ADHS Newsletter No. 187 NOVEMBER, 2000

Return to index page for Pyrenees Pioneers newsletter.

Items of interest -

Opening of Court House Extension - Our President, Graeme Mills, welcomed over fifty people to the opening of the new extension to the Court House on Sunday, 19th November. This was an exciting day for the Society as the new building will be a great asset, giving us a much-needed large workroom with kitchen and toilet facilities, thanks to a grant of $18,650 to the Pyrenees Shire through the Rural Community Development Scheme. The Pyrenees Shire then contributed $5,500, whilst the Society’s contribution was $13,500 plus voluntary labour. Special guests included Lester Harris, President of the Pyrenees Shire, and his wife, Elizabeth, Stephen Cornish, the Shire CEO, and Chris Smith, who designed and was responsible for the building. In his comments, Graeme Mills said that it gave great satisfaction knowing that the builder, plumber and electrician who worked on the project were all local people, as were the Society members who contributed some 180 hours of voluntary work to complete the building, special mention being made of the efforts of Herb Robinson and Lily Mills. Graeme then invited Helen Harris, who founded the Society, to open the new building.

Helen expressed her pleasure at being invited to be part of this special event and explained how she came to be interested in the Avoca area - a city girl, she met an ex-Avoca lad, Terry Harris, at a dance in Melbourne, was duly taken to Avoca to meet his parents and brother (Peg and Bill, and Lester), and later married, settling in Nunawading. After Terry was killed in a blizzard at Mount Hotham in 1978, Helen was left a widow with two small daughters. As she felt it was important to continue the connection with Avoca, she and the girls regularly made the 3 hour trip from Nunawading.

Already interested in family history, Helen took it up in earnest after Terry’s death, serving on committees and assisting in indexing records. Visits to Avoca thus followed a regular pattern - the girls would be left with their grandparents whilst Helen headed for a local cemetery to transcribe the monuments and/or registers. In due course, every small cemetery in the Avoca area had been transcribed. These transcriptions were given to the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies, which built up quite a collection of goldfields cemetery information. But Helen could see that the history of the Avoca area was not being preserved, neither the records nor the built environment - witness, for example, the destruction of the last remaining sub treasury in Victoria, part of a unique 1860s complex of buildings in this town - and wanted to do something about it. After speaking to several people about starting a local historical society and nothing eventuating, Helen decided to start one herself, and the first meeting was held on 20th May, 1984, with Joan Hunt, a well-known genealogist and local historian, as guest speaker.

Helen’s idea in starting the society was simple but radical - unlike many other local historical societies who ran little-visited museums and recorded the activities of respectable people only, we would record details of anyone who spent any time, however fleeting, and however scandalous, in the area. Thus the great unwashed mass of humanity, rarely found in most local history files, would appear in our records. Ours was to be a combination of a local history and family history collection, because Helen believed then, and still does, that you cannot separate the two. People do not live in isolation from their surroundings and, to really understand past lives, you need to involve yourself in every facet of their being. Her plan was to set up the society, then step aside after a few years - but it didn’t quite work out like that!

About 15 people attended that first meeting, with membership set at $5 a single, $8 a family and $1 for full-time students. Meetings were to be held on the third Sunday of every month to enable non-residents to attend. Both the Fire Brigade and the Church of England offered use of their halls, and Jan Burnett volunteered the use of her spare room to store material. There would be a monthly newsletter, which Helen wrote, and the first speaker in June was Maureen Maguire, a genealogist from Melbourne, whose ancestors came from Natte Yallock. She brought a friend, Ralph Stavely, with her and, as he walked into the Fire Brigade Hall, he saw his ancestor’s photo on display - so he joined too. Maureen and Ralph, now married, remain members, as do a number of other early joiners - in particular, our president, Graeme Mills, and research officer, Jan Burnett. By July, Margaret and Harry Oulton, and Lorna and Jack Purser had joined. Lorna took over the newsletter, temporarily, after 35 issues, in April, 1987, and apart from leave of absence for two overseas trips, continues it still. It has now grown to six pages and is produced on computer, Lorna having overcome her reluctance to investigate this new medium.

Continuing her overview of the history of the Society, Helen said that, in August, 1984, we commenced our first indexing tasks - local Church of England marriage and Wesleyan baptismal records, inquest files and various petitions which she had located at the Public Record Office. We have since indexed many records, including other church registers, naturalisations, land files, police correspondence files, police and government gazettes, school records, even gaol and industrial school records. Thus our index card collection has become one of the best local history sources in the State, and one of the strengths of the society.

In October, 1984, we had our first display during the Wool and Wine Festival, and our membership was over seventy and growing. By May, 1985, we had over 2,000 index cards and a sub-committee to handle newsletter distribution. It was decided a Members’ Interests Directory was to be issued every few years and this task continues to this day.

With no permanent home and no financial help in the way of grants, storage of our records became a problem and members became scroungers of anything that might be of use, be it paper, used index cards, filing cabinets, drawers or empty wine casks.

In December, 1987, a press release from the then local member announced that the Society had been given the Avoca Court House, rent free, as a permanent home. Actually, what had been offered was a twenty-year lease on a derelict building that needed nearly $20,000 worth of restoration in order to make it habitable. That the Society took on this task shows an enormous amount of faith in our future - a faith that has been amply justified. Fund-raising began in earnest, including what has now become an annual event - the February garage sale. Tax deductibility for Court House restoration donations was obtained, which helped, but it was 1993 before the restored Court House was officially opened. In glorious weather, the police pipe band strode up the main street, followed by members dressed in period costume. It helped that the then newly-appointed Police Commissioner’s ancestors came from the area and, in fact, the Commissioner himself made the trip to Avoca for the opening.

In recent years, Helen’s trips to Avoca have been less frequent, but she has watched with pleasure as the Society has continued to develop. She has been aware that, as our collection has grown, the Court House has become inadequate for the Society’s needs and an extension was needed but, as ever, finance was a problem. She pointed out that, since its beginnings, this Society has always persevered and triumphed with its projects and, once again, thanks particularly to the hard work and generosity of a number of people, this new building became first a possibility and then a certainty.

Helen concluded by saying that this extension to the Avoca Court House will make the task of recording and preserving the history of this area so much easier and it gave her much pleasure to officially declare it open.

As Helen drew the cord to unveil the plaque on the wall of the workroom, those of us ‘in the know’ watched to see her reaction, for it said "The Helen Harris, OAM, Room". "Ooooh!" she said. "Ooooh! I’ve never had anything named for me before!" So we had kept our secret well!.

President Graeme Mills then presented Helen and the Shire President’s wife with a spray of lovely hand-made flowers, created by his wife, Lily. Then a well-deserved presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation was made to Herb Robinson for his exceptional contribution to the completion of the new building. Helen also received a Certificate of Appreciation for all that she has done in founding the Society and over the years since, in so many ways.

Those attending then inspected the new premises and the interesting display set up there before adjourning to the Court House for a sumptuous luncheon, provided by members, and we thank everyone who contributed in any way to the success of the day. The first prize in the raffle, a basket of Christmas goodies, was won by Lesley Bennett, of Ararat, and the second prize went to Frank Anderson, from Sale, a Christmas wreath created by Lily Mills, who also donated the first prize. We thank Gary Nelson for drawing the winning tickets.

General Meeting - At the monthly meeting which followed the morning’s excitement, President Graeme Mills thanked all those who had volunteered their services to complete the new project, and those who had apologised because they could not assist. He said the building is a credit to all who have worked on it - all local Avoca people, both tradesmen and volunteers. Special mention was made of the efforts contributed by Herb. Robinson, Lily Mills, Dave Peck, Charlie Peters and Colleen Allen. He extended thanks to Lily Mills and Edna Jarvis who organised the catering for the luncheon and to those who assisted them, to Murray Little for his specialist assistance with camera and computer, and last, but certainly not least, to Helen Harris, for making it all possible. Among the many visitors that day were folk from Canberra, Melbourne and Sale. After the general meeting, Helen Harris answered members’ questions on genealogical research.

Donations to the Court House Restoration Fund - The Society is most appreciative of the support shown by members to our appeal for donations to assist in making up the shortfall in our financial contribution to the cost of the new extension to the Court House and we sincerely thank the following members for their generosity -

P. Pora, E. Shooter, L. Reid, Marion Brown, V. Intihar, P. Boyd, D. Hansen, N. Rowland, S. Slater, L. Purser, G. Noonan, G. Hunter, D. Black, J. Wallden, C. Rohde, L. Bennett, M. and R. Stavely, K. Hogan and D. Birchall.

Federation Project - To mark the centenary of Federation next year, the Society has decided to compile a collection of photographs of High Street, Avoca, as it appeared circa 1900, and as it looks today. To assist us with this project, we are seeking old postcards and photographs of the main street of 100 years ago.

A Scrapbook of Local Obituaries - Dorothy Robinson has completed another ‘labour of love’ and has presented the Society with a large indexed scrapbook of newspaper reports of deaths, obituaries, accidents, etc., which will be an excellent research tool. Thank you, Dorothy.

Next Meeting and Christmas Break-Up - This will be held on Sunday, 10th December, from 12 noon, at the Court House and members are asked to bring a small plate of salad and a sweet to share for lunch, also a gift to exchange, costing no more than $3.

Please note that the Court House will be closed over the holiday season from Sunday, 10th December, 2000, to Saturday, 17th February, 2001. However, appointments can be made with Jan Burnett on 5465 3265 during this period, as Jan is happy to open the Court House at any time to suit researchers.

New Members - The Society extends a warm welcome to the following new members -

Mrs. Diana HALMARICK, of Wantirna South, Vic., who is interested in the Robertson family, of Mt. Mitchell.

Mr. Jim and Mrs. Noelene McCULLOCH, of Forest Hill, Vic., who are researching the FORTE family.

Mrs. Wendy TUCCI, of Bacchus Marsh, Vic., whose interest is the PEACOCK family.

Robertson Family Reunion - The Robertson Family Reunion was held over the weekend of 11th and 12th November, 2000, at three venues - the Mt. Mitchell Homestead, Lexton Public Hall and the Lexton Presbyterian Church - with 260 people attending.

Our member, Margaret Oulton, who wrote the history of the Lexton Shire, A Valley of the Finest Description, was invited to speak on the history of the area and so create a background to the story of the Robertson family who settled at Mt. Mitchell in the early years and contributed so much to the life of the Shire of Lexton as well as to their adopted country in general. Members of this remarkable family were pioneers and leaders in many fields, including the pastoral industry and agriculture; local, State and Federal Government and the Public Service; they were pioneers in the field of aviation and also the Royal Flying Doctor Service; players and administrators in the field of sport; they were courageous in military service; and innovative and versatile in their work and every-day living.

Thomas Robertson, Snr., played a leading role in establishing the Lexton Presbyterian Church as well as assisting with the establishment of other churches in the Lexton Shire. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace and sat on the Bench at Lexton. In 1860, James Robertson became one of the first members of the Lexton District Roads Board, becoming Chairman in 1861. By 1864, the Roads Board had become the Shire of Lexton, with James as its first President. James, Thomas Jnr., and John Gordon Robertson, between them, served the Shire of Lexton as Councillors for a total of 70 years. The family’s involvement in community organisations ranged from the Lexton Turf Club to the Lexton Horticultural Society.

There are still some senior citizens in the area who used to work at Mt. and East Mt. Mitchell. Many have stories to tell, which have been passed down from generation to generation, of the Robertsons of Mt. Mitchell who are held in high esteem. The family, together with the homestead, form an important part of the history of the town and the former Shire of Lexton.

At the reunion dinner, Margaret Oulton had the privilege of launching the book, Thos. Robertson and Sons : Mainstays of Our Earliest Days, written by Diana Halmarick for the occasion. The hard-covered book contains 328 pages, photos, maps, etc., its size being 21 x 30 x 3 cms. The index includes 208 Runs, Stations and Properties in Victoria and some in New South Wales. It is a large book and costs $65 plus postage and is available from Mrs. Diana Halmarick, 50 Ponsford Avenue, Wantirna South, Vic. 3152, phone 03 9800 3390.

(My thanks to Margaret Oulton for her notes on this special event in the district. Ed.)

Moonambel Primary School No. 1683 Celebrates 125 Years of Education - The weekend of 4th and 5th November, 2000, saw between 200 and 300 visitors at the celebrations to mark 125 years of education at the Moonambel Primary School. Bob Farnsworth and John Argall organised several events over the weekend to mark the occasion. A commemorative path of pavers, showing the names of former students, was opened by a former relieving teacher in 1934, Mrs. Aimee Farnsworth (nee Crouch), ably assisted by Michael Ronaldson, MP, and Rob Searle. The scissors used to cut the ribbon on this occasion were the same ones used at the switching on of SEC power to Moonambel in 1963. A memorial tree was planted by Michael Ronaldson. Present day students’ names were inscribed on pavers surrounding a plaque which was unveiled by Joe Helper, Member for Ripon, and Regional Principal consultant David Ingham. Shire President Lester Harris read the roll call, whilst the anniversary cake was cut by the oldest former student attending, Mrs. Nell Harrison, aged 91, from Geelong, assisted by the youngest student, Taylor Hall, aged 5. A historic walk was conducted by Jill Hunter, whilst a memorabilia room created much interest. Saturday’s activities ended with a dinner and dance in the Moonambel Hall. An ecumenical church service was held at the school on Sunday and the celebrations continued at Warrenmang Vineyards on Sunday evening with a Guy Fawkes bonfire, petanque competition, BBQ and a fireworks display to conclude a most memorable weekend.

Joe Helper launched the book written for the occasion by Ms Merri Hogan, Hollow In The Hill, a social history of Moonambel. ‘Hollow in the hill’ is said to be the Aboriginal meaning of ‘Moonambel’. (A copy of this book has kindly been donated to the Society for our library.)

A Snippett From The Past - Picnic at Rathscar West - (From The Avoca Free Press of 28th March, 1914)

"At a meeting held recently the following gentlemen were appointed to the committee in connection with the Rathscar West State school :- Messrs. Job Mills, Geo. Jolly, W.A. Jolly, J.W. Field, B. Elliott, Thos. Derrick, and J. Harbour.

The Rathscar West school grounds presented an animated scene on Wednesday afternoon last, the occasion being a picnic, which it is intended to make an annual fixture. There was a large attendance, visitors coming from Natte Yallock, Avoca, and other places. A hearty welcome was extended to all, and as everyone seemed on pleasure bent, both young and old had a very enjoyable outing. The umbrageous pines which surround the school lend a touch of charm to the environments; beneath these trees a number of seats were placed; choice refreshments were dispensed, the al fresco repast being highly appreciated.

The young men of the locality prepared an excellent running track, and the juveniles had some exciting contests. The principal race, the Sheffield Handicap, attracted quite a number of contestants, Mr. W. Mills winning in nice style. A substantial money prize was awarded to the first man, whilst the runner-up (Mr. Tom Elliott) received a trophy, valued at 10s.6d. The young ladies’ race was won by Miss Annie Field, with Miss D. Derrick second. Games of all kinds were also indulged in, and the swings (improvised by Messrs. T. and J. Elliott) were liberally patronised.

The school committee and the ladies of Rathscar West are to be complimented on the success of the gathering; all worked in harmony and the proceedings passed off without a hitch. Miss Ainsworth, who is in charge of the school, also spared no pains to make the function the success it undoubtedly was.

As the shades of evening commenced to fall supper was partaken of, after which a pleasant hour was spent in games in the school room, the happy gathering breaking up at about 9 p.m.

Appended are the details of the races :-

Sheffield Handicap, 130 yds - W. Mills, 1; T. Elliott, 2; R. Scott, 3. Won by a yard, with Scott close up. Other starters - E. Derrick, F. Scott, D. Scott, J. Elliott, Peter Brown, W. Jolly, E.T. Brown, and R. Elliott.

Young Ladies’ Race - Miss Annie Field, 1; Miss Daisy Derrick, 2; Miss Ettie Scott, 3.

Girls’ Race - Vera Jolly, 1; W. Henry, 2; May Scott, 3.

Girls’ Race - Lily Ross, 1; Vera Mills, 2.

Girls’ Race - Nettie Henry, 1; May Jolly, 2.

Boys’ Race - Richard Elliott, 1; Dan Scott, 2; Claude Harbour, 3.

Boys’ Race - Ted Elliott, 1; Reg. Mills, 2.

Stabbing pig’s eye - B. Castleman, 1; W. Mills, 2.

Pre-Publication Offer - Sydney Burial Ground 1819-1901 - Elizabeth and Devonshire Streets (site of Central Railway Station) by Keith Johnson and Malcolm Sainty - This new volume (to be published April 2001) contains : Details of 10,000 people from the Re-Interment Register compiled by the Department of Public Works and Supplementary notes from Surveyor’s Books of 1901 when the monuments and remains were relocated. Details from 2,500 Licences issued by the Colonial Secretary to bury between 1867 and 1888 with additional information from many Applicants’ Forms held in Colonial Secretary Bundles (NSW State Records). Transcription by Johnson and Sainty in 1969 of the 2825 Tombstones transferred to Bunnerong Cemetery in 1901 (published as Gravestone Inscriptions NSW - Volume 1 in 1973 - long out of print - vol. 2 not pub.) History of the Cemetery and of Sydney’s Early Burial Grounds from 1788.

Over 400 pages, with comprehensive index and illustrations, hardbound. Pre-publication price $48.00 if ordered before 31st March, 2001, with deposit of $15.00. Normal price will be $59.50 (all plus postage).

Contact Library of Australian History, PO Box 795, North Sydney, NSW 2059, for full details and order form.

Census of NSW 1828 on CD-ROM - A CD-Rom version will be published early in 2001. The book version of the Census is now out of print. The CD will allow searches by a number of fields including Surname, Given Name, Age, Status (convict/free or Born in Colony, etc.), Ship and Year of Arrival, Religion, Occupation, Abode. It is comprehensively cross-indexed so that employers for example can be located. The informative Introduction and Reference Notes from the published volume as well as up-dated Addenda and Corrigenda will be included on the CD-ROM. It will be available early in 2001 at a cost of $49.50 plus $3.50 p&p. The pre-publication offer is $40 plus p&p, with a deposit of $9.00 to secure this price.

Contact the Library of Australian History, PO Box 795, North Sydney, NSW, 2059, for an order form.

Can You Help? Mt. Egerton Cemetery, Vic. - Mrs. June Huggins, c/o Post Office, Gordon, Vic., 3345, is hoping to compile an index of those buried in the Mt. Egerton cemetery before 1900, all cemetery records before that date having been lost in a fire. Copies of relevant death certificates would be appreciated.

Old Catholic Cemetery, North Street, Nowra - The Secretary of the Shoalhaven Family History Society, PO Box 591, Nowra, NSW 2541 seeks details of interments in the old Catholic Cemetery in North Street, Nowra, for a proposed memorial plaque.

North Head Quarantine Station - Nathalie Hartog, PO Box 551, Newport Beach, NSW, 2106, is researching experiences of people at the North Head Quarantine Station and would appreciate letters, diaries, etc. Her e-mail address is <nathalie_hartog@dingoblue.net.au>

(The above three items are from the journal of the Newcastle Family History Society Inc., Bulletin 146)

Members should note that this will be your last newsletter for the year 2000. Your first newsletter for the New Year should be in your mail box in early February. Meantime, clear your cupboards and let us have your unwanted bits and pieces for the Annual Garage Sale to be held on 17th February, 2001, with our first meeting for the year to follow that afternoon.

We send hearty greetings for Christmas and the New Year to all our members, near and far.

The gift of love, the gift of peace, the gift of happiness,

May these be yours at Christmas.