Written and spoken by Annabel Barr
|Bill Simpson 26th July 1939 - 16th February 2021|
Our Dad, Bill Simpson, was born in Hay at the Maternity Unit on the corner of Lachlan and Cadell Streets, on the 26thJuly, 1939, forty days before the start of World War II.
His father, Tom, came up to the Mat Unit and his mother, Marjorie (yes, the original, Marj Simpson), said, “I think I might call the baby, Jarvis.” Legend has it, that Tom didn’t say a word, he just quietly excused himself, walked around to the Birth Registry at the Court House and put Dad’s name down as William Kenneth Simpson.
The first five years of Dad’s life were spent at Red Hill Station, 55km south west of Hay, with his parents, Tom and Marj and his older sister, Judy. The property had come into the family from Dad’s Uncle Mick, who drew it as a soldier settler block in 1917, upon his return from Gallipoli. Mick died from a car accident near Booroorban in 1928 and Red Hill was transferred to his younger brother, our Grandfather, Tom, in a bedside will that was drawn up at the hospital before Mick died. The property was then leased for several years before Tom took it over after he married Marj in 1934.
Life at Red Hill was somewhat primitive back in the early 1940s; there was no electricity, no telephone and no running water. There was a rainwater tank and it was plumbed to a tap on the veranda. There was a house cow called “Wild Eyes” that provided milk, and a Coolgardie Safe for perishable food. The Coolgardie Safe was a box type storage unit that you put water in the tank on top and it had hessian sides that soaked up the water and through evaporation, it kept the butter, meat and milk cool.
Dad’s earliest memory was of the severe drought in the early 1940s, where he remembered a wall of dust rolling in with a dust storm in the afternoon and it became pitch black. He could vividly recall his Mother lighting the kerosene lamps and the strong wind of the dust storm blowing.
Towards the end of 1945, following the death of our great-grandmother, Dad, our Aunt Judy and Grandparents, Tom and Marj, moved into Hay to live at the Simpson family home, “Penalva” at 242 Pine Street. Dad and Judy attended the Hay Public School.
Later, Dad attended the Hay War Memorial High School. At the beginning of 1955, fifteen-year-old Dad went on a six-month trip to Europe aboard the P&O ship, SS Otranto with the Young Australia League or YAL whose motto was, “Education through Travel.” This trip gave Dad a lifelong love of world history and travel. The ship sailed from Fremantle to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), across to Yemen, up the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal to Port (Side) Said in Egypt and across the Mediterranean to Naples in Italy where the group travelled by bus throughout Europe, England, Scotland and Ireland.
Dad arrived back in Australia on his sixteenth birthday. He returned to school but had to repeat Year 9 because of the length of time he’d been away. Dad confessed that he pretty much lost interest in his formal schooling after that and only passed three subjects in his final year in 1957; Modern History; Geography and English. For the rest of his life, however, Dad remained a voracious reader and continued his lifelong learning through books.
In January 1958 Dad went to Nap Nap Station, on the Murrumbidgee River near Maude to work as a jackaroo for the Ronald Family. (Dad was very proud of the fact that sixty years later in 2018, his eldest Grandson, Max, started working at Nap Nap.) On his first day working at Nap Nap, Dad had to catch a horse, saddle it and ended up riding eighteen miles; it was the first time he’d ridden a horse since, “Chummy” a Shetland pony he’d had at Red Hill when he was little – it had died in the drought in 1945. He said he was very sore the next day but you just had to keep on working! He was at Nap Nap for twelve months before heading north for a two-and-a-half-year stint in Queensland, working first at Natal Downs and then at Dotswood Station near Charters Towers.
Dotswood was twelve hundred square miles and divided into three camps; Dad went to the Star River Camp and worked there until the end of March 1961.
Dad was a gifted storyteller and we grew up listening to his yarns; particularly his stories from the Star River days. A few weeks ago, Dad told me that there’s a Hungarian expression: You remember the name of the first girl you fell in love with; the name of the best teacher that ever taught you and the name of the best horse you ever rode. Back in 1991, Rachel interviewed Dad and typed up this story from his Star River days. These are Dad’s words:
“Steamboat was, without a doubt, the best horse I have ever ridden. He was not a very big horse, he was a dark bay gelding about 15hh, but he had a heart as big as a lion’s, and he was extremely sure-footed.
The biggest ride I ever had with him was one time when we were camped up in the Star basin. We had ridden out before daylight and got up to the head-waters of Dinner Creek, which was on a different watershed to the Star – up to the South East. It was 900 to 1000 feet up in the Paluma Ranges, and we were riding out on a ridge that gave a good view of the head-waters of the Dinner Creek catchment.
We noticed some wild cattle, twenty, maybe twenty-five head of cleanskins, piker bullocks, old spayed cows, cows and calves, a very mixed lot, and all very wild. They were on the ridge and they hadn’t seen us when we spotted them. So, we stopped, and John Brathwaite and John Murphy got off their horses and led them down a vertical cliff practically, right down underneath them and came up on the other side. Fred Kreadiman, old Eric and myself were spread out across the ridge. The two Johns livened the cattle up and sent them back towards us and we were going to block them up and try to hold them on this ridge. As it turned out it was a bit of an optimistic plan…
Anyhow the two Johns started and the cattle raced back towards us. They went straight through Fred and old Eric, there was a spur leading off the ridge that dropped down at a very sharp angle and then turned and went parallel to the ridge, still going down. Before they got to me, the cattle turned down this spur, and I left after them with Steamboat. Two broke to the right and went down into the Dinner Creek catchment, which I missed, and by the time I’d reached where the spur turned and changed back parallel with the ridge, I was at full gallop.
The cattle had turned and gone down along the spur and there was no way that I could turn and go down with them. So, all I could do was go straight off the end where the spur turned. I’d not the faintest idea what was there – I was just hoping that there was something to stand on.
When I crossed over the top at full gallop I hit a mass of broken rock, and I thought “Well, there’s no way in the world this horse can keep his feet.” However, I loosened the reins and let him have his head, and Steamboat just put his head down and went straight over them. There must have been forty or fifty yards of broken rock, and he didn’t miss his footing once, he just kept going at full gallop.
By this time the cattle were on the other side of the spur and I couldn’t see any of them, so I kept going at full gallop straight down the spur. It went for another four or five hundred yards, I would think, it was a long way. I came out at the bottom and I was about ten yards in front of the leading cattle. They got such a fright that they just stopped and stood there, they didn’t know what to do. I’d say no one had ever been in front of them on horseback in their lives.
With the fright they got, and with me riding ‘round in front of them, I blocked them up. In about another three or four minutes the rest of the men caught up and we had them. However, it was a very difficult job holding them. The first beast to break was an old piker bullock who had the biggest set of horns I’ve ever seen before or since. It was a brindle, Brahman-cross bullock, and when he broke, he literally came straight at Steamboat, who just stood his ground, side on to this bullock, and when he got close enough, this bullock had one horn ‘round Steamboat’s chest and the other ‘round his hindquarters. At that stage I pulled the .32 calibre pistol I had strapped to the saddle and shot him in the nose. Well that slowed him up considerably and he backed off.
We held them there for a bit longer and two cleanskin bulls, which were obviously going to break, they were old bulls, three or four years old. We shot them where they stood because there was no way in the world that we could have moved them with the mob. We were just about to move off and this piker bullock I’d shot in the nose came again. He must have taken an intense dislike of Steamboat because he came straight out at him again. This time I missed his nose and shot him fair between the horns and down he went, dead.
We spent the rest of the day bringing that couple of dozen cattle back to the yards at the Big Star Basin. It was without a doubt the greatest ride I’ve ever had on any horse. How Steamboat kept his feet coming down that broken rock I’ll never know.
|Dotswood Station, Queensland 1960. Dad, 2nd from the left.|
That night when we were quietly yarning about how things had gone that day, Fred Kreadiman, the Head Stockman, claimed that it reminded him of the poem “The Man from Snowy River”. He’d never seen a horse come through broken rock like it.”
In April 1961, Dad came back to Red Hill to work with his father. Early in 1963, David Alcock, a friend who worked east of Hay on “Gre Gre” for Ford Parker (*fun fact for Barham people: Ford Parker was a brother of Edgar Pickles’ navigator during WWII), David asked Dad to be a groomsman at his wedding to Annette Fraser in New Zealand along with the Best Man, Maurice Gibson, and their friend, Sandy Circuitt came as a guest.
Dad first set eyes on our Mother at her family farm, “Gatcombe” on the North Island of New Zealand. They were there for afternoon tea to meet everyone before the wedding, Mum walked out of the dining room and onto the lawn carrying a plate of scones. Dad hadn’t realised that Annette had a younger sister (cue dramatic music!) The rest as they say, is history. A trans-Tasman romance blossomed. Mum came out to Australia later in 1963 and said it was quite a shock to experience the Old Man Plain around Hay for the first time and out to Red Hill, where there was only one tree on the whole place. Vastly different from the 40-inch annual rainfall and lush, rolling hills that she had grown up on in New Zealand. Mum and Dad were married in St John’s Anglican Church in Feilding, New Zealand, on the 14th April 1966.
|Dad and Mum on their Wedding Day 1966|
They began their married life at Adelong Station, north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
Our Grandfather Tom became very ill and died in August that year. Dad and Mum returned to the Hay district and took over the running of Red Hill. They built a home on a claypan, planted some trees and roses and made a family. Tom arrived in 1968, followed by me in 1970, Rachel arrived in the flood year of 1973 and our younger brother, Bruce, completed our family, arriving in 1975.
Life continued with many happy moments for all of us as well as the normal challenges of living in rural Australia; commodity price fluctuations, floods, droughts and bushfires. Then in March 1988, tragedy struck when Bruce died in a farming accident. Bruce’s death affected all of us deeply, none more so than Dad and Mum. It is a testament to both their individual strength of character and resilience, and the strength of their enduring love and support for each other, that they navigated their way through this terrible time in our lives.
Dad had a great love of rural Australia and in 1989 he and Mum together with their close friends, David and Jenny Yencken, headed off to the outback. Travelling through central Australia, Dad celebrated his 50th birthday on the shores of Lake Eyre. It was a great thrill for him to return there by plane for his 80th birthday in 2019; Mum, Rachel, myself, Woolly and Henry, were able to join him on the three-day flying adventure. Dad shared a quiet drink with Henry at the Birdsville Pub to celebrate his 80th and an early 18th for Henry.
|Me, walking with Dad near the Burke and Wills Dig Tree on Napppa Merrie Station, Queensland 2019|
Photo credit: Rachel Gordon
Dad was also fortunate to experience a number of overseas trips. In 2005 Dad took all of us to Fiji for a family holiday. Dad and Mum went to Canada and Alaska in 2011 and the Cook Islands in 2016 to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Dad had an enquiring mind and was genuinely interested in everything and everyone he met. For an orderly person, Dad’s workshop was the stuff of nightmares but there was nothing he couldn’t build, repair or engineer from it.
He loved a good vehicle and bought an HZ Kingswood V8 for a farm ute. I think he viewed it as a personal challenge to set a new land speed record each weekday morning, driving us the 13km to the Sturt Highway to catch the school bus – in all those years, we never once missed the bus, not even the morning we spun out of control on the wet grass and skidded straight through a wire fence!
In November 1994, I was away and Dad was looking after my prized kelpie bitch, Spook, when she picked up a fox-bait and became seriously ill. A quick phone call to our local vet, Wayne Gardam, advised that he might’ve been able to save her if she was in town but being 55km out of town was just too far away. Not to be deterred, Dad gently loaded Spook into the Mazda 929 sedan. It was late on a Saturday afternoon and the legendary Hay B&S Ball was on that night. Afterwards, Dad confided with me that he had roared down the highway at 210 km/hr, overtaking jackaroos in their V8 utes, ten at a time, and made it to the veterinary clinic in time for Wayne to save Spook.
Dad was incredibly proud of all his family and when grandchildren began appearing on the scene, he was prouder still. He joked that he had waited all his life to earn the title, Grand Father and laughed when Max, learning to talk, christened him Father Bill.
Dad dedicated his working life to Red Hill and breeding medium wool merinos. He had a long association with both Caroonboon and Uardry Merino Studs. In particular, Dad enjoyed his involvement over the years with the Peppin Shaw Flock Ewe Competition, that was held each year in the Hay district and the Annual Hay Sheep Show.
The 29th April 2017 marked one hundred years of Simpsons at Red Hill Station. This milestone was a significant occasion and Dad and Mum were extremely proud to host a Centenary Celebration Luncheon in the garden with their extended family and friends.
Dad loved company and social outings. He was an active member of the Waradgery Club in Hay for over sixty years. He deeply loved the Club and had many happy times there and even in his later years, participated in Club functions and outings. His other great love was Thoroughbred horse racing and he remained an active member of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) and Melbourne Racing Club, attending many Spring Carnivals over the years.
In 2018, Dad and Mum started a new chapter in their lives by moving to Barham to live. Dad took to Barham life like a duck to water, mainly because he could sit and read in his favourite chair to his heart’s content. He enjoyed daily walks hand in hand with Mum and becoming part of another close-knit rural community that is very similar to Hay.
Dad was a man we loved and admired and the wisest man we knew. He was strong, honest, kind and funny. His good manners were impeccable; a gentleman through and through. It’s so hard to conclude his life story and while I struggled to find the words, Tom read out this beautiful poem by the great Scottish poet, Robbie Burns, who lived from 1759 – 1796.
Epitaph On A Friend
An honest man here lies at rest,
As (air) e’er God with His image blest:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of Age, and guide of Youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
|Mum and Dad, looking out from Mount Macedon, Victoria, February 2021|