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Itinerants and Others

A story by Beryl Bowden

My dictionary gives the definition of itinerate as…travelling from place to place.

During the Depression in the 1920’s, and 30’s there were men from the cities who were forced to leave their families and travel to the country in search of work. They were called tramps or swaggies, because they walked from town to town carrying their few possessions tied in a swag on their backs. Many made items to sell and housewives bought toasting forks and other kitchen utensils that these men had fashioned out of heavy gauge wire. We had two paintings on our lounge-room wall that Mum had bought from them. One painting was of pink flamingos and the other of a deer, titled Stag at Bay. Housewives often bought these things out of pity. If the tramps had nothing to sell they simply asked for a meal and were prepared to work for it, by chopping wood or doing other jobs. True itinerants.

itinerants 2

Cameleers visited Stroud during the Depression

Then there were the camel drivers who also travelled from town to town leading a couple of camels. Children were offered a ride for threepence a time. (Three cents.) I remember the camels as cranky animals that resented us climbing on their backs. The cameleer used commands to make them kneel down and get up. One of the camels name was Goldie. When he wanted her to get up he would say “Heista, Goldie.”  One day at Wards River a camel dropped dead with several children on it’s back but fortunately, no one was hurt.

We often played the camel game among ourselves at home. One day I complained to Mum that one sister was insisting on being the rider all the time and I was always the camel! Mum whispered, “ Go and put your velvet dress on.” I did, and had no more trouble. That particular sister couldn’t stand the feel of velvet!

Rumour has it, that during the war, one of these camel drivers was found to be a spy and was interned.

A certain amount of consternation was caused when the gypsies arrived in town.

A couple of big black cars would pull up in front of a shop. Several adult gypsies and hordes of small children would jump out. The shopkeeper and staff would attempt to keep them under surveillance to prevent loss of stock. Very often small items were known to be missing when the gypsies moved on. Also, fowl yards were known to be ‘visited’ by them!

There were others with no regular place of abode called ‘commercial travellers’. Some of the early ones were Indian. They drove horse-drawn wagons which not only carried their items for sale it provided their accommodation. Indians were a novelty to us as we had very little contact with any  ‘foreigners’, as we called them. After them came the ‘modern’ commercial travellers who travelled by car…and even slept in them. These men carried haberdashery items -lace, cottons, combs, shoe laces and other small items such as socks, belts etc. in ports. They visited the town on a regular basis and we came to know them quite well.

There were some who, not strictly of the town, were still welcome there. These men just came one day, and stayed.

Itinerants 1

George Hile

One such man was Lud Hun, who lived by himself in a small hut on the banks of Millbrook on land owned by Maytoms.  Lud was a rather stout man, usually dressed in a waistcoat with a gold watch chain. He rode a push bike with handle bars reversed like a ladies’ bike and mostly had a sugar bag tied across his back in which he carried his essentials for the day. He seemed to exist by his own means with chickens, an orchard and his own vegetable patch. To supplement this he went fishing in the river. He regularly rode his bike to various locations between Gorton’s Bridge and Washpool. Apparently he liked isolated spots. It was claimed that he baited the fish by suspending a rabbit carcass over the water and allowed it to decompose, so shedding maggots and larvae into the water. The fish appreciated this easy food source and he appreciated their presence when he dropped his line in! Lud was of German descent and reputed to own property in Tasmania. What made him live a hermit-like existence at Millbrook was never explained. An interesting man, always neat and tidy, always a gentleman and a jolly good fisherman.

I remember another man who, like Lud Hun, came to reside in Stroud. His name was George Hile. George lived in a vacant shed at the back of a house in Church St. He was a bricklayer by trade and there is still evidence of his work to be seen in the district. The fireplace he built in Mum’s home is still in use.

There was a man called Dinky who also lived in a hut on the riverbank. That is all I can remember of him. Someone else may know more?

These men were welcomed as part of the fabric of our community and gave us no reason to regret accepting them as such.



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2 Comments on “Itinerants and Others”

  1. Beryl Bowden November 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    I am exercising like mad. i don’t want to have a setback now. I am pain free and loving it.
    thanks for your concern.Beryl

  2. Pauline Ibbetson November 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    This is a general enquiry to Beryl. Could we please have an update as to how your hip operation went. A lot of people keep asking after your wellbeing.
    Keep up those exercises Beryl – you know you must!

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