Revisiting the land; a land veteran’s memories - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views

Photo by Greg Pope.

For Elsie Stiller, attending a stage play about the Australian Women’s Land Army was a trip down memory lane. Elsie, who is 96, was a VIP at The Other Diggers, presented by Theatre Redlands and the Redland Museum.

Elsie was 17 when she joined the Land Army in 1943. She had grown up in a rural township near Miles, 300km west of Brisbane, left school at the age of 12 and worked on neighbouring properties as a domestic help and farm hand.

“My younger sister Jean and I went out to work – a bit of everything – then this Land Army work turned up. My friend Mona asked Jean and I if we would join up with her and Mum said; ‘Alright, you can go for twelve months – and behave yourselves.’ So off we went to Chinchilla and signed up.”

In a few months letters of acceptance arrived and the trio were on a train to their first placement at Stanthorpe, living in tents with 12 other Land Army girls. Elsie remembers their supervisor, Matron Maddox. “We were governed; she was stern – 12 teenage girls, she had to be!”

Elsie worked in a variety of places with a variety of produce.

“Stanthorpe was fruit,” Elsie recalls. “We had to harvest the fruit – pears and apples and peaches – grade them and pack them into the crates that we’d made – at the cost of many black fingernails. We could eat at much of the fruit as we wanted – delicious! Jean was picking vegetables.

“At Callide and Wowan it was cotton – them there cotton fields! – where they paid threepence a pound. Mona was the ‘top picker’ making £8 in one week. The most I was paid was £7. I’d had experience picking cotton for our neighbours but some of the city girls didn’t like it; it was backbreaking work and really hard on your fingers.

“After Wowan it was off to Woombye for more vegetables and fruit work. We trudged up and down the hill twice a day but the bosses were lovely and we stayed in their house.”

There was a light side to the experience; weekly letters home to the family, books to read in the evening and singing on the truck rides (the parody It’s the Wrong Way to Tickle Mary was a favourite) to the weekend dances, where Elsie first learned to dance.

“I enjoyed dancing but disappointingly, some of the boys were
too drunk to dance properly – but I knew how to handle them,”
Elsie grins.

At the end of a year, as promised, she and Jean returned to the family home but they were offered a job at a Toowoomba rest home where Elsie worked for five years until she returned to her home town as a married woman.

Elsie’s delight in seeing the play was equalled by the universal delight of everyone at having her there. Kya Munro, the youngest cast member who plays the role of 16-year-old Elspeth, presented Elsie with flowers. Elsie recalls the Land Army time with real fondness.

“It was all hard work but I really enjoyed it.”

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