Stuart Leon Oliver

(I write this history because some day someone may say, "What was he like? What did he do?". These are the questions that came to interest me of my forebears.)


Stuart Leon Oliver [b. 1934]

I was born in Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia, 26 June, 1934, to Arthur James Oliver and Dorothy Irene Oliver (nee Sneddon).

My first recollections take place about 1940, just after the start of the Second World War. Although it did not enter my mind as to why my father was not at the War, I did know that I had an Uncle fighting in Egypt. I recollect him coming home on leave when the Japanese entered the War and Australians were brought home from Europe to fight the Japanese in the Islands to the north of Australia. My father’s two brothers also saw service in New Guinea.

I learned later that my father did everything in his power to join up, but he, like many others, was manpowered to keep industry running at home.

The war did not mean much to us kids, as we did not know the struggle that went on around us to get enough to eat and clothe everyone. Ration tickets allowed only very small amounts of food and clothing.

My elder brother, Brian, and I simply enjoyed ourselves...building air-raid shelters in which to throw ourselves when mock air-raids were carried out. (Tamworth was considered a prime target because of the huge airfield which was home to both training squadrons and fighter squadrons. I used to find it fascinating to watch the groups of fighters flying low overhead. Every now and then you would see one suddenly fall as if it were going to crash on top of us. Tamworth is notorious for "air pockets" and as the planes entered these pockets they would just drop until they were through.

By the time I was about seven, Brian (2 years older), myself, and sometimes another friend or two would spend our weekends out in the bush trapping rabbits. Today I see trapping as extremely cruel, but in those days it meant the difference between eating meat or not eating meat. Although, by today’s standards, we must have seemed extremely young to be wandering the bush at night (we usually went around the traps 2-3 times through the night), it was considered quite safe then.

I remember we would average about 7d (7c) a pound for the rabbit skins, and the carcases we would sell round the neighbourhood for 6d (5c) each. Everybody was grateful for the extra meat on the table, and we made good pocket money.

TV and the like were unheard of then, and kids made their own fun.

Another popular past-time of ours was to visit an old quarry site on the edge of town and toboggan down the rough clay slopes using old bits of tin or old car mudguards as sleds. This practice saw many a gravel rash and the occasional broken bone.

Now and then we would get hold of an old sheet of corrugated iron and painstakingly flatten it out and make a canoe to ride the shallow rapids of the beautiful Peel River which runs through the centre of Tamworth. (Today we would be horrified to see our 7-10 year-olds doing this sort of thing, but then it was the way of life.)

There was always the occasional excitement when prisoners-of-war escaped from the gaol-cum-prisoner-of-war-camp that was only a short distance away from where we lived.

The War ended abruptly in 1945...everyone was jubilant....and we had not lost any relatives in it. All returned safely home.

We moved to Goulburn, New South Wales, in 1946, where I finished my High School years in 1948. I spent much enjoyable time in my early teenage years, swimming day and evening during the summer and hunting in winter (food was still scarce). I did not bother much with school work...nett result I failed my Intermediate and left school at 14. This was something I came to regret dearly as I matured and realised I could not become what I would like to be. I found that without my Intermediate (equivalent of year 10 today) I could not go to college to do a matriculation, even though, by this time I had educated myself to a standard where I could have handled it well.

My first job was in a garage, but after a few months changed to the local newspaper office where my father was the manager. In 1950 our family again moved, this time to Sydney, where we lived in the suburb of Coogee.

Me in Uniform, 1952
. Me in uniform, 1952
I had not long begun my apprenticeship as a machine-compositor in the printing trade when I contracted the dreaded disease known as Polio. After many months in bed I recovered with what, at the time, seemed like few after-effects other than a wasted leg and slight limp. Swimming day after day saw my shrunken leg develop to near normal. I did not know that the damage done to muscles, lungs and throat would affect me throughout life. I never knew what it had done, and never understood for many years that it was responsible for limiting me in sporting activities (I seemed to have little stamina) and, as I grew older, would require changes of lifestyle every few years to cope with the increasing effects.

I have always thanked God that I came out of it so lightly. Even today I do not have to think very hard to hear the screams of those many younger children, packed into wards and along corridors, who did not understand what was happening to their bodies, or hear the rhythmic beat of respirators and iron lungs as medical staff fought to keep someone breathing, hopefully long enough to fight off the deadly effects of paralysis.

I shudder when I hear of people today refusing to immunise their children against these dreadful diseases. If only they could look into my mind (and others like me) and see and feel the tearing of shrinking muscles and the fight to breath through paralysed airways, I am sure they would change their minds. The minute risk of getting a small dose of a disease through immunisation is far outweighed by the devastating results if ever these diseases are allowed to get a hold on society again. Unfortunately there are none so blind as they who do not want to see.

Still, I recovered well enough to spend much of my leisure time playing tennis, golf, and travelling the countryside on motorcycles.

In 1952 I was called up, along with every other 18-year-old, for National Defence Force training.

This entailed a three-month camp at Ingleburn Army Camp near Sydney, followed by several years of weekend and yearly camps. I still consider those three months amongst the best holidays I have ever had. I went in with the intension of enjoying it, and I did.

The only unfortunate thing was, I learned to smoke.

After finishing my apprenticeship in 1955 I got the "wanderlust" to see other places. I went to work in Macksville, on the North Coast of NSW, and lived mainly in the seaside resort of Nambucca Heads (about 9 miles from Macksville).

On my return to Sydney in early 1956 I bought my first car, and later that year went to work in Brisbane, Queensland.

It was there I was introduced to the sport of rowing. A sport I still maintain is the most strenuous sport out, as all energy goes into a few minutes of a race.

Unfortunately for me, once having lost my novice status, and having to row over longer distances, the damage left by the Polio came to the fore and I had to give it away. The same thing with another sport I!

What a way to wile away the time! An isolated beach in New Guinea.  
What a way to while away the time!
An isolated beach in New Guinea.

After doing relieving work in several places I accepted a job in Port Moresby, New Guinea. Here I had a wonderful time in a wonderful place.

With two other co-workers we bought an old 22-foot cabin cruiser in which we had many enjoyable, sometimes dangerous, weekends cruising to various islands, outer reefs, and up and down the coast, pulling in at small native villages where we were always made very welcome.

We would spend the whole day in the water skin-diving on the reefs, and then at night would anchor in the lee of some island and fish.

The interesting thing about this was, that where we would swim all day without sighting sharks, at night we would fish with 200 pound breaking-strain lines, as every second fish you caught would be snatched at by huge sharks...and so the fight would go on!

I even managed to get myself lost overboard 3 miles from the nearest island. It was nearly an hour before I was picked up. Fortunately, for me, the sharks were either busy elsewhere, or just not hungry.

Just prior to trying to feed myself to the sharks!
Just prior to trying to feed myself
to the sharks!

I loved the life in New Guinea, but while there lost the use of my right arm and had to return to Sydney for medical treatment. Unbeknown to me (or the doctors at the time) this was just more problems left by the Polio (pressure on the spinal cord).

After rest my arm improved and I left for other shores again. This time New Zealand. I spent six months working and touring this beautiful land before returning to Sydney.

In 1962 my parents built a home in Blaxland NSW (Blue Mountains), and I moved into a boarding house at Coogee. This proved to be a major turning point in my life, for I was introduced to the Mormon Church.

It was some months before I really took time out from sailing, aqualung diving, golf, etc, to listen too, and research the Church. I set out to prove it wrong, but only succeeded in proving to myself it was right! I was baptised into the Church 3 March, 1963.

I then moved to the North Shore, just under the Harbour Bridge, to share a flat with another Church member, Tony Seow.

Tony and I became very close friends, and remain so today, even though I live in Western Australia and Tony and his family live in Utah, USA.

Stuart and Margaret
Stuart and Margaret Oliver on their
wedding day, 1965

It was at the end of 1963 that I met Margaret Veness, who was to become my wife in 1965 and the mother of our children, Geoffrey (b. 1968) and Lynley (b. 1971).

Again the Polio was taking its toll, and I was forced to try something different to keep myself working.

We sold our new home at North Rocks in 1968 and, together with Margaret’s parents, bought an orchard at Mt. White, on the Central Coast of New South Wales. It was a magnificent place, sited right at the base of Mt. White, with views stretching for miles up the Hawkesbury Valley. (See pictures further down the page.)

During the six years we worked developing this property into a model orchard, I first had an osteopath work for a year slowly straightening my spine. I then underwent a series of operations on my spine to try and alleviate some of the problems caused by the Polio. It was a new technique that, although could not cure the problem, cut away much of the pain.

Despite some success, I was still forced to admit defeat and look elsewhere to make a living.

I decided that Western Australia would afford a better chance for me to break into something new, and as NSW was showing signs of growth stagnation, would also give our children a better chance in life.

In this, I believe, I have been vindicated. Particularly, as here they were able to overcome a medical problem with our son, Geoffrey, where the eastern states doctors had failed.

For the next 18 years I worked as a Sales Executive for Perth’s leading printer, Frank Daniels, and developed a passion for yacht racing.

Stuart and Margaret 1997
Stuart and Margaret, 1998

In 1987 I had to finally pull the pin on my yacht racing, as I no longer had the energy to keep up the necessary effort required to be competitive, and competition was what I thrived on. I went back to the more sedate sport of golf.

By 1988 I was finding the struggle to keep on working becoming more and more impossible.

It was around this time that it finally started to come to light that all of us "Old Polios" were in serious trouble.

(Doctors were to say later that I had always, although unconsciously, used work and sport to combat the heavy fatigue caused by the Polio damage.)

By 1991 I had no choice but to give up and resign, as I felt that no longer could I pull my weight.

By this time we had built our "retirement" home at Mandurah, some 80 kms south of Perth, and so I retired down there to enjoy my golf (we overlooked the golf course and I even had a gate put in the golf course fence so I could walk straight across the street onto the course).

We started caravaning across Australia visiting all our relatives and researching family history. This finished up with me learning how to play with a computer (as you can see).

Stuart, Margaret, her brother Kevin Veness with first wife, Judy
Stuart, Margaret (right) with
Kevin (Margaret's brother) and
his first wife, Judy.

Since then, although I have grown worse, I have learned to manage myself better...even though patience is not one of my virtues!

In 1998 we moved again . . . this time back to Perth . . . as I found the heavy, moist sea breezes of Mandurah were affecting my breathing. As well, it gets us back closer to our children and grandchildren, so we can enjoy watching them grow and develop.

As I update this again it is now 2012; the end of the twentieth century has come and gone; we are still living in Jane Brook, around 30 minutes from the centre of Perth in the famous Swan Valley. What does the future hold? I do not know. But life goes on and we can but go with it.

Well, the time has come for a further update to 2017.

We have again moved. With the death of Margaret's father, we decided it was time to reduce the size of the house we had and do away with all the lawns and gardens, as my legs no longer liked the stairs and, for many years now, could not do anything about the outside.

So we built a smaller (albeit, not much smaller) house with very minimal yards covered in artificial lawns and golf putting greens. Very nice and maintenance-free. Still situated in the Swan Valley, just behind the magnificent Vines Resort.

We were hardly settled in when I suddenly needed heart surgery. A triple by-pass, no less. So far so good and only time will tell when we will need to move again into something smaller.

In the meantime, life goes on and you can read an update about our John and Jane Oliver and his burial in New Caledonia.

Silver Mist

Left: Silver Mist [26-foot Soling].
A truly magic sailing machine and my last yacht!

Right: The magician [21-foot cruiser-racer] in which we had many years of great sailing and racing, and had many victories. It was also the "training ground" for a lot of young sailors.

The Magician

Rimfire   Left: Rimfire [18-foot Bullet ski boat], behind which Lynley, Geoffrey and friends all learned the exhilaration of water skiing and I continued a 30 year love of the sport.

Our orchard at Mt White nestled in a small valley some 200 metres above sea level, right at the base of Mt White itself. The Hawkesbury River could be seen from the top of the property meandering through the valley far below.

At the time of selling we had in some 4500 citrus trees comprising Navel and Valencia oranges, and Eureka lemons ranging in age from 3 years to 20 years. As well, each year, we would have as many as 15,000 trellised tomatoes from which we made our living while expanding and developing the orchard.

The house and sheds were set in the middle of the property with the trees spreading out around, giving the appearance of being in an amphitheatre.

Mt White, towering some 100 metres above us, was a relatively easy climb to about the half way mark, where the views over the valley and up the Hawkesbury River where outstanding.

During the winter months you could look for miles up valleys that gave the appearance of being rivers of snow.

At times you could hear the bells peeling out from a small village lost somewhere in this river of low cloud. A feeling of peace and majesty pervading all . . . a feeling never felt in the brick and tile jungle of the cities.

This is something I missed greatly when having to leave this oasis of beauty.

Hull ready for turning.

In 1973, Kevin Veness and myself decided to venture into boatbuilding as an additional source of income and possible future business.

The accompanying pictures are of the one and only cruiser we built, as shortly before finishing it the World economy crashed, and the market for this type of boat collapsed.

The building and finishing of this boat is a saga all of its own.

While we were building it, we decided to sell the farm and move to Western Australia, where we could look at the possibility of starting a business.

The buyer of the farm was so impressed that he asked us to stay on at the farm until it was finished and he would buy it as well as the farm.

However, when the economy crashed, he was badly affected, and even had difficulty settling the farm. He turned sour and asked us to leave the property. This meant we had to find somewhere to finish the cruiser.

Finished product
We all had caravans, so accommodation was not a problem, but where to place the cruiser was. We finally moved onto the Mooney Creek Caravan Park, lock, stock and cruiser!

Everything progressed well until the first of two floods hit the park. During the first we were lucky with the vans, as the water came only to the doorsteps, but the cruiser, sited on the banks (as can be seen in the photos, was lower down. We had to race madly around, grabbing some cakes of soap and ramming them into the openings in the hull to prevent the boat sinking, then float the boat away from the stands on which it had rested to avoid it settling crookedly and holing the craft.

Then, as the waters receded, came the task of floating it back over the shore and settling it on new supports.

Final stages of hull preparation on the banks of Mooney Mooney Creek.
Unfortunately, this was not to be the last flood. Within weeks it was all repeated again, only this time it was daytime, and we were able to get the vans to higher ground, and prepare the cruiser by welding the supports to it.

This park normally never flooded, but apparently there had been some concern for a weir further up the river, so they had decided to release more water. Never mind us!

Fitting out

However, with all three of us (Kevin, Frank Veness and myself) working long hours, all was finished and the boat launched there in the Mooney Creek. It was a great moment for all of us, marred only by the knowledge that the economy had become uncertain.

This turned out to be much worse than was expected, but as we had already made our plans to move West, I placed the boat in the hands of a Broker, and off we went. As the economy grew worse, we decided to build a trailer and for Kevin and Frank to take my truck and the trailer East and bring the cruiser over to the West. If we could not sell it, we may as well use it!

The trip across Australia required wide-load permits for all States, as the boat was 25 feet long and 10 feet wide, weighing 3 and a half ton. One interesting point on the stupidity of bureaucracy here is the fact that they had to get to Norseman [more than halfway across the WA] before they could apply for a wide-load permit for WA.

Built of steel and looking as smooth as fibreglass, it raised a lot of interest, but, unfortunately, by this time the economic crisis was affecting Western Australia as well. I eventually sold it for what it cost in materials. A blow to our hopes of a new boatbuilding business . . . but that is life.

More disappointing, because we believed that steel was by far the best material from which to build, and did not have to look untidy as most steel hulls did.

(At that period in time Aluminium was far too expensive to be considered a commom building material.)

On the Hawkesbury River

Built of steel but with the finish of fibreglass, it was fitted out with large forward cabin, locker room, separate toilet, galley, dining table [which converted to another bunk], seating in the cockpit area which was designed to come together and make another double birth [protected by canopy which effectively made this an area approx. 3 metres by 2½ metres with full head room], anchor well, tinted armour glass windows, and boarding ladder. It was powered by a V8 Sea Tiger [Ford] marine engine. It proved to be an extremely stable craft in the wildest of conditions.