Larrikin Mac shares memories
LARRIKIN could have been a term invented for Mac Costello.
He's a practical joke-loving bushie with a penchant for over-proof rum and a passion for his family and the Thanes Creek property Seagoe he has called home for 83 years.
Born James McCrossin Costello, but always just Mac, he's the youngest of four - Tim, Margaret and Barbara (Bunty) - and jokes he spent his childhood getting blamed for his siblings' wrongdoing.
"When anything went wrong they'd say 'Mac did it'."
It's a terrible thing though being in a children's cancer ward. After an experience like that, you can't ever complain about what happens to you. Compared with those kids, we're lucky and I never stop thinking that.
He refutes suggestions they were ever right.
"I thought I was pretty good, but that never stopped me getting into trouble," he said.
"By the Lord Harry it happened fairly often and my mother would towel the devil out of me."
The Costello family came from Northern Ireland in 1880 and bought country west of Warwick, naming the property Seagoe, after a district in their homeland.
Mac grew up in the shadow of his father the legendary Edward Costello, who was known simply as The Major on account of his rank when he rode with the 11th Australian Lighthorse regiment during the First World War.
It was The Major and his brother Jim, or J.A, Costello who shot koalas for the pelts across the region during the early part of the century.
"Yes they shot the bears. I am not sure what the pelts were used for back then," Mac explained.
"But they use to get three and sixpence for a dozen skins or 35c a dozen.
"That's not a lot when you consider the poor old bears just about got wiped out.
"It was my uncle that used to climb the trees to get the bears down, cause they'd hang on to the bark.
"My dad was never any good at climbing."
Yet that was all before 1935 when young Mac followed his older siblings to school at Greymare travelling the "five miles with my older brother or sister in charge of the horse and sulky".
On his first day in the classroom his mischievous sisters, in cahoots with the neighbouring Schnitzerling girls, dressed him as a girl in a pink dress with matching lipstick.
"I arrived at school like that and I was only five. I cried my eyes out," he said.
"Lipstick of all things. My mother never wore lipstick in her life, but the Schnitzerling girls had older sisters, who owned the stuff.
"The girls got in a heck of a lot of trouble from Miss McEniery. She was a strict Catholic and she belted the daylights out of them.
"But the girls threatened me, so I never told on them at home."
Yet Mac doesn't blame that spectacular start to his formal education for his slightly lack-lustre results later on.
"My parents sent me into board at Scots College in Warwick in 1944.
"I failed junior there in 1945, but my, we had a good time playing cricket and we were saints in our own right.
"But I must say when I found out I hadn't passed, I kept out of The Major's sight for a good few days.
"They sent me back there to do senior scholarship and I failed that as well.
"I was a drongo but maybe it would have helped if I had opened the books."
By 18, he had abandoned academic pursuits and was home working with his brother Tim.
"My parents were strict protestants. They didn't work on the Sabbath. So there was no hot meal for us on Sundays - and they never smoke or drank."
Mac started work on the princely sum of "10 bob" or a $1/week, plus free board and keep.
"Dad had bought a brand new 1946 Chevy utility and he'd put fuel in it for us, so Tim and I could go to town on Saturday."
First stop was always Bluey Hudson's pie shop where they could pick up a pasty for threepence. Then there was club cricket at Slade Park before the movies.
"We used to go to the Town Hall to see the pictures.
"You could pay a sixpence to sit downstairs, or nine pence to sit upstairs at the back - and a shilling if you wanted the front row.
"We would watch Hopalong Cassidy shoot 200 Indians and never reload."
Back then, Mac recalled, you had to be 21 to get a cheque book, 21 to go to the pub, 21 to get your licence and you couldn't do a business transaction on a weekend.
In June 1959 at the age of 29 he married the love of his life, Lynne Shorter, a local nurse who still considers herself "very fortunate" and describes her irrepressible partner as "a lot of fun".
"We got married and we lived in the shearers' quarters out here before we built our house," Mac explained.
"The rats in that place were as big as possums so I always called it rat hollow."
The following year he had his very pregnant young wife off-siding on the building site of their new home at Seagoe.
"Mum was six or seven months pregnant and had to hold up 14-foot sheets of masonite as I lined the house.
"But we got it done. Our first night here was October 4, 1960."
They have called the place home since and it was there they raised their four children - Mark, Chris, Ross and daughter Lisa.
"We lost our first boy, Gregory.
"A month before he was five years old he got sick. That was October 1964.
"Gregory had 15 months of cancer treatment and the doctors and nurses in Brisbane were terrific.
"It's a terrible thing though being in a children's cancer ward. After an experience like that, you can't ever complain about what happens to you.
"Compared with those kids, we're lucky and I never stop thinking that."
Solemnly he explains the magnitude of losing a child remains with a parent forever.
"You never get over losing your child. You just learn to live with it however you can."
It has made the children he and Lynne have watched grow into adulthood precious beyond words.
"I'd be ruined without them. They're terrific," Mac said.
In 1972, he and his brother dissolved the family partnership. They swapped sheep for cattle, and started the Seagoe enterprise on a new course.
Mac and Lynne have since shared the trials and tribulations of droughts, flooding rains and erratic cattle prices.
Today, they run the property with regular help from their extended family and have no plans yet to shift to town.
"I can still get around and we do all right."
He laughingly points to the box tree walking stick he has come to rely on.
"Ross found this stick for me up the paddock years ago - and it's been very handy.
"When it broke a while back, I got Shelley's in Warwick to fix it by putting a steel rod in it for me.
"I mean where am I going to find another stick like this one?"
It's Costello humour at it's larrikin best.
"Have you got enough for a story there?" he asked.
"I've often thought I should write about what went on myself but, you know, I'd need a book as big as a bible."