Stories: Thelma Leonard

Early Life

I was born at the Wee Waa hospital in 1932 and I lived at the Pilliga Mission until I was 12 years old. My father was the Overseer so we had quite a good house to live in. our house was next door to the Manager’s house and we were the other side of the Mission. We has a few privileges, like milking the cow, and we’d be given a ‘killer’ ( a lamb to kill for meat).

I had seven sisters and three brothers and I am the fourth youngest in the family.

Childhood and Life on the Mission

We had good times and bad times. We all had our chores to do and we used to set rabbit traps up the river. A mob of us used to go and we enjoyed that. We would set the traps at night and before school the next morning we’d run the traps, ring the rabbit’s necks and skin the rabbits. We would put the skins on a bow , the bent wire, and take tem to Pilliga. We’d sell our skins in towns too. We would get about three shillings and we would but lollies. That was our treat because we never used to get anything like that.

We’d do the rabbiting and the older boys and men would go hunting and they’d bring home goannas, emus and kangaroos. I remember old Harry Doolan and young Peter Doolan, a lot of people knew him in later years, they used to dig a great big hole and make a big fir in it. They’d let the coals burn down and nix the ashes with the coals and some leaves, then out the emu in the hole. The feathers would burn off and then the emu cooks. Then we would all have a great feast – kangaroo, goanna and porcupine were our treats. We also used to go looking for crayfish and emu eggs. On the mission there was a building called the ‘ration station’. This is where the people on the mission got their food. They were given flour, sugar and of course you couldn’t get tea or butter without coupons. We cooked dampers, Johnny cakes and fried scones.

School days

We had a mission school on the mission station. There were about 15 or 16 children at the school and we had a white teacher. She was a Constable. She was very nice and she married a policeman at Pilliga, Harry Foster.

When I was 12 we moved to Coonamble. we had a very old house in town. We all went to school in Coonamble and I left when I was 15.

Out to Work

A couple of my sisters were apprenticed out to work. You had to do and work on stations from 18-21, cooking and cleaning for the station owners. Some women worked in town washing and ironing and housework.

I got married when I was 16 and we lived in Tin Town, on an island. We had to cart water from the river and do the washing in the river. We lived in shacks. Later the Shire put the tap on at Tin Town which was marvellous. We had water in the Camp piped up from the river.

The men worked on properties around the Coonamble District and so we had more money to but food. Those who did not have work went hunting for rabbits and wild pig.

I went out to work at Nancy Croxon’s along with my sister and brother. We really liked it out these but we did get lonely. We’d come to town on Friday then we’d have to go back after the weekend.

We worked in the 60’s out at Colwell’s and different places in the 1970 we got a permanent job at Woodside with Russel Smith. It was lovely out there. We all had to work for our money in those days but I guess we were lucky because we could get jobs.

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