Sleeping Out

Whilst speaking to Prue Wootton the other day I mentioned a word which fascinated me as a child and yet another colourful one that has disappeared from our Aussie language…

Grandfather Brady was a very handsome man, tall and with wonderful posture which he attributed to the discipline of his father who had been both a soldier and a policeman and Grandfather often recalled how as a child he was made march up and down with a broomstick placed across his back under his arms to make sure he kept a straight back. Grandfather was also a great lover of the out doors and tent life. No matter how luxurious and comfortable were the many homes he had lived in, nothing appealed to him more than living ‘under canvas’. In his latter years his home was a row of tents erected well off the ground with wooden floors and covered completely by a galvanised roof.

He was a great advocate of fresh air and I well remember the time he literally stormed into Mione’s and my room one morning waking us up as he rushed over to the windows, opening them wide and roaring, “How do you think you will make old age, you will never even make twenty-one, if you sleep with the windows closed.” Perhaps he had a word of advice in Dad’s ear for from that time on we slept for at least nine months of the year on the newly added veranda at “Raheen.” (‘Raheen’ was then situated further down the hill.) It was boarded up for about four feet and there was a canvas roller blind for protection, if needed during inclement weather. We soon discovered the wonder of lying in our beds looking out at starry skies and listening to the sounds of the night. In autumn there would be the familiar silhouette of lines of drying apples, which had been previously peeled, cored then cut into rings and threaded on string to dry for winter pies. Approaching winter we would listen to the Boobook owl with it’s lonely call ‘mopoke’, the sound as it was interpreted by the early settlers, led them to refer to the bird as Mopoke owl. It also reminded them of the sound of the cuckoo in their European homelands.

One morning we were sitting on our beds when we had an unexpected visitor, an Eden identity, who spoke of the recent drowning of a man whose body had washed up on the Wonboyn beach. “Still had his boots on,” he related, “damn good boots, too,” and pointing down towards his feet said, “I’m wearing them.” Our mother was absolutely disgusted and later, relating the story to Dad referred to “that dreadful man ‘robbing the grave’.” Somehow, whilst the fellow was there, the conversation got around to religion and he made the shocking revelation to our Mother that he didn’t believe in it (another reason for her thinking he was a ‘dreadful man’.) He continued by saying, “I’m a Callathumpian!” Mione and me had never heard of the term before! We sneaked away to laugh hysterically. We called each other Callathumpians and it rolled off our tongues for days as we linked it to everyone we knew. “Mrs. So and So ” is a Callathumpian.”… “Mr What’s his name is a Callathumpian!” We never missed anyone in our township nor district. We children certainly didn’t think our visitor was dreadful, we thought him quite wonderful, for he had enhanced our vocabulary.

We were never nervous ‘sleeping out’ for they were safe years, the era of unlocked doors. There were few mosquitoes then to disturb what had become familiar nocturnal sounds. We slept well knowing our faithful Queensland blue heeler cattle dog, ‘Bluey’ was never far from the step outside. Sometimes we would read by the light from the kerosene hurricane lamps but mostly we were just happy to snuggle down under our warm rugs. They had been made from one of the many bolts of material salvaged from the “SS Saros” wrecked at Cape Everard on Christmas Day 1937. Along with hundreds of other items, they were auctioned at our ‘old’ Mallacoota Hall. Having a lined pattern enabled it to be easily cut into good sized rugs. For good measure, Mum cut three-inch thin strips on two ends forming a fringe to make them look more authentic.

When we slept indoors our beds had starched linen and lace pillow shams and white Marseilles quilts. The latter had come from another wrecked ship; (the “SS Riverina” which grounded near Gabo Island on April 17th, 1927) and had an embossed “H.P.” (Huddart-Parker Line) in the centre. Marseilles, a double cloth fabric and printed in the loom, was a popular material for bed covers during that era. (Years later when my children were quite small, I dyed those quilts pastel shades. What sacrilege!)

We loved ‘sleeping out’ and being awakened early by the sounds of our roosters crowing and the visits from inquisitive thrushes, whilst the bush birds ‘Dawn Chorus’ was something to remember always and of course the Callathumpian’s visit! Perhaps, Grandfather Brady in his wisdom knew, that besides having a healthier life-style, we children by ‘sleeping out’ would become akin to the joys of nature as he had done.

Leone Pheeney

Note – from Websters Online:

Callathumpian (usual spelling Callithumpian)
Of, pertaining to, or resembling, a callithump.

Callithump
n. 1. A somewhat riotous parade, accompanied with the blowing oftin horns, and other discordant noises; also, a burlesque serenade; a charivari.

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