Vivienne Sawyer: memories of my dad

Dear Brian,
Your mail reminded me that I read your brochure (also passed some on) and intended to give you some memories of my Dad, Vic Oehm and his experiences of living in Clarence and Lithgow areas at the time the Zig-zag was running and shortly after. He wrote a fairly detailed story of his life and these are the facts relating to that period as he wrote it. It must have been a tough life, but although he remembered the hardships, he never dwelt on them. His Mother gave birth to 3 more children during the years at Clarence and Bottom Points - I suppose no medical attention was available to her either. I remember her as being a very capable and resourceful person - I guess she had to be. If this is not of any use, I will understand. Good luck with your book
Vivienne Sawyer NSW.

In 1909 we arrived in NSW from Tasmania (Mum, Stepfather James Pedler, and 3 brothers Herb, Les and Bert (until we reached adulthood we were known by our stepfathers name, then reverted to our own legal name)

We resided at Hermitage Flat, Lithgow for a short time, then Dad obtained employment as a powder monkey on construction of the 10 railway tunnels on the Western line, which were to supersede the famous zig-zag, which had been in operation from 1869
Dad built a temporary shack of bush timber, galvanised iron, hessian, etc. with an earth floor at Clarence. (Travelling West by train, one would pass through Mt. Victoria, Newnes Junction, Clarence, next station Lithgow)

There were three very respectable cottages there. Quickly, a sprinkling of additional rough dwellings sprang up, along with a number of small presentable places - totalling 15 with 5 being Railway property.

We did not have a water tank stand for some time, water was carried from a fresh water swamp approximately 150 yards away. It was impossible to wade into the swamp to fill kerosene tins without disturbing the mud from the bottom, while endeavouring to reach clear water in the middle. This was a portion of Dargan's Creek.

Dad worked out a type of flying fox, with a stout wire attached to the base of a sapling on one side of the swamp, the other end being tied, about shoulder high on a tree on the opposite bank. A small pulley was placed on wire, with a tin hanging underneath. Fixed to the pulley was a long rope, which was hand-held. When released, pulley and tin would run down the wire until bottom of tin hit the water - this caused the tin to fall over, becoming self-filled. Rope would allow it to be pulled back to the higher level, being emptied into spare tins and carried to our ‘abode’.

After a lot of carrying, Dad decided he would improve on it. A shallow trench was to be dug from swamp to a deep well nearby. The trench was dug deeper to overcome the uphill section. A long length of small diameter pipe was obtained, bent to a long suitable radius, one end placed in the swamp, the other into the shallow trench, going over the higher ground. A siphoning action was then started and, as he had predicted, we had a continuous trickle of running water for the four years we lived there.

Dad built a brick oven for Mum, who used to bake bread and dampers for the residents of the settlement - the nearest shops were at Mt. Victoria to the east and Lithgow to the west.
No roads or walking tracks (other than along the railway lines) existed. The only transport being by train or, in an emergency, Railway workers, if in the vicinity in a time of need, would willingly provide service on their two-seater trykes or four-wheel trolleys - both manually operated.
Herb, Les and Bert walked to the Primary School at Newnes Junction. Later, when attending High school at Lithgow, they caught a train from Newnes.

The district had a three feet fall of snow, not long after we settled there. The roof of the shack could not take the enormous weight - roof and snow collapsed onto all our beds.

Names of some of the families were - MacArthur, Gilchrist, Pedler and the four Oehm boys, Murdoch, Wall, McKenzie, Payne, Larkin and three Railway Signalmen.

In 1910, after the opening of the tunnel system, the temporary dwellings and their inhabitants, gradually disappeared. (A visit to the area in 1969 revealed 2 of the 3 original substantial buildings still there and occupied.)

On many occasions, serious accidents occurred and the injured would have to wait for the next transport to appear.

No medical or even first-aid facilities were existent.

1913 - A year never to be forgotten. Brother Bert (8) and myself (5) were playing with Dad's axe (He now being a timber cutter, with axes as sharp as razors) cutting thick green bark from a tree Dad had felled. I pointed to a particular spot and asked Bert to cut it for me, which he immediately did, unfortunately my finger was still there and I lost half the first joint of an index finger. Mum bound it up, then waited for transport to Lithgow for medical attention.
Dad had cut his thumb on a saw, it became badly infected resulting in lock-jaw (tetanus). Mum made him soak his hand in a kerosene tin until - again - transport became available. He eventually received medical aid and made e full recovery.

Bert and I were playing at a neighbour's house with their son (9), his parents being away for the day. The boy climbed onto his father’s workbench, reached high and brought down a rifle, (it was always kept loaded to shoot hawks coming down to their poultry), pointed it at Bert, who turned around just as the trigger was pulled - the bullet passing right through his heart. Again, we had to wait for some form of transport to come through.

Still in 1913 - we moved to Bottom Points - a small railway settlement on the Western side of the 10 tunnels - about five dwellings only a few feet from the rail lines. Dad was now working as a Fettler.

The Vintage Railway Society have their rolling stock on a large area of Bottom Points, which includes the area where the rail workers lived.

1914 - this district was like Clarence - nothing. We walked along the lines to school at Oakey Park, Sunday School or into Lithgow for shopping. At times, the fettlers would pick us up on their trikes or four wheel trolleys and frequently steam engines going back and forth would do likewise.

Moved to Goulburn, where Dad worked as a Signalman.

Dad was ‘blackballed’ by the Railways for participating in ‘picket’ duties during the 1917 strike and obtained employment in the Lithgow Ironworks and Rolling Mills.

During the next few years, he was contacted by the Railways offering employment as a Signalman - first offer 4th class as far west as possible in NSW - next, 3rd class on the Western Plains - finally 2nd class at Flemington, which he promptly accepted. (1926) - He spent the remainder of his working days as a signalman, after leaving Flemington he worked at Islington and Parramatta

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