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U3A Writing: Our Shanty

'''Sometimes a stray sheep would come back in our boat because it couldn’t find its way home...

Jack Mott tells of making-do in hard times.

For several years we lived in a shanty on the bank of the river Murray at Mildura, 5 k/m from town, Life was tough but we didn't let the depression, World War Two or the lack of food get us down.

We often rowed our boat across the river, for a change of scenery they say, is good for the mind.Sometimes a stray sheep would come back in our boat because it couldn’t find its way home. Pulling up water by a windlass might cause the kookaburras to laugh, but it was really no fun, and if the rope broke, I was always the one to dive into the river to fix it.

Kerosene lamps gave us our light but we used candles if the fuel ran out. The milkman, baker, grocer and iceman called weekly and there was always something to talk about. However, the depression forced father on the susso or what is now called the dole, With only a small government pittance to feed thirteen people, we fell down the financial black hole.

Soon after the war began in 1939, and Rivette won the Melbourne Cup, I left school and started work for one pound per week at the posh Grand Hotel, it was a great day. I loved helping to prepare the tucker for those, who the lavish meals for those who could afford to pay, them with their Pontiacs, Buicks and Chevvies.

Although only 13, I felt that as the eldest I had a moral obligation to help my parents and all of our large family to survive. I was grateful to be able to keep my ten proud, younger Australian siblings, (one only 3 months old), safe, healthy and alive.

During the Second World War, in 1940, we left for NSW in three horse drawn-vehicles, begging for food at Balranald, Jerilderie, Echuca, dozens of stations and other towns. However, we suffered no harm. Hundreds of kilometres later, (after Old Rowley had stolen the Cup) and after two of our horses died, we found powdered gold near Swan Hill in the salt lakes at Lake Charm.


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