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The Goebel Brothers

When Bill Goebel was two years of age, his parents presented him with a baby brother whom they had named Harry. The young Bill had great difficulty in pronouncing the word Harry - the best he could do was HOC. And so it was that Harry Goebel became Hock.

Both Bill and Hock worked at Girraween between 1967 and ‘72. They were reliable, dedicated and hard working men but it is also fair to say that it was there that any similarity ceased. Hock enjoyed a hectic social life, he played darts at the Wallangarra pub at least once weekly and he was a regular guest at the Sergeants Mess at the Army Base. Bill was quiet, reserved and was more at home lying on his belly photographing a tiny ground orchid. He was also a very shy man and although he enjoyed contact with strangers, he was always somewhat inhibited. But when he and Hock were together, it was a different story. Bill was continually teasing his younger brother and hardly ever missed an opportunity to play some sort of a joke on him.

We were excavating for a septic pit and to do this, we had to blast through four feet of granite rock. Hock displayed a dislike for gelignite and it was obvious that he was scared of it. Bill played on this and he would tease Hock unmercifully. I had detonated 24 shots in one go at the five feet mark in the pit and consequently, there was a considerable amount of rubble to remove. During this clearance, Hock uncovered a shot that for some reason had not fired. From that point on, his wariness was even more obvious and he would carefully roll each piece of rock over, checking for further unexploded shots before lifting it out of the pit. Bill, who was working outside of the hole clearing away material that Hock and I were throwing up, saw an opportunity to take another "mickey" out of Hock. At the right moment, he dropped a handful of pebbles down into the pit onto Hock’s aluminium safety helmet. Hock’s reaction was immediate - he was out of that hole in a flash and this feat was even more amazing considering the fact that there was no ladder in the pit for him to scale.

After we had cleared the rubble out, there was a definite air of relief on Hock’s part. But the excavation was not yet to the required depth of seven feet, so another twenty or so holes were drilled into the hard rock and each was charged up with one third of a plug of gelignite. After setting the explosives and fuses, the usual thing was that Bill and Hock would locate themselves up at the road to block any traffic.
Hock standing in a toilet pit.
© Tom Ryan, 2012.

Circa 1967. Hock Goebel in the pit dug for the second toilet block - now since demolished.

I would light the main fuse and then trot up to join them. On this occasion, I watched Bill and Hock as they wandered up towards the road, waiting until they had taken up their positions before I fired the fuse. As I watched, I saw Bill, who was a little behind Hock, bend down and scoop up a handful of sand and pebbles. A couple of steps later, he threw the lot at the broad shoulders in front of him, at the same time yelling out, "Look out Hock!". About the only thing that Hock didn’t do during the next minute or so, was to thump Bill and probably the only reason why he didn’t, was because of the pressing need to get away from the impending explosion.

September 1966 was a major event in the history of Girraween - this was when the first guided wildflower walks were held. I knew very little about the names of plants although Bill showed some expertise and there was every chance that he would be seconded to lead a couple of the walks. In the weeks leading up to the first big weekend, experts like Jean Harslett, David Hockings, Robin Elks and Kathleen McArthur had been visitors and as we walked around through the bush with them, we asked many questions as part of our crash course in local botany. Within a short time, both Bill and I believed that we had enough knowledge to permit us to pass ourselves off as experts and that it would not be too difficult to entertain some of the expected hordes. Accordingly, Bill was rostered to do a couple of walks down the creek. On his return after the first walk, he modestly claimed that in his opinion, the outing had been quite successful so I decided to tag along for the afternoon trek. At one spot at a wet soak near the creek, Bill gathered us around him like a true professional guide and explained to the group, in his shy quiet way, how and why some of the plants grew in special places. One of the group asked Bill for the name of a particular plant and quick as a flash, Bill replied with not only a common name, but also its botanical identification. Everyone in the group seemed to be more than impressed excepting for this one bloke who announced for all to hear, "That’s not what you called it this morning".

During those early days, most of the work was heavy manual stuff - no four wheel drives or the like. If we wanted sand for concreting, we would usually find an accumulation along the creek somewhere and then barrow it to the job or out to where the vehicle was. On one occasion, we were building a foot bridge over the creek and we were making use of a deep sand bed nearby. The only problem was that the barrow had to be wheeled across a narrow plank which was our temporary bridge, about three feet above a three feet wide, four feet deep creek. As we work this day, a woman sat on the rocks about twenty yards away and began sketching the creek scene. Needing some sand, I loaded the barrow up for Bill but he advised me in a voice that might have been just loud enough for the woman to hear, "Nah, stick a few more shovels on - she’ll be right". He possessed extraordinary strength so there was no problem about him not being able to push the load up the slope to the temporary bridge but it was at that spot that things went horribly wrong for the human Kenworth. When the wheel of the barrow hit the plank, it forced it to shoot forward. This resulted in Bill, the plank, the barrow and the sand all nose-diving into the three feet wide, four feet deep stream.

Bill owned an old thirty hundred-weight Dodge ute and one weekend, it was going to get us into the wilds of Sundown Gorge. There were many obstacles to overcome if we hoped to achieve this and the first was the "Three Mile", a long steep loose gravel hill. Bill decided that the Dodge would be too light in the back so this was quickly overcome with a couple of fertiliser bags half filled with sand placed in the back and over the rear wheels. A long run-up would also help he thought so back we went about two hundred yards and "Right" says Bill with his impish grin spread across his face, "Here we go, yer right?" Away we went, 1st gear wound up to about 3000 revs and got us half way across the flat, - into second, flat stick until max revs, crunch into top and give her everything - all of a sudden we were a hundred yards up the slope - drop her back to 2nd, flat to the floor - two hundred yards up the hill - crunch into first, flat to the boards again - two and fifty yards, five thousand to go, lots of dust and flying stones. But from here on, things started to look grim, revs now about 500 and falling fast and Bill’s smile was all gone - and then for a moment, there was nothing - no engine, no sound, no going forward. Then all hell broke loose as the old truck responded to gravity and started to slide backwards down the hill. Bill hit the brakes and pumped hard but nothing - we were picking up speed rapidly by now and panic was trumps. There being nothing else to try, Bill reefed the handbrake on as hard as he could - by this time we were probably doing twenty miles an hour backwards but when the handbrake jammed on, the rear wheels locked up, the front wheels lifted about three feet off the ground and the whole front of the truck pivoted around and before the front wheels touched ground again, we were facing back down the hill. We kept on sliding through the loose gravel before finally thumping into the trunk of an Iron Bark tree. "Wheeee!" says Bill, "don’t think I can do that one again".

During those first years in the history of Girraween, Bill Goebel was as much part of the park as was the Pyramid. Dozens of kids had their first swim in the black waters of a wilderness creek under his guidance, many more scaled the lofty heights of the granite mountains confident in the knowledge that nothing could go wrong because Bill was there to help. And if they weren’t too exhausted that night, they would be given a picture slide tour of places which at that time, were only known to readers of the Australia Post magazine - Ayers Rock, Carnavon Gorge, the Olgas, Stanley Chasm. Bill had explored them all.

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Last updated: 3rd October 2015