Beatrice talks about life at Cherbourg
Interview with: Beatrice Conlon
Date of Interview: 29 January 1985
Interviewer: Susan Brinnand
Transcriber: Valarie Poole
Image: Lower section of an aged Fig Tree, Bunya Mountains, 1913.
Beatrice Conlon oral history [MP3 47MB]
SB: Where were you born?
BC: Between Gayndah and Kingaroy, in that district.
SB: Does that mean that you are part of the Kabi tribe?
BC: Around here it is different, like the Greek and the Chinese. I’m like what they call the Waka Waka race. There’s the Kabi Kabi, well that’s outside of here. A friend of mine used to live here named Kinas. There’s more than one language we speak. We don’t understand most of it. You could understand it but you mightn’t be able to speak it. We haven’t been able to live with our folds that long to speak to them in our own lingo, because they sort of took us away. I was nursing. Nurse girls from years in the early stages, so sort of takes you away from having conversations with our own people. But you could understand more than you could speak. Well, I could anyway.
SB: When did you go to Cherbourg?
BC: Oh I wouldn’t know exactly the date or anything like that but I would have been about school age, about eight or nine somewhere round about that. I used to live with my old uncle. My parents are dead and gone. I used to live with my uncle and auntie. When they were alive they lived around between Gayndah and Ban Ban Springs. All around there and that’ the area I’m talking about. And what they did for a living, see they did snaring wallabies, shooting like. Well that was their living in those days. That’s why we never had school, because we never lived in town. We used to be out in the country with them and then they came to Cherbourg and that’s where I started to get a bit of schooling. I didn’t get much schooling. Bit I got enough, you know. To know what to do and where to go, and from there I went as a nurse girl.
SB: Why did you go to Cherbourg. Did you have to go there?
BC: No. We had people scattered, like in the old days. Oh no, just went there. Then we sort of knew people and then we continued to stay there. Well I did until I got older and then had a bit of schooling, and they had you know, quarters for the young girls and boys. We were sort of supervised by the older people, to look after us, you know, so that we went to school and church and that sort of thing. See it was all in Cherbourg, in the settlement.
SB: Could you go away when you wanted to?
BC: Oh not unless we got permission, we couldn’t go away. You know like we weren’t bound to stay but they always like to know where we were going and what we were doing. They were like responsible for us. Giving us a home and they had everything there. We never wanted for anything. It was a home for us. Everybody had their own little cottage and home and for the younger ones, like the young women or young boys or girls – some of them stayed with their parents but those that didn’t have any parents there, they had these quarters. Some for the girls and some for the boys, and some for the young men and young women. So we knew just where to go and we never walked out of the place and went somewhere else because that was our home. It was just like coming to our proper home.
SB: What type of school did they have at Cherbourg?
BC: Oh just the ordinary school like you have in these days. There was no high school in those days until later years and then as time went on, the boys as they got older, they used to send them into Murgon. I don’t know if it was every weed, something like that. They had what they call a rural school. They used to go in and they got a bit of education, like to do a bit of leather work, or a bit of woodwork, or whatever it might be. It was a sort of starting for them, a bit of plumbing. The girls they used to well, they had a good big hospital built there and had quite a few doing domestic work there. Some would do laundry work. The doctor used to come from Wondai I think, or Kingaroy check up every week.
SB: And did your uncle or aunt tell you any stories?
BC: Oh yes. When we were living with them they taught us things like, how to go about life, what to do you know. Same as they do now. Might tell you, “Oh, you don’t do those things and you got of more or less do the thing that’s right.” Now you’re not allowed to get unruly. You had to just behave and they’d tell us about, in their way, what was good to eat.
SB: What would they say were some of things that were good to eat?
BC: You know, like wild food and how to cook them. See they had a different way of cooking things too. So we were told, like fish or anything see, they didn’t always have stoves and things like that, until later years, when they built those cottages for them. But they learned either how to just cook in the ashes or the camp ovens. See, and they did it that way.
SB: Can you remember any particular recipe?
BC: Oh well like for wild food, they cooked them. They always made a fire and then kept all the coals and everything to burn in, so make ashes, not just coals. If they wanted to make bread, see you can make break and bake it in the ashes. And people would say, “But oh, the dough would be all ashes.” But I said, “No, it just turns to a crust. No ashes would go through and if you just burnt your crust a bit on it, you just got a knife and chipped it off like toast.” They taught us how to make bread and how to kill wallabies, or whatever the wild animals we ate. We sort of had to cook it on the coals or baked them like that. They’d dig a big hole and it was just like buried then in this heat and then put in this heat hole and then put all that hot stuff back again. Well it would be cooked to a turn and then when they took it out they just used to break them.
SB: Break the shell?
BC: Break the shell and break the flesh, wherever you want it. Cook anything like that. Well they still can cook it like that.
SB: And did you eat the turtle?
BC: Oh I would eat them but I still don’t like turtles. I like fish or wild things, you know like birds and ducks and you know I have tasted the turtles.
SB: What did it taste like?
BC: Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it.
SB: Is it very rich?
BC: Yes, it is more or less, yes. Well see then they used to kill turkeys, wild turkeys, pigeons, well all those sort of things had to be cooked, more or less. You know in fire, open fire, in ashes in your camp oven, or if you had a boiler you cooked it in, made a stew or something like that. See then there’s a lot of wild fruit. You’ve heard of yams in the ground or on the vine. Then there’s some lilies grows too. All these sort of things. Then they just used to bake them, same way as they made the bread.
SB: Did you used to collect any of the wild food?
BC: Oh yes, Yes.
SB: How would you collect the lilies?
BC: In the water.
SB: Dive under or…..?
BC: Yes, you could see them when they come up the leaves would always be on top of the water, and you’d go by; like strings go into the root. You could feel them, feel them with your feet. Then you’d just feel around and if you feel them you could just work around them and pull them up.
SB: With their roots?
BC: With their roots, yes. All those sort of things yes. Same in the bushes, something grow right out on the dry ground. Lots of things grow in the water. All those sort of lily things. Yes, oh yes, we lived alright. We didn’t have to starve.
SB: And what sort of things would you get in the drier country?
BC: Bunya nuts, have you ever had a bunya nut?
SB: Yes I have.
BC: My kids go mad on them. I still have to collect them and send some up to my daughter up to Townsville. She loves bunya nuts.
SB: And how do you prepare bunya nuts?
BC: Well first of all, if they don’t drop out of the big shells, you know, you can just hit them a bit on the front and put salt in like you’re like cooking corn meat. You can cook them in the corn meat water. And you just boil them. Same as you do potatoes, but of course, they take an hour or more to cook see. They are just like boiled potatoes.
SB: Is that the only way you prepared them?
BC: Yes. Well some people used to cook them in the hot ashes. But they are hard when you put them in the ashes. But if you boil them see, they are just like potatoes, that way. If you hit the point of them, the salt can go in then, into there, and you just break the shell then and scoop out the nuts. The nuts just come out. In the middle you’ll see a little yellow part well if it was left in the ground to grow that’s the part it grows from again. You just pull that off.
SB: And do you collect them from around here?
BC: Oh yes. There’s plenty of trees around here. Especially up – they call it Bunya Mountain around here. Very picnic place. Oh there’s plenty growing around here and there. They are not growing like these trees around here, but in different people’s yards you’ll see an odd one. Well right out along the river there’s bunya nuts. Yes but they don’t fall till March or April. When they fall see, if they’re ripe enough, when they hit the ground, because they are you know big heavy things, they’ll hit the ground, and well the nuts will come out themselves. But if they don’t, you just leave them until you can cut them out. They look like a big pineapple really. Exactly the same.
SB: I’ve seen them. I haven’t tasted them yet.
BC: Yes, well that’s what they are and if you cook them, you must cook them like. They take more than an hour to cook, because they are very solid. The skin on them is more like a little thin bark, covered in see, and then it’s got a little lining inside of that. Which all comes out when they are cooked up. But, oh yes, those nuts, they would eat them. Oh there are different things on trees. See there’s a; the different things in the river. There’s wild lily roots. That’s more like a potato. They are baked in the ashes and they cook just like potatoes.
SB: So when you went to Cherbourg did your diet change much?
SB: You still ate the wild food?
BC: Yes, if we got them, you know. But more or less here we got into more living like. We were able to get things, we could get it from the shop. Like bread, not always light bread in those days. The people used to look after us, they had to make damper, ash damper or dampers cooked in the camp oven themselves. Bread was cooked and our meat. Course Cherbourg had cattle on the settlement and they killed. I don’t know how they used to kill them but, same as any butcher. They had their own stock. Then they would cut it up and divide it all up. And many got so much for each family. Course if we were in the dormitories we just lived in them. Course we didn’t just walk out and go to where the others were in their cottages, unless we knew them. We just lived privately as it was, and we used to go for rides. They lets us go for rides anywhere we wanted to go, as long as we knew how to come home and go out and didn’t get into any mischief. Go to town.
SB: What year was this? Is it before World War One?
BC: Well when I first went to work, I think it was about – no – I come home about 1921, I think. I nursed a girl for a while. I went way out towards Mitchell.
Working on the stations
SB: You worked in hospitals did you?
BC: No, out on a station. Nurse girl for children you know, where they had families. That’s how they used to send the young girls out, or boys, to learn domestic work you know. And that’s mostly how I finished up with gathering some schooling. Anyone that had children see, they’d have their lessons left for so many weeks by teachers coming around.
SB: So you got more education?
BC: Yes, through the children where I was helping to nurse. Nurse girl and because she had to teach her children I’d go out there and sit with them and have a bit of schooling too. Which was good. And things like wherever they went I went too. I lived in the house with them, you see like a station they’ve got different ways. Men’s quarters and different places where you live privately. I didn’t have much to do with them. They had a woman cook in the kitchen and she’d have to provide their food for them. I’d do a bit of housework in the house and live with the family.
SB: Did you get any days off?
BC: Oh, yes.
SB: What did you do for entertainment?
BC: You didn’t look for much in those days. Until you got older. When I went back to Cherbourg again after I grew up, I went to different places, like Blackall. I worked for a doctor and family. Did ordinary domestic work, you know, you were sort of taught to do them things. Cook. I was on a couple of stations before I went to work in town. I didn’t get much money. But all our money was supposed to be sent into the Settlement and it was booked at the bank. And whatever clothing we needed we had to get through orders, and then they deducted whatever was spent on us. And clothing we got or whatever we got and this used to on until you were old enough. Well I did and the others did the same. As you got older you got to understand what to do with yourself. You didn’t bother about anybody’s keep then. Like when I grew up and got older, I used to have to get orders to Cherbourg for all our clothing and they paid for everything. Then you got sick of the clothes what they sent you. Because it was more like a uniform all the time. I thought I’m not going to wear those clothes all the time. They know where I came from. So, I went to the shops and I put a bit of style on there.
SB: And this was when you were getting older – eighteen, twenty?
BC: Oh yes when I worked with the doctor’s family, and they used to take me to races and take me to the pictures and concerts and things. And you think, oh I’m not going to wear those old clothes. So I went to a couple of the shops and when they saw I was getting a bit hit up about clothes, they didn’t say anything. I just got them to give me a bill and send it in. I said, “Well I should have money.” See they found out then they had to pay for them. The money was there.
SB: The money was in your account.
BC: Yes. They never said anything. They could see that I was growing out of the old way.
SB: Getting more independent?
BC: Yes, got more independent, you know. But all the places I worked for, and people I worked for were really good. They showed me how to do things and took me things. Family was good. I went to Blackall I went out to Charleville, went out that way. Worked on stations.
SB: Did you mind having to go away from your home?
BC: Oh no. It didn’t matter. You sort of got into a routine. Sort of, you got hold of it and you really enjoyed it, meeting other people, I suppose really that’s what it was. Oh yes I’ve been out Charleville way and went to the places where they were shearing sheep. I did a bit of cooking for shearers. Cooked for them you know. Then I stayed there, I stayed for a few years with them. Until I got older and something happened in the end then I had to come back to Cherbourg. So when I came back to Cherbourg I stayed there for a while. And then a few months after I wanted a change to go to another job, so they just give you an Agreement. That Agreement was made out for six, twelve months. So out I went to another nice place outside of Kingaroy. People between Jandowae and Kingaroy. The people I worked for there… There were two or three families, you know, on stations. Well as we grew up and then there were other girls in Cherbourg. Well of a Sunday or anything like that, we would always get a horse and go and visit one another. So we always had our way, and we’d go out you know.
SB: When you were younger, when you were a child living at Cherbourg, what did you do for entertainment, what games?
BC: Oh yes, well they had a tennis court there and we used to go swimming and riding.
SB: Were there still any corroborees at Cherbourg?
BC: Oh yes, they let us see, you know. They like if they wanted to put it on, they just ask some of the older people that they would put a corroboree on. Oh that’s a great thing to see a corroboree. They think they are something out of the box to see a corroboree, the kids you know. But a lot of ours, they can’t sing the song because they don’t understand it. I think one song we know a bit of it and there’s just a few words in it we know.
SB: When did you get married?
BC: Before I got married I went to Warwick. Oh I met some lard-i-do people there. Lord Suffolk he came from England. He wasn’t twenty –one. This Captain brought him up. This Lord Suffolk was only young, and they had to be his guardian see. So it was nice there, course I was grown up then and older. I had a couple of my friends working around further out.
She said “Oh you could have come for the holiday while you are working here.” Which I did, and they were very nice there. The old Captain used to tell us of all the travels. It was very interesting old place, had a lot of antique furniture and they told us where they picked them up and where they brought them from, lovely things. So we both, there were two girls I and a younger one than me, we worked together and then when we finished working there, we went back to Cherbourg and it was then that I got married. I went back to Cherbourg and she did too.
SB: What year did you get married?
BC: Oh I don’t know what year I was married in. I can’t think.
SB: In the 1920’s was it?
BC: Yes, not it would be a bit earlier. About 1914 that was the First World War then up to 1920.
BC: Yes, it sort of got bad then. Well I was back up in Charleville then from this other place. Well they moved from where they were. They went to Charleville to their own property. I thin that’s what. It would be about 1919 or 1920 when I went up there. So then from there I went back to Cherbourg. You see, it was Agreements and you knew you had to go back. They sort of provided for you. Like a home while you was in Cherbourg. My husband and I, we didn’t have to stop there but we could still go back, if we wanted to. Well like that meant, when he was working we could use our money, whatever he made. That was our own keeping then, see we kept ourselves. Then when we had a family, well that had nothing to do with them. We had to keep them like, as they grew up and we lived outside Goomeri then. Then we came here just about when the Second World War broke out. Because then I had a family after we come back here and my hubby came and he got work here in Gympie. He still had stock work to do.
SB: He was a stockman was he?
SB: And how many children did you have?
BC: Seven, Five girls and two boys.
SB: Did you have your children in hospital?
BC: Oh yes, we had a big hospital in Cherbourg. Oh yes they had nurses and a doctor, everything there. A lot of them used to refuse to go to the hospital, you know. They didn’t want to go to hospital. They’d sooner go up the bush and make a big fire. They believed in fire in their days. They make a fire and kept warm. They didn’t want to go to the hospital. I didn’t mind going in hospital because everything was nice, you know. They’ve got a good hospital in Cherbourg. Then they did away with the old one and got a nice new little one now. They still have doctors come I think, comes from Kingaroy. Big school there, kindergarten and everything.
SB: When you were at Cherbourg, do you remember families coming in from other parts of Queensland?
BC: Oh yes, there was quite a lot coming in and out you know from different places.
SB: Do you remember any from this area or further south? Nambour and Maroochydore area?
BC: Yes well, these (Kinas) here, they come from around Nambour. They’d be more my age these boys. They come from Nambour to around here. That side of us, between Nambour and here. They were reared up here and I think had their schooling here. There was some from Kingaroy, Wondai, and there was quite a lot of families around. There’s still a lot of them outside. See they are not all bound to stay on the settlement because they are like, they are exempted from there. They can go and find their own work, and look after their own interests now. We’ve been out for years. We’ve never been there with our family, since we got married.
SB: Do you remember the Monklands or the Browns?
BC: Yes Monkland, I think was one of the families, when they first came to Cherbourg. They came from Blackall.
SB: The Monklands?
BC: There was Joan and one boy was killed. I don’t know whether he went to war. There was David. Pauline was their mother.
SB: So you didn’t mix much with people from different tribes and different areas?
BC: No, not really. See like when I was little, Uncle, he was only around Gayndah and he used to just work around and go shooting. We sort of just lived around, just outside of town. We used to go in when the show was coming on, you know. The old Uncle would say, “Oh we have to go to the show.” You know, buy new clothes and go to the show, see what was going on. Then we left there and went across to Gayndah. Oh I’ve been up just on trips, but not to live around there.
SB: So did you mix much with people at Cherbourg?
BC: Oh yes, we all lived together you know.
SB: Did your uncle speak to you in English or Waka Waka?
BC: No mostly in our own language. We never bothered to talk you know, but you could understand.
SB: Was his language Waka?
SB: Can you say anything in that language?
BC: Oh a few things I might just say. Some names I might be able to call, you know. I couldn’t speak it. You’re away from it too long. You don’t have the connection to speak it see. And then you married to different tribe and you don’t bother to speak it. Their children don’t bother either. No, there’s very few of them talk language. You might pick up a little like, just a little about something. But we never bothered, we sort of grew out of it.
SB; What tribe did you marry into?
BC: Cullerlie. It was Granny Conlon. She was a Cullerlie. I think they came from Cunnamulla way. No her lingo was different again. When you heard her talk she talked like as if she was a Chinese woman or a Greek woman. You know that sound. She had daughters, fairer than your skin, and they could understand. When Granny talked, she would always talk lingo to them, but they couldn’t talk it. They could understand it. I can remember Elsie and Eva. She had a big family. But we always lived around, we knew which was which and who was who. You’ve heard of Chad Morgan, well he’s connected up with our family back. Yes. He’s like my hubby and his grandmother, she brought him up. And her family like Eva she was a Hopkin. The daughter, she married and she was a Morgan. That’s how Chad comes to be Chad Morgan.
SB: So how many brothers and sisters did you have?
SB: Just yourself?
SB: Can you remember your parents?
BC: Just vaguely, you know. My mother was real dark. She was Mag or Maggie they used to call her. She was a Dodd.
SB: How did they die? Do you mind me asking?
BC: I don’t know when Uncle died. I don’t think he ever came to Cherbourg I think he just died in Gayndah, somewhere. See after I came back into Cherbourg sort of, he never left what he was doing. He sort of lived around Gayndah, and all that places see, with the people up there. I really just made the break from there and I had a cousin that I lived with when she came to Cherbourg. I sort of never connected up with her again.
SB: And what about your parents? I mean how did they die?
BC: Well me mother was a very sick person. I just trying to think, I was very young then, and cant remember. Around Gayndah I think. She had like the old uncle I am talking about, Old Uncle Dodd. That was my mother’s brother. I don’t think she had any other brothers and sisters that I can remember.
SB: At Cherbourg, was there much sickness, when you were younger?
BC: No not really, only when they had that typhoid there. Broke out once. You remember there was a typhoid? That was after I came to Cherbourg. Oh I’d grown up then, but it was bad.
SB: Was that during the War?
BC: No I think it might have been just before. I think it was just before. Yes it was bad. Because I remember different ones, I never got sick, but I remember a lot of the older ones that were there, were sick.
SB: I wonder if you could remember any stories you were told from the older aboriginal people.
BC: I didn’t know how to speak our lingo. We understand a bit of it, but we can’t speak it. Cause we’ve been taken away and you know had education through the white people and I don’t know what they told us about. They used to tell us stories, but I just can’t think, oh how it was told to us. You know like you tell children through the book these fairy stories. Well we had those sort of legend stories too. You know I just can’t think how it was told to us,
SB: Can you remember any songs or bits of songs that you’ve been told?
BC: Oh yes. We know a little bit about the songs, but can’t sing them because can’t think of the lingo. That’s the trouble. That what I said to that new grandson of min, went up to Debbie, that’s my granddaughter. She said, “I wonder if I have to go off to school and put a corroboree on. You’ve got to do something.” So he said, “Alright mum, you see I’ll dance with you.” This song they sang, only a few words, Debbie knew of it. But what’s the meaning of it? You can’t get the meaning of it. But I hope you do talk to these lads, because they would remember a lot of things their mother used to do. She was a great one to tell story and that old brother of her, his name was MacKenzie.
SB: Do you remember anything about any of the different medicines that were used?
BC: Bus medicines?
BC: I might think of some. But I can’t tell you the names of the things. This grandmother belonged to Chad Morgan, I was telling you about. Oh she’s the one. She’s a great believer in bush medicines. She showed me a lot. I know them when I see it in the ground. You’ve got to boil a lot of it, then you have the tonic. You drink it. Oh some of it tastes bitter. You don’t know whether it would kill or die or what. Oh there are lots of weeds, but it cures. There’s lots of weeds and herbs in the bush. She used to say that’s good for so and so, like the wattle. We used to cut the wattle or even gum trees, bark it and then boil it. Say you want to make stain, just like we get dye. You know dye to dye clothes. We used to stain that. Get the bark and then boil it down and if you wanted to stain skins. You know we might get skins. Wattle, we boiled it to take the bark out to just use the water for stain. Well you could soak it in this water, and then when you dry your skin it’s stained. Sap comes out of bark because it is boiled, and it keeps. That’s how we used to do the skins, if we wanted them. Some of it you know, we used to make rugs out of them. Skins from wallaby skins or any sort of wild wallaby or any sort of skin, off the wild animal. Just boil it up and then you’d sew them together. Get some sort of a reed from the creek. You’d sit and you’d thin it out and then you wove it in. You can make baskets out of them. That’s a lot of those things like that.
SB: It’s like Mitchell grass?
BC: You start off like a crown of a hat and as you work it around and around it gets bigger. Well they used to make baskets like that out of that grass. Then there are those reeds that grow along the river. You see them hanging there. Sometimes they have a prickly brush on them. The stork, from that, they just undo it and cut it and they sew that up and make baskets out of it; mats too.
End of interview