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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.

The story is an edited version of a conversation between Roland and Fay Couch and Jo Kijas and Hazel Ferguson on June 5, 2013.

It contains reflections on Family History | Land history | Dairying | Aquarius Festival | Breeding | Buying and selling land, and succession

 

Family History

Roly: My old grandfather, old James Andrew Couch, he moved up from Brooklyn when he married my grandmother, she was Elsie Stevens. Her father was the Minister in charge of the Church of England at Ballina. My Dad was born in the rectory at Ballina.

They were still selecting land in this area, and they were buying the land off the Government of the day, and all the valley up Tuntable Falls there, you know, right up the valley, that all belonged to the old Premier of New South Wales, Dr. See. Anyway, then he had it all subdivided up into 300 acre blocks.

My old Grandad, when he knew there was land being developed up there, he moved from Brooklyn up there into the Nimbin district, and of course in those days it was practically all standing timber, and they had to clear it all and sow the pastures, you know. There was no way they could have started dairying until all that groundwork was done.

I’d say it took them a number of years from when they first moved in, before he got the home built and the dairy set up, so he could bring his wife and family up there to live. Old Grandad, he moved up there – well, he bought the property in 1904, and I think it was nearly, my Dad was born in 1904, and I think he was about four years old before they moved up to the Nimbin District, so at least four years, I think, before they moved up on the property [in about 1908].

Fay: And they built that big homestead in 1920, wasn’t it?

Roly: Yes, that was the second home that was built on that property.

Fay: The first one was only very small.

It was quite some time after he got the home and everything built. They brought their furnishing and all up from Binna Burra – was it Binna Burra – Brooklyn, that’s right, by old bullock dray. In those days it would be a pretty rough trip, I can tell you.

Anyway, he started dairying there, milking the cattle by hand, the milked up a herd of, as I say, AIS cattle, a herd of anything up to about 70 cattle, milking cows, plus young stock on the property. Back in those days there was no butter factory in Nimbin at all. His first cream that he produced off the property had to go to the Channon, taken there by horse and dray.

Then Grandad, he had a family of seven, starting off with Dad (Arthur). He was the eldest, he was born in Ballina. Then came Roy Couch, he served in the Army and he was a prisoner-of-war, a Jap prisoner-of-war. He worked on the Burma Railway. He was taken prisoner over in Singapore. The next was Gwen Couch; she was a nurse, did a lot of the nursing locally, and she was nursing down at Bangalow for quite a period of time when she married her husband.

Then we come to Jessie. She married Tom McDonald, who was in the Air Force during the War years, and also he was a banana inspector in those days. Then next – that was Aunty Jessie, married Tom – there’s Ben Couch. He managed Kirkland’s Busway in Lismore for a good many years after he came back out of the Army. Then Keith – he was the youngest of the family. He married Rene [Irene] Latta at Nimbin. He worked in the Nimbin Butter Factory for quite a number of years before got on the tick staff, went and worked on the tick gate over at Tweed Heads. That’s the family on the Couch’s side.

On the Kirkland side, my mother was Eva Kirkland. Her father had a property up Kirkland’s Road at Nimbin, and there was quite a large family, seven of them all together. My mother was Eva, and she was the eldest of the family. There was Clarie, Jim. They had the Kirkland bus run. Originally they started off in Nimbin carrying bananas from the Nimbin district through to the railhead in Lismore, and then in ’30 they moved down to Evans Head and they had the buses there. They transported a lot of the Air Force personnel around, and they built the bus business up to 120 buses by the time they sold out.

It’s changed hands I think twice or three times since they sold the business, and some of the buses have still got the Kirkland name printed on the side of it. Anyway, that’s about the story, all I can say about the Kirkland side of the family. Old Jim, back in the early days when they were on the farm, he was one of these chaps that was a bit of a hard case. Anyway, he’d have to go mustering the cattle in the morning and they ran around bare-footed in those days, and they’d often stand in the cow poo to warm their feet up.

There was a big population of Italians getting established in the banana industry out there at that time. They had no way of transporting their banana cases to the railhead, and anyway, the Italians called a meeting. They got together and they all came to the conclusion that they’d see Jimmy Kirkland, get him to buy a truck and take all their produce into Lismore, so that’s what he did. That’s how he got into the carrying business in the first place.

It would be early in the ‘30s that they developed that business. Then as far as the dairying is concerned, Dad, the brother and I, we worked the dairy. We put in the first set of milking machines on the property. We had old Dangar G machines. That was a big step up from milking by hand, and we’ve developed the property. We had cattle and bananas. We made quite a reasonable living off it, but back in – what year was it that we bought the property off Nappers?

We made the changeover, we put the dairy buildings up, didn’t we, in ’56?

Fay: Put all the buildings up in ’56. We bought in ‘57/’58.

Roly: Anyway, we bought the adjoining property that used to belong to the Blackmans originally, and old Harry Napper owned it at the time that we bought it off him. We joined the two properties onto the other portion of the farm, and we built, we got Youngberry’s from Goolmangar to erect the new dairy building that we had.

Fay: We already had the dairy up and were working it.

Roly: Yes, and when we bought this property, we increased our dairy herd to 130 cows. It was quite a big concern, one of the biggest suppliers to Norco at that time. Before we had a cream box erected, we used to take our cream out to the road, and that particular day we had six ten-gallon cans of cream sitting side by side. Henry Wran, he was the cream carrier at that time—-

Fay: He hadn’t done the run for awhile.

Fay: Anyway, he pulled up to put the cream on the truck, and he went along and pulled all the lids off to make sure there was cream in every can – there were so many cans there.

He didn’t believe it?

Fay: No. In those days some of the farmers would put out two half cans rather than one can, so people would think they had a lot of cream. There was a lot of that went on. We just made sure that all our cans were full. We were sitting having breakfast, watching him pull the lids off. It was actually eight cans. It was a Monday morning. Eight cans.

Roly: Yes, it takes about 100 gallons of milk to get ten gallons of cream. That was about the ratio.

Fay: So there was 800 gallons of milk.

Roly: That’s skim milk. After we separated it, we fed that to the pigs. We had quite a big piggery – ten breeding sows, I think. Between that and the old Dad, he was still working the bananas. The brother and I worked the dairy, until such time as I bought the brother’s half off him, and Des went into school, transporting the school kiddies from Jiggi to Goolmangar, and also into Lismore.

I employed lads to help with the dairying, and at that time we had three kiddies of our own. They were all very young, and we gradually worked the dairy under that system for quite some time. Then eventually I bought the Dad out, and we had the whole lot then. I had to do all the work myself.

In ’59 we went into, changed the cattle over. We had a rainbow herd consisting of some Guernseys, some Jerseys, and Illawarras. Then we changed from that breed of cattle to the Guernsey. That’s when we bought our Guernsey calves off Jack Macintosh, out at Greengates, a Guernsey stud. We built up from that.

’59 was when we really got under way properly. Then we did a lot of showing over the years, which was very successful. We showed, we sold a lot of cattle down into the Hunter Valley and up into Queensland, and we had quite a big business going with selling the registered young stock. We were considered one of the top milk producers, once we got into the bulk milk we were considered one of the top milk producers supplying the Lismore Butter Factory.

No doubt it was a busy time, but it was very rewarding. We milled all our own grain. We bought a lot of molasses, fed the molasses, and we got the brewer’s grain from the brewery when it was functioning there at Goolmangar. We used to get the grain and put that in the bath tubs, and put molasses on top of that. That made excellent dairy feed for the cattle. They really produced exceptionally well on that.

Fay: My mother came out from England in 1910 when she was four years old, her family moved out. Her father had moved out four years before, and he got established onto a dairy before the rest of the family came out from England.

Roly: This was down at Coraki.

Fay: Down at Coraki; and my father came out in 1918, from England; and he had a cream run in Coraki, and a horse-drawn dray, draught horse, I think it was, three draught horses, until he met my mother, and then they were married in 1930 and they moved to Bonalbo, to Duck Creek. They were there till ’34, and then they moved from there down to Clunes, and I was there right up until I was married, ’56.

Roly: So all of those years they were involved in the dairying industry?

Fay: Yes, that was the dairying.

What made the moves? Why did they move Coraki, Bonalbo, out to Clunes?

Fay: Well, they just didn’t want to go on with the cream run, I think, wanted to go into the dairying, and that’s why they saw the property up at Bonalbo and moved up there. Then they moved from Bonalbo down to Clunes. Why they moved from Bonalbo down to Clunes, I don’t really know, but they did.

Roly: Yes, they were still working as a share-farmer in those days. Didn’t own the property.

Fay: Yes. They never owned the property to start with at Clunes, either. They bought the going concern, and then they bought the property.

When you came across to the Nimbin side of things and went up to, say, Tuntable Falls and things, Fay, did it feel, like, different sort of country, or was it—

Fay: Not really.

Roly: No, Fay was reared in the dairying. It was just a change of location.

So within the close area of Clunes and The Channon and Nimbin, the landscape didn’t feel particularly different?

Fay: No, it was all sort of similar. It was all hilly country, both out at Clunes where we were. It was all similar type of country, similar soil, everything. It was all dairying.  If you go back – what in 1940s, you never saw a beef cow. There were no beef cattle. It was all dairy cattle and every dairy had a piggery. Then as the dairies closed down, well, you’ve only got about three or four big piggeries here on the North Coast now. That’s just the way things have gone over the years.

And bananas – were there bananas over at—

Fay: No, not at Clunes. There wasn’t many bananas grown over that way. There was at Nimbin and out the other side of Nimbin, there was a lot of bananas. Down towards Bangalow there were a lot of bananas, but not actually at Clunes.

And how did you two meet?

Fay: Roly belonged to the Young Men’s Society in Nimbin. I belonged to the GFS in Clunes, and every Christmas they had a combined party at St Andrews, and it was all the ones – this is GFS – around, and it was at the combined Christmas Party at St Andrews that we met.

They asked all the girls to take one shoe off and put it in the middle of the hall. So there was a heap of shoes, about that wide and about that high, and he happened to pick my shoe up – and we’ve been together ever since.

Roly: The Grandkids think it’s a great joke, how Grandma and Grandpa met. Anyway, we’ve been together now nearly 57 years. We were married on the first day of September, ’56, and it was the first day of the Lismore Carnival.

Fay: The first Lismore Floral Carnival that was held.

Roly: We had to go through the barriers to go round to get our photo taken. The crowd went berserk. They were sticking their heads in through the car window, singing out, “Oh, you silly bugger!” Oh, dear, I’ll never forget that.

Fay: I worked for Thomas Noble and Russell the accountants. (It was only Thomas Noble when I started there. Russell came into it while I was there.) I was working at auditing the Norco books, and back in the late ‘40s/early ‘50s there were over 3,000 suppliers to Norco.

Ill-health stopped me. I had to leave because of the lymphedema that I’ve got now. I just couldn’t keep working because, you know, I missed so much work. I ended up in hospital down in Westmead for three months trying to work out what was wrong with me.

And they never ever did work out what was wrong with me, not until the 1990s, when there was a specialist come to Lismore, and he said, “You’ve got elephant legs.” That’s what he called it then. It’s been since changed to lymphedema.

 

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