100 miles to Melbourne

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.

Eurambeen Parish map. Stewarts land highlighted. VPRS 16171. Public Records Office Victoria.
Stewart’s land triangle. Eurambeen Parish map. VPRS 16171. Public Records Office Victoria.

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.

Riponshire Advocate 23 April 1932. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate 23 April 1932. State Library of Victoria

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.

Andy Duncan with nephew Clarrie Stewart c.1932. The upturned handlebars on the bicycle allowed Andy to cycle with the minimum discomfort from the shrapnel in his back
Andy Duncan (left) with nephew Clarrie Stewart c.1932. The upturned handlebars on the bicycle allowed Andy to cycle with the minimum discomfort from the shrapnel in his back. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

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.

Appointments. Victoria Gazette no. 225, July 5, 1939
Appointments. Victoria Gazette no. 225, July 5, 1939

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.

Sources

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)

1938 ‘OTHER DISTRICTS.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 14 January, p. 12

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.

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Three generations

Grandma Stewart, Jane Duncan and Rene Duncan in Beaufort c.1927
New Year 1927 in Beaufort. Grandma Elizabeth Ann Stewart (nee Ball), Jane Duncan and young Rene Duncan. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

Back to civilian life

On 14 July 1919, the day before his 37th birthday, Andy was discharged from the Australian Army.

Andy and Jane had been married for 5 years but had spent barely 4 months as husband and wife. They must have been excited to restart their lives together. I imagine Jane was determined not to be separated from Andy again.

Jane brought Andy home to Beaufort, Victoria where he met her family probably for the first time.

No doubt Jane’s mother Elizabeth welcomed Andy into the family, but what did patriarch John Stewart think of his new son-in-law? Did John’s blunt manner cause tension?

The Stewart home was a small miner’s cottage – two bedrooms at the front, a kitchen-eating room behind and a verandah. There wasn’t much space to retreat from a tense situation. The kitchen was Elizabeth and Jane’s domain, the verandah was where John would sit and smoke his pipe. Where did Andy fit?

Andy was going through a difficult period, assimilating back into civilian life. He may have had bad dreams or flashbacks. He may have felt that there was no-one he could talk to about his experiences. But not only did he have to psychologically adjust, he had to find his place in the Stewart family.

Perhaps this is when Andy took on the chore of chopping wood for the fire and the stove. Next to the house was a substantial woodpile. Going out to the woodpile would have been a good way for Andy to get some time to himself and let off some steam, while also being a productive member of the family.

Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, A.S. National Archives of Australia.

Featured image: Andrew Stewart Duncan with niece Nellie Bruce Stewart and Clarence Leslie Stewart, Beaufort c.1919. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

Notes on Jane’s parents

I get the impression that John Stewart was a hard man. He lived a frontier life, born in Van Diemen’s Land in 1845, growing up in pre-gold rush Geelong and then on the central Victorian goldfields. He raised his own family at Eurambeen and the Fiery Creek goldfields. John learned the stonemason’s trade from his father. His work can still be seen in some of the old buildings not far from Ballarat.

Stockyard Hill Hotel 1935. One of the buildings on which John Stewart worked as stonemason. Museum Victoria collection: 'The Biggest Family Album of Australia' MM 000697
Stockyard Hill Hotel 1935
One of the buildings on which John Stewart worked as stonemason.
Museum Victoria collection: ‘The Biggest Family Album of Australia’ MM 000697
Stockyard Hill Hotel 1988
Stockyard Hill Hotel 1988. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

John Stewart was 31 when he married 19-year-old Elizabeth Ann Ball in the Beaufort Primitive Methodist Church on 18 May 1877. As a young man he would have cut a rugged figure; not tall but solidly built with a jet-black bushranger beard.

My father was only two years old when John Stewart died in 1944. But he has a strong image of John sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch at Beaufort, his face hidden under the brim of his hat, puffing away on his “big, old, stinky pipe”.

John and Elizabeth Stewart, Neill Street Beaufort
John and Elizabeth Stewart, 108 Neill Street Beaufort. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

When my grandmother Rene gave birth to my father, John Stewart declared, “the girl’s too young to have a baby. Take it away from her”. Rene was one month away from her 20th birthday. Apparently it had been acceptable for 31-year-old John to marry 19-year-old Elizabeth, but for Rene 19 was too young. (Elizabeth had had her first child when she was 21.)

Rene remembered Elizabeth Ann Ball as a “lovely lady”. It was Elizabeth who kept a welcoming home and maintained strong relationships with her children and grandchildren.

A welcoming home Elizabeth Ann Stewart (nee Ball) with her daughter Jane (seated), daughter-in-law Amelia Bruce Tan Loo Stewart and Amelia's children Clarence and Nellie Stewart
A welcoming home
Elizabeth Ann Stewart (nee Ball) with her daughter Jane (seated), daughter-in-law Amelia Bruce Tan Loo Stewart and Amelia’s children Clarence and Nellie Stewart. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.