Lionel Elward Mintern
'Lee' Mintern, as he came to be known was born in West Melbourne, Victoria on the 6th November 1915.
The following is a succinct edition of his autobiography "Tumblesweeps and Hobblechains".
My father died, I think in 1921 at a Railway picnic on the Emu Creek at Skipton in the Western District, and my Mother moved with my younger Sister and myself to relatives in Melbourne. The Widows pension was unheard of in those days. Widows had to work and rear their children under very difficult circumstances. A Brother of my Mother took me into his home, a farm on Billy’s Creek, Yinnar. Here I was reared by my Uncle and Aunt as a Brother to their two daughters.
I transferred to Yinnar school in 1924. My Mother by this time was the proprietor of a Costumiers Business in Chapel Street, Prahran. She contributed to my education through my school life. After finishing school at Yinnar in 1929, my Mother moved me to Melbourne again, Where I attended a private Business College for two years, mainly doing accountancy. I was not keen on accountancy, I wanted to be an Engineer. These were the years of the Great Depression, and even though you may have done well with qualifications, there were no jobs.
So having spent some time on the farm, I headed bush. By 1933 I was working on sheep stations in the Western District, and at Darlington Point in NSW.,
While at “Carrabaree”, Ruston Hornsby, a firm of diesel engineers based in Sydney, were commissioned by the station to supply and erect a Twin Cylinder diesel engine developing 110 HP and capable of driving two pumps to lift water from the Murrumbidgee River for the purposes of irrigation. Ruston had contracted the installation of the machinery to John Danks & Company of Sydney, but as yet their Diesel Erection Engineer was not forthcoming to instal the machinery. On his previous visit he had surveyed and pegged out the site and poured the necessary machine beds. The delay went from weeks into months. The station owner eventually gave me the task of organising the transfer of the machinery crates from Willbriggie Siding to “Carraberee”, where I uncrated it and laid it out in preparation of the arrival of the Engineer. I remember that the engine bedplate weighed 3 tons, the crankshaft 15 hundredweight and the large fly-wheel weighed 1 ton 10 cwt. I forget the weight of the engine block, which contained the two pistons and con-rods already fitted. In each crate were blueprints, and as I cleaned the moving parts of their protective coatings I found from the blue prints where they went, and was able to organise the layout as to where they had to go accordingly. Still no sign of the Engineer, and I was asked if I was given a team of men to help, could I erect the machinery?. Two double purchase Trewalla jacks were on hand and two large chain blocks were hired. These together with lashing ropes and two sets of shearlegs and skid rails cut from the nearby bush, by the time the Engineer arrived, the plant was pumping water into the two new irrigation channels. While he was checking out the installation, I was questioned on every move that I had made. He arranged for Ruston to offer me a traineeship when I turned eighteen years of age. But I was young and I was interested in one day becoming a full blown sheep or cattle station manager. Sometimes I regretted that I had passed up this opportunity.
At this same time the Queensland Police Remount breeding establishment was being dismantled and the brood stock sold. The stations also bred remounts for sale to the Indian Army in those days. “Carrabaree” bought twenty brood mares with foals at foot. Some of these foals were three years of age and as yet had never been handled. I off-sided for the horse breaker and after the job was completed, one of the stallions and I had an argument. He won and I spent seven months in a Griffith hospital with broken bones.
On discharge from hospital I decided to move further north to new pastures. I travelled by goods train to Ivanhoe, where I hoped to catch the mail bus to Wilcannia. Alas, the coach had left “yesterday”, and wouldn’t be back for a fortnight. I decided it was no good waiting for the coach, even though it was December and getting very hot. I bought some rations from the General Store, and with “gunny sack” and filled water bag, I hoisted my heavy stock saddle, saddle blanket, bridle and stockwhip onto my shoulders and started out along the two wheel-tracks, through the red sand and mulga for Wilcannia, one hundred and twenty miles away. I was hoping that someone would motor along and I may be able to get a lift. It didn’t happen and I carried that “B…..saddle” and gear 105 of those 120 miles before a truck came along and landed me in Wilcannia, where after a couple of days, I was offered a stockman’s job on “Natalie”, where I stayed for two years, the last year of which I carried the job of Head Stockman.
I still had this uncontrollable urge to travel North, so as to gain broader experience on the larger cattle stations. My ambition at this time, was to eventually manage a large sheep or cattle property. In the middle of a drought, at the end of 1936, I saddled up my pack horses, and headed north to Hungerford, where for six months, I off-sided to a fine gentleman, by the name of Fred Wheelhouse from Fords Bridge. He yoked 24 camels to a very large wagon on which he carted wool to the rail-head at Bourke. He also took contracts delving Bore drains and sinking dams. His camels were large draught animals, as used for pack camels by the Afghans in their pack-trains in the Out-back. After the contracts had been completed on”Currawinya” station, I moved to Charleville in Queensland, where I did some horse breaking, and “tailed” Drovers’ horses for a period of twelve months.
My base was Cloncurry until the start of World War
2. I worked part time in one of the five cattle camps on Lake Nash
station, situated on the Northern Territory side of the Queensland
border. Occasionally, I was engaged by Cattle Drovers, as a horse
tailer, while they were moving mobs of cattle from the Leichhardt
River country, north of Cloncurry, down the Georgina creek, then
along the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert,
down the Birdsville Track, to Marree where the cattle were
railed to Adelaide for sale.
Late September 1939, we were south of Birdsville with 1500 head of “Coolulla” bullocks, on the way to Marree, South Australia, via Clifton Hills, when the Birdsville Police trooper and his trackers spent the night with us. He informed us that Great Britain had declared war against Germany on the 3rd of September. There was no such thing as portable radios in those days. The trooper was asked, what is the date today, and he replied it is the 13th of September. I remember asking one of the aboriginal trackers, what he thought about this “fella” Adolf Hitler. His thoughts were, “Sit that ploody fella down along desert, him perish, die all the same that fella sun.” (According to the aboriginals when the sun set it died.) After the cattle were put on Rail at Marree, some of the crew, including myself moved down to Adelaide to see about enlisting in the Armed Forces. I failed the medical examination, because of my 1934 injuries.
I returned to Victoria, and worked as a stockman on a Merino Stud out from Beaufort. I was able to enlist in the AMF, where the medical standard was not so high. I became a Trooper in the 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment. It was anticipated that Japan may enter the War, so in February 1941 the regiment was put on full time War Service. On the 7th of December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Early in 1942 I was called before an Army Medical Board and reclassified as fit for the 2nd AIF.. The 4th Light horse, became the 4th Australian Motor Regiment, AIF.(mechanised Infantry), in the 1st Australian Armoured Division. In 1944 the 4th Motor Regiment AIF, embarked in the “Katoomba” at Fremantle and proceeded to sea. Destination supposed to be Burma. Four weeks later the “Katoomba” sailed into Sydney Harbour, and the Regiment was disbanded.
I was reappointed, as a platoon commander with the 24th Works Company (Engineers). Later, I was to relieve the Second-in-Command of the 34th Works Company in Bougainville. I was recalled to Land Head Quarters and ordered to take command of two platoons of the 24th, to boost the strength of the 18th Works who at that time were snowed under, and working around the clock, trying to clear a back log of Military shipping. Early in 1945 we were loading supplies in anticipation of the Borneo Campaign. Enemy submarines were active on the eastern coast and a number of ships, that had been loaded by our Companies torpedoed.
After the signing of the Japanese surrender in September 1945, I was seconded to Advance Headquarters, British Commonwealth Forces, Japan, as a staff Officer. My orders were to Liaise with the United States 8th Army Military Government. I was informed my first responsibility would be to inspect the devastation of the Kure Docks, and report to them as to what would be required to get the Docks in workable condition, so as to receive shipping. Required equipment and Japanese labour, both civil and POWs’, together with equipment would be organised through the Hiroshima Prefectorial Government. Among tasks carried out by members of the Advance Headquarters using Japanese labour was the demolition of enemy ammunition. Mustard Gas under the supervision of the Australian Navy was pumped into stripped Japanese Destroyer hulls by Japanese labour. The hulls were then sealed and were towed offshore, and sunk over the continental shelf by the Royal Australian Navy.
After the arrival of the main body of the Occupation Force, the number of Japanese people employed rose to 40,000 daily. I was responsible for the acquisition of labour, and the accounting that was necessary, as costs were to be off-set against reparations.
By November 1946, I had completed my twelve months tour of duty after the cessation of hostilities. I was offered further promotion to stay on for a further twelve months tour of duty. This I declined, for I felt all the hard work had been accomplished, and it was time to go back to civilian life, and give my wife, my five year old son and three year old daughter a chance to know their husband and father.
After demobilisation, I moved to Moe with my wife and two children. We built a house at 23 Vale Street. I was employed, by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria for 28 years until my retirement in 1975 at age 60 years. In 1957 we sold our house in Moe, and bought a modest farm out on the Coalville road. We Dairy farmed until 1966, then we changed to breeding Beef cattle. Eileen and I had two more bonza children, bringing the total to four. Donald, Evelyn, David and Carol. Unfortunately the children lost their mother to cancer at the age of 49 years in1969.
On the 20th January 1973, Lucy May Taig and I were married in St. Johns Church, Yallourn. Our two families merged together very well.
I served on various Committees, some of which were as follows:-
Moe Youth Club.
South Street State School Committee.
Moe Apex Club. (A foundation Member.)
Coalville State School Committee.
Later I joined the Moe Sub Branch of the RSL. And the British Commonwealth Occupation Force Sub Branch as a second member. I was also a Life Member of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Association.
During the retirement years, my wife Lucy, and I spent many pleasant weeks over a period of winters fossicking for Gemstones in New South Wales and Queensland. The beauty of the various specimens we collected and cut, was only exceeded by the everlasting friendships we made with fellow fossickers from all over Australia, and who came from all walks of life. They were of many nationalities and of all ages, and most of all they were proud to be Australians. Fossicking led to lapidary, the cutting and polishing of semi-precious stones, then to the faceting of precious gem-stones. Many happy years were spent in competition cutting, with some small success, as a member of the Australian Faceting Guild.
Please note: short sections of this autobiography have been excluded due to the personal nature of those sections.