Worst Gale on Record


7 January 1942 saw the town of Beaufort battered by the worst dust storm in memory.

By mid-morning the temperature had already reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). Strong, unpredictable gusts of wind were making outdoor work more and more difficult.

Did Jane Duncan have Eurambeen homestead laundry drying on the line that morning? The day had started out as good drying weather, but changed into something more worrying. She would have run to her six clotheslines as the wind threatened to whip the sheets away.

Once back inside the house, perhaps Jane and her daughter Rene began the major task of folding six rows of laundry. As the wind rose to gale force Jane would no doubt have been relieved that she had brought the washing in, just in time.

The gale continued for the rest of the day.

One minute the air would be perfectly calm, the next a gust of wind would race from zero to almost 50 miles an hour

Extract from ‘Queer Weather.’, The Age, 9 January 1942

Within a few hours huge, red dust clouds rolled in from the northwest and swallowed the town. People covered their faces with handkerchiefs and struggled against the gale. It was hard to see more than a few metres ahead through the thick dust.

Andy, Jane, Rene and Jane’s father John Stewart would have spent the day sheltered inside their small miner’s cottage. The wind whistled through any gaps in the weatherboards, bringing with it the red dust. The windows rattled.  Debris from fallen trees and damaged buildings clattered and crashed against the cottage’s tin roof.

The Stewart family home, Beaufort, in 2015. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

The heat and wind sparked bushfires across the state. Not far away Ararat district firefighters battled to save four townships around Lake Bolac.  Forestry Commission officials were vigilant for outbreaks on Crown land. Perhaps this was on Andy Duncan’s mind, too, because of his work for the Forestry Commission at Mount Cole.

The storm reached its peak near nightfall and continued to batter the town until around 11pm. Then the wind dropped, the dust subsided and everything was still. The temperature remained over 90 degrees.

Finally around midnight a cool change blew through, bringing rain. The red Mallee dust that had choked and blinded now became red spatter on cars and buildings, and mud on the shoes of those who ventured outside.

The Stewart cottage had weathered the storm without any significant damage, but Jane’s beloved garden would not have survived.

The day will be long remembered as the gale swept through huge trees and the snapping and crashing branches were observed. The presentable gardens of citizens showed a “scorched earth” appearance after the storm had subsided. Housewives yesterday had the busiest time for many years; it was their big “at home” day as they were kept steadily cleaning up inches of dust inside and outside their homes

Extract from ‘A Day of Dust and Wind.’, The Horsham Times, 9 January 1942


Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 10 January 1942. State Library of Victoria

1942 ‘GALE COVERS STATE WITH DUST.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9 January, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8226918

1942 ‘NEWS AND NOTES.’, The Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 9 January, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72698615

1942 ‘NEWS OF THE DAY.’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9 January, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205278814

1942 ‘WIND HAVOC AT BALLARAT.’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8 January, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205283341

1942 ‘WORST DUST STORM IN MEMORY.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8 January, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8226663

1942 ‘WORST GALE ON RECORD DISTRICT ON WEDNESDAY.’, Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 – 1954), 9 January, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26090885

Featured image: A dust storm engulfing Red Cliffs, 1938. Museum Victoria Collections MM 6913. http://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/773966. This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence. The original black and white image has been changed by the addition of a red colour cast.


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, in the midst of the Great Depression, 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 two large local homesteads – the Beggs family of Eurambeen and the Russell family of Mawallok. Laundry was delivered to the Stewart house once a week, and quite often the washing would arrive with a handout of surplus vegetables or meat.

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 would then iron the sheets on a large kitchen table, using a flat iron heated on the stove.

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.


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.

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.


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.