“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,”
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.