Harry Wallis was born
in Coffs Harbour NSW in 1915. He lived in Sydney and then in Paddington for some
years and later in life wrote a book (published in 1999) called Paddo
about the exploits of ‘larrikins’ in the 1920s.
After his schooling,
he worked in a government housing department and dealt with wide groups of
people whilst managing large housing developments. After retiring, he wrote many
short stories and achieved publication throughout Australia. Before this, he had
written and had published many short items about Army life under the pen name Gunwheel
in the old Smith’s Weekly magazine.
After retirement, he
continued to write short stories and finally wrote a major work, Destiny
Valley, which is based on his experiences in his teens and early twenties
whilst spending some time in the Hawkesbury and Colo Valleys, where he
participated in a number of trips on a river boat trading along these valleys.
Recently Harry has also had a number of short stories read over the radio in Queensland. Although fictional, the characters in his writings are obviously based on observation and experience, and denote a keen knowledge of humanity.
The woman stood silently as
she watched her husband unsaddle and hitch the two horses in the shadow of the
huge grey gum tree on the hillside. It had all sounded so magnificent to Emmie
Grainger when they had first moved into the Colo Valley, off the upper reaches
of the Hawkesbury River in early winter 1890.
They had been three months on the road, travelling by horse and wagon, all their possessions and provisions carried with them.
Each night at dusk they
camped in the open, using as a shelter the space under the standing vehicle. Any
roof over their heads would have been grand indeed, Emmie thought, as she looked
up at the light filtering through the leaves of the big gum tree.
For most of the journey, her
husband Stephen had ridden ahead on his hack, whilst Emmie click-clacked at the
stolid half-draught horse drawing the high-sided wagon.
Emmie’s relief had been
abundant when her husband had returned from one of his daily site-seeking
expeditions to say that he had located a site for their future home.
“D’you know what, Em?”
he cried excitedly. He did not wait for her response, but went on, “It’s the
second of May today - and that means it’s just twelve months since they opened
the big new railway bridge across the Hawkesbury River at Brooklyn - last year,
1889. That was the day I decided we’d make this trip and settle in this
Stephen took Emmie’s arm,
as she smiled broadly and her agreement became obvious.
Together they danced a merry
jig around the wagon that had carried them all the way from Sydney Town.
“We’ll build our home on
that flat-topped hill,” said Stephen proudly. “Imagine how many crops that
black soil will carry.”
“Looks good to me, too,”
Emmie admitted, a little uncertainly. “But, we’ll have to build a house
first, won’t we?”
absent-mindedly. His thoughts were on the soil, on his farming plans. “Of
course,” he said, eventually. “Don’t you worry, Em,” he grunted, as he
turned about and led the way up the slope to the top of the riverside knoll.
“We’ll soon knock up a
simple little house to start with, and can add to it as the money comes in.”
The ‘simple little house’ took another three
months to build. The walls were of split slabs of bark, cut from the ironbark
trees studding the hillside. Roofing timbers were constructed of small saplings,
framed and crisscrossed, with just enough pitch to allow a run-off for the
rainwater. The roof covering - flattened sheets of bark shaved from the trees
used for the main framework. The floor was the earth itself, rammed and pounded,
mixed with sawdust and crushed sandstone to reinforce it.
Those were the beginnings of Grainger’s Farm, which became known as Orange
With the passing of time - and Stephen’s uneven
efforts, Orange Grove Bend became altogether a poor result from obvious
The house, sitting on a
level, well-grassed knoll, on one of the rolling hills at the foot of the range
surrounding the valley, was on a commanding site.
The setting, flood-free, and
readily accessible above the farmlands, the valley and the straggling road, was
itself both practical and picturesque.
Grainger’s Farm, on its
hill, overlooked the heavily timbered river banks, with the broad winding stream
glistening and fresh, bisecting the narrow fertile valley, and winding down to
join the Hawkesbury some twenty miles eastward.
In the distance, beyond the
river, could be seen a small settlement which passed for a village. Its only
commercial building was a pub called The George Inn.
From that village at the
foot of the mountain range, a narrow road wound its way through farmlands and
bush to a larger village called Putty. At this point, a river punt or
‘ferry’ could be seen regularly plying cross-stream to a rutted road on the
Grainger’s side of the river.
Grainger’s Farm, despite its splendid position and
its original conception, gradually became in doubt. Perhaps not to its owner,
Stephen Grainger, but to the other farmers.
Mismanaged from hopeful
beginnings, the farmhouse eventually became run-down and neglected - in a word -
Had the original building
been well maintained, or even a similar added-on design continued, the effect
would have been almost grand, in a pleasantly demure, Colonial manner.
‘The Main House’, so
inaptly described by Stephen Grainger when first erected, had been a long,
one-roomed building, with an open verandah in front.
The axe-smoothed pillared
supports of the verandah roof gave the dwelling a false air of spaciousness,
which faded when you entered the front door. The room you then saw would have
been originally the total living, sleeping and cooking area of the house. Now,
it was filled with abandoned, worn-out and discarded furniture, cooking
utensils, threadbare clothing, old harness and saddlery - the once liveable room
resembling a marketplace for broken dreams - a market with no sales. Dreams,
forgotten, hidden in the cracks and fissures of the piles of lost-loved, unused
belongings. This was Stephen Grainger. Dreams, hidden away with antimacassars,
pot plants, pot-pourri and poncet boxes. For his wife, Emmie, was too busy to
cope with Stephen’s unfulfilled plans ...
As the children came - two
sons - Ian, born in 1894, and Robert three years later, so too was the house
extended. The home was like a tree, with branches sprouting from the double
trunk which was its base.
The boys were provided for
as they grew - and the spirit moved their father - by the ‘adding-on’ of two
slab-sided flat-roofed square sleep-outs, which Stephen labelled ‘bedrooms’,
both situated a few yards from the main house. Eventually, a squat, thin-roofed
‘walkway’ gave rough but all-weather access from the boys’ bedrooms to the
Grainger’s farmhouse grew
with the family’s needs, Stephen’s ill-planned building following necessity.
With Grainger altering his construction styles and his technique, with every
crisis, need or whim - the ‘simple little house’ became a great mishmash of
odd-shaped gables, ugly-angled hips, sway-backed skillions, and uneven roof
‘valleys’ - each out of character with the others.
The house and the farm could
have been attractive - and thriving - but the building set the pattern for the
whole. It reflected the varying attitudes, the changing vigours of its owner.
Stephen Grainger was a
starter, an enthusiast for beginnings who rapidly lost interest as the work
progressed ... He’d become obsessed with an idea, a scheme and commence
swiftly, with keenness. But, in almost all of his projects - somewhere along the
line - he’d run out of steam, his energy and interest waned, and he’d either
abandon a job outright, or slap it together without concern for the final result
- and leave it to posterity to judge.
And now - Posterity was
The house on Grainger’s Farm, at Orange Grove
Bend, Colo River, had gradually grown into disrepair and decay since its
enthusiastic beginnings. The original design had been solid, simple, effective,
as far as it went, colonial in style, yet the added-on ‘bits-and-pieces’ had
generally given the building an appearance of conceptions gone wrong. There was
an air of despondence and despair all over.
nailed over the original slabs of the Main House, and which also covered the
walls of the ‘additions’, had been bare of paint or ‘whitewash’ for many
a year. A few crinkly flakes here and there were all that remained of the
original hand-brushed covering. The corrugated iron roof, roughly sheathed onto
the old thatch-type cladding, was now streaked with weathered corrosion. It was
zebra-striped with rust - orange and russet - which, oddly, toned in with
Nature’s tints on the limbs of the great gum trees surrounding the house.
The verandah floorboards,
lain lazily on top of the initial rammed earth and sandstone, were gaping like
the irregular worn molars of an agape, ageing monster.
Grainger’s farmhouse was a
failure. An ill-assorted jim-jam of tacked on bits and pieces, the epitome of
Stephen Grainger, too, was a
failure. Life had caught up with him, tossed him hither and yon - and passed him
Strange that Emmie Furlong would ever have married
Stephen Grainger in the first place. For Emmie was a tidy-minded, placid, but
determined girl, who made her own decisions, went ahead and carried them out,
irrespective of the result.
Marrying Stephen was one of her decisions ...
Like many women, Emmie saw
only the good in her man. His eagerness, his keenness, his quick acceptance of
new ideas. Emmie had thought that between them they’d carry all the keenness,
the eagerness, the new ideas, to fruition, to fulfillment, on the farm in the
valley. Favouring his good points, Emmie ignored Stephen’s procrastination,
his inconstancy, his mercurial ups and downs. She had it firmly fixed in her
mind that she’d be capable of influencing him to improve, and where flaws and
faults existed, to replace them with perfection.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Not with Stephen, nor the farm.
Ten years after they settled
on Orange Grove Bend, the late summer rains came, flooded the river
flats, washed out their corn, heavy with golden cobs glinting through the drying
Stephen had assessed the
expected value of the crop, borrowed from the Bank in anticipation of its sale,
and planted an orange grove with the money thus to be provided.
Although the young citrus
trees were on higher ground than the corn, above the flood level, they were
toppled and uprooted by the scouring storms.
The Graingers lost the lot
... The orchard, the farm crops - and portion of the newly-cleared pasture land
near the river ...
All Stephen Grainger’s
work for no result …
But the farmhouse still
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