Long lives well lived, a wealth of wisdom accumulated over the years…There is much we can learn from our elders and so many stories waiting to be heard. Mirror journalist Wendy Williamson talks with Maudi Thomson.
You would be hard pressed to find a greater fan of Fish Creek than Maudi Thomson. She has even written several books about the picturesque district in which she grew up and where she lived until moving into Banksia Lodge a few years ago.
Now that her home is in Foster, however, the traditional rivalry between Fishy and Foster has Maudi torn.
“It’s home the second time,” she says, insisting that despite her love of Fishy she has a soft spot for Foster and is content to be living at Banksia Lodge.
Maudi wrote ‘Fish Creek Revisited 1884-1984’ to celebrate Fish Creek’s centenary, and in 2001 she wrote ‘A Tale of Two Halls’ about the Fish Creek hall.
“I am so pleased and proud to have been born and bred in Fish Creek,” Maudi writes in the introduction to ‘Smoke in my Eyes: Recollections of growing up in Fish Creek,’ chronicling the first fourteen years of her life, which began shortly before Christmas 1921.
In 2006 she published the next chapter, ‘Always on the Farm to Never Inn: Teenager to Octogenarian.’ In it Maudi proudly notes that she is “the longest surviving permanent resident of Fish Creek who was born there”. She combined the two memoirs to form ‘Memories of a Fish Creek Dairy Maid.’ Peppered with anecdotes displaying Maudi’s lively wit, and sprinkled with black and white snapshots, the book makes fascinating reading.
A few excerpts from her schooldays give a taste of what you can expect from this inimitable octogenarian who still has a merry sense of humour:
“Children of families who lived four or five miles from school were regularly late as their duties of hand milking preceded the importance of catching their ponies to ride to school.”
“I talked and walked in my sleep which became a problem, this continued well into school days. I remember my parents telling me they considered placing a bowl of water for me to step into, anticipating the sudden shock would wake me!”
Maudi also recounts:
“Much to the annoyance of my teacher I shared with other kids the taking of stink bombs into school. These were produced by crushing seeds from pods of the acacia.”
“As I arrived early at school each morning I participated in the delight of sliding down the hill on a rusty piece of tin. This activity worked only when the grass was wet.”
Maudi grew up in a farming family at Fish Creek. Her father had a soldier settlement block. “He worked very hard and his four kids were expected to work hard, too, but I never knew any different and never wanted any other way of life. I milked six cows by hand, morning and night, and each Saturday it was my task to clean all the footwear,” she recalls.
Her twin brother, Alf, helped their mother with the cooking, whilst Maudi preferred to help her father on the farm.
She went to school in a two wheel buggy or jinker belonging to the Mackins, who were neighbours. There were about six kids in all, behind one poor horse. Maudi loved school, but she couldn’t go past year eight because there was no school bus to take her to the high school in Foster.
“We didn’t have a car. We only had a wheelbarrow and a sledge!”
She worked on the family farm until 1944 when she married “the most handsome man in Fish Creek” – Ted Thomson, and moved to his family farm. On the way back from the honeymoon in Ballarat, they spent a few days with Ted’s grandmother at Kilsyth. “Her brogue was so Scottish I could not understand a word she said. This meant that Ted, her favourite grandson, had to interpret all conversations.”
Harvesting was an annual event, shared by neighbours. As a young bride, Maudi’s first harvesting experience took place in one local family’s very basic accommodation known as ‘The Hut,’ little more than a bachelor’s pad. “Serving hot meals were a nightmare without the luxury of fly proof windows and doors. Blow flies came in the open windows, out the open door and for a change of scenery came down the chimney!”
Between milking cows, mowing the lawn and raising two daughters, Maudi was very busy on the farm, but she also made time for tennis, golf and lots of baking.
Electricity was only connected to the Thomson farmhouse about 1955. “Truly, one of my most exciting moments was to ‘flick the switch’ once again, as I had been able to do whilst with my parents,” recalls Maudi.
For many years Maudi was a keen traveller, around Australia and overseas. “Travelling is all about the people you meet along the way. One thing can be said in all honesty – travel broadens the mind as well as the backside!
“In 1978 I decided it was time to do a world tour. Ted was not interested, but I booked him a ticket anyway and said “here it is” so he had to come – and of course he loved it in the end. The last trip I planned he wouldn’t come – so I went by myself!”
When she wasn’t travelling to exotic lands – from Thailand to Russia, the Philippines to Egypt – Maudi enjoyed reading travel books.
He may not have shared her enthusiasm for travel, but Ted evidently had his wife’s sense of mischief. Maudi recounts how Ted connected a wire from the garage to the toilet. “We could pull the wire and flush the toilet from a distance. It would give whoever was occupying it at the time a real friendly surprise!”
These days, however, Maudi is on her best behaviour, happy to have a joke with her good friend Norma ‘Sal’ Byrnes, who visits her frequently, or listen to the regular local history readings at Banksia Lodge.
She has loved sport all her life. Among her happiest memories are her attendance at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 and “being an avid spectator at the 1936 test cricket match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where Bradman, Grimmet, Brown, Woodfall, McComack, etc. were fielding for Australia”.
She still participates in sporting activities when given the opportunity. She is an enthusiastic competitor in the bowls at Banksia Lodge. She also enjoys cards and Scrabble – and whatever other activities or outings are going.
“Maudi is an activity coordinator’s dream!” laughs Anne Rendell, who leads activities at Banksia Lodge. “She’ll be in anything. She loves people and we all love her.”