Looking Back: Family does it tough in Depression years

Bega Pioneers' Museum has countless files on people and places. This one was written by Len Spindler about his life in the Valley. This extract is set in the depression years.

Tough life: The Bega River banks where Len and his family lived in a tent for a while during the Depression years.

Tough life: The Bega River banks where Len and his family lived in a tent for a while during the Depression years.

FROM Poverty Lane we spent a few weeks at Aunty Rita’s at Fairview. Then in desperation we put up a tent on the river bank and kept Nancy in a big box with a net over the top, as there were millions of flies.

A man and his wife and kids got 11 shillings a week to live on. Sid Wheatley and family lived in a tent on the river bank too and Vic Diversi, God bless him, gave us free milk.  From there we moved to Eva’s father’s skin shed and slept in a tiny room at the front.

Our second child was due so Eva and I went to Sydney where Betty was born at Homebush. We returned to Tathra where I picked up whatever work was available.

I was still on the dole plus the ten shillings a week child endowment for the first child. They didn’t pay for the second child till many years later.

Rent was ten shillings per week, which was a lot of money as the average wage was two pounds per week less tax. Butter was two shillings  a pound and a pair of boots were five shillings. The first suit I owned cost two pounds 15 and took six bloody months to pay for.

Between permanent jobs, I did a month of general farm work for Gowings, Darcys and Russells. I would get work scuffling corn, walking all day behind a scuffler with one horse for eight shillings per day.

Come Friday I’d get a cheque for one pound 19 and six and tear off to Tathra to stock up the tucker box with bread, butter, a tin of fish, arrowroot biscuits and a tin of raspberry jam which we spread as thin as varnish.

Our first two or three kids were reared on milk and arrowroot biscuits. To provide milk for the kids, old John Darcy loaned me a cow and her bull calf.

I would sneak her into Morgan’s backyard and when they came down at the weekend, old Morgan would pay me ten shillings to clean up their backyard after those “stray cattle”, and all the time it was my bloody cow.

When we were working in the cornfields, chipping the corn as it grew, we got a bit cunning and would chip dozens of rows in about 20 yards, and the boss would walk up and reckon we had done a lot, and in the middle of the paddock nothing was done at all.