Childhood adventures follow author throughout her life

Published 7:00am 3 June 2022

Childhood adventures follow author throughout her life
Words by Jodie Powell

Childhood exploits in the paddocks of Strathpine laid the foundations for a lifetime of adventure for author Sandy Thorne.

The daughter of Snow Sefton, a founding member of the Pine Rivers Lions Club and past president of the Pine Rivers Show – who also raced his Strathpine Special at car meets around Queensland – Sandy has fond memories of the area in the 1950s and ’60s.

“When I was growing up around Bald Hills and Strathpine, the South Pine River was the boundary and we just lived in that river,” she recalls.

“The paddocks where we gallivanted around and had so much fun and adventures is all housing now.

“Life growing up in the ’50s and ’60s in the Pine Shire was just ideal. We had everything – we had the bush and you could jump on a horse or a pushy and go to Sandgate five miles away.”

Mischievous streak

But Sandy, who recently released her 15th book, My Mate Gidgee: An Outback Story of Hard Yakka and Humour, says her youthful spirit also got her into trouble – she was expelled from school three times.

“I had been at Bald Hills (State School) for eight years and got expelled a month before the end of Grade 8, so I had to go to Strathpine for the last month.

“Then I went to Corinda to do an agricultural course because I wanted to be a vet.

“But no-one told me you had to be good at maths and science – I just thought it was about working with animals and making them better.”

Sandy laughs as she recalls being expelled from Corinda twice – the first time for wagging classes and the second for a more serious transgression.

“Mum got me back in after the first time,” she recalls.

Movie magic

Given a second chance, Sandy says she tried to behave herself but before long had given in to temptation.

“I used to go to Corinda on the train and I started getting off the train at Central and with my lunch money I’d go to the movies.

“I would change into civvies in the dunny and go to the movies.

“One day, I didn’t have my student pass and the inspector made me go and buy a ticket.

“I told him it was my lunch money – even though I was going to the movies – but he didn’t care.

“When I went past with the ticket, I said ‘stick it up your arse, you stupid bastard’ and ran for my life onto the train.”

She’d forgotten she had ‘Ringo (Star, of Beatles fame) for President’ scrawled across the back of her school hat, making her easily identifiable.

“He rang the principal and when I got to school a couple of prefects took me to his office and I got expelled again for what I’d said.

“It was 1964 and that was a really bad thing to say.”

Forging a new life

Struggling with a challenging home life, Sandy ran away at the age of 14.

“I put my age up to 16 and went up to Far North Queensland jillarooing.
“Most of our friends were farmers so I grew up horse riding and mustering cows.

“I knew it would be hard and tough – the stations back then were very primitive – they ran them the way they had for 100 years, it was all very manual.

“I had to do a lot of talking to get the men to let me go out in the paddock, but I knew they’d accepted me when they asked me to go crocodile shooting.

“You’d make more money getting a crocodile than you would make in a month, the pay was that bad.”

Television fame

Sandy’s experiences in the Far North provided rich fodder for her first book, which she launched on The Mike Walsh Show, biting the lid off a stubbie of beer and launching her career as a bush storyteller.

“In the ’80s I was quite well known, particularly in Queensland,” she says.

“In those days, it was an author’s dream – every major provincial town had their own chat show – I was on TV all the time.

“Then I got invited to be a bush humourist for certain events and to write columns for magazines and newspapers.”

In the wake of the success of Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee, and trading on the profile she’d built as an author, the Queensland Tourism association sent her to America to promote the Australian Outback.

Making it in America

Contacts at Brisbane’s Daily Sun, for which she wrote a column, approached sister paper the New York Post to help Sandy break into media in the US.

“They got a photographer to get me on top of the Empire State Building in my RM Williams gear and bite the top off a beer bottle.”

The image made Sandy the Page 3 girl the next day.

“The headline was ‘Crocodile Dun-dish bites into the Big Apple’, I was mortified,” she laughs.

“The next thing, calls were coming in from David Letterman and everyone.

“Then I got a call from the American manager of Fosters, who demanded to know what an Aussie girl was doing biting the top off a bottle of Heineken instead of Fosters.

“He said ‘I’m sure you’re going to do a lot of shows and if you bite the top off Fosters, we’ll give you US$1000 each time’.”

Personal inspiration

Childhood adventures follow author throughout her life

The main characters in Sandy’s new book, My Mate Gidgee: An Outback Story of Hard Yakka and Humour, Tom Dalton and Gidgee Barwon, are a blend of people she’s met at various points in her life, while some of their escapades are based on her own experiences.

The book is a heart-warming story about the relationship between seasoned stockman Tom and ambitious Aboriginal shearer Gidgee.

There’s a scene in the first chapter where Tom employs an ancient method of castrating sheep with his teeth, spitting the result at woolshed newbie Gidgee, much to the amusement of fellow shearers.

“My husband used to do that, he used to bite them out with his teeth and spit them at me,” Sandy, who now lives on a sheep station at Lightning Ridge, chuckles.

“That’s just an example of how you make your own fun in the bush.”

Inspiring others

So how does a girl who left school at 14 become the author of more than a dozen books that have sold more than 500,000 copies?

“I have always been a reader,” Sandy says.

“Most bush people who have not been formally educated educate themselves through reading.

“One of the things I am proudest of is the number of country women who say: ‘until I took one of your books home, my husband or son didn’t read’.”

My Mate Gidgee: An Outback Story of Hard Yakka and Humour, is published by New Holland.

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