Stories along the way

Sometimes some quite small incidents stick in your mind and even decades later you remember them clearly.

My Dad was walking up the road to the farm on the other side of the road going up little hill – on your right as you head towards Kelmscott. He had an agreement with the farmer that he could collect what we called ‘elephant grass’ from the farmer. I don’t know if it was a commercial arrangement, of just neighbours looking after each other. Anyway, as he was walking up the road my younger brother J was walking behind him asking if he could come. The conversation was in Dutch, but in English it went something like this:

Dad ‘J, go home. You can’t come to the farm today’.

‘But Dad I want to come!’

‘No, just go home now’.

‘But Dad …’

‘J, go home. Now!’

‘You bloody bastard’.

This last bit was in English. I’m not sure if J knew what his next words meant, but his Dad did! We were migrant kids and still spoke mainly Dutch. J was only about 4 or 5 years old! I have no idea where he learned this phrase from, but at the time I saw what was happening and thought ‘uh oh, there’s going to be trouble here’. There was. J didn’t go to the farm, and his backside would’ve stung for a bit.


At one stage we had a calf. My Dad was always looking at ways of supplementing his income and providing for his family, and it seemed to him that calf was a good way of doing that. The calf was kept in the house block, rather than in one of the paddocks.

When it was still a little calf, when it’s horns were just budding, it found one of those Sunshine powdered milk tins that Mum used to get powdered milk in, and stuck it’s head in. It was after the leftover powdered milk in the bottom of the can. But once it’d head was in the can it’s horn buds caught under the rim of the can, so it couldn’t get it’s head out.

Panic! The calf was of course frightened, and ran around bellowing and crashing into things. We were in the house and we heard this muffled sound and banging and crashing outside and ran out to have a look. We laughed to see the calf running around crashing into everything, but Dad realised it was frightened and quickly ran to it and calmed it. As I remember he had quite a struggle to get the can off the calf’s head.

A few months later the calf was butchered for its meat. That was, after all, the reason Dad had raised it. We were allowed to watch the man who came with his rifle to shoot the cow. It was well on the way to being fully grown by then. I stood beside the man in the shade of the melaleuca tree in the back yard. I’m not sure what I expected but I remember being a bit disappointed. Nothing much happened except the cow fell over. But it was dead. It had only required one shot. I don’t remember any of the cutting up process, so I presume we were not allowed to watch that. It is the sort of thing I would remember.

Some of the meat was sold, some of it went to the butcher guy, and some we kept. But we could not keep too much. We had no fridge or freezer to keep it in. The best we could do was to store some for a time in the Coolgardie Safe. I remember people coming to collect meat. And so the family could live a little more comfortably for a while.


One day my brother J was sitting at the kitchen table playing with one of those little paring knives. The little ones with a sharp point that you use for potatoes or apples. This must have been a bit later, perhaps 1958 or 1959, because we were in the kitchen which was not completed in the earlier days. Before the kitchen was completed we all lived in the part of the house that was to become the back verandah. But that’s another story.

Dad had just repaired the table and Mum didn’t like the idea that J was damaging the newly repaired table with a knife, so she went to give him a clip under the ear. As she did so J put his hands above his head to protect himself from. The knife was still in his hand and as Mum’s hand came down she hit the knife instead. With her wrist. Right on the artery. I can still see the blood coming out in little spurts.

With the nearest doctor a mile away on Albany Highway, Mum did the logical thing. Clamped her thumb over the cut artery and stopped the bleeding. And then walked to the doctor, and back when it was fixed. If I remember correctly the doctor’s name was Dr Faulkner. We had no car, and Dad was at work. This is the kind of woman Mum was. Determined and resourceful, and not about to let a problem stop her.

© Copyright Willem Schultink