Our gymkhanas were tremendously popular with all the youngsters within 100 miles of each other. They were held at ‘Beryl’, the Jim Crombie’s place and all families were accommodated in the large shearers quarters with its cold showers and pit toilets and wooden mattressed beds. Families were mainly “softies” and brought their own mattresses, blankets, and sheets with them. Excitement mounted as our ponies or horses were taken away, and our mattresses and suitcases loaded up with our own saddles and gear, and we waited impatiently for the grown-ups to be ready.
The children’s events were held on the first day and a dance held in the wool shed that night; the second day was occupied with the grown-ups of various degrees of dignity making asses of themselves chasing the greasy pig, galloping 100 yards, picking up two watermelons, mounting and carrying them back to the starting point, doing the figure of 8 between five posts, stealing the bride (or husband), tossing the caber, foot racing and so on. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely. Swimming events were held in the large earth dam with all the carcasses and bogged sheep removed the day before the event. A rope was stretched across the middle of the dam, with inflated tyre tubes attached. A raft of empty kerosene tins overlaid by wooden slats was tied to it halfway across on which sat a few “life savers”, mainly young teenage boarding school boys who could swim well. That is they sat on top of the raft unless some silly joker moved over to the edge, on which the raft would usually turn upside down like lightning and hit everyone on the head – rescued and rescuer alike. This was greatly enjoyed by the spectators with much applause and cheering.
I’m glad this provided amusing entertainment for them but the day when I was one of the rescued wasn’t too funny. The gymkhanas were always held in winter and this big dam was about 24 feet deep in the middle and very, very cold. The further one swam towards the middle the colder the water became. Being allergic to cold water I felt myself gradually losing my strength and finally had to signal to the lifesavers. Cliff Logan came to the rescue and ferried me back to shore where I was soon surrounded by a group of people who kept the cold wind off me thank goodness. I was an awful sight covered in giant allergy lumps of the rich purple–red hue, my face and hands were swollen up, and my mouth all pulled sideways. Dry towels were produced and I was dried, cheered up and allowed to lie in the sun. The lumps departed in about 20 minutes but I didn’t really get my strength back until next day.
In the morning various childrens’ riding events had been held and I had won the under 14 trotting race on Ginger Meggs, so I was terribly thrilled and looking forward to getting my prize. Mrs Crombie gave us prizes. When my turn came I got a cookery book. Now all my family knew that I was not exactly a devoted indoor “domesticated” type. I was far more interested in what was going on “outside”, and all blandishments and invitations to spend the day in the kitchen to learn to cook had been evaded. So I couldn’t help laughing as I said “Oh, a cookery book!”. But I immediately realized my tone had said much more and I was promptly very ashamed – and in front of dear Mrs Crombie too. Mrs Crombie, the gracious, poised, kindly, thorough “Lady”, my role model, whom I hoped to emulate one day (alas and alack). I felt very bad at my unguarded response and wished the earth could swallow me up. I thought I should have been past such frankness at 12 years old! However Mrs Crombie (the mother of about six children) was not at all fazed. “Oh dear”, she said “Look I’ve given you the wrong prize, here is yours”, and she handed me a beautiful little pearl-handled pocket knife. I loved it and had that knife until long after my children were born (I think one of them must have got away with it because it became “lost”).
Many years later after the gymkhana but before the war, one of her sons, Donald and I became great friends. One day I told Donald about my humiliation and feelings on that occasion. If I expected him to feel any sensitivity or show me sympathy or fellow feeling or any understanding at all (as I did) on that confidence, I was to be sadly disappointed. He fell about nearly choking with laughter. “Well, well I’ll be hanged” he said. “At last I know why! When I went up to get my prize for the under 14 bending race Mum handed me a copy of the Girls Own Cookery Book. I opened my mouth and started to ask why, but Mum gave me one of her “Don’t you dare say another word” looks and later on I couldn’t get any explanation out of her. So now you can just give me that penknife”.