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My life on the Hill

PICTURE: Aerial view of Munibung Hill. (Supplied)

Interview with John Lojszczyk
THEY CAME TO CARDIFF in 1955 from Greta migrant camp. As the name implies, John Lojszccyk is of migrant parents. John’s family moved to Lachlan Road.  He was one of seven children (boys). His father was employed as a fireman on the NSW railways. A fireman was the person who shoveled coal into a steam engines firebox.  The hours were long and the work was hard.
“My first memory of Munibung Hill was in about 1956 when we had to get manure for Dad’s garden.  From a track at the back of Hughes Pit – one of six coal mines in the area – we’d walk to the Hill ridge where the cattle were grazing,” recalls John.

“We had a lot of fun doing what a lot of people would call today,
the simple and ordinary things of life. Let me elaborate.”

 “Dad made a cart that was big enough for us to load up two large potato bags for collecting ‘gold’ as he called it, in other words cow pats – cow manure.”
“Today you’d wonder why this seeming chore for my father was in fact fun for us kids, but it was and I’ll tell you why.  We took with us, up to the ridge of Munibung Hill enough potatoes so that when we got to the top, we’d have a beano of baked potatoes cooked up on a fire that we’d set up in an old tree stump – so it didn’t get away on us – to bake the potatoes.  You could say that was our reward for a job well done collecting the ‘gold’ nuggets of cow dung.”.
“The order of the day would go something like this”, says John as he recalls these happy childhood memories. “We’d drag the cart up to the ridge; we’d collect the manure – no gloves for protection in those days – have a game of soccer with a ball we’d taken with us, toboggan down the ‘mountain’, which was our name for Munibung Hill, and then four of us would go back for the cart. On our return Dad would be, as happy as Larry, as the saying goes.”
“And the vegies would thrive like you can imagine, having had nature’s fertiliser spread around them.”

“Another couple of our ‘activities’ for want of a better word,
was mushrooming and blackberrying,” recalls John.

 “Four of us boys – the oldest ones – would each take a 9 litre bucket to set off on mushrooming hunts at Munibung Hill. These hunts were always along the east-west slopes on the north east end of the Hill. More specifically from the end of Blaxland Road to the top of the north-south ridgeline.”
“From memory mushrooming was mainly in the autumn time of year. The deal was to fill your bucket with mushrooms before turning for home.  We’re talking a lot of mushrooms. Mum was a good cook, a very good cook. She’d not only cook them up into a variety of dishes, she’d dry them for later use and pickle ‘em as well. As you can imagine we’d be eating mushrooms for days. But for me, mushroom soup was a chore to eat – not my favourite.  But I love it now,” says John. (So much so that, these days, John and his wife Irena go collecting mushrooms at Nundle and Belanglo State Forest – Editor).
“Blackberrying was a summer time ritual. From the end of January – Australia Day in fact – through to February, we’d head up onto the mountain to collect blackberries. And it was a similar deal. No eating the fruit until the bucket was full. And then it was gorge time. In any case, four full buckets made it home and Mum would turn them into jams, juice, pies, you name it, dumplings filled with blackberries was a favourite – red juice running down your chin was the order of the day.”
“As you can see there was no shortage of things to occupy us kids.  On the northern slopes behind the coal mine pits, there were heaps of water holes or dams. We’d go yabbying in them. All we’d have to do was throw out a piece of string with some meat tied on the end and once the yabby snapped on it we’d drag it in, deposit each one in our pot which was an old billy-can, reset the string and go again. The yabbies’ were cooked and eaten on the spot. Now let’s compare that with kids having fun these days. Screen based games and social media are considered more attractive,” John says. 
“Kids, and their helicopter parents, have no idea what they’re missing out on.”
John’s family would occasionally pack a picnic basket and head on up to Munibung Hill. “And we’d go with another Polish family who lived across the road.“
“Mum would pack fried chicken, potato salad and fruit from our home orchard. We kids would go sledding after lunch. We’d wax and polish the boards to help them slide faster. On other visits we’d explore the caves. Later my own children would camp with their mates overnight at Munibung Hill.”
By now John is living in Sacremento Avenue, Macquarie Hills and as a parent would take his children for walks on to Munibung Hill. Some of these walks would extend to Speers Point where he’d meet up with a mate.  The route of these walks would take them along the main north south ridge, then veer right onto a spur and down a steep rocky section to the end of Quarry Road, before turning left to walk along a track to Farm Street.  His mate would then give them a lift home, John tells us.
Back in those days John loved going bush – loved the mountain as it was known – but plants and animals “were not a big thing for us as kids.”
Now, leap frog to years later when he did a bit of welding for a mate, who gave him an orchid. Add the fact there was a show at St Andrews Church at Civic Park. That sealed John’s fascination with orchids.  A chap at Goninans, where John worked, gave him a hybrid and now when walking at Munibung Hill or anywhere, “I’m on the lookout for orchids. And especially my wife, Irena, she loves them.”
“Back to Munibung Hill. There were plenty of rabbits and foxes. As for birds, we used to catch ‘reddies’ like a little finch, take them into town to Beath’s Bird Shop and get one shilling and six pence a pair. You wouldn’t do that these days of course, but that along with my paper boy earnings was how I got my pocket money in those days.”
“Considering all our visits to Munibung Hill, we never came across a snake. So two things: don’t think that they’re not there, but don’t let that put you off, because they sense us coming and slither away. It’s a safe place to take a family as you can see from these many visits I’m telling you about now,” says John.
“I can certainly say that my life at Munibung Hill has been a good one.”

MMM … Issue 37, April – May 2023