The Village of the Dreamed
Growing up in a rural Australian village as it transformed from a traditional farming community to a satellite commuter suburb.
In 1981 my parents decided to move from a comfortable middle class suburb in the Darling Downs regional center of Toowoomba to a tiny village 40 kms away. They opened a taverna style restaurant in an old general store in the village. As a result I was removed from my private primary school and sent to a government co-educational school in a small town an hour away by bus, where the main industries were a military base and two abattoirs. This was just the beginning of the culture shock.
Goombungee was my new village home. It had existed for 100 years before we moved there and little had changed in that time. But it was about to. It was a fading farming community, mostly made up of families of German background that had settled in the area in the late 1800s. I was one of the few kids in my class with an Anglo name, everyone else being Hartwig, Hitzke, Kejeswski, Ehrlich, Gersekowski, Tonscheck, Klease, Skuse and Lau (to name but a few). I turned 13 the first year we lived in Goombungee, but I did not celebrate in the village. My parents had accompanied the move to the country with a 4 month backpacking adventure around the Aegean. I turned 13 on the Greek island of Andros. My party was eating a leg of roast chicken with two suntanned Swiss girls in their 20s.
Back in the village after our travels I felt like I had gone back in time. There was no communal water supply or sewage system (water tank and septic trench). Street lighting was restricted to the main street, which was also the highway to the next towns (Kingsthorpe and Haden). No public transport apart from the school bus that took us the hour there and back again each day. There was only one TV channel that could be picked up. Milk was delivered unpasteurized straight from the dairy, by a 6 foot 7 inch tall bloke who went by the name of Slab (real name Adrian). He drove around in his station wagon with the milk in the old metal containers in the back. We would leave a metal tin, a billy, hanging on a post or near the step and he would pour milk into it in the morning for 20 cents a liter. In the winter the milk was often frozen on top when we brought it in. We cooked on a wood stove and heated the house with two more fireplaces we had. We only had a bath for a family of five and we shared the water.
Goombungee was the administrative center for the Shire of Rosalie, which was a local government area in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, Australia, immediately northwest of the regional city of Toowoomba. The shire covered an area of 2,200.7 square kilometers (849.7 sq mi), and had existed as a local government entity since 1879.
In Goombungee in the 1980s we rode horses, shot things, started drinking and having sex early. Cars were an essential part of growing up and most of us started driving well before 16 years, when it was legal to get a driver’s license. Bush bashing was a favorite pastime; driving fast offroad in an old car and knocking things over. I did this, as well as reading a lot of books in my teenage years, mostly from my father’s extensive library. I also immersed myself in music, listening to bands like The Clash, The Cure, Talking Heads, INXS and Bob Marley and the Wailers. I started working when I was about 14, first at the local battery egg farm (moving chickens between cages and shifting their shit from beneath them) and then picking produce on local farms.
While my parents were Marxist hippies, there were 11 churches in the village and on Sundays most of them were full. Power lay with the QCWA, the Queensland Country Womens Association, which ran almost all social activities in the village outside the pub. The pub was The Pioneer Arms, the last pub left in Goombungee (the other 8 burnt down), and it was as popular as the churches. Such events as the Country Music Night would draw a capacity crowd, often to hear such things as Chad Morgan’s The Farmyard Yodel, sung by local mother named Maisie, a 5 foot tall plump woman who never let an off-key note get in the way of a good time.
Occasionally a thirsty cowboy would ride a horse into the bar of the Pioneer Arms or there would be a fight in the car park (which I could watch from my bedroom window). Meanwhile, the faithful would pray for rain in the fields when it was needed. Some of the more evangelical groups practiced full immersion baptism in the creek, and later when a swimming pool was opened at the primary school, the ritual was conducted there.
There was a hardware and agricultural supply shop and the shire council yard which provided employment for the village. Many of my school mates went on to work in either the abattoirs of Toowoomba or Oakey or on the road repair gangs of the shire council. The Mathieson family operated the hardware shop and out near the golf course (9 holes, 20 kangaroos) there was their steel shed manufacturing business. One of the few other industries in Goombungee was Bert and Ted Kretschmar’s soft drink “factory”, which they actually operated out of an old shed at the back of Bert’s house. There they blended and bottled soft drink in Lemon, Sarsaparilla, Cola and Cherry flavors, selling them at the two shops in the village for 25 cents for a bottle (five cents back with the return of the bottle).
For entertainment there were dances in the Goombungee Hall. These included the Goombungee Debutante Ball once a year. The Deb Ball was the high point of the social calendar for the village. The hall was decorated. The ‘debs’, girls of between 16–19 years old who were supposedly making their ‘social debut’, spent a lot of time and/or money on their frocks. Their partners were often the popular sons of the farming families and many were either in relationships or were soon to be so with the debs. It was in many ways a preliminary stage of marriage.
There was no bar in the Goombungee Hall, instead ‘supper tickets’ were purchased and one could sit down in a long side room from the main dancing area. There were usually two sittings for supper, depending on which color ticket you purchased. In that way you could find yourself sitting next to a stranger or a relation. There you could drink tea and eat crustless cucumber or jam sandwiches on white bread. Dances were announced from the stage; “Now please take your partners ladies and gentlemen for a waltz”. The tea was milky and the conversation polite, but this was all in stark contrast to what was happening out in the car park behind the hall. There the beer was flowing, rum bottles being passed around and ‘durries’ (cigarettes of the tobacco variety — never anything else) were being cadged. The two worlds of the hall and the car park existed side by side, but the police were never called, and never came of their own accord, despite it occasionally getting rowdy and messy outside.
When I was about 15 some of friends, my sister and I formed the Goombungee Disco Committee. We raised money for lights and a glitter ball, then once a month we would put on a ‘disco’ in the hall. A cassette player powered these evenings of childish fun. As we got older we began to experiment with the music and decorations. I remember discovering the Devo song Mongoloid at the disco as a revelation. I had never heard anything like it before. I can see today that this was an early attempt to build my own world using music, fashion and art. It was my mental map that would lead me out of the dull conformity of the Darling Downs.
Another annual event of some intensity was the Goombungee Show. Once a year the farmers gathered to show their produce, share their stories and entertain their kids and women folk. There were competitions for best jams, knitting and wood chopping among others in at the show. The night before the show there was a piss up in the cattle shed, and I joined it at least twice. I remember spending the night sleeping in the hay and rising early to clear out while the farmers prepared their stock for the coming competitions.
The Goombungee Cemetery
The Cemetery was originally reserved in a different location to where it is today. The first reserve was made on the 27/7/1889 and placed in the Government Gazette on the 3/8/1889. A new site was chosen on the south-east corner of portion 50V, Parish of Goombungee as outlined in a letter dated 4/10/1893. The first reserve was cancelled because of the impossibility to dig a grave and a new Cemetery reserve was proclaimed on the 17/1/1894, consisting of 6.65 Acres. This was placed in the Government Gazette on the 3/2/1894. The first burial took place on the 23/7/1894, in the name of Edith Annie Lloyd, aged 10 months. Sid and John Newton built a Memorial Wall made out of bricks in 1990 to house 8 Urns. The name Goombungee-Haden Cemetery was first recorded in correspondence in 1925, but the grounds have always been known as Goombungee Cemetery reserve until the Committee became incorporated. The Cemetery was transferred over to the Toowoomba Regional Council in 2008.
My friend Brian Tomkinson died when he was only 19 and he is buried in the Goombungee cemetery. Brian Leslie Tomkinson was born on the 31 May 1967. He was a mad bastard. One time a friend who lived in the old Butter Factory and I were walking between there and the old railway house that the Tomkinsons lived in. Brian was sitting on the back step of the high set timber house with a .22 caliber rifle, which he began firing at us with. He was not aiming to hit us, just to scare us. We ran and he kept firing, with bullets richeting off stones and bricks as we took shelter in the old Butter Factory, from where we could hear Brian laughing loudly.
Brian was killed when his car flew of the road and into a dry creek bed on the Haden-Goombungee road on 21 Jul 1986. The grass was so long his body was not found for 3 days. Brian was not the only young person to die on the roads around Goombungee with fearless/reckless behavior behind the wheel and bad luck claiming the lives of several of my friends.
Ernest “Ernie” Pukallus was the village lunatic of Goombungee. He was born on 1 January 1921 and died on 30 October 1999. The legend was that as children he and his brother were left in the sun as babies and suffered severe heatstroke that effected their mental development. Ernie was the son of Frederick Pukallus and Louisa Annie (Anna) Kraft. Ernie’s brother was Leslie (Les), known as ‘The Christian Poet’. Les would write bad rhyming verse about Jesus and either send it to The Toowoomba Chronicle, which published it occasionally, or he would pin the sheets of paper they were written on to the noticeboards and trees around the town.
Ernie dressed in an old army uniform, complete with heavy overcoat and slouch hat and he would rarely bathe. He smelt terrible. He wandered the highways around Goombungee always carrying a large stick. He sometimes would wave down a passing car and demand a lift somewhere, often to Toowoomba. He would go to Toowoomba at least once a week and when he returned in the evenings to Goombungee, someone having given him a lift, he was usually so drunk he could barely walk. He had an enormous nose, many missing teeth and would continually lick his lips. He always wore large sunglasses. We would torment Ernie by calling him Fred. This would drive him into hysterics as it was his father’s name. He would chase us waving his stick, screaming, down the nature strip that divided the main street of the village.
Ernie and Les lived in an unpainted timber house from the 1880s down near the creek. The house had a thunderbox toilet, only tank water and no electricity. Ernest enlisted in the Australian Army on 4 June 1940 in Queensland. He gave his next of kin as Frederick Pukallus and was living at Goombungee at the time he enlisted. His service number was QX5866. He was discharged on medical grounds on 17 October 1940 as a Private in the 2/15th Battalion Australian Infantry. But he reenlisted again on 3 June 1941, service number Q103402. He was discharged again on medical grounds on 18 December 1942 as a Private in the 49th Battalion Reinforcements.
Ernie wrote to the Australian Army Medals Section no less than 6 times between 1966 and 1991 saying he had lost or “burnt” his medals, and twice that they had been stolen and he wanted them replaced. The same four standard war medals were sent to Ernie a total of seven times (28 medals). Ernest Pukallus died on 30 October 1999 aged 77, presumably with a large box of medals by his side. He is buried in the Oakey cemetery, in a grave paid for by the Goombungee sub-branch of the Returned Serviceman’s League. Ernie is buried next to his brother Les who died in 1993 aged 74. The army was good to Ernie, and the letters he wrote to obtain his many medals are online:
Only two police were stationed in Goombungee, Albert was the Constable and Derek was the sergeant. Albert was a pencil thin little man who looked a little like Joseph Goebbels. Derek was a large man who rarely smiled (he ended his days as a paralyzed body following a stroke). I got my driver’s license in Goombungee when I was 16. I had already learned to drive when I was about 12, with my grandmother letting me drive around the local cemetery in Toowoomba while she kept her hand on the handbrake. Getting the actual license involved having a learner’s permit for 6 weeks (when my parents nervously accompanied me on short drives) and then going up to the police station and I drove around the block (largely deserted of traffic) and did a hill start. As it was just before lunch and the police sergeant wanted to get down to the pub for the counter lunch, he told me I could do ‘a short block’ and avoid the (largely deserted) main street. I had my driver’s license in about 20 minutes.
One of the local lads, Clayton, went for his drivers licence so hungover he was still drunk. Sergeant Derek accompanied him out of the station driveway and down the hill towards the main street. As they approached the intersection Clay failed to stop. Derek asked him as the car lurched out over the street, “What are you doing?” and Clay replied “Fucked if I know” as they crashed the car into the Post Office.
Not long after I got my driver’s license I was at a rugby league game with my high school team playing. It was a final with Oakey High against St. Mary’s Christian Brothers at Oakey. Me and two friends had been drinking and had no way of getting back to Goombungee that night. The brother one of my mates was practicing with his band in the Boodua hall so we thought to walk the 20 kms there and get a lift back to the village. We were all pretty drunk.
After four hours of inebriated stumbling we had decided to wave down the next car that went passed. We had dived into the long grass at the side of the road and hid from the few cars that had already passed. Soon the lights of a car shone from the horizon and we readied ourselves for a drunken interception of the vehicle. It reached us and we waved it down. Suddenly we were bathed in blue light and deafened by sirens. It was Albert and Derek, the Goombungee police. We were searched, the beer we had on us still had to be emptied onto the ground. We were told our parents would be informed (Derek and Albert knew who we were, our parents and where we lived). Then they left us there, to continue our late night walk. Two hours later we arrived at Boodua.
Alcohol was available for me from the age of 15. The last two years of school I was drinking almost every weekend, as was most of my class and friends. We would have ‘sticks parties’ which was getting a case of beer and heading out of the town down dirt roads and service tracks used by the shire council, where we would light a fire and drink until we were stumbling around (it usually took four or five beers). The highlight of the night would be urinating on a glowing beer bottle after we had fished it out of the fire. A cloud of foul steam and a cracking glass bottle accompanied our laughter under a star full sky that defied description. My parents always blamed my friends for any trouble I got into. When bottles of beer were found under my bed, my mother blamed my friend. I was able to do whatever I liked. Between Thursday and Sunday of every week my parents were working in the restaurant so I was free to be free….or neglected, depending on how you look at it.
I started hitchhiking when I was 15 (although I did hitch across Crete when I was 13 as my parents lent me to a lone British women who thought I may provide some security on the road for her). I would hitch the 43 kms from Goombungee to Biddeston where my girlfriend lived in a shed with 3 other members of her family, including her step dad, Toby a professional horse breaker who turned out to be a distant cousin of mine. Families were mixed and varied in form, if not in content, in the region. For example, a family by the name of Wassell with 15 children had a farm near Acland on the road to Oakey. There were so many children that they slept in outbuildings and barns, with all of them only meeting in the house when it was meal and bath times.
At night the streets were ours in Goombungee. We played a vast game of hide and seek in our younger years with large groups of other kids. We would go to one friends place in the old Butter Factory to watch Hey Hey it’s Saturday on Saturday nights, eating chips and drinking Kretchamar soft drink. Another friend’s parents had one of the general stores in the village and they rented out VHS cassettes. We could watch them for free, so I experienced the golden age of video hire horror and weirdness. It was this same friend that I began getting lifts with into Toowoomba on Saturday mornings for shopping trips to buy cassettes and second hand clothes. His dad sold second hand cars in town. We would end our visits to ‘the big smoke’ with a chicken burger from the newly opened Kentucky Fried Chicken. It felt like a visit to Paris for us.
When we were older we came and went as we liked, drinking in fields that were walking distance away from our homes. We lit fires in secret locations and sat by them talking. I would shoot targets with my air rifle in our front yard, one of the 4 guns I owned from the age of 12. Later when cars were available, we would drive over to Crows Nest or Oakey to party with other teenagers there. This often involved at least one person (often me) traveling in the boot of the car as there was no room inside. Later there was a nightclub in Toowoomba called The Powerhouse, a beer barn meat market that was not too fussed about how old you looked. I first went there when I was about 16, rescuing a girl in the car park from being harassed by thugs. I got my friend to give her a lift home. As we pulled out of the car park the thugs kicked the car, threw beer cans and yelled at us.
I left Goombungee two weeks after I finished high school in November 1986, moving to Toowoomba to live with my grandmother. I first had a job washing dishes in a Mexican restaurant before starting nursing training and then doing a BA in journalism in Toowoomba. From there I rapidly moved out into the world. I continued to visit and stay at my parent’s place in Goombungee until my father moved into Toowoomba in 2007. In that time Goombungee became less of an autonomous community with its own history and culture. It was increasingly turned into an extension of Toowoomba. This was finally completed in 2008 when the Rosalie Shire was dissolved and the area became part of the Toowoomba Region. It is now a place of ‘lifestyle’. All that is left, of what was before, are the graves.