Since they rarely stay long in one place and are often in three or four different places in any week, the Livingstons do their best to adapt to all changes, climatic or social. They speak the Queen's English or the Queenslander's, as the situation requires. They are at ease in dinner jackets and equally at ease in a rancher's rags. They try to carry the right clothes with them for every occasion, but seldom succeed. Often they do not tarry long enough in one place to use a hotel's jiffy pressing service, or even long enough for a drip-dry shirt to finish dripping. At the end of a fast week, the Livingstons sometimes look as if they had ridden the last 200 miles in a wallaby's pouch.
When Frank Livingston was 8 and his brother 7, they signed a contract, "A Partnership in Marbles," duly witnessed by their sister Emily. It is the only contract they have ever had, and while they still work as a team, neither brother has lost his identity. Both Livingstons are of medium build, both carry a slight paunch that bespeaks their age. Frank, the older, is 5 feet 7; his brother, about 5 feet 10. Frank drinks tea like an Englishman—about one imperial gallon a day. John drinks two gallons. Frank also takes beer and whisky, while John uses neither. "He does worse than drink," insists Frank, with the disdain a modest tippler has for a totally dry man. "He buys drinks for everybody else to liven the party up so he will enjoy it more. He is a menace."
John Livingston openly confesses an affection for the good old days, when smoking was forbidden and a dinner jacket was required in the dining room of Melbourne's Hotel Menzies. But in actual practice his brother Frank is usually the more reserved. Frank has a softer voice and often merely smiles broadly at times when his brother's laughter is knocking pictures off the walls. John Livingston usually is the first of the two to see doom or disaster, but again, in actual fact, Frank is generally the more cautious. Frank Livingston would never, for example, try butting his head through a stone wall without first putting on his hat. As often happens in such a team, Frank, the cautious one, occasionally ends up taking the hard knocks. When the brothers are sailing on an ocean beset by a whole gale, it is Frank who is lashed to the wheel while John mans the pumps below. It was Frank who, during a flat calm 300 miles off Oahu, dived overboard to refresh himself and dislocated his shoulder by landing on a shipmate who was at that instant emerging to escape a 10-foot shark. (They took Frank to Pagopago, where he remembers having a wonderful time attended by U.S. doctors and nurses.) Some years ago their cousin Hubert Kessal decided that a dark hole in the ground at their sister Emily's sheep station should be investigated. It was Frank, of course, who was lowered in a bosun's chair. Everything went according to plan except that the rope immediately parted. On the chance that he might be alive, they lowered a second rope and hauled him up again. Eighty feet below he had luckily" landed feet first in water.
"It is strange how those Livingstons carry on. They were both quite normal in school," Mayor Hugh Marks of the Livingstons' home town of Mount Gambier once remarked. Overhearing this, Prime Minister Menzies explained, "Their insanity is hereditary. Their father was a Member of Parliament."
Both Livingstons have a constant curiosity, and it is John's theory that you never really know about anything unless you give it a try. What he learns is sometimes not worth knowing, but this has never stopped him. Fifteen years ago the Livingstons had a pet kookaburra bird that laughed raucously whenever John Livingston practiced playing the bagpipes. In every other way the kookaburra seemed normal, except that it was constantly hungry. This is the kind of problem that John Livingston cannot help exploring. "I got a kerosene tin full of worms," he recalls. "Enough worms to fill any bird. He ate them all. Fast as I'd throw him a worm, he'd digest it, pass it right through, leaving a pile of potash behind him. My word, that bird could eat. Poor thing finally swallowed a gramophone needle and died."
In addition to the orthodox details of stock raising in which he is constantly involved, John Livingston has become a modest authority on a number of subjects that most people do not encounter in a lifetime. To take a sampling, he knows a good bit about the operation of World War II German gyroscopic sextants, the care of bees, the rehabilitation of old waterwheels and a plant called Russian comfrey.
Russian comfrey looks like a cross between a tobacco plant and a hothouse geranium, and John Livingston was informed that it was fine pasturage. After planting 10 acres of it, he found his sheep could take it or leave it alone. He subsequently discovered that a research foundation dedicated to the proliferation of Russian comfrey had only one-third of an acre planted in England. The only other planting that John Livingston could find was half an acre tended by an 86-year-old English lady named Greer, who seemed to be wrapped in the past (in her living room not long ago John saw parts of a tractor lying on yellowed newspaper headlining Allied landings in Italy). John Livingston now feels that his 10 acres may be the largest planting of Russian comfrey in the world.
As for beekeeping, John learned about that when he tried to improve the clover on his Heatherleigh Hills sheep station with 150 beehives. "We had no trouble at all with the bees," he now recalls, "until one of them stung Norman Gurr, our manager at Heatherleigh Hills. While Norman was going about his own business—rather personal business—the bee stung him in a very tender part of the body, and Norman never had much interest in bees after that."
Old waterwheels, relics of the gold rush days, are a particular love of John Livingston's, largely because a maternal ancestor made a bundle of money using one to mill flour for the 100,000 miners who rushed into the Australian gold diggings in the 1850s. John now owns what is perhaps the world's finest collection of waterwheels—if anything so widespread can be called a collection. At this point the wheels are still scattered all over southeast Australia; two of John's small waterwheels are still in the care of the landholders from whom he bought them. He has one beauty, 14 feet in diameter, in storage in Melbourne. He may have another 10-footer buried under an extravagant mass of blackberry brambles in the valley hamlet of Pore Punkah. He paid about $100 for the 10-footer, but has never penetrated the brambles deep enough to see it.
John has another wheel, a 24-footer, in splendid condition, still on the original site where it was used to drive an ore crusher 3,000 feet up a mountain. There is no road or path maintained up the mountain, and it will be many years before there is any decent way for tourists to visit the relic. However, there is already a steady passage of commercial airliners over the mountain. It is John's plan to rig a generator to the wheel and plug in spotlights. Thus airline passengers will be able to look down at night on the spectacle of an old waterwheel slowly turning, lighting itself up.