Born 1904. From a letter written in 1985
“I was four years old when my father, Robert Douthat died of cancer. We were burnt out at Nuggetty Flat in about 1910 and went to Melbourne. I was about 6 or 7 years old. My brother Bert and our uncle Dick (Dad’s brother) and I went to Orbost when I was 13. They were cutting girders at Mt. Buck, nine miles from Orbost. My brother Les spent a lot of time in Fiji, we had some family there. My brother Bert died at the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital from the effects of gas and uncle Dick died of cancer in Orbost.
I came to this place on the 13th July, 1943 after the War. The place would not run one head of cattle then, but now I have over 50. I have worked hard to improve this place, I had to fence it all.”
“Alver Douthat first stepped on to his wet and lonely Gippsland mountain 42 years ago.
It was a test of his independence – a test he has never failed. Douthat, 8 1, has treasured that independence ever since his left arm was blown off in World War 2 by a Japanese grenade.
Within a year, the former timber cutter from Tarnagulla had retired to a mountaintop farm up a timber-getters’ track from Orbost. In almost perfect solitude, he set to work. He put up fences, tended his 40 cattle, learned to cook, chopped wood, and mastered the chainsaw with just one arm. He spread superphosphate over his rugged 56 ha property by slinging the bag around his neck and tossing the powder out by hand, while he clambered over terrain too steep for a tractor. He even built himself a shed.
“ I just stood the nails up and hit them before they fell over,” the tall recluse said, his rugged face in a smile. “But it’s been a hard life,” he admitted as a Gippsland drizzle started to wet his shambling two-room cottage. Sometimes six months go by without a visitor. “But you get used to anything,” he said.
Besides, in 1943, there was no other work for him. “When you’ve only got one arm, they won’t look at you. Besides, I didn’t have the education for a desk job,” he said. What has helped him survive his test was a book a man once lent him, when he was driving cabs in Brisbane in the 1930s. ‘Personal Power’ it was called, and Douthat has spent much of his quiet hours memorising pages of it
“Nothing is hopeless until it has been thoroughly attempted,” he quoted solemnly. He likes to prove it by peeling an orange with one hand, or showing how he can cut his fingernails.
Douthat, now with a disability pension, could leave his lonely hilltop with its broad and beautiful views of forest and sea, and move to Orbost or Melbourne. ‘But I’m not leaving. If I didn’t work, I’d be dead by now,’ he said.”
Reprinted courtesy The Herald, Melbourne. October 4th, 1985.