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1 September, 2021

Hard work is the answer

"IF you eat good food and do lots of exercise, you will be able to work until you are 88 years old and no matter what tragedies and challenges life throws at you, keeping on going with your work will take your mind off everything."

Because of a knee operation, 88 year old Dawn Gaul of Malanda, has only just retired from her role as a herd-recorder with Dairy Express, but still keeps very busy with many other jobs.


"IF you eat good food and do lots of exercise, you will be able to work until you are 88 years old and no matter what tragedies and challenges life throws at you, keeping on going with your work will take your mind off everything." 

This was the advice Malanda local 'Jill of all trades,' Dawn Gaul had for readers and as she has worked harder and been through more ups and downs than most, she is well qualified to dispense it. 

Taking a break from her beloved herd recording after her knee operation, the 88 year old is still busier than most people half her age.

Born, the first of seven children to Pearl and James Soley on the 20th of May, 1933, Dawn grew up on her parents' dairy farm at Butcher's Creek outside of Malanda. 

Her father bought his first dairy block in 1935, and soon expanded, buying the neighbouring block in 1938. 

In a time when there were no cars, no electricity and no telephone, Mrs Gaul remembers her mother milking the cows while her Dad cut scrub to develop more country. 

For her fourth birthday, Dawn was given her very own 1 gallon bucket so she could start hand-milking her share of the 60 strong herd.

By the time she was eight years old, her role progressed to bringing the cows into the bales each morning.

The milk had to be collected, processed and delivered to the road for pick-up by 7am, so 4am starts were mandatory, rain, frost or shine. 

She was sent out into the dark each morning with a kerosene lantern which was to perform the dual service of lighting the way and hopefully scare away the packs of dingoes that roamed the area. 

At least worrying about what would happen if her lantern blew out took her mind off the cold, the rain and the mud. 

One of the highlights of her young life was going to see "Black Beauty" at the pictures in 1946, in the family's first car, an army utility. 

During the trip, her younger brother Stumpy, lucky enough to be in the front, switched the car lights off. The ute careened down over the edge of the road, throwing all the children out onto the ground. 

After a quick inspection revealed no injuries, they were reloaded and the excursion resumed. 

The movie was good, but in a young Dawn's memory, it was the packet of Jaff as the family shared that made the biggest impression. 

Schooling took place at the nearby Butchers Creek school, where at one stage, seven of the 35 student population were Soley children. 

The closest secondary college was a lifetime away in Charters Towers, so once Dawn finished primary school, it was back home and into farming full time.

She still remembers spending an hour every milking on the separator, spinning every batch of milk 35 times before letting the clutch out and emptying the milk and the cream into their respective drums. 

Machines would eventually come in to replace all this manual effort, but not until all the children had married and left home.

Once the milking was done, it was home to start the household chores of chopping the wood, stoking the copper, cooking, washing and changing babies nappies. 

Losing her mother at 43 years of age, young Dawn took on a large part of rearing her younger siblings before marrying Edgar Robson in January, 1954. 

By June 1955 they were milking 100 cows, with milking machines this time in a sharefarming arrangement on Seamark Road.

A year later they had bought their own herd and were milking them and, capitalising on Edgar's station managing experience, began running bullocks as well on a farm at Gadgarra.

In September 1957 they sold their original herd, bought the plant and upgraded to a much classier herd of AIS cows at Hillcrest Road, Malanda, introducing Jerseys to increase the butter fat content. 

"We ran 30 sows as well, showing them at the Malanda show and selling the weaner pigs as a sideline. We made more money from the pigs than we did from the cows," she grinned. 

With each shift of farm came a new baby for the Robson family. Mervyn was born at Seamark Road, in 1955, David was born at Gadgarra in 1957 and Barry arrived at the Hillcrest farm in 1961.

Everything seemed to be completely on track for the hard working family, especially when the bank rang Dawn on her 29th birthday to tell her the money had been approved for them to buy their own farm. 

That night her husband came home from hospital after being taken in for a minor work injury to tell his wife he had been diagnosed with leukemia. 

He was gone in just nine months. Having swapped their herd for a house in Cairns, to face the treatment together, Dawn and her three little boys later moved back to her fathers place and then into a commission home before buying her own house in Malanda. 

Another hectic decade followed during which Mrs Gaul married her second husband Bill Gaul in 1967, spent four years working in the Post Office and then another four years on the dryer in the 140 degrees fahreheit heat for eight hours a day at Rankine's sawmill before their daughter Helen was born in 1971. 

Just 15 months later, Mrs Gaul had her little girl up and loaded into the baker's van at 4am and they delivered bread all over the Tablelands from 1972-1975.

After Helen started preschool, Dawn began work as a herd recorder, starting at Gallo's, one of the biggest dairy operations going, milking 750 head at their peak.

She got a few things wrong that day, but soon learned the ropes and was working with 26 different herds a month, recording their butter fat, protein, cell count and volume.

She and Bill were also running bullocks on four agisted farms and when she came down with leptospirosis, things "got a bit busy." 

In 1980, Dawn's son David was tragically killed in a car accident on the single lane Cleminson Creek bridge and Grandma Dawn babysat his two children for the next six years on top of all her other commitments. As always keeping busy helped her through this difficult time. 

In July, Mrs Gaul had been herd-recording for a total of 46 years, 19 years with the DPI and 27 years with Dairy Express.

In her 'spare' time, she and her sister Yvonne, ran the goose clubs and raffles for the Ambulance committee and the bingo for 35 years for the Carinya home and the Malanda ambulance leaving them with "more money than they know how to spend."

If she hadn't needed a knee replacement in April, Mrs Gaul would probably still be herd recording with her daughter Helen, but while in recovery has kept herself amused babysitting, gardening and mowing, and just finished painting her house in town. 

Australia could do with a few more Dawn Gauls.

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