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Memories of Foxground long ago

The Bugle App

Mark Emery

09 June 2024, 12:00 AM

Memories of Foxground long agoPierce Mitchell in Foxground 1939

It is clearly understood that early settlers, both men and women lived a hard life. Something that is often lost forever is the folklore of the times. In order to retain some of this, we print the following anecdotes that epitomise the character and comradeship of the Foxground folk. 

Cedar-cutting was an early industry. Logs were felled and drawn over a deep pit or gully, where one man, Harry Stokes, as ‘bottom dog’ could saw all day, and then leap out of the 180 cm deep pit in a standing jump!    

Another strong man, Frank Herbert, had been known to put two half-grown pigs in bags, and walk out of the Valley over Saddleback Mountain without putting them to the ground.            

Pat O’Keeffe spent the whole of his long working life testing milk at the factory, smelling and /or tasting hundreds of thousands of cans of untreated milk. Let it not be said that milk is harmful - he lived to be 98.

Pat knew his job, and once rejected a supplier's milk for two days in a row for a foreign odour until it was discovered one cow in the herd was grazing a patch of garlic.    

One farmer who hailed from South Africa used to cool his can of cream in a well overnight, raising the lid for ventilation. During the night his greyhound pup knocked the lid off and fell into the cream.The farmer had to rush to rescue said pup. It came out covered in cream. Telling his story, he was asked what he did with the cream. ‘Well, I scraped him down and put the lid on and sent the cream to the factory, of course.’ It was hoped Pat didn’t taste that one! 

Nearly every wedding in those times was celebrated with a tin-kettling. Neighbours and friends would foregather at the home of the newly-weds and serenade them by banging tins and billies and other objects that could generate noise. On one occasion the newly-weds would not open the door to them, so a wet bag was placed over the chimney to smoke them out! Jokes of all kinds were attempted, and on one occasion a young calf was put to sleep under the young couple’s bed. Like all young calves he woke up for a feed early in the morning, with a hair-raising result!      

One early settler was known to have walked over Saddleback Mountain each Saturday night, to court his girlfriend and back home to do his milking the next morning. He should have brought her with him!         

A river with trees in it

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Foxground in flood. Date Unknown

Entertainment was simple in the early days; corn-husking parties were held on nights with dances on the verandas or in the barns, to the tunes of an accordion. Card-playing was popular with the older folk.

Bill Cullen was a proud breeder of red Illawarra cattle, and when one of his best cows calved one night, a joker took the red calf and replaced it with a white one, probably a jersey, to the shock of the owner when he came to inspect the newly born!

A true story is told of a farmer who used to balance his one keg of butter with a bag of stones on the packhorse on the trip to the Kiama wharf. When his production required an extra keg, he borrowed another horse to carry the second keg and more stones! Surely it would have been easier..if..?    

Late one summer’s night during the war an aeroplane crashed on Bong-Bong Mountain, on the rim of the Valley. In the rush to be first there in the pea-soup fog many got hopelessly lost. Close to one hundred men rushed to the scene. Len Flint and his party reckoned they climbed over the same log three times during the night! Doug Blow and his party arrived home late for the morning’s milking. They all wished the plane had landed on Cullen’s flat!

Sly grog was made in the early days, in a still located in a mountain cave. One man used to take along a second can of grog with his can of cream to the factory. One day on being confronted by the police, he took off for the bush with one of the cans in hand - hotly pursued by the Law. In the hurry he had grasped the can of cream, and the can of grog was disposed of by persons unknown!

A girl from the same still traded the brew to a Kiama Hotel and for years was never caught. She rode a horse side-saddle with a hooped skirt, with the bottles wrapped in a blanket inside the hoop of the skirt!         

Stan Leaney was a great axeman, and followed the profession to the show-ring. It was said his wife chopped the wood at home!   

When we were kids at the Foxground school, one of our favourite sports was to see who could be first to tease a funnel-web spider out of his hole in the ground with a grass stem.

I still shudder to think about them. Kids were cheap in ‘those good old days!’