Tom Burton

Tom owns and lives on a 305 acre property along the Gap Road to Bendoc. He has done since 1st January 1949, when he moved there at the age of 7.

The block was first selected in 1941, and at that time the buyer had to serve what they called a “6 year residential term”, during which the owner was obliged to undertake certain improvements to the property. Tom thinks the improvements required, needed to amount to twice the price paid per acre. Extensions were given on top of the 6 years if needed, and when the improvements were completed, then your lease was endorsed. Tom bought the block from the original lessee.

On the block was a little shed with a fireplace in which Tom and his brother-in-law set up camp, rising at 5 or 6 o’clock the next morning to clear the timber and build the house.

In the 35 years that Tom has been there, he’s seen lots of changes.

He tells his story:

“There used to be a mail run twice a week, but it was pretty haphazard. It would be due say at 1.30, but invariably if you went up with a letter to catch the post, the mail would be early and you’d miss it, but if you went without any mail, you’d have to wait for an hour or more because the thing was late?(*)

There was a truck carrier twice a week from Orbost, but I think that finished in ’64 or ’65. Phil Prendergast ran it for a time and he provided an excellent service. You couldn’t complain in any way whatsoever. It didn’t matter what you wanted, Phil would get it. You never knew where the things came from until you got an account a month later. Phil had a very good memory. If you mentioned to him in passing that you might need to buy a few more cows next spring, then sure enough he would remember and mention it when the time drew near.

The first telephone line was just a wire strung from tree to tree. I heard announced in the budget that they were extending the distance from within a mile of the Post Office to within 15 miles of the Post Office, so I applied immediately. I filled out the application form (which was an old one still in £’s), and paid the £5 deposit in September. I received a prompt reply but it said “when funds become available”. I couldn’t understand it. How could all the funds be spent already? So I contacted Peter Nixon who promised he’d do all he could to help – but I still didn’t get any action on my telephone so eventually I wrote and asked for my deposit back. And they did sent it back!??

The power line came through on the proviso that the locals cleared the line themselves. That was in 1967, I think the 4th of July.

All this road was hand grubbed, but with the heavy traffic on it, what with the timber going to Orbost, the road got cut up. Also there’d be parts of the root system from the trees still in the road and these eventually rotted, breading up the surface and letting water in. There was no maintenance being done. The men were there but very little work was done. You see the trucks used to travel in the one place and they’d create bit gutters from the wheel. So if you didn’t straddle them then you got yourself bridged. Many a time I’ve helped people out of trouble on the road- gone up with tilly lamp and tractor to pull them out. I wouldn’t do it now though, you’d get booked for having an unregistered tractor. It’s a bit silly really – you’re not supposed to use your common sense, just follow the law.

There was a foreign family living in Bendoc for a while and it used to be a daily occurrence for that chap to get his truck into bother. The wife and kids must have had a hard time, because everything he earned would have been spend on truck repairs.

One distinct change has been the decline in the number of people living along this road, and the Clarksville Road, and the Haydens Bog Road, also. People are shifting away and properties are being sold to people who chose to live elsewhere.

The mill situation has changed also. There were quite a few small mills. When I worked as a feller, the mill intake was between one and one and a quarter million super feet of timber and that employed 10 to 12 men. I would like to know the present ratio of men employed to timber intake in Bendoc now. I wouldn’ t think it would measure up.

Making a living off the land

We ran our dairy up until 8 years ago. We used to milk 40 cows and send the cream down to Orbost via the mail. Towards the end, I made two trips down to Orbost to speak to the manager because things just didn’t seem right, but he kept telling me everything was okay. He assured me that on arrival our cream would be stored in the coolroom, but when I made the second trip down the day after our cream had left, and sure enough there it was still sitting in the sun. Well, I thought to myself. That’s the first coolroom I’ve ever seen with a sun porch on it!

For the last 12 months of dairying, when Orbost no longer would take the cream, I investigated the possibility of sending it to Pambula (NSW), but I wasn’t sure about the regulations. I got onto Peter Nixon who in turn contacted the Minister for Primary Industry and word was sent back to me that it would be okay. But the Dairy Supervisor in NSW objected to the Manager of the Pambula Factory, saying that he would have to come and inspect my dairy. But really I don’t think he had any right to do that. So one day the Dairy Inspector from Orbost and his boss visited, and I related this to them. Their comment was: “He’s wrong. We’ll find out and let you know. They did let me know and it turned out that at that time there were no regulations to stop dairy produce being sent interstate if it was for manufacture. After 12 months however, Pambula no longer needed the supply and the next option was Bemboka, which was just too far.

Two things stopped the dairying around here:- the factories changing hands and being amalgamated, plus wool and beef production became more worthwhile. Amalgamations have never been a good thing for the small suppliers. I don’t know of any who benefited them. I tried to tell them down in Orbost but they wouldn’t listen. After the amalgamation had happened, there appeared a notice in one of the local papers pointing out the price paid to suppliers before and after. They hadn’t gained. There was one particular chap in Orbost that I tried to convince and happened to see him in the street after this notice had been in the paper. I just said to him “Did you see that bit in the paper?” I didn’t have to say which one because he knew what I was talking about. He just hung his head down and said “Yes” and walked on. Of course it was too late to do anything by then.”

Coping with the Climate

There was quite a big snow fall in 1949 about 2½ feet. It was our first winter here. We were virtually marooned. Keith Bent and Harry Jamieson cleared the road and brought food out, but it was almost a month before I was able to get back to working properly on the farm.

The last three winters here have been mild really. I’d say we’d be in for a big one again, if not this year, then the one after.

Mrs Burton: “I think if you watch the overseas climate then you can know what to expect here.”

The year before last, my gears on the car got clogged up due to snow. I had to come home in second gear. Often it was not the amount of snow but the sort of weather that comes with it!

I think that was in 1949 that the wattle cutting finally ceased. With the heavy fall of snow the wattles were all smashed and bowed over. The wattle being cut was used for making cases. There were two types of wattle, white-wooded wattle which is good for timber, and red-wooded which isn’t any good. You only have to think about nailing and it would split.

Cost of living

People complain about the cost of living these days, but I’ve given this a lot of thought. I can remember buying a bucket of plums for jam-making for two shillings. In those days that was a quarter of a day’s wage. If you tried to sell a bucket of plums tomorrow in Orbost for a quarter of a day’s wage you?d probably be locked up!

We used to pay sixteen shillings for a pair of boots and that was equivalent to two day’s wage. Here was more in the tongue of those boots than you’d get in the whole sole that you buy now-a-days.

Forest Resources

I’m not against wood chipping, just the way it’s done. If they know that it will be eighty years till they’ll be able cut timber like this again, then they should build mills that will cut the timber over the eighty years. I think the money may be their only consideration.

If there’s a market for something, some people aren’t satisfied ’till they’ve glutted it. Then in the end there isn’t enough, and they will when there’s nothing left.

Mrs Burton. “Money should never be the only important thing. If you’ve got food to eat, and a roof over your head, then that’s the main thing.”

Tom: “Were not selling our woodchips overseas, we’re giving it away! Less than twelve months ago landowners were getting $1 a ton, and that’s no money what so ever. The carter may be making money, the loader might be making money, the feller and mill might be making money, but the land owner isn’t getting the money for the trees. And that’s not to mention the mess that needs to be cleared up after they leave. Land speculators are using this. They’re buying blocks, having them chipped, and offering them for re-sale again.”

Farming

“We used to raise pigs and I put in a lot of time studying them. Old tanks cut in half length ways and turned upside down made good shelters. I found the pigs had healthy litters if they were born on the ground in the paddocks. It’s like getting back to nature for them.

Pigs have a very strong homing instinct. I had one lot brought in and unloaded in the paddock and I shifted them immediately to a place where I could keep an eye on them. The next morning they had disappeared and I found them all asleep on the ground in the exact spot where they’d been unloaded.

When it came to weaning the pigs I’d put them in pens and weigh out their fodder. I read a lot and knew how much they needed, and by doing that I knew exactly when they were ready for the butcher.

I never drenched one pig during the last five years of having them. I one of the litter is poor then some people assume its “wormy”, and drench, but I watched the litters and invariably the poor one turned out to be a slow-eater and just wasn’t getting its fair share of the feed. Feeding it separately solved the problem.

On the dairy side f things, I originally bought two heifers from Jack Legge, and one of them was a long, lanky-legged animal, but for years it was my highest producer. I believe you need to cull heavily in order to get what you want.

Back when I started farmed I had a choice like everyone else; either to stick to it, or get out. If you stuck to it some people called you stubborn, and some people called you stupid. But really, if you got out then, you would never have your input back anyway, so I stuck it out.

Successful farming means very hard work and lots of it. Wool prices at present aren’t too bad, but beef prices are far too low. There’s going to have to be a real shake up in the industry. I think its going to be up to the farmers to straighten it out. If farmers don?t make a big enough profit from their farms, they?ll end up starving on them.

People don’t question things enough. Ask questions, and look for answers, I always say. Fact finding, that’s what we should all be doing a bit of, and then when you’ve found the information you are looking for, believe it, and act on it!.