…from a very early age I helped my father with the farm work such as weeding, planting potatoes, picking fruit, droving stock and general farm hand…
My parents, Jim and Blanche Draper, lived on the family farm at ‘Barton Hill’, Running Creek Road, Arthurs Creek. I was their third child in a family of five boys and four girls. My father was born at ‘Charnwood’, Arthurs Creek on 9 January 1863. The name Chester was from the surname of Charles Draper’s wife and as my father was also James, I was mostly known by my second name.
My parents were married at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne on Christmas Eve 1900. My mother was Blanche Hurrey whose family lived at ‘Craigie Lee’, Yan Yean, on the corner of Old Plenty Road and Arthurs Creek Road.
When my older brother Tom and sister Catherine commenced school, they lived with my father’s sister, Mary Hurrey at Egremont Street, North Fitzroy, where she and her husband James ran Hurrey Brothers Dairy. This continued until I was aged six years and nine months.
My father had sixty acres of orchard consisting of apples, pears, plum and apricots. He also grew strawberries and carrots, oaten hay, barley and other small crops. From a very early age I helped my father with the farm work such as weeding, planting potatoes, picking fruit, droving stock and general farm hand.
When my aunt Mary died suddenly in September 1911, Catherine and Tom came home, and with my younger sister Lily, the four of us went to Yan Yean State School. No 697. We were sent in a spring cart with a steady old mare called Kate. Cathie being oldest was given the job of driver, a job quite new to her. Kate took us down the paddock towards the road gate, but turned to go to the water-hole. It was a narrow gateway. The cart stuck on the gate post and broke the step of the cart. Kate was ‘backed’ from the gateway. We got to school and returned at night feeling quite satisfied with our adventure.
We liked school and were always ready to learn. The roadside fences were post and rail. There were many advertisements painted on the rails such as Use Pear’s Soap, Pennel’s ANA Manure, Use Velvet Soap and Robur Tea. I very quickly learned to read from the advertisements as there was plenty of competition to correct and spell the ads verbally.
My father had started his school days at Hazel Glen private school in Chapel Lane, which is now part of the Doreen area. The School was run by Mr. and Mrs. Smith. My father and some other members of the family had each to take six pence to school on a Monday. If there was no money, they were sent home. State School No 1666 was opened at Arthurs Creek in 1876.
There were over thirty children attending the Yan Yean State School when we started school there. There were eight grades and one teacher – Alfred Babbage who was Teacher from 1909 to 1918. He was strict and used the strap fairly freely. He was also bad tempered but put his whole life into his job. All nine of us gained our Merit Certificate.
On leaving school it was back to farm work on a continuous basis. School holidays provided opportunities for much adventure and experience. My father had 1,300 acres of land at Glenburn (near Yea). He let this land for seven years up to about 1910, when he took me along to poison rabbits. We left the road at Glenburn to travel through paddocks on unmade roads for five miles. We had two horses in the spring cart and had to cut off a few trees since he had last been in with a cart. I was following, riding bare back on a pony.
On the side of a gully, where we were on a slope, the cart rolled over. My father was trapped by the legs beneath the downhill cart shaft. The horse was lying on top of the shaft. He got me to try to lift the point of the shaft. He dragged one leg out, then the other. Both legs were badly bruised. He got the cart upright, harnessed up, reloaded and arrived at The Run as we called it. There we fed the horses and camped in the cart under a canvas. Rabbits were poisoned by the thousand. From then on trips to The Run were a regular event on school holidays.
I was soon given the job of droving cattle there on my own. We would take the cattle part of the way the night before, leave them in a yard, and pick them up at daylight next morning. On one occasion I was taking cattle via Flowerdale when, after passing Happy Valley, a bullock fell into the flooded King Parrot Creek. After dragging the bullock to shallow water, I left it there and picked it up fat some months later. My father told me I shouldn’t have gone after it, but I think he got 12 pounds for the bullock, which was quite a large sum.
On another occasion Tom and I had a mob of cattle on a track down Dead Horse Hill on the Glenburn side of Kinglake. A very heavy storm came up. We camped and next morning found no trace of the cattle. We went down to Glenburn and found all but seven of the cattle. A fortnight later I found the remainder. They had crossed the Island Creek and found some good grass.
As well as poisoning rabbits in the summer we had to dig out burrows in the winter. All our holidays, except for fruit picking, were spent on The Run. We built a hut on The Run with an iron roof and upright rail sides, lined with bags. When we weren’t there, mice and snakes took charge.
My younger brother Staff and I were taking cattle to Glenburn via Bowden’s Spur, when at Kinglake the cattle panicked in the scrub. I rode in front of them until my horse knocked up. These cattle took a bit of gathering, but we got them all. Frequently these trips would be on un-broken horses. We would charge the owner a pound to break the horse in. A trip to Glenburn would be the main part of the training. My father also ran cattle in the Kinglake bush. His lease from the Crown was one mile from Mason’s Falls. I would find the cattle and then come home, and do the same each day. It was a long day and very hard on the horses.
We had lots of droving experience, especially when the creeks were flooded. We had twenty-six rabbit dogs and these often helped with the cattle.
I was first put on a horse when my mother’s brother Uncle Jack Hurrey would plough for us. He would put me on one of the plough horses and, as my father said, forget about me.
At school I was nine years old when World War I started. Everyone was very patriotic and practically everyone under 45 eventually went to the war. These included a few of the older school boys, who became old enough before it finished in 1919. That year I left school.
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