Keith Gentle

My father was born either at York or on the farm at Quellington. He farmed with horses until I left school and purchased his first tractor in 1950. Dad said whenever he was carting bags of wheat to the York flour mill with wagon and horses – as he approached York coming in from Quellington – passing the Goldfields Road – he always hoped as he looked towards Marwick’s Hill that there wasn’t a camel train coming towards him with galvanised sheeting strapped on all the camels’ sides. Those sheets glistened in the sun and looked like a big dragon; the horses got upset whenever they saw them.

Mum came out from England on the steam ship, the Osterly, when she was 21. The war was on. They had a naval gun on the stern in case there were any German naval ships around. But when it got to Gibraltar they took the gun off as they said there’d be no more trouble with the Germans on the journey to Australia and they needed the gun elsewhere. Four days later a German war ship appeared and it started trying to shell the Osterly, but was just out of range. The captain ordered ‘Full steam ahead’ and the stokers down below were shovelling coal for their life. The weather was hot. Mum said they used to bring the stokers up on deck in relays and the passengers would hold the corners of sheets and try and fan them to cool them down. The German ship chased for four days but couldn’t get close enough to hit. Some of the stokers perished though due to the heat and exertion.

Mum was also a good horsewoman. She had won a hunt in England. She’d been ice skating the day before the hunt. In those days you just wore your ordinary boots to ice skate and you’d bore a hole in your boots, then screw your blades in to go ice skating. So she was in the front of this hunt and there was another man catching up with her. She didn’t have any spurs and she realised she still had the metal for boring holes in her boots in her pocket. So she used that to give the horse a few jabs and she got there first. She was awarded a fox’s tail for that hunt and we used to have it in the house here.

I’m a bit disappointed; there wasn’t a school where we lived so I boarded in three different private houses in York so that I could get to school. As such I wasn’t at home as much as if I had been just going home after school every night. When I finished school I went to Guildford Grammar School and 18 months after I finished there mum passed away. So there would be lots of her stories that I didn’t hear.

While boarding at one of the private houses for school there was an incident with three Wirraway aircraft on an exercise. Two managed emergency landings but one crashed. It appeared they’d got lost above York and were dropping distress flares. Dr Ward had a son in the air force and I was told he got a torch and flashed with Morse code Y-O-R-K. The plane that crashed ended up about half a kilometre behind where I was staying, one landed in one of Marwicks’ paddocks and the third landed close to a house where two old ladies lived, the Miss Taylors. The day after the crash all us kids from school went down to the crash site. We got bits of the planes as souvenirs. Next day at school, Alf Davies showed me that he’d got a mechanism off the joy stick that was for firing the guns. I was quite intrigued with it. Alf was happy for me to swap a pomegranate for the mechanism and I’ve still got it today.

Mum was a friend of the Miss Taylors. We went up to see the Miss Taylors after the crash one Friday, when my mum was collecting me to take me home for the weekend. There was a plane sitting 50 yards from their house on its wheels with a couple of soldiers guarding it. In those days people had their toilets in a shed out the back of their houses. These Miss Taylors told my mother that they were concerned - they couldn’t go to the toilet because the guards would see them walking into the toilet shed.

On the weekends I was very keen to be out in the bush with my catapult trying to shoot parrots and catch rabbits. When I was little I wasn’t strong enough to press down the string on the rabbit trap to set it. But my mother had told me that when I turned, say seven, I would be able to do it. The night before I was seven I put a rabbit trap under my bed. The next morning I jumped up and tried it but I was so disappointed because I still couldn’t set it. My mum solved the problem eventually because she went and saw a rabbit trapper and he found her the weakest trap he had. And I could set that one.