Charlie Coster – Our Dad

(Presented on behalf of the family by Tom Coster, as part of the tribute to Charlie Coster on the occasion of his funeral service 4th June 2001)

Early Memories of Dad

My earliest memories of Dad were as a horseman. He had a knack with horses, knowing exactly which horse to put next to another to get maximum work out of a team. He had some11 or 12 working horses as I remember and I witnessed the final years of glory for the horse before tractors came on the scene.

On the Farm

I would spend hours as a little tyke walking in the furrow behind Dad and the horse drawn plough, listening to the stream of horse language commands that maintained a dead straight furrow. Or following Dad behind the maize planter and marvelling at how he could throw a planter chain in a running loop from one end of the paddock to the other as he changed to a new row.

In addition to feeding, grooming and patching the horses chafes there were the cows to be milked, pigs to be fed, crops to be planted and harvested, fire wood to be cut and split, drains to be cleaned, fences to be built and repaired and, in summer, hay to be cut and stacked. These tasks required a litany of skills. He was Jack of many trades and master of all. He was an expert bushman, highly skilled in the ancient art of the axe, cross cut saw, broad axe, adze, mall and wedges. He built sheds from bush poles and bark, he cared for and nursed his sick or injured animals back to health, and raised crops of maize, turnips, enfie, turnips pumpkins and lucernes to feed them.

Dad and Mum had six of us to bring up on very limited resources. I can remember Dad studying the cream ticket after each pickup, an early indication of the cream cheque for the next month. There was rarely very much to be excited about.

Farm Duties

As is the case with most farm children we all had our chores to do which had a serious impact on the social lives of the ones doing the milking. On the positive side Dad taught us an incredible range of skills many of which we all use to this day. We learnt to improvise, to make do with what was at hand. He taught us the importance of integrity and honesty in our personal and business life. If a job is worth doing, do it well.

As the family grew, Dad had another chore. Keeping the peace between us all. In this department, arguments and rebellions were put down swiftly, no questions asked.

The House

The old house was small and lacked creature comfort. Ron and I had to share a double bed with a bolster down the middle (the definition of ‘middle’ being something akin to the present middle east dispute) and I am told Judy had to make room for George in her bed. The loo was a thunder box at the far side of the orchard housed in the Leaning Tower of Pisa with bullock bows holding the down the roof.

The weekly ablutions in a tin bath in the outhouse were also an affair. Hot water was boiled in the copper and bucketed into the bath. First in got to have a nice hot bath in clean water. It was doubtful if the bath was of much benefit to the last one through.

With the help of Pouchon the builder, Dad embarked on a major renovation of the house. 12 months later and I will never know at what expense, we had a proper bathroom, kitchen and flush toilet and most importantly a bed to ourselves.

Sunday Dinner

Meals, except for Sunday, were conducted in a series of shifts determined by the prevailing activity. Before milking, catching the school bus, after milking, early lunch, late lunch, home from school, after milking or more often when you appeared and said “is there anything to eat?”. Sundays were different. Sunday midday meal after church and Sunday school was a roast dinner. Everyone sat down together with Dad at the head of the table. There was a lot of chatter at this meal and Dad would often tell stories about funny things that happened when he was a boy or a young man.

Of the time where a certain young man went to take a young lady home after a bush dance, only to find the buggy shafts placed through the fence with horse on one side and the buggy on the other.

Outings

It was always exciting when Mum and Dad took us on outings and picnics. Mum, Dad and the six of use were shoe horned into the old Rugby tourer with the picnic gear and off we went. A typical example would be the Boxing Day Regatta at Paynesville. We Had a great day until about 4 o’clock, just as the finals of the speed boat races were starting. Dad would reluctantly pronounce that dreadful phrase “it’s cow time” and off home we went, never knowing if Jack Legg won or not.

Tumour

A major operation to remove a brain tumour had a profound impact on his life. The operation in 1959 was life threatening and he felt at times that he was being pulled death on one hand and life on the other. His thoughts of his family roused him to fight for his life.

During his recovery he discovered that whenever he stated to worry about the family, debts, and the farm – his health slipped back and he learned the skill of letting each day look after itself, and not to worry about the things over which he had no control. The was to be the guiding philosophy for the rest of his life.

Community

Dad was a good neighbour. Anyone in difficulty or needing assistance could rely on Dad. He was active on the school committee and could be relied upon to be at working bees and in the front line of a fire emergency

Environment

Dad knew his environment. Noticing the level of the piers for the new Sarsfield bridge he advised the powers that be that they were too low. “What would Dad know about it” was the general response. As if in answer a short while later it began to rain. Dad warned the contactor to move the equipment out of the riverbed. Again the contractor knew best. The rain pelted down and all that could be seen was to boom of the crane sticking out of the water and the bridge piers rapidly disappearing.

Despite living his life one day at a time, he was a man with strong views about the degradation of hte environment, unemployment, personal human dignity and social justice for the poor. Some of these views were published in “Letter to the Editor” in The Advertiser and the Weekly Times, gaining an award for the latter, as he took up his pen after Mum died.

He grew up in an era where all resources were highly valued and he was the ultimate recycler. Today we would say “he trod lightly on the landscape”. He had few clothes (although there were many offers to buy him clothes); all packaging was stored and recycled, food scraps were composted; scraps of timber, old leather shoes were turned into useful items; old bolts were rethreaded adnd given a new lease of life; the best of each crop he grew was saved as seed to grow the next crop; and he walked wherever possible.

Technology

His life spanned a period in our history where social and technological change has occurred at an unprecedented rate. Dad embraced these changes in a considered way. Selecting new technologies that were of benefit, leaving the fads to others.

The change from horse to tractors had it’s funny side. The big day came to try out the new Ferguson tractor. With plough in tow, Dad set off down the paddock. As he approached the far end we could hear a loud horse command “Wo Back”. Unfortunately the fergie didn’t know horse language and proceeded through the fence, ending up buried in a drain on the other side. Poor Fergie wore the barbed wire scars for the rest of his life.

Conclusion

Later, as his family grew up and went their separate ways, he always remained deeply interested in their achievements. He was always very proud of us all.

He took great pleasure in watching his grandchildren grow up and one of his delights was the extensive photo gallery in his lounge room.

He and Mum were a wonderful team and after she died he often said how much he missed her. It is happy to think that they might now be reunited.

Dad, you life was an inspiration to us all. We’ll never forget you.

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