Wongan Way/The Wongan Wayside Part II

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Wongan Way  (1927)  by Lilian Wooster Greaves
The Wongan Wayside, Part II

The Wongan Wayside

PART II.—August, 1915

We closed our former article with a hint of possible industrial changes in the yet invisible future of the Wongan Hills.

To us, dwelling in the present, to whom pioneering has been made easy in a hundred ways, the industry of the past appears more fascinating, inasmuch as it is already written. We are not going back to ages' gone by, when in the beginning of things, some great giant seems to have gathered out some of the precious things that were hid in the earth—sorted out some gleams of copper, and specks of gold; snatched at some of the living radium stones, and then lost them among the rocks, amid the general disturbance he had brought about.

We do not know how long it is since “the waters covered the face of the earth” in these parts. We only see great beds of cement and plaster; and find the tiny shells left as keepsakes from the former age. Those who know the signs may read them.

Tokens of a far more recent past seem sufficiently ancient to us. Wells put down half a century ago, in the picturesque Old Testament fashion, still remain; one with a large fig tree beside it.

One farmer friend shows us traces of old tracks which were used by sandalwood cutters in the early days; and cattle-pads, so long unused, that trees, whose size proclaims them to be fully thirty years of age, grow right in the middle of the road.

We become quite interested in old roads. “What is this?” we ask, as we pass a place where logs are laid across the track—“the remains of an old corduroy road?” “No, that is where Thomas got bogged last week, and laid saplings before the wheels, to pull out on.” So we are brought back with a laugh to the present.

Every day, a few yards from our present abode, we tread ashes where stood a miner’s forge about twenty-five years ago. Children play about the places in the hill-side where the miners once levelled the earth floor of their tents. When we visit the gold-show and the copper-show, we wonder if ever the agricultural age will merge into the metal age here.

The gleams of light thrown occasionally on the awakening of the agricultural life of Wongan Hills West, are very interesting. “When I came here, eight years ago,” says the first white woman, “I could not see twenty yards in any direction, for bush.” “When I first came,” said the second white woman, her arrival being about a year later, and her home eight miles distant, “the worst part to me was when my husband had to go for stores. Every two months he took the horse and cart and was away eight days. I used to be terrified for fear one of the children should be taken ill. And, oh! the howling of the dingoes round the place at night!”

“Our first camp-site, and the remains of our first garden,” points out another woman; “we shall be quite sorry when the plough cuts it up and turns it in next week.”

“Here’s where I carried Mother across the river, the day of our first district picnic”—and Father shows us a point on the Mortlock River. The eldest son had carried his sister across, while the younger son carried the basket. “And a great day it was,” remarks Mother. Yes, Mother; greater than you knew. They were great days that brought women just like you, and children just like yours to the making of the place.

Many of the men who came here were from the city. They had worked in offices, occupied important positions in the social, financial and intellectual world. Their wives had been gently born and used to hardship. Yet when changing conditions induced their husbands to take up land, and develop it themselves, the women cheerfully left behind them the ease and nicety of city life, braved the wilderness with equal courage; perhaps greater; for only women know how much it costs a woman to be brave.

Here, four years ago, after the railway had been opened, we first visited the women in their homes at West Wongan. Our drive was only thirteen miles. Their's had been forty-six miles, via Goomalling; or sixty-four miles, via Toodyay. To us there was no enshrouding, encroaching blockade of forest; for man and fire had made vast clearings, and established communication with the outside world.

Here we first realised the quiet heroism of the "Lady on the Land." We wish that she would write her own story; but she does not think it very wonderful. She sees nothing heroic in leaving a comfortable house ("all conveniences," as the advertisements say), and a large friendly and social circle, for a cycle of loneliness in a primitive camp; baking her own bread, sometimes in a camp-oven to begin with; dependent to a great extent on tinned foods for long periods of time; gladly taking up increased work as a cow can be purchased, or men hired for harvesting.

Her special pride is in her children—Ted's first kangaroo; Billy's first duck; how the boys provided Christmas fare—one duck, one pigeon, and two parrots! How Tom cut a path through the bush for his sister's daily walk to school. How little Jean set out on an array of jam-tins during a shower, to catch some water for Mother—Margaret's bread baking; Fanny's riding; the boys' carpentering and plumbing and plastering; the girl's gardening, white-washing and upholstering.

They are just what we would expect from the sons and daughters of these particular mothers.

Some day the first white woman and the second white woman, and their neighbours will reap their reward.