Retired Congupna farmer has seen it all

By Spencer Fowler Steen

Although times are tough at the moment, Shepparton's Jim Farrell is adamant we'll get through it.

Trust him — he lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

Now 91, Mr Farrell grew up on a farm in Congupna in the 1930s, during a time when swagmen still tramped through the bush to do odd jobs in exchange for billies of tea.

As a child, Mr Farrell only had two sets of clothes — one for going out and one for the farm.

“I was 10 years old before I started wearing underwear because we were so poor,” he said.

“It used to be three of us siblings to a bed. These days, everyone wants a room to themselves.

“There were certainly no hand-outs.”

Growing up on a farm where his father sold milk to sustain his family, Mr Farrell said they didn't have electricity until 1939.

“For 10 years of my life I lived without it, we just had candles and kerosene lamps.

“There were no showers, so on a Saturday, my mum used to boil up water and six of us would bathe in it.

“You never wanted to be the sixth,” he said with a chuckle.

Mr Farrell said his family would heat a brick up in the fireplace and put it at the foot of their bed to keep warm on cold, winter nights.

After school at Congupna, Mr Farrell used to fight with his friends to see who was the strongest.

“One time a stronger boy gave me an absolute hiding and I went home crying, so my mum gave me another hiding.”

Mr Farrell said another standout moment was when a troupe of Melbourne labourers worked on a government project near their farm.

It was Melbourne Cup Day in 1938, and the workers wanted to have a punt, something Mr Farrell's father facilitated by acting as a middle man between them and SP bookies.

Mr Farrell said one of the men got chatting to them and took a shine to their dog, which was running around.

“The guy wanted to know what sort of dog it was, and I told him, it was a ‘cattle dog’," he said.

“There happened to be a horse running that day called ‘Catalog’, so the man put a couple of shillings on it.

“Catalog won the race at 100-to-one.”

Certainly there were some fun times, but Mr Farrell also remembers the difficult times when his family would buy ration tickets for food including flour, sugar as well as clothes — no panic buying at supermarkets to be heard of.

What was already a dire situation became worse during World War II in the 1940s.

Mr Farrell's sister Mary Lyons joined the army, his brother Mill Farrell went off to the air force and his father William Farrell was sent to Portsea to work as guard, leaving him in charge of the farm at the age of 13 with his mum Ivy Farrell.

“I grew up fast,” he said.

“I never went back to school because I had to start working on the farm.”

When asked about his advice for people struggling during COVID-19, Mr Farrell said everyone would be okay.

“We never had much, but we made do with very little,” he said.

“People have to learn to live within their means, to give away entertainment and other luxuries.

“It'll be okay, people just need to learn to live with it and cut out the expensive habits.

“We just didn't know any different growing up; now people live such high lives so it's hard when it's taken away.”