Top Springs

We decided we'd sell the clothing business and come to the Territory because I'd talked to Colonel Rose years before. I met Colonel Rose while I was here during the war and he had told me this was the place to be: 'After the war this'll be a great city.' He said: 'Thirty or forty years time this'll be prosperous.' Couldn't see it otherwise. So I came back and talked to Colonel Rose twice, and then went to see Mr McGinness over a piece of land. I had not much thought about Top Springs but they told me about a preliminary survey for a spur line from Newcastle Waters. You see, they had no conception of the road train business in those days - railways were the thing and it was all flat country to Top Springs, but for the Yellow Waterhole hills. The Top Springs terminal would serve all the cattle stations in the area.

I saw Mr Barclay about getting some land. He said: 'Yes, its alright Sid. Go ahead, do it, we welcome that sort of thing'. I think McGinness showed me a book or a chart of the droving program. I guess he was the chief of the Lands Board offices, under Mr Barclay. I don't know whether that was thirty or forty mobs of cattle going through there that year. But he explained that for some reason or other there would be many more mobs in the next few years, which did happen. I think in 1956 there were eighty-eight mobs of cattle due to go through Top Springs, and there were seventy-six of them went. 1500 was a standard mob with about a dozen fellows to work them. We went to Top Springs and had a look and, being just after the wet, it was beautiful; with green trees and a river full of water, nice clear water hole, a mile long, deep, full of fish, and palm trees all along the side, big other trees, and thousands of birds - all kinds of birds. A very nice place. I said, “This’ll do us”, so we decided to build the store. The water was a big attraction, you could have had a boat on it. Later I did have a bit of a canoe. When I wanted a duck I used to get in the canoe with a four-ten shotgun; a small shotgun with a little bore. Click! One duck - just for the wife and I for a change from beef.

We also started at Top Springs because there were pastoral properties in the area that would hopefully provide some trade. There was a small easement on the stock route of about forty mile or something. I don't know how much - it may not be half that - but its marked in yellow on the chart, as a stock route reserve. And then up above it is a pastoral lease, called Yellow Waterhole. The stock route has a long leg of resumed land up to Pussycat Bore, and then its ordinary stock route after that. There was one main stock route which came in from Victoria River Downs, from Wave Hill, Inverway and all those places. They preferred to bring them in from the west rather than go down the west. From Top Springs they would go to Queensland, though some branched off to Katherine for slaughter. The cattle drovers all pull in at Top Springs - it was their best watering hole. They could water quickly and get away, yeah. You could water a mob of cattle in a matter of two hours, and be gone, because there's so much area of it you see. The drovers used to water the cattle about two or three miles from the store at a big creek, the Armstrong River, which was quite good in normal times. A very nice looking place matter of fact; pandanus palms all over the top of it. Permanent deep water except in 1951 when it almost dried right up, just muddy water left that was not fit to drink; especially since it was full of dead fish and animals. But that year we saw a lot of the big fresh water crocodiles walking from Top Springs across to a place at the back of Montejinni called Lonely Spring with nice clear water that never went dry. Those bastards went to there; now how did they know that was there? You see, there were young ones that had never been there. I'd doubt if the big ones had ever been there. And water doesn't smell thirty mile away, does it?

We sold the clothing business, but we couldn't sell all the material; we had rolls and rolls of material. I suppose we had - I don't know how many thousand dollars worth, but all the money I could scrape up I bought material because it was very scarce at the end of the war, and business was good for selling it in bulk. But other people got that same idea and brought a lot in and you couldn't sell it quickly. And the buyer of the factory couldn't take the stock; he hadn't got the money. And he said: 'Give it to me and I will sell it and I will put the money aside for you'. But I'd had hill-billy deals like that and they'd gone to ninety-eight-point-nine percent wrong. So I said: 'Well no, I'll sell it myself'.

So I go to see a man I knew in Eagers - I think is the name of the firm - they had the dealings of the Army trucks. And I knew a sergeant in Enaggera. I rang him up and told him: 'I've got a sudden call for a good reliable truck, preferably a Chev with not much mileage, with an open flat-top body or a van body on the back'. I thought I might get a movie truck body or something. But no, he hadn't got that but he said: 'I'll look around and I'll ring you back'. He rang me and he said: 'I've got one there. It'll do you'. 'How many on the clock?' He said: 'Eight hundred miles'. So I go to Eagers: 'How much?' They did a bit of paper shuffling and he said: 'Two hundred and ten pounds, Mr Hawks'. I bloody near fell over. I got the cheque book out quickly and signed it, and got on my motorbike and was on my way to Enaggera. The sergeant's escorting me around and he showed me a lot of trucks and he said: 'This is the one'. I said: 'Have you got the logbooks on them?' He said: 'Logbooks in very one. There it is, its under the seat. You read that one'. He and a corporal went on with somebody else, looking at other things and I'm reading the logbook, and all of a sudden I come to: condition of the truck - good; motor runs right; gearbox - good; but condition of differential doesn't allow for road test. Oh, I thought: 'I'm in the shit now. What do I do?' 'Oh', I thought. 'He must have plenty of spare diffs'. So I said: 'That's alright. One thing about these Chevs, they do a diff now and again'. I said: 'What about you sell me a differential, a new diff'. He said: 'Well actually, this one may want one. Righto'. There was a bit of haggling and they said: 'You leave thirty quid and we will leave it in the back of the truck. You come back and pick it up tomorrow'. I went back tomorrow and there was the truck there and there was the diff in the back, and I drove out through the gate. I had it for two-hundred-and-forty quid; I had the truck and two diffs. Driving it home it didn't whine, and I could let my foot up and listen - and that's when you get the diff grinding - and there's no noise. When I got back home, I took the plug out and drained the oil out of the diff. I got a magnet on the swivel thing and I put it inside, feel around up through the bottom hole when the diff had finished draining. I get tiny chips of brass, like when they're running in new, they shed a little bit of brass from the selector - a two speed diff, you see. And no, nothing there. By getting the torch inside I could look at a couple of faces of the crown wheel - no scratches on or anything. Not worth taking to bits. So I washed her out and let it drain overnight. Screwed the plug in and filled her up with oil, and I never saw the inside of that diff again. It did about eight trips or more between Darwin and Brisbane and back - twice pulling the semi-trailer - pulling eight ton, and its a five ton truck. And I drove it - oh, it must've done twelve or fourteen trips from Top Springs to Brisbane and never had the diff open again. Just drained the oil every coupla trips.

I built a big van body on it. And we sold all that material on the road; I used to come up and go into a town and go see the storekeeper and sometimes he'd jump at the chance, you know, he'd buy ten or twenty rolls. Sometimes he'd want me to clear out quick; get abusive. So I used to go and sell it to the public then. Just go under a big shady tree somewhere and I'd sell it. At a different price to what I would've sold to the storekeeper, of course, but still cheaper than ever they could've bought from him. And we finally got rid of most of it. And then we moved into Top Springs; we built the store there.

There was nothing at Top Springs when we arrived. We started off from scratch. I made big tanks up on top of the hill - and we had a big rock there, a jasper rock. Big whirlpools of jasper had set solid. Pure jasper it was, the kind they sell in gem shops. It was a hundred metres across it. In Brisbane I had bought the elements of a sawmill - a big bench, a set of rollers, and a spotting board, so you can get a tree about two foot diameter and you can put it on there and you can run it across the bench - and you can cut a flat face on it. And then that face is - take your spotting board away, and you put that flat face down onto the rollers, so your next board comes off square, see - ninety degrees off him. And from that I cut timber - and we used a lot of round timber there. We drove the sawmill with a big Case tractor. They had a big sale in Darwin and there was a Case tractor there to sell with a pulley on the side of it. 'That's mine,' and I bought that. I think I paid a hundred and sixty quid for it. I was talking to a man about two months ago, who'd bought the Top Springs store recently. I think he paid half a million for it - I'm not quite sure about that, but I think he said half a million. And he said: 'The body of that Case tractor is still standing up at the old site.' People had taken the radiator off it and the tyres are all flat and all that. But its still there alongside the river.

The main posts for the first store which we later used as a garage and workshop, we used round timber; bloodwood trees cut down about fourteen inches diameter. We didn't have chainsaws in them days either. And we used to chop them in with an axe one side, put a belly in and then saw them down with a cross-cut saw, and then cut that bit of a tag off and you had a nice flat bottom; went on the ground so it didn't sink later, and a hole about two foot deep or more and ram him up tight, plumb him up with the level and get the next one over there. And have them cut the top cut first, swivel him around so that top was in line, like a step in it, to take the timber. But many times we didn't do it with those, we just put round timber there too. We'd cut a step in the top like that. Before we put the posts in the ground, we had to lift the timber up like that and get a short-saw and cut in that way. You'd cut in there and there, see. You'd leave like a hollow like that, and then we'd do the top with round timber, the first one. Drop it in that crutch, bore a hole through the timber down here - about a foot down - and then get four strands of number eight wire - a very soft grade of wire we used to use - and you'd twitch it up of special twitch we had. Twitch it up, hold it down, no bolts - very cheap too. And then we would go that way with the other ones, with the rafters - and sometimes we notched them and wired them. We roofed the bush store with iron that I brought down from the East Arm Catalina Base when it was being pulled down, which brought back a few memories from when I was there during the war.

I'd had the idea, because I was a good explosive man, I'd blow all those trees out. I could handle dynamite and that very well, and I bought a fair bit of it, and I went out there and blew those trees down. We didn't have the chainsaws that we've got now. And that left a lot of short junky pieces - bloodwood timber. Its brittle to explosives, and that had to be all picked up. And we thought we would stack them around the roots, and then burn them - burn the underneath roots out. Righto, we get the fire going, and she doesn't burn; those blown up bits of stuff wouldn't burn. And I came into Darwin and talked to the Forestry people: 'How did you cut those trees down?' 'I didn't cut them down, I blew them down with dynamite'. And one bloke looked at the other, and then he just laughed. He said: 'You won't be able to burn them buddy, because you've collapsed the cell structure of the timber. It just chars black, and goes out.' So we had to pick it all up.

Murphy arrived just when we were half way through building the airstrip. Murphy's brother had died and left him with Dolly and Maudie, and one other wife. There was three wives he had. Murphy had gone to Adelaide as a baby with some people who wanted to adopt him. His adopted parents were named Murphy you see. He'd been through higher education school and got quite cluey. He was seventeen and a half when he landed back in his country, which was out Hookers Creek way. Could read and write quite good, drive a vehicle very good. Murphy took over picking bits of stick up and stones. The kids and the women and all were in this, and they'd work about three hours a day. I only had one wheelbarrow, and so when I came to Darwin the next time, I bought four wheelbarrows off Miller and Sandovers. When I wanted four the bloke said: 'Jesus, what are you doing?' And I told him, I said: 'Well, since I want four, I should get them cheaper'. And he gave them to me a quid cheaper, or something. Anyway, away we came, and when we got back Murphy drove the wheelbarrow and the women and the kids put the sticks in. And they'd chuck them over the side, but only just over the side. Then the Aviation boys came out - they'd got a new regulation; the side had to be clear of all obstacles by thirty yards. We had to start all over again.

So there was a bloke with a Work's grader in there - a contractor - so I had a little talk with him. And I pulled the trees out; I got the G.M.C. and I pulled them out. Well, that took the roots out you see. It was a better set up. We cut the - I think we cut the back roots away from the trunk - we cut them off - dug around them and cut them off with an axe. And then I hooked on to them, as high up as I could get them, brakes on the truck, and dragged them out, and dragged them over to the side, you see. He came along and he scuffed all that stuff off. It didn't have to be perfect surface, but clear of obstacles. And we got it widened. And then Eddie Connellan arrived, and he saw a stone on there as big as an egg, and he said: 'No good. You've just got to get it off. I wouldn't land there'. We had to get those off. Took us about six months before the airstrip was licensed and Connellan started a regular run as by then we had the post office, you see, and the bank.

Connellan came once a week. Yeah, it was once a week. He was handy, you know. Oh yes, and then we got the idea we could bring parcels up from Brisbane, and the maximum for a parcel was eleven pound or something. Oh well, we could bring ten parcels up at a time. And then Connellan jibbed on this. He wouldn't bring them, he said: 'You pick them up with your truck at Katherine'. And I said: 'During the dry season I always will'. So we gave the post office orders that if they came there, that I'd pick them up, not Connellans. He did the mail bag, which was a fairly good scheme.

In the early days I had two blokes working for us. They were both being looked for by the police. One was named Malloy; the most glorious drunk I've ever seen. He just couldn't leave grog alone, that fellow. And I've forgotten the other - oh, Harrison. Harrison had been the sniper in the Army. And his other job was shooting the bulls on VRD.

Later we had Norman Douglas - he was quite a good help, he was a quiet kind of a fellow - he used to handle things. Very good and honest. I also had an old friend named Harry Crouch, who looked after the store when Thelma was away. Thelma only went with me once.
I went on my own other times.


I had started the trucking business when I was in Top Springs because I carted my own goods, you see, and I was agent for Mobil Oil right through to the West Australian border; went over the border sometimes. I had Blitzes at first, two Blitzes, and I bought a jeep at the same time as I bought the Blitzes in the Army sales - very cheap too. And then the following year they were selling GMC's, six-wheelers, and I bought one of them, and a semi. I don't know where I got that semi from. But, anyhow, it was too short and I bought some RSJ and I grafted a piece on it and made it longer; just cut it off behind the turntable and left the back wheels there and wheeled her back and put the RSJ in and welded them up. At a panelworks that was in Stuart Park we did that, and put an extra floor up there. And we'd put about twelve feet in. And I pulled it behind the GMC. And it was very good; she used to pull twelve tons - or fourteen tons sometimes. It was very good in the mud. I kept the GM but we bought a Commer, a new one, off John Roe. He worked for Hingston at the time. Then I traded the Commer in and bought a Leyland Hippo and she would pull about thirty tons. Lionel Heindorf was my main driver. He lives in Katherine now.

When we started at Top Springs the droving was all on hoof at first and then when the trucks started, I couldn't believe that it would ever win. But because trucks became bigger, and there was more power applied you see, then I had to buy one - I had to buy that Leyland to be able to keep up with it. And then I could see there was money in it - transporting cattle. But oh, hard work, huh. You've got to pull up on the road, and they go down, and you've got to get them on their feet again. If there's a dead one you've got to get him, snig him over - I had a block and tackle there, the seafaring arrangement, double and single block - snig him across and string him up at the side by his neck. Otherwise other cattle would fall over him, you see - there'd be a big heap of cattle. And you had to have that electric prod, and prod them - poor bastards suffer, I tell you. About every fifty mile or so you've got to stop and check the cattle. Of course, it gives you a chance to get your legs going and have a leak, and liven yourself up out of the cold water in the water bag.

When I first went on the Dry River road, you wouldn't meet a car at all because you were the only one using it. It wasn't a road really; it was just a track where Fred Schule drove a donkey team of ninety donkeys pulling a big fire plough through there. He took it that way in 1927, and he brought it back to Katherine in 1930. And that was the only mark of a road. But we found that it was a hundred miles nearer - or more about a hundred-and-forty miles nearer - than going to Newcastle Waters and down. And it was a hundred miles nearer than going through Dick Scobie's at Hidden Valley.

And that was a short cut for me, going through there and cutting another forty miles off. But the wet weather, it was not the best either. But the Dry River road wasn't travelable in wet weather at all - you would have creeks - the King River crosses there. And we got there once and there were three cars on the other side. And I could go through about five feet of water comfortably with a Leyland without expecting trouble. And there were some cars arrived on the other side, and some had no tucker and some did. And I had plenty of tucker on the truck of course - I'm on the Katherine side, coming in with a load of tucker. And so I said: 'I'll send you some tucker over. Somebody swim over with a rope'. And one bloke said: 'Not me, I won't swim that. There's a crocodile in there'. 'Oh, bullshit, its only a fish croc. Wouldn't hurt you'. He said: 'Shows how much you know about it. Just have a look down there'. We went and had a look, and we couldn't see any crocodile. And the bloke swam over, and he brought the rope over. And I said: 'Now what you need is another rope, and put a ring on that, and you can go backwards and forwards like that without the swimming. You don't have to do it every time'. So: 'Righto'. He went back and he took the rope back, and somebody started hollering out to him, and he didn't know what they were talking about of course - the river's running fast and deep. And they saw the crocodile there, about eighteen feet - right up that far from the sea water, salt water. He'd come from the Katherine River of course. He was a saltie, oh yeah. A freshwater rarely gets to more than about nine feet - I believe they have got to twelve, but I've never seen one of them. But I've seen a nine-footer. So needless to say, there was no more swimming in the river. And we waited there - I think we were there three days. And then it went down enough, and we hooked all the cars together. And they put overcoats over their distributors and all sorts of things, and we dragged them through, and on we went. But I have spent much longer. I think we spent ten days - yes, we spent days.

In the 1950s I started dealing with Geoff Batchelor in Melbourne. He was very honest with me when I bought my trucks and trailers through him. When you buy a Leyland you just buy the chassis; its not even painted; its just in undercoat; you paint it yourself. Anyhow, when I wanted a couple of trailers I hadn’t got enough money to – I’d bought the Leyland and I think I put down about ten or twelve thousand pounds down on that and the rest through Esanda. And I hadn’t got quite enough to buy another couple of trailers – and they were about eight thousand quid apiece if they’re dual axle ones. And he
said: “Oh, no worry. Put it on account.”

Geoff advises that his office had registered a sales office in Knuckey Street through which Sid probably followed up a contact. During a subsequent visit to Melbourne, Sid contacting Geoff by phone. On another occasion, Sid and Thelma stayed with Geoff for nearly two weeks. Whilst building a block of flats in Darwin, Geoff was up and back at least once a month
during which he had regular contact with Sid.

During the wet season I used to go to Melbourne with the truck, and Leyland's in Melbourne used to service it for me - complete. Reline all the brakes, do the lot right through. And I always used to grumble about the thousand dollars for parts and things like this of course. But it was worth it, I never had any trouble like that. I never had breakage in that truck, all that time - and it was like new when I sold it. But if you were driving those kinds of trucks - they've improved it today, they have a third differential, I had two differentials. I had no in-between diff you see, so if you had one tyre went flat - that made that wheel had a lesser radial distance - you worked up a tension between your two diffs, and then started getting hot. And if you went long enough that tyre would catch fire, particularly if it was a Michelin - steel belt. And that's exactly what happened to that Leyland in the finish. Only six months after I'd sold her to Colin Quan-Sing she was burned with a load of aviation gas for Wave Hill - completely burned. Because the driver said: 'Oh, we've got a flat tyre'. 'Oh, you'll be alright - she'll get to Top Springs. Cold beer at Top Springs'. She was burned, Quan-Sing lost the lost. See, if those fellows had known what they were doing, they'd pull up and change that wheel. They were quick to change - you had spare tyres there, and you'd pull them on. But now they have that other diff in the middle that will equalise the amount of power that's going to all tyres. Actually, its a planetary action that does it itself - it does it without any highfaluting gadgets or anything - purely by differential action I guess.

Hooker Creek was a regular run as I had the contract. And the following year they gave it to another fellow named - because he was ten bob cheaper than me or something, they gave it to a fellow named Sid - not Williams - he had the Mataranka store for a while. I can't think of his other name. But anyhow they gave it to him, and oh, they gave it to old Farley at the same time; they had a part each. And he had a broken down Ford I think. And Farley - I came along and here he is stuck in King River, he's stuck there. And so I can't get past, so I had to pull him onto the bank on my side and then go past him, and then put a wire rope right across the river and pull him through. And away he went. So I get down a little further, and here he is - bogged again. And I kept pulling him out, and pulling him out, and I thought I might as well get paid. And while I was there I broke one of those big hooks, you know with a swivel on it, that you put to stop a wire rope from spinning. And he said: 'Oh, I've got plenty of those there' - he owned that place near Port Darwin Motors, where there's a second-hand shop at present; he sold it to Favaro. Anyhow, when I got there I went along and had a look at these hooks, and they were good alright. So I said: 'I'll have a couple of them'. He said: 'That'll be one pound'. 'One pound', he said. I had to pay him one pound after pulling the old bastard out. So I went up to the department and said: 'Look, either you do something about these people, or I don't carry on with the contract'. And so they said: 'What are we going to do when the wet weather comes?' 'Well', I said: 'Its not far now. They're breaking down and getting stuck in rivers now, what are they going to do in the wet?' So they gave up the contract, and I finished it.

In the meantime I had other contracts. I carried the stores from Darwin out to Ironstone mine, up near Burketown. I did loads through for him - I've forgotten that fellow's name. I don't know why he worked through Darwin. The first load was machinery; that came up by ship I think. I think most of his was shipped stuff. Maybe he did his shopping in Brisbane, because Darwin was notorious for prices then, but I should imagine no more so than now. Yeah, and then I used to go up to Burketown, and then come back, and come back to Darwin and load Top Springs. And I also did it for Russ Jones out at Nourlangie sawmill, at Jim Jim Creek. I helped him with stores and things like that, and he reciprocated to me with timber, and then I sold it to people in Darwin - Jim Bell and a few others, you know.

Sometimes I carted stores to the stations if it was more than they could carry, but usually they came in with their trucks. They came in with a utility truck and things like that. And when Christmas came I always was able to sell all the grog to Wave Hill Station, which was quite a fair slug. And the same thing to V.R.D. One of the stations became owned by a man, I've forgotten this guy's name, but he said: 'If ever you're in Brisbane, and you've an hour or two to spare, call on me'. And I called on him, and he lived up to his name, because he immediately offered me a drink of grapefruit juice or something – back at Top Springs he had bought from me two cases of lime juice, and he sent a few bottles around to all the outstations. And the boys reckoned they had a lime juice Christmas. Then they arrived after Christmas of course, across at Top Springs, and bought drinks themselves.

I usually delivered fuel though. Well, I had the Mobil Oil agency you see - it was Vacuum Oil then - I had the agency right through to the West Australian border - even went to Inverway once or twice. The main thing having the fuel agency was having a vehicle that could do the job, and being young and strong enough to be able to roll two hundred and fifty drums onto the truck on your own in a day - which I did once, when my offsider absconded - I loaded two hundred and fifty drums. I chose Vacuum because I was friendly with the Vacuum manager, and he looked after me very well. Such as when there was a truck to sell there once - a small two-ton International. And they were going to put it up, and he said: 'How much is it worth Sid?' 'Oh', I said: 'I'd give you a couple of hundred bucks' - just joking like that. And he said: 'Alright, its yours'. And he would have sold the truck on the open market for two or three hundred, three hundred, four hundred - as it was, you know.

I did quite well with the trucking business. I just forget what we made the last year there but it was very good money. And if I hadn't of made it, I couldn't have paid my debts because my wife had moved money out of the business. She was quite qualified as an accountant and she could juggle figures. Later she was fighting a case over the Top Springs fire, this fire occurred after I'd left, and John Lyons and I were having a talk one night in his little house on the corner when he said: 'Well, thank the Lord I don't have to face her in court.' Now, for John Lyons to say that, I'll tell you, that's something. She was very smart. Of Spanish origin, y
ou see. Really good woman otherwise, but money, cripes.

Own Pastoral attempts

I had the certificate for the Yellow Waterhole grazing licence. Yellow Water is about fifteen miles up above Top Springs. And it wasn't a good place - not good ground - but there were plenty of cattle there and there was a couple of permanent waters there, which meant you would have cattle. And ultimately you would've had to have fenced it because you would've had to have become scrupulously honest to keep your own cattle on your own country and to keep your neighbours out. Because we had three or four people all around there who were all in the business, you see.

Initially we, like many of the stations, used to shoot the scrub bulls; but then they became marketable so we rounded a lot up. I think we rounded eighty up on Yellow Waterhole - Charlie Swan and his crew, I had working on them. We trucked them all to Alice Springs. On my last trip I had no co-driver; I'd called Dave Waites, the only man I knew you could trust, and he said: 'Yes', he could come. He would be waiting for me at Elliott. 'Righto'. I set sail, I was already tired of course after being at the yard and getting them, and getting them in and all that. Because they had to be got up a hillbilly turnout we had erected for them, to walk up into the trucks. They walk up relatively easy usually, but walking down they don't like. And I got up the Murranji, which is a long way; its a hundred-and-forty miles. You need to know the Murranji, believe me; in and out of all kinds of scrub and that; very slow, though, I did it in about ten hours or something. Anyhow I got to Elliott. 'Thank Christ I here, Dave'll be here'. I'm looking around, I can't see him. 'Oh there's a telegram here for you, Sid'. Mungston, the mad mullah, the owner of the roadhouse gave me the - turned into a local madman later - he gave me the telegram. It was from Dave, he'd been subpoenaed in a court case and he couldn't come. So, what do I do? You can't trust anybody to drive, unless you know for sure. When you're juggling three trailers and a thirty-two foot body on the truck, you have a very long vehicle; the trailers were two thirty-five footers and one forty footer. So away I go. I think I had four methedrine tablets - a bloke told me: 'If you take a methedrine tablet' - I forget whether I had the coffee first or afterwards. He reckoned: 'No. Cut the methedrine tablet in half and take half a tablet and a cup of coffee'. I forget whether you took if first of after the coffee - but anyhow, I just took it down. And then I drove some, and I went for about four hours. Then I started to feel these - 'Don't let yourself get too tired', he said - the next time - and downed the other half. And I got there and I still had a methedrine tablet left. The only time I've ever taken any drugs. And I got there reasonably fresh, but when I got unloaded and went to sleep, oh, down I went.

Oh yeah, then there was the affair with Mr Barclay; he was Minister for Lands. Doug Miller ran a small plane around and used to come out to Top Springs a lot and I said: 'What about running me out over there and having a look at the Cattle Creek area?' Anyhow, we had a look at this and there were big cattle pads there and there was a lagoon there with water in it and it was about September. Plenty of water, so it's reasonable to suppose it might last. So we decided we'd apply for it and we did. And they: 'Oh yes.' Arthur Miller was all for it: 'Yes.' And then, after a month or two, I got a reply. Oh, Mr Barclay agreed with me applying for it - not agreeing for them to give it to me yet - but he agreed that I apply. It was a good idea, he said. But later on I got a letter to say they were sorry to say that it was semi-desert and would never be thrown open for pastoral purposes. Then, about twelve months later, we see in some gazette or other that it was given as a pastoral lease to the Vestey business of Wave Hill Station. It's run as an outstation. It's called Cattle Creek. And then, Mr Barclay retired and he had twelve months touring on Blue Funnel liners. You could dig up a lot of mud there. He'd already had a holiday to the Argentine and those places years before, his daughter and son-in-law. So, Blue Funnel liners - it was real luxury, believe me. They only carried twenty passengers.

I did not make much money from the cattle. Didn't go long enough you see. But I did pay a few debts with the Tennant Creek money.
I left the lease for my wife along with the store when I got out.

People passing by

I picked up plenty of other people, not with interest; I just picked them up because they wanted to go somewhere and I was willing to help them.

On one of my trips to Alice Springs I met a man; a Japanese who was wanting to come to Darwin. And I was a bit reluctant to take him because we're still not fond of Japanese but he spoke very good English, and I couldn't understand that. So I said: 'Alright, you can come with me', and away we went. We got talking of course in time, and he spoke as good English as I do, and better grammatically I suppose. Because when I asked him who he was and all that, he just showed me his card and his name - a sub-editor of the Osaka Herald. Well I mean! Well I get talking to him and I found out that he'd been in England and educated at a public school, and all that. He came for a trip with me then all the way round. I had radio contact with Top Springs and on the way back from Alice Springs my wife had told me what additional was to do, and I went straight through to Darwin and he came with me. And then I had to go back and go to take a tractor to Rosewood and fuel to Inverway, and some to Wave Hill and things like that. And as soon as he found out that; could he come with me. By this time, I'd began to think this fellow's alright - there's not so much wrong with the Japanese. He would go round and get some dry leaves and sticks, and a couple of big rocks and light a fire, and kick the dirt away from all around it, and get the billy can out and boil the billy can, without me telling him. He'd got used to it by this time. On that trip, another bloke had to go to Wave Hill, he was the new bookkeeper. We pulled up somewhere halfway down the Dry River Road and this other fellow looked at us when we're out on the ground - we'd been driving for two or three hours from Katherine - and asked: 'Where's the toilet? Where's the toilet!' The Jap bloke burst out laughing. We told him: 'Anywhere out there'. But you imagine having him for a bookkeeper.

There was a man who worked for Northern Agency when they had an office opposite the T.A.A. building. Northern Agency it was called and it controlled the whole of Vestey's complex. Cec called me up and asked me could I take a passenger through to Wave Hill. Immediately I suppose I thought: 'Oh, another book-keeper'. He then said it was a rather important personage, or something. 'Alright. Yeah, he can come'. So when I was ready to go he introduced me to John Vestey. He was a smart looking fellow, a bit taller than me - he'd have been about twenty-four. Well-spoken, not with an excessively accented English voice, you know, well-spoken and all. When night-time came, he would hop up in the sleeper cabin and have a sleep. I began to realise that he's the son of the family - he's the top boy, the heir apparent and all that. He said: 'You know, this might do me good'. 'How do you mean?' - 'Well I'd like to see this from an outsider's point of view. Would you agree not to say who I am?' I looked at him. I'm astounded. 'Why not?' 'Well', he said: 'If I was incognito'. I said: 'That's alright. I'd enjoy the joke', something like this. And so I introduced him, even to my wife, as somebody else. Later I told her who he was. While he was there at Top Springs, he said: 'We'd better get a few extra, what do you call it, tucker? What would you recommend on there?' And I said: 'You go in there and have a look. Take them out, stack them on the counter'. And he stacked a bunch of stuff on the counter. 'Oh,' he said: 'We'll see what the opposition's dishing up'. And he picked up Garden brand beef and all that, not Vestey brand, picked up the opposite brand to see what they were dishing up.

I delivered the stuff to Inverway, and then onto another station - I've forgotten the name of that one, in between, Limbunya quite likely, and then on to Rosewood to deliver the tractor we had on board for them. There was a very beautiful girl there. We had dinner in their dining room - just the three of us. Very nice, all done real posh you know; this girl had been to some finishing school in the south, I learned later, and well educated. She was the daughter of - I don't know whether his name was Fisher, the manager, Otto Fisher, I've forgotten - but she was his daughter. I went to bed and I could hear them up in the swimming pool, swimming and playing on; I didn't know what was going on up there. I was too tired to worry. Next morning we had breakfast, and he gave her a quick kiss and we were on our way back home. The Vestey man - he was a smooth operator, believe me, and a really nice guy. We'd come to a gate, going through a place, and he'd observe the quality of the fencing and all that - he was a smart bastard. If the gates didn't latch right, and didn't line up right: 'Rubbish job here'. I don't know if he ever did anything about it of course. Then I brought him back to Wave Hill. Wave Hill is a Vestey's station, was one of their best. He must have flown out of Wave Hill.

I helped a lot of people on the road because I had the proper equipment; I had trucks with winches on them and things like that, including spare parts and tools. I never did need help! I remember once I met father Flynn on the road and he was bogged. I pulled him out, we went along a bit further and came to another bog, so I advised camping until morning - this was late at night anyhow and you can drive into a bog easy in the dark where you don’t do it in the d
aylight. So we camped there and threw our swags under the tail of the truck.


Droving teams usually had a mixture of blacks and whites. The blacks worked all right in that because they enjoyed it; they got a rough spin of course and drover bosses are notorious for being hard and paying skinflint money. If a man slept in and didn’t get up in the morning at four o’clock or whenever, he would put the man’s pay in his boot and leave him. Fellow would wake
up and find everybody gone.

One good drover was a half caste man named Smith, Dick Smith. I could take his cheque any time, and it was good in this way that it may be all right now but he would say, “Don’t put it in for a month Sid.” And I would put a ticket on the cheque and send it to the bank asking them to hold it for a month. Dick Smith never ow
ed me a penny. Many white drovers did, one I hunted down in Queensland was named Jack Tye, he gave me a cheque for eighteen hundred I think, his complete year's droving. He paid me the cheque, and I was doubtful about this. I was leaving Top Springs the following day for Brisbane. By then I'd bought a faster vehicle than the G.M. I had a Commer Knocker, and they got along at quite a good speed - twenty mile an hour faster than the G.M. And I got a reply back from Darwin: 'Unable to verify', unless they had the town of the bank, but I'd mixed it up somehow and when it was transmitted over, the town was left out. It was Hughenden. So I sent one back to Hughenden and said: 'Reply to me, Hughenden Post Office'. I thought I'd be in Hughenden by that time, you see. So away we went, my wife was with me, and when I got there I immediately called on the police and told the sergeant that I had a little bit of trouble with a man named Tye. The old sergeant looked at the constable, and he said: 'What again?' And I said to the constable, when he went down the steps, still talking to me about this, what did he mean by that. He said: 'Oh, we've had a little trouble with Mr Tye before'. So: 'Where does he live?' And he told me. I said: 'I'm going to see this Tye about this, and I do expect a bit of violence. What's going to happen?' 'Well,' he said, 'I could drive past at the same time'. I went there, and knocked on Tye's door and he opened the door and he found it was me. When I presented him with the request for the money, not the cheque, I said: 'Come with me to the bank, and I want the money'. He went inside and he came out with a hammer - he was going to attack me with the hammer. But he didn't know about little tricks, you know, about 'quick crook of the foot' and he's arse over head, and a good chop on the back of the neck. And the police sergeant came around: 'What's going on here?'. 'This bastard hit me.' he said. I still had the cheque of course, and I said: 'Sergeant, I want you to take him along. I want to accompany him to the bank, and I want him to confront the bank manager, and I want this money'. And that's how we got paid. The police sergeant said: 'Well, its easy enough for you to come along Jack'. And I went and talked to the bank manager, and he talked to Tye while I wasn't there - couldn't hear any of it - and they made some arrangement about lending him some money or something. And the bank manager paid out in notes. I didn't do business with Jack Tye again as he died soon after. I still have his bank book in there - in the name of Jack Tye - with three thousand eight hundred dollars in, that my wife put in. I shouldn't put that down should I? But there's the book, and I guess the money's used up by the bank years ago.

Then there were the times we had with Joe Dowling. Joe Dowling was a very fine fellow and a rather colourful character who had been up on cattle stealing charges and things like that; they used to call him Pretty Boy Dowling as he always carried a comb in his pocket and he would comb his hair. He had natural blonde wavy hair, and he was a good looking guy and a very smart horseman. Amazing, especially if there was a good female audience, he used to perform like an expert. I don't think the Yanks ever put on anything better. He was a very lonely man apparently, he'd no wife. But a very nice looking fairy came by; she was a tourist. I think she was in a mini Morris with another girl. He got to know this girl and they travelled with his cattle herd for a little way, two or three days. She left with a promise that she'd be back, and sure enough she arrived back. She was the daughter of a South Australian squatter. Anyhow we were in Brisbane during the wet season, and I have a call on the telephone at my brother's house. He looked up Hawks, and he could only see the one Hawk spelt like us, so he reckoned that was us you see. He said: 'You remember the little blonde girl?' 'Yes', I did. 'Well I want to marry her. Could you arrange it for me?' And I said: 'Oh yeah. I'd be glad to do that Joe. What church?' 'The Catholic church'. As it happened I was very good friends with Father Egan of the Catholic church, who was the donkey engine driver on a ship that I'd been on years before - fifteen years before. I said: 'I could take you along and talk to Father Egan'. And so I did that. 'Yes', Father Egan said: 'You bring the colleen along, and I will see that everything is right'. So when they got there, they didn't tell the good Father the whole story. They didn't tell him she'd been married before, and of course he got to know from her where she came from and all that, and he wrote to the parish priest there and he got the history. And nothing could be done. Father Egan rang me up and he said: 'I would like to see you Sid'. I thought he sounded strange. He took me to task, he said: 'Why don't you know these people better?' I said: 'Father, I took them in good faith. I didn't think of anything like that'. Anyhow we parted good friends, and I saw him many times after. Though I wasn't a Catholic, I still respected his faith, and himself. However, Joe went to a non-conformist church, and saw them. I went along and I gave the bride away. They came back up here, and there they were, man and wife, and doing quite well.

Some time later, these two arrived at Top Springs, she driving the truck and him on the horse. After a while I can hear loud voices and she's having some argument with him - that he'd been knocking another woman. I go out and have a look, and saw Joe go over to the truck quickly and take a three-oh-three out of it. 'I'll hide it round there', he said to some other bloke. Then I saw her race out to the truck, obviously she went to get the rifle, then she dashed to somebody else's truck - everybody carried the rifle standing up there, standing up and in a bracket so it couldn't get knocked down. We could all get those clip-brackets that were in the Army trucks, and everybody souvenired them and got them. The next thing I see her rushing around the corner with a rifle; immediately afterwards, when she disappeared - three shots Bang! Bang! Bang! 'Jesus', I thought: 'Something's going on here'. I went inside and got a pistol in case I was in trouble, and there is Joe bolting across the flat bound for the riverbank. Anyhow, I go back, and in between, Thelma had got hold of her and quietened her down, and somebody had taken the rifle away. I looked at the angle iron on the corner there, and there's bullet holes through the corner of the shop, and no lining in parts of it. I thought: 'Oh well, I'll fix them tomorrow, in case of weather'. Anyhow some of them were quite big you know, torn like, not a perfect bullet hole. I go in there to fix them tomorrow, and here's a bullet gone right through a generator worth about twenty pounds - right into the inside of it, blew the end out of it; hit it end on you see. Anyhow I told Joe about that, and he said: 'No trouble, I'll pay for that'. Joe paid for the generator later on. I went inside, and had someone outside with a lump of wood, and I tapped it over and folded the bits back in - the bits weren't missing, they were still there, but sprayed back. A few days later Gordon Stott arrived from Newcastle Waters in a police ute; Gordon and I were very good friends. 'I'd like to talk to you a little while Sid'. 'Yes Gordon, come inside. Will you have a cool beer?' 'Not yet, not yet'. He's quite terse: 'I want to know what happened here the other day. Can you tell me?' I said: 'Who have you been listening to?' 'That's of no concern. What happened? I hear there were shots fired - at who?' I said: 'Well to tell you the truth, I didn't see the shots fired. I heard the shots, and I don't know who had the gun'. He said: ' Sid, I think you're lying'. I said: 'Not entirely Gordon'. And anyhow he kept this up for a little while, and I never admitted Fairy had the rifle. But I said: 'You can look around and see what amount of damage was done if you like'. He wandered around, and he walked right past the cracks in there where the bullets went through, and never saw them. I said: 'There you are, there were no bullets apparently'. 'Well', he said: 'I heard it. Rumours don't make themselves up. There's always substance in them'. And he went on like that. But anyhow he ended up having dinner there, and on the way back from Moolooloo, where he was investigating some bashing or knifing or something, he called in and had dinner that night, and slept in our bedroom that night, and went on next day.

Another time there was a bloke who jumped the counter to get his cheque - we used to pin all the dud cheques up on a piece of cane board, up fairly high where they couldn't reach it, and nothing to stand on, and they could see it from the other side of the counter - all the dud cheques there. 'Oh look, there's one of so-and-sos', they're hollering out, and they brought a bloke in: 'Come and have a look in here. Look up there. Look, what's that?' He's looking reading: 'Jesus,' he said, 'that's my cheque.' He's screaming his head off, and he's asked for it back: 'Give it back to me.' 'No, you don't get it back.' Thelma said, but he jumped the counter and landed along side of her. Resting along side of the till she had the pistol, she pushed it up and he could feel this hard muzzle underneath his ribs. He jumped back over the counter, and when he - Jack Withnall it was - when he got the other side of the counter everybody roared laughing. 'Blast the bloody woman.' He said: 'A man I would have had a go, but not a woman. They panic and pull the trigger,' which would have been right too, she would have pulled the trigger. I mean she'd have got nothing, the court case would have been nothing - he was over the side, along side the till - it'd be robb
ery with violence, and all sorts of things wouldn't it? She was only defending herself.

Tourist Trade

The tourists weren't any money to us. Two gallons of petrol and ten gallons of water. They used to top up their petrol you see. But once I had a good one - which I got reprimanded by Mobil in South Australia. A lady came in, and we had the old pump you know. I pumped the fuel up, six gallons into the header bowl, but just before I let it go down the hose into the car she said: 'How much is fuel here?' - 'Two and ninepence a gallon, M'am' 'Same as Katherine'. 'Huh, we were robbed there, and we're robbed again?' It was about two and three in Darwin, or something like that. We got capital city allowance in those days - anybody drawing on Darwin. She said something to her husband, and then: 'How far is the next petrol away?' I said: 'Oh, not very far, only a hundred miles down there at Wave Hill'. She didn't ask me the price there. 'Oh, we'll go on to there'. I let the petrol go down, I pulled the lever it flowed back down into the tank again. The old man said: 'By the way, how much is petrol at Wave Hill?' I said: 'Four and sixpence'. And she said: 'Oh, we'll put it in here' - 'No you won't M'am, I only pump it up once'. Away they went but later wrote a letter then to the general manager, who wrote a to the manager in Darwin; asked him to speak to me, which he did. When I told him the correct story he laughed like hell, but he said: 'It caused a bit of trouble'. I can't blame him, but people don't look at it like that.

Jack Davey, came through with the Redex trial, and he wanted to use the radio. My wife said: 'I'm the radio operator here, I'll transmit anything you have Mr Davey'. He said: 'I'm a radio commentator', and he went on and on, 'I'll use your radio', and he jumped over the counter. She'd put her hand underneath, where I'd showed her: 'Leave that pistol under the lid of the till, and if anybody ever gets obstreperous you leave the safety catch on for the time being, and put the barrel in his ribs, and tell him to get over there'. And that's just what she did. She said: 'Now you get straight back over there Mr Davey' and asked somebody to open the gate, you know where they come in behind the counter, and he reluctantly retreated through there. 'I'll report this, and this place'll do no good wh
en I'm finished'. He did make some trouble, yeah of some kind. Didn't do us any harm though.

Store Business

Drovers were great customers. One year alone there were ninety mobs scheduled to go through, but only seventy eight went. Each drover spent £2,000 or £3,000 going through as he must have stores, saddlery, truck parts, tyres and all sorts of things. Stockhands come into the store, and blackfellows, and drovers come in - they'd outfit their people there, before going on to Max. Because Max's place was smaller - Max Schoeber, a nice old gentleman out on Newcastle Waters. His prices were higher than mine, but I didn't have the freight you see, and I had that lower buying method - buy as many as you could possibly sell. And then when Brunette races came on, I used to go along to Brunette races with a truck load of stuff. I think we sold two gross of hats - two gross, or two-and-a-half gross or something - at the races at Negrai, Negrai races. I think I sold over six thousand pounds - pounds, not dollars - worth of stuff - six thousand at a race meeting. We used to go to Brunette too. Was good.

I think for three years running I sold more Akubra hats than anybody in Australia. I used to go to the factory in Melbourne, not bugger about with the wholesaler. Fairfield hats couldn't understand how we sold the hats, because we bought - I don't know how many gross it was, six gross or something in one visit. I said: 'You people - your customers come to your shop to buy the hats, but me - they didn't come to my place quick enough, so I took the hats to them, and I sold them'. And every blackfellow had to have one of them big hats, you know. And once or twice, my wife used to object to me - we would sell a hat for five quid - I think we paid three for them, almost three pound for the real good ones - and then we sold them for five. And once a blackfellow hadn't got the money - he had four quid - and I looked around and she wasn't looking. And I didn't write dockets for things - I never had any dockets, only for accounts. And I said: 'That's alright old man. You give it to me the next time I see you'. I thought I'd never see him again. Anyway, I'm still making a pound, aren't I, so, why worry? And my wife came in - oh, I was a bloody fool, I was all sorts of things - forget about it. Anyhow, maybe twelve months later, a blackfellow came in and he went 'phht' on the counter with a quid note like that - flapped it down on the counter. And I looked at it - didn't recognise him. 'Remember that? That hat'. 'Oh, now I remember'. Shook hands with me, see. You wouldn't get that now in a blackfellow. In those days they were honest, though they would pinch tucker and all that, but still they were honest in their dealings.

We also sold a lot of boots. Dickson's boots. The big deal was William's boots of course, because they had higher heels - they made you look a bigger shot. But I didn't sell many William's boots, maybe a hundred pairs or something, but I did sell plenty of Dickson's - hundreds of pairs. And then I urged them to make the heels a bit higher. But their bootmakers didn't like it, because they said it was not only extra work, but it gave a boot a tendency to go over - you know, the higher the heel, to go over sideways, wreck the boot.

I would sell a similar number of shirts certainly - blue shirts were the things people seemed to like in those days - bright blue. And once the whites started wearing them, it were two pockets - they were all wanting them with two pockets, and long sleeves. And once the whites started wearing them, of course all the blacks wanted them too. And many blacks didn't have the money, but some drovers bought them for blacks.

I had made arrangements for other supplies to be sent from Robert Reid and Patterson, Lang and Bruce, and people like that in Sydney and Melbourne - to send them at certain times. When I sent them a telegram - this was before I got on the radio - from Katherine to send sooner or hold it, they would do that. And they would put it on the rail; it would come up from Brisbane via Townsville to Mt Isa. Once I went there to pick it up, and then I got to know Ted Style very well, and I gave him the work. I said: 'You pick it up. Anything that you see with my name on it, you pick it up and bring it to Katherine. Advise me first by telegram, and I will meet you in Katherine'.

Patterson, Lang and Bruce were hot stuff. But when you bought from them you didn't walk in and buy anything, they wanted to know who you were, and all that, and everything had to come out. Not a letter of credit, but who your bankers were and all that sort of thing. 'Oh, give us a ring tomorrow Mr Hawks'. They'd ring up the M.T.P.A. (Merchant Trade Protective Association), or Hall Gibbs, and there's two or three other Mercantile agencies. Well I was doing the M.T.P.A. work here then for the Northern Territory - strange to say - though I lived in Top Springs, because I'd got to know those people in Adelaide. And they asked me: They'd ask me: 'Would you be prepared to be our credit man up there?' And I said: 'Not viable for me, because I'm out in the bush and I'm not mixing with them town people'. Well they said: 'You can do a little bit to help us'. 'Oh yes, I'll do that'. 'Could we do it'. They said: 'We've got a loose arrangement there, but its not going very well'. And they'd ask me how such-and-such a person's business was, you know. Was he a drunk? Was he sober? And what his vehicles were and all that. A cattle rancher: 'Well, what was his station like?', and all this kind of thing. There was miles more than I could do properly but I had a few enquiries, not a lot, but a few.

But when I went to Patterson, Lang and Bruce I just told them: 'You ring Mr Chinner in M.T.P.A. in Adelaide'. Oh, they were highly surprised at that, and I got an extra good deal I think. I got a bigger percentage - discount - than the normal customer, because I bought it all in one go. And then I used it - another firm I did that was Gollans. Go there once a year and tell them what I wanted. But once - this was about three years after we had got going, and I had dealt with Gollan's quite a lot, I'd bought over twenty thousand pounds worth of stuff from Gollan's. Among them I think there were twelve hundred pairs of jodhpurs - you know, stockmen's trousers - twelve hundred pairs in one hit, and quite a lot of other stuff - shirts by the hundred. I also wanted some arrangement that I could order another few hundred pairs in three, four months time, or six months time - for immediate delivery. Otherwise you couldn't get immediate delivery you see, for a big quantity. And so: 'Yes', the said: 'Providing its big enough, we'll do it'. And I went up in the lift and did the business with the accountant, fixing up the turnout - sixty days credit. And I think they'd seen my vehicle - I had a semi doing it then - and I think they'd seen the vehicle. And: 'When are you going to leave?' I said: 'I want to leave today because I want to try and beat the weather. If I get caught I'll be in trouble'. I had dinner with the manager the night before - he invited my wife and I to his home to dinner. And then we were leaving the following morning - I was leaving on my own as Thelma was going to stop in Brisbane to finish a bit of business off, and then come up by train, and then come across by bus from Mt Isa to Katherine, and I would pick her up in Katherine. So away I went with a G.M.C. six wheel drive, with a trailer behind, and fourteen tons of freight. And I went quite well until I got to Clermont, and just beyond Clermont there's a place called Walker's Creek. And the local sergeant there, that I knew well, he said: 'You won't get over Walker's Creek unless you leave tonight, because it will come down, and it will cut you off'. So I left that night, and I got out to Walker's Creek, and I had a look at it and it was too deep for me. I got a stick and prodded it in there, and I had no-one else with me - I was on my own - and I could sink the stick in eight feet in the finish. And I had a job getting back - with the aid of the stick I got back to the bank, and I camped on the bank. I turned round in the finish, because the creek was rising. I thought it'll come over this area, and I turned round and got back about three miles onto a bit of hilly country where I got bogged. And I was there for - I think seven days or eight days - living out of what tinned tucker I had on board. And some people in Landrovers and all that started to arrive; there was plenty of tucker. We eventually got the G.M.C. over because she was a six wheel drive - without the trailer - and then I had a wire rope across and I had a winch on the front of this G.M. I winched other people across, and winched my own trailer across, and we battled it out then. We had trouble at other creeks, but not so much as Walker's, because its a deep creek - big dip you know. And we got through; we got onto dry country after a while and away we went. I got to Katherine and couldn't get into Top Springs - not possible. Things were worse there. So I thought: 'Oh well, I've things to do in Brisbane, I'll flit back and do some. Pick up Thelma', and I went back to Brisbane. So I came back, and I knew an old sergeant in Claremont, and I went to him and I said: 'I'm in a bit of trouble now, because I need a place to park a vehicle. I've got a lot of goods on board, and what am I going to do it? I could go back to Brisbane and drive a small truck up, an Austin that I'd bought for Mount Bundy station. I could drive that up to here, and maybe then, when we're going, I could get somebody else - a hitch hiker or somebody - to drive it, when we both go through'. 'That's a good idea. You leave it in my yard', he said: 'Leave it in the police yard. I'll get the tracker to sleep under it'. I went up to the second-hand store and bought an ex-Army bed, you know, and swung it underneath - and the tracker slept under there. And I fixed him up with a bit, I said: 'I'll give you some more when I come back'. Away I went to Brisbane And there were some people in the top of Gollan's building that were not Gollan's firm - some other business, I don't know, I think they were wholesale knick-knack people that we bought a lot of stuff off. And away I went and did this job. And when I got into the lift, I'm standing there for a minute for people to load in, and all of a sudden Mr Heatherington, the Gollan's manager, steps in: 'Hello Sid, what are you doing here?' And I said: 'Well, I come here with bad news.' 'Why? What sort of bad news?' And I said: 'Well, I got up there to Katherine, and I'm caught in the weather. I wont be home for another month, if not six weeks'. 'Oh well', he said: 'I'm not worried about that. But if you'd have ducked out of the lift as soon as you saw me, I would have been'. He said: 'I'm not afraid of a man that comes to see me, to tell me'. I hadn't come to see him to tell him. And he wasn't a bit worried you know. I think I had ninety days before I paid - it was something like twenty-five thousand dollars then. And to do that, you could buy stuff cheaper, and therefore you could sell it cheaper. And that's how I used to get good business there.

The drovers on the road were the money. The nearby stations - at first they didn't like to deal with us because they thought they could buy it cheaper in Katherine. But I made a point of selling things at the price it could be sold in Katherine. I kept the price of petrol the same as Katherine prices. The manager - Norm Tippett I think his name was, the Mobil Oil manager - he commended me on that. He said: 'Its a smart move, but you do lose two cents a gallon. You should be making two cents more'. I said: 'No matter, I'm getting the business'. I could sell a hundred drums of diesoline to V.R.D. and things like this; otherwise they would have had it trucked in from Darwin, you see. I sold it plus sixteen pounds a ton freight - and it worked.

We opened when people came if it was seven o'clock - usually it was eight o'clock. We'd have had breakfast and I'd be about doing what I was doing; usually getting a vehicle ready for the road or something. We got a liquor licence after two attempts - we got it on the second. Old John Quirk blocked us in the first place, and we applied again and got it. Quirk deemed it'd be bad for the blackfellers - and he was quite right of course, it was. It was take-away but you could also drink by the bottle on the premises.

For refrigeration we had three domestic Kerosene refrigerators. That I think may have been the cause of the Top Spring's store being burned down. After I'd split the blanket, and gone, and came back - I was passing through there one day. I brought loading into there quite often, and would give my wife account, but she never paid me. It got up to about three thousand dollars, and I stopped doing it. I came in there, and here was an Australian Post - somebody had thrown it up on top of the fridge, and the wind had picked it up and chucked it over the vent in the fridge, and it was charred black. The Post was made of junk paper you see, and junk paper, it lights very easy - rubbish paper. Even the rats can start a fire with that, they piss on it and the chemical action in the rat's nest will start the fire. That's been proved. Anyhow, I pointed it out to my missus, but she didn't believe me that it would start a fire.

Then we also had a water cooler, you know. I made a big one one time, wire netting and a lot of paperbark in, and a big tank up on top. And then you pump the water back - it ran into a tank on the bottom - then you pumped the water back, a little hand pump. It'd last all day, running slowly - drip, drip, drip. Mmm. That used to keep the beer cool.

We also sold meat. We had a big meat house though, under a good big tub. You know, one of those real huge wine cask tubs? I brought one of them back from Adelaide. I'd been through the Barossa Valley, and I bought a bit of wine at different times - right from the vineyard, you know you could buy it much cheaper if it was on the finger. And then we cut that in half and made a couple of tubs. Then we would put very strong brine in there with Quick-Cure-It mixed with it, and put the beef in there. And then we had a thing - a long, hollow needle - and you had a brine pump. Then you pumped it. The big lumps, you would pump that stuff into it. You made the meat quite red, and quite nice to eat. The meat came from V.R.D. We had a letter from Mr Magnison, and that said that we were allowed kill V.R.D. cattle at the rate of one a week.

The change from cattle droving to trucking finished Top Springs as a good business was concerned. But I am told that it revived and slipped into a slightly different kind of business.

After the drought broke we had good seasons - '52 was good. Oh yeah, it went on and on. We did have some that were a little drier than others, but their average weather was alright. And you could bet on the date when you could get in and out almost. As far as I
was concerned, they were happy times until I started to find out things you see. You sort of cut your life in half don't you?

Store finances

Oh yes, the store was good. Really it was a gold mine. But I had funny business with the money. Things got worse and worse, and one day I found a big thing like a book. It just looked like a big book, it had brass clips on it and all that, and its full of bloody money. Big notes. I quietly closed the lid; I thought: 'I'll have to think about this'.

I came in to Darwin and talked to the bank manager. I wanted to know how much money I had because I wanted to buy that other waterhole which I had a pastoral lease for - a grazing licence. So he said: 'Hold on, I don't think you'd have enough money'. I said: 'Well call a clerk for it'. And there it was, it was only like a trading account - a few thousand, twelve thousand or something. I thought I had a couple of hundred thousand there. I looked around and he said: 'How many more bank accounts have you got in Darwin?' - 'None, you know very well I haven't. 'Why? Do you know of any more?' - 'Well, would you think you had four more?' - 'I certainly bloody well haven't. Not me'. - 'Well you'd better look for them,' he said. I said: 'You tell me where they are'. 'Oh no.' he said, 'I can't do that. No. You know now, you look'. So I did look, and I spent a fair bit of money and time looking. I recruited a little woman in and she got her head down and she found two of them, which I was sure was right.

Then I did a bit of investigation myself. I found a savings account in the name of Jack Tye - Jack Tye was the drover who had owed me a lot of money and paid me with a dud cheque. But later on when I went through a drawer and was having a look around, I find a savings account with Jack Tye's name in it, and there's money going into the account, you see. Only twelve months before I found that book, I heard that Jack Tye had died under violent circumstances - car accident or something at Eildon. I looked at the book and bugger me if there's not new entries in it! Jack Tye's ghost had been back, and took it to Top Springs - and it was all stamped with Top Springs stamp. We kept the bank you see for the Commonwealth Bank, savings bank, at Top Springs for the post office. And its stamped, and they're always something quite small; nice level hundreds of pounds as it grew to three thousand eight hundred. But the other accounts were big; they were running into - oh, one was sixty-eight thousand. There were four altogether in the book.

Thelma had put a lot into a building in Lonsdale Street - a big gymnasium - a really big turnout. Her brother was Apollo. Do you remember him in Melbourne? He used to pull the cars along with only his teeth and things like this. He could put his hand on the ground like that and she would stand on his hand - she would be about seven stone in them days I suppose, perhaps seven and a half - and he could go like that and lift her up there like that,
and put her down again. And she would pose on his hand one foot you know, and do a somersault coming off his hand and land on her feet. (Paul Anderson — The Mighty Apollo — died in 1995 aged 84. The Australian Post noted that he was raised in a circus and that his father was a hand balancer)

He was building a gymnasium you see; money had gone into it gradually, in dribs and drabs. It had kept me poor for a long time. But she had her chartered accountants degree - that I never knew, I didn't know till right at the last, until they got all her papers to the coroner's constable - I knew she was very clever with books. She used to do our books immaculately.

That was why I went to Alec Toy. I played golf with him a bit, and drank a couple of beers whenever I could get time, and just knew him enough to talk to him. I rang him up one day and I said: 'Alec, I have a problem. Could I come and see you'. - 'Of course you may. If its in my line, I'm here to help you' - something like that. Along I went, shook hands with him: 'What's the trouble?' I said: 'I'll be frank about all this. It looks stupid showing it to you, but never mind.' I said, 'I think this is going to run too deep for anybody to unravel'. And he called Mr Simmonds 'Would you get me C.J. Hawk's file?', because I'd already told him we paid our income tax - the last year was two and a half thousand pounds. Mr Simmonds arrived with a pile, and he leafed through it a bit and he came to it: 'No, You didn't put a return in last year'. I said: 'Gee, she told me two and a half thousand! What was the year before?' He said: 'Two thousand and two hundred'. She was led by that you see, because we had bigger business the following year. Anyhow, I said: 'Well, its obvious somebody's going to be hit for this. There's going to be a stink, and this is my last thoughts about this with Thelma Hawks - I'm going to split the blanket'. 'Why?' he said. 'Theft. I mean, she's thieving off me. I know she's thieving from me'.

The thing is that she just hoarded money, and it could have put me in big trouble with income tax. Earlier I had an arrangement with Ivor Hall at Killarney Station that I would look after their stores accounts until they got on their feet - selling enough cattle so they have sufficient money to pay me. This was going on for a long time and I didn’t get paid but their store account had got to 9,000 pounds. I finally decided to proceed via Dick Ward and got a verdict quite easily. It was open and shut uncontested account as all the accounts were signed. We were awarded 9,000 but he only had 5,000 pounds he could put his hand on, so that went into trust with the legal firm. But the money sat there and I needed to settle up an account with the taxation department. My wife had told me we owed 2,500 pounds income tax the year before, but we had not submitted a return. I panicked then because I had just spent thousands on a new road train. I told the taxation people to seize the trust account money if they wanted payment as I didn’t have other funds. The taxation people told me that they could not touch a trust fund for a partnership, but they tried and Dick Ward paid up. I met him several days later and he said, “You slimey bastard, Sid, I’ll get you.” He really worried me as he was all my wife’s way.

On my way back, a junior policeman at Timber Creek (John Chambers, some name like that) - old Tas Fitzer was the name of the sergeant - was coming through to Top Springs with me. We get through, and while he's there he's going to register the dogs and vehicles. He was to stay with us for two days before he goes onto Montejinni, the next place. While he’s there I see a car - it was among the first of the station wagon Holdens: 'Whose car's that?' Later I see it up at the Stock Inspector’s yard about three hundred yards away. Mmmm funny, but I never expected what was coming though. I asked the Stock Inspector 'Whose is that car up at your place.’ He said: 'That's your wife's isn't it?' And I said: 'No. She hasn't got a car'. So I hop into the jeep and I go up. I had a little deed box, and I look in the car and I think I can see it poking out from under the seat. So I go back and said to Thelma: 'There's a car up there at Rideout's. Whose is it?' 'How should I know.' she said. Well, I immediately knew who it was then. And I said: 'Well I'll go up and get it'. 'You haven't got the keys'. Keys don't worry me about cars like that. I've never been a car thief, but by jees I've had to open a lot of cars for people, and there's some of the simplest ways of opening cars that you could imagine. You don't even need the coat hanger wire with some of them. So, I went up with the coat hanger hook, opened it, and I brought the books out. Got a long piece of wire and hooked on the distributor, drove her down - they didn't have a steering wheel lock in them days, you see - drove the car back and left the jeep up there.

'Now where are we going to get to with this car?' 'I bought it, with my own money.' Why was it loaded up with so much gear and petrol, plastic water can, two chairs - well, I never did find out about what it was doing there. It was loaded up for somebody to go on a trip see, a long trip. She was going to piss off and leave me with all the debts, you see - and she was going to take all the money. And I said: 'Open that box.' 'You bloody well know where the key is. Its your box. You open it.' I had a key to it too, but it had been in my brief case for - oh I don't know how many years, wriggling about in the truck - and when I did get it out it was all bunged up with rubbish that had got in, you know in the hole in the bottom - wouldn't go in. I got a needle and hooked all that out, and I got it open. I said: 'If I can't open it with this, I'll open it with a bit of wire.' 'You think you're clever don't you.'

And the policeman was there by this time, very uncomfortable. I opened it, and as I opened it, there it is - full of notes right to the top, pressed down, banded with white paper and written on them in neat letters in her writing. 'Whose writing?' 'That's yours.' she said. I got to laugh. We're counting them through, and there were several thousand. The policeman got to the last ones - I mean, they were one pound notes - and he's counting away, and he got to five - they were done up in bundles of ten - and I think he only had about a hundred on top of the others to count in this. And the total for that particular thousand - he'd got them stacked in thousands - however, they came to five hundred and ninety-nine. And I looked at her and I said: 'Jesus, you diddled yourself for one.' There was one of them big insulators, as big as that glass and heavier, laying on the big radios - and she hurled that at me, and I could see it coming. Jees, if it had hit me in the face, it would have done me. And it hit me on the shoulder - just clipped the shoulder - the elevation was a bit wrong. It didn't hurt me much. I put my head to one side and missed it. Oh, Jesus, she was mad. And she went inside, dived under the side, and put the hand under the mattress and pulled out a woman's shoe - I'd showed her how to shoot many years before, and she was a good shot - and put the pistol there. Always kept that pistol there. If anything happens in the night - if a man got here then you could quietly put your hand onto the pistol. And you could pull it out, and you'd push it in his ribs slowly and pull the trigger - you don't have to fight. And we had the place so it was well locked up and all that, but we did have a lot of violent bastards there. But then nobody ever went in for anything of that - a woman was safe there. But I thought they might. Anyhow, she had no shoe. Later she did pull a pistol out and tried to shoot me, and it was my own pistol. She's seen where I'd left it I suppose, I don't know. I used to just put it up on the ledge in the office. It was an automatic; I could have copped half a dozen before I could wink an eye.

After that I put in an auditor, Pike & Company, but he was useless. I said to put an order on all those bank accounts and freeze the lot. I knew how many accounts we had by this time as I’d stolen her briefcase and had a look through it one night. I sat up until three o’clock in the morning reading it. She was staying in a house in Darwin and was asleep in bed when I picked up the case and drove down the street to read it with a good torch. Then I took it back and nobody know. Then when I said about the warrant on all the accounts, Dick Ward said, “Well, we have no worry about another judge coming,” we were just without a judge, you see. “There’s no hardship to anybody, it doesn’t matter until after the wet season; there’s no impending cases,” and he put it off. Of course I should have storme
d and raged, but I thought It’ll come, but it never did. All the money was shifted by that time. All I have now is Jack Tye's Commonwealth Bank book.

Thelma’s death

Thelma kept running the store at Top Springs after I left, though I heard that all my stuff was stripped and thrown into the river. She just carried on; she had a good helper in Norman Douglas. Before I left they had been surveying the road, and there were two routes. Across the Armstrong near Top Springs was shorter and would have been less road building but would have necessitated a river crossing. The other way didn’t need a river crossing but by-passed Top Springs. George Nemak was undecided but told me he would come our way. When we split up my wife insulted a lot of my friends. I don’t know what she did or said but the road ended up going the other way four miles from the water hole out in the open country. Not long after the store burned down.

Thelma m
oved the store four mile up the road you see, right out in the middle of the big plain, which I think contributed to her death in 1981 when she was about 72. (She is recorded as having died on 10 May 1981 aged 68. She was buried at Katherine on 30 May 1981.) Because its a spear grass plain; you would have a continuous stream of spear grass pollen. I've seen it fly off like a cloud of smoke when you touch it, when its just right, it'll fly off then. We had planned to get out of that place because the spear grass pollen used to blow, and she went and built the new store in a spear grass field, veritably. When she died I was called in for an interview with the coroner’s constable and we had quite a long talk about it with a doctor who said that death was quite likely caused by asthma. (The Coroner later deemed an inquest unnecessary.)

Her mother had died while staying with us at the old store. We had received notice that her mother only had a few months to live. My wife went to Melbourne and elected to bring her back. The old lady didn’t look very sick, but she had terminal cancer and so we just put her up and looked after her and all that. Everything went well until one morning my wife took her a cup of tea about seven o’clock and found she had died. I had previously spoken to Bill Littlejohn, Chief of Police, and showed him the doctor’s letter about the terminal cancer. I needed advice on what to do if she died during the wet when we couldn’t get out. The aerodrome wasn’t open then as we had only just started it. He had told me to wire him if she died, and in light of the letter he would give permission to bury her. So I wired him, but after two days we were still awaiting a reply. In the meantime I had packed her in a box and we had dug a grave. We’d picked a sandy patch near the aerodrome which looked good digging, but after we got down a foot it was tough clay just like solid rock. Anyhow, we got down about four and a half feet and getting narrower and narrower. In that climate we couldn't wait any longer, so we went over and buried her, but took a sheet of iron and some big rocks and put them on top without filling the grave in. I wired Wave Hill police and told them what I had done and we arranged for me to meet the Policeman about half way where he could get to. So I met him all right and we came back and had a drink of tea. Then he wanted to go up to the airport. The ropes were still under the coffin but he didn’t want us to bring her up. He had a good look and got the smell
by this time. So I brought my wife over to read the burial service, then I took her for a drive to settle her down before I went back and filled in the grave. (The headstone was still there fifty years later.)

Thelma was a very good woman in many ways. She looked after Dick Scoby for three days when he broke his back, three days and nights waiting for an ambulance. But her trouble was she became enamored with money. She just couldn’t leave money alone, whether it was mine or anybody elses. Maybe it was vindictiveness towards me; maybe I was partly to blame because I was on the road with the road train sometimes for a week at a time and this left her on her own a lot.

Thelma's death caused a bit of a stir at the time! I have all the reporting, and the full newspaper reports on that, but I could elaborate a little bit further maybe. After she was found dead, a policeman who was at the scene snooped around and found things that he took home and buried in his garden. It should have been safe there unless there is a dog that likes digging while the constable wa
s away on patrol. With notes blowing around the secret was revealed. I'm told the policeman’s senior officer found thirty-nine thousand five hundred in the bag. (The constable pleaded guilty and received a twelve-month jail sentence.)

After Thelma's death the authorities didn't go to much bother to sort out her affairs. I often would have liked to have talked to somebody in the taxation department, but they would have thought I had an axe to grind - which I didn't. I didn't give a stuff about it beca
use I thought I had plenty enough for myself, you know. But as it happened, I didn't quite. Top Springs then went to Thelma’s family in Melbourne - young Apollo.

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