Published online: Thursday, 21 October 2010
Bob McMaw was Joffed in 1989 in Kurrajong Nursing home.
Olest man in Australia, reflections on Queen Victoria
I’m only 106! I was born 22.12.1881 in Yarramundi. That’s Agnes Banks now and my mother Emily Pierce was born at Yarramundi on the Nepean river too. When I was 7 going to school I walked 2 ½ miles to Richmond Public. There was a Miss Holmes and a Miss Tout. I was a pantryman at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1895. The college was a wonderful place… they made 60 different cheeses, cattle, pigs, mules, ostriches. It only opened in 1890. When Queen Victoria died we had to wear a purple tie. There was an old dame, the housekeeper at the college. I used to scrape the plates and wash them. In the end she snapped “Do as you’re told or take a week’s notice!” I said “I’ll take it you nasty old cat!” I got sacked there once because I was too young and couldn’t catch the college horse. The 3rd time I got sacked from there was for calling the Pricipal’s daughter Miss Thompson by her first name. I retired in 1939… old age. 50 years is a long time to be retired. There was plenty of Blackfellas when mother was a girl… Whistling Billy was one and Black Nellie. The Red Hand Cave — I was there for a picnic and we got to it through a gully. All red hands over the ceiling and their campfire in front and stone tools lay in there. I remember playing with their spears and boomerangs. There was blacks coming and going all the time… sometimes they would ask mother for the old teal leaves but if they weren’t dry they wouldn’t have them. If mother dried them they put them in their pipes and smoked them. The pipes were claws from mud crabs. In return they gave her fish they’d speared in the Nepean. Mother was a girl during the ‘67 flood. It took everything in front of it… even coffins out of the riverbanks. I remembered a lot but over the years you fade. I used to smoke a clay pipe… only for 5 years. Never a drinker, only a shandy. Why have I lived so long? I’ve often wondered. I’ve got 2 letters from the Queen and now I’m getting another one. I’ve had a lot of time for Royalty. I’ve got no time for Labour. I remember Queen Victoria. I knew a lot of boers and I had a lot of friends went to the war and didn’t come back. (emotional) There was a song: “The volley was fired at sunrise, just after the break of day and while the echoes lingered, A soul had passed away. Into the arms of mates. A tear, a sigh, a sad goodbye. The pardon came too late.” (emotional) That hurt me. (Breaker Morant)
I remember my dear friend Captain Towse who with 20 odd men of Kitchener’s Horse and some Gordon Highlanders charged 150 Boers and defeated them. Unhappily in the charge he lost the sight of both eyes, swiped by a sabre but his gallantry was such that he was invalided home on a sailing ship and awarded the VC by her majesty. There was an inspection of colonial soldiers at Windsor, Castle by Queen Victoria (Nov 16 1900) He knelt before her, his friends by his side. Queen Victoria shed tears as she pinned on the decoration. I can see her now. (emotional) She was very old and heavy with the years and all the responsibility she had carried. She passed away 2 months later (22 Jan 1901) and the Empire was plunged into gloom. She was the greatest queen the world had ever known. (emotional) Our Queen Elizabeth is in her tradition. Definitely. She is doing a mighty job. I feel she will live on too. I would like Australia to stick with her. They’ve made a fuss of me this year because of this bicentennial thing. Do you believe I’m the oldest man in Australia. Have a look at this (large bronze medallion from Bicentennial Committee inscribed To Bob McCaw Oldest Man in Australia 1881-1988). There’s nothing special that I’ve done. It’s just that I’ve lived so long. I have no idea why but your friend and mine Bob Power brought you here today. Do you know Bob is in his 80s but I remember long before he was born his father was Baden Powell’s closest scouting colleague and he made Bob’s father the 1st Commissioner of Scouting in Australia and he re-wrote the English Scouting manuals for Australia and Bob became the 1st Wolf Cub in Australia and still has his little uniform. I remember the convict’s slab hut still standing on Bob’s property “Waterford” on the Nepean at Richmond. It was a 30 acre pardon to a convict in 1795. I even remember the convict’s name… Ryan. (laughter) Bob saw it and was delighted but when he moved in the old owners had demolished it because they were ashamed of the convict evidence. Colonel Baden Powell was a brilliant commander. When Mafeking was under siege by big guns he found an old ship’s cannon from 1770, it threw a solid ball of 10 pounds more than 2 miles. They made the cannon balls on the spot and the Boers were pushed back. The cannon was named B.P. after him. It was that sort of initiative that gave birth to scouting. He and General Kitchener of Khartoum were the 2 most famous heroes to the men. General Kitchener’s motto was “Seize time by the forelock.” It’s been a great pleasure to meet you.
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Since the early 1970s, Mick Joffe's passion has been to caricature and record endangered characters of Australia, and the world. As of 2015, the majority of these interviews exist only in manuscript form.