Reflections of a “Country Bumpkin” – Not Always an Angel!

These Reflections were written by my Uncle Truckie (Truxton Leslie Cooper [E.6.13a.2b.1c]) at the repeated requests of his children (my cousins).  Uncle Truckie was the eldest son of Marjorie Cooper [E.6.13a.2b] and died in 2007.  He would have been four years of age c1925.

After joining the Army in WW2, Uncle Truckie served as a Signaler in New Guinea where he was promoted to Sergeant and Mentioned in Dispatches.

Truxton Leslie Cooper
Truxton Leslie Cooper

I have been asked on many occasions to jot down notes on my life, so I have started. I think you will find this writing somewhat mundane but here goes.

The earliest part of my life that I can remember is when I was about 4 yrs old and I was living with my parents on a property that Grandfather Cooper had given to Mum and Dad – I suppose as a wedding present. My Grandfather had held large land holdings in those days and retired a wealthy man. Unfortunately he was good for the soft touch and lent large sums of money to various friends and relatives that were never repaid. Nevertheless he and my Grandmother lived very comfortably for the remainder of their lives.

My parent’s property of about 5000 acres was located on the Gwydir River, about 26 miles from both Uralla and Armidale in a northerly direction. Initially they had only a hut to live in which was quite rudimentary and I remember noting in later years that it was constructed from locally cut timber, and had a dirt floor and newspaper clad walls; I think there were only two rooms. Eventually a proper home was built and this I remember well. Initially one had to go outside to fill kettles etc with water to be heated on the fuel stove. Later on, large tanks were used to supply water to the house via galvanised pipes. The property in those days ran up to about 5000 sheep as it was top grazing land.

I had a fairly free run outside and caused much panic on one occasion by going missing for what could have been hours before finally being found sound asleep in one of the dog kennels.

I was told that I would get a pony for my fourth birthday and each day I would stare at the road that went through the property for the arrival of this pony. Finally it did show up. He was called Peter and he was very well behaved. I thought he was only 2 or 3 years old but was very disappointed to one day find out the truth – he was nearer 30. I had great fun cantering over the paddocks after eventually becoming sufficiently competent as a rider. Nevertheless, I had two or three falls but did not come to any real harm.

Truxton, 4th birthday on his pony, Peter
Truxton, 4th birthday on his pony, Peter at Toa Dolla

One episode that even upsets me today if I think about. It concerns a station hand and my fascination with fire. A great big heap of firewood had been collected and off-loaded in an acre near the dog’s kennels where a fire was burning away, boiling up meat, such as rabbits, to feed them over the next few days. For some crazy reason I thought it would be fun to make a trail of sticks from the fire to the wood heap but then became distracted and left this area. Later on in the day there was a great deal of commotion. The wood heap had gone up in flames and the station hand got sacked.

We regularly went to Sydney either by car or train to stay with one or the other of our Grandparents for a short time. The car trips were something of an adventure as there were few bridges, dirt roads often in bad shape and punctures. One had to stay in a hotel somewhere on the trip and this meant being woken up from the dead, as it was normally late at night when we arrived.

The train trips to me were very fascinating. We always had bunks and they were very comfortable to sleep in, the movement of the carriages rocked one to sleep, however, if the train stopped for any length of time, even at regular stops, let alone stops to allow trains going in the opposite direction to pass, it would be enough to wake me up and look out of the window. There was rarely much to see.

In those days workmen working on the tracks would shout “paper” as we went past, and some passengers would throw a paper out. These workmen lived on the job in tents without much access to the outside world.

I had governesses from time to time, which I detested, but finally when I was six my mother, two brothers and sister and I went to Sydney not ever to return as a family.

We lived for a while in a cottage at Collaroy and I learnt to fish at a local pool for tiddlers, but it was all new to me and helped pass the days – not that I was bored.

Then we all moved to a new home at Roseville and at the age of six I had to start school. This was a problem as I was way behind all the other children scholastically and quite frankly I look back at that time as quite horrifying. Nevertheless I scrambled through the lessons – hating each day.

Not knowing any better, my mother sent me off in a suit with a small suitcase (150 x 200mm), holding sandwiches and a hard-boiled egg. The other children thought all this a great joke and I was teased mercilessly and earned the nickname for a while of “googie”. I was just a country bumpkin in those days and the teasing truly upset me.

I should note that few children had shoes and wore rather haphazard clothing in those (depression) days. My better clothing probably exaggerated the situation.

Eventually I made friends with boys that gave me great support, particularly one Ian Paton. This group of friends did nevertheless get up to some wild times. We were often in stone fights with other gangs and used such weaponry as catapults and slings. Later on even .22 rifles got into the picture but in a fairly harmless way. One lot of boys took to firing shots off a large rock that we were behind on one occasion. The bullets would career off with the typical scream. Like being in cowboy pictures that were the rage at that time. It was not unusual to be walking along a bush track and hear hissing behind somewhere. This was the signal to take off before an explosion. Boys would obtain empty .303 cartridge cases; fill them (usually) with homemade gunpowder and clamp a bit of detonator fuse in the open end. The perpetrator would hide in the bushes until someone walked past. You can guess the rest.

I should mention that explosives were consistently traded at that time as roads were being built and the workmen left such material in very strong and large padlocked boxes, but there was always someone that would find a way to bust one open. Apart from that even a teenager could purchase gelignite and fuse at a local (hardware type) store.

There was one boy a couple of years older than me who often sat on his back steps taking pot-shots with his .22 rifle at the top of his neighbour’s flagpole. One day this neighbour took the pole down to paint it and of course discovered the top full of lead. There was a police car cruising about for weeks, as I guess the neighbour was pretty upset.

Another pastime in those times was making and riding billycarts. Their construction was conventional, one would say, but there was one very important factor and this was that the wheels were of cast iron so that to pull up going downhill at speed one would throw the billycart sideways to skid or slide to a stop. If rubber tyred wheels were used the cart would flip over with nasty consequences for the occupant. It took a lot of practice and time to develop the necessary expertise with the cast iron wheels.

A further pastime was kite flying. If kite kits were available in those days, we certainly did not know, so we had to make our own and they performed very successfully. It was quite common to have aerial battles by sending basket bombs up the string with a slow burning fuse and manoeuvre the firework alongside the opposition. Didn’t often bring down the other kite but it was fun!

Another trick we got up to was to use a largish key that was hollowed out at the lock end as part of its function. Match heads were scraped off the body and inserted into the key hollow followed by a nail. A piece of string was then tied to form a loop to each end of the key. The assembly was then swung round so that the nail hit a brick or concrete wall exploding the match-head material. I figured this was worth trying out one summer afternoon and nicked the laundry door key for the purpose. My first and second attempts did not produce any results at all so I upped the number of match heads for the next attempt. It is worthwhile commenting that it was very quiet that afternoon – about 2pm – and I suppose many local people were having a nap. Opposite our home was a very large paddock with two or three horses browsing or keeping cool under trees. I swung the contraption round my head, with the nail striking the brick wall perfectly and then immediately followed by an almighty explosion. The horses careered off across the paddock, windows went up here and there and I disappeared. So had the key. My Mother never knew why it went missing.

We certainly seemed to be captivated with explosives. To further expand our knowledge in this direction, fireworks were available almost anywhere and very cheaply. On fireworks day most families were involved with a bonfire and all types of exotic fireworks were displayed. Nevertheless, boys generally managed to obtain the really noisy ones such as basket bombs, thunder crackers, etc. The really big ones really did make an incredible noise

The day came when I was about 12 to be sent to Mosman Preparatory School in Mosman courtesy of my Grandmother Cooper. This involved fairly long trips each day. A ten minute walk to the station, train to St Leonards, then tram to Mosman and walk to the school, but I would have travelled twice the distance if I’d had to because the school was such a delight. By that I mean the boys and teachers were so friendly and helpful.

It was not long after that time that we all moved to Mosman. Both my brothers, Bruce and Philip subsequently went to Mosman Prep.

Several times I rode my push bike from Roseville to Mosman Prep and it was quite an adventure in those days. The biggest problem was the tram tracks into which the thin bike wheels could drop and jamb if one did not take care. This was a particular hazard going past the tram depot at Neutral Bay.

We next moved to a house in Cremorne and travelling to school became much more pleasant.

We moved about quite a lot at this time. I think our Mother kept finding a home which was available at a lower rent or had some location advantage. On at least two occasions the move was to a larger house so she could take in boarders to provide better living conditions. The streets we lived in were Cabramatta Road, Musgrave Street, Ben Boyd Road, Balmoral Avenue, Spencer Road and finally Rangers Avenue.

I had a hobby at that time making model aeroplanes that flew. Mostly they were built with balsa wood frames and some sort of thin light paper that was varnished to stretch it tight. Power was supplied using large rubber bands. The best one I made took off from the backyard went up and up and still kept climbing after the propeller stopped. I rushed out into the street with my bike but finally lost sight of it and never saw it again, much to my extreme sorrow.

One day I was riding my bike along Raglan Street and took my hands off the handle bars to better adjust my trouser belt around my waist; I had an extremely thin waist and always had trouble keeping my belt at waist height. There was not another vehicle in sight yet it so happened that a pair of policemen came down the street in a motorcycle with sidecar and much to my astonishment pulled me over for taking my hands off the handlebars as I did not know that such a rule even existed. Much to my dismay I ended up in North Sydney court before a Magistrate and copped a five shilling fine.

Whilst I was at Mosman Prep I was introduced to so-called crystal sets, a very elementary radio or wireless as it was called in those days. I somehow obtained some instructions on how to make one of these sets and actually constructed the coil under my desk during class. When finally assembled it functioned very well indeed and I was fascinated and went on to make improved versions but they mostly performed very similarly as I recall.

Finally I moved on to “Shore” school for two years finally leaving to work in the hard world at various radio organisations in the city.

In 1940 I joined the army and was allocated to a Signals unit located at Middle Head. There we were taught the Morse code and how to operate various military transceivers (which performed the dual function of receiving and transmitting radio signals). This was mostly a very boring time as the military forces were busy organising their functions.

[box type=”note” icon=”none”]Just a reminder that, if you have older relatives, take the opportunity now to talk to them and record their memories for posterity. Other useful sources for memories can be diaries, old letters, and friends who might have shared many events and times with that relative. These memories can be posted on this website and stored in the HAFS archives for future generations.[/box]

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