Memories of Clermont
Clermont resident, Laura, has clear memories of her childhood at a cattle station between Charters Towers and Clermont from 1924 to the late 1930s, and when she moved back to the Clermont area after getting married in 1948. In the 1920s kerosene lamps lit the house and lanterns illuminated the path at night.
The glass globes protecting the flame from wind had to be washed and polished daily. After a windy night, sooty deposits had to be dealt with. Carbide lamps were also used outdoors. A small lump of carbide was placed in a cylinder enclosing a second inverted cylinder to which the assembled ‘burner’ was attached. When water was poured into the cylinder, a gas was created. The burner was lit with a match and a bright flame resulted. The naked flame was somewhat dangerous, and the creation of gas often caused unnerving ‘thumps’. Candles were still on hand.
Moving back to the Clermont area in 1948, Laura notes that although the town had supply, electricity had not reached many of the outlying rural properties. Most of the properties had their own 32-volt home lighting plants, which gave limited power when the engine started. A 240-volt system provided more power, however there were still limitations.
When the engine was running, everything got to work, the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, shed equipment. Then there would be a shout that there was an overload. Turn something off quickly! If nothing else was in use, you could use the electric iron for a short time. No other heating could be accommodated. The kettle and the old wood stove still reigned supreme!
Remembering the time rural power came to the properties in Clermont, Laura said that the first time a rural power scheme was offered to 45 Clermont properties in 1969, there was insufficient interest and it was rejected. The reasons for the lack of participation were very severe drought conditions and the cost of the scheme, which was claimed to be around $218,000. When 53 properties were approached in 1975, Laura found that the cost had risen to $772,000 and since the beef cattle industry was in the depths of a slump, the scheme was rejected for a second time. There were continuing talks and negotiations between 1970 and 1981 and eventually, after 16 years of lobbying, the local Rural Electricity Extension Kilcummin Programme became a reality with the assistance of the Belyando Shire Council coming on board with financial assistance. Twenty-nine properties signed up to accept the scheme. ‘What wonderful changes followed! Power lines spanned paddocks and gradually all 29 landholders were connected’.
Comments made to the SEC by the CWREB when presenting its Annual Report for 1973 substantiate Laura’s memories. The Board was pleased to announce that at last, 1973 seemed to be a year of ‘remarkable recovery’ following years of economic depression, severe drought conditions and a population loss of 20 per cent to the coastal areas during the years of recession.
In common with most business enterprises in Western Queensland, the Board suffered financial losses during the years of recession, and these have been further aggravated by severe inflationary trends.
With the improvements in the situation, the Board was receiving more demands for rural power than had been received at any time. An increase in requests from remote property owners for transmitted supply to replace their own home generating plant was coming in. An added impetus to rural development was the announcement from the State Government of a new Rural Subsidy Scheme, which, the Board stated would ‘enable more properties to obtain the benefits of unrestricted electric power for their domestic and industrial applications’. The sale of electricity was the highest recorded since the Board was established and breaking it down, the domestic sector had increased by 7.07 per cent, rural sales by 14.61 per cent and other sales, which were mainly commercial, had increased by 9.06 per cent during the year. Clearly, rural power was becoming more affordable and popular following some hard years for the people on the land.
1 Clermont resident’s personal memories of life before electricity, written for the author in August, 2009.
2 Ibid, Laura, Clermont resident, August, 2009.
3 Ibid, Laura, Clermont resident, August, 2009.
4 SEC, Annual Report, 1973, Appendix X11, ‘The Central Western Region Electricity Board, Annual Report for the year ended 30th June, 1973’, p.63.
Author: Dr. Jan King