My great-great-great grandfather Henry Steward was one of the 37 percent of inked convicts. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land displaying two of the more common tattoos. His convict description notes “Anchor inside rt arm Crucifix inside left arm”.
Henry Steward was sentenced to 14 years transportation for “stealing a velveteen coat and a pair of trousers” in 1834.
Ancestry.com. UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 9. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ancestry.com.au. [Accessed 23 August 2013].
Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in. That’s what Andy wanted Ern to understand. Ern had never been to war; he had no right to question Andy’s sacrifice.
But Ern wasn’t listening. As the two men split logs for firewood at the Duncan home, Ern held forth on the futility of war. Then he said that Andy had been stupid to enlist.
That was enough for Andy to throw down his axe and raise his fists.
Jane heard the fight from her kitchen and rushed outside to separate the two men. She shouted at her brother Ern to leave and never come back. Ern did just that. He soon left Beaufort and had no further contact with Andy and Jane. He returned to the town years later and lived close by in the next street, but did not even attend Jane’s funeral.
Jane had always been close to her younger brother, and Andy had quickly warmed to him. Rene was like the daughter that Ern and his wife Lucy never had. When Ern was working near Shepparton in Northern Victoria, he had used his railways connections to send the Duncans damaged cans of fruit from the Shepparton Preserving Company. In the first half of the 1940s Andy and Jane had taken at least two trips to visit Ern and Lucy at Toolamba.
Those friendships came to an abrupt end at the woodpile.
Andy’s woodpile was in some ways a symbol of his determination not to let his war injuries get the better of him. When he was not confined to bed he would take to physical activities with a vengeance, as if making up for lost time. The woodpile was exactly the wrong place for Ern to question the worth of Andy’s military service.
What caused Jane to banish her brother? Would she have ordered Ern away if Andy was winning the fight? Perhaps she rounded the corner of the house to see Ern with the upper hand. Perhaps she feared for Andy’s health, and saw Ern sending Andy on another hospital stay.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 22 Sep1944. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 11 Aug 1945. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 25 Aug 1945. State Library of Victoria
Featured Image: Andy and Jane Duncan’s grandson Robert in the Duncan family yard circa 1945. In the background Andy’s woodpile stretches towards the Ararat Road.
Japan’s entry into the Second World War was not a surprise: as 1941 progressed, Australian newspaper reports of the war in Europe were accompanied more and more by commentary on the possibility of war with Japan. But the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Singapore, and the speed with which Singapore had fallen, shocked Australians.
The most momentous happening in Australia’s history took place this week when a declaration of war was made on Japan … The war has been brought right to our doors and a new phase of the world-wide conflict entered upon.
Extract from ‘At War With Japan.’,Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser, 11 December 1941
For the close-knit Stewart and Duncan families in Beaufort, the war in the Pacific had an immediate impact.
Much as her mother had done in 1914, Rene farewelled her husband just weeks after their wedding. On 15 December 1941 Corporal Ron Palmer left Beaufort to commence full-time garrison duty with the Provost Squadron of the 2nd Australian Motor Division. It would have been some comfort to Rene that Ron was stationed initially in Victoria and not deployed overseas.
Allan Duncan Stewart, Jane’s nephew, was captured by the Japanese at Rabaul, New Guinea, on 23 January 1942. Allan served with the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, and was part of the Lark Force garrison that defended Rabaul. He was held as a Prisoner of War at Rabaul, and forced to labour for the Japanese under harsh conditions.
On 22 June 1942 Allan was one of over a thousand Prisoners of War placed on board the Imperial Japanese Navy ship, Montevideo Maru, for transport to Hainan island. On 1 July the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk by the American submarine, Sturgeon. The Montevideo Maru sank in less than fifteen minutes. All Prisoners of War were reported drowned.
It is likely that the Stewarts spent the rest of the war thinking Allan was a Prisoner of War, and waiting for news of his release. Perhaps they used Andy Duncan’s survival as a POW in the First World War to give them hope, but this would have been tempered by newspaper reports of Japanese atrocities after the fall of Rabaul.
Another relation, Raymond Lowe, was killed in action during the Fall of Singapore on 11 February 1942. Almost exactly ten years earlier, Andy Duncan had been a pall-bearer at the funeral of Raymond’s sister, Madge.
1931. In the hot, dry heat of a goldfields summer Andy, Jane and Rene Duncan returned to the Stewart family home in Beaufort.
The 100-mile post marked the edge of Beaufort township. It also marked the middle of the Stewart’s triangular strip of land that stretched from the town limits along the Ararat Road into Eurambeen parish. The Stewart house fronted the highway at the Beaufort end of the triangle.
Did it occur to Andy that his circumstances echoed his father’s, all those years ago in Scotland? John Duncan had married Elizabeth Stewart and they had lived with Elizabeth’s grandmother on “Stewart’s Land” in Newton-on-Ayr. It was where Andy had been born. Now 50 years later and on the other side of the world, Andy was once again on Stewart’s land.
Andy quickly became one of the Stewart family fold. Sadly one of his first duties was to be pall-bearer at the funeral of Jane’s niece, Madge Loo, in February 1932. Madge died at the age of 21. She had been delicate from childhood and death was due to heart trouble, reported the Riponshire Advocate.
Madge’s funeral was carried out by H. Evans & Son of Ballarat. By April 1932 Andy had become the funeral director’s Beaufort representative.
Andy’s health was starting to fail. When the shrapnel pieces in his back moved he would take to bed for days. He slept separately from Jane in his own room, which suggests that while the shrapnel tormented him physically, he endured mental distress as well.
Mental trauma was often accompanied by sleeplessness and dreams which could arouse the household … In some families, the nocturnal anguish of returned soldiers was such that couples chose to sleep in separate beds.
Marina Larsson, Shattered Anzacs, quoted by Christopher Wray in Pozieres: Echoes of a distant battle
Andy was hospitalised at the end of 1932. The newspaper reported his return to Beaufort in February 1933 after several months in the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital.
Andy looked for work less physically demanding than the sexton’s position he had left in Amherst, but his clerical skills were not in high demand. In a town like Beaufort, you had to wait for someone to retire before those kind of jobs opened up.
Jane was able to find work doing laundry for the Beggs family of Eurambeen homestead. Laundry was delivered to the Stewart house once a week. Jane would do the washing by hand in a big copper pot and mangle behind the house. Six rows of washing stretched the entire width of the block. Once the washing was pegged to the line, Jane would insert y-shaped gumtree branches at intervals to lift the line up and keep the clothes off the ground (Blog site A Rebel Hand has a wonderful photo of this kind of wash day).
Jane’s mother died in November 1934, leaving Jane to run the house and stretch the family budget.
Andy re-established his civic and social interests in Beaufort. He joined the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League and became a committee member, representing the men of the town. He became the secretary-librarian of the Beaufort Mechanics’ Institute, and Jane helped with the upkeep of the Mechanics’ Institute hall.
In January 1938 the newspaper announced At the annual meeting of the Beaufort Cemetery Trust, the resignation of Mr. A. Parker as secretary after 30 years of service was received with regret. Andy was appointed to the position, with an annual payment of £20. The money would not go far when the average wage was around £3 a week, but it would help make ends meet.
Then in June 1939 the same Mr. A. Parker resigned as Registrar of Births and Deaths. Andy was first acting Registrar, then appointed to the position.
Jane’s father John Stewart and Andy built an office for Andy’s Registrar duties on the front verandah of the Stewart’s cottage. They cut the logs and split the wood to make the weatherboard sidings. Considering that John Stewart was in his 90s at the time, he must have been in robust health.
Perhaps John Stewart also helped Andy build the shed behind the house. It was a very simple construction: four tree trunks rammed into the ground to form the corners of the shed, then corrugated tin sheeting for the walls and roof. Here Andy kept a trunk with his Anzac memorabilia.
1861 Census for Scotland Parish: Newton on Ayr; ED: 24; Page: 1; Line: 4; Roll: CSSCT1861_82
1875 Duncan, John – Stewart, Elizabeth (Statutory Marriages 612/00 0015)
1939 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5 June, p. 4 Gawler, O,
1934. Victorian Year-Book 1932-33. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: H.J. Green
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, VIC: 1863 – 1994)9 January 1932. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, VIC: 1863 – 1994) 20 February 1932.State Library of Victoria
1939, Victoria Government Gazette, no. 225, 5 July
1939, p. 2498. State Library of Victoria VPRS 16171. Regional Land Office Parish and Township Plans Digitised Reference Set. Eurambeen -1 Parish Plan, Imperial measure 2605. Eurambeen-1(Psh)LOImp2605.pdf. Public Records Office of Victoria
Wray, C., 2015. Pozieres: Echoes of a distant battle. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Cambridge University Press
Featured image: The Stewart family home, Beaufort, 2015. Andy’s Registrar’s office was where the verandah table sits. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.
On her 80th birthday Rene talked about her early childhood to her daughter Marilyn.
Rene’s earliest memories are of living in the sexton’s lodge at the Amherst cemetery. The house’s long corridor was perfect for 5-year-old Rene to run through. An old pine tree carpeted the front yard with pine needles. Rene would collect them and make them into play houses.
Behind the house was the cemetery where her father Andy would dig graves and direct mourners to the grave sites.
The cemetery was not a fearful place to Rene; she didn’t give any thought to ghosts. But the snakes in summer did worry her. She was glad her mother Jane kept a big stick at the back door in readiness for a snake killing.
Rene attended Talbot State School. She regularly walked 40 minutes from home to school.
The Duncans did their grocery shopping at Wildings General Store. Milk was delivered from Talbot by Ken Whittaker in his horse and cart. The milk was in large cans and had to be ladelled into each customer’s own billy (a lightweight tin used for boiling water and cooking on a campfire or open stove). Mr Whittaker would give Rene a lift to school if they met on the road.
Rene could also get a ride to school on Hendrickson’s lumber trucks, which transported large felled trees to the timber yard. The Hendrickson girls attended Talbot school with Rene.
These lifts were welcomed particularly in Spring as Rene was scared of swooping attacks from nesting magpies.
Andy became involved in the school once Rene was enrolled, joining the State School Committee. In 1928 he participated in Anzac Day observance at the school:
Mr A.S. Duncan, returned soldier, gave a resume of events from the 4th August, 1914, to the landing at Gallipoli, the relation of which was naturally interesting … It is worthy to note that Tuesday was the first occasion on which returned soldiers have taken part in these gatherings, namely, Mr A.S. Duncan (an original Anzac), Mr. R.J. Kerdel (air force) and Mr Geo. McWilliam
Talbot Leader newspaper, 28 April 1928
In the school holidays Rene would travel by train to stay with her Uncle Ern and Aunty Lucy Stewart, Jane’s younger brother and his wife. Ern and Lucy lived in the Yarra Ranges, Victoria, some 350 kilometres east of Amherst. Rene remembered a long-since-lost photo of her, standing in the snow at Woods Point on one of her holiday trips.
Ern was a train fireman, later an engine driver, and would arrange to be working a particular train line in order to meet Rene at an interchange station and take her back with him. Lucy was a good seamstress, and Rene often returned from her holiday with a new dress.
The hospital was memorable to Rene – that is where her broken arm was plastered and her tonsils were removed.
Rene broke her arm falling from their house verandah onto white gravel. She was on her way to help the two McKinstry boys bring in their cows.
Doctor Watson visited the lodge to examine Rene’s throat. He’d had to chase her and corner her in the long corridor first. There was the chance that the sore throat was the symptom of an infectious disease – perhaps Jane’s work at the hospital made her more aware of that possibility.
Before her tonsillectomy, Rene recalled “bellowing her lungs out” even though she already had a sore throat. She knew she was going to hospital as the family had made a special trip to Maryborough to buy her nightwear – a special blue nighty with brown teddy bears. Matron Roper at the hospital bribed Rene to be a cooperative patient with the promise of a bunch of pansies from the garden. Rene still “roared like a bull”, but she did get the pansies and her tonsils in a bottle to take home.
Adapted from an interview with Rene Palmer (nee Duncan) by her daughter, Marilyn Tulloch, June 2002
Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980. Victoria, Division of Flinders, Subdivision of Ferntree Gully 1917
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 28 Apr 1928. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 9 May 1931. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 4 Jul 1931. State Library of Victoria
Featured image: Amherst cemetery 2015. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.
February 1926 was the height of bushfire season. It was a hot, dry month without any rainfall to speak of. A number of bush and grass fires had already been reported in the Amherst district. Far away in the south-east of the state bushfires raged through the Yarra Valley and Gippsland, reaching their climax on “Black Sunday” 14 February, when 31 people were killed.
Andy Duncan commenced duty as sexton the week before Black Sunday. Amherst was surrounded by tinder-dry bushland. The cemetery itself was overgrown, with dry eucalyptus leaves and pine needles crackling underfoot.
A fire broke out. With no-one to call for assistance, Andy contained the fire and put it out before any great damage was done. The Talbot Leader reported that Mr Duncan “really saved the place”.
Did Jane fight the fire alongside Andy? Or did she keep 3 year old Rene at a safe distance?