2011, People, Stories and Articles

Ernie and Peggy Draheim

Stanthorpe, Sth East Qld
“Work hard, and have a go”

Admirable and inspirational, are words which describe Ernie and Peggy Draheim. We’ve known them for as long as we can remember, and they’ve known us a bit longer than that.

They’ve weathered life’s storms, and strengthened by their Christian faith, they continue to live generous, productive lives. At seventy-six, Ernie is not as lively as he used to be, and literally has more time to “smell the roses”; which grow beautifully in the couple’s Stanthorpe garden. Ernie’s conversation is as measured and steady as Peg’s is spontaneous and quick; Peggy often adds her two bob’s worth while Ernie pauses to ponder the next sentence.

Ernie is Stanthorpe born, and spent his childhood on his parent’s fruit, vegetable and sheep farm at Spring Creek. He started school “a year too young” to boost student numbers. The following year, numbers rose from nine to forty when children were evacuated from North Queensland following the threat of a Japanese invasion. Walking to and from school, he remembers hearing mobs of brumbies in the bush, and occasionally he’d catch sight of them at the creek when they came for water. Ernie’s main connection with horses was with draft horses, which were used to plough and scuffle the ground for vegetables, and pull the fruit picking carts. By the time he was twelve, Ernie could harness and manage a team of seven horses abreast. It was a complex task, keeping the correct distance between the horses, using check reins attached to bits, collars, and swingle bars, and long steering reins on each side. In an environment of hard work, Ernie’s Dad had definite expectations. “If we sat down to a meal, and Dad asked, “Have you fed the dogs?”, or “Did you shut that gate?”, there was a choice, it was either “Yes Dad”, or put down your knife and fork, and go do it.”

Peg Hanson was born at Tenterfield, Northern NSW, raised on her parents’ sheep property, “Blackjack Station” 40kms from Stanthorpe. She rode her horse to Glenlyon school, nine miles there, and nine miles back. At the age of ten, Peg contracted polio, and schooling was put on hold while she travelled to Brisbane to a Sister Kenny, who provided and supervised a radical treatment involving a lot of physical exercise.

After Grade Seven, Peg stayed home and helped her Dad. Peg is no stranger to hard work, and to this day lives out the lessons learned from her Dad. “He was an inspiration really. He couldn’t read or write, and his philosophy was “work hard and have a go”. Peggy remembers one time when she was mustering some cattle, and fell off her horse. The horse ran off, the cattle scattered and Peg walked home crying. “Dad sent me straight back, by myself, to “get back on that horse, and go find those cattle”.”

“Anything I wanted I had to work for. I wanted a deb dress, and Mum and I went out cutting prickly pear for weeks to get the money to buy it. Another time, I really wanted a guitar, so Dad told me to sell one of my horses.

After two years of jillarooing, she applied for an office job in Stanthorpe. “I was cheeky enough to think “I’ll try this”, and I got the job! Unbelievable isn’t it?” She worked at the Pierpoints Merchandise Store until she and Ernie were married.

They met at a dance, however it was not love at first sight! Peggy was already going with someone else, “I must’ve got rid of him!” Ernie responds, “It’s a wonder I took her on you know.”

They were married in August, 1956, “to fit in with the fruit season”, and settled on the farm. Ernie notes that “marrying Peg has been my most important investment in life, and she’s stopped me from being silly. I tried to complain once, but Peggy said, “Stop it!”” Peggy is quick to retaliate “with Ernie, it was the dogs, the horses, the truck, the Country Life, his slippers, and then me!”

They had four children, Kerry, Mark, Bruce and Grant, and at that stage Peggy decided that she needed to have a driver’s licence. Following the driving test the policeman told her, “I’ll never book you for speeding. You CAN get out of second gear you know!”

Life on the farm continued in the Draheim tradition of sheep and crops. Sheep production and care involved penning the ewes and lambs at night to protect them from foxes. Ernie “can still see Peg walking off down the paddock, carrying a toddler and pushing the pram with the ewes and lambs following along behind.”

During the early 1970’s, Lyle and Helen Kent were growing vegetables, just up the road from the Draheims. With limited knowledge of the how to, when, and why of horticulture, Lyle would often visit Ernie and ask for advice and information. Ernie generously shared his expertise, and we were, and remain grateful for the Draheims’ encouragement and friendship.

Although Ernie and Peg were successful fruit and vegetable growers, for eighteen years in a row their crops were regularly damaged by hail storms. Ernie diversified, doing contract yard, fence, and shed building, and some contract mustering and carting stock. “I had a couple of horses, and a couple of pretty good dogs.” One of the dogs was named Fridy, and people would phone asking for Fridy… and Ernie, to come and help round up their sheep. With his quiet drawl, Ernie says, “I’d like to have a dollar for every acre I’ve ridden over from here, to Inglewood, to Warwick.” He pauses… then adds, “the best days I had were with stock.”

Another little white dog called Snow, that continually ran to the lead, was a source of pride for Ernie. One muster, the sheep owner, stationed on top of a hill, contacted Ernie, riding in scrub below, to call off the muster; the sheep had got away, and were headed for the back corner of a big paddock. Ernie gave Snow the signal, and the little dog took off. “After ten or fifteen minutes… it seemed like an hour, the boss contacted me again. “Ernie,” he informed me, “we’ll continue with the muster”.

I always had working dogs around me. I had the old dog I called Fridy and I brought this (other) little dog home, dropped him on the lawn, and said to Peg, “That’s Mondy.” Peg immediately came back at me, and said, “I don’t care what it is, but the next pup is “Divorce”, and the next one after that’s “Maintenance!””

Undaunted, Ernie maintained a keen interest in sheep dogs, and for many years was closely involved with sheep dog trials, at the Clifton and Stanthorpe Shows.

When Ernie was a kid he learned to ride a horse, using only a corn bag and a surcingle, and at sixteen he bought his first saddle for ten pounds. After riding in a Slap saddle for over fifty years, in 1995 he bought a crossbreed fender saddle from Kent Saddlery.

He smiles a slow smile. “Everyone who saw me riding in it thought, and said, “You’re mad!… riding with just that bit of felt between you and the horse.”” A fellow contractor, Austin Hohenhaus, had a ride in Ernie’s saddle, and on dismounting, said to Ernie, “I’m gunna be mad too!”

In 1991, the Draheims moved to Bapaume, 18kms from Stanthorpe. Peggy took up work with Community Health, and Ernie kept on with mustering and truck driving until they moved to town in 2002. The sad loss of two of their children, Kerry and Bruce, has stretched their perseverance, and enlarged their faith. Ernie quietly voices their conviction “without our faith in God, we couldn’t do it. That, and your family and friends around you. I don’t know what we’d do without them.”

Ernie and Peg’s horse riding days are over, and their son Grant, his wife Susan, and their children use the saddle at their property east of Stanthorpe. Their son Mark lives in Narrogin, WA, and is engaged in earth works. The Draheims now spend a lot of time riding in the car around Stanthorpe, giving time, help and friendship to elderly residents, people who are hospitalised or in need. Devotion to their family, their church, and other people are the things that motivate them. They’re an inspiration and living example of Peggy’s Dad’s motto, “Work hard, and have a go”. “There’s a lot packed into a lifetime and Peg and I have seen a bit.” Ernie stops to ponder, and Peggy, ready as ever, slips in with, “Just unbelievable!”

Image captions:

1) A young Peg Hanson really looks the part with her new guitar.

2) Ernie and Peggy on their wedding day

3) Ernie Draheim heading out for a day’s mustering.

4) Ernie and Peggy in their rose garden in Stanthorpe.