The family property was on Ovens Road. It was called Ovens Road because there were just so many from the Ovens family in the street. My grandfather came with two of his brothers and they all took up farms on that road, then one had 10, one had 11 and one had 12 children.
My father and all his siblings were born at home in the ‘blue bed’, and were no doubt conceived there too. My great aunt apparently used to come down and help my grandmother with each birth of the 11 children. Apparently my grandmother used to knit a new set of clothes each time. The other children would know that there was a new baby coming when they found the clothes.
My father used to have my sister driving the truck when she was four. He’d put it into first gear and low range and she would steer the truck around while he was on the back feeding the sheep. We all helped on the farm. We were the sheep dogs; when my dad called for you to come to chase the sheep you’d better stop what you were doing and get out there or you’d be yelled at. Once when we were very young at Christmas, my dad said ‘Before you open the Christmas presents you’d better go and milk the cow’. I said ‘But I can’t milk a cow’ and he said ‘Yes you can, here’s the bucket’. That was farm life.
The farm people felt superior in York I know, especially our family, because we lived on ‘Castle Rock farm’ and I thought that made us the most important people in town. And no doubt the townies felt superior to the country folk. I think we probably had less in common with the townie kids. We had really rich lives on the farm. It was lonely at some level, though. When we were young, sometimes my brother would dress up as a girl and I’d call him Betty and then other times I’d dress up as a boy and he called me Tom, so we managed to get by with friendships that way.
When I was a child, if a stranger was in town you’d stare. People did pass through but essentially it wasn’t a tourist town. As an Ovens, I was a part of the farming community, made of people who’d been here for generations, so I didn’t really have anything to do with newcomers. Not because I didn’t want to but because we had an established group already – the farmers and their families.
There were around four Aboriginal children in our class. They were all really good at sport and so were quite prized. But they were socially separate from us. They lived on the reserve on the edge of town and after school we didn’t have anything to do with each other. There were Aboriginal people that lived on our farm in an old house at the back and my father used to get them to do root picking but they struggled financially because I don’t think there was any dole at that time. My father also had Aboriginal friends that he used to buy alcohol for. They would wait for him to go into the pub because they weren’t allowed in, and they’d ask him to buy them beer. Sometimes they would come and ask mum for flour and sugar too. We used to joke and be friendly with them but there was always this separateness. I was always saddened by that.