Published online: Thursday, 21 October 2010
Resident of Glenorie
Well I reckon I was born at either Fairfield or Strathfield. My mother had us all at home… 11 of us! (laughter.) Well my mother’s name was Olive Hagney. Her father was brought out here to design the Botanical Gardens. One of his sons, Frank, was a champion sculler and competed and stayed in America. My father, Donald McLeod was RSM at Victoria Barracks. He had 16 kids originally. Eleven lived till old age. When he went to the war they reckon they could put 2 colonels over there cheaper than him. Mother Olive McLeod was a nurse. She was the best person who ever lived. She worked at Rydalmere hospital. My mother used to clip me over the back of the head as I went past and she’d say “Well Jack, you’re either going to trouble, or from trouble.” When you got to a certain age you took certain jobs, like when I had to go out into the bush at night with a kero lamp to gather twigs for the fuel stove ‘cos I’d let it go out. When I was a young bloke I had to walk quietly in the bush to catch lizards and birds, anything at all. About 10 little rat kangaroos lived near a waterfall in Thornleigh and me and my 7 brothers used to sneak in and quietly and watch them playing. I’ve read that they don’t find those little rat kangaroos in Thornleigh any more.
In the war, I knew two blokes we came across in the jungle. They were strung up by the Japanese, under the arms and held with one rope to the branches. They’d gutted them out and the back and taken out the kidneys and livers. They’d cooked them and were halfway through their dinner around a small fire. Part of the organs were still on a plate. They were 2 Japanese soldiers, actually still eating the parts. Well, I was only by myself when I was walked in on those two Japs. I had most likely smelled the fire. The memory never haunted me too much. But I’d like to keep the Japs out of Australia. Well I didn’t ask the Japs whether they wanted to be shot or not. They had their backs to me and that’s how I kept it. I’ve kept that story to myself for over 60 years. That story got stuck in m’ guts a bit. (Laughter, Sue: “I’ve never heard it.”) This happened near a US base in New Guinea. The Aussies were part conscious to know, from the shooting, what happened. I remember a smile on their faces. They were happy about it. They didn’t last long. I used to fly for 38 squadron up to Borneo. We brought out a lot of wounded blokes from Tarakan and you could carry these blokes with their arms around your neck two at a time, they were so wasted away. They didn’t take any prisoners and we didn’t either.
We were stationed in the Hallander, 3 or 4 months. I mostly worked night time services and we had the days to ourselves to walk around. I found a lot of things I could eat too. We used to make our own whiskey out of coconuts. We’d push raisins and sultanas into them and seal the holes with little wooden plugs. When the green-arsed flies gathered round the plugs and fell away drunk it was ready. So strong only a little mouthful would stand you up. ..or knock you over. I’d eat little yellow fruit ten times stronger than passionfruit, and pawpaw used for everything …dessert or put the in the oven. And even for a poultice for leg ulcers. I used to trade with the American forces. They used to offer us fantastic money for our hats but we wouldn’t sell ‘em. I was at war 3 or 4 years. I just forget it. It’s down the drain. Doesn’t worry me.
When I was a kid at Dartford Rd Thornleigh, we had about 3 acres. We grew flowers, and lemons and plums and pears and apples and even a big green peach. 2 or 3 nectarine trees — oh and a variety of stuff. Much of the time we’d fill our pockets with other people’s fruit to and from school. Used to put 60 tiny apples in my pockets — big as grapes and green. I’d eat them and was never sick. Even today, at 93, I eat a big T bone steak, and 3 beers and Uncle Toby’s porridge every morning since I was 4. That’s 86 years on Uncle Toby’s — that’s a pretty good ad for them. I was 18 or 19 when I left Thornleigh. We had a horse, Jim, and we’d put him in the cart and go out and pick up chooks and feed. We had one pig, a white one. I took him in the cart with wire netting over him, took him to the butchers in Hornsby and they cut him up and I took home a leg of pork... we wouldn’t think anything of it. I used to go about 2 mile to school. They say, “Don’t go across the railway, Johhno”, but I always did. I used to run along the railway with sandshoes on. Had a drink with Johnny O’Keefe at Pennant Hills Pub. One brother, Keith was about 29 and still living at home. He had a Plymouth and I had a Buick and we used to race them, anywhere at all... cornering too hard I cut all the diamonds off the outside of the tyres. When I was 18 or 19 I used to sell my flowers at Double Bay and Rose Bay and Cremorne... out of a basket. Two bunches of sweet peas for ninepence. When I came back from the war (38th Transport Squadron) and before then, paratroop training unit. I built a house on 3 acres at Carlingford. There were no flower growers at the Sydney Markets just after the war so I got more money there. I had a small ute I’d put an engine in... a standard and later, a Frago truck and in winter I’d take the family up to Laurieton fishing, pulled the caravan with it. I mostly grew the pink Dahlias. And later I was the first person to take the big chrysanthemums to markets. Way back in the 60’s I’d get $5 for a bunch of 5 chrysanthemums. I’d developed a way of growing them real big by pruning all the little buds off. In Galston we had 9 acres… Crosslands Rd, just down from Summertime Chickens from about 1964 till about 4 years ago… for over forty years.
When we came to Galston, in Crosslands road, there was an old man opposite who used to be a painter. He had old stables down the back made out of slabs. That was where the horses and coaches were kept for the Galston Gorge. Where the parking bay is with the chooks, that was small yard that held the fresh coach horses or the tired ones. I was treasurer of the Flower Growers Association when it was Sydney Market, now Flemington Markets, when they were all horse’n’cart. Mum and dad used to take a T Ford down… not many had that I worked full time hard every day till I was eighty nine, watering, picking flowers. Now I just mow 3 acres, feed 5 dogs, 3 chooks and about 3,000 hippiastrums and about 4,000 jonquils and about 2,000 nectarines. I’ve always chopped ‘em for market. I still jump on the tractor and dig up the veggy patch. Now for the first time in my life I can see them all bloom and flourish and die. So if you live long enough you can smell the roses. Some of my rose bushes are seventy years old. I think keeping active is the secret. At Galston I had 2 acres full of jonquils and 2,000 bulbs per row. Used to pick between 300 and 400 bunches per row. And the other secret is not to worry. I gave that up years ago. I just enjoy the day and if I see the sun again next morning I’m happy. Contentment is the thing but it’s hard to find that in a young life today. I love throwing the ball for the foxie, …the dog’s mad. I’ve had little foxies since I was 3. They used to bite the arse out of me pants and me mum sewed the arse back on and they’d just tear it off again the next day… little buggers! I love reading. I like to live and let live. That’s the best way to look at it. I never live in the past. I’m completely over it. It’s like dropping a bottle of milk, you can’t pick it up again.
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.