The summer of 1957 in north west Tasmania was unusually dry. My father was forced to harness up our draught horses Bell and Nugget and use a sled to transport water to our farmhouse from a back paddock dam. He used 44 gallon drums covered with wet chaff bags for the journey of perhaps 500 metres. I was only six years old, but I can still smell that wet hessian, and hear the sound of the sled’s iron runners slithering over our gravel road. It was all quite a novelty.
This period of drought led my very pragmatic father to take what for him was an extraordinary step. He hired a local water diviner. On February 9th his diary records, ‘Mr Hardy diviner here looking for spring, pegged spot to dig well.’
Now Mr Hardy didn’t use the wire dowsing rod my parents expected. He simply broke a forked stick from our lucerne tree and began to pace around the homestead.
Eureka! It swung to earth at a spot behind the house and the diviner declared there would be water at twenty feet. There was another dam further down the hill, so it appeared Mr Hardy had located an underground spring. Twenty feet seemed a feasible project. A month later, when my big brother Ken was home on leave from the navy, he and Dad started digging, Here is another extract from the farm diary;
Our neighbors the Dobsons came to help. The men set up a windless to lower themselves into the deepening hole….sending up buckets of red topsoil, gravel, then sand. The latter was a great joy to we kids; Dad put some in a frame to make a sandpit for us. It was nearly as good as a trip to Ulverstone beach.
Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the digging, but I found one on the internet taken in Transylavia; oh well, close enough to Tasmania;
The twenty foot mark was reached fairly quickly, but there was no sign of water. Never mind, must be nearly there. The danger of the sides collapsing doesn’t bear thinking about, but on they went. At forty feet it was still dry and Dad was losing hope. Still, having gone so far there seemed no alternative except to keep digging. At sixty feet he gave it up as a bad job. There was only a puddle of brackish water in the bottom. ‘It might slowly fill’, he said, but it never did. He put a fence around it, and later a cover of logs with a trapdoor.
Trying to make the best of a bad situation, he considered building a toilet over it….the deepest ‘drop dunny’ in the world. My grandmother was appalled.
Water from the kitchen was redirected to drain into the empty well. It also became our rubbish tip. The history of our family is there; an unintended time capsule. The first layer contains all the discarded treasures of childhood; trikes, go-carts, armless dolls, deflated beach balls. It was also the perfect place to hide broken china from Mum and a few years on….cigarette butts.
Slowly it began to fill. I look back now and realize it probably holds valuable antiques….well, sought after vintage pieces. Why oh why didn’t we keep the butter churn, or that old bakerlite radio? I have to confess (sorry Dad) that the well also contains something we were warned never to mention in Grandma’s hearing.
When the well had filled to about 25 feet deep there was a tragedy. A young pig rooting about in the paddock managed to create a gap under the logs. It fell in, landing unharmed on an old mattresses. For days my father tried to rescue it, lowering down a crate ‘baited’ with turnips. But no, the pig refused to co-operate. By the this time the walls were far too unstable to send anyone down. In the end Dad had to send us all away and finish the sorry business with his rifle.
There was another ‘well’ incident that occurred when my parents tried to do a favour for the local Girl Guides Association. I think it’s best if this story remains unpublished , even though my writery spirit longs to share it. All I will say is, RIP poor Manto.
My brother now lives on the old place. Due to development, it has reduced in size to a hobby farm. The well completely filled up many years ago. Oddly enough, my father never once expressed criticism of the water diviner. I think he just put the failure down to bad luck in missing the spring.
To be honest, I don’t think there is any scientific basis for dowsing. Some people say that practitioners succeed because there is water everywhere under the ground. Hmmm, that doesn’t say much for Mr Hardy, does it?
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