Florence May CAMERON , 1884–1987 (aged 102 years)
Florence Weiley has written:
"We were all born at home with a midwife in those days. All the children were born at home, everybody's, and they all had big families. There was no dairying in those early days, all mill [sawmill] work or bush work. My father worked in the mill at Scotts Creek. There were a few residents there, all working at the mill at that time. Father got six shillings a day at the sawmill. He had to be there at six o'clock in the morning till six o'clock at night.
They didn't have much to depend on before the dairying started. Mill work and corn. Corn was dirt cheap, they got nothing for it. It was mostly corn growing before the dairying started. A flood would come and take the lot. They all wanted to do dairying. My father started dairying about 1894. He worked in the mill as well and we had to carry on as best we could with the dairying part of it. Our farm was on Mitchells Island. We had to pay 60 pound a year for the rent. No-one knows what my parents went through. Father died at 43, a young man.
There were plenty of families who didn't have enough to eat. The families were terribly poor, when we were going to school. Two or three of the families, the boys would come to school in little pants and coats made out of grey calico. Shoes were out of the question. My parents made us go to church, but they didn't go. Because they never had decent clothes to go with. There was always a full church on Mitchells Island.
Our house was made of slabs. Cracks between the slabs. The old scrubbing brush and soap, soap the floors. Washing out in the open. Most of them didn't have tanks. They had to go down to the well for water and they'd do the washing there. Lines there, dry them and bring them home.
Parents were strict. Children would do as they were told. Not like today, they do as they like. No mischief, no time for it. Parents would not allow it. Everyone had to do their share of work. They knew the consequences if they didn't do as they were told. Some were different, I suppose.
We had to work before we went to school. Had to milk the cows and clean up. Many a time we were late. Dad didn't have much time for the family, due to work. Mother had the responsibility of the children. I had two sisters and five brothers.
My oldest brother used to take the milk by pulling boat down to the factory near Croki. It was a big job for him. He was only a school boy. Another brother for 14 years or more pulled a baker's boat from Cundle down to Harrington. Three times a week in all sorts of weather. He went right round Oxley Island in his boat. One night, he told us, one of the farmers called him in, when he was coming back from Harrington. Wouldn't let him go home that night. "You'll never make it," he said. So he had to stay there the night, get up early in the morning to go home.
In those days groceries used to come round on a pulling boat. We had a baker and a butcher. As for going out, coming to Taree and that, the women never did because they had no way of travelling. The men would ride down from Mitchells Island, Oxley Island, on a horse to Taree. The women never went till they managed to get a horse and sulky. My mother walked many a mile, so did I, carrying a baby.
But they did have fun in those days. They used to have invitation dances. So you'd have one at your place, ask all your friends. Next week or two, someone else would have it. You'd dance from sundown to sunrise, no dairying to take you home. The old time dances, beautiful. Just a violin, a concertina and a piano. Local people. Lot of people had a nice big room with a good floor.
Dad used to take us in a boat to Old Bar. We'd have a picnic there. We'd be fishing. Plenty of fish then. Lots of people did the same thing, go down to the beach on Sunday with the kiddies. And every year we had a school picnic, we had to walk three miles to get there with a basket of food. We enjoyed it.
Once I went on the "Electra" to Sydney. I got seasick. We crossed the bar about two o'clock in the afternoon. Didn't reach Sydney till daylight the next morning. Long trip. Then another trip I went on the old "Rosedale." A lot of people slept on deck. I lay on my back all night, wasn't game to move I was that sick. It was about two trips before she went down, was never heard of."
An interview with Florence by Helen Hannah is featured in the book, "Voices - A Folk History of the Manning valley".