Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Joe


By the time I met my future in-laws, I was already engaged to their son. Fixit Guy and I had met whilst we were both living on Groote Eylandt, which is in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He was a graduate engineer with a mining company and I went there to teach at the local school. We had fallen in love and decided to get married before either of us had met any of the other's family.

My father in law's name was Bert but his wife and sons called him Joe. My mother in law used to call him Joe Blow for some reason and when my husband was a toddler he picked up on this and called him Joe as well. When I arrived on the scene I called them Dad and Mum from the start but after a few days he told me since I was going to be part of the family I should call him Joe.

Everyone else called him Bert or Bertie... except his wife and 3 boys and now me... oh and my family. They would hear me refer to them as Mum and Joe and they started to call them Nancy and Joe instead of Bert. My cousin even called them Aunty Nancy and Uncle Joe. My FIL was a real gentleman and he never corrected them or chided them about this mistake. He was a sweetie

He was born in the UK in 1924 he was one of 9 children. His mum was a widow with  5 children already when she got together with his dad and had another 4 children. His father died when he was 9 and at 13 he came out to Australia to live with his half brother Ted. He traveled out on his own leaving his mum and other siblings behind as he had a passion for horses and Ted was living and working on a north Queensland cattle station where there were lots of horses. He was put in the care of another family on the boat but still...what a big journey to undertake without your family with you. I can only imagine the concern his mother must have felt waving goodbye to him. 

The plan was for the rest of the family to join him shortly but the war which started 2 years later and the health of his half sister Iris who had a degenerative condition that precluded her from immigrating thwarted those plans. Australia wouldn't accept her for immigration and her mother wouldn't leave her behind. 

His younger sister Joyce was only 11 when he left and he never saw her or his brother who was 15 when he left, again. His brother was killed in the 2nd world war in the merchant navy and Joyce never left England and Joe never returned. In 2010 I traveled to the UK for a holiday with our oldest 2 children and it was the first Joyce had seen of Bert's family at all in over 70 years.

Young Bert, or Joe as I call him, went to live on the cattle station with his brother which was owned by cousins of Ted on his father's side. Bert worked on that station for the next 28 years as stockman and horse breaker. For fun he was an amateur jockey and also competed in local shows in a variety of events

Riding All Talk Joe won the high jump at the Ingham Show. Its an event that is no longer run... I can see why

He continued to live on the land and work with horses the rest of his life - working for other people until 1970 when he drew a block in a land ballot. Spring Park, as they called their new home, was close to where Joe had started his life in Australia. By this time he had been married to my mother in law Nancy for many years and they had 3 sons. He worked that property till he died in 2003 aged 79 when he was killed in a motor vehicle accident. His sons, my brothers in law continue to work the property today helped by their wives and children. 

As well as being a skilled horseman and cattleman, my father in law was a very creative man. He always had projects on the go. He used to make fancy dress costumes for his son to wear to the annual fancy dress parade. His boys often won prizes because of his clever ideas and creative constructions. He wasn't averse to dressing up himself
Stubby (bottle of beer) 

Dressing up as a young woman before his marriage.

They lived a long way out in the bush so it wasn't easy to get to a shop if you ran out of materials with which to work. For many years he work cattle horns, scraping back the hard outside surface and exposing the richly coloured horn underneath, polishing it till is shone. He started to run short on this material after a while as he deliberately bread polly cattle (cattle without horns) and dehorned the calves at branding time (horns are not only dangerous to the cattle man working the beasts, but the animals can hurt each other. The horn also can bruise and injury flesh which devalues the carcass after slaughtering) For this reason he was absolutely delighted when he saw the wood lathe that I had bought Fixit Guy one year. Timber was in plentiful supply on the property and he could see endless possibilities for projects.

He bought himself one soon after and later graduated to much heavier lathes in time. He made all manner of beautiful things. Bowls of all shapes and sizes for a start and then he got into turning legs for tables, lamp stands, hat stands. He did beautiful work and we were delighted to receive many bowls as gifts over the years. He loved to give his work away too... but not just to anyone. He would especially love to give a gift to people he thought might get over looked by others. 

During one drought a men's club some where on the hinterland behind Cairns I think it was, organised for a truckload of hay to be bought down to the farmers in the Charters Towers district. To be honest the amount of hay each person got wasn't great and of course it was costly for them to come into town to collect the hay from the truck, but the glaziers in the district were grateful. It was the fact that some one somewhere was thinking about them and was concerned for them and wanted to help. Joe turned a bowl for the organizer of the appeal as a way of thanking him for his concern.

Over time my brothers in law and wives became involved with a camp draft and at some point it was mentioned that there wasn't a trophy for one section so Joe made a trophy for the event. This became an annual thing. After he died Fixit Guy took on making the trophy and it was named after my father in law. A few years later following my mother in laws death the trophy became a joint one.

I had always intended to make a quilt for Joe or at least one for him to share with Mum but he died whilst I was still thinking about it. I made it for Mum instead but always with him in mind. The design was a jar block - a block made to look like a jar. The jar part was made from picture or eye spy fabric so it looked like it was a jar full of ... whatever. This block was particularly appropriate for my in laws as Joe was a great gardener and always had a big veggie patch. Being so far out of town (150 kms to the nearest grocery shop) it was better to be self sufficient as much as possible. Mum bottled much of the excess produce and made lots of jam and chutney too. My jars were filled with all sorts of items that reflected their life together. Sorry about the bad photos but this is the only photo I have of the quilt at all and it isn't even finished. They were taken before the quilt was basted and quilted and bound.

1 comment:

  1. Your father-in-law certainly lived an amazing life. I can't imagine moving that far away from my mother at such a young age. And to never see two of his siblings again? Just unfathomable to me. People used to be made of stronger stuff I suppose. Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie