Location: Queensland, Australia
Surnames/tags: Sheaf Greet
Memories of Thomas Sheaf 1901-1968 by his great-niece Pene Greet.
We often used to go for picnics on Sundays, Rollingstone Creek above the bridge, where we’d have the creek to ourselves. You turned off the highway and drove a short way up a road which passed over the creek a couple of kilometers from the highway. We’d rarely see another car for hours when we were there. We’d build stone dams, have a picnic lunch, maybe boil the billy. Sometimes Dad and Mum would walk up the creek and look for orchids. Sometimes we’d gather stones, or leaf mulch, for the garden at home. We spent many Sundays there.
Sometimes we went to Crystal Creek. It was further away, half way up Mt Spec. There was an old stone bridge over the creek. The bridge was built by hand during the depression when labour was cheap. Rainforest towered over the creek. The water was clear and fresh. Cool. There were big rocks surrounding deep clear pools and when you were really game you leapt off the rocks plummeting into the pools below. The highest rocks were maybe 40 feet above the water, you’d feel the rush of air before hitting the surface. You had to be careful. Sometimes we’d take a net and catch freshwater yabbies. Mostly we were playing in the water for hours of fun.
Occasionally we’d head further afield -up to the top of Mt Spec, or even Wallaman Falls west of Ingham. Paluma Dam was past the top of Mt Spec. It was Townsville’s water supply. It was a long drive but you could swim, collect raspberries along the side of the road or elkhorns, staghorns and other ferns on the forestry tracks that led off the main road. Where the trees had been felled, the ferns would be left on the forest floor. The road was dirt once you turned off the Hidden Valley road. It twisted through the forest 30 or so kilometres to the dam. I can’t remember the exact distance. It always seemed a long way to a kid who’d already spent an hour or two in the car.
One day, as we pulled up at Paluma Dam having spent two or more hours in the car, we passed a group or six or seven old blokes standing around in a group. That was pretty unusual. There often wasn’t anyone else at the dam let alone a group of old blokes. As we passed them Dad slowed down and appeared to be looking carefully at them. I guess I assumed he was checking they were safe. I was glad when we went a way further down the track to the edge of the water so that we wouldn’t be near them.
We stopped and everyone piled out of the car as you do at the end of a trip. We were into the water for a swim before lunch. Mum poked around the bush before preparing lunch and then calling us all together for lunch. Dad came to lunch – ‘One of those old blokes is my Uncle Tom,’ he said. I wasn’t aware that my father had an Uncle! How had he possibly recognized him from a distance like that? Dad had an Uncle and he was one of those old blokes gathered around down the track.
Dad exchanged addresses with Uncle Tom. He was a prospector. Found enough tin to live on from scratching around Hidden Valley. The group of old blokes we’d seen were all prospectors from around the area meeting up for a chat and an excursion on a Sunday. When in town, Uncle Tom lived in a boarding house. Boarding houses were foreign concepts to me as a child. Everyone I knew lived in houses. Uncle Tom had a room in the boarding house where he kept his few possessions for when he came to town. A bed and a wardrobe contained his life’s possessions. I had no idea how he got around. He didn’t have a car. Sometimes we’d go and pick him up and bring him home for tea. He was pretty old at this stage. I was about 10, so Dad would have been about forty so Uncle Tom was maybe sixty something.
We saw him a few times over the next year or eighteen months. Uncle Tom was a prospector and used a dowsing rod or wire. He reckoned he could find water and walked over our yard with the wire. He showed us how to do it and I remember feeling a kick in the wire at certain places. He also showed us how to find gold. Mum put her wedding ring under one of 3 cups at the kitchen table and Uncle Tom could always tell which one it was under. He was quite old to someone under ten – maybe 65 or 66. Wore clothes I thought of as old – I’m not sure if they were old in style or plain old. He was always clean and when he visited us worn dark trousers and a white shirt but then most old men did in those days.