Interview with: Minnie (Priscilla) Olsen (nee Meissner)
Date of Interview: 27 February, 1985
Interviewer: Stan Tutt And Gillian Pechey
Transcriber: Valarie Poole
Minnie was born in 1897 at North Arm. She talks about her time at Yandina State School. She married in 1916 and had six children.
Images and documents of Minnie Olsen in the Sunshine Coast Libraries Catalogue.
Image: Norman Olsen with his bride Priscilla Meissner, North Arm, 1916.
Minnie Olsen oral history [MP3 41MB]
PECHEY: Did you go to the dances?
OLSEN: Oh yes. I was at a wedding reception. It was in the country of course, and at night. And there was dancing to accordion music. The old squeeze box. And this chappie came along and asked me to get up. I hadn't the slightest idea. They kept a school. Some of the girls used to do this bit of a waltz and the schottische or what have you. One or two of those. And I'd never been on the floor, though. And I got up and did the Waltz of Vienna, "Vienna Waltz" they call it don't they? And I got along all right. I went home to a place after the sun was up. And I stayed at George Davison's place until about seven o'clock and I got up and rode home. My dad was at the same function though. He knew just all the time what I was doing. Though he never intruded himself, he was there. He knew I was behaving myself, whatever I did. So he went home and we went on to Bridgies, everyone called her Aunty Bridgie, George Davison's wife.
TUTT: You had a special horse. What was the horse you had?
OLSEN: Oh yes, not that time. My special horse afterwards was 'Dooley.' No I used to ride any horse at all. If I heard the boys had been on a two year old, I'd just take the saddle out. If they could be on him, I could be on him. So I'd put the saddle on him and ride him about the yard a bit you know. Stay in the yard sort of place. He was very quiet. "Tom", I'd just get on him and dig my heels into his ribs and off he'd set. Whichever direction I wanted to go, I'd pat him on the side of the neck. No reins no saddle. Another one we had, she was a trotter, she used to pull the sulky. We had a drain across the paddock where a creek ran through it. Enough water running through all the time for our cattle and horses. I'd jump on her without a saddle or bridle. Set her off at a sort of a canter. And, jumping this place, sometimes I'd become a little bit unseated. She'd stop, until I was I settled on all right. There you go. Up we'd go up the hill. No bridle and saddle.
TUTT: And you could steer that horse by the touch on the neck.
OLSEN: The other one. I didn't bother about 'Dolly,' she knew where to go. Big old 'Tom', I might go anywhere with him, so which ever side of the paddock I wanted to go, I'd just pat him on the neck.
TUTT: It's a great picture.
OLSEN: I used to gallop over the new bridges and things, and some'd say I'll be killed. I never was. Anything the boys could ride, I could ride.
TUTT: It's a nice story Mrs Grace McBride tells, - she was a Tripcony - she's still alive down at Caloundra. She tells about the police sergeant at Landsborough who reported her for furious riding on a horse. And she was chatted for speeding, (in our language). (Laughs) You were never brought to book for furious riding?
OLSEN: No, I'd ride furiously in our own paddock. They built a new bridge. And I wasn't supposed to go out or walk over that bridge, because it was dangerous. The horse might slip. I used to gallop over there.
PECHEY: You must have had a good trusting relationship with the horse.
OLSEN: Oh I don't know, I used to get on any horse. Some of them were racehorses. I used to be a strapper, on some of my brother's racehorses, while they were spelling. Some of them would be down at Yandina with the trainer and the others were spelling. Sometimes there would be four at a time. I used to be strapper to them.
TUTT: Where were the races held?
OLSEN: These would be at Yandina. And I think at Nambour.
OLSEN: And I think at Eumundi. But I don't know just where my brother's horses raced. First race I won, my brother's horse won the best race of the day, that day. It was a nine to eleven, the ages, children, and I was nine a few days before that; and they said, mucking around, "You should start in the race tomorrow." "Oh me, I can't run. No, I can't run." "Oh yes you can." Anyway I was persuaded to. It was a sports day at Yandina Racecourse. I was persuaded to start in this race and I won. My brother's horse, he won the main race of the day and he had a beautiful gold chain with a heart and a ruby in the middle of it. You could open it and put a curl of hair or a small photo of someone inside.
TUTT: Many people did put their hair or their ..
OLSEN: Yes, people used to have these lockets, and they'd open these and put a curl around, a strand, of their dearest friend, perhaps someone who had gone overseas to a war or something. Curl of their hair for luck, sort of thing. I don't think Billy... but he gave that to his sister. She had a lovely long gold watch chain and a gold watch tucked in the belt those days. She had all the different things Billy won with his horses.
TUTT: You lived at North Arm?
OLSEN: I was born at North Arm, and it was raining, and my mother said it was raining for six months after.
TUTT: (Laughs) You must have brought the rain.
OLSEN: They never took any notice of rain those days. How they managed, I don't know. We had a house on stilts. We had lawyer cane clothes line under the house, and lawyer cane clothes lines on the back verandah.
TUTT: Now that was the lawyer; cane you got from the rain forest wasn't it?
OLSEN: Yes, from our own property.
TUTT: Remember how prickly it was on the outside?
OLSEN: Oh, you had to take that off. Oh yes, naturally. The cane itself was clear. It was beautiful. No prickles only the outside covering the skin, you might call it, that had prickles.
TUTT: Remember the tendrils it used to have. Wait-a-whiles?
OLSEN: Wait-a-whiles. Keep clear of those!
PECHEY: How did you get the skin off the cane?
OLSEN: I don't know. I suppose they'd have holds at a suitable place. They'd have a very sharp knife. I don't know how they did it?
TUTT: In some cases, they used to pull it through between two boards or something like that.
OLSEN: I don't know what our people did. I know when it was brought to be used, it was just as clear as clear.
TUTT: Beautiful and strong and never rusted. They used to make clothes baskets of it. Then later on they made crab pots of it.
OLSEN: They would do, yes. I had a basket that my husband, Norm bought at Mooloolaba. It's split lawyer cane. My father used to make baskets just for a hobby. Not to sell.
TUTT: That was your father. Now what was his front name.
TUTT: Albert Meissner.
OLSEN: Albert Herman Meissner.
PECHEY: There is something else he used to do. You told me about how he used to cure you with homeopatic remedies. Do you remember that?
OLSEN: He knew a lot about that. See he had a college chum of a doctor. And they were friends all their lives. He had a very good friend an old German Doctor, who told him a lot of things. And we had a little box, a little timber thing, just so big. And there were bottles and bottles about the thickness of that or that. You take two drops at a time and no more. They knew just what to do, when to take it and how often to take it and everything else. That's when you didn't have a doctor to go to. There wouldn't be a doctor within a hundred miles. It could be perhaps 1915-16. I'm not sure about that. There was one doctor, in Nambour. My brother went to see Dr Eugene Hirschfield who put him into hospital. He was there for six weeks. It was something to do with his kidneys. When he came home he had to live on olive oil and milk, that's ordinary cows milk, and he lived on that for five years.
TUTT: Dr Hirschfield was very famous.
OLSEN: No, he came home and he lived on milk and olive oil for five years, and he must not work. So they gave him the nickname of 'The Ganger', and he used to go out and watch the other chappies doing the work. My dad always had someone employed doing something or other. And after five years he came gradually on to light foods. It took a few months for him to eat anything heavy. But he had the most perfect teeth. He never had to be in a dentist's surgery. We think it was olive oil and milk.
TUTT: When you were at North Arm, did you ever have Chinese market gardeners in the area? There were Chinese market gardeners at the foot of Mount Cooroy when I was a child and they used to have the most magnificent rows of cabbages and cauliflowers and lettuce. They had it on a little flat. It's at the head of Six Mile Creek and they used to use these yokes with kerosene tins. And morning and evening they used to walk down to the creek to fill these tins and go along watering these rows.
OLSEN: With pure water. There was an article in one of the papers. It said vegetables are like people - they don't like drinking a lot of chemicals. We never suffered from anything. We only had water from tanks. Good plain rainwater.
TUTT: That's all we had, tanks. And often, in dry times they got very low. Many pioneer people who had one tank - when it was a dry time - it was quite customary to go out with your knuckles and tap tap tap up on the rings. And it had a different sound. As soon as you pass the rim that is empty, it has a hollow sound.
OLSEN: I remember hearing that. You tapped from the bottom, how many runs up. You come to an empty sound. You know, be careful with your water. Well we never had to have that trouble. We had enough rains and we had two big tanks.
TUTT: Were they galvanised?
OLSEN: Oh yes. A couple of times I remember my mother had to go with the washing in drought time. There was a bunya tree growing at the far end of one of the paddocks. Not too far from our house. It was up on a hill, and there was a well there. And I think she must have had to carry the washing home to be put out on the clothes lines. I don't remember clothes lines being where the well was. It was before I went to school, so I don't remember. I didn't go to school until I was six and three quarters. It was Christmas holidays, six weeks always then. I went to school after the Christmas holidays. I turned seven in May. Then I went on and I did one class for a couple of weeks, another class for two or three weeks. By the time I was eleven I was in the top grade.
TUTT: Now which school did you start at?
TUTT: Did you ever hear of Lemon Tree School?
OLSEN: Not the old Pear Tree? No that was a popular place. Fairhill. Yes, there was a small school there but I never saw it. The old Pear Tree was a famous place for courting couples to go.
TUTT: Now where was the pear tree you were talking about?
OLSNE: At Fairhill.
TUTT: But now this pear tree at Fairhill, was it one of those cooking pears, Minnie?
OLSEN: Yes, wild, the ordinary pears. You had to cook them. They were as hard as a brick.
TUTT: And big like that. And they made beautiful stews, and jams.
OLSEN: Oh yes. You just stewed them and had them cold with some custard, or pudding or something.
OLSEN: There was one up here (at Eudlo) at the place that used to be the dairy. It was a dairy there for years back, when Dr Corlis had the place. They were all big trees. It was a natural sort of a thing.
TUTT: I often wonder, because I have never seen them since. Since those early days.
OLSEN: It's just something that's gone out. No. They were very good. They were hard and gritty and very good for the teeth and to chew. The parents, all parents used to stew them and then have them cold with some custard pudding.
TUTT: And they grew a heavy crop.
OLSEN: Oh yes.
PECHEY: Do you ever eat bunya nuts.
OLSEN: Oh yes, we have a bunya tree over here now.
TUTT: There's some on it this year too.
OLSEN: Should have. I saw one the other day. I don't know if it dropped this year or last year. I saw in the office. I said, "Oh bunya nuts dropped." They usually drop about end of February. We had thirteen on last year, I think it was. Give them away to people. People don't understand them. They couldn't be bothered with bunya nuts. But you get them and put them say in a wash fire, just the red coals, keep out of line, they come shooting straight out like that.
TUTT: Did you used to eat the little tree in the centre or did you pull that out?
OLSEN: The heart? Oh we used to eat it. People would tell us not too. It was poison. But we used to eat it just the same. Cook them in red hot coals, even down at Nundah, we still had the wood-burning stove there. Wait till the coals, just ready, no flame or anything. Just put the bunyas in and English chestnuts, we used to buy them. Put those in too. Watch out, don't stand in front of them. But another wash fire, years ago, when my mother would have a wash fire, and I was about so high, we would put the bunyas in there and stand clear. Then you could boil them in salty water like peanuts.
TUTT: Did you ever see arrowroot?
OLSEN: They used to grow that at Yandina. That was the only place I knew of.
TUTT: Your dad was a builder, wasn't he?
PECHEY: So what did you do for recreation?
OLSEN: We had enough outdoor exercise that we were ready for bed at the right time.
TUTT: I'd go fishing if I could, in the creek. And there were fish there.
OLSEN: Well our family, my brothers and father they used to go fishing in the North Arm. Saturday mornings, they'd be going around collecting these, I called them chrysalis, grubs, and a blue worm, a blue grub. The black crickets and the blue worm. We used to go fishing in the North Arm with those on Saturday afternoon.
TUTT: What did you catch in the North Arm?
OLSEN: Well fresh water catfish, perch they call them now, I think, and I think mullet.
TUTT: Mullet are hard to catch on a line.
OLSEN: If anybody caught these catfish, we used to call them freshwater catfish. I don't remember having to clean anything. It was all just brought home and it was cooked. They used to catch eels somewhere down there in the swamp.
OLSEN: I think, down in the lantana. And they hang them up like that and sort of let them bleed. Then after an hour or two, they'd pull the skin off. They'd cut them in notches and put them in salt and leave them overnight. And they'd be cooked for breakfast, sometimes, partially boiled or fried.
TUTT: How did you deal with the bones?
OLSEN: We just looked out for them. (Laughs)
TUTT: Yeh, they were full of bones. Mum used to mince them through the mincer and put them in eel patties.
OLSEN: We didn't eat them often.
TUTT: No we didn't actually either. When things were hard, and a meal was short.
OLSEN: You know Grub Tucker the horse trainer. He was the first horse trainer, Tucker, W.J. Tucker. His son was W.A. Tucker. Anyway he used to go fishing and he'd come home with lots and lots of little whiting, like that. I think he used to mince those.
TUTT: Why did they call him "Grub."
OLSEN: I don't know. The aborigines reared him. He had a bone missing in a part of his leg down there. And he used to make me want to come and press it. He used to go like this when he was walking. He started from nothing, and he became one of the main horse trainers in Brisbane.
TUTT: And reared by the aborigines. That's interesting.
OLSEN: Yes, old Grub Tucker, he used to come and see me. He told me how to fry fish and what have you. He used to make the most beautiful fish soup. You wouldn't think it was made from fish. People screw their noses up. Oh fish soup! But you'd never guess it was made from fish. He had so many different things in it, like the heads and the backbones, the tails and whatever, would make the goodness. He'd strain all away the other, I expect and what he brought to us, well everybody liked it.
TUTT: It must have been very tasty and nutritious.
OLSEN: We used to call him Grub. I don't know where he got the nickname from.
TUTT: Whereabouts did the aborigines rear him? Around North Arm?
OLSEN: No, somewhere down around Brisbane way. Around Rosewood or Logan or somewhere down there.
TUTT: North Arm School centenary is coming up, isn't it'?
OLSEN: Yes, well they are looking for pioneers of North Arm, and my parents were regarded as pioneers. I had not attended North Arm. My father was the first J.P. there for miles around.
TUTT: He would have to deal with all the problems of the settlers, being the J.P.
OLSEN: All different things people used to come. Making wills, making lease agreements, oh any sort of problems at all. They'd come there, some from as far as Belli. Stay overnight perhaps. Go down to Brisbane, the next day comeback and stay the next night, and go back to Belli. We always had spare horse accommodation there. No cars those days.
TUTT: And that evidently was the custom to have a spare bed for horse travellers.
OLSEN: We had three. In the flood times, people would advertise in the 'Courier,' for a job or a job going, and arrangements would be made for the persons taking the jobs to come up by train and arrive at nine o'clock at night. There were no telephones or anything those days. The only telephone there was, was at the railway station. They have landed at North Arm Station at nine o'clock at night, pouring rain. North Arm in high flood. No one could get in to meet them from out at Doonan. "Oh you see those two houses up there on the hill?" You'd see the two white houses. Anyone travelling from Yandina way in a train, they used to comment, "Oh see those two white houses in the middle of a big expanse of dark citrus." Those were my father, and his brother Herman. They always sort of did things together. No dividing fence. "Not the first house, but see the second house, you go up there." There were always three bunks, three single bed bunks kept in a special room, for people landing up at night, nowhere to go.