Sunday, 23 October 2016



  The following factual yarn, which is subtitled "Gold Fever," was written by my dad, the late Roy Wheeler, after a trip we did to Condobolin in 1965. Roy had an interest in finding and restoring veteran and vintage motorcars. I have fond memories of accompanying him and my brother, the late John Wheeler, as we searched around western NSW looking for old cars and old car parts, even though I never continued my dad’s passion in that respect. During those times we met some very interesting people, including one old bloke named Stan Symonds. Stan lived by himself on a property several miles from Condobolin. As the trip was done in August of 1965 I would have been one month short of my 13th birthday.  
Dave Wheeler 

by Roy Wheeler
   He was 81 years old, short, spare, unwashed with bushy eyebrows and plenty of ear and nose hair. His name was Stan Symonds.
   Stan was a bachelor and he lived contentedly on his run-down sheep farm several miles from Condobolin, a quiet town in central western NSW. He had his two dogs for company and they had the run of his two-roomed house. One room was for sleeping and the other room was for everything else. There was no bathroom or laundry to complicate Stan's life. I suspect the dogs helped to keep him warm on winter nights.
   We arrived about dusk on a cold August evening in 1965, having been told there were rumours of an ancient car near his house. He was a bit wary at first but soon warmed to us and invited my two boys and me in to sit by the fire.
   The old car, a 15 hp sleeve valve Daimler, built in or around 1910, had been left on his farm by a rabbit trapper back in the 1920's, after it had broken down. It was unlikely the rabbit trapper would return to claim it after 40 or so years.
   We looked at what was left of the car by torchlight and hurricane lantern and quickly agreed on a price. We then got down to the real business of the evening.
   Stan had gold fever. He was convinced he had gold on his property and for the last 20 years he had been digging a hole in the back paddock. He was sure he was close to the gold now, and in spite of the cold and the darkness, insisted that we drive him across the paddock to see his gold mine.
   The hole was about 2 metres wide and quite deep. Carrying the hurricane lantern, Stan climbed down two splintered ladders, wired together to give the necessary length. He pocketed some rocks and climbed out.
   Back in the house he took one of the rocks and held it in the fire with some blackened tongs. He explained that when heated the rock would give off gold gas, proving he was close to the real stuff. My boys weren't quite sure they could see the gas, but I made Stan very happy by telling him I was quite sure that gold gas was coming off.
   The next day some of the remains of the old car were soon loaded on the trailer and we arranged to return in a week or two to take the  rest of the vehicle. The work done, we squatted in a circle to enjoy a good cup of tea. Stan liked the homemade biscuits so much we had to leave them with him.
   Ceremoniously, he then presented us with a jar of water to which a handful of dirt from his mine had been added. According to Stan, if you shook it and peered into it, it behaved like one of those new fangled TV sets. Last ANZAC day he had shaken his own jar and had seen a Scottish pipe band leading the march into town. It was more evidence that he was getting close to the gold. We were duly thankful. 
   Stan also confided that he was very worried now that he was soon to become very rich, because there was a woman in town who had her eye on him. 
   After picking up the rest of the old Daimler not long after our initial meeting I had no further contact with Stan and have often wondered what happened to him. It was not gold-bearing country and I'm sure he never found his gold reef. Did he die in his paddock, did the old ladders collapse leaving him trapped in his mine or did the woman in town get him? I can't imagine him in a retirement home, well-washed and without his dogs.

     The photo above, taken in 1965, shows the late Stan Symonds on the left and the late John Downes on the right. John and his family were our neighbours when we lived in the Canberra suburb of Ainslie, and John's remaining family are still good friends with our remaining family. John assisted us in picking up the remains of the 1910 Daimler, as shown, not long after Roy had purchased it from Stan. I looked up Stan's name and found an entry in the Condobolin Cemetery which indicated he died on the 17/12/1971, aged 85. This means he would have been born in or around 1886 and that if he was alive in 2018 he would be around 132. He lived in a very different world.
   Dave Wheeler 

by Dave Wheeler
     Time has flown since August of 1965, which was when I, a mere boy one month short of my 13th birthday, my dad and older brother, visited  Condobolin and an 81 year old sheep farmer named Stan Symonds, who lived several miles outside the town.  Although it is 2018 and I'm now 66 I can recall the trip as clearly as if it occurred last week. 
    As I’m retired and have few restrictions in my life, on the 4/10/2018 I decided to set off for a drive and found myself on the highway from Forbes heading towards Condobolin, a town I had not visited for 53 years. 
    While on that highway it brought back memories of the times I spent travelling out west with my now deceased brother and dad. I could have become depressed had I dwelt on those memories, so I chose not to focus on them once I became aware of their existence and instead let my focus return to my here-and-now. What’s the point in feeling miserable? Other than that, my here-and-now offered me a lot of pleasure. I find driving on the flat western plains with very little traffic meditative and refreshing; the very opposite of city driving, with its hectic pace and high traffic density. Also, simply being away from a city can recharge one’s metaphorical batteries, and the Berra has become too big, overcrowded, hectic and draining for my liking.
    As I was entering Condobolin I noticed on my left a caravan park, so I drove into it and enquired about accommodation. I was to find it's owned by the Lachlan Shire Council, which seems to be a good thing. 
    I was served by a friendly bloke at the reception who told me I could have a self-contained cabin for around $97 a night or a donger. Dongers are small bedrooms with ensuites that are used primarily by visiting workers. I chose the donger option because it was cheaper and I was only staying one night and not doing any cooking. 
   I would not describe myself as a tight-arse, but I'm careful with my money. We never know when things will go wrong and we are in immediate need of money for basics, be they for ourselves or other family members. 
    Other than that, the donger was clean and had a TV, heater/air conditioner, jug, toilet and shower. What else could I want other than dancing girls? Yes, I thought it a bit rough the Lachlan Shire Council could not throw in a few dancing girls along with the accommodation considering I had to fork-out $51 for the night. In life we must learn to take the rough with the smooth.
    The next day I had a good drive around Condo. It’s a nice little town of around 3,500 people that's preserved many of its old buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It doesn't have the same atmosphere of hopelessness and poverty many other towns around Australia of a similar size possess, but I’m sure that like the rest of Australia it has problems with unemployment, legal and illegal drug use and crime, even though while there I did not witness any behaviour of a negative nature. If my family was not living in the Berra I would move to a quiet and relaxing place like Condobolin. 
    Driving down the main street of Condo was a breeze because of the very light traffic. When I was nearing its end a bloke in front of me who was driving an old ute, who seemed by the shape of his hat to be from the land, stopped in the middle of the road to yarn to a mate for a short period of time while I waited behind him. In the Berra he would have been abused, but I didn’t mind waiting. I liked the idea that he was in no rush and that he presumed others felt the same way.
     I drove into an industrial area and passed a fenced yard, and on a shed within that yard was a sign saying, "Oppy’s Auto Wreckers.” As I could not see any car bodies around I'm not sure if it’s still a wrecking yard, but I became conscious of having been there in 1965, and the memory of the event came flooding back to me. 
    I recalled going into that same wrecking yard with my dad and brother and my dad dealing with the owner, Doug Oppy. He bought from Doug several 1920’s klaxon horns and some pre 1918 brass carburettors. I also remember Doug as being a nice bloke and he and my dad getting on well. I’ve been told Doug is now deceased.
    I then thought about asking some locals the questions my dad asked himself about the life of Stan Symonds when he wrote, several years ago, the above anecdote about when we met Stan in 1965. All I knew about Stan's death was from the information I had found on the net, that being he had died in 1971 aged 85. In regard to getting answers to my dad’s questions however, I was not too hopeful, as I was aware that almost all of those persons who knew Stan well would by now be toes-up.
   To begin the task I walked around the main streets of Condo, planning to strike up a conversation with a very old person, preferably some old bloke from the land, as such a person would have a greater chance of having known Stan than others. The problem was, most of the people I saw in the street were obviously born a relatively long time after 1952, the year in which I first saw the light of day. And as I was just under the age of 13 when I met Stan in 1965 I didn't bother asking persons who were younger than me if they knew him, as few of them would have even heard his name. 
    I eventually saw two old blokes talking to each other who looked like they had more miles on their biological clocks than me. One was wearing a hat which indicated he was probably from the land, so I thought there was a good chance that he and/or his mate would have known Stan. I strongly doubt those blokes would have had a full 20 years on me, but if they did it would mean they were aged about 86. 
    To begin the conversation I asked them if they could direct me to the local cemetery, as I was also wanting to photograph Stan’s grave so I could include it in this update to my dad’s anecdote. Given their age and the number of funerals they must have attended during their lives I knew they would be very conscious of their own mortality and as such very conscious of the fact that before too long their local cemetery would become their new home. I also however, knew that most people from rural areas, particularly old people, have been well and truly exposed to the cycle of life and death, and for that reason they usually have no problems coming to terms with their own impending deaths. 
    I was not wrong, and as I expected, while they gave me directions to the cemetery they joked about the fact that they may be going there in the not too distant future.
    I found them to be very friendly old blokes, although it would be very unusual for blokes of that age living in a town like Condo to be unfriendly. I asked them if they knew Stan Symonds and if so if they knew what happened to him. They told me they had known Stan, but they had no idea when he died, what happened to him in his later years or anything about his earlier life, which indicated they didn’t know him well. 
    Of course I could not have expected them to have known him well. If Stan died in 1971 aged 85, and if the two old Condo blokes had a full 20 years on me (which they probably didn’t) they would have only been 39 at the time Stan died. And as they were young enough to have been Stan's grandsons they would have moved in entirely different circles to Stan and his peers.
    One of the old blokes however, did know where Stan's property was, and he told me it had changed hands several times since Stan's death. 
   They then, in an effort to assist me, discussed amongst themselves which Condo residents may know what happened to Stan, but when each came up with a name the other said, “No, he’s dead.” 
    I was only prepared to spend a limited amount of time chasing up information about Stan, but I did make another effort to look up his name on the net through my mobile phone and I got more information about him in regard to his death and burial from the following websites:
   His name according to those links was Stanley Washington Symonds, the son of Alfred and Caroline Symonds, birth date unknown. He is recorded as having died at the age of 85 on the 17/12/1971. His plot reference is recorded as Utg2 and D19 with a memorial ID number of 48671533. It says there is no known photo of his headstone.
    After finding the Condobolin General Cemetery I was to discover that if there was an IQ test based on how to find Stan’s grave with the information that was provided by those websites I would have failed badly. I don’t spend a lot of time in cemeteries and I had no idea how to link what seemed to be the reference points, or the memorial ID number, to where Stan was buried. I nonetheless walked around hoping I would stumble upon his headstone but I had no such luck.  
    I then thought about Stan's funeral, and I became aware that because he lived to the age of 85 he would have known a large number of people in the area over the years even though he lived a solitary existence. For that reason in all probability his funeral would have been relatively large.
    Yet despite that probability, after looking for information about Stan and having no success other than what I could find over the net it has reinforced to me what I already knew, and that is, unless persons are very famous or infamous, when they die details of their lives are quickly forgotten. The forgetting process occurs gradually but speeds up rapidly as the generations that follow also succumb to the inevitable.    


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