In this podcast, Mark White interviews Archie, a sheep man from the town of Emmaville in New South Wales, Australia. Archie talks about the history of Emmaville and life growing up in the Australian countryside.
M: Hello everybody. We’re sitting just outside Emmaville in New South Wales, Australia. And I’m just talking to Archie here. Archie, you were born near here?
A: Yes. Yes. I was born here at Vegetable Creek Hospital.
M: Right, so Emmaville used to be called Vegetable Creek.
A: That’s correct, yeah.
M: When did they change the name, do you know?
A: They changed the name back in 1872.
M: Right, and why was that?
A: It was because at the time the governor of New South Wales was, his wife’s name was Emma, and he came to Emmaville and opened up the Emmaville hospital and he called it Emmaville, after Emma, yeah.
M: And there used to be a lot of Chinese people growing vegetables here before.
A: That’s right. There was 3,000 Chinese in Emmaville.
M: And a tin mine?
A: Yes. There was, uh, Emmaville used to produce 400,000 tons of tin a year.
M: And then when did the mine close down, do you know?
A: The last mine that was in Emmaville closed down in 1988.
M: And what year were you born?
A: I was born the first of November, 1942.
M: 1942. And you’ve worked in sheep all your life?
A: Sheep and machinery.
M: So what was it like growing up around here?
A: Quite good, yeah. I’d do it all back over again.
M: You told me when, you told me once before when, um, when you were little you used to go out cutting trees for days at a time.
A: That’s right, yes, yes, yes. cypress pine, ironbark, and tallowood.
M: Can you tell us how you used to do that, like how many you were there and how long did you go out for at a time?
A: Well, we’d go out sometimes for six weeks non-stop. And I was thirteen years of age. I used to swing an axe. My brother was fifteen. We used to swing an axe and we stayed with, uh, well we were the head of the gang in the finish, but we, us two young fellows, uh, there was I think thirty four of us and we were, at our age, we were ahead of the gang. We were falling and making roughly seven to eight pound more than any of the other gangs.
M: And you are going out for six weeks at a time.
A: Six weeks at a time, yes.
M: How many trees would you cut in one day?
A: Oh gee, we were cutting up to three thousand super-feet.
M: What’s that?
A: Well, that’s when it’s sewn up. After the trees are felled and they’re sewn up. That’s cubic feet, cubic feet in your timber is three thousand cubic feet.
M: Right. And you’d stay out for, like, six weeks at a time. Where did you sleep? Did you just camp?
A: Oh, sometimes we slept in the open, out, you know, alongside logs. It wasn’t easy. No, it was pretty tough. We walked a long way a lot, you know, the brother and I, we walked up to sixty, seventy miles to work. It took us three or four days to get there, carrying our swag at thirteen and fifteen years of age. It was a pretty tough time.
M: And did you take food with you?
A: Yes, yes, yes, yes. It was a bit nasty when you’d get a storm or something like that because, so as you had dry clothes and what you had with you, you’d stuff up a log and then you’d probably sit in the nude out in the rain till it was over.
M: It must have been cold.
A: It was. It was. It was shocking at times. You know, those times…you hear people today say things are tough today. They didn’t know what toughness was. They don’t know. They don’t know. They had no idea.
M: And you were saying before sometimes if you didn’t have much food, you’d kill a kangaroo and eat that.
A: Yep, that’s right. Yeah, yeah, that’s correct.
M: It took all day to cook it.
A: Well, half it did.
M: When did you start running sheep?
A: Back in 1979. I never had one acre of ground. I leased country then, in 1979, out in this area, and built myself from there.
M: Do you shear your own sheep or…?
A: No. No, I pay shearers. But all the stragglers – that means the ones that you’ve missed – I shear all them me-self. Yeah, I do all that. And I crutch all me own sheep.
A: Yeah, yeah.
M: Ah…good on ya. Thanks a lot mate.
A: Yeah, yeah.