At 4:13 am on the 20th day of November 1942, the silence of the dark and stormy night was shattered by the scream of a newborn baby boy at the Coquille Valley Hospital in the County of Coos in the State of Oregon, USA. Named after this paternal grandfather, Howard, and his maternal grandfather, James, Howard James Pribble was launched on the world stage.
So they called him Jim.
The family was of modest means, being engaged in farming and the timber industry. There was always food on the table and clothing on our back, but there wasn’t much left after expenses. Luckily, southwest Oregon is blessed with an abundance of harvestable resources like venison, duck, salmon and other edibles; clams, crabs, oysters, mushrooms, berries etc., available at specific times of year. Not all harvesting was done legally, but . . .
Intermixed with the edible items were animals not quite as savoury: bobcats, pumas, black bears, skunks, civet cats, timber rattlesnakes, scorpions and river otters, although these critters were rarely seen. The most common were the Disney group – deer, squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, robins and other cuddly creatures.
My early childhood was spent in a small township in the Siskiyou Mountains in the southwest corner of Oregon, on the banks of the Coquille River – named Powers after a local potentate from years gone by. The town, a fly spot on the map of Oregon, boasted a postbellum population of about 1,500 people, the male component of which was engaged in timber harvest. At its peak, prior to World War II, the town would have had a population of about 3,000 people. It was, and still is, a rough little community that refuses to die, with about six streets running North-South and about the same number running perpendicular to those streets. Beer halls (taverns) outnumbered churches, of which there were eight of various denominations. The town contained a “drug” store, hardware store, variety store (“Five and Dime”), barbershop, jail, post office, several gas (petrol) stations two grocery stores, a 1950’s ‘soda’ fountain and a movie theatre (25 cents/ two bits).
In the early days (late 40s and early 50s) the town had two schools, a high school (grades 8-12) and a grade school (grades 1-6). There was no schooling prior to grade school; grade one pupils (usually six years old) were expected to read simple stories, add and subtract and have some semblance of penmanship. Because of my birthdate, I was nearly seven when I started primary school and the late start proved to be a distinct advantage. The total student body consisted of around 15-20 students per grade, so the total student population was about 200 young souls in the 12 grades. There was a room in the basketball hall that served as a repository for a pile of donated books, and was dignified by the name ‘library’. I spent much time there. Medical help, when required, could be found 21 miles downriver in a slightly larger community.
My brothers and I (as the stereotypical middle child), when not in school, spent our time roaming the hills and valleys surrounding Powers like savages on the loose. The world was ours to use as we saw fit, and use it we did. Magic!!!
Our household had two rules: Stay out of trouble and be home before dark – easy rules to remember, especially if they were transgressed. Punishment was sharp and not soon forgotten. We didn’t worry much about the first rule – the trick was to not get caught. It worked most of the time, but in a small community, everyone knows what everyone is doing, or not doing, so it was tricky business. Also there was some latitude provided because ‘boys will be boys’ and allowance was made for that truism because, beyond our comprehension, Dad tried to convince us he had once been a boy.
We moved from Powers in 1957 – to Coquille, a slightly larger community about 40 miles downriver, population around 4,500. Our home was about twelve miles outside the ‘city’ limits. My older brother and I, now in high school (secondary), rode a school bus to Coquille to continue our education. The education gained in the back seats of the school bus was as interesting, or more so, than the one received in the classrooms.
In the four years at Coquille High, I participated in all the activities expected of a red-blooded American youth. My coursework centred on sciences, maths and other “hard” subjects because I had long before determined that University was a primary destination. The only non-science subject, and one which has proved to be of major utility, was typing. I wish now I had also taken shorthand, but . . .
During those four years, I was quarterback on the football team (gridiron), ran sprints in track and field, was inducted into the National Honour Society (scholastic achievement), was Student Body President in Senior year and continued my investigations first started in the back of the school bus.
In 1961, with a shiny high school diploma, I attacked the realm of higher education at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, about 180 miles North of Coquille, and 90 miles south of Portland. I did really well first year, had a really good time second year, then dropped out of full time study (with prompting from the University), worked in a grocery store, got married and, in Autumn of 1965, my wife Linda and I loaded ALL of our possessions into a VW microbus and drove over the Rocky Mountains to Chicago, where she was to undergo postgraduate training in physiotherapy.
Soon after settling in central Chicago, I received a ‘valentine’ from the local Draft Board saying that I had been inducted into the US Army and to report immediately, so I became a soldier stationed in Louisiana, then Texas, then back in the Chicago area. Thankfully I missed the rigours of Vietnam.
We were released from duty in January 1969 and started the journey back to Corvallis. Our route was still named Route 66 and it lived up to its image. We saw the Painted Desert covered in snow (not very colourful), the Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon – inaccessible owing to about 20 feet of snow, stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, scurried through Vegas, across Death Valley and into southern California. Then we headed North up US 1 and US 101 along the coastline through Monterrey, San Francisco and the redwood forests of Northern California and farther North, back to Coquille. In all, a magnificent trip – I would recommend that trip to anyone.
When we got back to Corvallis, it was straight into the studies and I collected my Bachelor’s degree in 1970 (Radiation Biology and Zoology) and a Master’s (Biochemistry and Zoology) in 1972. Jobs were few in the US in 1972, so apart from being a job seeker and a house husband (we had two sons by that time), I worked part time on research projects at Oregon State University. I finally landed a job (pun intended) with the Research Division of Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department, working on, firstly, defining the habitat requirements of salmonid fishes, and later, an assessment of the construction and operation of a dam built on one of the last rivers in Oregon, protected as a wild and scenic river. The whole episode was an oxymoron from the beginning.
One day in the office, while several people were talking about advancement and job opportunities, it was mentioned that there was ‘this job’ in Australia. My ears perked up. Being a biologist I had read about the curious animals in Australia, so I investigated it. Seems the guy mentioning the job was a best friend of the Director of Fisheries in Victoria. Through him, I applied for the job and, lo and behold, got a phone interview, then a job offer for a two-year contract to set up a project to eradicate European Carp from Victorian waterways. That all sounded interesting, but it was curious that no one in Australia wanted the job. So in 1979 we packed up our household, sold our house and headed off for a new adventure half way around the world.
It turned out that the thrust of the position was political – the government needed to demonstrate that it was ‘doing something’ about the carp problem. I knew before I arrived in Australia that eradication of the species was an impossible task because of the very biology of the beast. The director acknowledged all this after I arrived, so the project took a different tack – study native fish with the intent of developing artificial propagation techniques to increase the numbers of native fish in the rivers and streams, rebuild the state-owned fish hatchery near Eildon and define the habitat requirements of native fish species.
Life was, and is, good in Australia. I was offered a job that I couldn’t refuse in 1981 (retiring in 1998), and I am still here and happy to be so. It is a fascinating country with a considerate and intelligent population, even though I am occasionally referred to as septic tank and challenged to explain Trump.