Tom talks about sugarcane farming at North Arm
Interview with: Thomas (Tom) Wegner
Date of Interview: 10 April 1985
Place of interview: North Arm
Interviewer: Caroline Foxon
Transcriber: Colwyn Boulton
Tom remembers when his father planted fruit trees and as a by-product produced orange wine and orange beer and whenever his grandmother went out to the field, she would carry a bottle of home-made wine instead of water and whenever visitors arrived they were served the homemade wine from a bucket brought up from the cellar. Tom went to school at Fairhill School which was a slab hut with an iron roof. His family grew sugar cane and at that time it was without fertilizer. The cane was carted over to a the station on the siding of North Arm and loaded onto a truck and the train would come along in the night to collect it. Tom tells the story about the Golden Surprise Mine and the gold found on their property in 1929.
Image credit: Harvested sugarcane being loaded onto a German wagon on Wegner's farm, North Arm, ca 1924. Left to right: Fred Wegner, Fredrick Wegner, Thomas Wegner, Tom Clark, Timothy Clark.
Tom Wegner oral history part one [MP3 29MB]
Tom Wegner oral history part two [MP3 29MB]
CF : Tom, perhaps you could tell me something about how your family first came to North Arm?
WEGNER : Well, he (father) cleared the land to put the house on, the house was all pit-sawed.
CF : When was this?
WEGNER : Oh it’d be in the early 1800’s I imagine. I wouldn’t know really.
CF : About 1800?
WEGNER : In the 70s and 80s. They pit-sawed all the timber out, cut all the different lot of timbers, snigged it out, got it snigged out- one bloke’s underneath and the other bloke’s on top, they pit-sawed it all. All the 3x2s, all the weatherboards and everything and they built the house. Put shingles on it. That’s something that you never see no more. Then Dad escorted his wife then.
CF : When you father came here, where did he actually come from?
WEGNER : New South Wales.
CF : Did he come by himself or did some of his family come too?
WEGNER : No, by himself. The others come later on, might have been a.week or so after, they come.
CF : This was his parents, was it?
WEGNER : His father and mother. Then they started clearing and the grandmother and Dad used to dig up a little plot about the size of the table. Then they’d plant that, with corn or whatever they had and then the next day they’d go on and dig up another plot, plant it again. That’s how they started off. They had no plough and no horses, nothing.
CF : Was there a lot of land to clear? Was it very full of trees when they came?
WEGNER : Yes, it’s good timber. Oh lovely timber on it. In fact the last piece of scrub that he fell, he tried to sell it to the sawmills and they didn’t want it so he just cut it down. All the beech trees he left behind, and the cedar and all that, he left that behind.
CF : Do you remember how big the property was, how many acres?
WEGNER : Oh a hundred and sixty-eight acres or something like that.
CF : Where actually was it situated, say in relation to the Bruce Highway?
WEGNER : On the eastern side of the railway line from here. Used to be railway gates over there and it was a mile from there to the front gate.
CF : That’s a long walk.
WEGNER : Oh it’s not far when you say it quick. It’s only about a mile.
Aborigines at North Arm
CF : When they first came here, have you heard stories, were there a lot of Aboriginals in the area then?
WEGNER : Yes, there was a good few about.
CF : Were there any difficulties?
WEGNER : No, no they was good friends with Dad and everything. Oh yes, they got on real well with one another.
CF : And did they get on with all the people in the area?
WEGNER : Yes, well they had to in one way because they was driving them out of the country so they could live happy themselves.
CF : Did you ever hear any stories about how some people treated the aboriginals then? Did your father ever used to tell you any of those stories?
WEGNER : No, no, he never did. He sort of kept that to himself. We never asked. Different ones used to say about getting the gins to have a clay pipe with tobacco and powder in it or strychnine or something like that, to get rid of them like. Then, they’d always get the blokes to go out catching the wild horses. Of course, they’d give them a drink of milk before they started – they was mad on milk – and then they’d put a little bit of strychnine in it, give him an old bridle. If he come back with the horse, well and good. If he didn’t, well he’d die out of the place altogether so you wouldn’t have to worry about it. He’d be out in the scrub, round about. And he’d come back and he said, “By joves, me have a pain in the belly.” The strychnine was working, see, as he ran after the horse. If they come back with the horse, they said, “Do you want another drink of milk?” And he said, “Yes, me like milk.” And put some more on it, wouldn’t be long and he’d keel over.
CF : But your father, he didn’t get involved in this?
WEGNER : No, he didn’t interfere with them. But there was other mates and that whey they was cutting sleepers and that. He’d camp outside, make a few bob, five pound a hundred.
CF : Did he used to have any of the aboriginals working for him?
WEGNER : No, no they just roam out in the bush, camp in the bush. Soon as anybody cleared a bit of land, well they’d shift back a little bit further. Made their humpies in the bush. In the scrub like. Get after piccabeans and all that to get something to eat.
CF : You were saying before that there were some very big floods in those days, a particularly big one in 1893. Tell me about it.
WEGNER : Oh, I can’t explain it that damn neat. It was only just what Dad said about mixing a boat out of beach and then he rowed over here to the Station and water around everywhere. Well there was no getting out or pulling it or anything, just paddle it along.
CF : So it was a pretty big flood?
WEGNER : Yes, too right! I wish to Christ that it’d come now too.
CF : You’d like to see a big one?
WEGNER : Yes, I would. I’d like to see a big one. I had a bloke down in Nambour on Sunday afternoon and he reckoned all round down where the engineering works, next to the (old) “Chronicle” Office, that was a real big waterway. So if it comes up again well you could safely say the “Chronicle” Office and engineering and Cordwell – Cordwell’ll be alright because he’s on land – but the others, it’s all fill. They don’t ask people does it get flooded, they just build on it. Take a piece of land and they reckon they’re right.
CF : So your father had selected the land and his parents came with him. When did your father get married?
WEGNER : Oh I couldn’t tell you that either. Oh, it’d be in the late ‘18s, 1800s. The eldest one - they reckon the first one comes anytime, that’s what they all say – well she was born in 1897.
CF : So they probably married about mid-1890s?
WEGNER : Around about that, yes.
CF : Where did your mother come from? Was she a local girl?
WEGNER : Yes, Kiamba, that’s where she come from.
CF : Kiamba.
WEGNER : They got married then and Dad started a bit of dairying and planted a few fruit trees, orange trees, get a little bit of wine.
CF : He used to make his own wine?
WEGNER : Make his own wine.
CF : What would he make it from?
WEGNER : Grapes or oranges. Orange wine, orange beer and the grandmother whenever they went out to work she’d never take water, she’d take a bottle of wine out into the field, put it in a cool place, and whenever she wanted a drink out of it - she was no bigger that what Dad is – and she’d always go out and have a nip of wine. If anybody come to the house, Dad’d say, “Would you like a drop of wine or a drop of orange beer or something? “ “Oh yes.” So Dad went underneath the house in the cellar there and bought up a bucketful. When the men wanted to go home, they couldn’t get on the horse and when they got on the horse, they’d fall off the other side because they were that damn drunk.
CF : You mentioned that your grandparents actually came from Germany, did they?
WEGNER : They come from Germany, yes.
CF : That’s probably where they learnt their wine-making was it?
WEGNER : That’s right. Oh Dad used to make a lot of things over thee, wine and beer. He used to grow his own fruit and stuff.
CF : And did he sell the wines?
WEGNER : No, no he never sold it; they drank it all. Course that’s while they used to come down to Eumundi see, onto the place, and the verandah was about that high off the ground and of course, they’d sit down, Dad’d fill up their glasses and they’d talk, you know, about cutting sleepers and odds and ends and like, and a good old swag-up, you know. And when the glass got empty, Dad fill it up again. Go down the cellar and fetch up some more wine. No, he never sold any.
CF : So tell me, your parents were married and how many brothers and sisters did you have?
WEGNER : Two sisters and a brother, and myself.
CF : Were you all born at home?
WEGNER : Yes.
CF : Did a midwife come in?
WEGNER : Well there was no hospitals. My grandmother looked after Mum when she was having a child. She was a sort of ex-Sister, she was. There was no hospitals, we was all born over the farm.
CF : So when would you have started school?
WEGNER : When I was five or six.
CF : So you started school in 1909? Where did you go to school, Tom?
WEGNER : Fairhill School, a slab school.
CF : How would you have got to school each day?
WEGNER : Walk. When we got tired of walking, we’d run a bit.
CF : How many miles was it?
WEGNER : About three miles.
CF : That was a fair walk.
WEGNER : Oh, it was a fair walk, yeah. We’d have to milk first. The few cows that Dad had, we used to milk them first and then have breakfast. They’d feed the calves and pigs and we’d get ready to go to school. If we got up there at 11 o’clock, it was all the same difference.
Like one time I went up there and Davison brothers, they were fetching the cream with six bullocks, six calves like in a wagon to the station here and me, like a goat, I leave the school-bag up where the school is now in North Arm here, hid it in the grass so nobody’d see it. I come over to the station with them and of course the brother and Dad was carting cane at the time and they was just going through the railway gates and they said to me, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’ll get in the grass.” And of course she (the teacher) boarded at this house, where I got in the grass, see. When I went to school, I said I have to take a letter over to Wards. Well there was two Wards, one our next door neighbour was Wards and there was a shop here in North Arm too then, and that people were Wards too. So I had to take a note over to them, letter over to Wards see. I got out of it that day. The next day, she said, “You went to the station to take cream with Davisons yesterday morning didn’t you?” “Oh yes,” I said. “Wards is in the store of North Arm.” I got out of it again. Oh Christ, I could put up a good few yarns.
CF : Do you remember any of the names of the teachers that were there at the school when you were there?
WEGNER : There was Armanasco one of them.
CF : Did you have any favourite teachers?
WEGNER : Yes, had a couple of favourites. Old Greathead was the first school teacher up there, and the girls got the cane just the same as the boys.
CF : Oh, really?
WEGNER : My word, yes.
CF : What would they get the cane for?
WEGNER : Oh just playing up in school or talking too much. Out you’d come and get your…. and the boys used to split the cane a little bit and put a hair in it and say nothing, and when you held out your hand like that to get the cane, the cane’ll split from one end to the other. With the little bit of hair in it and just strip the cane as though you got a knife and run it right along. Of course, he’d swear.
CF : Was it a big school? How many rooms in the school?
WEGNER : Oh only the one room. A slab, with the iron roof. One of these old square ship tanks – one of them old time, real old time- for our drinking water. Yes, oh we had a gay time. I did anyway.
CF : Was it a one-teacher school?
WEGNER : One teacher at the school, yes.
CF : How many pupils were there, when you were there? Twenty, thirty?
WEGNER : Oh no, there’d only be about five, six. They used to ride from Yandina to Fairhill School and be there in time to open up. There’s only the one room. Oh, there was about thirty people.
CF : Do you remember the names of some of the people you went to school with?
WEGNER : Oh I….Jack Britten was one of them; Herbie Grummitt the other; His sisters – I don’t know his sisters’ names; Billy Worthington; a sister; Edie and Mary and Freddie. Yes, all went to the one school. They all left. When they built (the new school at North Arm), George Davison give the land up here, for the school to be built on; he give them that. Then I only went a little while after that and I left when I was about 16. I learnt nothing.
CF : You were still at school when it moved from Fairhill up to North Arm?
WEGNER : To North Arm there, yes.
CF : I used to hear sometimes it was a very hard to get to it when the creeks were in flood? Did you ever have trouble like that?
WEGNER : Oh well, I stopped at home. I stopped at home. Never mind about school. I’d sooner swim in the creeks than anywhere else. That’s how we learnt to swim. When the creek come up, Dad used to go and raft logs out and tell us to get on, and when we got on to have a little bit of a paddle along, he’d get the hold of the log and give it a roll and of course we rolled in.
CF : And that’s how you learnt to swim?
WEGNER : That’s how we learnt to swim. Well I can keep my head above water, but I can’t swim properly. I wouldn’t drown exactly.
CF : When you were at school, do you remember if you had any favourite lessons, any subjects you really enjoyed? Or any you didn’t enjoy?
WEGNER : Oh, we had a few. We were not sort of in 5th class then and we had a sum to do and the teacher wanted to go home. We knew how far she had to come in to North Arm here, and we made up our mind that we wouldn’t do the sum. Course there was one in our class, but he sat at the back and he fiddled out how to do it, the jolly thing, and he took it outside. And she said, “You rub it off your slate now and don’t show the others. They’ll have to do it or stop here all night.” But we had it in our minds, we’d get her to go home first, because she had to walk. We didn’t mind a bit of dark. But she wouldn’t. If we took off along the road and yelled out, she wouldn’t have got home at all. She’d have died of fright. At any rate, she come up and said, “well you got that sum finished?” We said, “No.” All said, “No.” Anyway she put it out on the board, how it should be done and everything and, “Righto, now,” she said, “You can go home.” It was oh, after five o’clock then but she let us all go.
CF : What was her name, that teacher?
WEGNER ; Oh, I couldn’t tell you the name, no, I couldn’t tell you her name now.
CF : Where did the teachers live? Did they live near the school or did she have to live in town?
WEGNER : Oh the house about three-quarters of a mile up here, just on the corner up here, Worthington’s house, she used to camp. That’s how they knew that I come over with the cream with Davisons that day.
CF : She’d seen you?
WEGNER : No, they told her when she come home. Course I was expecting to get about four to six cuts, but I didn’t get any. I didn’t tell a lie. I didn’t tell a lie. I didn’t tell a lie. I told the truth all the time.
CF : Did you used to have activities outside the classroom? Did you do things like gardening or that sort of thing at the school?
WEGNER : No, we never did any gardening. We used to go down the scrub. Well there used to be a fig tree down there, the rope was in the middle and they’d climb up the outside. You’d get inside in a hole there, big enough to get in, and then come down on the rope. One day there was a big carpet snake in there, one about twelve or fourteen feet long. He’d swallowed a wallaby or something and he was sleeping it off in the foot of this here fig tree and of course one went to go in and here’s this carpet snake all curled up. Well then we cut sticks – we had pocket knives – sharpened sticks and jabbing them into it until we got it killed and then they took him up to the school. That was about 2 o’clock then.
CF : Did you used to go on school picnics or anything like that?
WEGNER : No.
CF : So you never had any activities really outside the classroom?
WEGNER : No, never had no transport them days. It was either walk or stop at home.
CF : Did the family ever used to go away on trips at all away from North Arm?
WEGNER : No, no we had the cows then. Cows to milk at night and morning.
CF : So your father was running the place as a dairy then?
WEGNER : He was on the place. We was there and was getting our tucker for nothing.
CF : What other things did he grow on the farm?
WEGNER : Oh he grew bananas, pawpaws, sugar cane them days.
CF : Did he grow very much cane?
WEGNER : He grew a fair bit of cane, but we had it all over the place so we didn’t have to buy fertilizer. Grew it without fertilizer. That photo there – we cut a chain square, measured it off, chain square, and we had a truck-load.
CF : How would you get the cane to the mill?
WEGNER : Cart it over here to the station on the siding of North Arm here, pull the wagon up alongside of it, then load it onto the truck. Then the train’d come along in the night sometime, and then cart it down to the mill. Then the mill’d take it over from there and they get up to where they chuck it in the carrier by hand. Then if we wanted another the next day, well then they’d fetch another one back or fetch a couple back. We’d fill them as nothing else to do, see. Oh, it was a lot of handling to do.
CF : Pretty heavy work was it?
WEGNER : Oh yes.
CF : And did just the family work on it? Did you used to have outsiders in to help?
WEGNER : Yes, I helped. I did my share and when we got a beard up like this, a big beard, we didn’t shave, we got clippers. Clipped up the side here.
CF : Clipped your beard?
WEGNER : Clipped our whiskers shorter again and we never shaved. Cause when you burn the cane, you had to cut the cane a week after the Mill started, in the leaf. You didn’t burn it in case the Mill broke down.
CF : So you never burnt the cane? You went straight in and cut it?
WEGNER : Never burnt the cane. Cut it. Like, break the trash away and cut the top off, then thrash it, put it in a heap. Then after that you could burn it enough to do one day again. Of course later on the juice starts coming out of the cane, you get it all up around the neck here when you’re loading it.
CF : If you weren’t burning before you started cutting, did you come across a lot of snakes?
WEGNER : Oh no, they got out of the road. They got out of the road, yes. With the raking of the trash, see, and it’s pretty clean then, only it’s better if it’s burnt. You only got to cut it off at the ground and cut the top off, chuck it on the heap.
Health and medical services
CF : Much quicker. You were saying before that there was no doctor there when your mother was having the children. Was it ever a problem? Did anyone get injured and you needed a doctor?
WEGNER : They reckon there was no problems; everything was alright.
CF : No one in the family ever got hurt and needed a doctor?
WEGNER : No.
CF : So there were never any accidents or anybody getting sick?
WEGNER : No. They were too damn silly to get accidents. Not like today. As soon as you get a bit of a scratched fnger.. Dad always put iodine on an open sore. If you cut your hand at all, he’d get the iodine bottle and pour the iodine. And that is iodine them days, not like now - tincture of iodine - you can’t buy iodine. As soon as you’d put it on a sore, it’d go black. Well that takes the poison out. And if you tramp on a nail, you’d get the ashes out of the stove or fire-place whatever it is. You get a shovelful of ashes and put it in boiling water. Then every so often, put your foot in there until you could soak it. The ashes take the poison out of from the nail.
CF : Did you ever get any blood poisoning or anything like that?
WEGNER : No, never got no blood poisoning. I only had the one blood poisoning – I didn’t need no more.
CF : When was that?
WEGNER : Oh when I was about six years old, six or seven year old, I remember going down, coming over here on a horse, on the front part of the saddle, and then down in the hospital then.
CF : Who was the doctor looking after you?
WEGNER : Malahar.
CF : Dr Malahar, and which hospital did you go to?
WEGNER : Private hospital.
CF : Down at Nambour?
WEGNER : Yes, only went underneath the railway bridge from the garage there this side of the bridge.
CF : Just where you go into Nambour?
WEGNER : Yes, about three or four hundred yards up there, a house on the corner. That’s where they put it into a hospital.
CF : Do you remember who ran the hospital? Who was in charge of it?
WEGNER : No, no idea. That’s where all the old women had the babies. I had the job of rolling up the nappies. I got a watch-chain out of it.
CF : How long were you down there for?
WEGNER : I was down there for six weeks. Six weeks the first time and then I was there another fortnight after that when I tore the bandage off, putting it through the banister railing, watching the corroborees of a Sunday.
CF : What sort of corroborees were they? Were they Aboriginals?
WEGNER : Yes.
CF : And they’d have corroborees outside the hospital?
WEGNER : Well, at the railway line. Where them garages are now, this side of the bridge, that’s where the corroborees used to be every Sunday.
CF : And did they come into town or did they live in town?
WEGNER : No, they’d come into town. Get a few bottles, then they’d start jigging around there, doing their tricks all out in the open… When they’d get too drunk, somebody’d ring the police and they’d get shifted. As soon as they thought the police would be coming, they just vanished back into the scrub again.
CF : So they’d do dances and singing?
WEGNER : Oh yes, They sang and laughed, giggled, and of course we liked watching them over the hill. It’s just like looking out like that. I had a ton of fun when I could get out and walk out just a little bit, because I slept on the verandah all the time. The sister said, “Oh, Dr Malahar had a look at your food last night. He was called up to deliver a baby and he had a look at your foot.” “Yes”, I said. “Like hell.” I said.
CF : That wasn’t Nurse Bade’s hospital was it?
WEGNER : Oh, well I think that’s the only one in those days, might have been. That was Ted Low’s mother-(in-law) and father-(in-law).
CF : You were saying Tom that your mother was quite badly hurt when you were down in the hospital. What actually happened?
WEGNER : She got gored with a bull and had to be taken to Brisbane hospital by train from here. They carried her over on a home-made stretcher and caught the mail train here. When they seen her coming, the gang like, they loaded her in over the railway fence and then into the van, backed the train back so they wouldn’t have to carry her right down to the station. Then she was in Brisbane for ten weeks or something, Brisbane Hospital. But she got alright. She was pretty hefty; she was about eighteen stone.
CF : Would have been a big trip carrying her to the station then?
WEGNER : Yes, too right!
Recreation and leisure
CF : When you were at home then, did you have very much in the way of entertainment? Was the family very musical? Did you have a piano?
WEGNER : No, we had no piano. Dad had a button accordion and we had a bit of a barn over there. We used to clean it out and have a dance or two in it. I never danced at all. I used to go in and might have a nip of wine or something.
CF : And neighbours would come along to the dances, would they?
WEGNER : Oh yes, there used to be a good turnout. They’d pay a few bob for the use of the hall. Dad played the accordion and others played accordion and that’s how we enjoyed ourselves.
CF : Do you remember, were there very many books in the house? Were you readers?
WEGNER : No, never read a book in my life. I’m not likely to start now.
CF : Really, you just didn’t enjoy reading?
WEGNER : I didn’t enjoy one bit about it. But Dad, and Freddy, they used to lay down in bed and read books till daylight in the morning. Not for me.
CF : What sort of thing would you do at night then?
WEGNER : Well I used to go out and ride the horses and see the girls.
CF : You were a bit social, were you?
WEGNER : Yes.
CF : When you were going out with the girls, was there much in the way of entertainment around North Arm?
WEGNER : Pictures. There used to be a moving show come to the hall here. We used to all come over, be a big turnout in the hall. Two bob or half a crown to go in.
CF : Where did the guy used to come from to show those pictures?
WEGNER : Travelling shows.
CF : They’d travel around?
WEGNER : There was no picture shows till the picture show started in Yandina, Nambour. We used to mostly go to Yandina. A bloke used to run a bus, a truck, a 30-hundredweight truck. We’d travel in that to go to Yandina, to go to the pictures. Etheridge Brothers had it in Yandina.
CF : When was that, do you remember? Before the Second World War?
WEGNER : Oh, yes. They wanted me to train for the First World War. I was old enough and sort of seventeen or eighteen.
End Side A/Begin Side B
WEGNER : Yes we’d do a little bit of drilling. Course there was only about seven or eight of us there. And he said, “You in the lead there, don’t take so big a step.” And of course another bloke there, Joe Cox was his name, and he was mad on fishing, and our sergeant that used to be there he’d get talking about fishing. And he said, “What, is there good fish about here?” “Oh yes, “ he said. “Just down in the creek down there.” That’s the South Maroochy see.
CF : So you’d distract him?
WEGNER : That’s all we done then. Joe Cox’d talk about fishing, and he’s great on fishing. He said, “I’ll bring up a line one of these days. We’ll go fishing, “he said to Joe. Joe said, “I’ll be in that too.” That’s all a bloke had to do.
CF : That was all the drilling? And none of you actually had to go away?
WEGNER : No, no, none of us went away. Well they was going to give me a route march. They give me boots like and if I crippled up on that, buggered up on that I should say, then they were going to chuck me out. But they didn’t get that far with me. Ken Overell’s father, he was something to do with the military and everything. He lived in Nambour. And he said, “You’re on the farm, Tom. Where’s the other brother?” “Oh, “ I said, “He’s in the mine.” So he got me out of it. I didn’t get that far. I got rejected see because I had the blood poison foot and I had sores underneath the right foot and both shins. Both shins is all ripped and teared about and they were going to start me on this route march and I jibbed on that too. I got out of it that way. So I got rejected, but I should have got a pension because they rejected me.
Golden Surprise Mine
CF : So tell me Tom about the Golden Surprise Mine, the gold that you found on your property. When was that? Round about 1927 or so was it?
WEGNER : ’29 when it first started.
CF : 1929. How did the gold get discovered?
WEGNER : It was only about six inches under the ground when Dad found it.
CF : What made him start looking for it? Or was it just accidental?
WEGNER : Oh well other people next door to us used to say, “Oh, I got some alluvial gold.” Like surface gold see, comes down in the little drains. They used to dig a hole so they had plenty of water and get alluvial gold and then we started. There was four of us and we’d dig a trench like that so when we go down too deep, we couldn’t dig no more or pick any more, well we’d leave it and go somewhere else. Dad went round the side of the hill and he seen this little bit of stone sort of half sticking up in the air. He dug down and he got a piece about oh, it was only about that size (a big chunk), took it up to Gympie. It was going over 100oz to the ton so he said he’d fetch a plant down and start little four-head stampers.
CF : So he brought the plant down himself, your father, did he?
WEGNER : Yes, brought the plant down by road and then after well he – 20 is a syndicate, and 24 its got to be a company.
CF : Oh so he formed a company to develop the mine?
WEGNER : No, only a syndicate.
CF : A syndicate.
WEGNER : So we put a shaft down. There was a bloke come from Gympie, a miner.
CF : Who was that? Do you remember his name?
WEGNER : George Leads. And he come down and of course he sharpened his own drills and we just used the hammer and we put it down about twenty-five feet, not on the reef, on the side. Then they decided they’d make it into a company, get a bigger plant, 170 horse-power engine. We got paid by shares then.
CF : Somebody else actually looked after the mine, did they?
WEGNER : Yes. Well see it was on Dad’s property. It was Private Property see. Not like the olden days. If it ‘s crown land or anything like that, well you don’t pay any royalty or anything. We knew nothing about gold. It went for seven years around the clock. That’s the time the floods were on too.
CF : You had bad floods then did you?
WEGNER : Yes, because a lot of the people they lived in North Arm here and couldn’t get to work, unless they swam the creek and they didn’t want to do that. They wanted Dad to snig a couple of logs down and they’d put up a high log, bolt it to a tree and that’s how they got to work. I come over here to North Arm up to me waist on top of this log, had a wire rope to grip on to.
CF : Did the floods damage the gold-mine at all?
WEGNER : No, no it’ll never get flooded, but it’ll never go dry because the water’s running out of there all the time. Plenty of water, good drinking water too.
CF : Did you work in the mine yourself?
WEGNER : No, I didn’t work in the mine. I was helping Dad fall the trees and splitting the slabs from them. In the tunnel in different places, had to be boarded up, see.
CF : So all the timber for the mine was done on your place? You and your father did all that, did you?
WEGNER : Yes, cut round stuff about that size, snig it in with two horses. Then we got a jinker, they had a trolly up there, little wheels on it and I could put about seven or eight logs on that. As long as the snout was off the ground – never mind about the back part – as long as the front part was off the ground, the horses’d pull it easier than snigging it.
CF : Was your father a very experienced timber-man? Did he do a lot in the timber?
WEGNER : Yes he worked in amongst the timber all his life. Oh yes, he could split slabs where I couldn’t split a chip.
CF : He did timber work for other people around town, did he?
WEGNER : Yes, dress up sleepers, fetch them up to North Arm here. He got five pound a hundred for them.
CF : Did you have to do sleepers in a certain way?
WEGNER : Well they had to be 8x4 sleepers. And a lot of them wouldn’t get theirs passed because they was too rough. And me Dad’d come in with his squaring axe and they paid him a days wages and he’d dress them all up and they got them all passed next time the inspector come.
CF : So he was very much the expert?
WEGNER : He was an expert, yes. Yes the real expert he was. He was real good in timber. Right up to his last couple of years.
CF : How would he manage to get them so straight? Was he using one of the chalk lines? Did he use that?
WEGNER : Yes, Tallow wood bark, make it into a paste and then put a nick in the end of the log there and over there. And go along the chalk line. 10x4 I thought or 10x4½ or something they were. And they got five pound a hundred. What are they getting now, $40 or $60 a hundred - $4 a sleeper and $5 a sleeper. And this was five pound a hundred.
CF : So a lot of the family income and would have come from his timber-work, would it?
WEGNER : Oh well, that’d help pay the farm off see. That’s how he did it. He used to go and cut timber all the time, saw the trees down on his own and that.
CF : He’d always worked by himself would he?
WEGNER : Yes, worked by himself. If he got a log rolled on his leg or anything, he’d be there until some of his mates come round to see how he’s going. Course they was all cutting sleepers.
CF : Is it hard work by yourself in the timber?
WEGNER : No, you should have a mate. Yes, no matter where you go, you should have a mate so if everything happens to you, the mate can go and get assistance. When you’re working on your own… Oh he had a dog, used to leave his beef hung up on the galley and the dog’d be there and the beef’d be there when he came back. Somebody’d say, “Hey Fred, you got any drinking water?” “Yes.” “Where is it?” “Over there where the dog’s laying. Go straight up,” he said. “He won’t bite you.” And of course as soon as they got from here to the wall, about ten feet away he’d lay down, grind his teeth and as soon as they stopped….There’s no more getting to the billy. Dad’d have to go and “What’s the matter Tray?” Won’t you give them a drink of water?” Of course he’s moved around Dad all his life. The others could have a drink of water all the way there - he wouldn’t bite or anything – but nobody’d get near the billy, even Dad. If Dad walked up to the billy and about ten feet away, the dig’d snarl at him. If Dad spoke to him, it was alright, cause Dad’d stop, see. He wouldn’t let Dad near that billy.
CF : So tell me Tom, with the gold-mine on the property, did the family make very much money out of the gold-mine?
WEGNER : Yes, everything got paid for. Nambour wanted to be in it, Gympie wanted to be in it. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted to be in it. They opened it up, got 114 horse-power engine new from England and put it on a stand. They cemented blocks too over there but they never put the engine on it at all. Bill Runge said, what was the good of putting good money after bad now. “We have a few thousand in the bank now. Why not give all the shareholders their equal pay and close it down.”
CF : Where did most of the shareholders come from? Were they from around the North Arm area?
WEGNER : No, no, they come from Gympie mostly. All the men that worked in it. Bill Runge, he lived up there on top of the hill in a private house. Went for seven years, round the clock. Rain, hail or shine it was always - never get wet in the tunnel. There was a place in the tunnel there – oh bigger than this place here, this room. It ever there’s another war, go for the mine, get in there, but better have a torch or lamp that will never go out. Otherwise it’s not daylight in there, it’s always dark and they had a shaft down alongside of the wall. This is down about twenty feet and they used to blast that. It was all solid rock. They did four feet in a week in one part of the tunnel.
CF : Was it very heavy rock they were going through?
WEGNER : It’s all rock, solid rock. It’s only got a bit of a shell, about three feet surface, on it. The rest was all rock. And it took them a week to go four feet. It used to bump the drills up like fun.
CF : Oh it was actually a Gympie company that worked the mine?
WEGNER : Yes, Archibald and Runge. Runge and Archibald they called it. Archibald did the assaying and Runge knew all about digging holes, mining like, blasting, and everything like that.
CF : Were there any other mines around the area at the same time?
WEGNER : There was some digging, but they had no plant. Then Bill Runge bought their piece of land, so he could get the gold out of it. That was all he wanted. Until the gold petered out, then he reckoned no more gold, well what was the use of putting good money after bad? So we all just paid up. I got a few thousand out of it. I spent it fast as I got it.
CF : Bit of a bonus for the family having that money was it?
WEGNER : Oh yes.
CF : But your father himself didn’t know anything about gold-mining?
WEGNER : No, we never knew nothing about it. Didn’t know gold from a lump of rock. And Archibald - course they’ve been all over Perth and all them places in the gold-mines. Everywhere there was a gold mine, Bill Runge and Archiblald was always in it. Course old Archibald he could assay it see, see what weight it is and how much it’d go to the ton. I was telling Ted Low about the little reef six inches wide, going over 100oz. He said, “Like bloody hell, Tom.” And I said, “Ted – do you know gold when you see it?” “No,” he said, “I don’t !” And I said the reef is only six inches wide. But, I said, it’s got to be done, say 6x3 working spaces, cause it’s like everything else, the union comes and tells you you’ve got to dig it wider, well…Have a good bit of mullock and then Dad was going to give them the metal providing they put it on from his house to the station here. And they put a load up here at the sawmill here one day, for nothing see. It cost them nothing. And Dad said after, he said, “I’ll tell you what, if you can fetch a loader in here to load it on to your truck, you can have it for sixpence a yard.” But they reckoned they could dig it out cheaper than that. So Dad was going to Eumundi one day and he was up there and he sees this metal up there. And no more metal. No more metal for nothing.
CF : So the gold was dug out of the mine here. Then what? Loaded in wagons?
WEGNER : No, no, dug here and crushed on the plant, in the crushing stampers. This was all stamped up and the stuff that left the gold was in a bat about that long. It used to go to Melbourne, by train. Bill Runge brought over two bars one day, give it to the guard. Course it’s got to be insured and everything. Everything’s all insured and sewed up properly. They knew all about that. The guard got hold of this mail bag and thought that there was nothing in it. He got hold of it and, “Oh God, “ he said, “It’s heavy.” Sort of half dropped it again. “Oh,” Bill Runge said, “There’s only two bars of gold in that mail bag. About that thick, about two inches thick and about three to four inches wide.
CF : Pretty heavy stuff?
WEGNER : Oh yes, I wouldn’t like to carry it too far, even one bar. Oh we did alright and after seven years, it sort of closed down. Course who bought the big plant, the one from England – the flywheel was thirty-two feet across. That was from one side to the other, thirty-two feet.
CF : Who did buy it?
WEGNER : Archibald and Runge bought it, cause they had the money. They bought the new plant and took it up to Gympie. Then they cyanided all their river sand up there. Cyanided it over here too.
CF : They were doing that over on your property as well were they?
WEGNER : That’s right. Everything was there, all that went away was the gold.
CF : What would happen when you cyanided the sand? What did that do?
WEGNER : They put shavings down, big shavings and the gold would eat the shavings away. But the cyanide, it sifted the gold and the little bit of silver that’s in it, out. That’ll be in a pot by itself and the cyanide ‘ll eat the stone and everything away.
CF : So that way they really didn’t lose any gold from the diggings at all?
WEGNER : They don’t lose nothing when they cyanide. I tell you what it’s good for, killing cats and rats and everything, cyanide. Anything with a wet mouth, all they got to do is just look over the side like that and blows their brains out.
CF : So meanwhile you and your father were working for the farm?
WEGNER : Oh, we milked the cows and then we used to go out and cut the slabs for them. Got two pound a hundred.
CF : Did you stay on the farm after that, after the gold-mine closed?
WEGNER : I was on the farm until 1947. When the mine closed down in – oh it’d be ’32 it was in full swing, and seven years’d be about…
CF : Just before the Second World War.
WEGNER : Yes, just before that. It started aboutn1929 when they first started cause bill Runge bored a hole. He said, “Today’s Friday, and I don’t believe in starting work on a Friday.” So he got the jackhammer and bored a hole down here on the solid bit of rock. “Righto,” he said, “now we’ll be right. We’ll be able to work tomorrow.” That was on a Thursday, - a bit sort of superstitious, that’s all – but he wouldn’t start anything on a Friday.
World War II
CF : So when the Second World War started, did you feel the effects much here in the area?
WEGNER : No. The Yanks used to come. They used to camp up here in the paddock – the Yanks in Dellitt’s paddocks - and they’d come over to the mine to get some metal to do the roads round their camps and that. Course we had bananas over there. Instead of loading the truck with metal, they left a few to chuck a bit of metal on the truck and they’d tear up through our bananas to see if there was any ripe bananas. Some of us was doing something else - my brother was – I’d go up the bananas. I said to him, “We’ll both go up to the bananas tomorrow.” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “The truck’s coming in, the Yank military truck’s coming in to get some more metal and what they do is run all through the bananas to see if there’s any pawpaws ripe.
We heard the truck coming; we heard the people coming into the patch. Instead of getting the metal and going off with the metal, no fear, they wanted to have a look to see they could get any fruit. We sat still in the middle of the bananas and he jumped up on a log and ran along the log. Of course they could pick the pawpaws off the log, get up on the log and you could pick the pawpaws quite easily. He was just going to reach up and grab the pawpaw – it was just starting to colour – and I sad, “Hey, what ‘re you going to do there?” “Oh, just having a look around.” “Look around,” I said, “We know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for ripe fruit, but I’ll tell you what, boy, if you start getting a pain in the belly, you’d better see a doctor because we got all cyanide round in here.” Never no more after that. Never no more after that. No more shaking fruit or anything.
Then they used to have a tank where they’d pump the water from the creek up over copper plates like, at the plant. They swam in that and there was about six inches of silt in the bottom from the cyanide and that. Of course they had dug a dam and everything and the brother happened to be there one day. It was alright, you could swim around on the top, on the surface of it. It’d be alright, but once it starts stirring up this white stuff, you’d come out a damn sight dirtier than when you went in it. Me brother said to them, “You want to be careful of that white stuff, that’s cyanide.” No more swimming in the tank after that. Well I suppose it’s rotten now.
CF : Did people in the area used to worry at all, particularly when Japan came into the War and you’re all living near the coast? Did anyone worry about it?
WEGNER : No, but only after America flying over and landing up in the Northern Territory, Japan’d be here. We wouldn’t have been able to do a thing cause we’ve got nothing here, you might as well say. But the Yanks, they all flew in to Northern Queensland up there. There might have been one or two got away but he soon starved to death. No it never hurt us here.
CF : So when did you leave the farm?
WEGNER : 1947, and I paddled me own canoe and I’m still single.
CF : What sort of work did you do when you left the farm?
WEGNER : Well I looked after a bloke’s bananas for three months and I come over here to Eric Krome and he had bananas.
North Arm township
CF : Was North Arm very big in those days? There’s only one shop now in North Arm. Was it much bigger in those days?
WEGNER : Oh yes, butcher shop here.
CF : How many shops were there?
WEGNER : Butcher shops and two stores.
CF : Who ran those, do you remember?
WEGNER : Oh, Ward had one of them. Flint had the other one just out there. And there was blokes working for Baldry in the butcher shop.
CF : The mill down the end of the road here, the Davidson Mill, Where did that start? Is that an old mill?
WEGNER : No, well McCord owned it first, McCord’s owned it.
CF : When was that?
WEGNER : Oh, I wouldn’t know when they started it, but Davidson bought it off them and of course they went timber hauling, timber trucks and that, transport. All the (McCord) lads are all in driving transports now.
CF : What was the main business around North Arm in those days?
WEGNER : Mostly dairying, all dairying. Up here, Dellitt up here on the corner - Albert Dellitt’s people - he used to milk about 150 cows by hand.
CF : What sort of cattle did everybody have in those days?
WEGNER : Oh everything. Cream was two and five pence a pound. Dellitt was the only person that had cattle. There was plenty of flooding and we had one cow milking out of about thirty. The others all got drowned.
CF : So your father had to go and buy more cattle did he?
WEGNER : No just reared them up.
CF : Where could you take the milk to?
WEGNER : The cream? We’d feed the pigs with the milk, but the cream we used to bring it over here and send it up by rail to Cooroy.
CF : Up to the Butter Factory?
WEGNER : The Butter Factory. In Eumundi too, then. They started one in Eumundi. Dad had shares in Cooroy, so we sent it to Cooroy on the mail train. Then they’d send the empty cans back. We’d pick them up the next day, day after. Mostly dairying and growing sugar cane, a few bananas. Then of course, it ventured out. They’d build a little house here and build another house there.
CF : Tell me where people used to do shopping? Was there anywhere round town you could do the shopping or would you have to go to Yandina? Brisbane?
WEGNER : Used to come up by boat for Dad. Down to Yandina, Pear Tree Corner. Well it used to come to there.
CF : Pear Tree, where’s that?
WEGNER : When you’re going to Fairhill, the first corner you come off the bridge here and you go up there a little bit, then you turn to a corner here, come up this way back to North Arm and there used to be a little church there one time. They used to walk down there to go to church. That’s the Pear Tree Corner, used to be pear trees standing there.
CF : So the boats would bring supplies up to there?
WEGNER : The steamer’d fetch it up as far as it could, then they’d fetch it up by boat.
CF : So the steamer would come to Pear Tree Corner?
WEGNER : No, no the big boats would have to stop back a bit near Maroochydore. Then they’d load it on to this little steamer, motor-boat, and they’d fetch it up. Dad used to get a sack of flour and a bag of sugar, put on the pummel of the saddle and ride home with it that way. Of course, Mum used to bake her own bread.
CF : How about things like meat? Would you get that from in town?
WEGNER : They used to get it from Nambour on the train. Lowes. Where the C.O.D was, there used to be a butcher shop there, the main street there, where the C.O.D. was.
CF : So your meat was coming up from Nambour and was your flour coming from Maroochydore or Brisbane?
WEGNER : Come from Brisbane. Up here, Dad used to send down an order and all the stuff’d come up here, but he had to take it all home on a horse, pack horse.
CF : Why wouldn’t they have sent it up by train?
WEGNER : Well there were no trains. 1891 was the first train that went to Eumundi. Dad used to work on the line too. When he got up here, in the cutting up here, he left.
CF : Soon as it got close to home?
WEGNER : He left. He said to the other bloke, “I’m going to leave today.” He said, “Oh what rot.” “No,” he said, “I’ll chuck it in and go and do a bit of farming now.” Yes, well the North Arm bridge – there’s one here going to the school, well there’s one up here on the northern end and the way the line is now, that’s where the road should have been and come out at Gerald Davidson’s here. It was all surveyed and everything.
CF : They changed the route did they?
WEGNER : Yes, because the cutting wasn’t deep enough to put the bridge up. They had twenty-five pounds left over from doing the road. They said to Dad, “Where would you like to have your road, so you can get your produce to the station.” Dad said, “I don’t care what you do.” So anyway they put the road down from the corner up here, down the eastern side of the railway line, then come through the gates.