Six years after her return to England

 

Dear Old Boys and Girls,

 

When old friends meet, before long you will be sure to hear the phrase, “Do you remember?” It occurred to me that the very Old Boys might enjoy a few rememberings and the less Old Girls and Boys might like to picture our very early beginnings.

 

I suppose that what I remember and what you Old Boys remember, is so very different that it might be interesting if one of you would answer this letter by sending me some of your recollections.

 

Mr Fairbridge selected the Old Farm, not because he specially liked it or thought it was a good place, but under pressure from England to settle on something without delay. Out committee in Oxford wrote that they could not raise money for a Farm School which was just a farm on paper – a mere idea – so they urged us to get ready as soon as possible to receive a few boys.

 

We replied by sending them a plan of a simple building such as we thought essential for making a start, and set to work to secure a small improved property. The old farm, with its little house, orchard, tumble-down stable and pig pens was brought to Mr Fairbridges’s notice. One or two friends from Perth inspected the place with him and it was decided that we could make a start without expending much capital.

 

Who remembers the noble animal Dobbin and his years of faithful service? All his peculiarities and his adventures, jumping gates with crates of turkeys and pigs on board? We decided to buy him for £12 as our neighbour would charge £14 to plough the orchard for us. His age was unknown, some thought him almost as old as Pinjarra itself.

 

And so the work went on. I was busy inside the house, which was very dirty when we arrived and of course, I had to cook for the hungry workers. It was all strange to me and tiring too, as the kitchen had no sink and no water laid on.

 

August was just as wet as an August can be. Mr Fairbridge pruned from dawn to dark and then came a morning when he found it impossible to get up and had to face the fact that his old enemy malaria had got the better of him again. This was an exceptionally bad attack of malaria and lasted some ten days. Before he was on his feet again we had to make ready for the first girl immigrant to the Fairbridge School – our daughter Barbara. All arrangements had been made for her in Perth , but she was always in favour of farm life and spent her first few weeks in true bush style lying in a condensed milk box.

 

Shortly before Christmas, we had a cable from England to say that a party of thirteen boys were sailing and due in Fremantle some time in January. The cable contained no mention of money for buildings in which to house the party.

 

I suppose no one on the Oxford Committee had seen an “Ideal Settler’s Residence” (of which our house was a fairly typical example). No doubt they had in mind an English farm house with a vast kitchen, scullery, dairy and outhouses where one might stow one dozen small boys without undue strain.

 

Exact descriptions of our ‘residence’ went forward to Oxford , but there was no time to correspond or cry over the situation; you boys were on the way. The house was overflowing and the kitchen stove was so small that one had to plan the meal that could be cooked on it even for our present numbers.

 

Preparations went forward amid a stream of wit and humour, which was a great help all round. We decided to buy five cheap cotton tents to serve as bedrooms and stretched a piece of hessian on a lean-to framework at the west side of the house to form a little shelter from the sun and act as a dining room. There was no wash house and we were afraid to build brush shelters because of the copper fire. Quite a deal of the work was carried out in the full blaze of the sun.

 

One of the indispensable buildings to be created was the bathroom. The farm was fairly rich in derelict tin and pieces of rusty flat iron. These were all collected, flattened out and I can tell you, a noble building was erected. Timber for the framework we had to buy, otherwise we found things. We looked upon the bathroom as a chef d’oeuve and to the credit of the builders, it lasted the entire eight years at the Old Farm.

 

At last, when all was ready, Mr Fairbridge went to Fremantle to meet you. Do you remember arriving? How hot it was? You went for a swim, got sunburnt and came down with sore backs and shoulders. I don’t think those were easy days for any of us. There was no school. There was little space where you could sit indoors. You took off your shoes and your feet got burnt, you put them on, and found them so heavy. The lists we had prepared of suitable clothing had not been followed and you arrived clad for an English winter in tweeds and overcoats.

 

Who remembers weeding out the couch grass in those dusty months? What a fight you had against that pest. But you won in the two orchards near the house and I wonder if the present farm can show peaches and apricots to compare with the ones we grew there. You all hardened quickly with the daily runs on foot into Pinjarra to bring back mail, bread and meat.

 

That first winter! You were not very old. What journeys you had with sulky and spring cart, winding in and out of the swamps that lay on our track to Pinjarra. Nothing to guide you, only water wherever you looked. Did you drive or did Dobbin just take you? There were so many evenings when the train was late from Perth . Wind and rain were raging perhaps and we thought of the many overhanging branches on the track. We longed for the creak of the gate announcing your safe return.

 

But you will be tired of all this and it’s time for someone else to take up the tale and there are plenty of you there for that.

 

Yours sincerely

Ruby Fairbridge