I sat down with Mum and Dad after Esme died, asked questions to see if what I remembered actually did happen.  I took notes.

Mum had to be coaxed a bit but eventually got quite talkative about her father, Grandad Osborne.  She said someone should tell his story because he was such a good man, there was so much more to him than most people saw.  

His family had come to the valley about the same time as Dad's family and the Squires also.  Families who arrived bought a selection, felled trees to clear the land and sold the timber.  My great-grandfather, Noah Jessie and his first wife, Margaret Kelly came from England and their two children were born at Townson - Winnie in 1878 and Tom.   Margaret was kicked by a cow when she was pregnant with a third child and was taken to Laidley, 20 miles away by dray.  There she waited for an hour for a train to take her to Ipswich.  She died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  I can't begin to imagine what an ordeal that must have been.

My father's grandparents (Daniel and Eliza) took in the two little children left without a mother and cared for them until Noah remarried.  He married Kathleen (Kate) Murphy from Purga who had gone to Townson to look after the children.  My Grandfather Ward had also been born at Purga which was an immigrants camp outside Ipswich.  A few years ago I found myself a passenger in a brother's car on our way to Boonah and managed to snap off a shot as we passed a sign that said Purga.  There's nothing there, just open farmland.  I've searched and searched and can find no history of the immigrants camp.

Noah and Kate had a further 8 children, the seventh being my grandfather who we always knew as another Noah Jessie but was in fact Jessie Noah.  Kate was described as Very Irish,  a colourful character, the subject of many stories.  The story Mum repeated that day was the one our grandmother had told us many times, how Kate chased a swaggie down the road with a broom when he said "They should put a bomb under Ireland." (to put an end to "the troubles").   (A swagman was a transient labourer who travelled by foot from farm to farm carrying his belongings in a swag (bedroll). The term originated in Australia in the 19th-century and was later used in New Zealand.)

Another story.  Noah was in the shed sorting potatoes and didn't come home for lunch.  Kate went to investigate and found him yarning with a travelling salesman and drinking either  brandy or rum.  She chased the salesman off with a hayfork with the poor guy shouting, "No, no Mrs Noah."  Noah claimed he didn't know his horse could jump fences till that day.  Although I'm not too sure when the fence jumping happened. 

We grew up hearing of the exploits of the Ashe boys and knew that they were Grandad's nephews.  They were the children of his older sister, Martha who had married a policeman and been posted to Barcaldine.   He was bashed up badly in the line of duty, so badly he could no longer work and, needing constant care, was put in a home.  Martha was left with five young sons.  She went back to Townson with her boys they lived with my grandparents when Mum was a little girl.   Martha eventually got work at Rosalie, in Brisbane, housekeeping at the Marist Christian Brothers College.  Somehow she supported herself and her boys.  There was social security of any sort.  The boys holidayed at my grandparents place, the same as we did as children.  I remember the tale of the boys antics while the adults were attending church services which were held at Mrs Day's house.  They would unhitch the horses from their cars and pinch Mrs Day's lemons.  Probably put up to it by Grandad according to Mum.  

This is a photo of a painting my sister Tricia did of Grandma and Grandad's house.  

Grandad was the father figure to the family and taught the boys how to shoot; they shot possums for pocket money in the late 20s and early 30s.  They earned 12 - 14 pounds a dozen for furs of good colour (blues were considered much superior to reds).  In those days a married man would earn around 8 shillings a day (20 shillings to the pound).  Grandad made enough money from possum shooting to buy his cream truck.  

How do I stay on track and not go off on a tangent about the cream truck?  I'll come back to it another day.

We all loved Grandad's stories when we were kids but, to be honest, I didn't believe a lot of them.  I thought, even way back then, that the truth didn't have to get in the way of  good yarn.  I asked Mum about the 50 dead possums from 51 shots story and yes, she said, it was true.  That was a Grandad and Jim Ashe feat.  With a carbine light (whatever that is).   And she had a good chuckle when she remembered one Christmas when Grandad shot one of Gran's chooks from 150 yards (137m) through the head.  Gran had said for him to have a go, he would miss.  I can imagine her consternation at losing a chook but what could she say?

One of the memories I had to ask my mother about was something that worried me for a long time as a child.  I thought I was a little girl, small enough to be wrapped in my grandmother's skirt to hide my eyes from a fight.   The fight was between Grandad and his brother, Martin and it was about their dwarf brother, Danny.  (I always thought he was a dwarf although Mum said he had fallen from a table as a child and broken his back.)  He had never been sent to school, couldn't read or write.  I was puzzled when he died as he'd had a heart attack while crawling through a barbed wire fence on his way to collect the newspaper.  I can remember thinking he must have liked the comic strips as he couldn't read.  Maybe he had taught himself.  Who knows?  

Anyway, I digress. Mum was startled that I could remember that fight and knew what it was  about, as I'd been so young.  As was the way back then I didn't talk to anyone about what I had seen.  My gran had wrapped her skirt around me, lead me away and soothed me.  But I had been horrified and terrified that my grandad would be hurt.  It was such an ugly scene, heat and dust and men shouting and the danger of my beloved grandad being hurt.  Mum told me it had happened at Great Uncle Danny's clearance sale , so I must have been 8 years old.   In my memory I am a lot younger.    

Grandad and Uncle Danny had 16 acres of land up behind Grandma's brother, Dave's house.  He was such a short man, but stout and strong looking.  I can remember him riding a big horse up the lane to visit and dismounting to a fence post.  But I can't for the life of me remember where he lived.  He was always jovial and remembered the names of us kids.  

Mum said Martin had been a moody bugger, would talk to you one day and not the next. Maybe that was why I always had this idea that Grandad and Martin didn't talk.  Mum told me that day how, during the depression on moonlit nights Grandad would walk the several miles between his home and Martin's and steal fruit from Martin's orchard.  He had lots of fruit trees but didn't share them with anyone, even if people were starving.  Mum said they knew it was stealing but that's what people had to do in those hard times to feed your family. 

I remember being in the cultivation opposite Aunty Maisie and Uncle Trevor's house, with Mum's brothers Uncle George and Uncle Reg.  (Grandad owned the farm and my aunt and uncle farmed it.)  I think they were moving irrigation pipes, a very labour intensive task in those days.  We all had lunch under the trees along the banks of the creek which separated the Turnbull farm from Uncle Martin's.  There was talk about Uncle Martin's watermelons growing on his side of the creek and Grandad decided he and I should get one but we'd better be careful that Uncle Martin didn't catch us as the paddock could be seen from his house.  We crawled on our bellies into the paddock, chose a big watermelon each and turned back towards the creek pushing the watermelons along in front of us with our heads.  Then we heard gun shots.  Whether they were in our direction or not, I don't know but I was convinced they were right above our heads.  Anyway, we sure wiggled fast back to the creek.  But I scored big points with my uncles because I still had my watermelon.  Grandad made me promise not to tell Gran.  But we took the watermelons back to the house and  no doubt he had great fun telling her about it later!

Grandad also had an uncle Martin Murphy.  He and Dad's older brother, Charlie Ward were great mates and had gone off prospecting for gold in Western Australia.  The story is that they got mugged and neither was ever the same again.  A nurse gave Martin the money to get back as far as Sydney and he is said to have walked the rest of the way back to Townson.  That doesn't add up to me, doesn't explain why he reacted so badly to loud noises.  To me it is more likely that he was involved in a mining explosion.  

He got a job in Laidley chopping wood for a cafe stove.  Mum liked that she and Dad were favourites of his.  He would walk from Laidley to Townson (20 miles) to visit the family, always wearing a long overcoat, even when it was "stinking hot".  He wouldn't accept a ride from anyone except Dad.

I only knew him in his old age, he lived till he was 86.  Such a sad life.  He spent the last years of his life in a small hut about 60 - 70 metres from Grandma and Grandad's house.  

I think this first photo was taken just after the hut was built for him.  It had just the one window and one door.  

This photo would have been taken from the back of the house, a little to the left.  When we were at the farm on holidays one of us would be given the job of taking his meals up to him.  He never came to the house while we were there, except for Christmas dinner. Gran would wrap the meal in a tea towel and we would be instructed to place the meal on the step, knock once, then come away.  We were never, never to go inside.  I know I disobeyed this rule because I have distinct memory of the inside of that hut, a single bed with dirty sheets, a tiny table covered in newspaper, a chair.  He had the most beautiful blue eyes and he once gave me threepence which I hid under a rock down by the gully that ran beside the house, too terrified to take it home in case anyone asked where I had got it from.  I checked my hiding place every holidays for years until it disappeared, probably washed away in a flood, and I was relieved that I didn't have to hide it any more.

He had long, white grey hair and a long beard with tobacco stains.  We used to gather corn husks for him which he must have smoked.  

If we made too much noise playing around the barn at the back of the house, Gran would call to us to come away, to not make too much noise near Martin Murphy's hut.  Somehow I discovered that if there was a loud noise, he would come to the door, look out and just roar.  There's no other way to describe the noise he would make.  That would bring Gran running to chase us away.  I'm not sure whether that was to protect us, perhaps she was worried for our sakes.  Or perhaps she worried about him.  

Anyway, I came up with a horrible game.  It required the co-operation of at least two of my siblings.  They would be placed in two positions where they could see the house, in particular the back kitchen window and back door.  Their job was to signal one to the other and then on to me when the coast was clear, when Gran had left the kitchen.   I would then run from behind the barn to behind the hut and, when I had gathered up my courage, throw rocks on to the roof.  Martin Murphy would then oblige, go to the door and roar.  Of course, I would be quite terrified that he would come around the back of the hut and catch me, I was always prepared to run for it if need be.  Being caught by Gran wasn't as terrible a thought as being caught by him.   But he never did. 

My two assistants would then have to cover for me when Gran came out to investigate.  I guess saying I was up the gully would have been acceptable as we spent a lot of time playing up that gully.  

In the early 1990s I went through a period where I had trouble sleeping, with constant dreams of how horrible I had been to Great Uncle Martin Murphy.  I always thought of him (and still do) with his full title. 

 He owned land in Laidley and had a hut on it.  He bequethed it to Grandad who donated it to the council to build the Pioneer's Village.  Mum's cryptic comment was other family members who never looked after him or cared for him in any way also took their share.  I confessed to Mum and Dad that day we had the long, long chat about what I had done and Mum surprised me by saying I was always too curious about people, she put my actions down to curiosity and I guess she was right.  She forgave me a lot quicker than I forgave myself. 



  1. What a colorful family history. Martin sounds complicated, and maybe he wasn't so unhappy in that little house after all. Still flinching from the story of Margaret Kelly. :(


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Before Nudgee