There was a large gravel pit on the dairy farm I grew up on outside Ulverstone, in north west Tasmania.  I don’t think the income from it was huge, but it  must have been a big help to my parents when they bought the property in 1952.

Gravel pit, South Road, Ulverstone

At one point a gang of council workers camped on the farm. I believe they were taking gravel to  improve the four miles of unsealed road to Ulverstone.  To my shame I crept into a tent one day and slurped some condensed milk from an open tin. I was about seven years old at the time.  It was the start of a long term addiction, though fortunately to condensed  milk rather than to crime.

The pit contractors in the  later 50s and early 60s were a  Mr Jack Smith and his offsider, Ivor Harris.

Jack Smith (left) and Ivor Harris (far right) Photo courtesy of John Harris)
Jack Smith and his gravel truck.
Jack Smith shoveling gravel (photo courtesy John Harris)
ivor Harris loading gravel near Ulverstone
Ivor Harris on the loader. (phot0 courtesy of John Harris)

I remember the younger Ivor as darkly handsome. We used to tease my mother and say he was her boyfriend, which she took with her usual good humour.  In the days before we had a car we sometimes we got a lift into town  in Mr Smith’s truck.

The gravel pit was  a wonderful ‘adventure’ playground for me and my siblings, as was our old lucerne tree.

Allen children in lucerne tree.
Plotting an escapade in the gravel pit?  A favourite photo. From left, me, Laurie and Robbie.

We used to catch tadpoles in the puddles and carry them home in a jar. We would hang  a piece of meat over the side to feed them, which sounds very silly and disgusting. They did seem to crowd around and nibble on it though. Despite everything they managed to grow legs and hop away. In the absence of tadpoles we might pick a bunch of wildflowers for Mum; Erica and Heath (Epacris impressa) seemed to thrive in those gravelly conditions.

Erica (I think this was an environmental weed)
Nectar filled Australian native heath
Nectar filled Australian native heath.
Oh dear….poor little things.

The pit was full of interesting old  bits of machinery. We got into trouble once for appropriating an inner-tube  to use as  a raft in an adjoining dam.  I suspect dear Mr Smith informed on us.  It occurs to me that the  various dams were formed in old areas of gravel extraction. They were home to platypus and I dread to think what else. We risked our lives swimming in them, which is probably why our dear  old cattle dog Laddie would try to pull us out. Once we clambered out to find a large tiger snake coiled up on our clothes. We yelled for our father, but it had slithered off by the time he arrived.

My sister Robbie with Laddie.
Platypus skimming the surface
Photo courtesy of Gary Clift.

Naturally my  mother’s garden paths were  made of gravel; well until they were ‘improved’ to concrete!  What a shame that was. The backyard was also gravel, which led to a good many skinned knees when we were playing cricket etc. Far worse was the fall Mum had on my brother’s new bike. Giving in to his plea to ‘have a go’, she tried to scooter it along a slope  while wearing a rather tight skirt. The wheels slipped in the stones and down she went down, badly dislocating her elbow.

My worst memory of the gravel pit was connected to my father growing  green beans for the cannery.  By the early sixties we had an irrigation  system.  Sometimes we had to carry the pipes from the paddock shown below to another crop across the pit. The heavy sprinkler attachments would swing round and hit the gravel, much to Dad’s displeasure.

Gravel Pit at South Road Ulverstone
Beans almost ready to pick, circa 1963. The gravel pit is in the distance, RHS.

My father  misguidedly represented himself in a court action against some  later contractors.  He had prosecuted them  for breaking the terms of their lease by not taking enough gravel.  It was  a fairly clear breach, which  was just as well because  Dad didn’t have much idea of how to conduct his case and referred to the sympathetic magistrate variously as Your Lordship, Your Worship. etc   My mother and sister sat in the public gallery in a fever of  anxiety.  Anyway, Dad won the day.  He probably had visions of himself as Rumpole of the Bailey.

The gravel pit has long been out of family hands. However, the current lease-holder  tell me it is still a going concern, and will be for many years to come.

  1. Ah, Condensed milk. My grandmother was said to have reared Cousin Jack, who’d been abandoned into her care, on condensed milk.
    My father had a Xmas special vegetable dis: parsnips mashed with condensed milk. and a special pudding: jelly mixed with condensed milk.

    • Pauline

      Oh my, I’m not sure whether Cousin Jack was lucky or deprived! I’m adding your father’s Xmas parsnip dish to a story I wrote on condensed milk! It does sound better than the British affection for brussel sprouts as a Christmas dinner dish.

  2. Another enjoyable story thank you Pauline.

    Aussie children groing up in those days, as I did, had lots of adventure in their

    lives. It’s a whole different world now for kids growing up. I believe all kids need

    a little adventure, but I guess parents have to be extra specially protective now days.

    Warm wishes
    Lyn Doherty

  3. An idyllic childhood. No child today would be able to experience this or enjoy these wonderful and simple pleasures.

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