Still Being Written as at 26.03.17
I, Ken Aitken grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s at Wilsons Creek, up in the mountains out from Mullumbimby in Northern New South Wales. I was raised on a banana plantation amidst the steep slopes of rainforest and wet sclerophyll (gum) forest and occasional cliff outcrops. The creek we swam in was a very clear, clean freshwater rainforest creek with big deep pools. People now in the City, would give their `eye’ teeth for it as my late father used to say.
Wilson’s Creek is about twenty minutes (about ten kilometres) up in one of the many valleys west of Mullumbimby, in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales. With this time, came for me a strong spiritual love of Creation, Nature, Country Living and the Environment.
The House, Garden and Farm:
My mum Norma Aitken outside our simple house amidst her big garden grown on brown volcanic soil with much rainfall. The banana plantation is shown growing across the background slopes. Her flower garden is shown in detail below. This is the early 1960’s.
We had four growing boys and two adults and we needed to feed ourselves as much as possible. We had a big vegetable garden which grew all the vegetables we needed. This was the inspiration for our Permaculture Garden at our house at Chambers Flat in 2016 and onwards.
The Aitken Family in the late 1960’s:
The banana plantation:
Dad and I in the bananas in the late 1960’s. In the 1960’s Dad bought an additional plantation off Mr. Brown nearby. This photograph was taken outside Browns Packing Shed facing Brown’s extensive Avocado Plantation. We had special banana clothes as the sap from the cut stems would permanently stain your clothes. See the post on Mr. and Mrs. Brown: Browns House at Wilsons Creek as in January 2008
I talk more about bananas in this post: Banana Growing in the 1960’s …..
Upper Wilsons Creek: Large rounded basalt bush boulders, creek in clear, crystalline waters, water as a meandering maze of water amongst the boulders, occasional large pools in a bend in the creek, creek bordered by pockets of Bangalow palms (Australian Rainforest Palms) on flat ground, creek generally bordered by dense closed rainforest on the slopes, rainforest of a dense dark green leaf canopy with an understorey of tree ferns, wild ginger with large green leaves, cordylines with the large green strap – like leaves and single spindly trunk, tree ferns with their tall fibrous trunks and their cavorting fern fronds that reach out over over smaller plants.
When an open ridge appears, you have a glimpse through the trees to the valley below. There is partly cleared rainforest to give open paddocks fenced in for cows. See the photos below. Distant sharp ridges rise sharply out of the surrounding valley.
See the photos of Upper Wilsons Creek here:
Natural geographical features of the locality:
One of the main features of the site was the creek ….. it was a series of three large pools up to fifty metres across, joined together by rapids and boulders. These pools were edged by glass clear waters with darker shadows streaked by lighter translucent sun shafts falling through the edging trees in lighter colours. Water from the top rapids flowed into the first main pool which was our swimming pool which then flowed over tan-coloured rock shelves …… to flow into a deeper dark green pool below which was a much longer pool. In these pools we went fishing and swimming as kids. There were three large pools up to two metres deep: Pool 1, Pool 2, Pool 3.
Pool 1 was our swimming pool:
Pool 1: Photograph above shows the 1.50 metre high rocky boulder wall on the far side of the pool. This wall sloped down under the water for two metres to a rocky bottom with a 500 mm wide underwater rock shelf we swam to. It was about 300 mm below the surface.
Left hand side of the creek: Was where we entered the water ….. the bank sloped down to soft tan – brown river gravel then into shallow water …… this was where the creek flowed slowly around the outside southern edge of the pool … sand and gravel were partly covered by organic matter ….. fallen leaves were 200 – 300 mm deep … water was 500 mm deep here ….. whenever you walk here, it releases clouds of gas bubbles ….. one day in the early 1960’s with my chemistry set and books, I learn’t this was marsh gas or methane gas which was being released from the decomposing leaves …. The gas was trapped in the gravel and mud and was released when the surface of the gravel was broken.
I caught some of this gas in an inverted waterfilled glass jar where the bubbles arose and displaced the water ….. I put a lid on the jar and took it back to my chemistry set ….. I lit the gas and it burned with a slow blue flame like methylated spirits ….. so I knew it methane being released from the decomposing leaves.
When I was home in the 1950’s and the 1960’s I remember some of these things:
- How the rain and wind lashed around the eaves during cyclonic weather
- How I often played dams and paddle wheels made out of empty wooden cotton reels in the grass drain which cut across the hill behind the shed
- The tossing waves of the swollen creek
- The flying fox over the creek at the engine room to get to Mullumbimby High School (1961 – 1967). Dad put in two stout posts on either side of the creek with a double banana wire between them ….. the whole family would jump on separate pulleys and pull ourselves across to the other side ….. Each pulley had a short rope and thick stick between your legs … I remember my feet barely a metre off the tossing brown water as I pulled myself over on the pulley,…. I walked with my two of my brothers up to Wilsons Creek Rd. to catch the High School bus into Mullumbimby ….. then doing the same in the afternoon after school.
- When a cyclone was coming down the coast and creek had come up, the flying fox enabled us freedom of movement in a cyclone …… Dad would drive the vehicle across to the other side of the creek and leave it there …… We could always go as a family into town or church when the weather was bad and creek was up.
- We would hear on the radio the progression of the cyclone down the coast and when it was expected to cross our section of coast. The creek would be transformed overnight into a huge tossing and surging sea of muddy water filling the whole creek to a depth of ten to twenty metres …… the rain just poured down day after day till the eye of the cyclone passed on and out to sea.
- When the rain had stopped, we would troop as a family down to the creek to see how high the creek came up in the middle of the night as invariably the eye of the cyclone had passed over in the middle of the night ….. it could come up around ten to twenty metres in height. We would then often go down to the engine room to see if the flood waters had come up anywhere near the engine room at the crossing …. It had been very high if had come up to there.
Description of the creek: our section of the creek consisted of alternating variations in the creek:
- The top pool which was our swimming hole as it had a gravelly sloping bottom going over to a two metre deep rocky bottom with a 250 mm underwater rock we could all swim to. The pool was about 30 metres across by 75 metres long
- Then a narrow constricted passage which glided over a 300 mm deep rock shelf to flow into a lower large pool … about 75 metres across by 200 metres long
- Then there was a series of large bouldery rapids for another 200 ++ metres
- Then there was Pool 3= Lower Pool. It was about 50 metres across by 75 metres long …… we rarely swam in here as there was not a good entry to the pool plus it was an uneven depth that was green and mysterious. I only fished here as it was good for catfish
- Then there was a series of large bouldery rapids again for another 200 ++ metres down to the concrete creek crossing which Dad built in the early 1960’s
- For me I was constantly exploring right down and above our section of creek. Virtually every tree grove, pool and boulder has some memory for me. I was out at the old property meeting the new people in 2001 and 2006 as the farm had been sold in 1995
- Swimming in the creek: as a family at the end of hot summer days ..… we used to leave our wet clothes to dry on the clumps of reeds
Environmental Journalling in 2001 along the Creek:
Bird Calls: Through the creek bush comes repeated bird sounds (currawongs), the sounds cascade down among the forest trees …… bird sounds, the gentle sounds of moving water and the soft sounds of moving leaves in the occasional breeze interweave together through the rich greenness.
The upper end of the pool is backed by a watergum forest in trim 100 – 200 mm cream – fawn smooth trunks …. Often in multiples of two or three trunks arising next to each other ….. occasional trunks marked out in smooth cream bark but other trunks in darker bark …… lomandra sedges in dark green blades …. Tussocky at the base near the waters edge ….. soft filtered light alights on the dark green leaves alternatively with dark then light green leaves.
See further Journalling in this area below.
On the far side of this watergum forest was a ten metre long waterfilled pool with largely vertical sides in large river gravel carved out by recent floods. At pockets in the pool were growing an interesting variety of ferns with a clumping format. These were fishbone ferns (Blechnum Nudum) See photos below. These become an important fern being grown in Mum & Dad’s wholesale nursery in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s. They sold the whole property in 1995 and moved down to Ocean Shores.
Fishing in the creek:
In 1992, Peter and Brett Aitken (My brother, Gerald’s boys) were fishing on one of their infrequent family holiday visits to Wilsons Creek from Adelaide. Peter eventually caught an eel. Was he excited !!
Fishing in the creek: There was always a great sense of wonder and excitement for me personally ….. fishing off the middle rocks between the upper and lower pools ….. for catfish, eels and especially mudgudgeons ….. small fish of maximum length of 175 mm ….. a monster at that length ….. I would catch them on a short bit of line tied to a straight willowy tree branch with a small hook and sinker and a cork float ….. you could see them from 3.00 metres on the tan coloured river gravel on the pool bottom in the clear water …. a tin of worms could be obtained by turning over Mum’s garden edging stones and finding them underneath in the moist red – brown soil ….. worms which were thick and lively attracted the mudgudgeons with their twisting movement on the hook …. I would take my small catch proudly up to the house and I would get one of Mum’s Vacola bottling lids on the slow combustion wood stove and cook my catch of fish in the 100 mm wide lid.
One big mudgudgeon I kept for about a year in a cut down old concrete wash tub near the tap near the upper laundry shed …. I turned it into an aquarium with 50 mm of clean river gravel in the bottom and a small blue flowering water lily obtained from way across on Watson’s land from the billabong on the edge of the big Wilsons Creek Dam ……. I used to feed it with worms everyday …. Eventually the fish would rise up and take worms from my fingers 20 mm out of the water.
We didn’t eat catfish as they didn’t have scales as per the Biblical injunction in the Old Testament (We were Seventh Day Adventist Christians) ….. I often gave these away to the Graham’s, the neighbours on the adjacent property next door.
Skin Diving in the creek: I made my first underwater mask out of a section of inner tyre tube stretched over a small face – sized frame from a cut down wooden lid of a banana crate which enclosed a single glass from a disused torch ………. Sealed with tar obtained from spent batteries from the old style of valve radios ….. I eventuated graduated to my first store-bought mask which fitted more snugly in a waterproof manner …….. I remember swimming up the top rapid shallows in the above pool ….. the clear tumbling and eddying water among the rocks …… seeing the beautiful minnows cavorting in a school of glimmering gold with a stripe of crimson on their sides.
Pool 2 = Lower Pool: …… we rarely swam in this pool as it didn’t have a very good entry point into the water as kids ….. was suddenly up to 2.00 m deep at the top end when it flowed over the top rock shelves then eventually got to 1.5 m then into underwater boulders at the far end at 100 + metres.
Pool 2 = Lower Pool … Description: a dark green rainforest pool overhung on the north-eastern side by 50 metre high brush box trees …… smooth tan trunks spreading into elongated branches ending in bunches of very dark green lanceolate leaves ……. Small white flowers eventually retracting into dark brown cupped seed capsules ….. bark is tan coloured with smooth but fibrous texture …… A steep 45 degree bank of red soil ….. descends to the edges of the pool …. Interspersed with large rainforest trees and occasional tall thin trunked Leichhardt’s Tree ferns …. Elegant black trunks with an expanding whorl of 2.0 m long fronds …. bright summer sunlight broken up into shafts of golden light in amongst the tree canopy ….. they strike the glass – like water in bright shafts of liquid gold probing the green depths amongst boulders and the occasional sunken log … the shafts of light give way to solid shadows of rainforest green in the depths hiding the big 2.00 m long eel … the light in other areas searching the washed tan – brown – cream river gravel creek bottom where the 400 mm long catfish has made it’s concentric ringed nest of graded gravel ….. the centre is a coarse gravel gives way to ripples of lighter gravel ….. the dark shape of the catfish gracefully glides out over the pool depths and slowly circulates over the ringed shapes …… the centre of the rings is where the eggs have been laid.
On the south western side of the pool is a blue quandong tree (Eleocarpus grandis) ….. now grown to 100 metres high in 2005 ….. it had grown from a ten metre high tree in the 1970’s ….. a very fast growing tree with light fawn bark in splotches of darker browns merging with lighter browns …. 150 mm thick branches are splayed outwards in radiating pattern of ten metre long limbs …. Branches end in bunches of dark lanceolate leaves with serrated edges ….. in the right season, the tree has 30 mm. green globular fruit which eventually turned dark blue …. the leaves were a mixture of dark red and others being dark green …. These trees are frequent creek-side trees and when the fruit falls into the creek or eaten by birds, the flesh rots off to leave a 20 mm wavy crenelated woody seed which gets washed down the creek with the river gravel in flood-time …. this often sprouts by the creek into a new tree to form fringing rainforest along the creek.
Pool 3 = Catfish Waterhole:
Pool 3: We didn’t swim here as Pool 1 with its gravelly entry provided a far easier entry to the water. It was also much further from the house. There were just vertical rocks which fell away into deep green water. It was always a beautiful pool to explore as it had a steep bank on the eastern side which gave an enclosed feeling. It then had rainforest trees which further enclosed it the pool area into mystery deep green corners.
It was a good catfish fishing hole so I found out. I was the fisherman and I loved to fish. I had a long straight branch as a fishing pole. To the top of the branch, I had tied a three metre length of translucent fishing line. To the end of this line I had an adjustable cork then a large hook. To hook I would thread on a wriggling earth worm as bait. Catfish just loved wriggling earth worms as bait. I would flick the line out, adjust the floating cork so that the bait was at a suitable depth. I would wait for the cork to bob under and knew I had caught a catfish. I would bring it in slowly and place the fish in a bucket.
Flying Fox Wire across Pool 2 … was for getting to the house if the creek was in flood. One day Dad and Gerald came down on a pulley and wire and just missed the floodwaters. See the photograph of Helene Aitken (nee Jenkins) before she married Gerald Aitken, my brother in 1973 ….. going over on the wire in a flooded creek time below the swimming pool.
The other flying fox wire was right down the creek further at the crossing and engine room area of the creek. This was an important access point to the property. Vehicle access normally was via a low level concrete crossing that Dad built with help from my Grandpa in the early 1960’s. See the photo below.
Low level concrete crossing with the exit road on the other side going up to the house ….
Flying Fox Wire Across The Low level Concrete Crossing: When the creek was in flood, Dad had built a main flying fox across the creek to help us all get access to the other side. Flying foxes were a popular way of crossing the creek and were regularly used up and down the creek by other property owners.
This flying fox consisted of two sturdy upright posts on either side of the creek. Then two heavy duty banana wires were wrapped around each other and were then strung between the posts.
A simple pulley system was then used to get us all across the creek. This consisted a banana pulley with a rope attached to a wooden seat which was a big round stick. You hooked the pulley to the wire and sat on the seat. You then slowly pulled yourself by hand across the flooded creek to the other side. You then unhooked yourself and the next person could then come across the wire.
I still remember pulling myself across on the wire and being about a metre above tossing brown floodwaters from a cyclone that had passed through the region. It was a welcome relief to reach the other side.
There were several seats and pulleys on either side of the creek to be used by Dad & Mum and us four boys. When the whole family was across, you would then get in the parked vehicle and go into town. In flood times, Dad would park the Land Rover on the other side of the creek in anticipation of a coming flood. Having a Land Rover meant that you had 4-wheel drive if you needed it. The road into our property could get very muddy in wet weather.
Large bouldery rapids flowed as a series from Pool 3 for 200 ++ metres down to the concrete creek crossing which Dad built in the early 1960’s.
Floods and cyclones: which came nearly every year in the 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s ….. swirling air would form into a low pressure system over a whole region and would initially gather up in the Coral Sea up north …… forming into a rain depression or cyclone which would rotate clockwise to pass moisture laden air onto the coast from off the sea …… then it moved progressively down the coast to cross our section of the coast in the eye of the cyclone …. This meant the eye of the cyclone was only moving dry air off the land into itself which swirled around to become moisture laden air directed onto the coast.
When a cyclone was coming down the coast and creek had come up, the flying fox enabled us freedom of movement in a cyclone …… Dad would drive the vehicle across to the other side of the creek and leave it there …… We could always go as a family into town or church when the weather was bad and creek was up.
We would hear on the radio the progression of the cyclone down the coast and when it was expected to cross our section of coast. The creek would be transformed overnight into a huge tossing and surging sea of muddy water filling the whole creek to a depth of ten to twenty metres …… the rain just poured down day after day till the eye of the cyclone passed on and out to sea.
When the rain had stopped, we would troop as a family down the creek to see how high the creek came up in the middle of the night as invariably the eye of the cyclone had passed over in the middle of the night ….. it could come up around ten to twenty metres in height. We would then often go down the engine room to see if the flood waters had come up anywhere near the engine room at the crossing …. It had been very high if had come up to there.
The hand drawing of the engine room I did in 1966 for my Art Class at Mullumbimby High School in Northern NSW. I left High School at the end of 1967. In 1968 I left home to begin a new section of my life in Tertiary Education at Avondale College at Cooranbong right down near Morisset, near Newcastle in New South Wales. I went to do a Science Degree. I had a Commonwealth Scholarship to go to the College. Read my stories: The Train Story and the Cairns Story
I stayed there for two years (1968 / 1969), (Physics didn’t agree with me! …. I had to pass that to keep my Commonwealth Scholarship) then I came up to Brisbane to live. I finished a Science degree (in biological science) at the University of Queensland in 1974. The Federal Government provided free university fees in that era compared to the Hex fee arrangements which are part of the Federal Government’s policy now.__________________________________________________________
Their house was quite a significant house in the district. It was a large timber house on a distant hill across the valley from us. Browns had come out to Wilsons Creek in the bullock trail days of the early 1900’s to clear their land, grow bananas on the slopes and build their big house with its cream painted weatherboards, tin roof and big wide verandas. Mum had gone over to see Mrs. Brown to have a cup of tea and socialise. I was very small …. About six or seven … I was eating an Arnott’s milk biscuits and drinking a cup of milk ….. I was dipping the biscuit in the milk …. I still occasionally dunk my biscuit in my hot drink to this day. I was swinging and climbing in the frangipani trees out the back of Browns …. the few frangipani trees planted down our driveway at Chambers Flat are a reminder of these experiences.
See the post on this website: Browns House at Wilsons Creek as in January 2008
A new man, David Dubens now owns the property. I get on very well with him. I have been out to the old property several times with my wife Harriet. I have have come to realise that our land and house at Chambers Flat Queensland, was very influenced and inspired by growing up here at Wilsons Creek.
See the many hyperlinked posts on our house and garden: