The Gums farm was situated two miles off the Hume Highway to the west, at the end a gravel road now signposted as Gums Gully Lane. The far boundary of the farm was to the west where the Old Sydney Road, a stock route, follows a ridge of hills, being the watershed of Deep Creek (which becomes the Maribyrnong River) to the west and The Drain to the east (it becomes the Merri Creek as it flows south).
My Uncle Will had taken the three-horse-drawn wagon up on to Riggs Hill at the south-western corner of the farm and was moving inside the boundary fence northward where the hill slopes back to the east. I was a small boy on holiday and I cannot remember why we were up there with the heavy wagon; I guess it was to drop off fence posts and rolls of wire, a load too big for a one-horse two-wheeled dray. The centre horse, Violet, was harnessed to the shafts (which steered the front wheels) as well as throwing her considerable weight into pulling. Each of the side-horses was simply harnessed by chains hooked to their collars and hames and anchored to the swingle-bars attached to the wagon. Each horse was attached to its neighbour by a short chain or strap connected to the bit or mouthpiece thereby ensuring that the horses would turn together or keep a straight course ahead when steered by the reins held by the driver.
At the steepest slope of the hill the horse on the lower side lost its footing, fell and rolled entangling itself in the chains hanging beside it. Naturally, it struggled to get up but was powerless against the restraint of the twisted draw-chains and the short bit-chain. The animal was understandably distressed and panicky.
To a child the situation was frightening. I had been following the wagon on foot to the side at some distance and was now turned to see what would happen. My uncle had reined in the other horses with loud “Whoa”s, hurriedly chocked the wheels, and was calming the alarmed animals with quiet “Whoa”s; he looked for slack in the fallen horse’s chains and how best to disentangle them, going about his inspection slowly and carefully to avoid being injured by the horse’s struggles, all the time talking quietly and soothingly to the animal. Using his own great strength he was able to release it from its harness eventually and the animal stood free but shaken. Undoing the bit-chain he allowed the horse to break free and wander in the paddock; soon it was heading home alone to the house paddock and stables.
The wagon team of two resumed its way along the boundary fence, now gently sloping down to the gully and watercourse called The Wash. I was relieved that any danger had passed and that the situation was back to normal. I had faith in my uncle to do extraordinary things and that faith had been reinforced by the day’s incident.
Years later we were carting in hay together on another farm down towards Craigieburn; it fronted the Hume Highway below Mount Ridley. My uncle had overstocked and overworked the first farm and, as a consequence, production had dropped significantly; he was advised to rest the land to restore its productivity, so he invested in “Misery Farm” as he called it although officially it was known as the River Bank Estate (Merri Creek ran through the north-eastern corner). We had finished work for the day and he was putting out sheaves of hay on the ground for the horses when one of them, frustrated by the bullies at the head of the line, came trotting down to the freshly laid hay and swung his rear legs around at my uncle, missing him by inches. My uncle turned quickly and swore with some heat “You rotten cow!” Lesser men, not nearly so tough and hard-working as he, would have let the world know in no uncertain terms what they thought of the beast’s parentage.
My uncle was building a new workmen’s hut to replace the ramshackle hut which had stood in the house paddock since before the old Gums station had been subdivided. One day, as he worked inside the nearly completed hut, his favourite horse, Violet, then retired but once a hardworking draught, poked her head in the unfinished window and gave my uncle a nudge. Light-heartedly he told her he was busy and she shouldn’t waste his time. She withdrew her head and shortly after he heard a mighty PLOP! Violet had collapsed on the ground outside the hut and was already dead when he rushed out to see what was wrong. Had Violet a forewarning of her dying moment and wanted to to receive a last minute comforting pat from her master?
His first car to replace the jinker or gig drawn for years by the quietest horse, Mick, was a Willys 77 coupe with a rear outside “dicky” seat. The engine was American and the bodywork was built by Holden in Melbourne before the days of General Motors – Holden. The ubiquitous Jeeps of World War II were built by the Willys company. My uncle’s choice of car was, I suspect, influenced by the brand name which humorously declared his ownership of the car. Occasionally a sheep, bag of chaff, or pan of over-ripe plums graced the dicky seat as well as an itinerant worker or two. The small black and tan Kelpie sheep-dog, Lass, had pride of place on the single bench seat alongside the driver. Weaver would drive along his two-mile unsealed lane in second gear, studying the neighbours’ crops and sheep with a keen eye; there was never any other traffic on that road to distract him.
William Henry Weaver was born on 18 March 1891 at his grandfather’s farm “Allandale” at Bagshot, Victoria; son of Sydney Weaver and his wife Clara Alexina Weaver (nee Allan). He was married to Ruby Irene Mewett at Seddon Congregational Church on 13 March 1924; there were no children. Will died at Bendigo on 12 June 1972, just three weeks after the death of Ruby.
Do You Know was intended to be a less formal blog than Who Were They, but after two posts the writer ran out of inspiration and ideas and concentrated his efforts on the Mewett, Pollock and related families in Who Were They. Consequently, he is now closing down the blog Do You Know and transferring the two posts over to this current weblog. His idea had been that snippets of information about departed extended-family members and occasional photos of them would give the reader an insight into personalities of the past and their way of life. These posts would have relied heavily on the author’s recollection of conversations (including gossip) and events. Forgive him if he started with his own mother; no apology should be needed to have embarked on this venture with nostalgic memories.
My mother was known as “Mag” to her immediate family, which to me was an ugly-sounding name. Her former employer, Mrs MacKechnie, called her “Maggie” and I felt that was an improvement and I shall refer to her this way. The only person to call her “Margaret” was a Congregational minister’s wife, Mrs Krohn, whose family stayed with us for a short while when Fred Krohn resigned his ministry and went off to World War II as an Australian Comforts Fund officer to serve the troops overseas. Maggie’s cousin, Will McGuigan of Kanumbra, once teased her when they were horse-riding by calling her “Margaret” and he received a bruising on his arm for his tongue-in-cheek gallantry.
Will’s parents were going away on holiday and they asked Maggie to come down to Kanumbra to look after young Will and his brother. What fun! the boys thought, but soon changed their tune when Maggie took over from their mother with a zeal and a determination to uphold the trust Mrs McGuigan put in her.
On her father’s farm near Bonnie Doon she was the second daughter and was expected to help with farm chores, including riding up the hill to bring down the cows for milking. As she looked down through the cold early morning mist at the farmhouse below she thought enviously of her brothers and sisters still in their warm beds. She and her older sister, Lily, were part-time students at the local primary school; they took it in turns to stay at home and help their parents. Sowing the crop seed was done by hand as father Pollock walked methodically up and down the paddock; the girls were kept busy running to him with yet another bucket of grain for him to scatter left and right from his bag apron. Maggie was always on her guard to stop her half- brother Jack from bullying the younger children. One can guess that her combative nature led to her parents finding employment for her well away from the farm.
MacKechnie was a mine manager at Woods Point, south of Mansfield, and his wife needed help with her growing family in that out-of-the-way town; and that help came from Maggie Pollock, in service to the MacKechnie family. One cannot imagine a servant’s duties in those days being limited but instead, all-inclusive. Maggie learned the finer points of housekeeping, cooking, shopping and child-minding under Mrs MacKechnie’s watchful eye. When the family left Woods Point and moved to St Albans near Melbourne, they took Maggie with them, travelling in a two-horse buggy. After an overnight camp they found one of the horses dying from the effects of an illicit feed in a nearby crop and the rest of the journey was a trial with just one horse in harness.
Maggie’s elder sister Lily was married to Bob Black, a fire-engine driver (later, farmer at Woodfield), and Maggie lived with them at Newport after her service to the MacKechnie family at St Albans had ended. She worked at the railways workshop canteen at Newport (Melbourne suburb) as a waitress; one of her duties was to take the daily food orders to the switchboard to be phoned through to the suppliers. And who should she meet there but telephone operator, Percy Mewett, who had been repatriated there after a railway accident at Wycheproof had left him an amputee. His plight stirred her Big Sister feelings (she was three years older) and they were married in 1915 at North Williamstown.
Maggie as wife and mother might have been described then as domineering but today we would call her a control freak, not with malice but because she was doing her best for her family. For instance, she made sure I had a good education at Melbourne Boys’ High School. Her love was expressed through good hot food on the table, a clean shirt on our back, a clean house to live in, not by cuddles and kisses. The weekly pay packet was barely sufficient to pay the rent and energy bills, let alone food and clothing. Grandfather Mewett once claimed that she could knock up a hot dinner out of next-to-nothing. The Sunday roast leg of lamb came back to the dining table during the week in many disguises. Four sons can be a handful, especially four male egos experiencing the first feelings of independence and self-importance. But she coped without complaining.
Once, at dinner time she received a phone call and returned to the table in tears. ”I’ve lost the best friend I ever had,” she cried. Mrs MacKechnie had died. Embarrassed by our mother’s weeping, we ate in silence.
Samuel Mewett, my great-great-grandfather, died at Kersbrook, S.A. on 26 January 1888, aged 85. Judging by his death certificate entry he was thought by his family to be 86; the memorial at Kersbrook cemetery, installed in 1976 by family descendants, gave his age as 84. However, Samuel was baptised at Willingdon in England in September 1803 so we might assume that he was born in that year (civil birth registrations were not kept until decades later). This explains why I have dared to contradict the death certificate and the headstone memorial in stating that Samuel died at age 85. Why is this so important to me? Read on.
Another of my great-great-grandfathers, William Giddings, died at Gumeracha, S.A. on 26 July 1897, also aged 85. I accept this age because it was given on his death certificate and again on the headstone of his grave at the Kersbrook one-time-Methodist church, his birth date being recorded thereon as 1812.
Jesse Mewett, my great-grandfather, son of Samuel and Martha and husband of Rhoda Giddings, died at Parkside, S.A. on 20 March 1911 of bronchitis and asthma, aged 75 years. Other great-grandfathers included William Lloyd who died at Horsham in 1906 aged 65, John Campbell Pollock who died at Woodfield in May 1897 aged 69, and William McGuigan who died in Melbourne, though a resident of Kanumbra, in 1909 aged 81.
Ted (Edward John) Mewett, my grandfather, died at Blackburn, Victoria in 1934 aged 72. My grandmother, Emma Lloyd had predeceased him by 30 years after the birth of her seventh child. William Hendry Pollock, my maternal grandfather died at Woodfield, Victoria, in 1928 aged 80.
My father, Percy Edwin Mewett, died of lung cancer at Prahran, Victoria in 1959, aged 67.
(My mother Maggie Pollock died at Kew in 1979 aged 90)
This week I celebrate my 85th birthday (28 March 2014) thanks to the marvels of modern medical practice and the loving care of Mary, my wife of 59 years. But I think back to my great-great-grandfathers who both lived to 85; they were born in England in the early 19th century, and as poor emigrants they brought their families to Australia on sailing ships, worked for the South Australia Company as tenant farmers, settled on the land in the Kersbrook-Chain Of Ponds-Gumeracha districts, and survived drought, bush fire, flood and other hardships without the help of modern medical science or government assistance. They were the tough and true pioneers of our families in Australia; I’m proud to claim them as my ancestors and I acknowledge and honour them by publishing this tribute to them.
I haven’t forgotten the women pioneers of the Mewett family but I will have to wait until I reach 90 to write in similar vein about their longevity and the roles they played in supporting their menfolk!
The photo of the second Pollock family would have been taken at the farm about 1905 or 1906. Standing: Mary Ann, David, and unknown girl, probably Avis.
Seated: Margaret (Mag), Alice, Mrs M.A.Pollock, Mr W.H.Pollock, Lily Florence.
Ground: Marion, Martha.
(This post effectively replaces The Pollocks of Bonnie Doon which was posted on my blog Who Were They in June 2011. My older posts appear to have glided away into limbo and a new follower/reader might not be aware of their existence. Look for “June 2011″ under Archives in the right-hand column.)
Meadowbank Farm was the name given to the farming land which John Campbell Pollock selected in 1875, being Lot 31 of 32.55 hectares (80 acres) in the Parish of Brankeet, County of Anglesey, Mansfield shire. In 1880 he added the adjoining Lot 30 of 36.54 hectares (90 acres) giving the farm a frontage of one kilometre on the main road to Mansfield (now Maroondah Highway). In 1883 a further 42.69 hectares (105 acres) was acquired on Lot 38 which adjoined the original Lot 31 to the south; and a further 25.82 hectares (64 acres) on Lots 38A and 38B brought the total holding to 137.6 hectares (342 acres) when John Pollock died there in 1897. The land was valued for Probate at 2 pounds 10 shillings an acre, a total of 855 pounds.
John Pollock, ploughman, together with his wife Margaret (nee Hendry) and son William aged 7, arrived in Launceston on board the Commodore Perry from Liverpool in 1855 as assisted immigrants under the bounty system on the application of Alexander Learmouth. Margaret had been born at Govan, near Glascow, Scotland and it was there that they had married and William had been born.
William was aged about 27 when the family moved to the land that was to become Meadowbank Farm. One can only assume that he had been working alongside his father before their move and that he continued to work with him on the farm. Next year, 1876, William married Georgina Stewart Wilson on her father’s property Pagewood Farm, Spring Creek, Alexandra. She was just 19, born at Harden, North Wales. (I cannot help thinking that the Pollocks might have worked for Robert Wilson, her father, on Pagewood Farm before selecting the land at Doon.)
After their marriage William and Georgina lived at Meadowbank. Their first child John Camble (sic) was born in 1877 and named after his grandfather. Next year a second son was born and named Robert Wilson (Bob) after his maternal grandfather. A daughter Agnes Wilhimena (sic) was born in 1881 but died five months later from acute dysentry. Another son, William Hendry, named after his father, was born in 1882 but died two months later of tuberculosis. Georgina died in 1884 also of tuberculosis, aged 27; her surviving sons were aged 6 and 4.
(At this point in telling the story I experienced writers’ block; I was affected by what I had written and could not continue without giving the situation at Meadowbank more thought.)
The homestead would not have been much more than a glorified pioneer’s hut, probably with an earthen floor tamped down hard, few windows, and vertical slab walls, with additions to cope with an increasing family. (My cousin, the late Neil Black, once pointed out to me that the vertical slab walls of the cowshed/dairy on his farm “Brooklands” on the Ancona Road were from the old Pollock farmhouse on “Meadowbank”.) The family remaining after Georgina’s death would have comprised grandfather John, aged 56, grandmother Mag or Maggie (57), father Will (36), and the boys Jack (7) and Bob (5 or 6). Having been mother to an only child, it was likely that Mag/Maggie did not cope well with the care of her two young grandsons.
It is not surprising that Will (38) was remarried in 1887 at St Pauls, Yarck, to Mary Anne (28), daughter of William and Margaret McGuigan from Kanumbra. (You’ve not heard of the McGuigans of Kanumbra? You’ve not been reading my recent posts on Who Were They.) Their first child, Lily Florence (Mrs R.S.Black), was born at Bonnie Doon in April 1888. Will Pollock and his wife proved to be more fecund than his parents had been; in quick succession other children arrived: Margaret (Mag/Maggie, Mrs Percy Mewett) in 1889, Alice (Mrs Angus Boyd) 1891, Mary Ann (Mrs George Maclean) 1892, David Hendry 1894, Marion 1895, and Martha (Mrs Robert Brace) 1897.
John Pollock died in May 1897, aged 69, of asthma and heart disease, when there were 12 or 13 occupants in the farmhouse at Meadowbank: two grandparents (counting John), two parents, sons Jack and Bob, five or six daughters and three-year-old Dave. And the threat of killer-disease tuberculosis had been kept at bay!
Six years later, Jack was married to Dorothea Mary Prowd, aged 20, who also had been born in Bonnie Doon; it is not clear in my records if Jack took his bride back to Meadowbank to live. Sadly, Dorothea died in 1905 from heart disease, she was just 22 years old. Jack never married again. But I have told Jack’s story in another post.
After grandfather Pollock’s death in 1897, Will the son accumulated more land: Lot 37A of 67.94 hectares (168 acres) in 1904, Lots 36C and 37C of 78.93 hectares combined (195 acres) in 1905. In 1904 Lot 18A of 265 acres was selected at Dry Creek in Mrs Mary Anne Pollock’s name with the intention of passing it on to her son, David. It is still in the extended family
at the date of writing this post (2013) but I’ll leave that story for another post.
It is now thought that the total acreage at Meadowbank at the time of Will’s death in 1928 was about 284 hectares (702 acres). Within a few years the land had been sold and Jack Pollock, calling himself a retired grazier, was gambling the proceeds away before his untimely death at the Doutta Galla Hotel in Flemington. But that also is another story as told in my blog “Family History – Uncle Jack” posted in June 2011 (see Archives in right-hand column).
Browsing through copies of the registered births, deaths and marriages of my mother’s family, the Pollocks, it became obvious to me that the location of their property, Meadowbank Farm, was variously described in these documents.
The deaths of John Pollock in 1897, of Margaret Pollock, his widow, in 1908, and William Pollock, his son, in 1928 were described as having occurred at Woodfield. The birth of Jack Pollock in 1877, and both the birth of Agnes in 1880 and her death in 1881 were recorded as having occurred at Brankeet. In 1887 William gave the “usual residence” on his marriage certificate as Doon, in 1889 my mother Margaret was said to have been born in Doon, and in 1942 my grandmother, Mary Anne Pollock died, not on the farm, but in the actual town of Bonnie Doon where she resided in Church Street. The township of Doon was renamed Bonnie Doon in 1891 because of confusion with Dooen, also in Victoria.
I had planned to walk the railtrail from Woodfield to Bonnie Doon but was reluctant to call this posting (as I had done in the previous posting about McGuigan country) Walking Pollock Country because the Pollock farm had a frontage of just one kilometre and I would be walking also in what had been Evans, Stanley, Shaw, Prowd and Almond country. So Woodfield – Brankeet – Doon it is!
I set off walking from the remnants of the station and stockyards at Woodfield. I remember well holidaying more than 70 years ago with my cousins, the Black family, who lived at “Brooklands” on the Ancona Road up from Woodfield. From there, at night we had watched the glow in the southern sky from the disastrous Rubicon fires.
As I traipsed along with the Brankeet Arm of Lake Eildon to my left (it was called the Bonnie Doon Backwater years ago and was Brankeet Creek before the flooding of the lake) together with those treeless green hills above it, I watched the landscape to my right for signs of the old Pollock farm which had been subdivided into farmlets in the 1970s. At one point I saw an old gateway leading to an avenue of ancient pines/cypress. This is what I was looking for and would investigate in the next day or two. I pressed on where the railtrail took me around the back of the former Almond farm. Coming into Bonnie Doon I paused to look at the mound which once had been the platform of the railway station opposite where the Community Centre (once a school) is now situated.
On an impulse I walked up to the Soldiers’ memorial and read the inscription naming Lance-Corporal D.H.Pollock, my Uncle Dave, who served with the 1st A.I.F. in France. A shower of rain sent me scurrying into the nearby bus shelter where I ate my lunch. I resumed the railtrail walk around the lake and on to the rail bridge and after the 8 kilometre hike dropped into the Bonnie Doon Hotel to complete my heritage walk. Heritage is not quite the right word because the town and railway line that I remember are now well and truly under water. The site of the house where my grandmother lived and died is still above water and is now occupied by a modern “weekender”. Further back along Church Street the three church buildings still stand. The Pollock family, being of Scottish descent, attended the Presbyterian church there; Granny Pollock was born at Govan near Glascow in the 1820s and her son, William Hendry Pollock was born there in 1847.