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Aussie Pioneers - 5. AP Chapter 5

“Thank you, Ma’am. I presume you are one of my new neighbours that I was informed about on my last trip into town,” I responded.

“That is correct, we have the eastern property on your southern boundary. My husband George is a former banker, but we had some trouble with some investments, so we decided to sell up and start afresh, and here we are. George and I have 4 children, with the older two helping with setting up everything. Adam is 8 and James is 11.

Until we get organised we will be living in tents, but we have all the comforts of home with our furniture that we brought along with us,” Mrs Applegate said.

“Well, thank you very much for your visit, Ma’am. As you see my brother and I have a lot of work to do, and there is little amount of daylight left for today,” I said as politely as possible.

“Oh yes, of course. I am sorry to hold you up. It is good to meet my neighbours. I hope we can gather again sometime soon,” Mrs Applegate said.

“I look forward to that,” I said as I saw Archie approaching quickly with a bucket in his hand.

“Excuse me, but would you like some fresh cow’s milk?” I asked.

“Oh, that would be wonderful. We haven’t even got that far with livestock and such. We just bought a lot of food provisions from Ceduna. I think George will be making regular trips there to get more supplies each month,” Mrs Applegate said as she accepted the bucket half full of milk from Archie, who just smiled before heading off again.

I waved as they climbed into their sulky and rode off back to their property, about half an hour away, and when they had gone, I turned to search for my brother.

“I’m in the new building,” Archie called out, and I walked around to the breezeway and into the open doorway.

“I think we should make this into three bedrooms, just in case it is needed, and we can use it as storage area as well,” Archie suggested, when I arrived.

“Ok, that is fine with me. You are building it, so I will leave it up to you, Brother,” I replied, and I headed back out to the stockyards to continue gathering rocks for an extension of the yards on the north side.

I had decided to make a yard the same size as the first one, with an adjoining gate, to make it one big yard if need be, and I would include shelters in each corner to provide the extra weather protection.

That night, I had been having difficulties sleeping, so I got up and dressed to go for a walk. Soon after I stepped out of the house, I heard an ewe in distress, so I raced over to the yard, carrying the small kerosene lantern as my only light source. I found an ewe lying on its side and it looked to be in labour. So, I quickly raced back to the house, gathered a bucket of water and some soap and returned to the yard.

After about twenty minutes, the lamb finally arrived and surprisingly it was still alive. But it looked like the trouble was not yet over. Twins were a little rare, and often resulted in one lamb being born dead. After nearly two hours of birthing troubles, the second lamb was born, alive and much smaller than the first one.

I watched as both of them managed to find a teat each and started their very first meal of their life. Once the lambs had finished their feed, I helped the ewe back to her feet, and made sure that she walked around a little so she didn’t become lame. She led her babies to a shelter and rested, while I headed back to the house, where I scrubbed my hands and arms, and stowed the bucket containing the afterbirth in a corner before heading back to my bedroll.

“Where have you been?” Archie asked sleepily.

“Helping one of the ewes with her first lambs, twins, and both of them are alive,” I replied.

“Oh, I wish you had got me out of bed. I would have liked to have seen that. Err, what is that smell?” Archie replied, and I chuckled.

“Something that I need to bury in the ground in the morning. I am too tired to do it tonight,” I replied, as I lay down and closed my eyes.

“Edwin, get up. I am not cooking breakfast until you get rid of that awful smell,” I heard Archie say, as I tried to go back to sleep. I groaned loudly before forcing my self to get out of bed, and grabbing the bucket and the shovel, I went to bury the item that Archie was complaining about so much. Once that was done, I climbed back into bed, and fell asleep, until the smell of fresh damper and billy tea filled the room, and I was forced to get out of bed again.

Once I had washed up and dressed, I went and had some breakfast, before heading over to the animal yard to check on everything. I smiled when I saw the two lambs happily having another drink from their mother. I handed out some grain and hay to all of the stock, and checked that the water trough had enough water in it, before I started work on the extensions to the yards.

For the next two weeks Archie and I kept busy with our separate projects, and we finished both of them at about the same time, with me having to assist Archie with the new roof. We were happy to have the projects completed. We now had our own bedrooms, and the stock had a much bigger area to roam.

During our evening meals we discussed other things that needed to be done around the property, and we decided that we needed to do some fence building, and that post and rail fencing would be the best option.

Over the next four weeks, Archie and I travelled to the tree grove, and we cut down good size trees, cut them to 6-foot lengths, and stripped off the bark, before adding them to the growing pile. Another pile of logs that were 12-foot lengths, but thinner in girth, would be used for the two rails between each post.

The vegetable patch was about 360 feet or 120 yards from the nearest corner of the stock yard, so we decided to make a post and rail fence from the vegetable patch wall, to the stock yard, and another post and rail fence from the vegetable patch to the closest corner of the crops, and the last post and rail fence to the other corner of the stock yard, making an area of about 40 acres, for the animals to move around some more.

We were in the process of building the second fence, when we heard a horse approaching, with two boys riding bareback. I guessed they were the older Applegate boys from the neighbouring property.

“Mr, our Ma and Pa sent us to you to stay. The young’uns have come down with something real bad, and we have been sent away so we don’t catch it,” the older of the boys said to me.

“I see. Are you able to work to help cover you being fed?” I asked the boys.

“Yes, Mr. Pa said to make sure we work hard while we are staying here,” the boy replied, as the boys slid off the back of their horse.

“Go and put your horse in the stock yard, and then I will show you where you can sleep,” I said to the boys who nodded their heads and headed over to the stockyards located about 60 yards away from the house.

While the boys were doing this, Archie walked up to me, “You know if they have been there, we should make sure they don’t give it to us,” my brother said to me.

“Good thinking, Brother. Go and get a fire going under that big copper boiler that I brought back from the last trip. We will boil their bedding and their clothes. We have spare blankets now, so they can use them, and we can give them some of our spare clothes to use, so their clothes can be boiled too,” I replied.

The copper boiler had a large bowl used to heat water for laundry and bathing, and the one that I had bought in Ceduna had a cast iron frame for holding the pot above the ground, leaving room for a fire pit below it. I had set it out the other side of the house 6 yards from the breezeway underneath the largest tree near the house.

Once the boys had bathed in hot water and changed into clean clothes, their old clothes along with their bedding were put into the boiler and allowed to simmer for an hour, before being pulled out and hung out to dry.

While this was happening, the boys helped Archie and I to continue building the post and rail fence, and with the extra two helpers we were able to get a lot more done in that afternoon. As we sat down to dinner that evening, the Applegate boys were very quiet, as they had been for the whole afternoon.

“Don’t worry too much about your family. I am sure they will all be fine,” I said to try and reassure them both.

Adam, the younger boy, burst out crying, and I was not sure how to deal with it. I looked over to his older brother, James. “We had another sister, Jennifer. She was ‘bout a year old, but she died a few days after we arrived at our new farm,” James explained. “And now Pa and Eliza are real sick too.

“Oh, that is not good. What about your younger brother? Is he ok?” I asked.

“Not sure. He stayed with Ma to help her look after the others,” James replied.

After everyone had gone to bed, with the Applegate boys sharing the middle room, I could hear soft crying, even through the thick stone walls.

The next morning, after breakfast of damper and tea, we went to work on the fence, and we completed the second section of the fence just before sunset. I was pleased with how quickly the fence was being built, and I knew that we would need to run a line of wire between the ground and the bottom rail, to stop the lambs from getting through.

Most of the ewes had now lambed, with 37 lambs now born, plus we also had two calves that had arrived in the world overnight, bringing the urgency to have the paddock completed as soon as possible. I also wanted to build a post and rail fence around the crop paddock to make sure the stock stayed out of there if they managed to escape, or stray in that direction when out grazing.

The corn crop was doing very well now, being the faster crop out of the lot, and the wheat and oat crops were looking fairly good too. I also realised that when the winter was over, it would be time to give the rams and ewes a shear, as their wool was getting quite long.

I was looking forward to that, so we could make some wool stuffed mattresses, using canvas as the outer lining. The large canvas sheet that I had bought and used to cover the buggy for the return journey, was big enough to make two good sized soft mattresses, using the twine and large needles to sew it all together.

Six days after the Applegate boys had arrived, we had completed building the fence for our first paddock, including the wire along the bottom, and using some left-over split wood, I was able to make a 2-yard-long gate, to link in with the gate of the stock yard, so it was easy to let the stock move into the new paddock.

Pleased with what we had achieved, we sat down to dinner that evening and James asked what the next task would be. I informed him that we would be spending a week felling more trees and cutting them to the required sizes, ready for the next fence to be built around the cropping paddock.

“But before we do that, we need to go and check on your family. So, I suggest that we get a good nights sleep, as we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow,” I said to the Applegate boys.

The next morning, Adam announced that he wanted to stay on the farm, and Archie agreed to stay and look after him, while James and I travelled to the neighbouring farm to check on the rest of the Applegate family. So,with a packing crate of food, and a half barrel of water, we harnessed up Honey and set off in the buggy, heading south on the now main track, between the house and the south eastern corner boundary.

Taking our time, we arrived at the boundary just under one hour later, and we stopped to give Honey a drink of water. Then, following the track south from that corner, which is the eastern boundary of the Applegate farm, we continued on until James pointed to the big tree about an hour later, which was the marker for the track heading west towards the Applegate camp.

Less than an hour later, I could see four good size tents, a large wagon, a buggy, and two horses, but it seemed very quiet. So, I stopped the buggy a good distance away from the camp.

“Hello, Applegate family,” I called out loudly.

Shortly after, Mrs Applegate appeared.

“Stay where you are. I don’t want you to get sick,” she called back.

“How is everyone? I shouted to her.

“Eliza passed away two days ago. She is buried over by that tree. I fear that I will lose my husband soon too. Mark appears to be fine, and he has been a big help to me, she replied.

Copyright Preston Wigglesworth January 2019 All Rights Are Reserved

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Chapter Comments

Child mortality was very high until well into the 20th Century.  Smallpox or something else?    Frontier life was pretty rough.   Very well written.

Edited by GanymedeRex
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Babies and kids died so easily back then.  My grandpa and his family caught the measles in 1928. The 2 yr old died, his mother had a early stillbirth and my grandpa lost most of his hearing.  Its what led him to my city at age 8, as we have a school for the deaf that used to offer boarding.  

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I like the idea that Edwin & Archie will have neighbors, although now it seems like the majority of the family is sick, and some have even died from the sickness. The older sons were sent over to Edwin and Archie to look after Adam who is 8 and James who is 11, since they arrived they have been a great help with the projects they had planned and were working on completing have been finished. I’m sorry that their family is sick and are dying but that was something that they had to deal with during the time of the story. 

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2 hours ago, Butcher56 said:

I like the idea that Edwin & Archie will have neighbors, although now it seems like the majority of the family is sick, and some have even died from the sickness. The older sons were sent over to Edwin and Archie to look after Adam who is 8 and James who is 11, since they arrived they have been a great help with the projects they had planned and were working on completing have been finished. I’m sorry that their family is sick and are dying but that was something that they had to deal with during the time of the story. 

You are right about that - Quoka kind of had foreshadowing that this family was going to  be toast anyway; they didn't seem to be doing the right things needed to survive like the two brothers were.  I'm sure the neighbor boys and their property will factor in somehow, thought they are way too young and different in age to be romantic interests.  Somebody else will have to show up.   

Edited by GanymedeRex
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   It was not until the second decade of the twentieth Century that the spread of infectious diseases was well enough understood to bring about some methods of control. The principal cause of mortality prior to that era had been poor sanitation, infected water supplies and pests such as fleas and mosquitos. The transmission of deadly diseases among an increasing population density was a great determinant of an early demise.

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It will only get worse for the family that is sick. We can see now that those two young boys will join Edwin and Archie permanently after the coming deaths in the Applegate family.

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