The Lady at the Lime Kilns Pt 2

For Part 1


Loading limestone in the bush

Jean soon discovered that housekeeping at the Lime Kilns was a lot different to what she had been used to in the city. Her stores, brought out from Kalgoorlie in the "Tea and Sugar train" had to be ordered in advance. After heavy rain flooded their homes, kilns, and the railway lines, she learned that she must always have a good supply of flour, potatoes, onions and tinned food.

After the flood, their agent decided to send them a battery operated, two-way radio that was connected to the Royal Flying Doctor frequency. Jean became its operator.

It was some time before Jean even had a Coolgardie Cooler for her perishables. She kept the butter in a jar wrapped in a wet cloth, placed the jar in an old cut-down water-bag with some water in the bottom. She hung it wherever it would catch a breeze. Keeping meat was a real problem:

"After I married, I had a few more boarders then, and in the summer all you got was mutton, not lamb, only mutton. They carried live sheep on the "Tea and Sugar" train and killed them as they went along. More often than not, when we got the meat, the sheep had not long been killed and the meat was all floppy. It used to be kind of tough. They carried beef only in winter time. Later, when they got those refrigerated vans, you could get pork, beef and all."

When some of the meat she was keeping went bad, Jean found she could only use fresh meat on the same day it arrived and cook, or half cook the rest. Before the end of the week she had to rely on tinned meat or fish. There was little improvement in this situation until the late 1940's, when she was able to buy a kerosene refrigerator. These had been almost unobtainable during the Second World War.

As the men worked hard, Jean said that she always seemed to be cooking. She also needed to dust a lot, especially when the south winds stirred up the white lime ash and blew it over everything. While working, the men were always covered in the grey-white dust, especially those who bagged the lime.

Three men took part in this operation. After the limestone was burned and the kilns had cooled down, one man held a bag, another shovelled in the lime, while a third sewed up the top of the bag. The ashes were then scraped out of from under the grates and taken to the nearby dumps. The bagged lime was then sent by train to the company's agent in Kalgoorlie. Their first agent was Jim Greere, their second was Hodgson and Crantson, and their third was William Barker and Co.

One tonne of lime was produced from every two tonnes of the wood and limestone mixture. Jean claimed that the lime produced at the 913-Mile was "as soft as silk and 96-98% pure.

"Sometimes men got burnt with the lime. Some washed themselves with vinegar, but still looked as if their arms had been powdered. They found olive oil neutralised the lime and after work they would dust themselves down, rub oil around the eyes, the face and the exposed parts of their body and then have a warm wash or a bush shower. This would get rid of the lime dust."

On 12 May 1934, Jean and Mark were married at Spearwood. After their honeymoon, they returned to their old home at the Lime Kilns and lived there until 1935. Mark left to work on the Kurrawang woodline. He and Jean were there for a year and returned to the 913-Mile after Mark was asked to help build the fifth kiln there.

As their old home had been occupied while they were away, the Zuvelas moved into the old boarding house conducted earlier by one of the Kiesey's daughters. Later still, when Mark became manager of the lime kiln operations, they made their third and final move at the settlement into a building they made into a comfortable home.

While Jean was the longest term female resident at the kilns, and at one stage was the only female there, there had been some other women living there at various intervals over the years, and also a few children. The Zuvelas did not have any children themselves, but Jean was 'Auntie' to all the other children in the district.

She also had several pets. These included a series of dogs, three cats, a large number of birds and, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the camp, she had 'Bull-Bull'. This was a new-born steer which Jean adopted after its mother had died. Until it became old enough to graze, Jean fed her large pet with 15 bottles of Sunshine milk a day. As the steer grew older and larger, nothing was safe. He ate anything, including the fowl's bran and pollard, their eggs, a week's supply of vegetables, fruit, a bag of flour from the top of her 'fridge', a five pound tin of high pressure grease, a camp-oven full of someone else's stew, soap, and the camp's supply of bread after it had been brought in from the 'Tea and Sugar' train. As Jean never mastered the art of making bread, she had to make scones for a few days for all the men who were batching.

This situation could not continue. When Bull-Bull was a year old and Jean was away in Europe on a holiday, Mark sold it for 69 pounds. He claimed the buyer would not have to flavour the meat as it was already well flavoured with all the different food and other things it had eaten.

At times visitors would pass through the settlement on the old east-west dirt road. Jean remembered some of the more interesting callers, such as naturalist Harry Butler. Others were Vincent Serventy and his brother Dominic, Hubert Opperman riding his bicycle across Australia, two women doing the same on a tandem bike, and a teacher riding a motorbike around the country to gain first-hand knowledge for his geography students. He later became lost in the Northern Territory and was found dead near his motorbike.

For entertainment, there were the dances.

"Years ago when I first went there, there were men working on the Government quarries at Naretha, quarrying stone for railway ballast. They used to have a dance once a week in the boarding house at Naretha and everybody would get dressed up, and properly, because in those days the men all wore their suits and women their long frocks to dances. The women would bring a plate and we'd go in the old T-Model Ford, and the boss, he had a Studebaker car for him and his wife, and those who got in first would get a ride in the Studebaker car. I had a couple of rides in it.

They had a pianola, a chap by the name of Jack Stanford, he used to play the piano, and one Slav chap who used to work at the Lime Kilns, he played the piano accordion. We had old-time and modern dances and it was real nice."

They also had dances at the Lime Kilns:

"There was a building there, like a hall. We had a proper floor put into it - the company sent out the boards. It was all filter cloth and bags around. In the Spring, when there were a lot of Sturt Peas and other flowers about, the men would decorate the hall. We women did the cooking and the men bought a barrel of beer which they would sell for sixpence a glass. My husband would send the truck into Naretha and bring back the families that wanted to go from there and take them home again afterwards. Then the following week we would all get in the truck and go to Naretha ... there were then only six houses at Naretha but there were three with big families.

You know Jack Absolam, the painter, well his father was a ganger on the railway at the time and Jack was only a little kid ... His mother, Bridget, was really nice and she would often sing at the dance, "On the banks of the Warbash". It is hard to imagine Jack growing up to become the wonderful painter he is."

When the Second World War came, Jean found she had a problem, one that annoyed her greatly. Even though she had been born in Australia (in Gwalia, 1909) because she had not known at the time of her marriage that she could still retain her Australian citizenship, she was classified as an enemy alien. During the war, Jean was expected to report, like the other Yugoslavs, to the police station every time she moved from one place to another. She said she went into the police station and told them she wasn't going to report anymore as she was an Australian.

Jean remembered another incident which broke the monotony of the days:

"One year, May 1934 or so, an auto-gyro landed near the settlement. The men said they were delivering that plane to New Guinea and were on their way to Adelaide. That was a bit of excitement. Everyone left their jobs and went down to have a look at the auto-gyro taxi-ing up to the petrol bowser."

This was the first aircraft most of them had seen close up, although they had seen a plane flying overhead two or three times a week. This was a mail and passenger plane which had started a service between Perth and Adelaide around the same time.

"Jimmy Woods was the pilot. He used to throw the paper out for us and whoever ran and got it, read it first. Then we would pass it on. One day, he threw it down with a bag of lollies, because there were two little boys there, both called Peter. One a Slav and the other an Aussie. I kept that paper for years because he had written on it that this was his last trip as he was going into that air race from London to Melbourne.

In 1944, the people at the Lime Kilns were involved with another exciting incident concerning an aeroplane. Jean's mother was staying with her at the time and they saw four or five aeroplanes coming down from the north, flying low.

"They made a bee-line straight to the railway line and turned around and zoomed straight west. I said to my mother that it was strange as nothing was up north and that the planes usually came from the east or west."

Later that day, a man from Rawlinna and two from Naretha arrived and said that a plane had gone down a few miles north of the settlement. It seems that the aircraft, a Spitfire, had been flying with the other aircraft which had gone on and reported its location to the authorities in Kalgoorlie.

As petrol was rationed, and as the trucks at the Lime Kilns had gas-producers, the men asked Mark Zuvela if he and some others would go out and find the aricraft and bring the pilot in. They were to wait until the other plane flew over and follow its direction. When he was above the downed plane, the pilot said he would light a flare and show the ground party its location.

It was then afternoon, and as the plane was only supposed to be out a short distance, Jean decided to go out in the truck with Mark and the other three men. When they saw the flare, they realised it was much further out than they expected. As they had to keep enough fuel for the return journey, the men decided to stop and walk the rest of the way. Jean and her brother-in-law stayed in the truck. They waited there all night as when it got dark, the men stayed where they were until daylight.

At first light, the search party continued and they eventually found the Spitfire upside down with the pilot alive nearby. Mark told Jean later that the pilot had managed to get out of the upturned aircraft through a hold "you wouldn't think a cat could get through". The pilot told his rescuers that he had engine trouble and when he tried to land on a flat piece of ground he must have hit the only stump on it.

The rescue party had some difficulty finding their way back to the truck and Jean said she feared they had all become lost. On their return to the settlement, Jean put the pilot to bed until he was examined by a doctor, who found him to be suffering only from slight dehydration. Patient and doctor were then flown out and two or three days later in a semi-trailer that had arrived from the Air-force base in Kalgoorlie. Mark took them out to the crash site where the wreckage was loaded onto the truck and taken back to the base.

The Zuvelas were invited to the base and when they went there later, an officer told them that the crashed aircraft was one of the actual Spitfires which had fought in the Battle of Britain.

The story was never reported in the newspapers.

In the 1960's, the Nullabor was thrown open for pastoral development and in 1963, Eric and Ruth Swann and their family arrived in the area. They established Kanandah Station. As this took in the Lime Kilns, the Swanns and the Zuvelas saw a fair amount of each other and became friends. Mark and Jean helped the Swanns when they held their annual gymkhanas for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

By this time, the limestone in the area was becoming much harder to find. A man was employed to gather limestone near Rawlinna for a time, but it proved too costly to freight the stone to the site. As the men had to go further and further out for wood, the Company decided to close the operation in 1965.

This Company no longer belonged to the Kiesey Brothers, as several years earlier, when one of the brothers died, the rest of the shareholders sold out to a group of mining and businessmen in Kalgoorlie.

The Lime Kiln operation closed in December 1965. The Cundelee Mission purchased all of the buildings and on 5 January 1966, the last residents of the settlement, Jean and Mark Zuvela, sadly moved to Kalgoorlie.

Mark died in 1981 and ten years later, in 1991, Jean was still living at her home in Kalgoorlie. She remembers her years at the Lime Kilns with great nostalgia.

"I miss all the lovely sunsets you used to see and the sea-breeze that you could hear before it got there. You could see the dust too, and someone would yell, "Shut the windows ..."


Loading bags of lime in the railway truck

Unloading the limestone on top of the kilns

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© 2018 by Lorraine Kelly.