Sunday, 14 August 2016

NATIONAL FAMILY HISTORY MONTH CHALLENGE WK.2











 BY THE SEAT OF HIS PANTS...

He often called it his 'very own shop'... 'You could find all you needed there...'

'There' was the local dump, conveniently situated down near the road, in the property beside the house and the farm. It provided him with wood offcuts and some large pram wheels - not for a billy cart, but for a hand cart, perfect for carting the fire wood into town. He hawked it from place to place, being paid just a few shillings for the whole cartload. Often he had to make 2-3 trips.

The wood came from the dump and trees cleared on the farm. This 10 year old would work on the farm, as did his siblings, before and after school and on the weekend.

The money went into the family jar, as did most of anything the rest of the family earned. He was the youngest of nine.. Harry was 23, working on the farm.. Mary, 21, working as a housekeeper in the local hotel, Con, 20, also worked in the hotel, Nita, 19, worked at home, George, 17, on the farm, as did Dave, 16, and Peter, 14... while Sim, 11, was at school, with Vince, 10.


Catsoulis family and friends 
(c) Catsoulis family






None of the family went on to high school, not unusual for that time. By the time Vince finished primary, he was still too young to finally leave school at 12. With no money to go to the nearest high school, despite passing a bursary exam, Vince stayed at the primary for most of the day, working with the headmaster, Colonel Lamb. He helped in class preparation, running messages and helping at the headmaster's house. In between, he continued to learn all he could from Colonel Lamb's extensive library. With his love of anything mechanical, he was soon fixing some of the few cars in the small town... and the water pump for the well at the school house, which failed often.

He learnt to drive on the farm, first on the very old and much repaired tractor and then on a small truck. By 13, he'd left school and worked alongside his older brothers and father on the farm.

The hours were long and the work hard. The family had struggled through the depression, but managed better than many others, as they grew most of their own food. No one was turned away hungry. The railway line was very close to the home and many a man down on his luck would walk along the tracks and try their chance at the house.

Photo taken from the railway line looking down towards the house. 
(c) Catsoulis family



 Rather than just be given a meal, they would keep their pride by chopping wood in exchange, or if too unwell for that, they may have been asked to help my grandmother to pick fruit from the highest branches of the trees. She was small in stature, but big of heart. If shelter was needed, there were several sheds, complete with bedding and some clean, though well patched shirts and pants if needed. 

Few took advantage - I was told a couple took some bedding, but my grandparents' attitude was that their need was greater. There was one Dad talked about who returned to the farm some years later with his family to 'meet the lady who saved his life'. He also brought an eiderdown and some shirts, to replace those he'd 'borrowed' so long ago. He kept in touch with the family for some time after.

During what we would now call his 'teenage' years, Vince was driving the truck into the rail, laden with boxes of vegetables to send to the Sydney markets. Mostly, he'd unload it by himself, then either return to the farm for more, or do the same with produce from other farmers who had no transport. This carrying was to be his first 'real' paid job as he called it.

 As well as the farm around the house, the family took up lease of land south of the town, near Hungry Head. They grew small crops, tomatoes, carrots, watermelons, lettuce - whatever was in season and suited to the conditions. My grandfather kept great records, noting when each crop was planted, the conditions, what was used for fertiliser, progress, etc. He was meticulous with his notes. The labels for the market boxes were now labelled Catsoulis and Sons. 

Jim Kolangtis on horse, Harry Catsoulis walking behind with plough.
(c) Kath Capsanis




They were well known for the quality of their produce at the Sydney Markets. It seemed that the years after the depression were finally turning their lives around for the better. My Aunt told me that the best thing to happen to show that things were better, was that she was able to have store bought underwear, no more bloomers made of flour sacks. 

 Not that that was unusual... flour sacks were used not only for underwear, but shirts and dresses, for bedding and household linen. Women became very inventive and flour mills even used some printed fabrics, to make it less obvious - as if no one knew the patterns. Dad told the story of ripping the seat out of his pants...that worried him little, as he knew they could be mended yet again, but he had to get home with his flour sack underwear showing, thankfully, no labels that day.


World War II hit heavily - three of the brothers joined the forces. That left just my father and three brothers to run the farm, under the guidance of my now ailing grandfather who had started to show signs of heart trouble. By now, the family had been awarded contracts to supply the army with as much food as they could grow, but there was a minimum amount that had to be supplied or they would lose their contracts. The specifications were very particular... the produce had to be of a certain size, shape, weight, quality and and always packed exactly the same. It seems if the army could have had the produce salute, it would have.

 Dad often talked of looking very thoroughly for any odd sized vegetables as that they would go into their own cooking pot. 

 Dad was just 16 when the war began.. he  and his brothers at home, were listed as being in an essential industry - yet he was still the recipient of a horrid white feather. I was so pleased in recent years to be able to organise a long overdue Certificate of Recognition for his service to the country during WWII. Sadly, it arrived just a few days after his funeral.. but somehow, I feel my 91 year old Dad would have known and smiled, ever so shyly and humbly.

















This week's challenge is 'to honour your working ancestors and the challenges they faced'.

I've chosen to write this in segments. I hope you enjoyed Part One...











Reading re the Great Depression...

* http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/great-depression
* http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/skint-making-do-great-depression


4 comments:

  1. A fine tribute to your dad and other working ancestors Chris. They certainly worked hard. I can remember even in my childhood that outings to the local "tip" unearthed many a treasure.

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  2. Thank you, Kerryn.. I appreciate your comments. They sure did work hard. We knew the local tips well also... including the one near my grandparent's place. It was quite an adventure, we often came back with more than we took out.

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  3. Dear Chris - well this post made me laugh and have a bit of a silent tear as well. My husband is a cleaner and I reckon he brings home more than we throw out - out of other people's rubbish bins. He has been known to fall into a skip in his enthusiasm for retrieving an old computer!

    Life was so much harder during the Depression years wasn't it? But then I also wonder if young people then had a greater sense of self esteem because they knew their contribution was integral to the family's survival. What a fine man your Dad sounds and most importantly I think he might have had an excellent sense of humour - essential for getting you through the rough spots - I particularly liked the idea of the saluting vegetables.

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  4. Alex, you should have seen me writing it.. crying one minute, laughing the next. There was so much I had to leave out, otherwise I'd still be writing and it would turn into a novella! You can see why I noted this was Part 1... not sure whether I will continue this for the next week's challenge, or go sideways and then come back...I'll see how the pencil takes me.

    Yes, I always write in pencil and longhand first, as I have been doing since I was a preschooler...( very) old habits die hard.

    I'm now laughing at your husband rescuing computers after falling into a skip... I like the man already.

    What strong people our ancestors were, strong of body, of mind, of courage, and determined to work together for the good of the family. Times were hard, but they were also in many ways, content with their lot and making the most of every opportunity to get a laugh... I must tell you about the promised steamroller trips around Australia and waiting for a watch.. and asking why the wild life were cross.. more stories for another day.

    Thank you for your comments.

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