William Bullen

William worked the Coes Creek pinapple property on the south west side of Nambour, from ca 1955 until 1968

William Bullen

Interview with: William (Bill) Bullen

Date of Interview: 5 July 1985

Interviewer: Gillian Pechey

Transcriber: Colwyn Boulton

William (Bill) Bullen worked the Coes Creek property on the south west side of Nambour, from ca 1955 until 1968, when he sold out and moved to Maroochydore. William was born in Old Junee, New South Wales on 15 July 1902. He was the youngest of eight children of William Henry Bullen and Martha Bullen (nee Webster). In ca 1924 he moved to the Maroochy River district, where he took up sugarcane farming - first on property beside the Maroochy River (1924 1943) and then at Rosemount (1943-1954). He farmed his Coes Creek property mostly by hand, planting between 600 and 1200 pineapple plants an hour in double rows using a small hoe. The pineapples were subsequently harvested by hand and sent on a weekly basis to the cannery and to the Sydney markets.

Images and documents about William Bullen in Sunshine Coast Libraries Catalogue.

Image: William Bullen hand picking pineapples on his farm, Coes Creek, ca 1960.


William Bullen oral history - part one [MP3 29MB]

William Bullen oral history - part two [MP3 29MB]


Family history

GP: Mr Bullen, what are your earliest memories?

BULLEN: Well I can remember I was born at old Junee and I can remember the district. I remember when I started school. That was a wheat and sheep area, and one thing I used to remember very well was the big teams of bullocks and horses carting wheat past our back gate to old Junee, to the station there, to send it away. That was one of my earliest memories.  My father was a school teacher there and he was transferred to a place called Cambewarra on the south coast of New South Wales. We went down there when I was ten years old. Well I grew up there - we were there for about thirteen years - and attended school there with him until I finished my primary education. Then I rode a pony five miles morning and evening to the Nowra Superior Public School to do my secondary education, crossing the Shoalhaven River twice a day. That was during the War years.

GP: The First World War?

BULLEN: Yes the First World War. The War finished about a month before I finished school. I got a position in Sydney in a produce office there as a clerk. My brother was their country buyer. It was during the big influenza epidemic that nobody seems to know anything about now, but it was something very drastic. My employer and his wife contracted the ‘flu and they both died within a week of each other - he was thirty-nine years old - and that upset the firm. His brother carried on the firm, but he had to cut it down a lot. Instead of four clerks, he had to cut it down to one. So I was laid off. I went back home to Cambewarra. A friend of mine was on a farm not far away - his wife died of influenza, she was only in her early thirties; my eldest sister also died - he gave me a job on the farm, which I liked, on the dairy farm. Later on, his brother took it over. I was there for four years. Then went out to Grenfell for six months to do shearing and harvest on a property belonging to an uncle of mine. When I was twenty-two years old, my father retired and I had one married sister living on the [Maroochy] River, Mrs Brown, and two other sisters came up here for a holiday and both came engaged to cane farmers up here. So they said “Well three of us will be settling on the Maroochy River, we’d like you to come too.” And just about that time a farm became available and we come up and bought it. It was bought in my name. Well they both died while they were there, but I lived on that farm for eighteen years.

GP: Was there a house on that farm?


GP: Did you build another one?

BULLEN: We built another small one for my father and mother. But my father only lived for five months. He died there and Mother went to live with my sister, Mrs Kittle. She lived with her till she died. When I was married, we lived in the house there. Later on we sold that farm and shifted and brought a farm at Rosemount, a bigger farm. We were there for twelve or thirteen months.

Sugar can farming on Maroochy River

GP: Can we go back then and talk about the first farm . What was on that farm when you came there?


GP: So it was already a cane farm?

BULLEN: Oh yes, it was cane all along the river.

GP: How many acres would you have had?

BULLEN: I had fifteen acres on that farm. Actually it’d been a farm sub-divided into two for two brothers and actually it was too small. That’s why we sold it and went to Rosemount. The Rosemount farm was thirty-five acres.

GP: Could one person handle thirty-five acres of sugar farming?

BULLEN: Oh well, we employed some labour. Well, I didn’t have thirty-five acres of farm altogether, it was twenty-four acres. See it was assigned. You had so many acres assigned and you were allowed to grow cane on that.

GP: So the Mill said you could grow, for example, ten acres of sugar?

BULLEN: It wasn’t the Mill, it was Central Cane Prices Board assigned the land. They assigned so many acres to each grower, and they were allowed to grow cane on those acres. Of course we had some paddock as well.

GP: The Central Cane Prices Board?

BULLEN: They had offices in Brisbane.

GP: Were they a Government Agency?

BULLEN: Yes. There was a representative of the growers on it and a representative of the millers.

GP: So if you had a certain number of acres, could you produce any amount of sugar on that? I suppose that if you could improve the quality of the sugar, you were doing well.


GP: Was there any research or experiment done in breeding new varieties of sugar?

BULLEN: Oh, all the time. The Department had experimental farms every here and there. One up in Bundaburg and there was a representative in this district and they were continually breeding new varieties of cane and trying them out. A lot of it was discarded. I think if they got one in a hundred they were satisfied. They were doing that all the time, altering the varieties and some varieties were susceptible to disease. Some were high sugar content, some were low sugar content. You just had to pick them out like that.

GP: Were some suited to different soils?

BULLEN: Yes, some would stand more wet soil that others.

GP: Who advised the farmers on what was the best sort of sugar for them to grow?

BULLEN: Oh, well this was the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations and they had a representative in the Nambour district. They used to go round, they had experimental blocks around they were working on and they had an experimental farm at Bundaburg, where they tried out a lot of their new cane.

GP: They had field days, I believe?

BULLEN: Occasionally, yes.

GP: Do you remember any field days?


GP: What did you do on those days?

BULLEN: Well they demonstrated various new implements and showed various canes, different canes, perhaps new methods of cultivation, etcetera. Some of the Officers in the Department would be there.

Pests and disease in cane

GP: Did you have much trouble with pests and disease in the sugar?

BULLEN: Oh there’s always disease in the sugar, yes. Rats sometimes used to make a nuisance of themselves.

GP: Did they eat the sugar?

BULLEN: Oh yes, eat pieces out of the cane from one end to another; very often cut it down near the ground and they would fall over. Oh, yes, they were a bit of a pest.

GP: Did you have actually many losses because of pests?

BULLEN: Oh, everybody had a certain amount. Of course another thing we suffered from was the floods. Twice while I was on the River, I had practically the whole farm under water from the floods. Come over five steps of our house on two occasions. The house was twelve steps high.

GP: Did the floods damage the sugar?

BULLEN: If the cane was not very high and the water went over the top of the cane - of course the water was very dirty, and the soil in the water would settle in the hearts of the cane - well that sometimes would kill the heart. Do it severe damage. If the cane was high, well above the flood level, it wasn’t too bad. It didn’t do a great deal of damage, but sometimes it knocked it over, and it’d be lying flat on the ground instead of standing up in the air. And very often severe wind would blow it over too.

GP: And there was certainly the beetles and the bugs, I believe?

BULLEN: Yes, mostly up in the North, the cane beetle. Yes, that’s why they introduced the cane toad into Queensland. They had this cane beetle up North - we weren’t troubled with it down here - but up North they were troubled very much. They got this cane toad from - I think it was South America - to eat the cane beetle, and the cane toad become just as big a pest as the beetle.

GP: Was there ever any rust or anything caused by moisture in the sugar? In wheat they have that problem.

BULLEN: Well, of course, too much moisture and the cane wouldn’t grow. Sometimes if you planted young cane and got a flood over it when it was just coming up, it would just rot the plants. You’d have to replant a lot of it. Rot the plants out by the thousand.

GP: Have you got any idea how many hours a week you would have worked?

BULLEN: Oh, depended on the sun. We started work at daylight and finished at dark practically. In the wintertime, of course, it was short days, but in the summertime I used to get up at half-past-four every morning. Well I always liked to be out at work in the cane by 7 o’clock. I generally worked till about 6 o’clock at night.

GP: Did you have any other jobs to do besides cane farming?

BULLEN: Oh well, of course there’s those times I had horses, had to look after the horses. They had to be fed and groomed three times a day. We generally kept a cow for our own use and we had to milk the cow and feed it.

GP: And chooks?

BULLEN: Yes, we had our own fowls. We had to be more or less self-supporting. Then at Rosemount I had a little separator and used to separate the milk and make our own butter. Sometimes finished up at 9 o’clock at night.

GP: So you were pretty self-sufficient in those days?

BULLEN: Well, as much as we could.

GP: Could we go back and look at the equipment you used in farming and how that changed?

BULLEN: Oh yes.

GP: In 1924 what were you using then?

BULLEN: Well the average equipment for a farm was: two horses, a disc plough and say two mouldboard ploughs, a larger one and a smaller one; then a scuffler or two - a scarifier, some call it - to work up and down the cane, to keep loosening the cane. When the cane was growing, you had to keep working between the rows all the time, with a horse and scuffler. You walked behind the scuffler and usually walked fifteen miles a day. That was an average day’s work and we worked the cane until it got up over our heads.

GP: Was this to stop the weeds mainly?

BULLEN: Yes, all the weeds were thick and all the rows had to be chipped by hand with hoes. Bigger growers always employed labourers for the chipping. My brother-in-law had one of the biggest farms on the River. Sometimes he had six men on at a time, chipping. That was a big industry. If a man had the reputation of being an extra good chipper, he was never out of a job. But if you got a reputation of being a poor chipper, well you were just passed over. But we all had to employ chippers at one time or another and do chipping of our own too. I mean we did chipping too and we did the horse work; if we had time, we also did chipping too. It was very seldom I got a man who was ahead of me.

GP: How far apart were the sugar plants?

BULLEN: The rows we generally used to plant four foot three inches apart. And the plants, oh about a foot between each plant.

GP: Did you have any problem with erosion?

BULLEN: Not very much on the cane. Afterwards when we went onto pineapples we did because that was hilly country. No, not a great deal. You had to watch it, but not a great deal.

GP: And did you have to use fertiliser?

BULLEN: Oh yes. Not when I went there, but a few years afterwards we started fertilising. Once we started we kept on with the fertilisers.

GP: How often was that done?

BULLEN: Oh well we generally fertilised when we planted the cane. We’d fertilise the row before we planted it, but in the ratoon cane – that’s the cane that’s been cut and grown up again – we’d fertilise it going along the side of it with a machine. We’d fertilise it once and then perhaps later on, we’d give it a top dressing of sulphate of ammonia. We’d do that by hand, just throw it amongst the stools.

GP: What sort of machinery was used to spread the fertiliser before you planted?

BULLEN: Well they had a little machine with two wheels on it, handles at the back and a box on it and a chute down. We put the fertiliser in that and that was driven by the wheel at the side. That vibrated underneath and that’d keep shaking the fertiliser and it went down a spout. We could regulate it by altering the little shutter on it. And we walked behind it with about one horse.

GP: Was it the same between rows?

BULLEN: Well we kept up beside the row. Sometimes we’d go each side of the row, as close to the row as we could get.

GP: And the fertiliser was a powder, was it?

BULLEN: Oh yes, well crystals. Well small ‘shot’ almost, like little balls, not a fine powder. If it was too fine, it wouldn’t run and if it was a bit coarser, it would run better. If it was too fine it would just clog up in the machine.

GP: So you had horses to start with. When did you discard the horses?

BULLEN: I was still using horses when I left the farm, but they were getting into tractors then.

GP: When would that be?

BULLEN: Well I drove the third tractor and rotary hoe that came onto the Maroochy River - well that was about 1930 roughly. There were two tractors, Fordson tractors. Four of us formed a company called the River Tractor Company and we brought this tractor and rotary hoe between us. My brother-in-law, Cyril Kittle, and I did the driving mostly.

GP: Was there much co-operation between the farmers?

BULLEN: Oh yes, a fair amount. We often helped each other planting, that sort of thing. I’d give a few days to me neighbour perhaps when he was planting and then he’d give me a few days when I was planting.

GP: Swapping time?

BULLEN: Yes, yes, to a certain extent. Particularly among the small growers. Of course the bigger growers just employed labour. There was quite a lot of labour employed those times.

GP: You talked about gangs of people. What were gangs?

BULLEN: Oh, gangs. The cane cutters were all in gangs.

GP: I see, so when the cutting time came around, you had to get help?

Harvesting and transporting cane

BULLEN: We always employed cutters, yes. They used to form what we called groups. Two or three or four farmers would be in a group and that group - according to the local Cane Price Board - had to have at least a thousand tons of cane for the group. Then we would employ a gang and they would cut all that group and we would arrange where the gang went. They generally went to each farmer and cut some, then went to the next one. Each farmer would take the gang two or three times during the season. They’d cut on contract - so much a ton. The harder they worked, the more money they made, and they used to go flat out all day too. It was hard work.

GP: Did you feed them when they were there?

BULLEN: No, we had to provide barracks for them. They looked after themselves, but we provided barracks and we had to provide furniture - stretchers and tables - and firewood and kerosene for their lighting. That was all part of it.

GP: Where did these people come from?

BULLEN: Oh some of them were local men, some of them used to live in Nambour, some Yandina and some from other districts. Sometimes they’d be there one year; sometimes they’d come back year after year. Out on the river we employed the same gang for a number of years. At the finish of the season they used to say, "Be all right for next season?" "Yes". And that was it. If we could keep the same gang, so much the better.

The Mill supplied portable tramline for each group and when we were harvesting it, we used to lay this portable tramline in lengths, four lengths to a chain. We used to lay that down through the fields and we’d run the trucks on it, on that. They’d load it. Then we’d haul those trucks out with a horse onto the main line. That was a particular job for the horses. You had to train a horse for that particular job and if you had a good truck horse, he was worth a lot of money.

GP: So he’d have to walk along the line pulling the wagon?

BULLEN: Yes, we’d go along driving the horse. I used to have a pair of reins on the horse, short reins, and I’d hold that in one hand and we’d have a fairly long chain. If you were going a bit downhill, of course the truck would run, and run quickly, and you’d have to keep the chain up, because if the chain got down on the line and the wheel went over it, like as not the truck would come off the chain.

A good horse he’d break into a trot. I’ve had a horse cantering along while the truck was coming along until we got to a little bit of a rise and then he’d have to steady up and take it along. The horse had to be a very intelligent horse and very well-trained horse.

GP: Did you have any brakes on those little wagons?

BULLEN: Oh there were odd trucks had a brake on them, you screwed them on but only odd ones. They got rid of them after. But what we used to do was have a stick and going downhill we used to shove it in the side of the truck and pull it back and that came up against the wheel and acted as a brake, or sometimes we put the stick right through. Of course if it was downhill pretty much, sprag the wheel and that would stop the back wheels altogether, dragging them along. Going downhill the horse would pull them along with the back wheels skidding along. Hauling out was quite a job. All that line had to be packed with timber wherever it was high, because sometimes we’d have the line most of the time flat on the ground, but where it came up onto the tramlines it’d be that high you’d have to pack it all up with timber. You had to be a little bit of a railway construction engineer to do it. We had what we call jump points, a piece of tramline tapered out bolted them onto the end of the curves, - they’d have curves as well as straights - and that fitted down over the main line. The trucks would come up over that and down over it. We had to provide them ourselves, bolted them on. We had curves and straights. You see, if that was the tramline and the rows were here, well we’d put it there and curve it in like that till we got down the rows and go straight down. We used to generally take about ten or twelve rows each side and run the tracks down and they’d cut that and then they’d load from each side. Then we’d shift it over the next lot. The farmer was supposed to shift the curves and put them in position and the cutters carried the straight lines over - two men to a length - I think they weighed about ninety to a hundred pound a length.

GP: Where did the sugar go from the farm?

BULLEN: Well the Mill locos, tram - locos we always called them, steam locos – they’d come along and take them to Nambour. Once we put them on the main line, we were finished with them.

GP: Was there any river crossing to be done?

BULLEN: Well there was a bridge across the river. Up the top end of the river, the tramline didn’t go right up there and they used to punt the cane. They had a punt which held eight trucks of cane with a motor boat roped onto the side of the truck. They used to take trucks up on what they call the ‘punt approach’, coming onto the bank and then from there up. They had tramline on the punt and they used to haul that up with the horses. Afterwards they started hauling with tractors and horses gradually went out. They hauled cane out with tractors, because they could haul quite a number of trucks at a time with a tractor.

GP: When was the cane weighed?

Moreton Sugar Mill

BULLEN: At the Mill.

GP: So you had to put your name on your wagons?

BULLEN: Yes, we had tickets and we tacked them on with two tacks on the side of the truck. Of course, mine were always "W.D. Bullen, Maroochy River". When the cane went into the Mill, a loco used to push the cane over the weigh-bridge and the fireman was there. He’d call out to the weigh-bridge clerk - the man inside like a little house and the scales were inside - and he weighed it, like a big pair of scales. The fireman would call out the name of the grower and each truck had a number painted on the side, and the number of the truck and that was written on the book and then when he weighed it, he put the weight of the truck on it.

GP: So each truck would have a certain weight, wouldn’t it? Apart from all the sugar that was in it?

BULLEN: The trucks used to weigh about seven hundred weight. Well they allowed that, that was allowed for in the weighing. They didn’t weigh every truck, empty trucks, they just allowed so much for the truck..

GP: Do you remember how much you got for the weight of the sugar, you know the payment?

BULLEN: Well of course every year was different. Then the cane, when it was taken round to be crushed, the samples of the juice were taken and that was tested at the laboratory. The higher the test, as we call it, the higher the sugar content, the more you got. Each unit like 10,12,13,14 and so like that, that was cane sugar content - CCS they called it - each unit at that time used to be about six shillings more than the lower one. So it just depended on what your cane tested.

GP: So how many samples would they take? Would they take one sample from each truck?

BULLEN: No, they had to take the sample, I think it was every twelve tons. They could take more if they wanted to, but that’d be every twelfth ton. There used to be a flag, a little stick about this long with a flag on it, stuck in a truck here and there at the weigh-bridge and that was the truck to be sampled.

End Side A/Begin Side B

BULLEN: Yes, the sampler. He’d take a sample of the juice as it went through the rollers and put it in a billycan and the ticket with the grower’s name went in with it. That was taken over to the laboratory and tested. I worked on that at the Mill once myself, after I was put out at Coes Creek and the bottom fell out of the pineapple industry.

GP: Can you remember how much you received for a ton of sugar? The prices fluctuated you said.

BULLEN: Oh yes, every year.

GP: What did that depend on, do you know?

BULLEN: Oh well, the season. If there was a bit of shortage, the prices would go up or if there was a glut, they’d go down. Then some of the sugar was exported, mainly to England. So we had a guaranteed price for Australian consumption - the Government guaranteed you had to get that - but whatever Australia didn’t want was exported to England. One was No. 1 pool and one was No. 2 pool. No. 1 was the Australian consumption and the No. 2 pool fluctuated quite a lot. Sometimes it was hardly worthwhile sending over. On two or three occasions while I was in the industry, we had over-production and we weren’t allowed to harvest all our cane because they couldn’t sell it.

GP: What did you do with the unharvested cane?

BULLEN? If it wasn’t too high, we’d leave it till next year, what they call stand-over cane. We always had some stand-over and we’d start cutting that stand-over first, in the first couple of months or two because that was riper than the yearling cane. But sometimes we destroyed it.

GP: Just ploughed it in?

BULLEN: Yes. My brother-in-law, Bill Brown, on one occasion a fire got out of control and burnt 600 tons of cane. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to harvest all his cane because of over-production, so he put a rotary hoe over the whole lot, ploughed in 600 tons of cane that took two whole years to grow. Those sort of things happen.

GP: When you say the fire got out of control, did it go any further than it was meant to?


GP; Like you’d burn off certain areas?

BULLEN: Yes, you’d burn a day or two days supply of cane. On this occasion a stump caught on fire at night-time and he didn’t know that it caught fire and it smouldered there. The next morning the wind got up, started the stump burning and a spark blew into the cane. Away it went. Burnt out six farms, another 1200 ton of cane was burnt.

GP: Six different farms! How did he deal with the other farmers? What did they do?

BULLEN: Well all the gangs were sent from all along the River and allotted out the Cane Inspectors allotted them out - and on one farm they made up a gang of thirty farmers and I was one of them. We cut there for six days to cut away six or seven hundred tons of cane he had burnt up there. We worked all Saturday and Sunday, cutting that cane.

GP: It didn’t keep very long after it was burnt?

BULLEN: No, no. By about five days afterwards, it was just about worth cutting and that was all, because it deteriorated. Sometimes a fire would get out of control, but you’d be able to beat it. The way we used to do it, to control it, now say that’s the piece you wanted to burn and this it the rest of the field. Well we’d either cut one row out and throw it into there or, afterwards we found it better to just push one row that way and one row the other and clean that up. Well we’d light along there. We’d only have a break about that much between the cane we wanted to burn and the cane we didn’t want to burn. If the wind was up, if there was a bit of wind against you, it was a ticklish job. Burning was a real art. You’d light along that break and gradually work down and along here. Perhaps one’d get over here and light that side too, but he had to keep behind this one. As the fire got in, the heat from both sides would heat the air and draw it up and the two fires would draw each other. That made it safer as long as the air current was in. But another thing we had to watch very carefully was what we call ‘fliers’, a dead leaf would get on the fire and it would float up in the air. You’d see it burning there and it might blow over into the cane you didn’t want to burn and land perhaps ten or a dozen rows over and start a fire there. You’d have to rush in there with your cane knives and bash it out. That had to be watched very carefully. They were ‘fliers’.

GP: Well once you burnt, you’d have to cut it. Did you ever have to cut in the rain?

BULLEN: Well of course if it was raining, you couldn’t burn if the cane was wet. But you just burnt as I say two days supply at a time. You’d burn in the evening, supposed to burn after sundown in the evening, or very often a standover cane - that was a very hot fire - we burn it at night-time after tea. Then they’d start cutting that next morning or finish up what was left from the previous burn and we’d generally burn Sunday nights or Sunday evenings. We didn’t have much time off Saturdays and Sundays in cane season. Generally burn about three times a week. Of course now they burn bigger areas because with the harvesters they harvest big areas at a time.

GP: So it’s all mechanical now?

BULLEN: Oh yes.

GP: I’ve read there are some problems with disease when machines are used.

BULLEN: Oh yes, if a machine cuts from one farm that has disease, such as Fiji disease, and they go into another one, they could spread it. In fact cane knives used to spread it. They used to wash the cane knives in disinfectant, disinfect the cane knives. Fiji disease was one of the worst diseases. There was another one - gumming disease. You’d get like a gum inside it.

GP: Did you have some chemicals available to treat the diseases?

BULLEN: Well at later times at the Mill, they used to put it through a hot water treatment, a most peculiar thing. They put all of it in big vats, had a couple of big vats. A man did that and he’d boil it up with a steam pipe, put the sets as we’d call it - the cane plants - in that hot water for a certain time which you’d think it’d kill it, but actually it killed the disease, but it didn’t kill the plants. Then that was sent to the farms, bagged up.

GP: So it was more or less sterilised?

BULLEN: Yes and the remarkable part of it was that the cane that had been through this hot water treatment would germinate better than fresh cut cane. We thought from the start when the Sugar Bureau told us to do that, we though that was the end of it. Put the thing in hot water, you’d kill it, but it didn’t. Of course they had to have a thermometer in those vats all the time and the man watched the thermometer very carefully to see that the water didn’t get too hot. It had a tap to turn steam onto it, steam-heated. I suppose they still do it. You’d find out all that sort of thing from the Secretary of the Mill Growers Committee now. Of course it’s a long time since I was growing cane, but I did work at the Mill there some years when I was out at Coes Creek, part of two seasons.

GP: So you were at Maroochy River till 1924 and you moved to Rosemount in the ‘30s?

BULLEN: I was at Maroochy River for eighteen years I think.

GP: You left there in 1942 and then you went to Rosemount. You still grew sugar at Rosemount?

BULLEN: Thirteen years I think.

GP: Then about 1955 you moved into Nambour?

BULLEN: Oh, out to Coes Creek. I brought a pineapple farm there. That’s two miles just straight out here from Nambour. I worked that till I was sixty-six years old. Then we exchanged that for a house and a allotment at Maroochydore with a cash adjustment. We were down there for about thirteen years. Then we sold that and came here.

Pineapple growing at Coes Creek

GP: The pineapple farming then, was it very different from sugar farming?

BULLEN: Oh entirely, mostly handwork. There wasn’t much cultivating done. Well you cultivated the ground but you planted the pines by hand with a little hoe - made a hole, put a plant in, go along like that, laid them out for a start. Once you’d laid all your pines out in double rows, then you go along with this small hoe and with a handle about this long and just dig it into the ground - the ground was generally very loose - put it in. I could plant 600 an hour, but some of them could plant up to 1200. Of course all that sort of thing went as fast as you could; you just couldn’t afford to go slowly.

GP: All your farming, you were doing it to make a living, but how much you were paid was determined by other people.

BULLEN: Yes, market price. Of course with pineapples, what you sent to the cannery, you were paid a fixed price, but we also used to send them to the open market. Companies used to buy it, either buy it off you and resell it or sell on commission. We used to send to Sydney or Melbourne. I used to send to Sydney and, well, it fluctuated. Perhaps you wouldn’t get the same price two weeks in succession. We used to send once or twice a week and we’d get our returns every week.

GP: Did you have any protections from fluctuations?

BULLEN: No, I didn’t.

GP: Is that like the Mill? Like when you were in sugar, you were in a Mill Supplier’s Committee. Was the purpose of that organisation to assist in controlling fluctuation?

BULLEN: Oh yes. Well of course the Cane Growers Association was very well-organised. The head office in Brisbane was the Cane Growers Council. The Cane Growers Council was formed from delegates all through the industry. There was one from the Moreton area and as you went up to the bigger areas, they’d have more delegates.

GP: Were the growers well-represented?

BULLEN: Well they were all growers; all had to be bona fide growers. They had their meetings every now and again in the head office in Brisbane.

Recreation and leisure

GP: When you were sugar farming, you were on committees with your neighbours and you worked in co-operation with them. Did you also socialise with them?

BULLEN: Oh yes. Yes, we had a pretty close social life. Now I’m speaking about Maroochy River for a start. There was a hall just beside Dunethin Rock, the Maroochy River School of Arts, we had church there, we had all entertainments. Quite frequently we had dances there. That was one of our chief forms of entertainment. And the boat that carried the children to school usually ran and picked up people, and took them there. Everything was done by boat those times. We went across the river in our rowing boat; it was straight opposite from our house. Sometimes when you came out of a night-time, the fog was that thick you couldn’t see five yards ahead of you.

GP: Did you have a light in your boat?

BULLEN: Sometimes we did, but a light would only shine on the fog and that was even worse than ever. Sometimes if you looked above the fog you could pick up something, but I could always find me way over, do it with me eyes shut just about.

GP: I was worried about people running into you.

BULLEN: Oh, on one occasion when we were going to a meeting in the school boat, we nearly had a collision with a cane punt with eight trucks of cane on it. The punts used to run sometimes after dark. We got in touch with the Mill and demanded that a light be put on the punt, but that was sufficient to see that something was coming along.

GP: How often did you have dances?

BULLEN: Oh fairly often. Because that was one of our main source of entertainment. We also formed a concert party. We had one chap, Victor Barber, he and his father and mother were on a farm, same as my father and mother and I were on a farm. He was a very good musician, particularly a good violinist. He really knew music too and he decided he’d like to get an orchestra going. He said, "Oh I’ve got the music at home." He found he had proper orchestrated music that he’d had for years and years. He’d been in an orchestra of about thirty instruments I think at one time. They’d come from Milton, down the south coast of New South Wales in the first place. So he started up this orchestra. We had two first violins, a second violin, piano, I played the flute - that flute that’s here - his father played a clarinet. We got a young chap that used to play a cornet in the Salvation Army band, played the cornet. Another chap brought a small set of drums and he played the drums. We had eight instruments I think. When he brought this music out, it all turned out to be exerts from Grand Opera.

GP: So you played it?

BULLEN: “I1 Travattore” and all those, yeah, we played it. I enjoyed that very much. I sometimes hear it on the wireless now. Occasionally I hear a piece and I say to the wife, "Oh, that’s the piece we played in our orchestra”.

GP: So you had concerts?

BULLEN: Yes. Oh yes we put on some concerts several times. We wanted to enlarge the hall, so we staged two or three concerts to get the money to enlarge it. And we did. We put a wing onto it. Oh yes, we had singing groups and various things and he and I generally used to play a violin and flute duet. Antonio and Bach were always two of our favourites, and they always went over pretty well. And, oh, some singing. I used to be able to sing a bit in those days. I didn’t sing solos, but sang with others, you know choruses, and that sort of thing.

GP: Who organised those? Was there a conductor?

BULLEN: Well we formed a committee, about half a dozen in the committee, to organise it, but he Victor was our conductor.

GP: Did any women join the singing?

BULLEN: Oh yes, as many women as men. Our pianist was a lady, she was our main pianist. My sister, Mrs Kittle, who lives up here now, she always used to play accompaniments for our duets. She was quite a good accompanist and she and her husband were in it; he was quite a good tenor singer. On one occasion we sang a quartet, the four of us, she sang the soprano, her sister-in-law sang the contralto, he was the tenor and I was the base. We sang “Carry me back to old Virginny” was one of them, in the four parts and then as I said we had chorus singing.

Then he made himself a steel guitar and learnt to play it out of a book and I got hold of this ukulele and there was a girl there - she was a very fine pianist too - and she used to play steel guitar - and we put on a couple of Hawaiian items with it, two steel guitars and a ukulele. Oh yes, we had quite a lot of music and for sport, tennis was very popular there. There were several tennis courts on the River and we formed what they called the Ninderry Association and that included Valdora and another one further out, Yandina. About seven or eight years played with what was known then as Lake Point Tennis Club. That was beside a little lake called Dunethin Lake, just close to Dunethin Rock, and our court was right on the point of that, lake one side and river the other, very pretty place. I played with them for about six, seven years.

GP: So did you take at least one day off most weeks?

BULLEN: Oh, Saturdays. Not through the week, but Saturdays. We used to play Saturday afternoons. Some of them used to practise on Sunday afternoons, but all our matches, our competition play, was done on Saturday afternoons.

GP: And did you have church on Sundays?

BULLEN: Yes. The Methodist Church, when we first went there, once a month they’d send a student from King’s College in Brisbane. But after that they got a resident in Yandina and Eumundi, that was one a minister, and he used to come down and then afterwards they made it every fortnight.

GP: If the minister came only once a month, what did you do on the other Sundays?

BULLEN: Well, whatever you liked. Some of them used to play tennis in the tennis season. The later on when we formed a cricket club and made a cricket ground there and we had two teams. I was its first President and Victor Barber was its first secretary.

GP: Did you ever go to the beach?

BULLEN: Yes. Yes.

GP: How often did you do that?

BULLEN: Well the Mill used to run a loco every Sunday down to Coolum, passenger loco - they had about four - five carriages - and pick up all along the road and quite a few number of people’d go down to Coolum on the loco. Sometimes, holiday times, the mail boat used to run passenger trips down to Maroochydore. We’d go on them. Later on when people got their own cars, they used to go down to the beach in their cars.

GP: Would that trip to Coolum have been going in the 1920s?

BULLEN: It was going when I went there. Oh yes, we went there many a time. They used to charge three shillings I think from the River, about four shillings from Nambour, something like that. That was quite interesting. Some of them, well they had a Progress Association on the River too, for a while. I didn’t have anything to do much with that. I had enough to do.

GP: Were they concerned with fixing up roads and things like that?

BULLEN: Yes, trying to help things along like all Progress Associations. We had a Progress Association at Rosemount. I think I was the President of that for two years. I always seemed to get mixed up with everything that was on, but I took interest in the district. Most of us did, otherwise you weren’t much use in your district if you didn’t take an interest in the progress of the district. Help it along as much as you could.

GP: Did you ever have any dealings with the Council that you can remember?

BULLEN: Oh yes. We used to get in touch with the Council if we wanted something done. We’d get in touch with them in the way of equipment, roads. When we were at Rosemount, our Progress Association there, the local Councillor was our President sometimes. That helped a lot. Mr Rhodes - always known as "Dusty" Rhodes. He’d been Captain in the Army in the First War.

Volunteer Defence Corps

GP: Perhaps now we could go to the Second World War and talk about your involvement with the Volunteer Defence Corps. Perhaps you could just give a bit of background?

BULLEN: It was the Volunteer Defence Corps. Actually it was started by the Returned Soldiers League. They suggested it and they got it going and they almost had to force the Commonwealth Government to take it up. It was pretty hard going all along. We didn’t get much co-operation from the Government until they saw that it was becoming necessary. It was all over Australia and I think there were a total of 60,000. We didn’t draw any pay for it. They issued us with those uniforms and equipment. But as those uniforms were very warm, it was all right in the winter time, but in the summertime we wore just khaki shirts and trousers which we bought ourselves. On the River we used to go up to Yandina, train at the Drill Hall at Yandina, generally Saturday afternoons and perhaps one night a week for a start. Then when I came to Rosemount, I transferred to Nambour and they used to have their parades every Sunday morning, sometimes all day Sunday. Then one parade one night a week. I used to walk two miles home, or go on a pushbike. Then we had Officers and N.C.O. Non-commissioned Officer one night a week too, generally lectures.

GP: What sort of things were you taught?

BULLEN: Oh well, all military training, weapon training drill. We used to go out in the bush for all sorts of spotting, you know. Our training was mostly for guerrilla warfare, sort of hit-and run, because it was no good just people like us with second-hand rifles standing up to well-trained troops and well-equipped troops. So the idea was sort of harassing and upsetting communications, etcetera. So we were training with rifle and bayonet training, hand grenades, owen gun, tommy gun, bren gun, anti-tank rifle and while I was in the River, the 2nd 14th AIF came back from the Middle East and they camped there to protect the Coast, cause this part of the Coast was considered the second most likely place for an invasion by the Japanese. A lot of the Coast was finished, the beaches were barbed wire. They were quartered out along the River, a whole battalion of them, and we were attached to them and while they were there they gave us practically all - out training. That’s why we got so much weapon training, because we used to use their weapons and we got along very well with them. Then they went over all of a sudden, and went up and it was them that met the Japs on the Owen Stanley’s New Guinea and got chopped to pieces too. But they stopped the Japs there, and that’s one of the first time the Japs were stopped.

GP: How real was the threat? I mean, did it seem as if the Japanese were going to land here?

BULLEN: Oh they were, most definitely. Some of them the soldiers were up in New Guinea and when they came back they had paper money to be used by the Japs in Australia. One shilling, signed the Japanese Government, and that’s what the Japs were to use as paper money in Australia. Oh, they were out for us, there’s no doubt about that. It was the men that stopped them on the Owen Stanley’s. You see, they came right over till they got to Port Moresby. Actually they,d been better if they hadn’t gone up onto the mountains at all, waited for them, let them come right over because they said once they got them into the open they could fight them. It was in the jungle that it was difficult to fight them, but once they got them into the open they could use artillery and that.

End of interview

Sunshine Coast Council acknowledges the Sunshine Coast Country, home of the Kabi Kabi peoples and the Jinibara peoples, the Traditional Custodians, whose lands and waters we all now share.
We commit to working in partnership with the Traditional Custodians and the broader First Nations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) community to support self-determination through economic and community development.
Site help & accessibility
Sign-up for our newsletter
© Sunshine Coast Regional Council 2008 - 2023