Born 25th July 1893 on his parent’s homestead outside Yass, NSW. A fourth generation Australian with his family originally from Scotland.
RD has served in the Light Horse joining up in Goulburn. Being a bank clerk at the time he was transferred to the Cooma Regiment and it was with his division that he attended the official opening of Canberra.
“We had some very funny experiences there – we were out during exercises on the Monaro plains (12 March 1913) and were supposed to be shooting the Boers or something like that but every third man was a horse-holder. A horse-holder was in charge of three horses and he had to race away and park the horses out of sight as we scattered over the plain, proper chains apart, we were supposed to lie prone and hide behind anything we could find. Well, there was nothing there, nothing there at all. In front of me was a stalk of grass, it was all eaten short by the sheep, you know, and I threw e Monaro plains (12 March 1913) and was supposed to be shooting the Boers or something like that but every third man was a horse-holder. A horse-holder was in charge of three horses and he had to race away and park the horses out of sight as we scattered over the plain, proper chains apart, we were supposed to lie prone and hide behind anything we could find. Well, there was nothing there, nothing there at all. In front of me was a stalk of grass, it was all eaten short by the sheep, you know, and
I threw myself down and was supposed to be shooting the Boers or something like that but every third man was a horse-holder. A horse-holder was in charge of three horses and he had to race away and park the horses out of sight as we scattered over the plain, proper chains apart, we were supposed to lie prone and hide behind anything we could find. Well, there was nothing there, nothing there at all. In front of me was combed it for a month but gawd that man could talk! He was Minister for the Interior, I think. Well, after the ceremony was all over and we were preparing to march off when this little dog ran out from amongst the audience, across the open space and prepared to salute the foundation stone – which he did… you can imagine what the troopers said “good on yer, yer little bastard, that’s fixed it good and proper!”
“They wouldn’t take me (overseas with the LHB). I’m one of five brothers. Yes, there’s five brothers and they wouldn’t take me on account of the broken bones – too many broken bones. My four brothers went to the war. Two of them decorated.”
“I was about 20 and a fairly good horseman because my father had to keep a stable full of horses. He was a stock inspector at Bambala and had two big districts and he had to keep the horses in good nick. He did all his work by sulky. He had the Cooma, Bombala and Bega districts. I very often had to come home from school, walking through the snow, rug down the horses, feed them and then, in the morning, take them down to the river for a drink, feed them, let the cows out and then go off to school again through the snow for three miles.
“A hell of a lot has happened since I was born! I spent 13 years in the islands and then many years in Queensland cattle stations, went mining during the Depression. We found gold but there was too much Australia mixed in with it!”
“One of my brothers took the first stud sheep to Argentina and I sent the first working dog with him. The first sheep dog in Argentina. I had partly trained the dog and they took him on board with them to Melbourne and then Auckland. I think it was on an old 4 masted steamer called the ‘Kykura’. They went around the Horn and then up the coast of Buenos Aires and then overland in mule carts. Two mules in a sort of covered spring cart. They landed at Estancia and only lost three sheep. The sheep stayed there and he had one trip home. We met him whilst we were working with the CSR company in Fiji and then the war broke out. He tried to get back (from Argentina) on a cargo ship but the Huns chased his ship all over the seven seas. So there they were – one brother from Fuji, one from South America, one from Queensland. The three of them in the frontline trenches within ten minutes walk of each other and didn’t know it. They found out afterwards when they assembled in London. My other brother was a sick man. He said he was going to take a sea trip and join up in London and he ended up joining the Royal Airforce. He was sent over to the Messpot (Messapotania) and that’s where he got his DFC. My other brother received a Medal Militare from the French Government.
I spent some time with my brother up in Queensland. He was a bore water surveyor. We used to travel round quite a lot. Four horses and a wagonette. There were only about five or six motorcars in Queensland at that time. The roads were pretty rough and the weather hot as hell.
“We used to make quite a bit with kangaroo skins. There were plenty of them there. We skinned them and sold the skins to a Brisbane company. I remember coming home one Saturday afternoon and as I walked this dusty track I happened to stop and look back and there was a dingo following me. I stopped and he’d stop. I thought, well, I’ll just see what this blighter does so I continued walking. I walked and he walked, keeping a certain distance behind me. I suppose he was waiting for me to drop dead or something. That night a pack of his brothers circled our campfire and you could see the red of their eyes. Sometimes they would put their heads back and howl. Talk about gooseflesh – it’s a terrifying noise when you get a mob of dingoes howling.
“When we went gold prospecting the Queensland Government paid my brother a pound a week because he was single whilst I got 25 bob because I was a married man. We set off for a place called Canal Creek, up west of Warwick, and we found a little bit of alluvial and a little bit of reef gold. The geologists kept telling us to keep looking because the reef would grow. The reef we were on was 8″ wide but it had a division down the middle but only 4″ of it was producing gold. The other 4” were barren. We ended up having to use explosives. We got some gold and took it to this man who had a stamper machine. He slept by the machine at night to guard the deposits. The stampers crushed the stone. It’s actually washed out onto a tray. When washed the sand and gold is covered with quick silver and this gathers the gold and the sand runs off and then that’s put through a crucible. Next day we had about 10oz and I saw the whole business of how gold was separated from the mercury. We took our gold into the Commonwealth Bank in Warwick where they had a set of scales. They were beautiful things and so accurate that the accountant said “now you watch this” and he put a little bit of paper on one side and the weights were perfectly balanced.”
Gold fever is a terrible thing. You go out to find it and it’s always the next day. We were there for ten months until I was offered a good job on a station. The station belonged to the blind Queensland judge and his brother, the Scrimshaws. The station was ‘Karendale’ and I was the head stockman there. It wasn’t a bad life at all. The immediate boss was a great rodeo man and had a full stable of beautiful horses. Any horse that he didn’t take a fancy to he handed over to me – I have never been so well mounted in my life.
I was a pretty good whip-cracker. We used to cover our whip handles with bullock’s tails. We didn’t split it to make them either.
I remember my brother and I were coming in from the west and just about midday we struck two old rabbiters. They were two of the dirtiest men I had ever seen. Old straggly beards and there were rabbit skins and carcasses and crows in what was the dirtiest camp I’d ever seen. They only had a 6×8 tent, just room for a bunk on each side. We asked whether we could boil our billy on their fire. Oh they were only so pleased and they started to chat to us. One old cove was looking for his pipe when he comes out of the tent muttering “hey Jim, did you see my old doodee any where? That’s a bushman’s name for a pipe. Without looking up the other rabbiter says, “Yeah, she’s in on the pianner”. After a while we’re all squatting by the fire discussing a certain track we had planned to take. “I wouldn’t take that track,” Jim offers “they’ve done nothing to that track since Hadam was in the Hark.” At this the other rabbiter nudged us and added “Hadam was never in the Hark.”
I spent the next seven years on Warringerong station. It was a small property – one man and a boy and about 3000 sheep.
I remember one shearer’s cook we had when I worked on a larger station. Oh he was a bad-tempered blighter. He walked in one night with this big dish and he plonked it down adding “This here is stew and any man in the house who says it ain’t can come outside and see me.” There was one shearer who fancied himself as a fighter so he went outside. He came back in holding his jaw and said: “it’s bloody stew all right, and bloody tasty too.”
Our cook had been away on a six-week bender and we had arranged to meet him at the railway station. It was a hot day and Old Tom had decided to start walking to the station reckoning he’d eventually meet us. At a spot on the Warrego, about 300 yards wide, there was an island with several giant gums. Apparently a bullock had been caught up one of the trees during a flood and the skin had eventually dried. As the half-intoxicated Tom saw the bullock he uttered, “Bastards can jump when the bloody well want to.”
I was working in a mine at Goondiwindi, down underground, when I heard this awful noise, which I assumed, was an earthquake. I raced up to the pit surface to see a plane fly over. Apparently it was Kingsford Smith. He was barnstorming around the country towns giving people rides for ten bob for 20 minutes or something like that. Apparently he had persuaded a local aboriginal stockman, Jimmy, to go up in the first flight. Smithy and Jimmy went right up and when he looked around old Jimmy’s eyes were sticking out like organ stops. When they came down they were interviewed and Smithy looked at Jimmy and said, “You know, Jimmy, half the people down here thought we were going to crash that time. Jimmy looked over and replied “And half the bloody people up there too.”