Chapter 3 - Country Church & Other Affairs of my Father
Both the Hunt and Pegler families were of the Methodist persuasion and the Church figured very large in the lives of Mum and Dad. In the Kulnura Hall there was a service almost every Sunday and Sunday School was held in the afternoon. I believe that twice a month the Service was held in the morning (at 11 I think) and twice a month at 3:30 in the afternoon. If there was a fifth Sunday there was no service. This was a day we used to look forward to, mainly because we generally did something together as a family, like walking down the gully or going for a picnic or some similar pursuit that our Parents thought not too Sabbath-breaking.
But when Church was on we sat on long stools without backs for the conventional seventy-five minute service with four hymns, a prayer or two, and a sermon. We all sat together except when Dad got up to play the piano for the hymns, but he always came down and sat with his hand in Mum's during the sermon. Two Sundays a month the services were Methodist and the others, I think, were Presbyterian and Baptist.
The Kulnura Sunday School was run by various people from time to time, but I particularly remember one Superintendent, Mr. Kitchener who had an orchard on a block of land he had bought from Dad but really made his living as the local carrier. Another was a Miss Nixon who lived next door to the Hall in which the Services were held. Mum and Dad were both teachers there but after attending the Services and helping in the Sunday School at Kulnura for some years Mother got the idea that she and Dad should start a Sunday School at Central Mangrove.
A little Union Church building had been there for many years but there was no Sunday School. So they recruited a couple of extra teachers and The Mangrove Mountain Union Sunday School was launched. Mother was Superintendent and taught the kindergarten while Dad played the organ, taught a class and helped in other ways. The School flourished and remained so until they left the Mountain. Children came from all over the place and quite a few of them were picked up by us in the Chrysler on the way to Mangrove. I vividly recall the car packed to the limit with children and teachers and with half a dozen of the older boys standing on the running boards and holding on for dear life. Very exhilarating it was, too, as I was one of the boys!
Sunday School picnics were events always looked forward to and enjoyed with their tables loaded with fancy cakes and bread spread with “hundreds and thousands.” Tea for the adults and raspberry syrup for the children. After lunch there were foot races for all including the Mums and Dads and embracing such gymnastic feats as egg-in-spoon, three-legged and sack races. I was tall for my age and generally given a handicap in the races although in fact I was a very poor runner-too much effort and no style. As a result I was always disappointed in the races and tried to get out of entering if I could. But all the littlies got a prize whether they ran first, last, in the middle or didn't even finish. And the picnic always ended with everyone being given a bag of sweets, boiled lollies and liquorice allsorts. They were much more precious in those days than today.
As the clergymen who visited the Mountain came from Gosford, and usually had three or four services in different places each Sunday, the ladies arranged a roster to provide them with lunch. Two of the Methodist ministers that I remember eating regularly with us were Reverend Messrs Waterhouse and Whiteman. Both of them were kindly men and well informed and I used to listen with some amazement at the things they discussed around our dinner table. These two men had a great influence on my later attitudes to things religious, particularly the latter who also took us for Scripture at the High School in Gosford. When we were at the Primary School we had a Scripture Lesson about once a quarter from a very kindly Evangelist from The Bethshan Mission at Wyee who travelled by motor cycle. He was a most earnest Bible Teacher and always seemed to have a good supply of little booklets to give away. I think I still have one or two in my collection of tracts! This same gentleman, whose name I have regretfully forgotten, undertook the task of giving elementary sex education to some of the boys after school, having obtained the approval of grateful parents beforehand. I think the most terrifying thing I learnt from him was the difference between a bull and a bullock! His basic approach to the subject was related more to farmyard animals and domestic pets rather than the more traditional birds and bees.
Referring back to Religious Education, I must say that I was more influenced by my parents than anything else. Mum used to find time to read to us before bedtime and she took us through the gospels and large parts of the Old Testament, often with the help of Arthur Mee's Children's Bible. The stories and the vivid illustrations are still well fixed in my mind. I was also well aware of the standards by which my parents lived, not only because of observation, but also because they discussed their attitudes in front of us children as often as not. I knew there was a very real relationship between what my father did with his hands in the orchard, with his pen at night time, and what he did with them at the piano on sundays.
Probably the deepest hurt I can remember my father suffering was on an occasion when a farmer at Somersby claimed that he had given Dad payment for some fertilizer and it had not been forwarded to the suppliers. The circumstances were that Dad was an agent for a company called Paton & Burns who supplied chemical fertilizers, blood and bone, etc in bags. A consignment had been sent to this farmer and payment was never received. I don't think anyone ever believed that Dad was an embezzler, but the farmer concerned put the matter in a solicitor's hands and made a sworn statement. The case didn't ever get to court, but it surely upset my Dad.
Another occasion on which I recall great indignation on the part of Father was when he was talking one day about the way his orchard had been neglected by the caretaker while he was away at the war. It must have been pretty bad for Dad to have harboured such resentment for so long.
Perhaps I am not the best one to judge, but I think I am on safe ground when I say that Dad's life was one greatly respected for his honesty and helpfulness to everyone. He had a remarkably wide range of abilities, without being ostentatiously brilliant in any of them. He was essentially modest and even, perhaps, a little shy and retiring. And yet he could turn his hand to almost anything. He was a first-class orchardist. His farm always looked good with healthy trees and crops, strong well-cared-for fences and healthy animals. He was much sought after to shoe horses, prune vines, graft buds on new fruit trees, doctor horses with liniments and drenches, and similar farming skills. I suspect that the code of the farmers at that time was that this kind of help was neighbourly kindness to be repaid in kind, but I am pretty sure it was a one-way traffic because of Dad's genuine desire to help whenever he could.
He was also very clever and experienced at clearing new land. This involved pulling over the bigger trees with a horse and wire ropes, using a block and tackle, after the main surface roots had been exposed with a mattock and cut with an axe. Dad could handle an axe as well as any axeman at the Gosford Show, sending huge chips flying and leaving the cut as clean as if it had been smoothed with a plane. When Dad's land was subdivided and he was trying to sell blocks early in the depression years it was necessary to open up the centre of the selection by putting roads through. These were cleared and formed by Dad himself, including the building of culverts and forming of drains. And it was all done behind the horse with tackle, scoop, plough and grader. Of course, there was a lot of work done by hand with mattock, axe, shovel and barrow too.
Dad was also skilled with his hands in other ways. He was quite a good pen and ink artist, wrote with firm, clear handwriting and played the piano and organ better than most amateurs. He played Church Organ most of his life and was a very sympathetic accompanist for singers. He loved music, particularly Church Music, and was an excellent choirmaster. As a young man he was much in demand as a soloist and had quite a collection of sheet music for baritone solos. His war diaries reveal that he used his voice to good effect to entertain during his war service. He and Mother were frequently on local programmes as soloists, duettists and, in Mum's case, elocutionist. Their popularity continued well into middle-life when changing entertainment such as movies, radio and eventually television virtually eliminated amateur concerts from the suburban scene.
He loved conducting the Church Choir and singing in Cantatas, The Messiah, and choral items like “Glorious Is Thy Name” by Mozart. And he loved a good solo tune like “Road to Mandalay."
He wrote well too. Little of his writing survives, but his War Diaries and a few letters confirm a skill both in handwriting and composition. My Sister Lois has pointed out that “he was a better correspondent than conversationalist.” When she was a young Teacher with appointments to country towns such as Orange and Wellington, she received many letters from Dad and she found facets of his mind that she had not before realised. I recall the same thing happening to me when I was away at High School for two years and Dad occasionally wrote. I think I got to know him better than I had ever done before.
As a builder/carpenter he built strong and solid. On the farm most of his work was on bush timber which he cut and dressed himself, generally with axe, crosscut saw and adze. I think he looked on many of his constructions as “temporary” but they outlasted him! The main shed at “The Springs” was just such a construction. It was built of bush poles with split boards placed vertically and a roof of stringy-bark sheets. It survived for many years after the farm was sold in 1936 by which time it was well over 20 years old, still standing stoutly and reasonably waterproof. He loved carriage-bolts and big heavy hinges. Nails and screws less than two inches never featured in his work.
He was always in demand as an honorary secretary. He wrote minutes, fully, accurately and legibly. I recall a minute-book he had, but which tragically is lost, describing early meetings on Mangrove Mountain. One meeting undertook the task of choosing a name for the new community that had been building up between Mangrove and Yarramalong. As I recall it, there was a very strong lobby to call the place “Passiflora”, but fortunately, in my opinion anyway, they settled for Kulnura, which as already mentioned, is an aboriginal word meaning “In sight of the Sea”. For many years Dad was the Honorary Secretary of the Granville Methodist Church Trustees, a job that entailed a great deal of diplomacy as well as minutes, correspondence and organising (or doing) the maintenance of the property.
His organising ability was outshone by his wife's but he did pretty well himself when called on. For several periods before and during the depression he was asked to manage the Central Mangrove Packing House. This was, and still is, located at the intersection of the Wisemans Ferry and Peats Ridge Roads. In fact that is where I got my first paid job, during the Christmas 1935 School holidays. My duties included serving petrol from an old-fashioned manual pump (there being no electricity supply on the Mountain at that time), nailing up the cases in which the fruit was packed, cleaning up, and occasionally, very occasionally, actually packing some oranges, which incidentally is not as easy at it may appear. Many a time my efforts were tipped out and repacked.
To run the graders, brushes, conveyors, etc there was an old single cylinder Ajax engine driving an incredible assortment of belts, shafts and counter-shafts. I think the engine ran on power kerosene. Some time before this the Gosford Packing House had taken over the Central Mangrove Shed and Dad was transferred to Gosford to manage the main shed there during the few months of the year when orange harvests were sparse. This involved a twenty mile car trip morning and night over ghastly roads and I remember the relief when he was transferred back to Mangrove. While working at the Packing Shed he employed a labourer on his own orchard, sometimes a local farmer such as Mr. Lees who lived near the Kulnura School, had a small farm and had three blonde-haired daughters. He also had a false leg, the result, I do believe, of a war injury. I recall the shock I got when I first saw him unlock the knee-joint of the wood and steel affair when he wanted to sit down! Dad also employed from time to time a young man named Henry Smallman who lived at Lisarow or thereabouts and rode up each day on a beautiful “Panther” motorbike. He later became a well-known Local Preacher in the Gosford Methodist Circuit.