LONG ago, when Melbourne was just six years old, five Aborigines stole two guns and waged a guerrilla-style campaign in the Dandenongs and Mornington Peninsula, burning houses and killing two sealers at Cape Paterson. They were caught, put on trial and two of them found guilty of murder. Five thousand spectators came to watch them be hanged.
Alf Thorn’s dad
Around 1890, the Thorn family sent their eldest son down to their selection in the South Gippsland forest. He was to clear a space big enough to plant some ground for a house cow and grow some vegetables. Jim Thorne was just 16. By the time the family joined him at Blackwood Forest two years later, he’d partly cleared 20 acres. When he married, Jim took out a mortgage on 110 acres of nearby forest and started over.
His son, Alf Thorn, described his dad as “a sort of a stay-at-home, work-24-hours-a-day farmer”.
“He never thought of going out to a dance or anything,” Alf said. “It wasn’t the thing to do, as a matter of fact, because there was that many dirty places around here with the blackberries and the rabbits.”
When he left school Alf worked for his father without wages. ”Well,” he said, “after a few years I was thinking about working some land of my own. I mentioned to my father about buying the neighbouring property. He said: ‘It’s taken me 20 years to pay off £2000 and I’m not going in to debt anymore’. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘if that’s how it is I’ll be packing my bags and I’ll be gone in the morning.’ Anyway next morning he said: ‘Son, we better have a talk about this,’ and I stayed.
“Course, I wouldn’t have gone. Where would I go anyway? The Depression was just starting.”
John Dyson’s Fergie
Further up the Loch-Wonthaggi Road, John and Marj Dyson were still using horses on their dairy farm when most farms had switched to the Fergie tractor. The Dysons thought that if you didn’t have the cash to buy something, you went without.
Only when the Government started subsidising the interest on loans to returned soldiers did they take the leap into debt. The tractor, costing £594, was paid off in eight months. It was garaged in the carport by the kitchen door and lasted John 56 years.
When John was 85 someone suggested he should retire. “Nah” he said. “I’ve got a 10-year plan.”
At 93, under doctor’s orders to stop driving tractors and climbing ladders, he reluctantly sold the tractor, entrusting it to Greig Barry. It came with its log book, completed daily, and its original toolkit.
When the old bush nursing hospital in Loch was about to fall into disuse, the Hayes, Horner and Green families put up the collateral on behalf of the community and set up Greenhills Hostel for the Aged.
As a business, it always depended on volunteers. Local residents cleaned, cooked and organised craft activities. They rostered themselves on night duty to save on staff salaries and spent half their lives raising funds, running open garden days, holding fetes and balls. In 2001 a charity auction raised $12,000.
This was a community taking care of its own.
As time went on and accreditation demands shut down more and more small community-based hostels, Greenhills held on. Locked out of the day-to-day running of the hostel, locals kept on raising funds, attending crowded Christmas dinners and turning up for singing sessions round the piano. But eventually the last board of management bowed to progress and Greenhills Hostel for the Aged, last man standing, closed its doors.
Dairy farmers Lyn and Stan Barrett hadn’t been married long when Dr Lapin asked them if they would take the son of a Legacy widow for the holidays. “He hasn’t been able to settle with other families,” he explained.
Today, decades later, their tally of loved kids is four of their own, three adopted children, about 90 fostered and two children in permanent care. They’ve had tiny babies for a night and families of kids for weekends. Some have come once for school holidays; others have come to stay every year of their childhood. There’s been a high chair at the kitchen table for 47 years. And somewhere in all that mothering, Lyn, herself adopted, found the courage to track down and make peace with her own birth mother.
“It’s nice to give the kids a start,” says Stan.
In amongst it
When the polio epidemic struck South Gippsland, it collected Jim Hewson and his fiancée, Gladys Coote. She recovered fully; he never regained the use of his legs. They married and for years operated a dairy farm and dairy in Nyora, sharing jobs. He propelled himself along in a heavy, uncollapsable wheelchair, using his right arm to operate a pushbike pedal arrangement; her job was to lift the chair into the car. They concreted the milking shed and the cow yard and he wheeled himself around the town streets, walking his cows between various pockets of land and serving milk into billies. It’s said that to build upper body strength he worked out with a crosscut saw.
There are no foxes or cats in Henry’s Creek Sanctuary. Instead, inside this 100-acre Trust for Nature property with its six-foot electric fence, you’ll find 300-year-old messmates and more than 120 different types of birds. It’s the habitat of the yellow-bellied glider and the Leadbeater possum, the powerful owl and wedge-tailed eagle. This property, preserving the last of the Bass Valley ecosystem, is the legacy of Joan and Gordon Henry.
Every January 22, a group of people meet in Melbourne to honour the memories of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, the two indigenous men hanged for murder a century and a half ago. The group claims that their actions must be seen in a different light, that these were men of honour. That, as witnesses to the dispossession of their race and survivors of Tasmania’s genocide, the two men made a principled stand to defend their land.
We know that character and circumstance shape the stories of our lives but these snapshots help to remind us of what we share.
We live in country that offers us the opportunity:
- To start afresh.
- To clear a patch of ground, make it our own, watch things grow.
- To see the sun rise and set on green hills, to watch the seasons come and go.
- To work within our physical limits, exhaust ourself, and come back the next day ready to go again and get things done.
- To leave a legacy.
- To care for what we value, nourish it, change it for the better, make it last.
- To right wrongs and make amends.
This is the text of a speech Gill Heal gave at Loch’s Australia Day celebrations.
February 1, 2015
These thoughtful evocative snapshots of the area I now live in were the highlight of my Australia Day this year. I loved the fact that they were so inclusive of the many people who have lived in South Gippsland. The snapshots touched a nerve for me. Congratulations to them and to Gill.
I'd also like to mention that it is wonderful to have an online vehicle like this to share her written words. It is a pity that our local newspapers would probably not choose to publish them in their entirety. They are deserving of a very wide audience including young and old, online users and the many others who for various reasons are not able to access them online or were not present at the ceremony. Great work, Catherine Watson and the basscoastpost.
A final thought ... prompted by Gill's thought-provoking scholarship, I noticed an omission at the Australia Day ceremony. There was no recognition of or salutation to the tradititional owners of our lands by the hosts and organisers. In fact I have never seen any take place before a formality in South Gippsland. Why is this the case?