By Ieva Tomsons
IF YOU want to know anything about Bakers Hill, 83-year-old Allen Brockman (pictured right) is a good place to start.
Of the town’s 1118 residents, Allen has lived there the longest and can remember when Bakers Hill had just 10 families – the Ashmans, Oystens, Hoopers, Cooks, Biasons, Gumleys, Betts, Pumfreys, Hills and his own family the Brockmans.READ MORE
Allen’s father Frank arrived in town in 1934 during The Depression with a sugar bag of meagre possessions to make a living cutting railway sleepers.
As the second last of the seven Brockman children, Allen grew up when times were tough for many, in a family battling to make ends meet.
“I can remember being hungry most of the time,” said Allen who was named after Sister Allen’s Nursing Home in Northam where he was born in 1936.
Mud brick home
The Brockman’s original home was an old mud brick house three kilometres out of Bakers Hill before they built a cottage in town.
“It had two bedrooms, a kitchen and a veranda but by that stage only four of the kids were still living at home.
“My mother was a good gardener and my sister and I would go out snaring rabbits (to eat).”
Things started to look up for the Brockmans when Frank joined the army during World War II and the family received a regular income.
Educated at Bakers Hill Primary School and Northam High School, Allen readily admits that he didn’t learn much so it’s surprising to hear that he took on the task of researching and publishing the history of the local primary school from 1896 to 1996 in the school’s centenary year.
“Primary school is a bit of a blur but during the war I vividly remember having to jump out of the school window (during an air-raid drill) to be caught by an older boy* and then running to the dug-out shelter.”
Allen left school at 15 to work at the local grocers for six years before turning to labouring work at Gumley’s timber mill just out of Bakers Hill.
By this stage Allen had met his future wife Jan from Wooroloo and they courted for six years before marrying in 1962.
Allen had already started to build the wooden house where the couple still live and he did it without any formal training in carpentry.
Recycling five old buildings, including the old Bakers Hill Post Office, Allen constructed the house from the inside out.
No electricity in 1962
When Jan moved there in 1962, there was still no electricity in their part of town and their now cosy home was anything but comfortable.
“There were no windows or doors and I had to take down a sheet of corrugated iron to let Jan’s parents in when they came to visit,” laughs Allen.
It was a busy time for the newlyweds who decided to go into the trucking business, buying two trucks which they ran as AAA transport – Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.
Allen was also cropping oats and wheat on his 300 acres (121ha) in Clackline and he still continues to help farm his current property south of Bakers Hill.
From the 1970s to the 1980s Allen was running flat out.
With two young kids, a trucking business and farming commitments, not to mention volunteering in the local fire brigade, church, and cricket and tennis clubs, something had to give.
But before Allen had a heart attack in 1986, he had chalked up another major achievement – writing the history of Bakers Hill in 1979.
Researching Bakers Hill, A Brief History took a year and involved countless letters and phone calls to former residents as well as trips to various towns around the state.
“Someone had to do it, so I thought why not?”
A long-held ambition for Allen was to make his own wine which, unsurprisingly, he has.
In 1968 his farming neighbours were winemakers Evans and Tate and he helped them plant their vineyard in Bakers Hill.
Twelve years on, he decided to put in his own Cabernet and Semillon grapes and produced his first vintage three years later in 1983.
In the 1990s the Brockmans were producing 2000 bottles a year but when the licence to sell wine rocketed from $125 to $3000 a year in 2016, Allen decided to call it a day.
One thing Allen hasn’t given away in his retirement is collecting old farm machinery, tools and household items and his shed is a mini museum overflowing with items from the past.
This historian and avid collector, however, does not view the past through a prism of unrealistic nostalgia for times gone by.
“My old mum said it best: ‘There is no such thing as the good old days. I want to wake up, turn on the light and put on the electric kettle’.”
*Eddie Seskas, Herald Page 3 November 2018.