds for decoration. There was also a meat room, with wooden sides to about 3 foot high and then gauzed to the roof for air flow and to keep out the flies. In here was a huge wooden chopping block, a couple of wooden benches and a lot of big butchers hooks on which Dad or Uncle Bill hung the sheep carcasses after slaughter, carrying them from the killing pen about 100 metres further up the hill.
On the opposite side of the building was the old pit toilet, and the blacksmiths shed. In here was all manner of horse gear, long forgotten and most no longer in use. I loved it in here, lots to play with and a good place to hide. Next to this, under an old peppercorn tree was my all time favourite place. An old furphy water tank on a wagon. There was a hole in the top without a lid; and I was the only person small enough to be able to get inside and hide. I spent a lot of time in here when one particular Uncle was visiting, whom I didn't like. He always smelt like alcohol and was much too friendly.
Suspended from another peppercorn was our swing, a piece of highly polished board with two long chains. Next to this were several old water-tanks, only smallish in size. Four stood beside each other in a semi-circle, the fifth lay sideways with a small gap to the next tank, where we hung a hessian bag for a door, and we had a cubby house. The tree provided the roof, which didn't keep out the rain very well, so it was a dry weather cubby. The tank lying on its side was under a branch of the pepper tree up which we would climb, then sit on the tank and slide down the side of – our home made slippery dip.
Further up in the yard was a smallish shed – the feed shed where we kept the poultry feed. And the fowl house, with smaller sheds beside for the muscovy ducks my brother owned.
There were plenty of trees in this big yard for the chooks and ducks throughout the day to scratch and forage underneath and also this yard was the best hide and seek area for the many children who visited.
Mum could have up to 14 children come in for a drink and bikkies during school holidays. On Billabong there lived 6 children, there were five grandchildren (of the owner of the farm), two from next door, and numerous others would be visiting from neighbouring farms.
On the nearby small hills we rode our push-bikes or dragged our billy-carts up the slopes to hurtle down again, having races through the thistles. We played hide and seek, chasies, hopscotch or in the various cubbies around the farm. We played around the stables and cow yard, rode to the shearing shed to play inside or slid down the cement of the old sheep dip, ran along the bottom and up the steps on the other side then run around and do it over again.
It wasn't all play though. We had our chores to do. I helped get the milking cows/calves in, usually four, at times I helped Mum or Joe with the milking. I operated the separator, then would stir the cream to make butter. I loved to make little round pats of butter, but had to make the bigger square blocks first. I helped with the cooking and preserving, the gardening, the washing. It was often my job to put the clothes through the wringer to get the bulk of water from them. I'd set the table, help wash/wipe up after meals, sweep floors etc. I brought the morning wood in, often walking a long way to look for the smaller branches and twigs, sometimes bringing them home in my old cane dolls pram. None of this was seen as work or as something we didn't want to do. We simply did it because it had to be done. No-one ever complained. I will always remember my mother saying to me if I sat still for too long - “don't just sit there, find something to do or I will find it for you”.
Life was wonderful, plenty to eat, always something to do, or someone to play with, and the freedom to be safe and happy. Billabong will always hold a special place in my heart and my memories. For me, it was home.