A Spanish Settler at Yoongarillup

A Spanish Settler at Yoongarillup

Stories of life on the pioneer farms near Busselton, SW of WA

Speaker: Joe Torrent
Date: 1986, speaking about 1910s and 1920s
Topic: Spanish settlement at Yoongarillup, SW of WA

My father’s name was Miguel Torrent. He was born in Spain, in the province of Catalonia at a town called San Feliu De Guixols, in 1878. My mother’s name was Aurora Toro, and she was born in the province of Catalonia in Spain, at San Feliu De Guixols in 1879.
My father worked for his father as a vigneron. He learnt the trade of wine making and cultivating vines from his father. His father owned a vineyard, winery and road house, and I believe that one of the reasons why they decided to come to Australia, was because they looked into the future and the roadhouse was a sort of a half-way house between two towns. They must have had an inkling about traffic moving faster, and they realised that when this happened, the road house wouldn’t get much custom. So they decided to move to Australia.

Now my father couldn’t talk a word of English, and it amazes me how he soon learnt to talk the language. He learnt to talk it, he learnt to read it, and he learnt to write it. I think that was a pretty big achievement for a fellow that had never spoke English in his life.

Well, Mr Bill Reilly happened to be in charge of Land Settlement in the Busselton area, and my father decided that he would like to purchase a block of land, so he bought this one hundred and sixty acres that we now live on, on the recommendation of Mr Bill Reilly. Now, his ambition was to clear some land and build a house so that he could bring out from Spain, my mother and brother Andrew, who he had left behind in Spain, awaiting the time when he would be in a position to bring them out to this new country.
He worked for Mr Bill Reilly and also started to clear the land on his block at Yoongarillup. I believe that he first put up a tent, cleared a few acres of land, and took on the job of sleeper cutting. Now, after about two years of working for Mr Bill Reilly, as a sleeper cutter and also catching possums, he then decided to bring out my mother, brother Andrew, who was four years old at that time, and my grand-father and an uncle.

Incidentally, when my father left Spain, he was a clean shaven man and when my mother met him on the ship at Fremantle, she looked for a clean shaven man. Instead, she saw a man with a big, red beard walking up the jetty towards them, and she couldn’t understand. She thought there was something familiar about him, but she didn’t realise it was him until he got quite close. He grew this big, red beard, and through the years, well, we knew him with a big beard, and of course, in the years to come, the beard turned white.

When my mother and uncle and grandfather arrived in Western Australia, they immediately came to Yoongarillup where my father had built a humpy, or a hut built of mostly timber and hessian and corrugated iron. From there my uncle and grandfather decided to buy a block at Yoongarillup. This was one mile towards Busselton from the old homestead that my father owned. They immediately set to and cleared a few acres of land, planted grapes, and fruit trees. Now the main use of the grapes was wine. As long as I can remember, they made wine. My father made wine, and my grandfather and uncle made wine, and they sold it by the bottle. I think it was about eleven pennies a bottle.
I remember all the encouragement we got from our parents. My grandfather, of course, he was a great worker, and he always said, ‘You know, if you work the land and you work hard, you’ll come out on top. You can’t beat growing food for people.’
I’m not sure how old my grandfather was, but he was a pretty active man. He was a sort of a replica of my father. He had a beard, and it was pretty white by then. I thought he was about one hundred, but I don’t think he was that old.
Well, my first recollection of the first home we ever lived in was a long sort of four rooms with a kitchen in the centre, and then it had a bedroom each end, and then a couple of side rooms- a couple of more bedrooms. In the centre room which was the living room was a huge fireplace. You’d bring a log in you could hardly carry. Or my father would bring it in, pop it on the fire and, in the winter, this would be burning all the time. It’d never go out. This would really keep the whole house warm. Well, the roof was of corrugated iron. The sides were mostly of hessian, both inside and outside, they’d line it with hessian. Around the fireplace was slabs hewn from jarrah. Of course, jarrah was plentiful those days and easy to split.
Bathroom, I don’t think they had such a thing as a bathroom. They had a tub, and when you wanted to bath, people used to have this tub and have a bath in the tub. Of course, in the summer we’d always go to the river and have our bath in the river. Water was carted from the river in the early days, but then my father dug a well, and that was close to the house and the water was pulled up with, I think it was a Spanish windlass. You know, there was a pole with a bucket on the end of it, and a weight on the other end of it. You’d pull this pole down, fill the bucket and let it go, and up would go the bucket and then you’d tip it in another bucket. They’d take it inside, and you’d have two buckets in the kitchen. Another one outside where you washed your face and all that, and that was where they got the water from. When they wanted a bath, they would boil a kerosene tin of water, tip it in the tub and that’s what went on. There was no showers or bathroom those days. I’m talking of a long time back, you know. That’s how things were as I remember.
The toilet facilities were the old-fashioned pan and toilet outside, quite away from the house. It’s not that many years ago that they didn’t have night carts in the town, you know. So it was out in the country (I’m talking about a long time ago when I was in my teens, or twelve, or something like that) and laundry facilities, well, I think at some stage there they used to cart the washing down to the river. Washed down there, it was all done by hand. They’d boil the water in a kerosene tin and have a tub and a washboard, and wash by hand. This went on for years, I should imagine, when we were all kids. That was the facilities they had those days. I think it was pretty hard going.
For lighting, well, there was candles and there were hurricane lamps, and the old hurricane lamp was a fairly good thing. There was plenty of them around. Everyone had a hurricane lamp. The good thing about them, you know, if you heard a noise outside you could pick up the hurricane lamp and take your light with you.
Cooking facilities, well, in the early days of my recollection, the camp ovens were in the vogue. Mum’d cook, and I can tell you, some of the best meals I’ve ever had have come out of a camp oven. She would use the camp oven on this big fire. She had a big camp oven, and she would cook the meals on this big open fireplace. It must have been years before she got a stove. But she used to make all her own bread. All came out of the camp oven, and I tell you, it was good bread. The cooking was very good.
Well, on the housing, then my father thought he would try to do something better as far as housing went, and he drew up a plan, and built a house mostly of iron roof and timber sides. One wall was built of flattened out kerosene tins, and that is the basis of the house we’re actually living in now. We’ve improved it as the years went by, and modernised it, and built a couple of rooms onto it, but basically we’re still in the old house my father built, about sixty years ago. Of course, we’ve got inside toilet now and all the facilities you can imagine, electric light, and things like that. . Now, home on the property that I live on now, or we live on, there are orange trees growing on this property that have been there as long as I can remember, as on the river bank. They grow oranges every year. They are beautiful trees and they must have been planted as soon as they arrived on the farm.
But the most impressive thing that I can remember is the old style, when we had hurricane lamps and candles and a big fire that we’d sit around. My father would tell stories and read books every night by this fire. That’s something I’ll never forget. Yes, my father, every night he would read to us kids and we’d sit around the fire. I recall one particular book that he - (I don’t know how many times he read it out), he must have read it out more than once, and this book was named ‘Kit Carson in the Rocky Mountains.’ He used to like reading us this book. He’d only read a small portion every night, and then he’d say, ‘Right, bedtime.’ And we’d wait for next night.
We’d always have sulphur and treacle every Saturday. Mum would mix the sulphur and treacle all up and then we’d all line up and have a big spoonful of that. Most of us wanted two spoons, but that seemed to keep us in good order, you know. We were never that sick, really, but if we got a cold, a really bad cold, mum used to get the fat off the chook. When she killed a chook, she used to take the fat off its stomach or ribs, and she used to keep that somewhere, and if we really got bad she’d heat that up and put one piece on our chest, and the other one on our back, and wrap it up. That was an old remedy I suppose but by gee, it used to work.
And then there was a little flower that grew along the river; I think it was a little pinky sort of a flower on a little bush. If we ever got bilious or anything like that, mum would say, ‘Look, go down to the river and pick that little pink flower.’ And we’d go down and pick a bunch of that, bring it home and mum would boil it and it would turn out just like black tea. We’d have a cup of this and we’d be pretty good
If you cut yourself, I think they used to mostly just wash it in Condy’s, I think. Condy’s was always around. And that was it, wrap it up, and it’d probably get better. Kerosene, of course, that was used. You know, you always had to have a bottle of kerosene because you had to have hurricane lamps with kerosene in it. That was often tipped on if you had a bruise or something like that. Also, if you had a bad cold, you’d get a big spoonful of sugar, one drop of kerosene and you’d swallow that, and by gee, it seemed to be fairly effective, although she was pretty severe.
In Spain, when somebody had a bad cut, they looked around and found all these cobwebs and stopped the bleeding. So that’s what we did there.
But they were all remedies, and we all got through it, you know.

Of course, after the hall was built, I think it was 1922, they’d hold a dance. Now, the dances were held in the hall every week. Never missed a week, every Saturday night there was a dance at the hall and everyone went. They mostly walked or went by horse and cart, and maybe someone would have a truck and they would bring out a truckload from Busselton. The floor was really slippery and done up to be really good.
The band, those days, they usually played free. Somebody would have a concertina, an accordion and then they bought the piano and the music was mostly played by a Mr Bennett, who later became my father-in-law. Two of his daughters, my wife Maude, and Rhoda, they would play a lot of the dances. Then they gradually got a band together. There was the drums, the oboe, and the piano. Maybe they started charging then, I think it was about ten shillings a night, or something like that. I think it was about eleven pennies to go into the hall, or something to do with taxation.
But everyone had a tremendous time those days. They danced together. There were quite a few fights, I might say. Alcohol – well my father made wine and my uncle and grandfather made wine, and people bought this wine and had it hidden outside somewhere, and always had a swing at this wine. Never seemed to hurt them much though.
The children were all part of it. They all attended the dances and they could all really dance you know. As a matter of fact, if there were too many kids, they always had special dances for children. We always had supper. People around the district, they all brought a plate of supper, and everyone had a supper. I think we generally knocked off about twelve or half past twelve.

I suppose peoples’ attitudes have changed all right, because everything goes faster these days. Those days, if you drove along the road and you met somebody, the fellow next door, we had a good old talk, and if you met someone at the gate he wouldn’t just tear past. He’d just stop and have a bit of a yarn, “How are you going? What’s going on?”
People seemed to have more time. Now, if you’re standing at the gate or on the road, and you don’t jump out of the way, they’ll probably run over the top of you. People, they’ve changed all right, because no-one seems to have the time they used to have. It’s just one big rush, and whether it gets people anywhere or not, I’m a bit doubtful. Yes, it could have changed for the worse in those respects.

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