J.W. Andre Diaries of the 1930's


My Dad (John André) gave the following talk to the Millicent Library on Tuesday the 15th May, it's written as a speech more than to read, but given the interest it generated I wanted to share it. The words in 'quotes' are direct extracts from the diaries.

We are talking about the diaries of Jim Andre, father of Roger and myself and grandfather of Peter, Alex and Lucille. Great Grandfather of Chloe & Charlize - Sophie, Will, Grace and Fred.

These diaries cover some 70 years when he farmed at Furner (1929 to 1998)

25,000 days of history........How could we type all this?

Well Sandy was talking to Janice Nitschke (who today celebrates 50 years managing the Millicent Library) who said we have library volunteers.


So every Tuesday and Thursday these volunteers are transcribing them. They're a fantastic resource for this community we are so lucky to have them. They are making accessible all sorts of hand written records of earlier settlers of this area.

Today – I'll take you through Jim's diaries of the 1930's.

They give us a picture of life here especially the lives of Jim and his brother Bob who were  boys from Ballarat aged 20 and 19 who found a partly developed farm north of Furner capable of carrying about 500 sheep, and went about increasing  production in those first 10 years.

Then briefly through the war years when Jim carried on after  Bob joined the air force, manpower and petrol were short , development plateaued and every family was impacted in some way.      

I often wonder how these 2 lads survived the 1930's.

They were city boys, though with an uncle out of Ballarat on a farm called Ceres.

And Jim did a few months jackerooing after leaving school.

They had no capital though their father paid the deposit on the farm and helped with building a house 8 years later.

What they did have was an attitude of work hard and play hard.

They had a good education, always saw good in people. Their father would always be sitting up when they returned from parties with a long neck of Ballarat Bitter (from the family Brewery) to sit and talk about who they met and so on.

As we go through some excerpts from the diaries you will notice some massive difference in life back then:

  • No telephone connected, let alone mobiles
  • Vehicles constantly breaking down or getting punctures
  • Until the war there was plenty of labour at little cost
  • Most of the work was manual, so very labour intensive
  • Rabbits were a major challenge, hardly even considered today
  • And there were less rules, so people had to use their common sense

To make any price references relevant to today I have converted into todays dollars using the Reserve Bank official index. 


Hut 1.png


They took possession of Ceres on the 14th October 1929. This is the slab hut they lived in for the first year. The bath was 50 metres away at the well. They purchased 729 ewes at Casterton at $46 & 420 lambs were thrown in.

Early entries included:

'I started grubbing yaccas'

'Phil started ploughing... pretty tough... spoke in tractor wheel broke'

'Election day, went to Millicent with Ken and Don, home 3.30 am'

'Went around sheep in the morning, Beachport in the afternoon, listened to 3rd Test (Bradman 324)'

'Taking others to Millicent in Studebaker but it broke down past Furner. All went in Healey's truck (I think to a dance) but on way home they broke down too so they all camped.'

'Taking Dad back to Millicent en route to Ballarat.... steering came adrift on truck'

'Did some washing – bath night'

A trip to Ballarat in Dec 30 – took them 3 days on motor bikes.

Another quote from a Saturday in the 30's:

'Phil came over in the morning to fetch me to help put new housing and bands in tractor transmission. She fell over. Got her righted.  And assembled differential. Beachport for tea.'

'Then supper at Cliffords at Furner, then at 2 am a truck to Nosworthys woolshed at Lucindale.'

'No sleep but much fun.'

'Then breakfast at dawn ready for a roo hunt but the day was too calm no shots fired, so back to Spehrs hut for tea and home  by 10pm after a most enjoyable time.'

Hut 2.png

In 31 they built a bigger hut from corrugated iron and timber off an old bank they bought in Millicent..I'm sure they enjoyed buying a bank because the story goes that one bank manager returned from a visit out to Ceres shaking his head saying:

'No hope for those Andre boys....their bottle heap is bigger than their house'

A party at the hut:

'Cleaned out the hut for big party'

'18 gallons and 17 present inc Henry'

'Sunday - 10 stayed on from the party and left at 9 pm'

'Monday - Cut out keg in the morning, afternoon started erecting posts from corner of Fergs and 40 ac'

Some quotes from 33:

'Saw Ronald McDonell (who they initially bought the farm from) had interest reduced to 5%'

'All went to Millicent on truck, sold bottles and 2 lbs rabbit skins'

'Netting loan came through...brought out 18 rolls netting (about 1 Km of fence)'

'To Mowbrays after tea and home 5 am'

'Bob and I went to Thornlea to hear the  cricket. Stayed til 3am lights failed on way home so back at 5 am. Carted 6 loads of stone for the track that day.'

In June / July 34 they set about building a track in because the hut was 1.5km's from the road where there was a bank & some lovely red gums. All hand work, they got rocks to the roadway, cracked them down with hammers & then carted a coating on top. Some days they recorded 25 or 30 metres so a big job, but that became the foundation of a road today which lands aeroplanes.

In 34:

'Harold Watson started on the job @ $96 per week'

A Wed night in 36 read:

'Caledonians at night – took Nash & Mick from Gillap. Hit culvert rail on way home – went through radiator – got Mick's leg.  I took Mick up in afternoon in Watsons car – to hospital.'

One of the best stories was of  going home after a good night in Millicent with their great friend Henry. 

Henry loved his parties and passed out this night, so they put him on the back of the T model Ford and headed home. It was custom to have a comfort stop before Furner , but when they got out they noticed that Henry had rolled off the back !  With poor lights it was rather hazardous to drive back looking in case they ran over him, but they avoided that and found him unharmed and quite relaxed on the side of the road.




In 31:

'Bob traded his bike for a Ford truck'

This would have been a model T Ford  like  this one in the middle of the picture  with the  characteristic angular radiator.  Over 14 million of these were produced between 1908 and 1927 mass production enabled Henry Ford to bring the cost down to $28,000.

In 34 Jim bought 2nd hand Renault in Ballarat.

One Saturday night they broke down on the way to Mount Gambier, camped the night & being Sunday the next day the Minister kindly towed them on to Mount Gambier.

Travel improved by 35 – they got to Ballarat in a day

'Good run to Ballarat.  Left 9:30am arrived 8pm'

In 36:

'Went to Cliffords & rang Gretta in Adelaide costing $32.50'

'Truck broke down on the way home. Big end on one piston gone. Just got home.'

'Put 2 new pistons and conrods in the truck'

'Still had a knock so had to dismantle it again'

It wasn't that easy getting the garage to fix it, a quote from 36:

'I went to Millicent in Dodge, left it at Latters for valve grind. Drove the Mare & Sulky home, leaving at 8:45pm home 2:30am'

Another occasion:

'Dad & I going to McDonalds for dinner but the front axle broke on the Renault so  we walked back home'


In 39 they bought a DKW car. In the mid 30's DKW was a best selling peoples car, they pioneered front wheel drive, and  became part of the Auto Union Group.

Jim was elected to  the Beachport Council in 1936 and served at least 10 years  and  from 1945 was Beachport Council rep on the Millicent Hospital Board.





Their first sheep sale:

They walked the sheep to Clifford's yards at Furner, next day to Avenue, staying at the Sommerset. Then to Mullins yards, finally to Millicent sale, but bidding very poor, only offered $27 so decided to take them home again – another 3 days, 7 day trip in total.

Their best price up to the end of the war was 300 top wethers at $105, in May 44.

Drenching sheep in the early 30's they used 1 lb bluestone (copper sulphate) to 8 gallons water. They were also into cobalt supplement quite early, putting out a Cobalt mixture for the weaners in 44.

In September 1934 they built this dip which became a major depot dip for the district and each year sheep were brought here by Gillap, McDonalds, Batemans, Gards, Domaschenz, Spehrs.

Annual dipping used to be compulsory.

They hand pumped about 10,000 ltr of water into it and in the mid '30's added arsenic which they had boiled up. To this day nothing is more thorough than a plunge dip.

They typically dipped from 1,000 sheep to 2,500 each day.

Being such hard work  they started about 5am when the sheep ran well finishing around 9 before it got hot.




They built a woolshed in 1935.

Based on 50 bitumen drum sheets they bought at $4.40 each.

But shearing didn't always run smoothly:

'Some trouble with engine and belts breaking'

'Took out petrol tank and soldered it up'

Then the next day after dipping 1,700 McDonalds sheep - the belt kept breaking but they fixed that with belting from Gillap. The same day the push rod in the engine broke so Jim took a push rod off the Hercules engine at Gillap to fix it.





They had a very good swamp area on the other side of the range and used to camp there each summer to cultivate and drill in a summer crop.

A quote from November 34:

'After several days of drilling Sweetie and I had about 40 acres sown when the tractor head cracked, so Bob, Harrold and I broadcast the rest of the seed and super. Sweetie harrowed it in (20 acres rape, the rest turnip, chou mollier & kale). With seeding finished we shifted camp home for the weekend and all had a much needed bath'


'All went back to the swamp to fumigate the rabbit warrens with cyanogas (cyanide). Filled in the holes under the netting.'

Rabbits were a huge problem in those days & they were especially attracted to a lovely summer crop. For example in February 41 they laid poison trails, got over 100 on the drainbank, and 232 on the swamp, then later a further 300 on the swamp.




Because Ceres had limited  clear grazing country they increased production in two ways. Either by leasing or buying extra country, or by ploughing up Yacca or Heath country to give more grazing  land.

In May 33 – they leased Thompson's paddock for $1,000 half yearly

'Saw Falconer re 2nd mortgage'

Jul 34 – they saw Stuckey re Bellingers... offered $48,000 and bought that block.

Aug 34 – they saw Crystal re financing. He proposed to take over everything on a mortgage of $240,000 


Father in law sold 1,000 acres of the Gillap Mt Bruce country to Jim & Gretta.

So a major project in 38 was fencing this block off which involved almost 10km's of fence.

They got some 1,400 posts from the scrub & dug them in by hand, often in rock.

In April 39 - Gustafson ploughed 209 acres of new development frontage country with yaccas & some honey suckle. Stretching from the 100 line to the Penola Rd & costing $90 a ha.

Then seeding took 4 weeks.

Fencing was a massive 3km of rabbit proof netting. Again splitting posts from the scrub, hand digging them in, & drilling holes in the posts by hand for the wires & digging the netting in, so the rabbits wouldn't go underneath.

They seemed quite innovative in the pastures they sowed.

In 31 - They fenced off a plot in the scrub to trial Cashmore's Veldt grass and also sowed a sample of Phalaris and sub clover in Front Paddock.

In 33 – They Broadcast  NZ white clover and a little phalaris in about 3 ac of 40 ac.

In 35 - Bob went to the swamp and planted strawberry clover roots from J Ryan in the potato patch. 

April 40 – They seeded the new ploughing – strawberry clover & New Zealand rye grass.

Pine Trees - June 42:

'Sorby Adams came & inspected site for pine plantation & gave me tips on planting etc'

Sorby was an Australian legend as far as Pine Forests went so they were lucky to have his encouragement, so that today we're almost up to selling the second rotation.

May 44:

'Put in tender for lease of Miss Nunans 1,000 acre block at Claywells'

'Lease approved on 7th June – they started fencing that day'

They put 550 weaners in the next day and continued on for 20 days of fencing putting in 280 new posts


WOOL PRODUCTION over the 1st 14 years

Shows the growth in production starting with 10 bales and reaching 90 bales in their first 10 years before  plateauing through the   war years











Jim & Gretta married in Febuary 37 in Mount Gambier with the reception at Jens hotel.

Building Ceres Homestead 1937


Their Reo truck pretty well carted all the materials out for the building of the Homestead.

Firstly they brought out 3 cubic yard blocks of Mt Gambier stone.

Then they went to Portland & loaded up a roof tile making plant which was a very heavy load of nearly 4 ton. So  all the roof tiles were made on site taking some 3 weeks

'Found good sand over near swamp so took big truck over & threw on about 3 ton but truck went down in the sand & had to throw it nearly all off again'

'Bob came over in the Dodge & pulled us out - he ran out of petrol himself'

Breakfast at 7am, dinner at 12, tea 10pm – so long days.

September the tiles went on the roof. The builders did the roof & walls & Jim & Bob helped with the floors & cupboards & ceilings & did all the painting. So the house itself was finished in October 37.

There was a Tin Kettling in December:


'Got 2 ton of super phosphate & 4 x 5 gallon kegs on the truck.
Bob brought V8 out later – ran out of petrol so came on with Tin Kettling mob.
About 60 turned up for tin kettling.
Very good night at Hut & in House

Finished 4am.
Bob ran out of petrol again returning to Millicent.'

Last entry for 1937 – 'Dogs cleared out'

In 38 they built an Out Building for the 32 volt lighting plant

21 March 38:

'Bob & I completed electric wiring, soldered the joints, switched on – all ok'


Quotes from 39:

'Bob scorched Dining room table ironing'

'Gretta, Bob & I went to Naracoorte races. Bad day financially – good otherwise'

'Spent most of the day trying to round up the cow for milking
No use – she got away into JB's.'

Some from 43:

'January 29 My birthday, pubs ran out of beer in Millicent
But some bottled left at Sommerset'

'Paid wages less 1/3d in the pound or 6% tax' 


The only way to get the phone on was to build their own line some 7 miles to Furner. They got straight poles, some 24 foot long for over the road, then a single wire soldering every joint. Ceres was connected  in Feb 1941.

Later Jack Goldsmith further north was connected & later again Gillap – so all 3 were on a party line with individual rings. And the ability to listen in.


Ration tickets.jpg

February 41:

'Got ration tickets for the month and each month' (some in this photo)

Petrol was rationed 1st   then meat, milk, butter cereals, sugar & bacon

The following entries appear through the diaries:

'Germany attacked Poland'

'England and Australia declared way on Germany'

'Germany invaded Holland & Belgium'

Both Bob, and Gretta's brother Mick  enlisted  in 1940

17 Mar 41:

'Mick was home from leave so they had a party for him and Ian Gordon.
Killed 2 roosters for the party
30 guests – great success
Finished 3:30am' 

5 June 41:

'All went to Robe in DKW to see German mine landed at Robe
Gone when we arrived'

Ceres was now down to just Jim & a city lad Robert Cock.

Dec 41:

'Japan attacked America'

Feb 42:

'Blacked out DKW lights' (I recall this driving to Ballarat through the war)

March 42:

Robert Cock was called up so Jim was now on his own at Ceres

Entries during April 42:

'Gretta with John in pusher took wethers from Ram Paddock up to Mangels'

'Gretta helped me draft off 51 weaners'

'Harrowed Kentucky Bluegrass seed – Gretta broadcasting the seed off the back'

'Don Green here 3 days helping spread 20 ton of Super'

1 Sept 1942:

'Wire from Air Board re: Bob missing
Rang Priest to notify Bob's wife Jean
I caught the bus to the family in Ballarat next day
Cabled Uncle Moussa in London to get earliest information on Bob
Fr Stephenson called at Glendara'
(their family home)

2 weeks later:

'Telegram 6:15 Bob prisoner of war'

'Rang family – celebrated'

November 42:

Robert Cock was back on leave, Jim wrote to Manpower re: Roberts release or extention of leave, he was eventually released from duty and back on the farm.

19  May  1943

'News received of Mick being POW'

Other entries:

'Fall of Rome'

'Invasion of Europe announced at night'

'German surrender announced'

'Started making scooter for bombing victims toy fund'

30 May 45:

Cable from Bob so Jim went to Ballarat for a party at Arranmore and caught the train next morning but missed the bus at Hamilton & had to get other old bus to chase it

10 August:

'First news re: Japanese surrender'

15 August:

'Got Corriedales in to mark but peace declared so I knocked them off at 10am'

'Had bonfire at night – burnt effigies of Hitler & To Jo'

Next day a second V Day Holiday.


So this brings us to the end of a snapshot of their lives in those early years.

And finally I would suggest that as these sort of transcripts become available from the Millicent library we would do well to peruse them & ask ourselves whether there are aspects of life back then which we could adapt to enrich our lives in todays busy world.

Thank you.

Coverage in the paper copy.jpg