Saturday, 3 July 2010

A Tale of Two Whistles

Last week I found the whistle seen in the accompanying photograph on the ground about 2 metres to the east of the car shed here on the farm. I was impressed with the quality of the item, which still works superbly, and figured it was likely that previous owners who lived on the farm between around 1935 to 1965 were likely to remember … had any of their members owned and lost it.
With the above in mind my first approach was to Don Bokeyar … whose family owned our place from around 1935 through 1950 and built the house we now live in … around 1940. I sent him an email without an accompanying photo (I’ve only taken the photo this morning). His reply read in part as follows: “That whistle got me into big trouble one day. I was riding my pushbike home from the Feeney’s where I had been dropped after school. Mrs Feeney was the teacher at the Pinnacle school. I was riding up the then dirt track from the mailbox quite happy blowing the whistle all the way home. Not a good idea at the time because Mum thought I had hurt myself or worse. On arriving home Mum found I was all OK, that was when the strap that hung behind the kitchen door was put to very effective use. Needless to say I did not see that whistle again. I recall the incident very clearly.”
There were several aspects of Don’s reply that really hit home for me:
  • A mother’s concern for the safety of her children
  • The innocence and excitement of youth
  • The toughness of justice in days gone by
  • The richness of the (real and rarely known) stories behind artefacts
  • How well sound travels in the country
  • How asking one question leads to a myriad of more questions
  • The reason why a whistle is generally considered to be one of the top 10 items to have in any safety kit
I called Don to thank him for his feedback and discuss the incident a bit more. The Feeneys lived on a property on Hoctors Road called ‘Talbalba’; about 1 km to the west of where the Pinnacle Guinea Pig Races are held. The house at ‘Talbalba’ has been unoccupied for about 40 years and is now in total disrepair. It would be about 6 km in all from ‘Talbalba’ to where we live. The distance from the mailbox Don refers to to our own house is a tad over 2 km. At the time Don had a “21” pushbike and recalls the toughest bit of the ride home as being over Simpsons Hill … the property on the north side of this hill is called Milroy (where the Guinea Pig races are held) and was owned by the Heathcote family when I was growing up. Once Don arrived at the Feeneys in the morning they would then travel via horse and sulky to the Pinnacle School … no longer in existence but the site was located not far from the present-day Pinnacle Hall. Don cannot recall a specific occasion for receiving the whistle (e.g. birthday) but knows that he did not have it for longer than a couple of days in total! As we talked further it became clear that the whistle I’d found was not the one he’d been given. His was similar to a referees whistle … complete with a ‘pea’ that meant it was capable of generating even more noise than the one I’d found. After I described the whistle to Don he expressed the view that it was most likely a 'dog whistle'. From a ‘life experiences’ perspective Don looks on the event as a positive learning on the need to be aware of how sound travels in the country and the role sound can play in warning of danger.
This morning I contacted the Causers (Lindsay ... lived here from 1950 to 1965), the Hamptons (Don who owned our farm from 1965 to 1977 and his sons David and Paul) and the Pitts (Ian ... lived on the farm from 1981 to 1987). Lindsay commented that the only whistles they ever had while here were ‘fox’ whistles … round in shape with a hole in the centre. The Hamptons and Ian Pitt have no recollection of the whistle. Ian's daughter Jenny thinks that she once had a necklace that had a whistle on it as a pendant but is not certain.
So … it seems there may have been at least two whistles ‘lost’ on our place … and the story behind the one we have is uncertain. Don’s story will not go to waste … and I’ll likely use the whistle we now have and extracts from his story as education for the school excursions we aim to host here from time to time.
(My thanks go to Don Bokeyar for permitting me to share the above story)