In 1953, after doctors prescribed fresh country air for his health, Robert Wales uprooted his young family from the city life of Sydney and set out to establish a sheep farm in Walcha. Angela Wales, the eldest of the five children, reflects on what it was like to grow up in mid-century rural Australia. Here is the third extract from her book 'Barefoot in the bindis'.
"Heave away, hove away," the boys and I shouted, as we glided over the water. "Land ahoy," we yelled. Balanced precariously in our little flat-bottomed boat, we paddled with all our might, the skull and crossbones flag fluttering in the breeze. The Hispaniola, an old sea-trunk turned boat, was newly painted green, with her name spelled out in decorative gold lettering on her stern. Our father had installed wooden seats, a mast, and even a wooden prow with a carved mermaid. Sometimes it paid to have a father who was a frustrated artist.
We pushed on into the centre of the dam's muddy brown water, where no man had been before, and then to the opposite shore, where he had. When I hopped out to pull the boat ashore in the way my father had shown us, the twins continued to sit there, disappointed there was not more. So I pushed them back in and they paddled happily round in more circles.
With the drought scare of 1957 fresh in his mind, my father had decided to build a new dam in the front paddock, on the other side of the Cheyenne road, not too far from the sheep yards and shearing shed. With some help from Buddy Blomfield, he began this task himself, fitting a blade to the tractor, and a grader came out from Walcha to finish the job, which took another few days. The dam was to hold perhaps 250,000 gallons of water and would help shore us up against another dry spell.
Miraculously at the next rains the dam did indeed fill with water, and we could even swim in it, although the water was muddy, the banks were gravelly and there was no nearby shade. But we had our new boat, the Hispaniola, to take us to imaginary far-away places, if we screwed up our eyes hard enough.
We were to take the Hispaniola to the river at Waterloo and to holiday picnics beside various dams around the district for several years, where it was to delight dozens of other Walcha children. About this time, a leaflet from the government came through the mail. It seemed we were under threat, and the Russians might drop a nuclear bomb on us at any time.
The leaflet advised that the nuclear fallout could spread for thousands of miles, and that no-one was immune. It said we should take a supply of food and water, go into a room with no windows, and wait there for three days.
"What will we do?" I asked my mother. "We don't have a room without windows, unless you count the hallway outside the bathroom. How can we save ourselves?"
Her reply was philosophical. "We'll worry about it when the time comes. Just now we have bigger things to worry about."
Clearly, if my parents weren't worried about it, then it would be up to me to help keep the family safe. I spent several sleepless nights figuring out how to rig up a curtain of wet blankets across the small hallway outside the bathroom, how to make sure there was enough water and food, and otherwise worrying about what we would all do in the event of an attack.