Winding Up The Year

Spirit of Tasmania
Spirit of Tasmania, the ferry which travels between Melbourne and Devonport

It has been an eventful and successful 2014.

In January 2014, my eldest son received a very welcome offer to study at an interstate university. Consequently he moved out.  He and I packed up our van and went on one of those sudden road trips which seem to come my way.  It took four days of driving to get there, and one long ferry trip in the middle. We spend two weeks settling him into his grandparents’ house and he has now moved into his own place.  The first one to leave the nest.

I scanned many photographs and visited many family graves while there.

My old van died, permanently, and it took a bit of fuss and bother to bring me back home.  I used all of my savings and purchased a small but very reliable car, much newer.  It was a definite step forward.

In my absence, mainland Australia burned up in a record-breaking heatwave.  The family still in South Australia were evacuated twice.  The highways were cut, caravan parks were all closed.  I had planned a trip on my way home to visit family in Victoria and New South Wales but it was not to be.  In the end I drove home in 48 degrees celsius, on a smoke-filled highway.  I remember sitting at a petrol station along the way with many others, unable to get fuel as the power was out.  This is a regular precaution in Australian heat waves, and everyone understands that it will happen.   I had some good roadside conversations with strangers as we waited, but I was glad to arrive home.  It was a dramatic start to the year.

Winter, the time of growth in South Australia
Winter, the time of growth in South Australia.  A part of our garden

Also in 2014, I discovered DNA testing for genealogy and it immediately broke down a brick wall.  I have discovered that my DNA matches are a friendly and helpful bunch, and I am very glad to have made their acquaintance by email.  I have learned about myself through the testing, and about my husband’s family through testing my son.  It has been an illuminating experience and I look forward to learning even more in the coming year with new tests underway.

On the paper genealogy front, I broke down six brick walls just by gaining access to the Tasmanian Police Gazettes.  Most of them shepherds in the isolated Tasmanian interior who avoided official registers, in old age they needed some assistance and through the courts were assigned to a nearby charitable institution.  The court record, reported in the Police Gazette, listed age, description, ship and year of arrival and country of origin.  Genealogical gold, just in time for the DNA testing.

In the middle of the year, I was able to set up a bookcase and reunite all my oldest books. It sounds like a little thing, but I’ve had a bookcase holding these books since I acquired them as a teenager many years ago.  I have properly moved in at last.

Sadly, we lost a dog this year.  He was actually our neighbour’s dog but spent more time with us as his owners had a baby and became unable to care for him.  We met him on New Year’s night four years ago when he ran from his yard, afraid of the fireworks.  He found his way to us and visited regularly until we made an arrangement for him to board with us.  During the past year, he moved out of town and we have heard he met with an accident.  We think of him tonight.  He was a very affectionate dog who loved everybody.

Gunner, a family friend.
Gunner, a family friend.

Due to genealogy testing, my husband’s family has a new close relative.  Where he fits is not quite certain yet, but he is close – a cousin or a half brother.  We’ve been very lucky, the dates make it clear that there was no big secret, no betrayal or cheating.  We can welcome our new family member quite safely.  I won’t say more, there are a few family members yet to meet him.

To finish up a big year, I finally managed the visit I had to cancel in January.  In December I visited family I have never met, and family I have not seen for years.  The whole venture went extremely well and I am now in regular contact with that family.  I had not realised how much of a gap I felt, not knowing my aunts, uncles and cousins on one side.  I am also surprised by the similarities I found between them and myself.  I have clearly inherited a large whack of Dunstall DNA.

With an hour left to the new year, I am quite optimistic.  We’ve finished this year on a very good note and have a great deal to look forward to.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE

hAPPYNEWYEAR.

Our Old Well

The old well at our current property
The old well at our current property

We tend to buy old houses, partly because they are cheaper and partly because we love the style,charm and history of old buildings. With the house there is occasionally a treasure such as a well.  Our last house had a well, and our present place does too.

There was a time when people filled in or covered over their old wells. Houses were connected to town water and for health and safety reasons the wells were discontinued.  Then came droughts and water rates and people began to rediscover whatever irrigation sources they already had.

Our well is about 7 or 8 metres deep, scientifically measured by lowering a weight on a rope until it seems to hit bottom.  We can’t be sure, but scribbles on our shed walls show that someone in the past achieved the same result.

It has been covered over for years with a ground-level lid made of heavy beams and covered with iron sheeting.  It’s pretty strong and designed to be lifted to give access, if we wish.

Looking into the well
Looking into the well

The property is in a small village in semi-arid South Australia where heatwaves are frequent and water is very precious. Our town used to be a watering stop for drovers taking cattle to market in Adelaide back in the 1830’s and 1840’s.  The well may date from that era. The township was established in the 1850’s and cattle began to be sold from here.  A large stockyard was built and our current property was part of that stockyard.  A windmill was installed to pump water from the well.

Later still, in the 1870’s, a railway line came through and the town blocks were subdivided into five acre lots and became rural residential.  There was a house built here which burned down sometime shortly after 1900.  My information comes from elderly local residents but I’ve found nothing official.

By the 1930’s there was a chicken farm here, which operated until about 1975 when the land was further subdivided and sold again.  The owners built our present home – the newest house we have ever had – on the site of the original house which burned down.

The well operated until this house was built. At that time, the windmill was removed leaving just its foundations, and the well was covered over.  There was one other owner between those occupants and us. We have lived here for five years now.

The plan is to bring the well back into use so we can use it to irrigate fruit trees.  This involves pumping out the water, testing the water, pumping it out at least twice more and determining if we need to clear out the debris.

Oh, how I’d love to know what is at the bottom of the well!  But a deep narrow hole is a dangerous place.  We entered the well at our last house but it was wider and not as deep as this one.  We won’t be going in.  The installation of the pump and the first pumping out is scheduled for tomorrow.

What better way to spend New Year’s Eve!

Waiting on my DNA Tests

Image from 'A Text-Book of Inorganic Chemistry' by G S Newth,Longmans Green and Co London, 1902 Figure 44 page 209
Image from ‘A Text-Book of Inorganic Chemistry’ by G S Newth,Longmans Green and Co London, 1902 Figure 44 page 209

I first began this blog to clarify my thoughts about my genealogical DNA Test and to explain to my family and friends just what I was finding.  The blog has evolved since then, but it’s time I gave a DNA test update.

We all have our own reasons for entering the genetic genealogy game.  Adoptees looking for their parents. Parents who gave up their children under pressure and would love the child to get back in touch.  Paid and volunteer test subjects for scientific research.  Those with a specific health concern who feel the need to do something to understand themselves.  Genealogists who are at a standstill with the paper records. Those are the ones I have come across but I’m sure there are many other reasons. Long suffering relatives who test to keep their genealogical relative happy.

Once tested, we log in to view our results and are presented with a bewildering array of detail.  I’m sure the DNA company staff think they’ve simplified it all, but they simply don’t remember a time when they knew as little about genetics as we do.  Sometimes, we have to hit the forums for assistance and moral support.

Here, we discover an energy-filled world full of theories and discoveries.  You need a bit of the mad scientist in you, but not too much because it takes the method and clear head of a completely sane scientist to make it work.  All the time, dedicated volunteers are creating new tools to make it easier for the rest of us, but in the meantime we learn a lot of new terms and new concepts, then re-learn as yet another discovery changes current accepted truths.  Taking part in this world is even more addictive than doing genealogy.

Spreadsheet fun, with identifiable features blacked out
Spreadsheet fun, with identifiable features blacked out

I tested out of curiosity.  I was beginning to see online posts from people seeking descendants of a particular pioneering couple looking for other descendants to test.  The early tests were mostly Y-DNA tests which were not relevant to me because I’m female.  The idea of finding a male relative to test was a bit too close to old-fashioned chauvinism.  How skewed is that thinking!  It was more of a subtle impression than a properly formed thought.  Then I met someone who had taken an autosomal test.  I saw her spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets are a wonderful thing. People who are into DNA testing are almost all spreadsheet users.  I don’t know why that is.  I guess you just need spreadsheet skills to comprehend all that data.  Sorting through DNA matches is just like doing a Logic puzzle. A whole lot of clues and eliminations and it all falls into place.

The former Presbyterian Church in Kempton, Tasmania in early morning winter fog. A branch of my family attended this church and I hope to learn more of them through DNA tests.
The former Presbyterian Church in Kempton, Tasmania in early morning winter fog. A branch of my family attended this church and I hope to learn more of them through DNA tests.

I didn’t expect a single match, being in Australia.  But quite early on the test results broke down a brick wall that I doubt would have been brought down any other way.  It’s so satisfying to solve long term mysteries.

As I said in a recent blog, various family members have agreed to test.  This is the current exciting status of all DNA kits which I’m interested in.

Kit#1 – My test.   420 Family Finder matches, the last 30 or so being transfers from Ancestry.com and all of them in the 5th-remote cousin range.  No new close relatives.   I still have 12 MtDNA matches, being 8 at genetic distance 2 and 4 at genetic distance 3.  Nothing close enough to work with.

Kit#2 – My son.  He has exactly 350 Family Finder matches, like me the last 20 or so are 5th-remote cousin and transferred from Ancestry.com.  I have purchased a Y67-DNA test for him which says it will complete in 2-4 weeks.  However, I have joined him to his surname project and the administrator tells us there is a delay, so it may be a week or two longer.

Kit#3 – Spare Family Finder kit.  Purchased for a friend who is no longer doing it.  I’m keeping the kit in reserve and still hoping to use it on my mother’s paternal side.

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Kit#4 – My paternal second cousin.  (Father’s maternal side). Our grandmothers were sisters.  His wife bought him a Family Finder kit but he hasn’t agreed to do it yet.  I won’t have access to the results but look forward to seeing him as a match.  Kit has arrived at his house but he is still thinking about it.  I’ll give him a name for the blog.  I’ll call him Peter.

Kit#5 – My mother’s kit, also Family Finder.  Kit has been received by FtDNA and batched.  Expected completion time 1-2 weeks. Very exciting.

Kit#6 – My father’s kit, Family Finder.  Kit has been received by FtDNA and batched.  Expected completion time 2-3 weeks.

Kit#7 – My daughter’s Family Finder kit.  Arrived at the house last week, test completed and just put into the mail this morning.  Should be with them in about 3 weeks and should complete about a month after that.

Kit#8 – My father in law’s kit.  Yet another Family Finder.  Kit arrived on Christmas Eve at his house, I haven’t heard whether they have done them or not.

Kit#9 – My mother in law’s Family Finder kit.  As above – arrived on Christmas Eve and I don’t know if it has been completed.

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Kit#10 – My maternal half-aunt.  My aunt purchased this due to her own interest but has given me the login details so I can handle the matching for her.  It has arrived at her house but I don’t know if she has done it yet.

Kit#11 – My father-in-law’s possible recently discovered half brother.  I don’t manage this kit either but I’m definitely interested in any upgrades. I’m purchasing Y-DNA in the correct paternal line which may be useful in the identification, but only if he decides to do the same.  I’d better give him a name.  Let’s call him Jeb.

Kit#12 – My paternal fourth cousin, the one I met on Gedmatch who I’m calling Sarah.  This is my father’s paternal side. Yet another kit which I don’t manage, but she sent me a lovely Christmas card and we’ve become very cousin-like.  We’re looking at transferring her kit to FtDNA to see what else we learn.

So just for the record, these are the DNA kits which will help me verify my paper records and hopefully break down some more brick walls. I’ll have to keep very busy over the next few weeks or the suspense will be the end of me.

I’m not exactly short of things to do.  Now I’ll put the DNA tests aside until a result comes in and get on with finishing two biographies and filing my paper records.

Books

Some of my books
Some of my books (click to enlarge)

I have a lot of books.  That may be an understatement.

As a child, I lived in a remote country town with very few shops, but what it did have was a church with an attached Opportunity Shop, known to Australians as an ‘Op Shop’.   I believe the United States calls them Thrift Stores or Charity Stores.   This is where everybody brought their unwanted goods which were placed for sale at low prices, the proceeds going to the church.

You could buy old books at this Op Shop for five cents each.  The price of two icy-poles.

The books were usually 1860-1880 editions, but sometimes I’d get lucky and find older ones.  This is how I obtained my collection of Christian ladies’ magazines.  I read those books from cover to cover, they were my time machine into an earlier age.  Being in a tiny rural town it was easy to be transported in this way.  We didn’t have traffic sounds to break the spell, 1940’s motor vehicles driven by elderly men in hats were still common, fashion didn’t really impinge on practicality.

I read ‘The Secret Garden’ in a very early edition, many years before it reached public domain and was publicly reintroduced.  I read ‘The Fairchild Family’, the E Nesbit books, several Walter Scotts, Tom Brown’s School Days… whatever came my way.

My mother loves to read too, and it was she who first taught me to open a book and read the inside cover and the pre-contents pages.  Those pages tell a story of their own.  Sometimes the book has a dedication, by the giver to the recipient.  There is always the name of the publisher and the printer.  These books came from before the dust jacket era, and generally there was no summary of contents to be found.  I learned to estimate the contents from the publisher, to estimate the audience from the style of book.  Is it ornate, and does it have large decorated letters to start each chapter?  It is probably for the entertainment of the wealthier families, who expect a good dollop of respectable edification.  Is it so small the print can hardly be seen and not an illustration in sight?  It’s a well known, well advertised work reproduced for poor people.  Is it well bound by a known publisher with a preface by a professor, but with few illustrations or embellishment?  Most likely it is a textbook for a gentleman’s school.

Good Words 1864
Good Words 1863.  The original dedication is to Mary Ann Turner from her brother George, but later a lady has given the book to her daughter Minnie Williams.  I particularly like this record of the book’s history. (click to enlarge)

I’m an absolute sucker for a book with a name scribbled inside, or a little gift sticker announcing that it was a school prize. I have heaps of these.  Nowadays I have storage problems and I hope to locate the families they came from so I can hopefully give them back.  Yes, when I see a name in a book I research that name, to see if I can learn who they were..  These were the names of fellow readers who had read the same books as I.

Our family is not without it’s favourite books, passed down from generation to generation.  We have one in particular – a rather battered little book with a plain red cover titled Dauntless Patty.  It’s a school story set in the opening years of the 20th century about a girl from Australia who is sent to England to attend boarding school with her dainty English cousin.

Dauntless Patty by E L Haverfield
Dauntless Patty by E L Haverfield. A book read by four generations of girls in our family. (click to enlarge)

The book first belonged to my grandmother Peard, and she brought it to Mannus where my mother read it and enjoyed it.  I read it as a child too, in fact I’ve read it more than once.  In recent years, I talked my own daughter into reading it.  The book is not really in a condition to read any more, I’ll have to find a reprint for any further generations to read.  I recently read a review of this book by someone who was not at all taken by it.  We liked it though.

My oldest book with a dedication is the 1727 translated edition of Paul de Rapin’s History of England Vol II.  It was awarded as a prize in 1739 to Kildare Borrowes, quite likely, I think, to be a relation of the family of Baronets in Kildare.  In fact, the 5th Baronet Kildare Burrowes was born in 1722 and maybe this book was a prize to him?  Yet here it is in my house in South Australia, some three hundred years later.

Vol II History of England cover and inside cover
Vol II History of England cover and inside cover

I could go on and on.  I have many many books and today I am checking them for signs of damage.  Most are kept packed away from insects and light since we moved to bright, hot South Australia.

Just to finish, I feel the need to represent my paternal side of the family.  Most sides were illiterate when they arrived in Australia but they still enjoyed their books.  Times were tough and they didn’t have the chance for much education.  Here is a book awarded to my father’s mother upon completion of three years at school without a day off.  She only attended school for four years in total, and lived in conditions of dire poverty.  Her father was very elderly and unable to work, so my grandmother’s attendance was a real accomplishment.  My grandmother, Beryl Reading, received this award at Christmas 1936 and kept the book her whole life.  She gave it to me in her later years, and I’m very glad of it as the majority of her things ended up on the tip.

Awarded to Beryl Reading for three years perfect attendance at Apsley School, Tasmania
Awarded to Beryl Reading for three years perfect attendance at Apsley School, Tasmania (click to enlarge)

Miscellaneous Paper Records – The Black Hole in my House

My colour coded Family Tree Files
Seven of my eight colour coded Family Tree Files

Surely, the holidays are for digging out stacks of paper and filing them in their correct folders.

When I started family history research I had a notebook, an exercise book, a stack of paper group sheets and a whole lot of envelope-backs.  It wasn’t supposed to work that way, it just happened.  I collected reams of information that all went loose into a carton. One day, I stopped collecting data and sat down to see what I had.  If my memory wasn’t so good I’d have given it up then.  I knew I needed a better system.

Next, I kept my family history records in A4 clear leaf display books, the ones which had about twenty pages and the option to add more.  I also began using a computer-based family tree.  It worked for a few years.  As I discovered new family lines I bought a new display book.  By the middle of last year my fifty or so display books were falling apart and I realised a new solution was required.

I have now turned to 75mm ring binders, colour coded for each family group.  I have eight ring binders – my husband’s four grandparent families and my own four grandparent families.  So far, this system is working well.  Admittedly a few of those folders are already full.

Papers correctly in place in their folder
Papers correctly in place in their folder

Migrating the family history papers from the old filing system to the new was one of my objectives for 2014.  I made a good beginning.  I chose the colours, purchased the binders, wore the printer out by printing group sheets for every direct-line family, then group sheets for the siblings of every ancestor.  I put in the copies of birth, marriage and death certificates.  So far so good.

Then came the stacks of miscellaneous records.  Local gazettes listing their address and whether they owned their property or rented, transcriptions I had made of family bibles, cemetery lists … all those records which hold a dozen pieces of information on one page.

The pace has slowed.   Every page has details about the family which I had forgotten, or which meant nothing without information I have learned more recently.  I am discovering whole new chapters of an ancestor’s life, new children, occupations and troubles by going over my oldest notes. These papers are getting sorted at a rate of about two pages a week.

This is why I view my stacks of paper records as a black hole. They are denser than seems possible and they eat time.   Every single page that I read seems to result in days on my computer and about five years in an ancestor’s life.

Unfiled papers
Unfiled papers.  

This being one of my objectives for 2014, I had another go today at filing those papers.  Two pages, I’ve put away. The first was a history of Lachlan Village in Tasmania without many names. Easy.  Then came the scribbled marriage date of Hannah Thompson to John Clarke, brother to Rebecca Clarke who is my husband’s great great grandmother.  Now that I see it, I remember visiting my husband’s great aunt who was aged 86 in 1990. I’d completely forgotten that visit.

Looking at it today, I noticed that the surname of his bride was the same as his stepmother.  After some digging, I now know that the two families travelled together across the world and were more closely connected than we knew.

Having at last placed that piece of paper in its folder, I looked at the next one. It gives the military record of a brother of our Peard ancestor from Ireland, showing a line which seems to have emigrated to the United States.  This name, I’m pretty sure, appears in the family trees of some of my DNA matches from the United States.

Now I’ll have to investigate those trees to see if I have found our common ancestor.  This may take a couple of days.

I don’t think I’ll have these papers sorted by the new year. But one day – surely one day – it will be complete!

Christmas Day in Australia

Sunset in South Australia on a hot day
Sunset in South Australia on a hot day

Christmas Day has gone well for us this year.  The weather has been cool and the food all cooked perfectly.  The dishes are done, the fridge is full of leftovers to get us through the next few days, and we are all relaxing at home.

We live in a place with very hot summers, and of course Christmas comes in summer here.  We keep our presents in the fridge until we open them in case they have meltables.  We don’t schedule a barbecue because Christmas Day is often a day of total fire ban.  There’s no running under the sprinklers because of water restrictions.  We usually eat cold cuts for Christmas lunch with homemade potato salad and fresh fruit, having cooked it the evening before. This year was unseasonably cold and we actually cooked our roast just before we ate it.  It felt very traditional!

One of our children, however, reminisced about the salads of previous years.  To our children, a cold lunch on a burning hot day makes the tradition.  Today’s cool weather, in reality, was true to a tradition we have never known.

Decoration

Looking through old newspapers, I noticed a suggestion in 1837 to change Christmas Day to 25th June.  It seems reasonable.

“Instead of the old English fire-side, with skating outside and shooting partridges among the turnips, or tracking hares amid the snow, we have a torrid heat, rendered still more oppressive by the steam of extra dishes rising in our faces at meal-times, and causing the sickly appetite with which we sit down to our Christmas fare entirely to depart. At church, instead of feeling the comfort of the fire in the tremendous stove, eight feet high, in the middle of the church, and being habited in a large great coat and lamb’s wool stockings, we could scarcely sit for the heat, although clothed in slight cottons. In the evening we are gasping for breath, while the mosquitoes and sandflies worry us at all points—face and wrists, the fine dust from the garden striking to our  warm faces and suffusing the room at the same time, so that at length we throw ourselves on the mattress and try to forget the ‘merry ‘ Christmas of New South Wales, by getting beneath the mosquito-curtains. Such is Christmas Day in this Colony.”

… ” If this [decision re a change the date] be deferred until the Australian born be all grown up, and their children after them, a hot Christmas will be to them a natural Christmas; and they will not comprehend a frosty and cold Christmas, and will object to, as far as their feelings and sympathies may influence them, though their judgment must see the propriety of, the change now proposed by us”—Monitor.

“CHRISTMAS DAY.” The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847) 11 Nov 1837: 1005. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article639772&gt;.

It was an idea which met with some support, but not enough.  The writer was correct in his prediction.  A hot Christmas does indeed seem natural to us.  Why would a frosty Christmas be preferred by anyone?  As the years passed, it’s clear that Australians were settling in to enjoy the hot Christmas season. In 1865:

“Glenelg.—The number of visitors at Glenelg during Christmas Day was exceedingly large. The beach and the jetty were covered with promenaders…”

“Yankalilla—  Christmas Day was kept up by the good folks of this neighbourhood with great glee and spirit … the day was exceedingly fine, the sea calm, and a soft breeze serving just to cause a ripple on the surface of the water …”

“Strathalbyn—Christmas Day here was a lovely one, being throughout free from hot winds  or dust …”

“Mount Pleasant.—The greatest attraction in the shape of amusement was a picnic at Mount Crawford Swamp; and in spite of the day being very hot, various games were kept up with spirit.”

“CHRISTMAS.” Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 30 Dec 1865: 3. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159499945&gt;.

The Beach at Yankalilla as it is today
The Beach at Yankalilla, South Australia as it is today

Jumping another thirty years to the 1890s and everyone had settled in to the weather, though they might not have liked it.

“CHRISTMAS DAY.  Friday, December 25, was a real Australian Christmas Day. It was intensely hot, and the atmosphere in the evening was very close, but the majority of people usually remain at home for the greater part of Christmas Day, which is observed as a close holiday. Public engagements were few. Services were held in most of the Churches according to custom.”

“CHRISTMAS DAY.” Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 2 Jan 1897: 19. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162367787&gt;.

“CHRISTMAS DAY was another burning hot day. The usual services were held at the various churches, but the congregations were not large. It was one of those very hot days when no opportunity is lost to find the coolest place outside the waterbag and stay there. Nightfall brought with it a feeling of relief. Although the temperature had not fallen much, it was comparatively cool out of doors.”

“CHRISTMAS DAY.” The Cobar Herald (NSW : 1899 – 1914) 30 Dec 1899: 6. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103843124&gt;.

From there on, the climate is taken for granted and rarely remarked upon.  We expect hot, and it is hot.  It’s only worthy of mention if it is extra hot or unexpectedly cool like the current year.

The heat is just part of the Christmas experience, and a most welcome part at that.

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and hoping it went as well for all of you as it did for us.

A Genealogical Road Trip Part Nine – Victoria’s North West

On the road again.  North of Shepparton towards Echuca
On the road again. North of Shepparton towards Echuca (click to enlarge)

Our road trip was drawing to a close now.  We slept at a relative’s house in Wangaratta on the sixth night and had the car packed and ready to leave by seven thirty the following morning. The plan was to view my grandfather Ken Dunstall’s grave in Birchip, and explore some new roads along the way.

Wangaratta to Benalla to Shepparton was a road already travelled. This time at Shepparton, we needed to go to Echuca.  We’d learned about Shepparton now and forewarned is forearmed.  We’d printed a map with google road directions and we followed it closely.  Without too much stress, we found ourselves on the road in the picture above.

I don’t have much family history from this region.  We drove past fields full of hay bales, it still being the middle of harvest, and grain trucks were all around. The signage was excellent.  As my son pointed out, there’s always a sign to Echuca from every direction.  We reached the rural city of Echuca by 10:30 AM.

It occurred to me coming into town that my husband’s grandfather might be buried in Echuca.  The man was somewhat estranged from the family and ended his years living in a caravan in one of those little twin-towns that exist all along the Murray River.  I wasn’t quite sure but I thought Echuca was the one. I sent a text to my in-laws and while I waited for a reply, we went straight to the cemetery.

A portion of Echuca Cemetery.- a very large place indeed.
A portion of Echuca Cemetery.- a very large place indeed. (click to enlarge)

Echuca was a very nice rural city.  Well run, full of helpful people and most magnificently signposted.  You notice these things as a traveller.  Clean public toilets everywhere, park benches along the river, friendly people.  I asked for directions to the cemetery in a post office on the south side and started a conversation between all customers and staff on the best way to get there.  I always enjoy these social moments with strangers.

The cemetery had staff onsite to look up their records and I learned very quickly that my husband’s grandfather was not buried there.  This was a show stopper.  I then received a text from the in-laws saying they didn’t know where he was buried and would ask my father-in-law’s sister.  It turns out she did not know where he was buried either.  Now, the plan is to ask the final sister.

Here’s a task for me. I was feeling pretty bad not knowing where my grandfather was buried, but these guys didn’t even know about their own father!  It seems clear that neither attended the burial.  That man is high on my list to introduce to his family now.  I’m sure there were good reasons for the estrangement, but the man passed away at least twenty years ago.

Terrain of the far north west of Victoria
Terrain of the far north west of Victoria (click to enlarge)

We left Echuca at about half past eleven in the morning.  West of Echuca the terrain changes.  The farms are bigger, the land is flatter, the towns are further apart.  We came into Cohuna a little after midday but did not stop.  The plan was to have a late lunch at Kerang, some 95km from Echuca.

Township of Kerang
Township of Kerang (click to enlarge)

We were in Kerang by 1PM and enjoyed lunch there.  It’s another beautiful little town, a decent size and with a lot of activity in the shops.  After lunch we were ready for the challenging part.  From here, we had to leave the Murray Valley Highway and head in a zigzag along a series of rural roads, in an area probably without mobile phone service.  I filled the tank at Kerang just in case we became lost, double checked my directions and we headed off.

The towns we wanted were Quambatook, Towaninny and Dumosa, then to Birchip.  We had some written instructions telling us where to turn right and left.  We had plenty of time.  We boldly set out, my son manning the direction sheet while I drove.

On the road to Quambatook
On the road to Quambatook (Click to enlarge)

This was emu country.  My son saw some but since I was driving I missed them. We knew they’d be there somewhere in the shrubby trees. There was very little traffic and the roads were long, straight and narrow.  We had no trouble finding Quambatook.  There were hardly any opportunities to turn off the road and it was signposted beautifully. It was a nice little town, seemingly deserted with an incredibly wide main street presumably filled with grain trucks at times.  We stopped here to stretch our legs and didn’t see a soul.

There was a sign to Dumosa as we left town. This was encouraging.  However, just out of town we struck a big hitch.  Here it is: an intersection that google didn’t give us directions for – that had two options, neither of them a town we were heading for.

The intersection which brought us undone.
The intersection which brought us undone. (click to enlarge)

Swan Hill or Wycheproof?  We had little time to decide with a truck coming up behind us, and each of us agreed on Wycheproof.  From this time on, there was a little bit of stress while we watched for signs to Dumosa. There simply weren’t any.  As it turned out, we were on the right road all along – I think – but there were no signs to anywhere.  We never did see another sign to Dumosa and did not find Dumosa.  We didn’t find Towaninny either, or a sign to it.  What we did find was an intersection with a road number on it that we knew was correct, pointing to Birchip.  From that point, we relaxed a little and enjoyed the very small rural road we were travelling on.

Single lane road to Birchip
Single lane road to Birchip (click to enlarge)

After 50km of narrow road, red dirt and open fields we saw rooftops in the distance, and suddenly we were in Birchip.  Home of the Mallee Bull.

Birchip - Home of the Mallee Bull and burial place of my paternal grandfather.
Birchip – Home of the Mallee Bull and burial place of my paternal grandfather. (click to enlarge)

It was now about 4PM.  I have posted my grandfather’s grave in the blog about Kenneth Dunstall, so I won’t repeat it here.  Since it was still quite early, we headed for Watchem, the nearby town where my grandfather finished his days, and where the family still own a property with one house on it.  I was very keen to see it.

Watchem was a very pretty little town, but it looked something like a ghost town.  There were a few derelict buildings and a few empty service buildings.  There were also some occupied, well maintained homes.  It was a mix.  We had to phone for directions to the house as the street it was on had no signpost.  The town obviously has a long history and I’ll have fun researching it one day. In the meantime, we were beginning to feel weary after the day’s travel and were glad to find the house.  Armed with a letter of permission from my aunts, I met the man who lives on the property to keep it safe and went to explore the house, seeking any clues about my grandfather.  The family bought this house because it reminded him of his childhood in Western Australia.

The final home of my grandfather Ken Dunstall
The final home of my grandfather Ken Dunstall

Yes, it’s a mess.  Since my return home I have conferred with my aunts and uncle and we have initiated some much required maintenance.  It’s a lovely house and were it not for the cobwebs I would have enjoyed exploring the rooms.  It must have been charming in its heydey, and if lived in again it would still look quite charming.  However, it is beginning to fall down too.  I found very few traces of my grandfather, but they might yet be in there.  Instead of searching for signs of how they lived, we found ourselves making a rather clinical inspection of damage and danger areas, and identifying the various pests which were moving in.  We also spoke at length with the occupant who told us of a few other issues.

I hope to make another visit at some point.

It was getting late.  Since I had permission, I collected some likely tins and folders of papers to bring home with me.  We left at about 6PM and headed for Dimboola which was a distance of about 90km. From here we were back on the familiar A8, the highway from Melbourne to Adelaide.  We slept the night at Keith, and arrived home at midday on the eighth day.

This brings the road trip to a close.  It was a very full week and a day of making discoveries and connections.  Days later, I am still going over all I have learned, and getting to know my living relatives was a priceless experience.  One day, I hope to do it all again!