In the mid ‘40s – during the war years – the presence of the army was prominent. We had a cyclone, which unroofed many houses, and the re-roofing was largely achieved by the soldiers. The central bridge was also rebuilt by the army to accommodate the unusually heavy loads – tanks carrying trucks and so on! I think the Forrest Oval was used as a transport depot, connected to the Northam army camp. At that time Faversham House was turned into an army convalescence building. I think that this grand building, which was the traditional home of the Monger family, was gifted to the government for this purpose.
From about 1944 to 1950 an everyday occurrence was the five o’clock whistle, which was enacted from the power house. The power house generated all the town’s electricity – DC, I think 110 volts. Another regular sound feature was the loco, a large shed straddling the railway lines along with the goods shed between the station and the now Great Southern Highway. The loco emitted a clonking sound, I think caused by elevators recharging the coal trucks onto numerous shunters and goods and passenger trains servicing York – Albany and York – Perth railways, which were a great part of our town (most of the livestock into and out of York travelled via WAGR, and the Albany express was a well-used passenger train (steam not diesel)). The loco was a workshop, the purpose of which was to keep all the active steam engines in service order, even though by that time some of the steam trains were being replaced with the diesel rail cars. The ‘snakes’ were crews of workers who maintained the lines in safe condition. The only remnants of the goods shed now is the lone-hand operated crane almost buried in a huge pile of blue metal.
The boys I used to knock about with in town all came from very different set ups to me. As farmers we were relatively rich, whereas their dads were fitters on the railways, or perhaps they didn’t have parents. It was a good thing. You just didn’t get tangled up with a whole lot of rich people or a whole lot of poor people, you got tangled up with a whole lot of people. And that was one of the greatest things that could have happened to me.
Dad used to go down and have a few sherbets of a Saturday night. Mum could only walk to town because she didn’t have a driver’s licence – so she had a two or three mile walk to town to do some shopping. Fred Ashbolt’s used to deliver – they’d send a bloke round on a bike in the morning and he’d take all your orders, then in the afternoon they’d go and deliver the stuff. It was a pretty good set up. They used to call out when they arrived with your stuff - *knock knock* ‘grocer!’ or ‘baker!’ The milkman got around early in the morning so didn’t call out.
Tommy Cowan, this lovely old man, became a friend of the family. He used to come round and sit on my parents’ back veranda and want some ‘cones’. So mum would make him some scones and take them out for him, and he’d tell you the odd story or something. Tommy Cowan was an amazing bloke, he was probably about 95 when I knew him. He taught me a fair bit about speaking the Nyoongar language. He’d been reared up a black man and he knew all of the culture and the language and he was just delightful. He’d been around when they were building the Town Hall. He’d tell stories about other older Nyoongars, including that you could hire a pushbike for about 10d and they’d all rent bikes and would be riding along and Jack Hegarty, who couldn’t ride a bike, would rent one anyway and run alongside them pushing his by hand.
Joyce and I met at Scarborough beach by arrangement in around 1959. My brother had been introduced to this lassie here and he thought ‘My god, she’s too good to be let back out’, so he made this arrangement for us to meet and it worked – and very satisfactorily too I might add! Joyce: The first thing I remember is that he used to smoke and he gave me his address on the inside of a Craven A cigarette packet. I was living and teaching in Perth and Brian was working on the farm. I thought living in the country was so alien and I couldn’t do it. Eventually Brian said ‘Well I’m not going to propose to you anymore, if you want to marry me, you have to propose to me.’ So that’s what I did. I told Brian I was going to marry him and then cried all over his white shirt. And what could he say then?