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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Eric’s family history | Bananas | Marie’s family history | The beginning of changes to the town | Transport and supply | Married life | Primary producers’ store | The Aquarius festival | The legacy of Aquarius | Changing Times

The beginning of changes to the town

And so working in a shop, even though you married in 1962 and left, tell me when things started to slow down economically in the town? Just tell me a bit about those changes and when they started to happen?

Marie: Yes, well, back in those days working behind the counter, you weighed the sugar and the flour and the biscuits and everything was weighed up in brown paper bags. It wasn’t nearly as packaged and commercialised and everything as it is today. Just about every family ran a 30-day account, and that would be expected to be paid at the end of every month, but if it wasn’t you know, the shop-keeper viewed the situation of who the person was or whatever, and they would let them have credit – didn’t they, Eric – for quite some time, until they were able to turn things around and be able to pay him.

Eric: Yes, like during the drought or winter-time, if the cows didn’t milk well. They were mainly reliant on dairy farms, until the banana industry took hold. That was probably really going after the War. There were bananas in Nimbin in the 1930s. It was probably after the War in the 1950s that migration and more Italians came out. There were a lot of Italians banana-growers out there.

Marie: But the shopping in those days was so different to what it is today, and people going into the supermarket and tearing around picking up what they want, and going through the self-serve check-out, then out the door in two minutes, you know. We had a weekly run where one of the male staff in the shop used to go round door-to-door to every house in the town and they would tell him what their order was for that week, so he would have his little docket book, and he’d write out that Mrs Smith wanted two pounds of sugar and five tins of powdered milk or, you know, Golden Syrup or biscuits or fruit and veg or whatever it was that they wanted.

He would write that down, and then he would bring the book back to the shop after he’d finished each street. He’d bring that book back, get another book and go into the next street, and while he was doing that, we would make these orders up, and by the end of the day we would have a delivery truck full of the orders. So the women didn’t have to leave their houses to come to do their shopping or whatever. They just trusted us – and I guess it’s turning around to that a little bit now, with people doing their shopping on the Internet, on the TV, you know, and paying something to have it delivered. Well, they didn’t pay anything to have it delivered. It just got delivered that afternoon or the next day, and we would be busily doing it while he was bringing in the next street’s orders and what have you, so it ran very smoothly that way.

Then people in the country, if they didn’t have the vehicle to be able to drive into town themselves, they would ring up and there would be a monthly delivery done to people in the country, so they would be ordering like a whole bag of potatoes and three pumpkins and, you know, huge amounts of powdered milk or flour or whatever, that would last them for the whole month.

Eric: Bert and Rex from the two opposition grocery stops, they used to ride a horse to go and collect the country orders.

Marie: They’d go and collect the orders for those, and we wouldn’t get those orders until the next day, and then it would be dispatched off within a day or something. So we still had people coming through the shop, but not nearly as much as what these orders would generate.

Eric: The shop that Marie worked had a system that they had wall sections cut out of the wall of the shop, and they had an internal door, and if you wanted a country order to go out to Blue Knob, you put it in the Blue Knob Bin. The cream carrier used to come and collect it, and they were the lifeblood of the industry in those days, because they delivered the mail, the bread and the meat, and brought the empty cans out and brought the cream back in to the factories.

If you wanted something to go to Blue Knob, you put it in this box, and that morning, the cream run used to start about 6.00 o’clock. The shop didn’t have to open. They had a key to the outside door and they’d just open this bin and take anything that was there, and take it to Blue Knob. They’d put it in a little book, and it was sixpence or something to deliver the parcel so that, you know, Joe Blow and Mary Smith, so-and-so, three, that was 1/6d. At the end of the month they got paid their fee for delivering it.

So around the place then, was there a shift in the people who came, I suppose? If your Dad in 1949 took over one family’s failing dairy farm and then put – how many people would it have been?

Eric: Five or six. Some of them did built houses on the property and others rented somewhere else. There was one person rented a farm house a mile off the road. Another couple, Smith & Hamilton I was talking about, they built a house in Nimbin, and travelled.

They come out to work their plantation, and come home, but the general decline in things came when the dairy industry was suffering, and it was a time when they were going out of cream into bulk milk, probably in the ‘70s. The bananas started to drop off late in the ’70s because of the Queenslanders – and the other thing was that most of these farmers had 20 year leases or ten plus five plus five, and at the end of 20 years there – and plus the soil was starting to wear out – so the banana industry started to decline.

But the job opportunities dried up. There were five Nimbin case mills operating – all the banana cases in those days were wooden and I’ve still got three of them out in the garage out there. And the tomato cases were all out of wood, and they had five mills in the Nimbin district cutting cases, and they employed men.

The big sawmill up at West and Sharpe’s, Tuntable, where the community is now, the Forestry took their licence off them because the timber industry was being squeezed, so they then had to close the mill. That was then in 1970. They employed 17 men, and that’s when the alternates came in ’73 and Sam that owned the mill wanted to get out. He was old, and he couldn’t work the mill any more. He had no timber to cut. The mill had been closed.

For the last two and a half or three years of their operation, my business, Nimbin Transport, carted all their sawn timber. He didn’t want to replace his truck because he could see the writing on the wall, so he came and we did an arrangement that I would cart it until the mill closed. That lasted two and a half to three years, but we used to take a truck-load of sawn timber out just about every day, and sometime two loads in a day.

We’d do the last one Friday, and then they would have to cut and get another one ready on Monday, and then Monday afternoon we’d load that truck. A lot of it went to the Gold Coast – it’s in that book there – and Ballina and Lismore, even as far as Brisbane, and it was interesting in those days. You don’t realise how much a part of history you are, but in that era in the, probably 1967 to ’70, those three years that we had, and it’s in that book, again, we carted timber to a person building one of the first high rise on the Gold Coast.

We also carted timber to a job in South Brisbane called the Meatex Factory, and that’s in my book. Meatex was a place where Woolworths was just going into meat distribution, and they built this you-beaut cold room storage to do their meat distribution. That was Nimbin timber that went into that.

And possibly off the land that then became…?

Yes. Some of it was Forestry; some of it was private land. Sharpe’s had a thousand acres of private property there and you can probably go back in there now and cut trees, but it’s all now all locked up.

When we hear about 1973 and we hear about the new settlers coming in, we get a sense that it had all been a bit the same in Nimbin before that, and then you get this really big change. But I’m wondering whether or not, say around 1949 when the bananas were starting and there were perhaps more Italians coming in, is that an era in which you start to see more people coming onto land that had previously had one family, and now it had a number of families?

That’s right, but I mean, there was also in the – when the Norco Butter Factory was built, they had, it was in that book of Maurie’s there, but there were 400 cream suppliers supplying cream to the Nimbin Butter Factory, and the butter was then carted from there in crates as manufactured butter, to Lismore, or to the wharf and sent on the boats to Sydney or whatever have you. There were 400 suppliers in 1950.

Norco, they built the new factory in about 1937, and before that it was across the creek. When they built their factory they got all of the stone out of the creek for the gravel, and if you go down to the butter factory, where the candle factory is now, you look along the wall there, you’ll see some of the creek washed stone that they’ve put into it.

A chap that had the carrying business, Jack Rann and he’s got his photo in that book, Jack and his staff loaded all that by hand out of the creek, pick and shovel. Then they had a tip truck so they could tip it out, but he carted all the stone to that factory, and it was built in 1937, I think, and it closed in 1950 because decided that they only had 150 suppliers left.

Then it got down to nothing, and I had the last lot of cream that was carried, I bought the fellow out – he had a general run, plus he only had two or three cream suppliers left, and we took it over and paid him out a little bit. We wanted the general side of the run, and that’s how we expanded to have seven trucks.


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