Richard Surguy & Barbara Mary Mills (nee Hogg)

The following extract is from “From Whence we Inherit”
written by Joan Jenkins (nee Mills) in 1988


After finishing her education at “Miss Thornber’s”, Barbara remained at the school as a teacher until she too felt the call of the country and accepted a position as governess in the Adelaide Hills area. There she met, and became engaged to Richard Surguy Mills, son of W G Mills of “Millbrae”, Native Valley. “Millbrae” was a stud sheep property, established in 1842 by the Mills family. In 1909 Richard (Dick) and his father journeyed to Eyre Peninsula to inspect, and subsequently buy -a small undeveloped property, and it was on that property Dick and Barbara started their life together.

They were married at St. Michaels Church of England, Mitcham, in February 1911, and then traveled to Eyre Peninsula.

To Barbara, the first sight of the tiny four roomed pioneer house erected on the Eyre Peninsula land, came as a great shock, but in common with her young women neighbours - many of whom were city bred like herself she coped. Not only coped, but joined wholeheartedly in the community struggle to establish not only their own properties but district facilities as well.

Barbara and Dick were from widely divergent backgrounds - Barbara a city girl, Dick a country man, but both had in common an inheritance of dedicated family service to the community. Down the ages many members have been honoured in various ways for their work.

“I love a sunburnt country of droughts and flooding rains”. The sentiments expressed in that old poem are those of most country people -
must be - or why do they stay? Incurable optimists.

Like most of her neighbours, Barbara found the droughts on Eyre Peninsula heartbreaking. Crops struggled to survive and then died. Stock wasted away and had, because of lack of feed, to be destroyed or sent to market for practically no financial return. Trees hung their heads, the hardy Mallee’s losing most of their browned up leaves, but surviving. Precious water could not be used for gardens. Barbara, watching the treasured vegetable patch shrivel and die, and the shrubs, annuals and carefully tended roses disappear would cry “I am never, never again going to plant another thing!” - and then hearing the first splatter of raindrops escalating into a drumming torrent on the roof would sit up in bed thinking “Now where did I put those cucumber and tomato seeds? I wonder if I could get a few cuttings from Mavis? - if I get the boys to dig over the-garden I’ll put petunias there - and phlox there - and ... with the scent of flowers already in the air, go happily to sleep.

Prolonged droughts meant dust storms. Paddocks, hopefully cultivated after a false seasonal start, provided tons of precious top soil for howling winds to pick up and deposit on houses, half burying fences and darkening the windows to such an extent that sometimes the kerosene lamps had to be lit at midday.

Clouds of other than dust also darkened the sky in better seasons - plagues of grasshoppers. Thankfully not very often - a really bad plague only occurred every so many years. Barbara, during one such infestation, lived only a few miles from the coast. Wave after wave of grasshoppers still in the hopping stage, advanced across the land, voraciously devouring every last vestige of green, and leaving the bare stalks covered in a smothering slime. The only untouched vegetation was the bouganvillea on the house wall and the bed of pink and blue larkspurs. The grasshoppers kept hopping, hopping all the way to the coast and straight over the cliffs into the sea. For days incoming tides deposited mounds of minute dead bodies back onto the beach, leaving them lying in the sun polluting the air with stench, until an abnormally high tide collected and took them far out to sea.

The brilliant colours of the bouganvillea and larkspurs flaunted in the bare garden until a week or two later a dark cloud, driven down by north winds, appeared in the sky - grasshoppers now in the flying stage. They settled in dense masses everywhere. As their predecessors had left the cupboard bare, they ate the bouganvilleas and larkspurs - and died in thousands. Swarms either flew or fell down the chimneys, and although man made materials were not their usual diet the starving insects ate holes in curtains or any clothing in sight, before they could be swept up and killed.

But the good years when crops flourished, stock fattened, and birds sang, made up for the bad, and, on the whole it was a good, satisfying life.

A year or two after they were married Barbara and Dick had moved to a better house a few miles from the little pioneer cottage - still only a modest home, but a change for the better - then as the necessity to be nearer a school became urgent Dick bought a house about ten miles from the farm closer to community facilities. By that time he had purchased a grazing property - only partly developed - further north.

Barbara had much of the responsibility for the children on her shoulders, while Dick divided his time between the farm and the grazing property - named “Myola”.

Dick and Barbara had a large family of children - five Sons and six daughters - and education for the children was then - as it
is in outback areas even today - one of the biggest and most worrying drawbacks to country life

Small, one teacher schools were dotted about the country but these only educated the children to the end of grade VII. After that, they had either to leave school, or be sent to board with relations in larger country towns - or go away to Adelaide boarding schools.

There are still a few - very few - of the one teacher schools left in operation, but large area schools now serve districts, with buses collecting children from outlying areas.

When the little schools have finally gone out of existence there should be an honour roll inscribed with the names of all the teachers who gave such valuable service to the communities.

The schools usually consisted of one large room with a fire place for winter warmth and with a “shelter shed” attached. Only one room, because the sole teacher had to supervise the seven classes from grades 1 to 7
at one and the same time. The teachers were often sent to the schools directly after finishing their training at the Teachers Training College, and were usually only about nineteen or twenty years of age at the time. The whole responsibility for the school rested on their shoulders. All the usual subjects were taught, from the five year old infants A.B.C. to the final qualifying certificate standard for the students entering their secondary education. Keeping all seven classes running smoothly was no mean feat, especially as the pupils’ attention was apt to wander off to what was happening elsewhere in the room - i.e. Exasperated teacher, trying to teach a slow five years old to read - “h.e.n, Tommy, - what does that sound like?” “Chooky!” beams Tommy, delighted to have at last mastered this reading thing.

A cane stood in the corner, more as a deterrent than for actual use.

Children rode ponies or drove to school in sulkies, the horses being tethered to shady trees until classes were over for the day.

An Education Department Inspector visited the school once or twice a year and when news that the Inspector was in the district leaked out, the teacher would con the children into being on their best behaviour by promising that the Inspector would grant them a half holiday
if they deserved it - knowing of course that the Inspector always did grant a half holiday.

The children mistakenly presumed the teacher’s worried face and shaking hands were caused by anxiety for them, whereas of course it was in fact the teacher who was being examined - promotion depended on the Inspector’s report of the pupils
progress, and the management of the school. Not that promotion was of any great concern to most of the girl teachers. Teacher training in those days was at Government expense, with a living allowance paid to the trainee. In return the teachers signed a bond guaranteeing to remain with the Education Department for several years. In the little country schools termination of the bond contract usually coincided with the sound of wedding bells - the Education Department providing not only teachers, but a constant source of wife material for the young farmers! When a new female teacher arrived in the district, it was amazing how solicitous older brothers suddenly became for the welfare of their school going siblings. “Looks like nasty weather today, Mum - I’ll drive the kids to school and pick them up afterwards.” - “Jeanies homework still on her bed? I’ll ride over with it.
- “What did you say Mum? - You are sure you put the children’s lunchbox in, and yet, there it is on the table? Don’t worry, I’ll take it!” - the big brother having stealthily removed the books and lunchbox beforehand.

Parents usually gave the teachers their wholehearted support, but occasionally a quaking teacher was confronted on the doorstep by an irate mother. “It’s not that I mind you making Billy scrub the ink off his desk with soapy water, but next time will you roll his sleeves up first - you have ruined his best school shirt!” My three older brothers drove to school in a sulky, and at the age of four I was allowed the rare treat of going with them for the day. Two memories remain vividly in my mind. One - the snake!

The stone school had a wooden floor, and on this particular day a snake was seen to slither in the open doorway and disappear down a small gap in between the floorboards. With great presence of mind the teacher ordered the children to stand on their desks. A boy was sent to a nearby farmhouse for, milk, which was poured into a saucer, and set in front of the hole The teacher, yardstick clutched in a shaking hand, stood behind the hole ready bomp the snake on the head when the scent of the milk lured it out. “snakes love milk and music”, she explained “so stand on the desks and sing!”

Never were songs sung with greater fervour; “Onward Christian Soldiers” with a rousing chorus; “I’m forever blowing bubbles” joyously, — “Sweet and Low” crooned softly and sweetly. I clung with both arms wrapped around the legs of a big brother, terrified of falling off the desk and being gobbled up by the snake.

I knew about snakes, although I had never seen one. Only a few days earlier our parents had warned us not to play near the sheds as a snake had been seen there.

“What would a snake do to me?” I asked my big brother Bill (Bill was six and knew
everything). “Probably swallow you”, he answered. “I’d be too big”, I scoffed. “No you wouldn’t”, Bill persisted; “Snakes swallow birds an’ lizards an’ rabbits an’ - an’ all sorts of things”, he explained. “They have a sort of hinge in their jaw”. I knew about hinges, too. Hadn’t I held one for my father while he screwed it to a door? — But how could you hold a snake while someone screwed a hinge onto its jaw? - and anyway why would anyone want to help a snake open its mouth wide if they were such nasty bitie things? - at four years old life can be very, puzzling.

Either the music lulled the snake to sleep, or in spite of living under a schoolroom floor it had not done it’s homework and was not aware snakes were supposed to be addicted to milk and sweet music, because it refused to surface.

The pupils, showing signs of boredom and restlessness, were sent home, one boy being delegated to call at the farmhouse and ask the farmer if he would join the teacher for a council of war. I don’t remember whether the snake was ever evicted.

Nature study lessons were on the school agenda and the students were encouraged to bring flora and fauna specimens to school. My other memory concerns one of the latter.

On my next trip to school I was astounded to see the normally sedate teacher racing around in circles, screaming “Take it off – Take it off – Take it OFF!!”. One of the older boys had put a lizard on her shoulder.

As Dick and Barbara had both been well educated (Dick had finished his education at Roseworthy College, and Miss Thornber’s had - for those days - a very advanced curriculum - teaching Science, Botany, Geology, Physiology, as well as the three
R’s” and Art, Music, etc.) - they were able to give their children plenty of help; they were determined that even’ if they, lived so far from the city, their boys and girls would not, grow up insular in outlook. Boxes of books arrived regularly from relatives; the children were encouraged to read the weekly newspapers from cover to cover — and discuss the contents - to also read the reports of Parliamentary Debates recorded in Hansard (Dick’s father was a Member of Parliament) - and regardless of how tired she was Barbara always made time to read to the children at night.

Card games were regarded as being not only recreational, but educational as well. “Two’s” or “Snap” developed alertness - “Crib”, at the age of seven, taught addition, and “Bridge”, at the age of nine or ten, was considered to be within their range - (the children did not always agree to that as the standard of play expected from them sometimes caused them to wish to be elsewhere) - but Dick decreed they should play, so play they did. “Bridge not only teaches you concentration, but other valuable lessons”, he said. “Tactics! - as you go through life, if you don’t hold trump cards - think! work out a way round! - you’ll win,” and scooping up the final winning trick - “Tactics!” he would say with glee. Little did he realise how well those lessons had been learnt - and were to be used against him in years to come!

Dick was a strong minded, old fashioned father who believed the man was the head of the house, and whatever rule he chose to lay down had to be obeyed -no argument.

But he had bred strong minded children also, and I sometimes laugh when I remember the “Tactics”, we employed! Two instances come to mind: (1)
Sugar - When the daughters were teenagers and able to housekeep, Barbara went for a rare holiday. On this particular day Dick was going into the nearby town for groceries. “Don’t forget sugar - we are running short”, I said. Dick was in a difficult mood. “I’m not getting sugar - you all eat far too much sugar,” he stormed. We girls looked at each other with amazement - father had the sweetest tooth, Of all! However - no sugar was included in the grocery order. Time for Tactics!’ Fortunately we had a supply of very sour plums so - a dessert ‘of plums cooked with a small spoonful of sugar instead of half a cup. The younger members of the family were instructed in the role they were to play. Dessert was passed around - a minute spoonful of sour, sour plums, smothered in a large serving of custard for the children - a large helping sour plums with a spoonful of custard for Dick. “Phaugh! girl”, he choked “Didn’t you put any sugar in these plums?” “Yes, of course,” I said (virtuously remembering the teaspoon of sugar) “But you know we have to use less “ Dick manfully ate the lot and reached thankfully for his cup of tea in which he usually put two heaped spoons of sugar. Suddenly mindful of reproachful eyes all round the table, he slowly put the second spoonful back in the bowl and drank his tea - without relish.

The silent war went on for several days - no one wanted the plums, so they lasted well, and Dick was served cereal with plums for breakfast, plum tart for lunch, plums with sponge top for dinner. “Aren’t these things ever coming to an end?” he complained, and was told we had to use them up, we mustn’t waste the sugar.

Similar horrible menus - sugarless - were served up and somehow the sugar spoon was mislaid and a small coffee spoon took its place in the sugar bowl. On the fourth day Dick found he had unexpected business in the town, and without a word being said a supply of sugar appeared mysteriously on the kitchen table after his return. Menus quietly returned to normal - just as well, as the older girls were faced with incipient rebellion amongst the younger children.

The other instance related to tennis shorts. Shorts for girls were just coming into fashion - but not for Dick’s daughters! “No daughter of mine -etc. etc.” he raged. Time for Tactics again.

Margret, aged eighteen, had two friends as house guests, and Dick proposed a set of tennis - he and Margret against the other pair. In the bedroom Margret looked wistfully at the other girl’s shorts. “I wish I was allowed to wear shorts,” she said. “Bring your tennis, dress over to the sewing machine” I requested. The side seams were taken in so that whilst Margret could walk without discomfort, running or leaping was definitely out. Dick believed in energetic tennis - one did not wait for the ball - one ran for it! “Run, girl, run,” he shouted at Margret. “Don’t just stand there like a dummy”. “I’m trying, but skirts are not really the best for leaping about in,” panted Margret, deliberately missing as many shots as she dared. The couple at the other end of the court (clued up beforehand) played a really smashing game. Dick and Margret were beaten 6 - 1, and Dick hated to be beaten! “I suppose you can get some of those shorts things”, he said grudgingly as they left the court - “But not too short, now mind!” “No, not too short,” agreed Margret, running in to do a silent but triumphant war dance round the kitchen table - skirt hitched up to the thighs length! Tactics!

In those days we children never for an instant doubted that we had ‘put one over’ our Father in such skirmishes, but looking back now that I am older and wiser (not to mention having, in the intervening period,
bought up a family of my own and so learnt the value of strategic retirement when out manoeuvred by offspring) - looking back, was Dick really outwitted, or did he just give an inward grin and unobtrusively retreat - “If you can’t beat ‘em, join em!

As the children grew older the Sons joined the local sporting clubs, and all belonged to the tennis associations - Dick playing as well as his children. Barbara’s recreation was reading - or playing the piano.

After the northern property had been developed and a house built, Barbara and the younger children joined Dick at Myola; by that time the older children had either left home to further their education or branch out into separate lives.

The girls eventually trained in city professions - nurse, school teacher, librarian, office personnel - before marrying.

Four - Joan, Margret, Helen and Lysbeth - married country property owners and so returned to the land - Isabel and Bess remained in the cities.

Of the boys - Jack died as a prisoner of war in the second World War. Richard (Ric) lived in or near cities on various engineering projects, while Douglas, Hilary (Bill) and Bruce owned country properties -Doug “Myola” and Bruce “Katunga” - both sheep properties on upper Eyre Peninsula - Bill owned a mixed farm at Tumby Bay - an enterprise which included merino sheep stud. ‘Myola’ and ‘Katunga’ are adjoining properties. ‘Katunga’ has since been sold.


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