Wednesday, 4 March 2015

TOD Tour, Day 21 - Newee Creek

Sue on the front verandah
at Newee Creek
Some years ago now, after our Western Australia trip and two lovely days with Sue's Uncle Wal and Auntie Fay at Denmark in WA, we were tasked with the job of finding the farm Wal had spent time on in the late 1940's, at Newee Creek, NSW.

Newee Creek was an area of farmland whose landuse was almost exclusively dairy cows up until sub divisions broke up the old farming lots in the mid 1970's. This process has gone on and most of the land now is small holdings with nice houses for people with jobs in Nambucca Heads and Macksville.

Portions of it, especially in the north west of the area, were crown land which was converted to soldier settlements after the first world war.

In 1947, a young ex-commando who had stayed on as a soldier during with the occupation forces in Japan, by the name of John Gibbens, bought two blocks owned by Andrew Noble which spanned Irvines Road. The larger 100 acre block had a small house in the south eastern corner, on land which climbed from Wirrimbi Rd, up hill and down dale to Irvines Rd and the smaller 40 acre block beyond.

John came to the area to work in the meat works at Macksville in 1947, in the days before such places had clever French names. He bought a half finished house, completed the build and with it's sale and his army pay, which he spent nothing of in seven years, he bought the Newee Creek farm. His grandmother, Kate Knapman - who for reasons no longer known, called herself Margaret Stuart - joined him on the farm, as did his young half-brother Wal Gibbens. Wal, only a young lad, rightfully worshipped his soldier/hero brother but that would be tested over the next few years as farm duties kicked in. A strong believer in the need for education - something he would instil in his own children later - John also insisted that Wal attend high school in Macksville but that hard work was also a good teacher and made sure Wal's education was a full one. Every afternoon after coming home from school, Wal would be sent over the creek, up the hill to the top forty to bring down the cows for milking.

John and Margaret milked 80 odd cows each day, by hand, in the dairy near the house. They set a stern example.

The northwest corner of the hundred acre block. Seventy acres lie beyond the big copse trees, left of centre.
John sold the Newee Creek farm in 1950, in order to fulfil the promise he made when he left for the war ... made to the blokes at the Brushgrove Pub on Woodford Island in the lower Clarence River ... that he'd come back one day and buy Forrester's farm. He did and on that farm he had a house, ee i, ee i o ... and a wife and five children. The 4th of those, his daughter Sue, was with me today when we walked into the farmhouse at Newee Creek, now owned by Roslyn and John Field and and again when we stepped over things in the old dairy which is now Noel Robertson's garage.

There is something eerie but satisfying about walking through your own history. He father's footsteps had echoed on these floorboards; his sweaty smell had filled these rooms; his hands had twisted the wire around a post to hold a door shut. Caspers were everywhere.

We were able to correctly identify the boundaries of the old farm, despite subsequent subdivisions breaking it down into smaller holdings. Tree lines stand witness even when fence lines have been removed but in the main, enough of the fence lines were intact. Huge fruit trees dominated the areas near the buildings: giant mango trees and a chinese pear along the southern boundary. Despite additions and changes to the house, enough remains which is the same to follow the line of a roof or the alignment of a door back into a past beyond Sue.

The big mango tree near the dairy.
It dawned on us both, but for Wal and his stories, told to us with such pride and admiration, it would have stayed a part of her father's history which was an inaccurate minor entry in a third hand story passed down almost casually by her mother, in her final years. It did, after all, predate even her entry into John's life. That wouldn't happen until the 1950's and life further north along the coast and beside the Clarence.

Contact information was shared and pictures taken and stories swapped with the Fields and Noel. We even realised we had acquaintances in common, Noel having been a flight steward for many years with Qantas and having flown with and been entertained by Tamworth's Bill Gleeson. Noel is a writer now, living in the ideal setting for creativity and we exchanged publications: my poetry for his memoir. I may have got the better of that deal.

It was a warm, comforting day, when life seemed safe and memories richer.

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