My Life Story - The Early Years

My Personal Pages


My Parents

My father

This is my father, taken during World War Two, when he was a soldier in the Australian Army. He was NX1755, Corporal L.J. Irvine, of the 2/2nd Battalion, 6th Division, 2nd AIF. His regimental number shows that he was one of the first 2000 men from the state of New South Wales to join up when war broke out in 1939. He was on the first troopship to leave Australia. He fought in the first Australian battle at Bardia, and on the sweep across North Africa, through Tobruk and Benghazi. Then he went to Greece, where he was part of the rearguard force which had to sacrifice themselves to slow the German invasion down long enough to allow the rest of the Australian force to get out of Greece. He was missing in action for four months. During that time some extraordinarily courageous Greek civilians sheltered him from the Germans and helped him to reach neutral Turkey via the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos, Helonossis and Skyros. His unit regrouped in Palestine, and stayed there until the Japanese entered the war. He returned to Australia for jungle training and was then sent to New Guinea for the remainder of the war, seeing action on the Kokoda Track and in a number of battles including Buna, Gona and Sanananda. He was Mentioned In Dispatches (MID) for service above and beyond the call of duty.

My mother

My mother was also in uniform during the Second World War. My parents were married in December 1939, just two weeks before my father's troopship left for the war. They were separated for most of the six years of the war, including the period when he was missing in action. They were briefly reunited in 1942 when the 6th Division returned to Australia to be redeployed to New Guinea. They had a baby son, born in December 1942, but he lived for less than an hour.



My parents were part of that great generation who lived through the First World War, saw our country through the Great Depression and the Second World War, and at war's end created the post-war baby boom. My father was the oldest son and one of six children of a station master on the New South Wales railways. He grew up in the northern towns of Tenterfield, Glen Innes and Narrabri. His family had a strong Scottish heritage, although all of my grandparents were born in Australia. My father and all of his brothers and sisters were pipers or highland dancers. My father left school at the age of 15, as most boys did in those days. At the time that war broke out he was working on a mobile drilling rig, digging post holes all around northern NSW. His regimental number, NX1755, is an indication of his eagerness to enlist. It means he was one of the first 2000 men in his state to join up. His life was characterized by sacrifice, first for his country and later for his family.

My mother

My mother grew up as Louise Bulley, on a dairy farm at Taylor's Arm in northern New South Wales. This picture (above) shows her at around the time she met my father. The oldest of seven siblings, she left school at 13. There were simply no secondary education options available for her. In spite of this lack of education, through my own school years (and I was top of my class every year in primary school), she always had the right answer for any question I asked. What she lacked in formal education she made up for in innate intelligence and a voracious appetite for reading.


Apart from dairy farming, protestant religion appears to have been the dominant business on my mother’s side of the family. There were Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran ministers in her family, with plenty of ecumenical intermarriage.


My mother had a superb alto singing voice. Her favourite style of music was the American Negro spiritual, and her favourite singer was Paul Robeson. When I was a baby she sang me to sleep with songs like My Curly Headed Baby, Mighty Lak A Rose, and Deep River. She also kept my brothers and me in touch with our Scottish heritage (even though there was no Scottish on her side of the family) by singing songs like My Ain Folk, Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonny Doon, Loch Lomond, or The Road to the Isles.

Here's Mum and Dad later in life.

Mum and Dad later in life


My First Home

My first home, a tent at Boppy Mountain, New South Wales

This tent was my first home. After the war my father worked on the railways until his retirement. Having been separated by war for most of the first six years of their married life, my parents then spent the next eight years living in a tent in what can fairly be described as the middle of nowhere. My father’s employers sent him to Boppy Mountain, on the railway line between Cobar and Nyngan, in the far west of NSW. Boppy Mountain consisted of a railway station and two tents. We lived in one tent, and an aboriginal family whose surname was Morris lived in the other tent. Mr Morris worked with my father. My parents had three sons, born in 1946, 47 and 49, while living in that tent.

My brothers and me as young children

An early picture of my brothers and me. That's me on the left, the one with the pout!

A family photo at Boppy Mountain

This family photo at Boppy Mountain was taken at my older brother's fourth birthday party.


I have several memories of Boppy Mountain, even though it was so long ago and I was so young. Most of them involve various creatures from the animal world.


My brothers and I were brought up on goat’s milk, provided by feral goats that my parents captured and domesticated. They included a couple of kids that my older brother and I were given the task of naming. I remember naming mine “Tizzy Wizzy.” One day I was out somewhere with my father, and when we came home we found my mother sitting on top of the water tank, while the male goat, old Billy, prowled around the foot of the tank. It seems old Billy had escaped from his tether and chased Mum until she was forced to climb up onto the tank to evade his horns. There she remained until we returned to rescue her.


My father had a .22 rifle, which he put to good use, providing us with a lot of our meals. I remember rabbits were an important part of our diet, as were topknot pigeons. My father’s rifle came in handy on the day we saw a commotion happening over at the Morris’s home. A fox had tried to attack their hens, but their rooster had chased the fox away, and it headed straight for us. The fox ran between my mother and me, and into our tent, where it hid under the settee. My mother grabbed a broom, and whacked the fox on the snout every time it tried to escape. She managed to keep the fox trapped there until my father came home and shot it.


We three boys slept at one end of the tent, where my father had put down floorboards, my parents slept at the other end. In the middle was an open living area and kitchen. One night a large tiger snake appeared in our bedroom. My father grabbed his rifle and my mother grabbed the kettle. Mum poured boiling water between the cracks in the floorboards to make the snake poke its head up. When it did, my father shot it. It was a fine team effort. After that we started sleeping in the car. I don’t remember how long that lasted, but eventually we went back to the bedroom, and had no further deadly invasions, although snakes were an ever-present danger.


On another occasion, my father came home from work one day and announced that he had seen a dam a few miles away, with enough water in it for a swim. He decided to take the family out for a picnic the following weekend. This was going to be a real treat for us all. The weekend came, and we drove across country and found this makeshift swimming hole. My father stripped off and jumped in. When he surfaced, his body was covered with leeches! As horrible as this experience must have been for him, he was hurt more by disappointment that his family outing had been ruined, and that his high hopes for future recreational visits to this waterhole had been dashed.


My first-ever car accident occurred while we were at Boppy Mountain. I was a passenger in the back seat of a car driving to Cobar at night when the car hit a kangaroo. Nobody was injured (I can’t speak for the kangaroo), but I can still remember being tossed around like a rag doll as the car spun off the dirt road. There were no seat belts in those days of course, and certainly no child seats or baby capsules.


My last animal-related memory from Boppy Mountain concerns our family pets. The first was a little rusty coloured dog called, with great originality, Rusty. He “ran away” around the time my younger brother was born. It would be more than 30 years before I would discover that “ran away” was a euphemism, and Rusty was actually shot by a farmer for chasing sheep. With his colour and size he could easily have been mistaken for a dingo. We replaced Rusty with a little puppy called Toby. Toby would remain a part of our family for the next 18 years. He died while I was in Vietnam.


When I was four years old we left Boppy Mountain and moved to Dunedoo. Our  neighbours, the Morrises, departed at the same time to Dubbo. That reduced the population of Boppy Mountain to zero! The two Morris boys, Bronco and Ivan, gained fame as a country and western singing duo on the Amateur Hour, a popular radio talent quest in the 1950s. Ivan died quite young, while Bronco became a radio disc jockey in Shepparton, Victoria. Their sister became Sister Ali, an evangelist in the area known as The Block, in Redfern, Sydney. 


Dad taking the family to work, Boppy Mountain

This is my father taking the family to work with him. This part of his job was called "running the length": checking the line between Cobar and Nyngan by going over the whole line on this hand-operated vehicle called a trike.

The picture below is a Google Earth view of Boppy Mountain as it looks today. If you follow the dirt track in an upward direction after it crosses the railway line, and go right, off the track and into the clearing, that is where we lived in our tent. If anything, I think it was even more desolate when we lived there. There seems to be more vegetation today.




Extended Family


My paternal grandfather was a station master on the New South Wales railways. He was killed in the line of duty, hit by a train. My maternal grandfather was a farmer. I never knew either of them. My grandmothers, on the other hand, lived long lives, and I saw a lot of both of them during my childhood.


My father was one of six siblings, my mother one of seven. All of my uncles served on active duty during the war. With one exception, all of my uncles and aunts contributed to the post-war baby boom with a minimum of three children. The exception was my Uncle Bob, who had the right side of his face blown away in the war. His face was restored by plastic surgery, but he lost his eye, and always wore an eyepatch. Combined with his great sense of humour, the eyepatch made him a particular favourite uncle. He remained a batchelor until his forties.


In one curious family twist, One of my father's sisters (Auntie Joy) married one of my mother's brothers (Uncle Jack). They had 5 children, and we often stayed with them during our Christmas holidays.



Most of my extended family lived on the Manning River, in northern New South Wales. They were particularly plentiful in a tiny fishing village by the name of Croki, downstream from Taree, and on the neighbouring Mitchell's Island. Croki and Mitchell's Island were connected by a small car ferry, known locally as the punt. In the fifties, a lot of deliveries along the Manning River were done by boat. At various times the punt, the mail boat, the butcher's, baker's and milk boats were all run by my uncles.


Every Christmas the extended family would descend on the family members who lived in Croki, thereby doubling the local population. We would spend the whole summer swimming, fishing and playing in the sun. A small sharkproof riverside swimming pool was the main focus of activity, but there was also the punt (great for fishing) and a number of nearby beaches, as well as Uncle Stan's dairy farm on Mitchell's Island. Those regular summer holidays ensured that Croki was as much a part of my childhood as the places I actually lived, Dunedoo, Boppy Mountain and Ingleburn.




Around 1951 or ’52, when I was about 4 years old, my family moved to Dunedoo. We were still living in the tent. At the western end of Dunedoo railway station, the platform slopes down to ground level. Our tent was placed right at the bottom of that slope, next to the railway line. We used the public toilets at the station, and took our water from the tank that supplied the steam trains. The water tank had a thick canvas hose that could be unhooked from the tank and pointed down to the tank on the train so that the force of gravity would make the water flow. We used that same tank for our showers. Unlike Boppy Mountain though, the station at Dunedoo was a little too public for my parents to have their showers under the water tank. They had to take baths instead.


The picture below, taken from Google Earth, shows Dunedoo station, but unfortunately not the western end of the platform where we lived.




Dunedoo Central School

A school photo from Dunedoo Central School. I am sixth from the left in the back row.


In 1960 my family moved to Ingleburn, and I started high school. That is the subject of the next chapter of my story, A Sixties Teenager. To read it, click on the link below.

My Life Story - A Sixties Teenager

My Life Story - The Army

My Life Story - Vietnam 1967-68 - Tet

My Life Story - Vietnam 1967-68 - FSB Andersen

My Life Story - Vietnam 1967-68 - The Long Hai Hills

My Life Story - Vietnam 1967-68 - The Battle of Coral and Balmoral

My Life Story - Homecoming

My Life Story - Itchy Feet

My Life Story - On The Road Again

My Life Story - London, QPR, and the North Sea

My Life Story - Vietnam Veterans

My Life Story - The Welcome Home Parade

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