Reg and Olive Bald Interview

Here is a link to the State Library SA oral history transcript of an interview with Olive (nee Burgess) and Reg Bald, conducted by Janice Kelly about 1977.

Here is a link to the family ancestors of Olive nee BURGESS and Reg BALD

Here is a link to the family of John and Frances LITTLELY

(These links open in a new tab, allowing you to position the windows side by side for easy reference.)

The following is a digest of the interview, with errata and comments in [square brackets]. There are occasional comments from 94 year old Colin Boettcher (C.B.) who was read the transcript in 2017, and knew Olive and Reg well. Please read this web page in conjunction with the page numbers on the linked original transcript, and the linked family ancestor charts.

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Page 2 The interview, thought to have been held in 1977, is largely between Janice Kelly, later mayor of Kangaroo Island Council, and Mrs Reg BALD [Olive Morvah Winifred nee BURGESS, who was born 24 Nov 1909 in Cygnet River, the daughter of Edward BURGESS and Wilheline nee TILKA, ] The transcript concludes with a short interview with her husband Reg [George Reginald Greenway) BALD, born 17 Feb 1910 in Gawler, son of Herbert BALD and Lydia nee STEVENS.]

Page 3 Olive was asked about her family and when they came to Kangaroo Island.

Her grandfather, Alfred Charles BURGESS (1832-1890) arrived when he was about 35, with his brother [unknown] and brother-in-law, John LITTLELY (1836-1917). They were sealers and came in a whale boat, blown ashore at Dashwood Bay [on the north coast of Kangaroo Island between Emu Bay and Stokes Bay]. After working there a while, his Irish born wife, Margaret nee DEALY (c.1834- 1903), and six surviving children [Alfred, Alice, Margaret, Lily, William and Jessie] who were living in Glenelg, joined them in an open whale boat. For five years their home was at Cassini, north coast of Kangaroo Island between Wisanger and Stokes Bay, It was there that three more children were born [Flora, Eva and Ted]. The house at Cassini was made of local lime stone which was plentiful, with clay and a thatched roof, made from any natural resources available. Fresh water was important.

Page 4 Their whale boat was their only form of transport. They had to bring everything with them, including grain. They soon had planted their own wheat, but had to fence it to keep out the wallabies and vermin. They would harvest with a sickle, thrash it and grind it to make flour, using a hand grinder. If the grinder didn't work, they had no flour. They grew turnips and cabbages and other vegetables in small plots, to be self sufficient.

As there was no close neighbours they were dependent on the whale boat to get their supplies. There was no roads to Kingscote, and often would sail direct to Glenelg to sell their skins.

It was a very isolated life, although the two families lived together. [Margaret's sister was Frances DEALY who married John LITTLELY. They had similar aged children]. After a while they all shifted by whale boat to West Bay [in the Flinders Chase area] as the seals and wallabies were becoming scarce. It was there that Olive's father [Edward “Ted” BURGESS (1876-1948)] was born, apparently prematurely, as Margaret had intended to have the birth in Adelaide. There was no medical aid, and the only help was her fourteen year old daughter [Alice (c.1860-1918)]. They built another two roomed stone hut, with thatched roof, in West Bay where they lived for two years.

Page 5 Olive reflected on her grandmother, who although small (five feet), had a very strong inner strength and character. While the men sailed with their skins to Adelaide, she would remain at home with the children.

She wasn't sure whether they planted crops at West Bay as the site wasn't very suitable, but they had vegetables.

The children had no schooling - her father never went to school, but he was quite a clever man and later taught himself at night. The children were kept busy with chores for the family to survive, and they all helped each other.

Page 6 After West Bay, where they had an occupation licence which had to be renewed yearly, the family moved to Karatta where A. C. Burgess had secured a large lease. [ 1873, #1296, 20 Sq Miles (Karatta); 1882, # 3002, 30 Sq Miles; 1889, # 5155, 10 Sq Miles; 1889, # 5161, 11 Sq Miles (Vivonne Bay); 1892, #5171, 19 Sq Miles (Mt. Pleasant, now called Kaiwarra)]. Her uncle, who held a captain's certificate, and his family by this time had probably moved back to Adelaide.

The children were getting older and were expected to do hard work. They stayed there for about five years where they tried to grow sheep. But clearing the land was very difficult as it was mainly done by axe, or a roller and a bullock team. They would burn sections of the scrub, and let the sheep graze on the new shoots of grass. Her father described how they set fire to the scrub, with an invention of a ball of highly inflammable material being dragged behind a horse galloping through the scrub. But it was failure as they often lost the fire - at least they didn't hurt anyone as they were the only ones there. The sheep were mainly run on these "burns", but often the burns were so extensive that they couldn't find the sheep, that must have died in the scrub.

Page 7 They sold most of their sheep to Stockdale and Taylor a large company who had vast pastoral leases in the South East. Remains of their fenced paddocks of about 10 square miles can be seen in the scrub today, extending down to the south coast. The company had leased about a third of the Island, from Birchmore through to Flinders Chase, nearly up to Borda Road, and down to the south coast.

Page 8 The facilities they had in their home were minimal as everything had to be transported there by boat from Adelaide. Water had to be carried from the springs to the house by the women, which took up a lot of their time. Floors were rammed earth, and the children's beds on the floor made out of chaff, or brush. They made candles out of fat whenever they could get it - usually from wild animals, as they had little stock. They would save any fat as it was precious. Sugar was also precious, and they used honey from wild bees. The women would also grind the grain, and would also work with the men outside, taking the children with them.

Page 9 After Karatta, which they sold to Stockdale and Taylor, they had enough money to move back to Glenelg, where they bought "The Albatross" a fishing boat. It's unknown why the fishing business didn't work out, and the family returned to Kangaroo Island - this time to various places around Cygnet River, where there was quite a lot of work available - cutting wood destined for Adelaide, and stripping wattle for their bark for tanneries, to make leather from the skins. Golden Wattle was the best and they went all over the Island for it, following the creeks where it would grow. They'd ship it on bundles of four feet long. There were no jetties, and so the wood and the bark had to be carted out into the water with a dray, close enough to load onto the boat. The prices for all this hard work must have been worthwhile.

Page 10 Olive's other grandparents were also Kangaroo Island pioneers [Martin TILKA (1842-1914) and Maria KSCHIWAN (c.1838-1928) both from Prussia] who came to the Island in about 1882. They had previously farmed at Dublin on the mainland and brought with them a cow and horse and a dray, which contained all their possessions. They arrived at Kingscote where there was no jetty, so the animals had to swim ashore, and the dray was floated in, Their five children [Adolf (1873-1929; Albert (1875-1941); Carlina (1876-1959); Wilhelmine (1878-1948); and Christina (1880-1963)] accompanied them. [Martin had four daughters from his first marriage, and they made their own lives on the mainland.] With their little children they set out for Cygnet River eight miles away. [This account is incorrect. In 1883, the family moved to Kangaroo Island, where Martin had leased 310 acres near the Stunsail Boom river on the remote South Coast. Later he leased 310 acres in Cygnet River, where he transferred his operations. Carolina and Christiana took over the Stunsail Boom lease, where they farmed for many years.] They had no home to go to and had to build a brush shelter. Although they were told that there would be plenty of feed for the animals, when the feed they brought ran out, they were forced to feed them dead leaves from the bush. The animals survived. They had to clear the virgin scrub by hand to grow grain for themselves.

Using the horse and dray they would travel to Kingscote for supplies, but often the boat had not come in so there were no provisions. They resorted to eating wallaby, and turnips and boiled barley. But they had no choice, "they persevered and made good."

At Cygnet River they had a few close neighbours - the Wright and Granges [Grangers] who had gardens there.

Page 11 Her grandfather [Martin TILKA] had come from Germany and had several trades including grape growing. He brought with him from Germany some vines, and planted about half an acre, and made wine. He also knew how to make bricks, and from the local clay and his own kiln, made bricks for his own house at Cygnet Park. Later, about 1900, he was involved in eucalyptus stilling, and yacca gum harvesting as were many of the early people to make a living.

In the 1880's Olive's mother [Wilhelmine TILKA] and her sisters went for a year or 18 months to a school in Cygnet River, of which there is no sign today. The teacher would spend one week at Cygnet River and then ride her horse to Wisanger where she would spend another week, so it was really a part time school. In those days, horseback was the only mode of transport.

Page 12 Between Cygnet River and Kingscote was only a dray track, but gradually they built a road by hand grubbing and they never had horse graders until after 1920. Contractors would hand grub, plough and then use a horse grader. [They would use five horses, two on the pole to steer, and three out front. Leo Ayliffe was a contractor hired by Bob Tiggeman to work the grader - C.B.]

There was no hospital or nursing home in those days, although there was a doctor. Most of the babies were born at home, although a few mothers went to Adelaide by boat for medical attention. There was an old lady as a midwife, known as Aunt Fanny - Mrs Joe Bates. She spent most of her time helping mothers to prepare, during the birth, and afterwards. She was responsible for most of the babies born on Kangaroo Island. [There were several other midwives like Mrs Turner in other parts of the Island at that time - C.B.].

In about 1905 after a land survey, applications were made for blocks throughout the Island. There was a lot of optimism that there would be an increase in produce that needed to be sent to market on the mainland. In 1909 the District Council of Kingscote sent a deputation to Adelaide, requesting a railway. [A Royal Commission was set up.]

Page 13 Olive's uncle [Adolf? Albert? no evidence that he was a councillor in 1909] who farmed at White Lagoon, was part of the delegation and had kept some statistics about the yields. "he said he had a hundred and fifty acres of crop under barley on his farm at White Lagoon, and wheat and oats [to] which he reckoned the land was very well suited. His barley that year averaged about seven bags to the acre and wheat was six bags to the acre and oats five bags to the acre, and this was grown without super."

But the railway was denied as the volume of produce did not warrant it. Instead they built a jetty at Vivonne Bay so produce could be shipped out, and supplies delivered. But supplies only arrived about twice. Quite a deal of yacca gum was shipped from Vivonne Bay.

Page 14 Going back to Olive's grandfather Alfred Burgess - he had spent some time prospecting and mining at the Ballarat goldfields in the past, and he continued fossicking and prospecting on Kangaroo Island, They [with A. Giles] found potential at Kyanor Hill [sic][Kohinoor Hill?] but could not find the main reef. He sold his claim for 300 pounds to the Kyanor Mining Company [sic][Kohinoor Mining Company?].

Olive's parents [Ted BURGESS and Wilhelmina nee TILKA] were married [7th October] 1902 in the church/school at Cygnet River. Their house, now occupied by Mr Alfaba [?], was Kiawarra [Kiawarra Station near the Seal Bay turnoff] where they lived for seven years. They had bought the property from Henry Hosking in 1901 for 300 pounds and sold it seven years later during the land boom for 5,000 pounds.

Page 15 With two small children approaching school age [Ida and Minnie] and a baby [Lina ] they then bought land at Cygnet River so that they could go to school. As previously mentioned, Ted had had no education and Wilhelmina had only about a year, so they couldn't teach their children. "That was why they really sold out from Kywarra [sic][Kaiwarra?]." [at such a profit!]. He ran sheep on the 800 acres, and also made eucalyptus oil, which gave a better return at that time than other farming.

[ Here is a list of all their children:

Ida Valerie BURGESS (1903 – 2007) born Mt Pleasant, Kangaroo Island.

Myrtle Minnie BURGESS (1904 - ?) born Mt Eleanor, Kangaroo Island. (near Eleanor River Homestead?)

Florence Violet Adeline (Lina) BURGESS (1907 - 1996) born Mt Eleanor, Kangaroo Island.

Olive Morvah Winifred BURGESS (1909 – 1989) born in Cygnet River, Kangaroo Island.

Irvin Douglas Edward BURGESS (1911 – 2010) born in Cygnet River, Kangaroo Island.

Annie Ruth BURGESS (1916 - ?) born in Glenelg.

Maurice Max BURGESS (1920 – 1981) born in Glenelg.]

There was a full time teacher, and the old school was situated near where the road turns off to Edwards' but there is no evidence of it now. A new school was built where the present post office is when she was there in the 1920's.

Page 16 At its peak, there were about 30 children enrolled, coming from all the little farms nearby. [See a list of the students in 1929 at Cygnet River School by C.B.] For amusement children spent a lot of time with their horses, and appreciated them more than children do today. [C.B. had great admiration for Olive and her sisters for their horse skills, They'd ride from Cygnet River to Stunsail Boom to see their relations and gallop through the scrub to Snug Cove and home again. they used to jump the fences and gates fearlessly.] After she left school they played tennis on a newly built tennis court, and played basketball and golf.

There was no electricity [before 1935 - C.B.] and they relied on kerosene lamps. Cooking was on an ordinary wood stove - no camp ovens then. Things progressed - a new house was built and new furniture purchased which came over by the Karatta. It was a more reliable service, twice a week, once in winter, with no strikes! Telephones were not available in the regional areas (Cygnet River, Wisanger, North Cape, Shell Bay) until the 1920's, and the first ones were public telephones at post offices. The Cygnet River public telephone was in their house.

Page 17 Kingscote was well established, as it was the first town in South Australia, although it didn't grow very much at the start. It had most services - such as a baker, and a newspaper before the turn of the century. [? The first KI Courier was printed in 1907]. It was not that far away and they used horse and buggies, or rode horses. It took about half an hour (if you rode fast). All the country children had to travel into Kingscote to do their Qualifying Certificate at Kingscote School.

In the 1920's a road was put through from the top of Kyanor Hill [sic][Kohinoor Hill?] through to Cape Borda, but it was only a two wheel buggy or dray winding track. The Council then got a government grant for the road, and Olive's husband [Reg] was part of the work force that had to hand grub thirty feet wide, for four to eight shillings a chain. It was then ploughed and horse graded - there were no bulldozers in those days - it was back breaking work. We drive along those roads today without a second's thought of how they came to be.

Page 18 Although the family continued to live at Cygnet River, Ted bought and worked the old "Hearst" property at Snug Cove in about 1923 for two thousand pounds.

Mr [John Hirst 1837-1915)] and Mrs [Elizabeth nee Wooldridge (c.1842-1940)] Hirst arrived in Snug Cove by boat from Port Lincoln in about 1865. They were a wealthy family from high society in [Yorkshire] England and had several stations in the Gawler Ranges, [and Streaky Bay], and near Port Augusta. Due to drought they chose to come to Kangaroo Island, along with all their possessions, stock, plants and servants. They had their own boat, in which they travelled to and from Adelaide.

Page 19 On one occasion they entertained the Governor, with the very best of silver and crockery. They had taken up a pastoral lease of fifty thousand acres which after considerable time, was converted to seven thousand acres of freehold.

John Hirst was regarded as a practical joker, sometimes getting himself and his family into trouble. A story exists that at banquet back in England, he tied the tail of a donkey to the tablecloth, and sent it off through the door, causing all the food to fall to the floor! It probably for stunts like that he was sent to Australia.

Very little exists of their original homestead which he built using drystone. There were many outbuildings including a sawmill (originally from Cygnet River) and a store, and he had a lot of men working for him.

Page 20 When Ted bought the property in 1923, it was quite run down - it was overgrown with prickly bush, and the sheep were wild and unshorn for many years. These sheep had to be removed before Ted could bring in his own sheep,

The widow [Elizabeth Hirst] continued to live there with her adopted daughter, and only moved [to Kensington Park] when her daughter got married in Adelaide.

The family would travel to and from Snug Cove by horses, or two horses and buggy (leaving 8 am and arriving 4.30 pm) averaging 8-10 miles per hour, and in later years by motor. They would live there about three months a year, yacca gumming and shearing, and working the property.

Page 21 Ted built the road descending to Snug Cove using a horse and plough, grubber and spade. Until it was built, they'd leave the horse and buggy at the top of the hill, as they were too frighted with the steep descent. Ted was always trying to improve it, and it still needs improving!

The Hirsts, of course, almost always traveled in and out by sea, although there was the Borda Road (a two wheel track) several miles inland. In the early days, wallaby skins were most profitable and were taken to Adelaide, but they encountered sharks that could probably smell the skins. On one occasion their boat was attacked by a shark, as evidenced by shark teeth embedded in the wood. They jettisoned skins to keep the shark at bay, bu they lost many skins!

Page 22 Ted would shear his thousand sheep at Snug Cove, and ship out the wool on ketches that would call in, They'd take the bales on a horse and dray, load them onto a cargo boat, and then onto the ketch. He also shipped out yacca gum this way. Sometimes there was bad weather and the cargo could not be loaded for weeks.

The way they collected the yacca was different to modern methods. Using an axe, they cut out the top, and using a shield, would axe the sides which would fly into the shield. and the spears containing the yacca would be put through a jogger and winnower. The women didn't help, but Ted had several men. They would cart it down in the dray down the horrible cutting to Snug Bay.

Page 23 After obtaining her Qualifying Certificate (Q.C.) at Kingscote School, Olive knew that she couldn't proceed with her education unless she went to Adelaide, as there was no high school on Kangaroo Island. So she worked at home. They had a dairy and the girls used to milk the cows.

The interviewer turns to Reg Bald.

He was asked about this early life when his family settled [about 1914] in Pioneer Bend, seven miles south of Stokes Bay. [His parents were Herbert William BALD (1879-1952) and Lydia nee STEVENS (1887-1948). He was one of ten children]. Reg reiterated much of what his wife Olive had said about getting around, getting supplies from Kingscote. His father earned thirty shillings a week for years, and needed to hunt wallabies. They were a pest at their property, and so they lived off wallaby meat half the time.

Page 24 Apart from the people at Stokes Bay, they had no neighbours until about 1925. He remembered some of the settlers: the GEISLER family [? Johann 1867-1946) and Maria (1877-1941), who had seven children] just below the hill face; [? William Claude (1911-1986)] SCHULTZ; [Edwin] JENKINS (1902-1980) - worked for Noske]; Dr SMITH. You'd never see anyone else unless you went into Kingscote. During the summer we'd go fishing. His education was by correspondence, and the mail came fortnightly. He used to remember well his teacher's name, but not any more. He had to do some school work every day to keep up with it, his mother would supervise, but his father didn't worry so much as long as he worked on the farm.

Page 25 He then went to board at Shoal Bay School, but remembers it more for football. Sometimes his father took him out of school to work on the farm. He only went there for two years and didn't get his Q.C.; similarly for most of his siblings, except youngest sister Beth (b. 1928) who completed.

There seemed to be no spare time. On weekends they routinely went kangarooing with dogs to run them down "to get enough money to go to terrible shows".

Page 26 Reg expressed his opposition to the laws relating to the protection of animals - because the wallabies, kangaroos and possums are now protected, they have become a curse.

Olive died at the age of 79 years on 11 March 1989 in Kingscote.

Reg died at the age of 82 years on 18 May 1992.

They are both buried in Kingscote Cemetery.