I was born at Lismore (Northern N.S.W.) in 1940. Upon Dad’s return from World War II, he took up a farm (which included a large banana plantation) at Upper Burringbar.
Throughout my childhood and youth (apart from 14 months in Sydney working at A.W.A. and doing night classes for an accountancy scholarship I’d won – which I tossed in because of my love for the country) I worked on our own and neighbouring properties in bananas, small crop growing, fence post splitting, cattle mustering and timber work. I also wandered the McPherson Range, exploring its beautiful hills, ridges, valleys and its unique and wonderful forests and wildlife.
Dad died the day I left home to join the Permanent Army at Enoggera army camp in Brisbane. Word came through and my “Swearing in” was postponed and I went home. I had just turned 18. Dad was 56. Not long after that my mother let the bank take the farm. I went working in Brisbane for a drainage contractor and dug up half of Chermside (pick and shovel, of course) for the houses to be sewered.
A chance meeting led to a job in the Mitchell – St. George area in Western Queensland, with Reg Cullen and his mobile saw-mill, cutting and milling Cypress pine for sheep and cattle stations in the area. I then worked as a stockman on two jointly owned properties, alternating between “Tippendale South” near Bollon (in the (red soil) mulga and sandalwood country, as it was and still should be) and “Comilaroy”, down the Barwon river from Mungindi. This included one small ten day droving trip from “Wandoonah” near Moree, to “Comilaroy”. I played a season of rugby league for Mungindi, while working on those stations. In the league we played St. George, Dirrinbandi, two Goondiwindi teams and Boggabilla. Dirrinbandi field was half full of bull-dust holes and Boggabilla was a bare claypan, except for stones, and the only bit of green was some khaki burr. Seven (including me) were poisoned after one match and we had to have penicillin injections. Great, when you’re putting down a fence line 140 kms out of town in the mulga.
After recovering from a near deadly dose of Hepatitis, I entered the shearing sheds rouseabouting and wool-pressing and soon ended up with learners pens around Glen Innes and Armidale. I then quickly became a full-time professional shearer, beginning each year around Quilpie, Eromanga, Windorah area, then Charleville, Blackall and up to Julia Creek,Hughenden and sometimes ending the year on The New England or eastern Victoria.
I had a break for 20 months, travelling the world on Scandinavian freighters (using a system called “Seven all over”) working in four different countries and part of a season on a fishing boat at Lossiemouth, Scotland. I also managed an overland trip from London to Colombo, via the Middle-East.
Returning to Australia via Darwin, I spent 12 months shearing, beginning at Hughenden and working south. In Sydney, while chasing up a mate (fencing contractor, Bill Reynolds) from Charleville, my career took a dramatic change when I became an actor (also working as a fitter, builder’s labourer, truck driver and sugar refinery worker to keep bread and butter on the table during the early stages of this new career). From 1971 to the end of 1979, I worked as a professional actor on stage and in T.V. and film. I was nominated for “Male Actor in a Leading Role” in the prestigious “Victorian Greenroom Awards”. This was for a one man show written by Barry Dickens, “Between Engagements”. The nominees were Paul Eddington, Frank Gallacher, Bruce Myles, Geoffrey Rush and Roderick Williams. Paul Eddington (from “Yes Minister”) won the award for a role in “The Browning Version”. An English actor in a play brought from England on tour, takes home the Australian Award. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
An horrific car smash stopped everything and after 18 months of treatment, recovery and hibernation, I returned to the shearing industry with Dick Duggan’s team, mainly based around Ivanhoe-Wilcannia but also sheds around Euroa and Benalla in Victoria. Until 1994 I worked in both professions. Half the year with Dick’s team and half the year as an actor.
As I grew older my worn out lower back discs and knees forced me to slow down. I began writing (seriously) in 1998 and worked as the regular entertainer at Middlebrook Station to bus loads of tourists for whom I and my blue heeler dog, Jessie, would tell yarns, perform poems and songs and shear a sheep or two when required.
I am now living by Dingo Creek near Marlee, west of Wingham, N.S.W. were I continue to write, spend time in the bush and still shear the odd sheep. A shearing mate of mine, Bede Tattersall, (we shore together during the eighties around Ivanhoe) now lives at Wingham and has built up (as a sideline) a pet sheep run. So I go with him sometimes to various little hobby farms and houses and peel the wool off a few pets and laugh at some of the situations and reminisce about the western sheds.
My writing continues to occupy me and I have started my own publishing firm Bonza Bluedog Publications to publish my work.
Contact Rod on 0413 786872 or visit his website.