By Grandson Max Douthat
“I don’t remember a time when the name ‘Waanyarra’ was not mentioned regularly in our house in Melbourne. Many holidays were spent at Waanyarra with my grandfather (Poppa) on his farm.
It was an epic voyage to Waanyarra in the family’s 1934 Plymouth tourer, taking around three hours without a stop for fuel, food or personal comfort. However, it was always exciting, as at the end there were holidays out in the bush where one could do almost anything without getting into trouble.
My grandfather presented an image to me of a strong, self-reliant man who got on well with his neighbours, but disliked visitors and shunned modern contraptions. 1 remember once travelling to Maryborough in the Plymouth, with my father driving. I noticed Poppa sitting rigid in the passenger seat with his feet planted firmly on the floor looking as though we were travelling at 100 mph. and about to crash. In reality the old Plymouth very rarely reached speeds over 45 mph. Poppa was not used to travelling at ‘high speeds’ as he only had a bike for transport.
One picture which is firmly imprinted in my memory is of the time Poppa and us kids were driving sheep down the road in front of the farm. We were supposed to be helping him herd the sheep into the front paddock. We did not know that sheep would not understand that they were supposed to go through the first gate instead of the second one. But Poppa let us know in no uncertain terms as he yelled at us poor, useless city kids.
I also remember the time I saw the tough side of my Grandfather. He caught us kids annoying the bull down at Williams’, by pawing the ground outside the fence. We were not aware that if the bull wanted to get at us a couple of rusty old wires would not deter him. Luckily Poppa came to our rescue. He gave us a tongue lashing which frightened us more than the thought of being chased by an enraged bull.
Most of our visits to Waanyarra, except for the long time we stayed when Dad got sick, were for long weekends or Easter and occasionally we visited over the Christmas period. I remember many a hot night with us three kids in the double bed listening to the mosquitos as they searched for an exposed area of skin in which to sink their suckers.
Fishing, rabbiting and wood gathering seemed to occupy a major part of the holidays. It appeared to me as a kid that living in the country was much cheaper than living in the city, where everything cost money. I remember a good day’s fishing I had, not in the river or Laanecoorie Weir but in Poppa’s dam down near the front gate. We were ready to head off to Laanecoorie but Dad got sick so we could not go. So I thought I would go down to the dam to practise my spinning. To my great surprise I caught a fish on my first cast. After about an hour I’d caught a dozen good sized fish which were proudly photographed for a permanent record of my success.
There always seemed to be an abundance of vegetables in Poppa’s garden, and various fruits on the numerous trees which had been planted by the early settlers. At the right time of the year one could have a feast of fruits ranging from quinces to mulberries to plums to persimmons. Once I filled up on red currants and not being able to make it back to the house to satisfy the call of nature, I was very embarrassed on my return to my parents.
Entertainment seemed simple but adequate at Waanyarra and many a night was spent visiting neighbours to play cards or listen to the radio. Dad used to play the accordion at the dances and parties and it always seemed much appreciated.
After I got married and had kids of my own it just seemed natural that as much time as we could spare was spent at Waanyarra, where our kids did the same things we used to do but with a little more sophistication.
We still visit Waanyarra regularly even though we have built a home at Murphies Creek. There is just something about Waanyarra which makes me feel good to know that I am part of the history of such an unique area of Victoria.”