Uncle Will Weaver

The Gums farm was situated two miles off the Hume Highway to the west, at the end a gravel road now signposted as Gums Gully Lane. The far boundary of the farm was to the west where the Old Sydney Road, a stock route, follows a ridge of hills, being the watershed of Deep Creek (which becomes the Maribyrnong River) to the west and The Drain to the east (it becomes the Merri Creek as it flows south).

My Uncle Will had taken the three-horse-drawn wagon up on to Riggs Hill at the south-western corner of the farm and was moving inside the boundary fence northward where the hill slopes back to the east. I was a small boy on holiday and I cannot remember why we were up there with the heavy wagon; I guess it was to drop off fence posts and rolls of wire, a load too big for a one-horse two-wheeled dray. The centre horse, Violet, was harnessed to the shafts (which steered the front wheels) as well as throwing her considerable weight into pulling. Each of the side-horses was simply harnessed by chains hooked to their collars and hames and anchored to the swingle-bars attached to the wagon. Each horse was attached to its neighbour by a short chain or strap connected to the bit or mouthpiece thereby ensuring that the horses would turn together or keep a straight course ahead when steered by the reins held by the driver.

At the steepest slope of the hill the horse on the lower side lost its footing, fell and rolled entangling itself in the chains hanging beside it. Naturally, it struggled to get up but was powerless against the restraint of the twisted draw-chains and the short bit-chain. The animal was understandably distressed and panicky.

To a child the situation was frightening. I had been following the wagon on foot to the side at some distance and was now turned to see what would happen. My uncle had reined in the other horses with loud “Whoa”s, hurriedly chocked the wheels, and was calming the alarmed animals with quiet “Whoa”s; he looked for slack in the fallen horse’s chains and how best to disentangle them, going about his inspection slowly and carefully to avoid being injured by the horse’s struggles, all the time talking quietly and soothingly to the animal. Using his own great strength he was able to release it from its harness eventually and the animal stood free but shaken. Undoing the bit-chain he allowed the horse to break free and wander in the paddock; soon it was heading home alone to the house paddock and stables.

The wagon team of two resumed its way along the boundary fence, now gently sloping down to the gully and watercourse called The Wash. I was relieved that any danger had passed and that the situation was back to normal. I had faith in my uncle to do extraordinary things and that faith had been reinforced by the day’s incident.

Years later we were carting in hay together on another farm down towards Craigieburn; it fronted the Hume Highway below Mount Ridley. My uncle had overstocked and overworked the first farm and, as a consequence, production had dropped significantly; he was advised to rest the land to restore its productivity, so he invested in “Misery Farm” as he called it although officially it was known as the River Bank Estate (Merri Creek ran through the north-eastern corner). We had finished work for the day and he was putting out sheaves of hay on the ground for the horses when one of them, frustrated by the bullies at the head of the line, came trotting down to the freshly laid hay and swung his rear legs around at my uncle, missing him by inches. My uncle turned quickly and swore with some heat “You rotten cow!” Lesser men, not nearly so tough and hard-working as he, would have let the world know in no uncertain terms what they thought of the beast’s parentage.

My uncle was building a new workmen’s hut to replace the ramshackle hut which had stood in the house paddock since before the old Gums station had been subdivided. One day, as he worked inside the nearly completed hut, his favourite horse, Violet, then retired but once a hardworking draught, poked her head in the unfinished window and gave my uncle a nudge. Light-heartedly he told her he was busy and she shouldn’t waste his time. She withdrew her head and shortly after he heard a mighty PLOP! Violet had collapsed on the ground outside the hut and was already dead when he rushed out to see what was wrong. Had Violet a forewarning of her dying moment and wanted to to receive a last minute comforting pat from her master?

His first car to replace the jinker or gig drawn for years by the quietest horse, Mick, was a Willys 77 coupe with a rear outside “dicky” seat. The engine was American and the bodywork was built by Holden in Melbourne before the days of General Motors – Holden. The ubiquitous Jeeps of World War II were built by the Willys company. My uncle’s choice of car was, I suspect, influenced by the brand name which humorously declared his ownership of the car. Occasionally a sheep, bag of chaff, or pan of over-ripe plums graced the dicky seat as well as an itinerant worker or two. The small black and tan Kelpie sheep-dog, Lass, had pride of place on the single bench seat alongside the driver. Weaver would drive along his two-mile unsealed lane in second gear, studying the neighbours’ crops and sheep with a keen eye; there was never any other traffic on that road to distract him.

William Henry Weaver was born on 18 March 1891 at his grandfather’s farm “Allandale” at Bagshot, Victoria; son of Sydney Weaver and his wife Clara Alexina Weaver (nee Allan). He was married to Ruby Irene Mewett at Seddon Congregational Church on 13 March 1924; there were no children. Will died at Bendigo on 12 June 1972, just three weeks after the death of Ruby.

– almewett

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Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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