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.
Despite the war grinding on, the routines of daily life continued much as before in country towns like Beaufort. Long, hot summers came each year. The dry, shimmering heat, brought with it snakes and threat of bushfires, which formed a backdrop to the town’s activities.
Andy Duncan organised the Beaufort Thistle Club’s traditional Boxing Day sports and New Years Eve dance. He arranged for the sports day to be held in aid of the Prisoners of War Fund. He knew from personal experience that money was needed for this fund, the Riponshire Advocate noted.
The sports day was not a successful fundraiser, however, with poor attendance. The lack of public support went beyond the Boxing Day event. By February 1942 there was concern whether the Beaufort Thistle Club would continue. Andy Duncan offered to a take a 50% reduction in his £15 secretary’s stipend.
Andy and Jane continued to attend cards nights and Beaufort Band socials. They were regular prizewinners at these events. Jane had joined the Beaufort Fire Brigade Ladies Auxiliary and played in carpet bowls tournaments, often on the winning team.
Andy was now in his 60s and his health was inconsistent. The Gallipoli shrapnel in his back gave him trouble, and his weakened body was more susceptible to illness. Beaufort’s Doctor Little made regular visits to the Duncan home.
Around Anzac Day 1942 Andy suffered a severe attack of influenza.
Influenza was reported widely in Victoria in the first half of 1942. Nurses at Castlemaine Hospital, office and factory workers in Melbourne, schoolteachers in Shepparton were among those suffering from the virus.
Andy would have been isolated in his bedroom and kept away from his daughter Rene who was heavily pregnant. His family must have been relieved when he recovered just before Rene’s son was born in May.
Andy was quickly back to work, making arrangements for a Thistle Club patriotic social evening a few weeks later. All proceeds from the event went to the Prisoner of War fund.
Jane was also engaged in fundraising with the Fire Brigade Ladies Auxiliary. A fundraising social was held in July. Was it a coincidence that funds raised went to the Prisoner of War fund close to Andy’s heart, or had Jane suggested the idea? Andy and Jane attended the evening; Andy won a prize at cards.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 6 Sep 1941. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 May 1942. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 16 May 1942. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 23 May 1942. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 25 Jul 1942. State Library of Victoria
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 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
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.
A hurried wartime wedding was probably not what Rene Duncan had pictured for herself. But necessity and austerity brought about a private ceremony at the Beaufort Methodist Church parsonage.
On 15 November 1941 The Riponshire Advocate reported –
The engagement is announced of Mavis Irene, daughter of Mr and Mrs AS Duncan of Neill Street, Beaufort, and Ronald Andrew, third youngest son of Mr and Mrs A Palmer, of Windermere
And a week later Rene and Ron were married, on 22 November. They celebrated in Beaufort that night with a bowl of cherries.
Rene had first noticed Ron at a raucous ‘tin-kettling’ party and dance for a newlywed couple. Ron was quiet and shy, and new to Beaufort. He had just started work as a grocer’s assistant at the Burrumbeet and Windermere Farmers’ Cooperative, known as “the B and W”.
The B and W was a short walk from the Duncan family home. Rene’s father would have known the manager, as they were both returned soldiers. Rene took her friend Edna Gilligan with her to the Co-operative, two girls going to check out the new grocer’s assistant. While there Rene and Edna bought some boiled lollies. The lollies were stale so the girls took them back to the store, but the replacement bag of lollies Ron sold them was just as stale.
After this inauspicious meeting Rene and Ron started courting.
Ron was from a Windermere farming family. Each week he cycled 20 miles from Windermere to Beaufort to lodge for the week and work at the B and W.
Ron had volunteered for the part-time Citizen Military Force in October 1940, joining the 4th Light Horse regiment. Through 1940 and 1941 Ron underwent training in camps around the Western district of Victoria. When not with his unit, Ron was back in Beaufort or at the Windermere farm. The story goes that the engagement and wedding took place while Ron had a 10-day leave pass.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 15 November 1941. State Library of Victoria
1941 Certificate of Marriage, Methodist Church marriage register no. 18. Beaufort, Victoria, 22 November 1941.
When war was declared in September 1939, The Riponshire Advocate newspaper advised its readers
… the ordinary citizen can best serve the country in the present war by calmly and assiduously carrying on with his usual occupation until called on by the Government for further service … In the meantime only the flower of our young manhood can have any hope of being accepted for service with the AIF of 1939
Riponshire Advocate 9 Sep 1939
For Andy Duncan this meant working a number of jobs: paymaster for the Forestry Commission at Mount Cole; Secretary-Librarian of the Mechanics’ Institute Hall; Secretary of the Beaufort Thistle Club; Secretary of the Beaufort Cemetery Trust; and the town’s Registrar of Births and Deaths.
In addition to his paid work, Andy was a committee member of the Ripon sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League.
With the advent of war, Andy seems to have carried out his various roles with increased determination and commitment. Nearing 60 years of age, Andy couldn’t fight, but he could ensure that his community stuck together while the 2nd Australian Imperial Force fought to stop the mad dog of Europe, as the Advocate put it.
In January 1940 the Riponshire Advocate reported that the Thistle Club Boxing Day sports day was run by the capable and energetic secretary AS Duncan. This was unusual language for the newspaper. Other articles on Thistle Club events had simply stated, arrangements by AS Duncan. Was Andy noticeably more active? Or was the reporter alluding to Andy’s previous bouts of illness and hospitalisation? Perhaps both.
Andy organised the Returned Soldier’s League annual smoke night, held in February. The night was an RSL meeting followed by smoking and drinking, with entertainment by a comedy duo from Melbourne.
At the meeting, a question was raised regarding the guns on display at the local war memorial. The guns had not been maintained, and were now beyond repair. The local council, out of respect for the war veterans, sought the RSL’s view on what should happen to the guns.
Andy was in fine form that night: “Melt them down and throw them back at the Germans”. It was recorded diplomatically that Andy had “moved that the guns be scrapped”.
In March 1940 Andy was appointed RSL branch group leader for Beaufort, along with C. Rayner and R. Woodall. In July 1940 the Ripon sub-branch of the RSL formed a local unit of the War Veterans’ Defence Corps, with Andy as Adjutant. He also took on a subcommittee role organising morale-boosters and fundraisers, such as cards nights and dances.
Andy seems to have stepped down from his Secretary-Librarian role at the Mechanics’ Institute to focus on his Veterans’ Defence Corps duties. R. Woodall became new Secretary-Librarian, perhaps on a good word from Andy.
A number of Win the War rallies were held around Beaufort in the first half of 1940. Andy would have represented the RSL at many of these. In July the Beaufort Town Band played at one rally. It is likely that Andy and Jane’s daughter Rene played in the band at this event.
Maintaining this level of activity took its toll on Andy. By September 1940 he was quite ill. He spent all November undergoing treatment at the Caulfield Military Hospital in Melbourne.
Andy returned to Beaufort in time to coordinate the Thistle Club Boxing Day dance, but he had to manage his health more carefully. He soon resigned his role as Adjutant in the Veterans’ Defence Corps. Jane was appointed Acting Registrar Births and Deaths, backdated to October the previous year, to cover Andy’s absences.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 Sep 1939. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 6 Jan 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 24 Feb 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 16 Mar 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 29 Jun 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 20 Jul 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 7 Sep 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 Nov 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 30 Nov 1940. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 4 Jan 1941. State Library of Victoria
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 22 Mar 1941. State Library of Victoria
Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 9 Jun 1940. National Library of Australia
Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), 5 Jul 1940. National Library of Australia
1941. Victoria Government Gazette No. 341, 10 December 1941, page 4276. State Library of Victoria
Featured image: Mechanics’ Institute Hall, Beaufort, 2015. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.
In 1936 Rene reached the school-leaving age of 14 and was sent to learn dressmaking with local identity, Miss Connie Russo. It was probably her mother Jane who arranged this loose apprenticeship. Jane’s own work as a laundress had given her independence and allowed her to travel. It was still helping to put food on the table. It is easy to imagine Jane impressing upon her daughter, “A woman has to have a livelihood”.
In her spare time Rene took violin lessons, also from Miss Russo. Rene played violin at the Beaufort Methodist Church, and as part of the Beaufort Municipal Band.
The Duncan family, Andy, Jane and Rene, lived in the cemetery lodge, a long, cream weatherboard house with 3 bedrooms, dining room, kitchen and long corridor. A large, old pine tree dominated the front yard, giving welcome shade in the hot summer, but making the house dark and cold the rest of the year. Probably behind the house Andy set up long clotheslines where Jane could dry the hospital laundry.
Jane was soon active in town life, baking and serving tea at fundraisers and working bees (volunteer work parties).
At the September 1926 Christ Church Jumble Fair the refreshments stall was run by Mesdames Gane and Duncan (The Gane ladies also worked as laundresses at the hospital. Jane would have known them quite well).
In October there was a working bee at the Amherst cemetery. Jane no doubt organised the group of ladies who provided afternoon tea.
At the April 1927 harvest thanksgiving the church bazaar tea rooms were in charge of Mesdames Duncan, McAlpine, and Miss Philippi.
Andy and Jane were regulars at local euchre tournaments, both winning prizes quite often. (Euchre is a trick-taking card game most commonly played with four people in two partnerships. Tournaments such as these were common between the wars in Australia, and were held as social events and fund-raising activities).
Andy’s work at the cemetery continued to be irregular and insufficient. In April 1927 Andy reported to the Cemetery Trust that he had not been able to get payment from several families for maintenance work on the graves. The Trust advised that it had no power to pursue payment. Unemployment in Australia was rising and some families were already finding it tough to pay their bills. The local newspaper commented on the depression that is existing all over and noted that although local employment prospects were quite good, in other towns the unemployment question is very acute.
In July 1927 Andy joined the town in the annual wood-chop working bee to provide wood for the Amherst Hospital. This was a major tree-felling operation.
[Fifty men with] axes and drays, lorries, waggons, etc., soon settled down to their self imposed task, and with quick despatch, born of long experience, soon had trees felled, cut into lengths, loaded on the vehicles, carted, and stacked in the hospital yard. Talbot Leader newspaper, 2 July 1927
A working bee organised for the cemetery in October 1927 was less well-attended. Nonetheless the ‘Talbot Leader’ reported that Mr Duncan has considerably improved the appearance of the cemetery of late. Andy had rebuilt and reinforced the fence to stop the rabbits getting in, and repaired graves damaged by rabbits burrowing and heavy rain.
In mid-1931 Andy supplemented his Sexton’s income with an appointment as Registrar of Births and Deaths at Talbot. With clerical experience in the British army and the A.I.F. Andy had already sought a position as Secretary of the Cemetery Trust, but the trustees had felt it inadvisable for Andy to hold both Sexton and Secretary positions. Now, with the sudden removal from office of the previous Registrar, Andy was an obvious choice for the position.
Then just four months later Andy resigned as Registrar of Births and Deaths and left the Sexton’s cottage without formal notice.
What could have caused this sudden departure? As Andy neared 50 perhaps his shrapnel injury made it increasingly difficult for him to continue labouring work – was it worth it, when the work was intermittent and he had to chase families for payment?Perhaps Jane’s elderly parents in Beaufort needed support (Jane’s mother was 73 and not in the best of health; her father was 87). Perhaps the beginning of the Great Depression and the announced closure of the Amherst Sanatorium made Andy and Jane reconsider their options.
Whatever the reason, in 1932 Andy, Jane and Rene were back living at the Stewart residence in Beaufort.
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 11 Sep 1926. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 30 Oct 1926. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 16 Apr 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 11 Jun 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 2 Jul 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 17 Jul 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 15 Oct 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 26 Nov 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 10 Dec 1927. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 24 Mar 1928. State Library of Victoria
Talbot Leader (Talbot, VIC: 1863 – 1948) 5 Dec 1931. State Library of Victoria