“Why are you getting married in Toowoomba? What’s wrong with Gundy?”
Annie looked at her friend Nellie with something like despair.
“We went for a drive and found a beautiful church in Toowoomba. Hayden got talking to the Minister about his beliefs, or lack of them and thinks he has converted him to atheism. Anyway we are getting married there. Just a small ceremony. I’m wondering if you would be a witness?”
“Of course I will, but on one condition. That you invite your mother. You know you’ll need her permission to let you marry at your age.”
Annie looked thoughtful. “Hayden wants me to invite her as well. He says our family is so small we can’t afford to lose any of it. However, I would like my mother to apologise first.”
She hadn’t told her friend that Hayden refused to be married in Goondiwindi. It was as if he didn’t want people to know. He almost seemed embarrassed to talk about the coming nuptials with anyone but her.
On the 27th June, 1936, two months before her 19th birthday, Annie May Lane (dressmaker) married Hayden John Walsh (grazier) at the Neil Street Methodist Church. Witnesses were Ruby May Burton and Nellie Wendell. Also in attendance were Fred Burton, Ella Maud (Ma) Walsh and Alfred McDonald. The service was short, without too much “God” in it to please Hayden. Annie wore a pale blue suit with matching hat sitting jauntily on the side of her head. There were no photos taken. The group repaired to the White Horse Hotel for a celebratory meal after which Fred drove the truck back to Goondiwindi with Ruby and Nellie squeezed in beside him. Alfred and Ma disappeared in a farm vehicle towards Booni Creek.
Hayden had parked the new Chevrolet Master Deluxe at the back of the hotel. He brought the two suitcases to reception and signed the register, Mr and Mrs Walsh. The man behind the counter looked at them with interest.
“Here for something special?” he asked.
“We just got married,” exclaimed Annie happily. “Tonight is our wedding night.”
“Well, I wish you all the best for a wonderful future,” he said sincerely. “I’m going to upgrade you to our best room, no extra charge.”
It was only when they closed the bedroom door behind them that Annie realised something was wrong. Hayden’s face was flushed and angry.
“Why did you say it was our wedding night?” he said accusingly. “Don’t you know that it will be all over the hotel, people giggling and laughing at us.”
“It got us the best room.” Annie was puzzled. “I don’t see what the problem is.”
Hayden disappeared to the bathroom, returning in his pyjamas. He climbed into bed, pulled the blankets up and feigned sleep.
Annie sat disconsolately on the chair. After all the excitement of the day she was now close to tears. Hayden wasn’t speaking to her and she didn’t know what to do. Wearily she took her nightgown and beauty case to the women’s bathroom and ran a bath. Lying in the warm water she let the tears roll down her cheeks. This was a side of Hayden she had never seen before.
Nellie’s last words of advice were, “Never go to bed angry.” Well, she had been married less than a day and that rule was already broken.
“The thing is, unless we move our sheep to better land, they will all die!” Hayden paced the living room at Booni Creek Homestead and threw up his hands in despair.
“As I see it, the only thing to do is go and look for some good land and buy it.” Alfred replied.
The others looked at him in surprise.
“You’d have to go a long way south before you found some feed. This drought is widespread over much of NSW and Queensland.” Ma decided to add her piece to the doom and gloom.
“Then how would you transport the sheep? They’re too weak to walk.” Annie spoke nervously.
“Down on the Murray there’s water.” Hayden looked at Annie. “How about we drive across NSW until we find feed and then transport the sheep by truck to the new property?”
Alfred nodded his head. “Anything you need, just let me know.”
Less than a day later Hayden and Annie were heading off on a “road trip”. Driving through Walgett, Dubbo, Cootamundra and Griffith they finally pulled up in Tocumwal, 600 dusty miles later. Annie quite enjoyed herself, comparing this trip favourably to the tense honeymoon of the year before. Stopping at hotels, they ate hearty country meals and slept in strange beds. In Tocumwal, Hayden spoke with the local Real Estate Agent. He was impressed by the evidence of recent rain and the state of the paddocks. He would have to be careful the sheep didn’t eat themselves to death here.
The agent drove them to a property called Berrigagama, five miles out of Tocumwal. Annie was excited to think she might have a house to herself, away from Ma Walsh. They peered into the cobwebby rooms of the old farmhouse, checked the sheds and fences, the dams full of water and pronounced it perfect.
The deal signed, they drove home as fast as the car could take them. Hayden organised a truck from Moree which was sure to make the journey shorter for the sheep than a long train trip via Sydney.
The truck was a sight to behold. Three decks at the rear and two at the front could hold all 300 of their poor scraggy sheep. Travelling at 15 miles per hour it would take several days to reach Tocumwal as it would stop each night and lower the sheep to the ground, keeping them in an improvised canvas yard, guarded by sheep dogs.
Hayden exchanged his Chevrolet for a Ford truck and loaded it with their household possessions. Farewells were made to Alfred and Ma, Ruby and Fred and they were on their way. The year was 1937 and Annie felt as if life was definitely improving.
August 25, 1938 Annie woke up to a cold, chilly morning but it didn’t dampen her spirits. At last she was an adult.
“Happy Birthday, Honey!” Hayden carried a tray into the bedroom with tea, (black with lemon), hot toast (no butter) and a boiled egg (not too runny).
Annie leapt out of bed. “I’ll eat this in the kitchen. Can’t stand crumbs in the bed.”
The fire was radiating heat from the stove as Annie, wrapped in her dressing gown, devoured her breakfast.
“I’m just nipping into town for a bit. Got to get some sheep dip,” said Hayden. Normally she would go with him and she wondered why he was in such a hurry. Maybe something to do with my birthday, she thought.
It was lunchtime before Hayden returned. He was carrying what looked like a small suitcase. Placing it on the kitchen table he unclipped the clasp and opened it to reveal a gramophone. He handed a record to Annie.
“The gramophone I got second hand but the record is brand new.”
Annie looked at the title and placed the record over the spindle. Hayden wound the handle at the front and lowered the needle. The tinny sound emanating from the portable gramophone seemed like magic to Annie.
I’m 21 today, 21 today
I’ve got the key of the door
Never been 21 before
And Pa says I can do as I like
So shout, Hip Hip Hooray
He’s a jolly good fellow
Annie laughed and hugged Hayden. “That is the best present I have ever had.”
Hayden had also brought mail from the Post Office in town. There was a birthday card from mother with the surprising news she had married Fred Burton. Although she had been known as Mrs Burton for almost seven years it was only last year that Fred’s divorce from the nurse came through. The case had been reported in the newspapers and Fred didn’t come out of it looking too saintly. Annie worried for her mother and felt relieved that she had a kind and thoughtful man as her husband.
Hayden cooked his incredible salmon pie which used tinned salmon with a mashed potato topping. With a bottle of Resch’s Pilsner to wash it down they sat at the dining table and felt like royalty. Was this as good as it gets?
Looking after sheep is fraught with problems. Even if they have enough to eat the list of possible infections and disease is endless. Hayden’s sheep were looking fat and healthy but he made one big mistake. While out driving one day he saw a sign outside a small property which said “Sheep for Sale”. He left with four healthy looking merinos in the back of his truck, but instead of isolating them from the rest of the sheep he dropped them off in the same paddock as his large flock.
A week later he noticed one of the new sheep limping badly. Examining its hoof he saw the dreaded signs of foot rot. The weather had been unseasonably wet and the ground was boggy. It didn’t take long before other sheep in the flock had inflamed feet. The vet was called but despite all their efforts the infection spread like wildfire. Finally, Hayden was left with no choice but to euthanise every single sheep.
All of his money had been sunk into the property and Hayden was facing financial ruin. As he spoke anxiously on the telephone to Alfred he was reassured that all debts would be covered on Berrigagama and to keep any more sheep off the property until the infection had well and truly gone. Alfred was keen to buy the property off him and move down south with Ma.
To take his mind off his worries Hayden twiddled with the short wave on his radio. It was 10 o’clock at night and Annie was already in bed.
“Honey, come quickly, listen to this!”
The quiet, clipped voice of England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain continued for many minutes but these were the words had them both riveted to the spot.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
Annie looked at Hayden with wide eyes. “What will it mean?”
“It means Australia will be at war as well,” Hayden answered heavily, “and nothing will ever be the same again”.