life in­ter­est­ing

“We all had our bum out of our pants bat­tling away but I’ll tell you what, it was an and one which I trea­sure to­day be­cause it moulded that ca­pac­ity to get on with it,”

North East Living Magazine - - News - Lin­ton Briggs

Lin­ton’s fa­ther started as the po­lice­man at Glenrowan in 1926, grow­ing up as a farm boy in the Kiewa Val­ley and even­tu­ally be­ing ac­cepted into the po­lice force fol­low­ing the po­lice strike in 1923. It was a tu­mul­tuous time when the state gov­ern­ment of the time sacked 600 po­lice of­fi­cers overnight.

“His heart was al­ways in the land, grow­ing up as a farm boy and he was a bit of an en­tre­pre­neur and he had very much a mi­cro-pri­mary in­dus­try in the back­yard be­hind the po­lice sta­tion,” said Lin­ton about his fa­ther.

“There were a cou­ple of cows and their pas­ture was the long pad­dock where they would graze on the side of the streets of the town, that’s how it was in those days. It was a very, very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment to the one we have to­day and one that the younger gen­er­a­tion com­ing through now would find it hard to pic­ture - hard to con­tem­plate or un­der­stand.”

In the high tech world we live in to­day, peo­ple com­plain about the touch screen play­ing up on the ipad or a lack of ser­vice on their mo­bile phone, but you won’t see Lin­ton car­ry­ing one of those. Life was sim­pler in the days of Lin­ton’s up­bring­ing where the very essence of sur­vival – water - was a ma­jor com­mod­ity. Water was hard to come by and Lin­ton lived through sev­eral droughts, yet when the rain­fall years were more for­giv­ing, the qual­ity was less than av­er­age.

“If you had any water in the tap at all, she’d go rot­ten be­cause of the al­gae bloom in the reser­voir,” Lin­ton said.

“We used to get in the reser­voir with a mo­tor­boat and bags of cop­per sul­phate tow­ing be­hind to try and knock it down but dur­ing times of drought the reser­voir would go dry. You were re­liant then on the per­ma­nent spring lo­cated near the Glenrowan Pri­mary School that was con­nected to the town­ship through a retic­u­la­tion sys­tem.”

The spring was “won­der­ful” but dur­ing the hard sum­mers if there was no reser­voir water, each street would only have about two hours a day. Jack Briggs had to do some clan­des­tine polic­ing in the wee hours of the morn­ing be­cause some of the res­i­dents of the town would like to pinch a bit of ex­tra water and they’d be up at two or three o’clock in the morn­ing and turn­ing the main on at the end of the street. They were never charged over it but there were some re­mon­stra­tions and dis­cour­age­ments from Jack over the water theft.

Most of the res­i­dents grew or killed their own food and many were “reared on rabbits” with mas­sive plagues very ap­par­ent through­out the 20th cen­tury un­til con­trol meth­ods such as Myx­o­mato­sis were in­tro­duced.

“Rab­bit pro­tein was a big part of our diet and we’d run about 300 bloody chooks in our back­yard be­cause dad was a bit of a chook fancier,” Lin­ton re­mem­bers.

“There was al­ways plenty of mut­ton and beef and there was al­ways a big Mur­ray cod in the butcher’s diesel-pow­ered freezer.”

Al­though the Briggs chil­dren never went hun­gry, Lin­ton said they all suf­fered with yel­low jaun­dice due to the lack of hy­giene or hep­ati­tis is­sues of the times, and boils or car­bun­cles were a com­mon ail­ment. But those con­di­tions were just cuts and grazes com­pared to se­vere ill­nesses like po­lio, diph­the­ria and scar­let fever which claimed the lives of scores of peo­ple in the dis­trict com­mu­ni­ties.

The town­ship’s pop­u­la­tion when Lin­ton was be­com­ing a young man was about 250 and he knew every one of those peo­ple in the town.

“You knew every­body, every­body’s busi­ness and they knew your busi­ness,” he said.

“Right through every week there’d be a euchre party, a Satur­day night dance and there would be cricket, foot­ball and ten­nis. It was a very co­he­sive com­mu­nity and you’d look out for one an­other and dis­abled peo­ple in the dis­trict or town were em­braced by the com­mu­nity as a whole.” >>

The dis­trict had a range of char­ac­ters, some men­tally chal­lenged or with wild ec­cen­tric­ity, but Lin­ton de­scribed them as revered.

“They’ve all gone, and we must still have those sorts of char­ac­ters, but where are they?” he asks.

In the old days Lin­ton said sev­eral ended up in in­sti­tu­tions and then just dis­ap­peared from so­ci­ety, an el­e­ment that has to­day changed for the bet­ter.

“These char­ac­ters are just ab­sorbed into the sys­tems of to­day and they’re not no­ticed like they used to be,” he said.

Lin­ton’s child­hood mem­o­ries are pre­cious and he be­lieves those times will never re­turn in that form be­cause of the ad­vance­ment of tech­nol­ogy.

“The more and more in­su­lar peo­ple are be­com­ing from that tech­nol­ogy - there is some­thing be­ing lost,” he said.

“We had plenty of time to hunt, fish and play and things weren’t so com­pli­cated in those days. There wasn’t that much money around. They are pre­cious mem­o­ries. We all had our bum out of our pants bat­tling away but I’ll tell you what, it was an in­ter­est­ing life and one which I trea­sure to­day be­cause it moulded that ca­pac­ity to get on with it.”

Lin­ton knew Ned’s sur­viv­ing brother Jim Kelly, who was im­pris­oned at the time of the Stringy­bark Creek mur­ders. Some say that had he not been, he would have been caught up in the web of the Kelly Gang. Lin­ton said Jim used to speak to him about it - but they are se­crets he is not ready to dis­close. He has, how­ever, writ­ten about it, and when there is no harm to come from it, he imag­ines it will be made pub­lic knowl­edge.

“When you read some of the jour­nals of those days and you see peo­ple’s names men­tioned…here I am to­day with some di­rect per­sonal knowl­edge of some of those char­ac­ters of those times in bloody 1880 for God’s sake,” he said.

“We grew up with Grace Kelly’s chil­dren who mostly set­tled in and around Greta or Greta West with Wal­ter Grif­fiths mov­ing out to Mt Bruno later on.”

Af­ter the dust had set­tled fol­low­ing the tu­mul­tuous times, Grace and Jim moved into Grace’s son Pa­trick Grif­fiths’ house, and they saw out their days there. Grace passed away in 1940 and Jim in 1946. Lin­ton was only 10 years old when Grace died but he re­mem­bers her well, al­though he says she would have known him bet­ter than he knew her.

The Grif­fiths fam­ily were bee­keep­ers, like the Briggs fam­ily, and they had an as­so­ci­a­tion with this pas­time that later be­came a life­long ca­reer for Lin­ton. Bee­keep­ing has led Lin­ton on a long jour­ney since leav­ing Wan­garatta High School as a 15 year old. He has been part of state and na­tional bee­keep­ing as­so­ci­a­tion bod­ies and has been the core of pos­i­tive change in an in­dus­try that’s worth bil­lions of dol­lars to Aus­tralia’s agri­cul­ture and hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­tries. He has spent his whole life since leav­ing school work­ing with bees.

“Yes, I could have done many things but I don’t re­gret it and al­though I didn’t have any am­bi­tion to be a fron­trun­ner in the in­dus­try it just evolved nat­u­rally,” he said.

“It has given me a per­sonal rich­ness that I value as far as deal­ing with peo­ple and us­ing what­ever tal­ent I might have in ad­vo­cacy for the bee­keep­ing in­dus­try.”

Lin­ton has very much be­come an ex­pert of botany and has dis­cov­ered new species of eu­ca­lypt, a vi­tal source of flora for bees. Uni­ver­si­ties con­tact him all the time and he is very closely in­volved in land man­age­ment is­sues in Vic­to­ria, such as the avail­abil­ity of pub­lic land for api­arists to main­tain their hives. He made his liv­ing with honey pro­duc­tion un­til the mid-1970s when he turned his fo­cus to the rear­ing of queen stock in which he’s had a life-long in­ter­est.

“I be­came very in­ter­ested in the ge­net­ics of bees and it is much the same as work­ing with the ge­net­ics of cows, sheep or pigs,” he said.

“The same prin­ci­ples ap­ply and good pro­duc­tion is the top of the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria, fol­lowed by tem­per­a­ment as num­ber two. If you can get a crop of honey out of a hive with­out get­ting your hide nailed to the barn door with bee stings, it’s so much more pleas­ant.”

CA­REER / Wan­garatta bee­keeper and honey packer Kevin Jackel ( left) and North East Api­arists As­so­ci­a­tion sec­re­tary Lin­ton Briggs, wel­comed Everett Hast­ings from Canada on the day of his ar­rival in 1964.

TROOP­ERS / Jack Briggs out the front on his white charger at St Kilda Bar­racks.

FAM­ILY MAN

/ Lin­ton, his son Andrew and grand­chil­dren Ruben and Thomas en­joy some fam­ily time by the river.

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