Sharing inspirational stories, reflective thoughts, amusing anecdotes, and more

The little primus stove


Bill Hipkiss (on the left) and his mate during the Depression years

In our writer’s group we were asked to write about an interesting object we have, or have had, in our garage that has a story to tell. I was reminded of a little primus stove I had for many years, which I have since passed on to my daughter.

This little stove is very neat and compact, and folds up to fit neatly into a tin smaller than a small shoe box. It was owned and used by my father in law, Bill Hipkiss, when, in his middle and later years, he spent countless hours out in the bush painting the scenery he loved so much. He would boil up his billy on the little primus stove and relax with a cuppa and his picnic lunch, perhaps sitting on an old tree stump or a canvas fold-up chair, enjoying the relaxation and peace he found in the bush.

When Bill visited us in Canberra he liked nothing better than a day out in the bush, sketching or painting, often with a grandchild by his side. He was a self taught artist, and, as well as paintings, pencil and charcoal sketches, he carved beautiful objects out of mallee stumps and tree bollards. Sadly, Bill had to sell most of his paintings and works of art, so there are only a few left in the family.

In this photo Bill is sketching in the Flinders Ranges near our camp site, watched by granddaughter Carrol.

A strong spirit

Bill Hipkiss was born on the 13th November 1905 in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. He was orphaned at the age of seven and was brought up and educated in an orphanage in Birmingham. From entries in the school log book it seems that Bill’s penchant for mischief started way back in his earlier years in the orphanage. In later years, when we knew him, he still had a wicked sense of humour and loved to enjoy a good laugh or a practical joke. In his teen years he was able to live with his older sister and family while serving an apprenticeship in the printing trade.

After the war, when Australia sought new settlers from Britain as a means of cementing the friendship between the two countries, both governments contributed to subsidised passage and offered loans to cover other costs. Perhaps attracted by the promise of guaranteed employment, good wages and plenty of opportunities, Bill, at the age of 21, set sail for Australia, landing at Fremantle in Western Australia in the mid 1920’s. After spending a few years in various odd jobs in the south-west of the state, he went north to Broome, working on the pearl luggers there for about four years.

One day he received a telegram from a fellow emigrant stating that business prospects were good in Victoria. As this was during the depression years of the early 1930’s work was scarce, and many hundreds of thousands of Australians faced the humiliation of poverty and unemployment. Bill decided to make the trip south and try his luck with his mate in Victoria. Undaunted by the huge distances involved, he set off.

The long journey

Bill walked from Broome to Port Hedland, a distance of approximately 750 kilometres. This was no mean feat, especially in those days when white settlements in those vast outback areas were few and far between. In Port Hedland he bought a second-hand bicycle and set out for Ararat via Meekatharra, Perth, Port Augusta, Adelaide and Bordertown. The entire journey took him a total of seventeen weeks, and at one stage he didn’t see a white person for a period of six weeks.

This was long before bitumen roads so the dust and dirt and rough riding must have been horrendous and added many layers of dust both to him and his gear. But being of good English stock, Bill would wash, shave and clean his boots without fail every day. His food was the usual tucker of the swagman in those Depression days, namely damper, billy tea and whatever meat he could get along the way. I wonder whether the little primus stove accompanied him on this journey.

He often related stories to his family of compassionate farmers who were willing to share shelter and whatever food was available. He told tales of the dust storms, the disappointing mirages, the excitement of civilization, and the times of despair and loneliness. He experienced the rejection of some, the suspicion of others and the pity of still others. He talked about the need to preserve water and the innovative ways of finding water, especially in the Nullabor. His children would sit enthralled as he recounted these stories over and over.

Bill persisted in his determination to keep to his pre-set goal of riding for so many hours each day, in spite of the pain, and this caused him to ultimately reach his destination in Victoria some seventeen weeks later.

Bill came to deeply love this sunburnt country despite his many struggles over the years, and this was seen in the beautiful scenes of the rugged outback captured in his paintings.

When, many years later, his son undertook the same journey his father travelled long ago (but in the relative comfort of a car), he experienced something of the harshness of the hot, dry north west as it is today. He was deeply challenged by the picture of a lonely, determined man fighting against such inhospitable country and seemingly insurmountable odds, but pressing on until he reached his journey’s end.


Two charcoal sketches I rescued from the floor of Bill's shed.20150825_095047_2

Two charcoal sketches I rescued from the floor of Bill’s shed.



A Dog’s Dilemma!


Tara on a warmer day out at the horse farm.

It’s tough for a dog on a cold Canberra winter morning!

“Oooh no! She is going to make me go outside to wee, and it’s freezing out there. I’m sure I could hold on a bit longer if only she’d let me stay inside till it warms up a bit!

Can’t she see it’s almost snowing. There’s ice all over the deck and the stairs. It’s deadly dangerous for a dog. Surely she understands that. How hard-hearted can you be?

Uh oh – she’s going to get mad in a minute with all this cold air coming in the door. If I don’t move soon I’m going to get a nudge in my backside. Oh well, here goes nothing.

Ouch, ouch, ouch – the deck is freezing and my paws are sticking to it. I’ll probably end up with frost bite. My dew claws will turn into ice picks.

Aaah. There, I made it safely across the deck, now it’s time for the big challenge, the stairs. They’re covered with ice. This is where it gets REALLY scary. Here goes nothing. The first step OK, second Ok,  Oh no. Yeeeow, I’m off down the rest of the steps on my backside. Ouch Ouch Ouch. Now my bottom is frozen AND bruised.

Oh well, at least the worst is over. Now I have to bare my sensitive rear end to the frosty grass. Not a pleasant thought, but I’d better get it over with before I get any colder. Aaaah, that’s better. Funny thing, I’m making my own steam.

Now that’s over, there’s no way I’m going back up those stairs again. It will be upstairs downstairs for sure.

It’s time for a move I’ve perfected over the years and used to my advantage. Guaranteed to melt the hardest heart.  If I want food, it helps. If I’m seeking attention, it’s a winner.

I’ll just choose my spot down here in the carport where I am in her direct line of vision from the kitchen window, and sit up and beg. Humiliating I know, but to me it’s the lesser of two evils. She’ll have to see me sooner or later. It’s a bit cold on my bottom, but it’s better than those slippery steps.

Aah, she’s seen me. That didn’t take too long.

Here she comes, down the steps hanging on to the hand rails. Now I’m up in her arms and in a jif we’re safely up the stairs and back in the warm house. Works every time!”


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She was a staid little old lady, very prim and proper, dressed in quiet beige, sitting very uprightly, with her head held high. I named her Jemima. I bought her in 1960 and she was two years older than me. She was my first car, a 1938 Vauxhall –  purchased for the princely sum of 60 pounds..

From the first, I felt we had a connection. I could overlook her idiosyncrasies and flaws, such as needing a large drink of water every time we commenced a journey together,  requiring me to carry bottles of water at all times (I don’t know why I didn’t get her obvious radiator problem fixed?) Somehow I just felt I could rely on her and she wouldn’t let me down. On one occasion when other younger and flashier models were falling by the wayside in a drenching rainstorm, Jemima just carried steadily on, without wavering or missing a beat, until we reached the safety of home.

In my youthful enthusiasm, however, I think I rather overestimated the energy and strength of the old lady when I decided we should pay a visit to a friend in the country. This necessitated climbing a rather steep hill, some would call it a small mountain, to get there. Our progress became slower and slower as Jemima puffed and panted on the steepest incline. Cars whizzed past us at 40 kilometres an hour. Alarmed I urged her on. If we went any slower we would start going backwards, placing in jeopardy those unfortunate enough to be coming behind. When we finally made it safely over the crest of the hill, Jemima wheezing and gasping, the relief could be heard in my voice as I shouted, “We made it!” and our journey into the country continued uneventfully. The ride home was a breeze, downhill all the way. But I didn’t attempt such a trip again.

I had many learning experiences with Jemima. She frightened my young brother half to death one day when she shook, spluttered and coughed fit to choke, then stalled, with clouds of steam hissing from under her bonnet. My brother wrenched the door open and took off down the street at top speed, as if the devil himself were after him, putting a very safe distance between him and Jemima. I really believe he thought she was going to blow up. It was all quite harmless really, and easily fixed after the nice NRMA gentleman indicated I had accidentally forgotten to put the cap back on the radiator after slaking her thirst. My brother was always quite a nervous passenger in Jemima. On reflection, perhaps it was my driving, and not the car!

I had some lessons to learn in correctly judging distances. On one occasion I was driving down the main street of Victor Harbour, the country town where my family lived, when Mum spluttered … “Whoooooo dear. You are just a bit close to the cars, ” as she sucked in her breath, flinched and pulled her legs to the right. “I’m fine,” I breezily replied, just before a loud ping indicated I had left one of the door handles behind on a parked car. Mum was right, as usual.

Another time I nearly lost my friend when we went around a corner too quickly and the door (which opened from front to back) flew open, and my friend was sucked outwards — without the restraint of the seatbelts of today . I quickly reached over with my left hand, grabbed the back of her coat and hauled her into the car, while steering to the side of the road with the other hand. After we had recovered, we were reduced to fits of hysterical giggles for the rest of the trip home.

I can’t really remember how long Jemima and I were together, only a few years, but I look back on those times with fond memories, and wonder what happened to her after we parted ways. Perhaps she would be worth a lot of money today – as an antique or vintage! She holds a special place in my heart.

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at least they were supposed to be watching their flocks!

You see, it was dark on the hillside and we were glad to finally rest after a hard day of roaming the area looking for grass to eat. Our shepherds had had their dinner and were also resting. They usually take it in turns to sleep while one keeps watch for our safety. It’s always a comforting feeling knowing that they are keeping an eye out for us. The nights are full of sheep-dangers around here.

Tonight they seemed very quiet and were talking a lot between themselves, probably about the huge star that had appeared over Bethlehem. Most unusual. Not one of our usual collection of night lights.

Then suddenly, without warning, this heavenly being appeared out of nowhere, and we were nearly blinded by the light that surrounded it. Our shepherds were terrified. Now, hey, they’re our protectors. If they’re terrified you can’t even begin to imagine how we felt. We all huddled closely together, pushing and shoving, trying to get a good look at what was going on.

Then this heavenly being said for all to hear, “Don’t  be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

As if that wasn’t enough of an upheaval, next thing a great host of angels appeared in the sky, saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” Then, just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone, and the sky was dark once again.

I can tell you it was pretty scary, although I must say the singing was of a pretty high standard. I just wish we could sing like that! Our bleating doesn’t even nearly come up to scratch.

Now I don’t know about you, but in our neck of the woods there’s nothing special about a baby being born. It happens every day. And it certainly doesn’t warrant a whole angelic host singing in the sky. So there must be something spectacular about this one for all this fuss and carry on. What did the angel say … a Saviour – Christ the Lord? Hmmm.

Next thing our shepherds started talking to each other, and we heard them say, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.” And then, without a backward glance, off they went in a great hurry, without so much as a goodbye or a “how’s your uncle.”  So much for our protection. I can tell you right now, we were pretty nervous and vulnerable. This was quite out of character for our shepherds. It came right out of left field, as it were.

After what seemed like hours, they finally returned and boy were they hyped up! They couldn’t stop talking about what they had seen and heard. Apparently it was just like the angels had described it. There was this new-born baby lying in a manger with people kneeling down, worshipping him, and giving him gifts. Our normally reticent shepherds had been telling everyone they came across about this wonderful event. Now that’s a miracle in itself! Usually you can’t get a peep out of them when strangers are around.

Ah well. I suppose they will settle down eventually. But I can tell you it’s a night I won’t forget in a hurry. For us perhaps, nothing much has changed. But I have a feeling that things won’t ever be the same for our shepherds. It seems they have seen the glory of God in the face of a child. A child that they say is going to change the world forever. Time will tell, I guess.

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Tara has enjoyed the affection of two sets of grandchildren over the years.

Her patience knows no end!

She was a cute fluffy bundle of black, white and tan, an interesting mix of Jack Russell and Maltese Terrier, with bright little eyes encased in a body wriggling with endless energy. Her razor sharp teeth were ready to pounce and gnaw on any unsuspecting fingers that came within reach. To try to keep her occupied I tied an elastic bandage to the front of the chair, which she took to with gusto, pulling and tearing with ferocious growling. Her energy was enormous for such a small bundle of fluff.

My husband, Terry, was seriously ill, and I thought she might bring some joy into his days which were now wracked with pain from the cancer that had spread throughout his body. And it seemed this would be so as she finally curled up, exhausted, on his chest and he smiled. We decided to call her Tara. Something to do with our Irish ancestry perhaps.

Sadly it was not to be so, as the next day Terry was taken by ambulance to hospital. The pressure of the tumors on his spine had caused paralysis from his waist down and radiotherapy was the only answer. He didn’t come home again. But Tara continued to visit him in hospital. Probably against all hospital rules I carried her through the corridors discreetly tucked into a basket covered with a tea towel, with a biscuit or two to keep her quiet. Once deposited on his hospital bed she would wriggle her way slowly upwards until she was tucked under his arm, with a lick deposited here and there.

Even from the puppy stage she seemed to have an empathy for those who were sick or sad, her soulful eyes conveying a world of sympathy. When my youngest daughter was in bed recovering from having all her wisdom teeth extracted, Tara snuggled up beside her, and didn’t move all day, as if to say, “I’m here for you.” When I was coping with the early days of being alone, Tara was always by my side, following me from room to room, sleeping next to my chair, watching me eat my meals – of course, always hoping for a tasty morsel to drop from my plate. If I wept over some distressing incident, she would hover close, or press up against my legs, to try to comfort me. After I broke my foot and was on crutches, with a boot to support the injured appendage, she was most puzzled and followed me wherever I went, watching my strange efforts at walking.

Most of all she loved playing with the three little daughters of my oldest daughter when they came to visit. She patiently put up with being dressed up, often sitting patiently with the doctors glasses on her nose and stethoscope around her neck. If things got too boring, she would snatch a piece of the dress-ups, and take off around the house, with the grandchildren in hot pursuit. Playing tug-of-war with an old towel was a favourite, with much furious shaking and growling to add to the drama, often with a grandchild being towed around the room on slippery socks. Those grandchildren have grown into adults now, and my younger daughter and her three boys come from Tasmania to visit from time to time. Although Tara is older, she is just as patient and tolerant with them and their games, and they love her with the same passion as their predecessors. Her energy for the tug-of-war isn’t quite as great, but she still trots off to the laundry to get the towel and drag it out to have a go. There isn’t any malice in her little body – in fact she’s a bit of a sook, so can be trusted around little children and is clever enough to dart in and out for a quick look all the while keeping well out of range of those waving baby hands that love to grab handfuls of fur and pull.

It’s 16 years since she joined our family. Now she is old, her hearing has gone and her eyes are clouding over, but she still bounces about with all the excitement and joy of a puppy at the possibility of a treat or a walk. She understands sign language extremely well, and can interpret all my hand waving and thigh slapping without any problems. Her endearing ‘one ear up and one ear down’ look hasn’t altered, and her feathery tail still curves over her back, waving furiously like a banner in the breeze when she is excited.

We are growing old together, and I will sadly miss her when she is gone.

The pudding that grew.

I grew up with good plain wholesome food. Sunday roast, chops and three veg, rissoles, or sausages and mash. Exotic stir fry’s, curries or laksa’s never entered our kitchen. Not even much rice, apart from creamy baked rice puddings. Rather, we had baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or potatoes chopped with butter.

When I married at 29 years of age I was still living at home and totally committed to my dream job. I knew nothing about cooking, or much about anything to do with running a household. Consequently, the demands of keeping house, cleaning, shopping, and learning how to cook, as well as continuing with my career, came as rather a shock to my system. This was around 50 years ago, and in those days, as was the norm, my husband, Terry, occasionally lent a hand with the dishes or hung some washing on the line, but largely left me to cope as best I could, despite his pre-wedding reassurances that together we would overcome all these difficulties! I can vividly remember walking into a butcher’s shop, pointing to a piece of meat, and saying, “What is that, and how do I cook it?”

I must confess that cooking was not my greatest joy in life. It was a means for survival, and had to be done, so one just got on with it and did the best they could. But it seemed to me to be an awful lot of work, for something that was gone in less than half an hour, with nothing left to show for all that labour except dirty dishes. So after 20 years of marriage when Terry, who always knew just what herb or spice should be added to my cooking so that it tasted more like his mother’s wonderful meals, sat leafing through recipe books and suggesting some interesting Asian meals I should cook, I went into revolt. He had never made even so much as a vegemite sandwich! “Why don’t you go to cooking classes and learn how to make them yourself,” I declared. “I think I will,” was his surprising response. He began with Indian cooking classes, and then moved on to Asian.

And so began a new era in our life. Our kitchen became infused with all sorts of delectable aromas. Spicy curries blended with that unmistakable aromatic fragrance of coconut milk. The scent of onion, garlic and ginger mingled together to add their touch of magic to Thai Curry Chicken or Sweet and Sour Pork. Tangy yoghurt began to find a place on our table in condiments such as Cucumber or Banana Raita or Tandoori Yoghurt Dressing.

“Why don’t you invite some friends over for dinner, and I will cook for them,” Terry would say. So I did. Nothing was too much trouble if he was cooking. He was happy to spend all day, or even 2 days, in preparation for one meal. Being one for always doing things properly Terry insisted on grinding all his own spices. The bench would be covered with little bowls of ingredients, all methodically chopped into the correct size pieces. When the meal was served he would anxiously await our response, and then bask in our praise. Looking for more affirmation he would often say, “It’s not quite up to my usual standard.” But as long as I didn’t have to cook I thought it was perfect. And what is more, he always left a spotlessly clean kitchen. Why didn’t I suggest this 20 years ago I wondered?

Thankfully it didn’t always go according to plan. He did occasionally have a disaster. One year he decided to cook a Christmas pudding, as I had given up on these after a few disasters of my own. He was muttering to himself about the quantities and I overheard him say – “2 tablespoons of carb soda.” I interrupted him at that moment and said, “Excuse me Terry, but I think it should be 2 teaspoons of carb soda.” His sharp response, “Robyn, I am cooking this pudding. I know what I’m doing. You keep out of it,” put me firmly back in my place. All was quiet for a while, but as the pudding began to cook in its container in the saucepan of boiling water, it took on a life of its own and, like an erupting volcano, it rose up and over the sides of the pan, oozing all over the stove. While Terry frantically scraped up the ever increasing mess, I collapsed in hysterical laughter. Fortunately he also saw the funny side of the situation, and joined in my hilarity. The story of the Christmas pudding that grew, became one of our family jokes to be shared when we reminisced over the years.

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When my granddaughters turned 13 we would do something special together. As is so often the case,  it was meant to be a treat for them, but I thoroughly enjoyed each experience.

It was granddaughter number three, Tiffany’s turn. We were about to embark on our big adventure, a weekend together in Sydney. Her calm exterior masked the anticipation that was in her heart, but it sparkled in her eyes. As we climbed aboard the bus she looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll look after you Nanna.”  We checked in to our hotel and Tiffany took charge with the card, putting it into the slot for the lift, and then using it to open the door to our room, once again affirming, “I’ll look after you Nanna.”

Our room was small, and a bit smelly and gloomy, but it didn’t  matter as we weren’t going to be there much. Breakfast was an adventure as there was so much to choose from. She chose baked beans. Three plates full. This could prove interesting!

Each day we walked, we looked, we touched and we tasted. It was fun. And she held my hand as she trudged along beside me, not yet at the stage when to do this would seem childish.

The butterfly enclosure was a unique experience, with hundreds of beautifully colored butterflies of all shapes and sizes fluttering around our heads and settling here and there at will, like delicately designed decorations resting on the branches of the trees and bushes. We wandered around the enclosure, along with the crowds, admiring their beauty and diversity.

Then there was a moment, just a moment, I remember. All around us children and adults were trying  very hard  to get the butterflies to land on them, without much success. But as Tiffany stood quietly waiting, three settled softly on her  outstretched arm, almost as if they knew they could trust her. She could hardly contain her excitement and looked back at me over her shoulder with a look that said,  “They chose me Nanna!”

It was one of those special moments, not of great earth-shattering importance or life-changing consequence, but one of those gentle memories that I have stored away and look back on with a smile.