Nolene Stark was an intelligent, sensitive child, cocooned by her parents
and later her husband. A woman of the early 20th century was expected
to have her place in society as a wife and mother. Nolene resented having to
class herself as a ‘housewife’. She was just as much a ‘dairy farmer’ as
her husband Charlie was.
Nolene Stark was an intelligent, sensitive child, cocooned by her parents and later her husband. A woman of the early 20th century was expected to have her place in society as a wife and mother. Nolene resented having to class herself as a ‘housewife’. She was just as much a ‘dairy farmer’ as her husband Charlie was.
her life, she found herself questioning who she was and the purpose of her being
was married for thirty years and reared four children in the bush. She suffered
a complete nervous breakdown after nursing both her mother and father through
Parkinson’s disease until their eventual deaths. Then, after living with a
husband who thought the sun, moon and stars shone out of her, she had to come to
terms with his unexpected, tragic death. Her whole life changed in a split
she had desperately wished for greater personal freedom, when it was thrust upon
her she had to recover from the guilt of that wish.
another two decades, in spite of flood, drought and every other adversity that
Mother Nature could throw at her, she and her son managed the dairy farm
successfully. Finally, despite a spirited fight with government that included
protest marches through the streets of
30th May 2000, the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper published an
article about her fight to try to save the dairy industry, stating: “If you
were to cut one of Nolene Stark’s main veins, chances are it would run rich
with full cream milk.”
a very healthy 74-year-old who is often mistaken for 60, Nolene is starting a
new career as a retired person. She finally found her place as a strong, capable
woman of the land. The journey there is compelling.
book is an expedition of living, learning and surviving and the love that ties
you are interested in learning more about Nolene Stark, visit her web page at
It is strange, but when I sat down to record this story of my life, I found it very difficult to remember much about my early childhood; it all seemed to be so far away. It was as if I was looking in and observing another little girl who wore my body, sixty odd years ago. What was this little girl like? Was she a happy little girl? Was she a sad little girl? What did she eat for breakfast? Who was this little girl who was me sixty years ago?
I didn’t know her at all. She was a stranger. I allowed my mind to drift back into the past and the memories gradually formed into tiny segments of information, vague at first, but becoming clearer as I travelled back through the mists of time.
~ ~ ~
situated on the
was born at home on our farm into a normal busy farming family just a few
kilometres up the main road from the small country town of
of my earliest memories was of my father telling the story of my birth. Like
most children I was curious about where I came from. One of the most common
answers from other parents was, “Oh, we found you in the cabbage patch!” In
my case, Dad always said, “Oh, we found you in a jam tin under the clothesline
in the back yard. The wind was blowing a gale that day and it must have blown
you along until you landed on our lawn, because that is where we found you.”
Obviously, I must have been a very tiny baby.
was the second child born to my parents. My sister Jean was six years old when I
was born and because of the age difference I felt we were never as close as we
could have been. We had an older brother, Frank, who was adopted by my parents
some time after their marriage. Frank was always accepted as our brother but, as
he was much older, my younger brother Mervyn and I didn’t really grow up with
him. Mervyn arrived on the scene three years after I was born and my parents’
family was complete.
course I do not remember this, but my mother often told the story that I used to
pinch Mervyn’s bottle from him and go and hide under the squatter chair on the
veranda to drink it. To this day Mervyn loves to repeat the story to everyone we
meet. I always add, “Well, it didn’t do him any harm, as he is about three
times heavier than I am now.”
family lived a fairly quiet life on our parents’ farm. My father and mother
were married on the 3rd of October 1923. (I always imagined I was an
anniversary present.) They were married at my mother’s parents’ home at
Pechey, where my grandfather owned a small farm. Pechey was just a small
settlement on the road between Crow’s Nest and Toowoomba. For their
attendants, Mum had her sister Lily as her bridesmaid and Dad had his friend
Albert as his best man. Albert was later to become his brother-in-law when he
married my mother’s sister Bertha.
father had owned a farm at
farm was not big at first, somewhere around fifty to eighty acres, but as time
went on Dad bought another couple of blocks of land. Milking was done by hand
but, as the farm increased in size, milking machines were installed and up to
about thirty cows were milked. Dad bought the town warm milk run from his
brother-in-law. We milked the cows and sold most of the milk in the town.
have few memories of my very early life in that long ago time; some are good
memories, but some were not so good. Christmas Days spent on my grandparent’s
farm were very good memories. It was a sad fact of life in the very early
pioneering years that the women produced babies at a fast rate, and many died
before they had a chance to see their family grow up. My mother and father both
lost their mothers when they were very young, leaving their fathers to rear a
large young family. In my mother’s case, her father lost no time in marrying
again and producing more children, so Mum was raised by her stepmother. Sadly,
my mother and her brothers and sisters were never able to feel close to their
mother’s stepsisters and stepbrothers were not very much older than we were,
and up until they married and we drifted apart, we enjoyed their company. They
never seemed to tire of having us running after them and took us exploring on
their property. They had the largest hay shed I had ever seen and it was full of
exciting things to explore.
very happy memory that I have of Christmas spent on my grandparent’s farm was
of the many big apricot trees in their garden. At Christmas they were always
laden with ripe fruit and my brother and I wasted no time in climbing up into
the tree to eat our fill.
luxury was the very large prickly pear tree beside the back steps. As their name
suggests, prickly pear trees are extremely prickly and bear fruit that is
extremely prickly as well. We were only able to pick the fruit because it was
growing close to the high steps. If there happened to be fruit on the tree,
Grandmother would peel off the prickles with a knife and we would eat the fruit.
I cannot remember what they tasted like, but they must have been good as we
considered them to be a treat. Christmas Days at Grandfather and Grandmother’s
home were always happy days of feasting and exploring.
mother’s brother, Uncle Ernie, and his wife lived in the town, and I had been
invited to stay with them for a few days. I loved my Uncle Ernie. He often put
me on his knee, bounced me up and down and sang, “foops the feazel the foom”,
which is where I got my nickname, “Foops”. I would have been about four at
the time of my visit, and it was the first time I had ever been away from home
alone. At first it was fun staying with my cousin, but he was a real little
devil. He told me there were kittens in an old dilapidated shed. I was a bit
doubtful, but he coaxed me into the shed and then slammed the door shut behind
me. I found there was no handle of any sort on the inside that I could reach, so
I was securely locked in. It was dark and I didn’t know what could be in there
with me, but I knew now there weren’t any kittens. My cousin, of course,
thought it was a great joke and stood outside laughing. No amount of begging
could coax him to open that door.
myself totally alone and securely locked in that pitch-black shed, the terrors
of the dark got to me; I started screaming. Believe me, I really intended
screaming that place down. My aunt must have thought the devil himself had me.
When she found me ‘only locked in a shed’ and by her ‘beloved baby’, of
course I was the one she tore into.
on earth is this entire racket about? You’re crying like a baby.”
was so terribly upset that I insisted on being taken home. It took a long time
for me to get over that unhappy incident.
instance occurred when I was very small, and because I can recall it so vividly,
it obviously affected me greatly. My sister Jean had one of her friends up to
our farm for the day and they were playing with their dolls. I wanted to play
too, but I was rudely told to “Clear off, you are too little to play with
us”. Most children would have taken the rebuff in their stride, but being very
young and sensitive, I was deeply hurt and cried many tears.
recently told me that when I was a child I was a ‘rotten little kid’ (to use
her words) and when I asked her to give me an instance of why I was such a
rotten kid she said, “You broke my kewpie doll. It was the only doll I ever
owned and you pulled its arms and legs off.” As I could not have been more
than two or three at the time, I have no recollection of the incident; however,
apparently, she had never forgiven me for that.
to make up for my misdemeanour, I bought a doll to give to Jean for her 77th
birthday. I hope that I am now forgiven for breaking her beloved ‘kewpie
doll’ as I found a really beautiful doll for her which she named “Kate”.)
~ ~ ~
of my jobs as a child was helping my father deliver the milk to the people in
the town each morning before school. I can remember walking on frost so thick
you could skate on it and turning up for school at nine o’clock, not being
able to feel my legs below my knees.
of my school friends loved to come with us on our milk run. The milk was
delivered in the town by horse and cart in the early days, but Dad had an old
‘Tin Lizzie’ motor vehicle, an old Model T Ford utility, when we started the
milk run. We carried a large can of milk on the back of the truck. It had a tap
at the base from which we measured the milk into one pint or quart (two-pint)
measures. We then poured the milk into a billycan and delivered it to the homes.
People left containers on the back steps, or some other convenient place, for us
to deliver the milk to them.
morning, my girlfriend Beris came along and she wanted to help. Dad measured out
the milk and gave it to her with instructions to go around to the back of the
house where she would find a container on the back steps. Beris came back after
the job was completed and we continued on our way.
morning we were met by the lady of that particular house who complained that
whoever delivered the milk on the previous morning had poured it into the wrong
container. It had been poured into the ‘chamber pot’ instead of the milk
billy. In those days of back yard dunnies, people used chamber pots to go to the
toilet instead of going outside in the night. After being emptied into the
dunny, the chamber had been left on the back steps and Beris had mistaken it for
the milk container. Luckily, the lady had a great sense of humour and laughed
about the whole incident. I don’t think Beris ever lived that one down.
cold winter mornings Dad had his own way of dealing with the cold. About halfway
through the milk run we drove past the local hotel and on cold winter mornings
he always ‘dropped in’ for a stiff shot of rum. At that time of morning the
pub was closed for business, but Dad was a frequent patron of that establishment
and well known to the publican, so he had no trouble getting in the back door
and being served. In time the ‘dropping in’ to the pub for his rum became a
well-used habit in winter or summer. I didn’t mind because I sometimes ended
up being given a raspberry drink, which was a luxury to me, and after running
around delivering milk I appreciated a thirst quencher.
surplus milk was separated and sold as cream to the local butter factory. There
was not much cream to be taken to the factory. I remember my Grandfather telling
us that he used to take a can of cream to the butter factory in a small trolley
he had built out of a wooden box. The box was set on an axle with a wheel on
each side – old pram wheels were excellent for this purpose – and pulled or
pushed by the two wooden handles attached to the sides of the box like shafts.
we children arrived on the scene we just loved those trolleys; we were always on
the lookout for a wooden box and axles to make our own trolleys. No old wheels
and axles from any old pram or pusher ever went to waste. They were great fun
and one of our principal toys as children, but in his day, Grandfather’s
trolley was very useful as he walked the cream along the easy distance to the
brother and I eagerly looked forward to going out into the bush with our
parents. While they worked, we roamed from one end of the farm to the other
exploring. There was so much to see and discover. My mother was not very tall;
in fact she was less than five feet tall, but what she lacked in height she made
up for in weight, as she was always between twelve and twenty stone. Even her
wedding pictures show her as being quite plump, but in spite of all the extra
weight she carried she was extremely strong.
remember her as being a very strong and forthright woman, with a great sense of
humour and a very big gutsy voice and a laugh to match. She was made of the
stuff that true pioneer women of the land were made; standing by their men and
working with them no matter how hard or unpleasant the task might be. She was
certainly the backbone of our farm. Dad might not always appear at the cow yard
to milk the cows, but Mum was always there.
mother always made sure we had a great Christmas. I was brought up in a
Christian home and Christmas to me as a child meant the birth of a tiny baby
born in a stable of humble parents. I guess at the time I didn’t understand
the full meaning of the birth of this little baby. However, as children, we
looked forward to Christmas Eve when our local church and the children of the
Sunday school held a special service to commemorate the birthday of this special
little baby, Jesus.
Christmas Eve, a couple of the men would go out and collect a big pine tree,
which was placed in the front of the church and decorated by the ladies with all
sorts of special decorations. The last decorations placed on the tree were real
candles in their special holders clipped onto the very tips of the branches.
Christmas Eve night the excited children of the Sunday school performed the
little recitations and short plays and sang the Christmas hymns that they had
been practising for weeks in anticipation of the Christmas Eve program, all
telling the story of the birth of Baby Jesus.
real candles on the tree were lit and to this day sets of Christmas lights do
not have the same effect as those real candles lighting up our church Christmas
tree. Gifts, lollies and prize books were handed out to the children.
arriving home from the service, we children excitedly tied our pillowslips to
the end of our beds, hoping that during the night Santa would fill them with
lots of gifts. Of course he always did. Was it because we were very good
children? Or was it because we were some of the more fortunate children in this
world who had a wonderful caring mother who, no matter how poor we were, always,
somehow, scraped enough money together so that Santa could fill our Christmas
Christmas that stands out in my memory was the one when I awoke on Christmas
morning to find the most beautiful doll sitting in the very top of my Christmas
pillowslip. I had begged for a doll, but my mother had always told me she would
not get one for me until I was old enough to appreciate it, so to finally see
this beautiful doll in my pillowslip filled me with joy. She was dressed in a
pink knitted outfit, including panties, vest, dress, bonnet and bootees. My
mother must have spent hours knitting the whole outfit while I was in bed at
night so that I would not see it before Christmas. We certainly had a wonderful,
parents didn’t have much money to spend on toys and things to amuse us, but we
made our own fun. I can never remember being bored. There were always animals to
play with and other diversions to keep us occupied. Kittens, pups and even baby
pigs were dressed up in dolls’ clothes and carted around by us as ‘our
of my favourite pastimes was making cubby houses. There must have been something
of an architect in me, as I loved finding sticks and placing them on the ground
in the design of a house. Many years later I was finally able to plan, design
and build my own dream home; obviously something that had been in my blood from
my long ago childhood stick house designing days.
loved to visit the house next door across the very scrubby laneway that
separated our properties. This particular house was vacant and had been for as
long as I could remember. There was an underground water tank there, covered by
a huge wooden top. When the lid was lifted up and I looked down into the dark
murky depths below it always sent a shiver down my spine, especially as we knew
that at one time one of the then residents of that house had been found dead
under mysterious circumstances. Even as children we had very lively
a couple came to live in the house and it wasn’t long before we became
friendly with them. One day Mervyn and I both went across to visit them. The
husband loved to tease us unmercifully, and started telling us ghost stories. He
knew ghost stories that had supposedly taken place from all over the district,
and one special one about Neddy Burke’s ghost roaming around our area.
Bourke was a very old man with a long white beard who had lived in a house near
our school. To get to school we often took a shortcut through a dingy laneway
beside his house. I don’t think he liked us using the lane because he often
frightened us by yelling at us. On the other hand, it could have been because we
often raided his big peach tree, which grew near the lane. Those peaches were
the biggest and juiciest peaches and we couldn’t wait for them to ripen. It is
a wonder we didn’t get really sick from eating green peaches.
teasing neighbour certainly had a way of making his ghost stories believable,
and the one he told us about Neddy Bourke riding his horse around on a moonlight
night certainly scared the pants off us. We were so scared that we were not game
to go across the laneway to our home, even in broad daylight. We were sure Neddy
Bourke’s ghost would be there waiting to grab us. We walked quite a distance
around to avoid crossing that dark, forbidding, tree-lined lane.
was younger than her husband and she had a lovely singing voice. It was so
powerful that she could be heard singing from our own home. I often visited her
by myself; she had a little baby boy and I loved to spend time with him. On one
particular day I was invited to go for a ride with them in their horse and
sulky; there were not many sulkies left even in those days, so I eagerly
accepted the invitation.
remember sitting on the seat between them and, as we clip-clopped along the
quiet country road, Mary started to sing. Cecil, who also had a good voice,
joined in. They sang ‘Moonlight and Roses’ in beautiful harmony. That day
has a special place in my memory.
I write this, I cannot help but compare our present day lives of rush and bustle
and never seeming to have enough time for anything, to that long ago day of
peace and quiet and harmony as we glided along behind a well trained pony. I was
only about nine or ten years of age at the time and that trip is one of the most
treasured memories of my childhood.
I was about nine or ten, Dad sold our Model T Ford utility and bought our first
car. It had a canvas hood supported by wooden bars across the top. Just after we
got it, my mother’s father wanted to go out to Pilton, near
drove for quite some time and then Grandfather wanted to have a go at driving
the new car. Dad let him take the wheel. Grandfather was having such a good time
driving the new car that he almost missed the turn-off into Uncle Fred’s farm.
Suddenly realising that we were about to go past the road, Grandfather sharply
turned the steering wheel to try to take the corner. We were going too fast!
Dad, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, could see that we were in
danger of rolling the vehicle, so he grabbed the wheel and tried to keep the car
going along the straight road.
averting a disaster, he prevented us from overturning but the car ended up
leaving the road and running into the round post of the fence surrounding a
paddock. However, before it hit the post, it had to cross a very deep gutter
beside the road. I was sitting between my two uncles on the back seat and, with
seatbelts unheard of in those days, we were bounced high off our seats and
tossed into the air, hitting our heads on the wooden cross bar of the car hood.
Sid had blood pouring out of his nose and I received a tremendous whack on the
top of my head. I remember it so vividly because it was the one time in my life
that I can remember seeing stars.
impact damaged the front of the car quite badly, but rolling over would have
been worse. Somebody rang Uncle Fred and we were taken to Toowoomba to stay with
my Dad’s sister, Aunty Lena, while Dad made arrangements to have the car towed
in to be repaired. I had a tremendous headache, but nobody thought of taking me
to a doctor to be checked out. I suffered bad headaches for years afterwards.
was only recently when I had my back x-rayed that the doctor asked me if I had
ever suffered an injury to the top of my head, as one of the vertebrae in my
neck at one time had been badly damaged. That explains why to this day I still
suffer severe neck problems with bad headaches.
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