Little Oakey – Home
My grandfather, Michael John Pope, was a pioneer farmer in outback New South Wales, Australia. He built his small, four-room home, Little Oakey, from the creek-stones of the area. Behind the house was a wattle and daub (clay) kitchen and cellar. In that little home, with his wife Mary Jane, he raised five children in, what would be considered by today’s standards, primitive isolation. One of his daughters, my aunt, describes Little Oakey,
Our home was situated on Little Oakey Creek; a very pretty spot surrounded by lovely oak trees and mountains. There were paddocks, a creek running by the orchard, haystacks, a vegetable garden, wells dug in both gardens, wildflowers growing all around the flats, and a spring where we all swam. I always loved our home and dreamed about it many times and had happy times when going to school. Ann Pope
My mother was the youngest child in her family. She and the other children would walk or ride by horseback to a tiny country school miles away. The school was a one-room, one-teacher school with a chimney that constantly smoked. The students consisted of brothers, sisters, and cousins. Sometimes, the Macquarie River would flood and they would cross the river by boat if it was too high to cross over on horseback. On weekends, my mother and her same-aged niece would cross the river and walk several miles to deliver mail, bread, and parcels to Little Oakey. On Saturday evenings, Grandfather would get out his concertina and play for the extended family.
To visit the nearest town to shop was a rare event. The Post Office had the only phone in the district. A great highlight was going to the local dances. However, getting there was not such an easy task as another aunt describes,
We had to ride in the back of our father’s truck; regal in our ball gowns and all our finery. One drawback was eight gates in eight miles to open; a fifteen-mile journey in all. At times, it was a very cold ride. At other times, it would be dry and dusty. Wet weather was another obstacle. There were several creek crossings to ford. The big hill with its slippery red clay was, sometimes, too difficult for our vehicle to get up, even if we all piled out and pushed. So, often, it was safer to stay home and suffer the disappointment. Beryl Lang
Grandfather worked his sheep grazing property from dawn to dusk, as is the way with farmers. His son, also a farmer, was given two Italian prisoners-of-war, Giacomo and Lorenzo, to help with the workload during World War II. The Italians would have been not much more than boys, perhaps twenty or so. The family treated them with care and respect and became very fond of them, much to the disapproval of some local families. They slept in the stables but, remember, the main house was tiny and wouldn’t have had a whole lot more comfort than the stables. Anyway, a safe stables was far superior to a life-and-death war-field. When winter came, they were both knitted a jumper which they wore every year until the end of the war.
Sometimes, the two “prisoners” were sent off with guns and children in tow to catch rabbits for the day. Hardly war-time behaviour with the prisoners in charge of the weapons and with care of the children! The family kept in contact with the Italian men and visited them, many years later, on a once-in-a-lifetime European trip. Our spiritual heritage is brothers with linked arms, not brothers in armament.
Such was life in the outback. It was and, essentially, still is harsh, relentless, and intensely beautiful. It becomes part of the soul and is embedded into one’s psyche as primal home.