I have this photograph, c1935, of Dad (taller) and his brother, with good clothes, a lunchbox, books and both wearing shiny new boots.
Something good (however short-lived, we know that now) must have come from that tin of gold.
In all of my stories, there’s something that has happened to me, or something that is a part of my personal history, the ancestral part. (There are always historical facts in my stories that have nothing to do with me!)
In Elsa Goody, Bushranger, Elsa’s siblings were three brothers, all deceased at the time the story opens, and a sister. Elsa and her father live on a very poor farm and in the distant past, the family moved there and purchased land. On that land, their father found a tin of thirty sovereigns, a fortune in those days.
The story behind that was true, in part, in my own family going back to the early days on the land in Victoria during the Depression. Legend has it my grandfather discovered the stash after he took up a land division. When no one came forward for it, he was very careful how he spent the find. A dirt-poor farmer would’ve had a hard time trying to change a sovereign back in those days, much less thirty of them. It was said that perhaps the previous land-holder had pigs, because the tin was found under what had been a sty.
My dad was three years old at the time of the Depression in 1929 but things were already pretty terrible by then. He remembered having to set the rabbit traps in the early evening, then clearing the traps before school. The family skinned rabbits, used rabbit skin in their boots—when they had boots—sold rabbit skin and carcasses, and they ate rabbit, surviving the same way as many others. Dad never ate rabbit in his adult life but just when he stopped eating it, I’m not sure. I suppose as soon as he was old enough (and not hungry) to refuse it. He never wore felt hats either.
They had one horse. I don’t remember if I ever knew his name. Dad told me he rode him bareback to school some five miles away, with his younger brother on the horse behind him, and that was only after they’d done their chores. So Zeke’s kids in the story do the same.
Even though my book is set some years earlier than my family’s era, as a nod to Dad I added the rabbito kids to the story who would have been around in the day, ‘around the traps’. (Elsa and her sister Rosie meet the rabbito kids briefly.) The rabbit plague of South Australia and Victoria that started in 1870s and lasted into the 1890s offered many destitute people food and funds. In the 1930s, in my dad’s early years, rabbit numbers continued to do massive damage to crops and feed.
Back to the tin of sovereigns. I’m not sure I ever knew how the money was spent, or what my grandfather did on the farm. I have a fuzzy memory it might have been potatoes, but then I also remember being told that the land was too poor even for potatoes. (I wish now of course that I’d taken more notice.) I do know the family lived in Gippsland in Victoria, at Stony Creek, and also at Meeniyan. Dad’s early life is a mystery. He rarely spoke of it.
Well, except for that one time when he played William Tell with bow and arrow, and his brother had the apple on his head.