Ship name / Flight number: Largs Bay
Arrival date: 04/03/1929
Written by John McFeat on 22 May 1987
My Aussie Mum (Ma Robards)
‘My memory, at 73 takes me back to 1929 to the one to become, until she passed away whilst I was abroad, my Aussie Mum.
Then, my age now, she welcomed me, the British migrant, to her small mixed farm at Garra via Pinecliff. I, at 15 had left a mother widowed by war to take my chances in a new land. Incredibly for such a small island, I had never seen the sea and my six weeks aboard the Larg’s Bay with hundreds of other migrants-eventful.
Together, Mum and I worked the farm with occasional help of Uncle Wisby Bennett from nearby Garra. My new dad rendered incapable by illness could only tender advice and, as a new chum, I (later to become a mounted police sergeant) was neither allowed the use of a saddle-might be dragged or to take the axe to cut firewood. I did it surreptitiously one early morning and arrived with a ‘crow’s nest’ on the dray to the stentorian bellow of ‘who harnessed that bloody horse?’ I had the collar and harness upside down. Sid, the eldest son was 43, totally blind and crippled with arthritis both he and my Aussie Dad and the big brother allotted me in Australia the rev. A.H. Austin of Hunter’s hill who kept a cow at the Manse, were to die in my first years in Australia. Blinded by fate but gifted in memory, Sid would ask me what I had done during the day as I sat by his feet on the outside verandah and would accurately recount it to those of our visitors, later, just as he visualised the orchard and garden down near the water tank.
I can see my Aussie Mum now, hands uplifted, murmuring a silent prayer for rain as we fed the ‘milkers’ straw and molasses and the sheep branches from the Kurrajong (tree). From a town where rain was a constant, to me it seemed strange but I was soon to learn what water meant on a dry continent.
When a pig had to be killed for the table I would shoot it as it fed and Ma would tuck up her skirts, hop into the sty and stick it with a knife. Together we would cart it in the barrow for scraping with hot water. She would salt down the bacon, prepare the hams and make soap with the fat. Her pantry shelves were covered with the products of our orchard which, together, we would tend, spraying from a big barrel mounted on the dray and pulled by the patient cart horse Gyp. Ma would spray with a big hat over her eyes and I would pump the mixture.
When her bees swarmed, together we would shake the swarm gently intro the bee box and by night carry it to the others lined near the hedge. I worked the honey extractor and on occasions did trips to the bush with big Sid Parslow the bearded giant who plied his trade in the bushlands in his old battered truck.
A ‘lass’ brought our mail by sulky from Pinecliff and on one occasion, having picked up the mail from the roadside mailbox, one of the dogs a cattle dog Kelpie cross attacked and killed a snake. Minutes later it collapsed, frothing and Ma said “Get the shovel Jack”. Miraculously the dog survived,
When our milkers were bloated with trefoil Ma used soda and chains in their mouths to make them break wind and when this proved useless, as a last resort she would pierce their skins at the haunches to allow the gas to escape. In the better weather, Sid would enjoy sitting out on the verandah and Ma would remain with him despite her early rising and call me from my bed on the verandah to help carry him back to his own.
Having never seen death, their deaths stayed with me for many years as did the memory of a woman who, to whom hard work, perseverance and faith was a major part of living. To me she epitomised the Australia of yesterday and her favourite hymn, (sung in the local church built of stone quarried from the farm) Abide with me still rings out, in spite of the deafness which afflicts me now as it did her in years gone past.
‘I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.’
Memories of her courage and fortitude as also those of my own mother have helped me in my darkest days. Who could but be brave when faced with the resilience and determination of those who suffered so much and asked so little.
My own mother widowed at 37 when my father 39 was buried in the trenches at Ypres. In that war she lost her youngest brother, John Kirk (Black Watch) who died of wounds October 1914 aged 18 years. Two brothers were amputees. My own brother, Michael born 1900 was reported missing, believed drowned on the HMS Amansora in 1917. He was AWOL and in jail in Liverpool. She had earlier lost two children one, Helen through inoculation and Tommy burned to death as infants. I have his photo with Mum and Mum was wearing black and had just been told of dad’s death.
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