In 1953, after doctors prescribed fresh country air for his health, Robert Wales uprooted his young family from the city life of Sydney and set out to establish a sheep farm in Walcha.
Angela Wales, the eldest of the five children, reflects on what it was like to grow up in mid-century rural Australia.
Bumping along the gravel roads from remote mailbox to remote mailbox three times a week, connecting us with all our neighbours, was our mailman, Mr Grieve. Other people might come and go to no particular timetable, but Mr Grieve arrived at our house every Monday lunchtime, to deliver our mail, packages and supplies from town.
Monday in and Monday out we waited to see the dust of the mail truck along the opposite hill, the signal to put the kettle on the stove and to get ready to go down to the gate to meet him. Then, one December, there was an interesting surprise.
Mr Grieve arrived sporting a full set of new teeth, which utterly transformed his appearance. He flashed his new white smile at us proudly. 'What do you think? I've been saving up,' he said. 'My wife's friend in Armidale works for a dentist and they gave me deal. Not bad, eh? Just in time for Christmas. Best Christmas present a bloke ever had.'
We admired the new teeth from all angles.
One Monday a month or so later, prompted by Bunky Blomfield, Katrina and I begged to be allowed to ride with Mr Grieve to the Cheyenne boundary and back. To our surprise, Mum said yes. After we passed through our house paddock, the road became quite rough, although we enjoyed bouncing on the springs of Mr Grieve's passenger seat. Until we hit a large pothole. The jolt was so violent that it sent Mr Grieve's new false teeth flying onto the dashboard. We were amazed, and not quite sure how to react. Did this mean that Mr Grieve had lost his new teeth and would have to save up to get more? Was this a catastrophe? Was it all right to laugh, as we so badly wanted to do?
it sent Mr Grieve's new false teeth flying
Then Mr Grieve turned to us and gave us his familiar old gummy grin. 'Well, fancy that. Would you like me to do it again?'
'Yes, yes!' we cried.
And he put his teeth back in and went over another bump, and out flew the teeth again. We began to roll around the cabin, laughing. We laughed so hard we were crying. When we got to the Cheyenne boundary we were still laughing. We asked him to take his teeth out to show Bunky, who was there with her mother to meet him. Mrs Bloo admired the teeth and deftly managed to change the subject.
When we finally arrived home, we persuaded my mother to let us all go with Mr Grieve the following week so that the others could see it too. 'Go over a bump, Mr Grieve, go over another bump!' we cried, and he did, just to please us. Since there wasn't room in the cabin for all of us, two of us had to take turns sitting in the back of the truck with the mailbags and packages, getting covered in dust, sliding down to the back as Mr Grieve took his run at the Steep Pinch, a short, sharp and very steep hill that had defeated many a would-be visitor to Cheyenne, but we didn't mind. What could be more fun than this?
This is an edited extract from Barefoot in the Bindis.