Family Heirlooms – Keeping the Story with the Item

Trash or Treasure?  Without the story it's hard to know.

Trash or Treasure? Without the story it’s hard to know.

In my family, irreplaceable family objects are still being lost with each year that passes, though the rate has slowed I hope. My recent road trip showed me how much has vanished in the last fifteen years. This is very much on my mind and after talking to neighbours I have realised it’s an all too common story.

I have also discovered that I am solely responsible for the survival of a few objects.  This is encouraging and has given me a strategy for saving more.  The trick is for each object to have its own story.

Ten years ago I became a member of a historical society which ran a museum.  The museum underwent a process of accreditation while I was there and I learned a huge amount from it.

It was a challenging process for some of our members who had done things the same way for several decades, and couldn’t believe their way was less than ideal. It was challenging simply to relinquish control and allow the self-important Sydney upstarts to lay down the rules.  Little country towns are like this.

The accreditation ran through every fascinating aspect of museum life, but the one which is of use here is the part about deciding which exhibits to keep and display. A lot of the process also applies to family heirlooms.

Small town museums are popular repositories for unwanted household items.  Not so much in the last twenty years as antiques have become more valuable, but it still happens.  Someone downsizes and into the local museum they go with their carton of things – teapots, picture frames, old irons, butter trays, perhaps a brown newspaper or two from the 1950s, a small collection of books.  “They belonged to my father.”  They’ll say.  “He’s passed away now, and we don’t need them, but he was the first schoolteacher at the new school, you know, and it would be a shame to send them to the tip.”

A museum is a building of finite size.  If it takes every single item at face value, there’ll soon be no room to move.  The museum staff need a uniform method to pick the items of use to them from the items which are not of use.  Otherwise, at some point there’ll be a fire, or an infestation of silverfish, or just a mammoth cleanout by new management, and everything will be lost.

Our homes are equally finite. Too much stuff and one day someone will send it all to the tip.  They won’t see a collection of interesting objects.  They’ll see wall to wall writhing dirty rubbish.  I have never managed this viewpoint myself, but I’ve become aware that at least half my family do, and will act swiftly and irrevocably.

I was very excited to find a tin full of cards dating back to the 1960s at an 80 year old aunt's house recently, and was even more pleased when she said I could have it.  But they are not even cards for our family!  It turns out she bought the tin at a  fleamarket and found it full.

I was very excited to find a tin full of greeting cards dating back to the 1960s at an 80 year old aunt’s house recently, and was even more pleased when she said I could have it. But they are not even cards for our family! It turns out she bought the tin at a fleamarket and found it full.  She had not kept her own cards so decided to keep these instead.

In the 2000’s, we were told as a museum to pick a theme which was relevant to our region and made sense based on our exhibits.  We could be a transport museum, for instance, or an agricultural museum or a culinary museum – but we couldn’t be a folk museum.  The state was overloaded with folk museums which were random and lacked a pulling factor for tourists.  Museums are not storehouses of old things, they are participants in an active tourism trade and have a role in bringing trade to their local area.   Once you know what sort of museum you are, you know what to accept and what to reject.

1916 Padded birthday card.

1916 Padded birthday card given to one of my paternal grandmother’s sisters.

In a way, a family has the same task. Of course our theme is clear: what we keep is what pertains to the family. Just like a museum, most families are not simply storehouses of old things.  The average non-genealogist will have some objective or objectives in mind when keeping family heirlooms. Perhaps to remember and respect their forbears, or to remind the family of its place in society, or maintain a link with a geographically distant culture.  No need to be too clinical about this.  Anyone who is thinking about their family history already doesn’t need to spell out the reason, but we do have a role to play in anticipating the more sceptical.  In a lot of families there are sentimental dreamers and the more prosaic doers.  Clearing out an old house is usually the task of a doer.  They need to be well versed in what has value and ought to be kept even if no longer usable or needed.

The next thing we were told in the museum, was that an object, however old, however interesting, is really of no historic merit without its story.  I tend to push this point in my blog entries because it makes so much sense to me.  This is of exceptional importance when considering our family heirlooms.  Some of us have an innate sense which tells us that this object is part of us and no reason is required.  I love people like that.  But many many people, who at some point will be faced with the decision to keep or throw, need a very compelling argument to keep.

Chair, for illustrative purposes only.  I don't know the story of this chair.

Chair, for illustrative purposes only.

Now, being able to say “That chair belonged to my grandmother’ is in fact a story.  That’s all you really need for someone else to attach that value to that item in their own mind.  They’ll remember that it was Grandma’s chair and think twice before throwing it away.

What about “That chair was a wedding gift to Grandma, made for her by her father who emigrated to Australia in 1875.  It is a replica of the dining chairs his parents had in their home in Somerset. He even made the nails himself.”

With a story like that, the chair is even safer in the family.  If there is a photograph of the chair with the grandmother or great grandfather, it is probably guaranteed to be passed down to someone who appreciates it.

Documentation makes a great difference as it proves a story, a fact well understood by genealogists. It holds equally true for family heirlooms.  If you have a family heirloom, it’s worth taking a photograph of it with a family member.  It helps to confirm its place with the family, it might keep that item from the tip in another fifty years time.  You might not have a photograph with the original member, but young Lucy sitting on her Grandma’s chair in 2014 will still be a very valuable family item to Lucy’s own grandchildren, one which bridges the gap of eight generations if the full story is known – from the family in Somerset to Lucy’s grandchild viewing the photograph.

This is where a family differs from a museum.  We can – personally I think we should – add our generation’s chapter to the story of each item.  Its importance and its interest grows with each new event.

Family Tree Files - A good place to store a list of family heirlooms and their stories

Family Tree Files – A good place to store a list of family heirlooms and their stories

How we ensure the story passes along with the object is trickier.  A book about the family helps.  The story could be written on the back of a photograph, placed in a photo album, written into a will, explained in a family newsletter, entered into a family tree accessible to all which continues to be accessible after the tree’s creator has passed on.   We could simply tell the story so many times that it is never forgotten.

How it’s done doesn’t matter, just so that when an old house is to be emptied of stuff, there’s someone to say “Make sure you don’t throw out Grandma’s chair.  I’ll take it if no one else wants it”.

If this happens, the job has been done well.

Finding the Family Heirlooms – Recognising What We Have

Family Bible - one type of family heirloom

Family Bible – one type of family heirloom. First entry is in 1848.

A family heirloom is a wonderful thing for a family.  It provides a sense of long-term establishment, being a link to previous connected generations.  Often it becomes an object of value, an antique in its own right. Every family historian dreams of locating an heirloom because of all it tells us about our ancestors and their generation.

Very few heirlooms have survived the 20th Century in my family.  In fact, the hardest time has been the second half of the 20th century.  We truly did become a throwaway society and this is still the case.

I can easily see how families end up with no relics from their past.  For a start, there are the more devastating events such as natural disasters and war.  A few of our family relics went up in bushfires.  Some families have to flee their home and leave everything behind.  It happens and is entirely beyond their control.

Then there are severed families.  Orphans and step-children rarely have any clues about the non-present parent.  We have a lot of this in my family too.  In one line, I have Annie McLeod an orphan who emigrated to Australia, Herbert Dunstall her son who became an orphan at age fourteen, Kenneth Dunstall his son who lost his father at age seven, and his daughter my mother who was raised in a foster home without knowledge of her paternal family.  How could any trace of Annie McLeod have come down to us?  It didn’t, except luckily in the DNA which has enabled me to piece together her life.

My family’s history is full of such events.  Transported convicts, early deaths, alcoholism, cancer, post-partum haemorrhage and war trauma, all resulting in the temporary or sometimes permanent fracturing of the family unit.  I expect this holds true for every family.  The closer, stronger family units manage to overcome the obstacle and carry on united.  The less supported family caves under the pressure.

Chest used by Thomas and Elizabeth Maitland to bring their belongings from England to Australia in 1908. It was probably an old item then belonging to the parent of one of them.

Chest used by Thomas and Elizabeth Maitland to bring their belongings from England to Australia in 1906. It was an old item then belonging to the parent of one of them.

The other event which poses danger to a family heirloom is the long, slow onslaught of poverty and illness.  This is where most of our family items have been lost.  We have houses in our family where an elderly member lived alone and often unvisited for a long period.  In later years their health was failing and along with it their ability to perform maintenance and housework tasks.  Eventually, they were removed into a nursing home or hospital and their house was either closed up or rented out.  Each has proven disastrous for the relics.

In my last post I mentioned the house which is falling into ruin.  It’s not the only one, even in my family.  There is a lot of space in country Australia and house values only began increasing in the last couple of decades.  It has long been a common practice for an elderly couple to reside in their original house and for an adult child to build a new house on the property.  In time, the old house is abandoned, sometimes full of furniture which will be got to ‘one day’.  Often, no one notices the slow decay because they are with it all the time.  It takes an infrequent visitor to spot the changes.  After a while, the items are considered beyond salvaging.

We have also had a situation where a house full of important family items was rented furnished to a group of young persons who in a wild party destroyed everything.  My family is awfully trusting.  Trusting others worked for them in the past, but lately it has had disastrous results.

What chance does an heirloom have if it is buried deep in a roomful of junk which is about to be cleaned out by someone with no interest in family history or in history of any kind?  Someone only distantly connected to a family, perhaps, who may even be a little resentful that the job has fallen to them.  Or even worse, someone who has longed for years to show this branch of the family how they should be living?

The reason so many families lose their heirlooms

The reason so many families lose their heirlooms

This post is something of a call to arms.  Everyone cares about family heirlooms and everyone loves the medals in a box, the family bible kept in a special desk, the beautifully polished dining table which belonged to Grandma and Great Grandma before that.  They are a symbol of unity and belonging and longevity. But what happens to an heirloom after fifty years of isolation and family illness?  How do you recognise it amongst surrounding clutter?  Only a family historian can do this.

Crista Cowan, who has a series of Youtube videos for under the title ‘The Barefoot Genealogist’, suggested that there is a family historian in every family.  It’s a lovely idea.  Some families may have two or three.  It’s definitely fun to collect family stories, confirm them via primary sources, and identify all our distant cousins. But to my mind, there is some responsibility along with the fun.  If the stories have been forgotten, how will we recognise the artifacts which belong to those stories?  If we have uncovered a detail from the past, and we have located an item which belongs to that event, surely it is down to us to ensure that item is recognised for what it is?

The picture above is from one of our family’s unoccupied and decaying houses.  I hesitated before posting it because it feels somehow dishonest to the family members who lived here, even though they are now deceased and the worst of the clutter has come after that, in using the house as a storage area.  But really, my hesitation is a good example of part of the issue.  Clearing out a deceased person’s house should be a family affair, but who wants to call in the family to show everyone that their revered progenitor was living like this?  Better, we think, to quietly clean it out, remove the evidence of dysfunction.

I’d like to make clear that this is NORMAL.  Horribly, sadly so, but absolutely normal.  I used to work in aged care.  I used to do home visits and make recommendations that elderly persons be reassessed for possible higher level care.  We bury the evidence thinking the decay is unnaturally bad, but we are burying our heritage with it.

Our heritage is very important, but often we only realise this once we have lost it.

Our heritage is very important, but often we only realise this once we have lost it.  Photographs covered by cobwebs on a mantle piece in an empty house.

One of the empty family houses which I have recently checked is in a small town some 400km from the nearest family member.  A local resident runs his sheep in the grounds to keep the grass down (and the garden beds too). He tells me he has sheep at three other houses in the same small town, all of them full of stuff, unoccupied and now falling down.  “There’s a piano in one of them.” he told me, “and an antique desk, but the roof is starting to leak over that”.

In that picture of the room above are several objects which I did not even notice while I was there but which I actually know a lot about. I took a high resolution photograph which I have studied since returning home.  The chairs to the left of the bed, for instance.  One was part of the dining set and was taken out of the dining room in the 1980’s when they finally decided to make it a loungeroom, pushing the dining table into the far corner.  The rest of that set is probably under the collapsed roof.  That chair was then placed in my grandparents’ bedroom, and came into this room after their death.  Under the window, with a cardboard carton on it, is a leather suitcase which the family used on their annual jaunt to Sydney to visit relatives, it first came to Mannus in the 1930’s.   I could go on and on.

Boer War medals

Boer War medals pinned to an old suit top in a crowded cupboard.  When the present owner dies, will anyone but me know they are there?

For any of us, the instant reaction on entering a room like this will be a sinking feeling, perhaps a feeling of futility.  I’d like to reassure everyone who is suddenly faced with cleaning out such a house.  It’s the same for many of us.  Your cluttered house is no worse than the others.   There’s a very good chance those valuable relics are still there, safely nestled in the mess.  It really is worth sifting through and you will never have another chance.  Also, if you think something might be significant but you are not sure, don’t just throw it away. Ask the rest of the family first, you never know who might know its story.

You’ll never regret saving your heirlooms.

A Genealogical Road Trip Part Six – The Snowy Mountains

Heading into the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales

Snowy Mountains Range in New South Wales

Running roughly parallel to the eastern coast of Australia, a little bit inland, is a line of mountains known as the Great Dividing Range.  It extends from Victoria right up into Queensland.

The Great Dividing Range is, more accurately, a series of ranges which were discovered one by one and eventually correctly positioned on the map.  In the early days of white settlement, Australia was a difficult place to map.  The terrain was hard and the weather was extreme. The Great Dividing Range was truly a barrier which divided coastal Australia from the inland.   Even in the 1830’s after fifty years of settlement in New South Wales, what lay beyond those mountains was still wild and unseen by many.

The highest mountain in Australia, Mt Kosciuszko, is in the Snowy Mountains, a section of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales.

The farming district of Mannus is also in the Snowy Mountains Range, but further north and close to the forestry town of Tumbarumba.  You can see Mt Kosciuszko from Tumbarumba, but somehow I did not take a picture.  Tumbarumba has an elevation of 592m (1,942 ft) above sea level and I choose to visit in summer, as does my mother.  It snows here in winter and can have very chilly daytime maximums and seriously cold nighttime minimums.

Mannus is about 10km from Tumbarumba.  Like so many rural districts, it once had more of a centre than it does now.  It was the location of a cattle station owned by Robert McMicking/McMeekin/McMeakin who settled in 1856. He seems to have been something of an autocratic man.  He established share farming on his land in the 1890s and my William and Fanny Morey were amongst the share farmers.

The climate must have been a shock to Wiliam and Fanny coming from Bethanga.

Road to Tumbarumba about 20km from the Hume Freeway

Road to Tumbarumba about 20km from the Hume Freeway

As soon as we turned off the Hume Freeway towards Tumbarumba, the surroundings changed from flat open fields to close trees.  The road is a slow uphill all the way, and I can remember doing this trip in my grandfather’s old car in the 1970’s when this leg of the journey took us about two and a half hours if not more.  The road is much better now.

On the road to Tumbarumba Dec 2014

On the road to Tumbarumba Dec 2014

There are still both Moreys and Peards in Mannus – plenty of the former but very few left of the latter.  The current Peard was the only son and has no children. The property will probably pass to one of his married sister’s children.  At least it will be in the family, but sad to see a line die out after 115 years.

William and Fanny Morey’s daughter Stella was my great grandmother.  Stella was born in Bethanga in 1887 and was aged about 12 or 13 when they moved to Mannus.  She was nearly of an age to go out to work.  I don’t know much about her childhood.  She could read and write, but not very well.  She had the sunny disposition which seems to characterize most if not all female descendants of Fanny Morey nee Fox.  Of the nine children in her family, Stella was bang in the middle with four older and four younger siblings. I have no pictures of her in her young days and no good picture at all. She is the lady who is responsible for my family history work, it was her family stories and her interest which got me started when I was ten.

Emily Estelle Peard nee Morey 1887-1984

Emily Estelle Peard nee Morey 1887-1984

The ruins of William and Fanny’s home can still be seen at Mannus, but it is a long way from the road on land now owned by the Mannus Correctional Facility – known thereabouts as ‘The Prison Farm’.  There’s always a chance of a private landowner granting permission to access their land to photograph a ruin, but the chances are pretty slim when it’s a jail.  This picrure was the best I could do.  This is the area.

Remains of William and Fanny Morey's home from the road.

Remains of William and Fanny Morey’s home from the road.

My great grandfather, Burleton Peard, arrived in Mannus in a year unknown but probably somewhere around 1900 also.  Our existing family at Mannus were pondering during my visit on which of them arrived first, but we did not have enough information to deduce it.

Burleton was born in Bowna, New South Wales in 1879, the seventh child in a family of twelve.  His father was an Irish immigrant, listed on the shipping record as a ‘gentleman’.  His mother was the daughter of a family of good name in Somerset, England.  We know that Burleton began working on the family farm at the age of 12, and that he had no choice in this.  His father was a strict man, but a fair man and one who had an understanding of property management.  Burleton’s first visits to Mannus were as a young man when he would ride a pushbike up there for seasonal work, and return to his parent’s property afterwords.

That’s a colossal amount of uphill riding!

My great grandfather Burleton Peard

My great grandfather Burleton Peard

Somewhere up there, Burleton Peard met Stella Morey who was eight years his junior. He and Stella were married at St Jude’s in Tumbarumba in 1908 when Burleton was 29 and Stella was 21 and they lived first at Tallangatta near Bethanga. Their first child, a son, was born here.   Five years later they had moved back to the mountains and were settled on their own land, a thousand acres or so sold off from the original McMeakin property.

Burleton and Stella only had two children, the boy born in Tallangatta and my own grandmother Dulcie.  Both children were born in Mannus in Burleton and Stella’s own house, one Burleton built himself with the help of Stella’s father and brothers.

As a child, I listened to Stella’s stories of her life.  I was ten, and had no idea what to ask about.  She used to drive a sulky with a horse, and she would drive it to the train station to collect goods.  It sounds as if she drove everywhere – into Tumbarumba, down to Wagga Wagga and Henty, to nearby Rosewood,  She was baptised Emily Estelle but she had a cousin of the same age who was also Emily Morey, so she became Stella.

As I write this, the story takes on a new importance. I have not identified a cousin for Stella called Emily.  I have not located marriages at all for two of her Morey uncles.

It was Stella who showed me the family bible, which I have never seen again.  We looked for it this visit without success.

The family property is looking very neglected now, a consequence of the age and infirmity of the current occupant.  Once there were three habitable houses on the place, now there is only one.  But the fences remain along with the remnants of landscaping and early bridges.  They place has charm.

Home of Burleton and Stella Peard

Home of Burleton and Stella Peard

Burleton and Stella – known to us all as Pa and Ma – built their house, planted their orchard and did very well for themselves.  Burleton was an able farmer, his cattle and produce won prizes and his farm thrived. In later years after their death, the house was cannibalized to repair the sheds and other houses.  Not much remains.  On this visit, I did not go in due to the likelihood of snakes.  In other years the area nearby was cleared.

Their son built himself another house on the property in the 1930s.  That house has not been lived in for 15 years and was in a poor state at the time of death of its occupant.  It still holds furniture but nature is taking over.  This house is where I hoped to find the family bible, but did not.  It may be there, buried deep in a cupboard under some blankets or clothing.  I was a visitor and even in an unoccupied house, had no right to go poking into all cupboards.  I asked for permission to look in a few likely drawers but found nothing.

The second house on the property at Mannus. In a sad state of disrepair but still furnished.

The second house on the property at Mannus. In a sad state of disrepair but still furnished.

I did find the Boer War medals, but apparently a cousin had come through and removed some of the photographs only six weeks earlier.  Hopefully she also grabbed the family bible.

I have many memories of this house, and it was sad to see it in its present state.  I remember my sister and I sleeping in the third bedroom, sharing the room with my great grandmother who was living there in her old age.  We slept in a very old high bed which felt miles from the floor, and were horrified to find a chamberpot under our bed for our use, as the house at that time only had an outdoor toilet.

This was the house my mother grew up in, and I have heard her stories too. I know where she did her homework, where she slept, how the dining room was kept in pristine condition and the children were not allowed in it.  I remembered sitting at the kitchen table for meals because in my childhood, the dining room was still not used for family.

Sadly, the ceiling in that room has now given out – only a few weeks ago – and the room’s contents are apparently ruined.  I don’t know this for sure as I could not obtain permission to undo the barricade and poke my head inside.  I have some fear that at this point, some of the room’s contents might be salvagable and even precious, but I was always the optimist.

The third house on the property is smaller and currently occupied, so will not be posting a photograph.

In my next blog post, I’ll cover the relics.

A Genealogical Road Trip Part Five – Bethanga

The hills of the Bethanga region through a rain-splattered windscreen

The hills of the Bethanga region through a rain-splattered windscreen

In the past, I have blogged about my Great Great Grandparents William Morey and Frances Fox.  William was born in 1851 in the Black Ranges of Victoria in the goldfields district and his parents came from Dorset in England.  At the time of his marriage, he was a bullock driver.

Frances (Fanny) Fox was an orphan who spent her early years in Hanwell Orphanage in London before emigrating alone to Australia at the age of 13 to become a domestic servant.  She arrived in Melbourne in 1871.

On New Years Day 1876, gold of high quality was discovered in a region known as Bethanga, an area east of Albury in very hilly terrain. This was all it took to bring a large population to a town.  Within a few months land had been claimed, leased or purchased.  Houses were built, shops were begun and a smelting works opened up in 1878.  The town had gone from nothing to bustling in just a few years.

There was a great deal of excitement and a sense of progress in the starting of a mining town, especially a gold mining town.  Optimism was high, the spirit of adventure was equally high.  Enterprising businessmen could make a fortune by inflating the price of goods and transport, until more businessmen came in to create competition.  There seems to have been an almost addictive sense of infallibility which kept families on the move, travelling from one new town to another.

With all the startup came the need for services such as domestic servants, and this is what brought Fanny Fox in about 1877 or 1878.  Now aged about nineteen, she met William the bullock driver and they obviously got along very well.  They were married in Albury in 1879 and settled in Bethanga.

The township of Bethanga from the western approach Dec 2014

The township of Bethanga from the western approach Dec 2014

What I never knew until this journey was that my grandfather Ken Dunstall was living in Bethanga at the time that he met his second wife in 1949.  A widower with three children at home, he was a Rawleigh man – a travelling salesperson with a franchise to sell Rawleigh products.  Due to the nature of his job, he required someone to care for the children in his absences and employed a local girl who had recently left her position in nearby Wodonga and returned to her parents at Bethanga.  A few years later, the girl became his second wife and a much loved family member.

Having two ties to Bethanga, it was suddenly high on my list of places to see, and was conveniently on the road from Wangaratta to Mannus in the Snowy Mountains.  So of course we went there.

On the road to Bethanga

On the road to Bethanga

As had happened so much before, there was little signage for Bethanga, but Bethanga Bridge was a good clue.  In the past, those who lived there had to traverse a very steep terrain and took extra miles to reach a place they knew was just over the hill.  The road now was much more direct, thanks to a most spectacular bridge across the Hume Dam.

Bethanga Bridge over the Hume Dam

Bethanga Bridge over the Hume Dam

A most spectacular bridge to cross

A most spectacular bridge to cross

We enjoyed Bethanga.  It was a very sleepy little town with a general store and a hotel with souvenirs and a cafe.  There was a memorial hall, a school and a post office.  Lots of old houses nestled amongst old trees and looking very picturesque.  Very quiet.  I could easily imagine that it looked very similar in earlier decades.

On an information board were pictures of bullock teams and their drivers, so my William Morey was not the only one.  Looking around at the very steep hills, I realised just how dangerous a job that was, and how skilled one would need to be to handle a bullock team on such slopes.

Cemetery at Bethanga

Cemetery at Bethanga

We had a bit of trouble locating the cemetery but the elderly gentleman in the General Store was very helpful.  It was exactly where he said, but we’d never have found it without directions.  We looked at every grave but did not see one with a family name.  This was not so unexpected, only one of William and Fanny’s children died young.  This was a healthy place for the Morey family.  They moved in 1898 to Mannus near Tumbarumba where they became employees of Mr McMeakin who had a large cattle station at Mannus.

It was wonderful to see Bethanga at last, but with time getting away and no trace to be found of any of the families involved, we continued our journey, back to Albury and on up the Hume Highway into New South Wales.

View of Hume Dam from Bethanga Cemetery Dec 2014

View of Hume Dam from Bethanga Cemetery Dec 2014

Early Life of Kenneth Norman Guy Dunstall 1900-1991

Kenneth Dunstall aged about 13

Kenneth Dunstall aged about 13

Kenneth Norman Guy Dunstall was born in Boulder, Western Australia in 1900.  His parents were Herbert Dunstall and Alice nee Head and they lived at Lake Darlot in the Western Australian Goldfields.

The township within the district of Lake Darlot, later known as Woodarra, was about 420km north of Boulder.  I have not discovered when Herbert and Alice first moved there.  Herbert was only ten when his father died in Warooka, South Australia, and he was fourteen when his mother died.  The family story has it that the children went to the goldfields after their parents died, so possibly he was out there as early as 1887.

Gold was discovered in the district of Lake Darlot in the 1890s and undoubtedly this is what drew Herbert to the area.  There was the usual rush of men seeking to stake their claims but by 1895 newcomers found they were too late.

“Unfavourable reports are being received from Lake Darlot. A party of men who have returned state that the alluvial workings are insufficient to keep many men going. The country looks good but it is patchy and scattered. “

(“LAKE DARLOT FIND.” Southern Times (Bunbury, WA : 1888 – 1916) 6 Jun 1895: 3. Web. 16 Dec 2014 <>.)

“There are 2,000 alluvial men on the ground, a good many of them with machines, but they do not make on an average more than three penny weights a day, although some of them, of course, do a lot better. Mr Gregory (local property owner) ‘would warn alluvial seekers not to go to the field at present, on account of the great number already there.

Waggons are of little assistance in travelling, the best means of locomotion being by camels or pack horses. There is splendid grass on the banks of all creeks on the road to the field, and the country is very auriferous.

Kangaroos, emus, ducks and turkeys are to be seen in the vicinity. The best road to the field is through the 90-Mile, past the 16-Mile condensers, by a well-beaten path, thence a few points east of north, passing Sandy Creek rocks, Granite rocks, Doyle’s well (Fermanent), and Wilson’s creek.

 Lake Darlot is a fair town, having four or five stores, a baker’s shop, and an auctioneer, Mr Mulally, who does a good business.  The Afghans charge a high figure for the carriage of stores; as much as £80 per ton being asked at one time, and it is high time that the Europeans who have camel teams on the road made them reduce the figure. The road is better than that from Southern Cross, and there is no reason why the rate should be so high.”

“Lake Darlot News.” Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA : 1894 – 1896) 27 Jun 1895: 4. Web. 16 Dec 2014 <>.

So if the rush was over by 1895, why did Herbert and Alice go there?  For Alice, I now think I can guess the answer.  From my investigating and questioning this week, I learned that Alice was a very able businesswoman.  She and her sister came out as single girls in 1896 from Richmond, Surrey to be domestic servants.  Alice was aged 20 and the change from urban British Richmond to outback Western Australia was very extreme.  Alice found work in Boulder in a boarding house, and it must have become apparent to her that there was money to be made in such an enterprise.  I don’t know if she placed much faith in the results of mining, but she certainly noticed that any goldfield would bring travellers who required accommodation. She and Herbert Dunstall married in 1899 in Boulder City, Western Australia.

News has just come … from a friend who is on a trip to Lake Darlot. He states that 22 camels and 34 men Ieft Coolgardie on 16th April, arriving there on the 10th May. Carriage of provisions  cost 3 pounds 15 shillings per cwt. There was a dry stage of 90 miles to travel, water being bought from the camel driver at 1 shilling per gallon. Thirty miles from the field the party was delayed two days on account of the rain. On arriving at the field men came running to meet them, asking if they bad provisions for sale, as the camp was nearly starved out.

Many men were met coming back, and gave such a bad account cf the field that some of those going up went back almost immediately.

It is simple madness, continues the writer, for any one to go to Lake Darlot, and he asks that his letter should be made use of so as to discourage anyone if he feels inclined to go to the field.

“LAKE DARLOT.” Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) 28 Jun 1895: 8. Web. 16 Dec 2014 <>.

There were so many of these settlements in this time period, where gold was discovered and the town came rapidly into existence.  Some, like Bendigo, were able to support the intake and boomed.  Others failed miserably in the first few years. In 1895, the little town/camp of Darlot with its four or five stores looked to be a failure. Then it bounced back in a moderate way in 1897.

Mr Christy and party, owners of the Saint George mine, at Lake Darlot, report having just struck a rich lode. Over 50oz of gold has been dollied during the last two days.

“MINING AT LAKE DARLOT.” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 9 Mar 1897: 3. Web. 16 Dec 2014 <>

This event came soon enough to restore interest in the little town, but not much else had happened by the time of Kenneth’s birth in 1900.  Herbert and Alice took their baby son and headed off – on camel back maybe? They purchased a mine and leased the Ballangarry Hotel in Lake Darlot.  Herbert worked the mine, Alice ran the Hotel, which in the Australian style was more of a boarding house which provided meals and drinks.

Initially, Alice was one of only four white women in the town but after a year or so the number was up to 25.  I learned on this trip that she used to keep a shotgun beside her while she did her washing.  It takes a great deal of courage to live under such circumstances.

By 1902,the town was coming along nicely:

A coach carrying mails connects us with Lawlers, arriving here on Saturday and returning on Monday of each week. A weekly conveyance also connects us with the head of the railway at Leonora. This is a great help to our district, as both passengers and luggage reach us much quicker than by the other route.

The Ballangarry Hotel, kept by Mr and Mrs Dunstall, is substantially built and conducted in an up-to-date manner. The daily requirements of our district are supplied by Mr John Dillon, who has just completed the erection of a large grocery and drapery establishment … and by the new bakery establishment of Mr Stephenson, while fresh meat is supplied by the firm of Messrs Gilmore and Pearce.

I will here state that the population of Darlot and district is estimated at 200 adults, inclusive of about 25 ladies ….

Kalgoorlie Miner 29 Oct 1902 From a Corresondent

The town was growing. I have learned that Ken played with aboriginal children from whom he learned a great deal.  We know he learned how to travel in the heat and what you could safely eat and what you couldn’t.  He told one of his children that sometimes at night they could hear corroborees in the hills and that it was one of the most haunting and emotive sounds he had ever heard.  I learned that Ken would never allow a harsh word against aborigines and had a great deal of trust in them.

One mile south-east of the town is the Ballengarry lease, 12 acres. Several shafts have been sunk, all to water level. One is 110 feet; water level is 60 feet. From 1,732 tons crushed 889 ounces of gold were produced. Four men are employed, and they are stoping out stone. Messrs Smith and Dunstall, the holders, surrendered a portion of the surface for the State battery.

In 1907, when Ken was seven years old, his father was killed in a mining accident.  Alice continued to run a boarding house at Lake Darlot and married her second husband, an engineer called Percy Bisset, a year later when Ken was eight. Although she had remarried in 1908, Alice’s only child with her second husband was born in 1912.

Ken was sent to Scots College (Scotch College) in Perth, Western Australia for his high school years.

His stepfather wanted him to become a jeweller, but Ken had his heart set on mining, like his father before him.  We don’t know the full story here, but we do know that Percy Bisset was a rather strict man and perhaps he refused to countenance Ken’s desire.  He had a point, as the head of the Leonora State Battery he must have seen more miners go bust than succeed, or end up crippled by accidents.

When Ken finished school he returned to Leonora or Lake Darlot, and joined the Goldfields Army Reserves in August 1918. He was accepted but the end of the war came before he began training.

He told his children stories of walking for miles, but there is nothing concrete. He walked for eighty miles to see a girl he liked and found her with someone else.  He found a loaf of bread on Christmas Day in a bush while tramping a long distance, after not having eaten for over 24 hours (one version is he found Christmas Pudding).  Another story is that he walked to Perth, then took a job on a steamer to reach the Eastern states.  However, there is some evidence that the story is muddled.

Passenger reports show him returning to Fremantle from Darwin by the steamer Bambra, as a passenger in 1926.  It is possible that he worked his way up.  When this was or what he did in Darwin is not yet known.

In 1928, Ken is found in another passenger list, heading by train from Perth to Kalgoorlie, probably on his way to Leonora.

In 1929 Ken is near Geraldton applying for a license to run a mine called Retaliation.

In 1934, I have found him as a passenger on the Great Western Express travelling overland from Perth to the eastern states.

The family has a story about him being in Sydney, as a companion (business or otherwise?) to a lady who ran a boarding house.  The story is that her boarding house was in the area which a few years later became King’s Cross.

In 1935, Ken called for tenders to build a house at Mannus, New South Wales – the family home of his future wife Dulcie Peard.

My grandparents Kenneth Dunstall (died 1991) and Dulcie Peard (died 1948)  at their wedding in 1936.  The couple who I hope to 'get to know during this expedition.

My grandparents Kenneth Dunstall (died 1991) and Dulcie Peard (died 1948) at their wedding in 1936. The couple who I hope to ‘get to know during this expedition.

In 1936 Ken and Dulcie were married, but they did not settle in Mannus.  Instead, they moved to Melbourne.

The more recent years involve too many living people for me to easily blog about it, but there are still many mysteries to be uncovered.  He seems to have tried a great many enterprises, few of which succeeded for reasons beyond his control, but perhaps there are more facts than we have uncovered.  He was a somewhat religious man, a very responsible father and husband who tried to instil his values in his family.  He was in his sixties when his younger children were born, so their generation was quite different to his.  He managed to purchase his own home with some acres attached. He managed to support a very large family and keep them all healthy.

He is remembered very fondly by them all and I learned a great deal from their obvious respect for him.

Photos are few and far between.  The search continues.

Ken aged about 85 years in his house at Watchem.

Ken aged about 85 years in his house at Watchem.

One last thing that I learned – Ken’s final home was the small town of Watchem, and he was buried at Burchip in rural Victoria.  These towns were very close to Donald which I drove through on my way to Wangaratta.  I’d come within 50km of his grave and didn’t know!

So of course, I altered my route home to take me through those towns.

Ken Dunstall's grave at Birchip

Ken Dunstall’s grave at Birchip

The grave from a little further away.

The grave from a little further away.

Meeting the Family

Welcome to Wangaratta

Welcome to Wangaratta

In many ways, I found my tribe when I met my family in Wangaratta.

This was quite unexpected.  I’ve met some of them before, admittedly as a child on my best behaviour under the eagle eye of my mother.  I guess I assumed I knew them all, despite having only met a couple of them.

The first thing that struck me was the family resemblance.  They look like my mother. No one ever looks like my mother, but all of these people did. One of my mother’s sisters looks so much like her that I was continually glancing at her.  Although her appearance was strikingly similar, she was far more outgoing than my mother is.

And they write!  This was a big one for me.  I have been a writer since about the age of seven.  Writing helps me think, helps me relax, helps me daydream and find solutions and understand the world.  My mother writes letters, but beyond that there are no other writers in the family I grew up with, and at times my writing time was forcibly curtailed to get me out of doors and participating in local sports.  Not my scene at all, but the world I lived in.  Writing for me has always been surreptitious, something I couldn’t stop but knew was an aberration.

In Wangaratta, I was amongst a group of people who treated writing as part of life.  One of my aunts, it turns out, is a published author.  One of my cousins is another.  They write in very different genres but the love of written expression is the same.  Those who do not write complete books write newsletters, diaries and pamphlets for their workplaces and hobby groups.   These people were word people.  The family is not highly educated, many of them working in manual labour or industrial jobs, but they are thinkers and perceivers.   One of my cousins, now aged nineteen, and my own son, are the first in the family to go to university.   Education was another strong area of interest in the family and we discussed different education systems in some depth, all of us knowing a great deal of background.

When researching a family tree I often do see interests which are passed down the generations, but I have always assumed they were interests encouraged by the older family members.  My own mother was raised as a foster child without knowledge of this family, and she certainly did not know about their love of writing.  So how is that I have it too?  My grandfather’s desire to be a journalist came back to me this week with more meaning. Even by just meeting the family, I had gained a new clue about him.

Despite all this, what I learned about my grandfather was that he was something of a mystery to all of them. He will be the subject of my next blog post.

A Genealogical Road Trip Part Four – Bendigo to Wangaratta

Leaving Bendigo for Wangaratta

Leaving Bendigo for Wangaratta

My recollection of Wangaratta was a quite large town, with suburbs and traffic lights and a major passenger train station.  Admittedly it had been at least twenty years since I was there, but it had industry and employment and was the centre of its region’s health service.  I fully expected to find it mentioned on road signs from a long way away.

Not so.  Wangaratta is the town that the signwriters forgot.

Leaving Bendigo we had the sign in the above picture, but that was okay.  We were still more than 200 km away and we knew Shepparton was on the road so we headed that way.  The weather was quite cool for summer and we were a little tired from the poor night’s sleep, but fresh enough to enjoy the drive.

Looking for signs to Wangaratta

Looking for signs to Wangaratta

A large storm passed through Shepparton the day before we arrived.  We saw it in front of us near Kaniva, but luckily we stopped for the night and avoided it.  Debris was everywhere along the roadside, in the paddocks and in people’s yards as we neared the small city of Shepparton.  Some quite large trees had come down, but we did not see any worse damage. It was furious but fast, as storms often are in Victoria.

Coming into Shepparton

Coming into Shepparton

Shepparton started out as a cattle station in the 1840s, and was named for it’s first legal owner, Sherbourne Sheppard. It has a long history.  No doubt my ancestors from their early days in Australia have visited the place, but I know of none who lived there.  I remember looking on the map before we left home and noticing that Shepparton was about 100km from Wangaratta, so I definitely expected good signage from here.

We did not enjoy Shepparton.  The traffic was bad, the drivers were very aggressive and honked each other all the time.  In just a few kilometres we saw a road rage incident, two cars run red lights and multiple drivers fail to acknowledge pedestrian crossings.  For a small city, it was very unfriendly.  I was told in the next few days that it has a reputation for it.

Having said that, in the end we found a Woolworths Petrol station which was quite busy but at that moment someone had parked over the exit lane and traffic had blocked up while more cars queued in the entry lane. One attendant was pointing out to the driver that he needed to move and while matters were at a momentary standstill I asked for directions.  They were very helpful and very friendly and directed us towards the road to Benalla.

Finally, coming out of Benalla there it was.  A sign to Wangaratta.

First sign to Wangaratta

First sign to Wangaratta

The last 41 km were relatively smooth with just one wrong turn taking us onto the old Hume Highway instead of the new, but that was no biggie.  We drove into Wangaratta at about 4.30pm and by some miracle found the house we were heading for almost instantly.

Finally – after all that driving – the family history research could begin.

My grandparents Kenneth Dunstall (died 1991) and Dulcie Peard (died 1948)  at their wedding in 1936.  The couple who I hope to 'get to know during this expedition.

My grandparents Kenneth Dunstall (1900- 1991) and Dulcie Peard (1913-1948) at their wedding in 1936. This is the couple who I hope to ‘get to know’ during this expedition.

A Genealogical Road Trip Part Three – Kaniva to Bendigo

Up at the crack of dawn to continue the journey

Up at the crack of dawn to continue the journey

I’m not a camper at heart.  I don’t sleep well on a bedroll or camp stretcher and if there is any other sleeping arrangement, I’ll take it.  However, with ancestors and unknown living relatives almost within reach I’ll go to any lengths.

We woke in heavy dew- the outer bedding was wet, any clothes we hadn’t covered over were wet, the tent was very wet to touch.  We were up at 5AM, as were just about everyone else in the campsite.  I have never seen early morning Kaniva without fog, and I’ve used it as a stopover point for some years now.  It’s a very pretty place.  However, the heaviness of this morning’s dew was unexpected.  We packed up and headed off, taking the M1 to Dimboola then turning north.

About  6.30AM on the M1 between Nhill and Dimboola

About 6.30AM on the M1 between Nhill and Dimboola

I’ve done the journey from Adelaide to Melbourne several times, but we were headed for new territory this time.  Roads I had never driven on!  Always a pleasure.  We stopped briefly in Warracknabeal where no signpost pointed to the town I was seeking, then after phoning another relative who gave directions, we were underway again.

Railway Station at Warracknabeal

Warracknabeal is a town with a history and had several interesting old buildings.

My grandfather Kenneth Dunstall was born in 1900 and died in 1991.  He was born in Boulder, Western Australia and had one half brother, some ten years younger.  He went to boarding school in Perth.  At the age of 36 he married my grandmother in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales and was about 46 when my mother was born, at which time they lived in Melbourne, Victoria.

My grandmother died of cancer when my mother was 18 months old and the children were scattered among different relatives.  My mother was raised by a maternal uncle and aunt who even gave her their surname.  She did not know they were not her birth family until she was an adult, at which time she reunited with her father.  He was then aged about 65 and had remarried and was living in Wangaratta in Victoria.  He had seven children in his second marriage, all of whom were half siblings to my mother whom she had never met.

At the age of about 80, Kenneth Dunstall and his second wife settled in Watchem, Victoria, where they were living at the time of his death in 1991.  His second wife eventually moved back to Wangaratta.

This was it – all I knew about my grandfather.  There were the odd snippit – he believed strongly in education. He had wanted to be a journalist.  He had a variety of odd jobs and always struggled to make ends meet.  He had been a Rawleigh’s salesman at the time that he met my grandmother.  My grandmother’s family did not like him and blamed him – irrationally – for her death.  Those tiny overheard facts which I had filed away but which my mother would not discuss with a child, and now that I am an adult my mother does not remember the details at all.  It has bugged me for a while that I could learn all about the life of someone born in 1800 or 1750, but my own grandfather was such a mystery.  In fact, my whole near maternal family were a mystery!

From Warracknabeal to Donald and on to St Arnaud

From Warracknabeal to Donald and on to St Arnaud

After a proper breakfast at Donald we went through St Arnaud and headed for Bendigo, having no more than five minute stops every so often to stretch our legs.

Not much but driving on this day.

Not much but driving on this day.

There is not much genealogical merit to the first few of my road trip posts, but I very much wished to present – as much as possible in this concise format – just what distances we are dealing with here in Australia.  Our colonist ancestors must have spent a week travelling the distance I can travel in one day, but even with modern roads and a good car, this is a long journey.  It makes me wonder about our concept of our English ancestors.  If the colonists travelled so much, how is it that their English families stayed in the one village for so many centuries?  Where did this wanderlust come from?  Was it always in the ancestors and buried deep?  I would assume so, since it takes a desire to travel, a willingness to uproot and a sense of self-reliance and adventure to decide to emigrate in the first place.

One thing I learned from this journey is that our modern wanderlust is nothing to that of a hundred years ago.  There must have been so many bicycles on the roads and tramping folks back in the days of the depression.  People walked or biked from one end of the country to the other, sleeping rough, going for days without food, through all kinds of weather. It was a very different world to the one we live in today.

This blog post takes me to lunchtime in Bendigo in the state of Victoria, on the second day of our road trip.

The City of Bendigo December 2014

The City of Bendigo December 2014

A Genealogical Road Trip Part Two – Along the Highway

Lost on the edge of Adelaide

Lost on the edge of Adelaide

I have a very poor track record for finding my way through Adelaide.  Although we have lived in South Australia for five years now, I don’t need to travel to the city very often, and when I do I generally drive to Gawler and take the train from there.

Armed only with a five year old street atlas and a 17-year-old with no sense of urgency, I took us fearlessly in amongst the Christmas shoppers and delivery drivers and kept an alert eye out for signage.  The first bit was fine.  I managed the rather daunting Gepps Parade/Main North Rd/Port Wakefield Rd intersection, continued on to Nottage Terrace and even got onto the Ring Rd exactly where I needed to.  Past the city centre and right up to the infamous figure-of-eight roundabout which was signposted for Mt Barker so I handled that well too.

After that I took a wrong turn, at one of the following major intersections which had no signage whatsoever.  I was quite unaware that I had taken a wrong turn because I was on a busy road with two lanes each way, divided just like a highway is, and it headed up the hill in an easterly direction, as expected.  However, at the top of the hill it suddenly narrowed to the point that there was no turning round and no parking possible.  I was going with it wherever it led.

Grapes near Hahndorf on our way back to the highway

Grapes near Hahndorf on our way back to the highway

I was a little stressed at going astray this early in the journey but my son reminded me that we had four hours to travel in eight hours and a full tank of petrol and the scenery was quite stunning, all of which was quite true, so we drove on and found ourselves at the summit of Mt Lofty.  Well worth a visit – but not under our circumstances.  Upon heading further east, I found signs to places which were not on our five year old map and eventually phoned my sister for directions.  She lives in Hobart but jumped on Google Maps and got us to the freeway.  By which time it was 3PM and in the heat of the day, but finally we were headed in the right direction.  I have since learned that most people I know also took a wrong turn heading through Adelaide, which is something of a relief.

Finally on the M1 which would eventually take us into Victoria

Finally on the M1 which would eventually take us into Victoria

There isn’t much to say about this leg of the journey.  I have no ancestors who lived anywhere here, so I don’t know the history very well.   We drove to Tailem Bend, stopped for a break there at about 3.30PM and carried on.  We reached Tintinara about 4.30PM, Keith at about 5.30PM and Bordertown by 6.20PM.  Just after Bordertown we crossed into Victoria and gained a half hour due to the change in time zone.  At the new 6.30PM we pulled into the campsite at Kaniva where we pitched our tent for the night.

In the early days of the colony, most travellers went by boat.  Those who came inland were more often miners and prospectors. I can definitely see why.  It’s long, flat, hot and dusty.  But it’s always fun at this end of a journey.

A Genealogical Road Trip – The Beginning

From our home in rural SA, south through the countryside, into the town of Gawler then further south to the freeway and into Adelaide.

From our home in rural South Australia, south through the countryside, into the town of Gawler then further south to the freeway and into Adelaide.

On the morning of Wednesday 3rd December, my 17 year old son and I packed my little car with tent, bedding, camera, laptop and some personal effects for a long journey.

Road trips must be in the blood for our family.  My parents undertook these expeditions every few years of my life, and I have certainly taken my own children on a few such trips.  I love that preparation stage – car service and check, packing baggage as efficiently as possible, clean and vaccuum the car and bring it as close to ‘new car’ status as possible.  We packed everything very precisely, worked out where in the car was the home for each item and made sure we could quickly access the things we would need the most.  We didn’t need a very early start as we were only travelling 480km on this day, so we set off about 10AM.  We were in the city of Adelaide by 1PM.

As I said in an earlier blog, the early white Australian settlers generally took a while to find their eventual home.  Often their arrival port was the wrong climate, or already crowded, or just not to their liking.  My paternal ancestors in Tasmania had less ground to tramp and/or were convicts with a restricted area, so I find them pretty easily.  On my mother’s side, most if not all of them were free settlers on the vast mainland of Australia, and in those early decades rarely settled for more than five years in one place.

I actually live only 15km from the birthplace of my maternal great grandfather, Herbert Dunstall.  I have written quite a bit about James Dunstall and Annie McLeod, and Herbert was one of their sons.  So practically from my own home I can look around at the scenes they also viewed.  Another of their sons, Kenneth Norman Dunstall, died as a baby in 1871 and was buried at Gawler.  James Dunstall and Annie McLeod were married in Adelaide, and James was born to the south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula.  But there isn’t much left of their presence now.  If I hadn’t looked up the records I’d never have known they were ever there.

After James and Annie Dunstall died of tuberculosis in the 1880s, their surviving children headed for the minefields of Western Australia, as did some of their cousins which I only located through my DNA test.  Herbert, my great grandfather, was one of these.  He married an English girl, Alice Head, in Kalgoorlie and they settled in the very isolated mining district of Lake Darlot. Alice ran a boarding house and Herbert purchased a mine.  They had one son, my grandfather Kenneth.

One day, I’ll get over to see the town.  Wikipedia says it is an ‘abandoned town’ and officially had the name of Woodarra. In the meantime, my intention was to ‘meet’ as closely as possible my grandfather Kenneth, who has always been a shadowy and insubstantial figure to me.

Herbert was killed in an accident in his own mine when only in his twenties, when my grandfather was aged 7.  As I set out on this journey, all I knew about Kenneth’s life was that he ended up in the eastern states where he married my grandmother.   My grandfather passed away in 1991 so I am way too late to ask him his life’s story, but one of my objectives on this trip was to deduce as much as I could.

So far – about 150km – so good.