My recallable memories of Catumnal date from around the time I was 2 years old in 1920. I remember there was always a telephone line available for local calls or links to Brisbane or other places interstate. The telephone exchange for our district was at Tangorin and it was staffed by an operator from early in the morning until late at night. Our party line served five properties.
The signal requesting the exchange was one long ring, Cairnhope two rings, Catumnal 3, Cressy 4, Burnside 1 long and 1 short ring, and Harwood 1 long and 2 short rings. In addition we had a number given to us for calls on a wider basis from far away. Ours was 89 Tangorin. It remained our number for a long time – right up until the automatic phones were installed. Having a party line meant that the subscribers had to maintain it themselves – a job that seemed to mean frequent trips along the line from home to the Tangorin exchange to replace insulators, lift up the line off the ground, replace posts broken by itchy bulls or some other hazard.
The men of those days had to have a wide practical knowledge of many disciplines; electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fencing, dam sinking, veterinary, carpentry, cement work, wool classing, horse breaking, harness mending, fellmongering, butchering, gardening – what else? Blacksmithing, and first aid. I expect that today the men of the faraway properties still need those skills if they want to be economical, but there is always an expert or tool available by plane if really needed.
In my time the lighting ranged from candles and kerosene lights with wicks and the glass globes; pressure kerosene lights with mantles, through a carbide gas light system installed throughout the house, to eventually an electric light system driven by a diesel engine charging batteries. This seemed to cause Dad more exasperation than anything else on earth. If he’d had a bomb to put under the diesel I’m sure it would have ended up exploding into the atmosphere. The carbide gas system had been very efficient and we eventually begged for its restoration, even at the cost of losing our electric iron. I can’t quite remember what happened – I couldn’t swear to it but I think the diesel ended up sitting mutely in the engine room for years. Some other arrangements must have been made, for when I left Catumnal we were still using petrol irons which were rather tricky inventions, but much, much better than Mrs Potts flat irons that were heated on the wood stove. These were always making black smears on our white clothes no matter how carefully we wiped them on a bag before applying them to their targets.
I have the fondest memories of those candles and the kerosene wick lamps of my earliest childhood. To me they are associated with bedtime stories, fond relatives, kisses, warm beds, comfort, and general security. I expect I was lucky child.