We left our home, Hazledene, in High Street, Southport to live on Hope Island in 1944. Well, the departure for our mother, who was leaving the relative comfort of Hazeldene, must have been terrible, but she never ever complained. She had to adjust to life 10 miles (20 kilometres) from Southport, where we lived as they did 100 years ago, with no electricity, no phone, no bathroom, and no friends. We'd been living at Southport whilst our father was based at Evans Head, on the north coast of New South Wales, during World War 2. When my father returned from Evans Head, he found that he couldn't live in a town. He wanted to live off the land and so we moved to Hope Island. My parents were Barbara and Leigh Nicholls; the children's names were Anna, Jenny, Jane and John.
Our Hope Island house was a very small weather board building, which stood on high stumps. The home consisted of three bedrooms, a sleep out, a small dining room and kitchen. We used lanterns, an Aladdin lamp; bathed in a large cast iron tub; heated our water in a copper boiler located underneath the house. The old lavatory was outside, some distance from the house. I can recall my poor mother battling with the old wood stove. One flood on the island was memorable for we had no dry wood for the fire - no dry clothes or warm food. A boat moored at the jetty was used once a week for shopping. My sisters and little brother were so young to have endured their responsibilities that I feel it wasn't easy for them, either. They'd walk to the end of the property, row the boat across the mouth of Saltwater Creek and Coombabah Creek to Beitz's property on the mainland. They then walked each day to Labrador State School located on the Brisbane Road and then returned home the same way. My sister, Jane, was in town at boarding school. I was working at home by this time. We kept an old army jeep in a shed near Beitz's on the mainland. I was permitted a driver's licence at the age of 15, with the condition that I didn't drive in Southport. I took the jeep into town a couple of times to get food and collect a sister from school. I was scared the first time, but I was never caught and had no accidents.
The pastures, around 260-300 acres I think, consisted of a combination of kikuyu and blade grasses. It was almost a self-supporting lifestyle. We could grow, produce or catch most things, producing our own milk and butter, with our diet supplemented by the fish and mud crabs caught in the creek.
We started dairying about 20 cows, milking by hand and separating and selling cream. The skim milk was fed to the pigs, which were let graze on green grass all day and then put in their shed at night. Our bacon was often sold at a good price. I had a small pet pig which would follow me everywhere.
The cream cans were rowed across to the main land at low tide. My father grew sweet potatoes, watermelons, corn and peanuts. We sold melons at one (1) shilling each - at least those that we managed to save from the crows. Next we turned to buying poor cattle (any breed or condition), fattening them up and selling them. I would drive them to sale on my skewbald (brown and white) stock horse, Monty. We would ride past Sheehan's house (where Mrs Sheehan still lives today, 50 years later).
My father was always yelling instructions to me on how to get the cattle across the river. I remember taking one lot across. We didn't care whether it was high or low tide as long as the cattle arrived at the Coomera sales on time. I was swimming them across the river one day, when one calf was swept away with the tide and was heading down stream slowly. I slid off my horse and swam after her, until I could turn her back. With my horse near me, I slid on bare back and continued to take the cattle across the river on their journey to the sales.
I loved those days. Once, coming home past Sheehans, I was offered a glass of water and I met Frank and the other children. On one occasion, I was close to home when a boar chased me. I was carrying a bag of lemons and although I was galloping fast, I managed to throw a lemon at the pig. The pig immediately ate it. As it stopped in its tracks, I looked back and I can remember to this day the look of distaste on its face. I rode for my life, leaving it behind.
One day in the bush I was on the end of a cross-cut saw helping my father cut through a large log. I would be dragged across with his strong pull, "Hang on kiddo" he yelled, and then I pushed back again with all my strength. I soon realised a sense of rhythm and pace was the key - something I later learned was important in all aspects of life.
My fondest memories in my teens were those hazy, lazy days riding Monty along the river bank to check our boundary fence. In my mind, the grass seemed so green, the sky blue, and there were no clouds in sight. The river was dark green and still as a mill pond in the shade of the tall gum trees reflecting on the water from their side of the river. On my side of the river, I could just make out the shape of a mud crab hiding amongst the mangrove roots, the stillness interrupted by a ripple of water and a plop as the fish jumped. My little brother would happily sit on the riverbank fishing with a bit of string and no hook. He was too young to work and he'd tell us that he'd been fishing all day.
I used to dream what the outside world would hold. Adventure and companionship were what I wanted, as we never saw many people whilst on the island. We occasionally saw a neighbour, Alf Williamson, if he was outside or maybe Mrs Sheehan when we passed their properties. Then suddenly, for family reasons, we had to leave my romantic island.
I visit the place today after having lived in Tasmania and Western Australia for 53 years. My parents' version of their time there is now lost for my father passed away in 1972 and my mother Barbara died in August 2001.
Tangible links to the place are fast fading. Today, our farm buildings consist of just foundations as shown in the photographs. The land is now overgrown in pine trees - perhaps originating from the six trees my father planted so long ago. The mango tree my father planted is still there behind the remains of the house.
11th March 2002