ADHS Newsletter No. 183, JULY, 2000

Items of interest –

  • Talk by Anne Young about WWI and Avoca. Names mentioned: Ike Webster, of Glenpatrick, Charles and Dave Willmott of Avoca, Edward Mitchell, Henry Rowland of Homebush, Percy Tuck of Warrenmang, Anton Keil, Robert and Norman Harrowfield, George Barry, Joseph Armstrong, W. Tardrew; Cecil Neil, Walter Harvey, Cpl. Jack Henderson, Charles Gibson, Roy La Roche, Stanley Redpath, Sgt. Bill Mitchell, Charles Doote, Pte. Les and James Yates, Arthur Southern, Jack Gee, John Larkin, Phil Lyons, Cpl. Summerfield, James Beavis, Pte. Tom Elliott, Sgt. Walter Johnson, Jack Gee, Dave Summers, Gus Ebeling.
  • Draft program of the Society’s monthly activities
  • Opening of new Police station at Avoca.
  • Amphitheatre Primary School – 125th Anniversary, 15 September 2000

The Impact of WWI on the Avoca District was the subject of a talk given by member Anne Young at our meeting held on 16th July. Anne is doing a Local and Applied History Course at the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, and has chosen the Avoca-Homebush area as her subject because of her husband’s family history background there. The family moved away from Homebush immediately after WWI. Most of the men in the Young family served their country in that conflict and found that mining had almost ceased on their return from active service.

When WWI was declared, there was such a strong feeling for the Empire that no active effort was needed to seek volunteers. The number enlisting in the early days was just a trickle compared with the higher numbers joining up later in the recruiting drives of July, 1915, and February, 1916. In her research, Anne has found details of 370 men who enlisted from the district, which is more than the 140 shown on the memorial or listed in the local papers.

Some of the men were killed at Gallipoli and, from April, 1915, the numbers grew steadily. Among these were Ike Webster, of Glenpatrick (see Newsletter No. 171 for his story), Charles Willmott, of Avoca, Edward Mitchell, Henry Rowland, of Homebush, Percy Tuck, of Warrenmang, and Anton Keil. Charles Willmott’s brother, Dave, enlisted in July, 1915, possibly when he heard the news of his brother’s death.

The first wounded soldiers came back to Avoca soon after April, 1915. Up till June, 1915, about 12 deaths had been reported. At this stage, there had not been a big effect on people’s consciousness but it deepened as the casualty lists grew. Pte. Norman Harrowfield enlisted in October, 1914, served at Gallipoli and in France, was killed, aged 27, and is buried at Villers-Bretonneux. He is remembered on three of the many Honour Rolls which exist in the district. His brother, Robert, enlisted in August, 1915, aged 20, and, although he was wounded, he survived the war.

Another of those killed was Pte. Les Yates, who was in the same Division of the 8th Battalion as Arthur Southern, Jack Gee, John Larkin, Phil Lyons and Cpl. Summerfield. Les and his brother, James, enlisted in April, 1915. Les is remembered on the Avoca Soldiers’ Memorial, the Avoca School Roll of Honour, the ANA Memorial in the Shire Hall, the Soldiers’ Honour Board at the Avoca Fire Brigade Hall, and the Honour Roll in St. John’s Anglican Church. The Avoca Brass Band also lamented his passing. He was obviously an active member of the community, which would feel deeply the loss of this type of man.

Enlisted men were given farewells by their townsfolk. Farewells were held at Amphitheatre for George Barry, Joseph Armstrong and W. Tardrew; at Warrenmang for Cecil Neil and Walter Harvey; at Natte Yallock for Cpl. Jack Henderson (only 19 years old); at Lamplough for Charles Gibson; at Avoca for Roy La Roche, Stanley Redpath and Sgt. Bill Mitchell, and at Percydale for Charles Doote.

Soldiers wrote home regularly and letters were published in the Avoca Mail and the Avoca Free Press. These often gave news of other local men. Through these, the folk at home gained some idea of what their menfolk were enduring on the battlefield, or the sight-seeing they were enjoying whilst on leave in England. Letters mentioned in the talk were from James Beavis, Pte. Tom Elliott and Sgt. Walter Johnson. The latter wrote of a surprise meeting with Les and Jim Yates, Jack Gee, Dave Summers and Arthur Summerfield.

One of the more notable local soldiers was Gus Ebeling, who had served as a Lieutenant in the Boer War. He was a farmer and had successfully hybridised the Avoca wheat. When war was declared, Gus went to Maryborough to volunteer. He was 43 years of age and married. He was at the Gallipoli landing, was wounded, returned to Alexandria, then stowed away so that he could get back to Gallipoli, where he remained for several months, was promoted and Mentioned in Despatches several times. He was wounded again and invalided to England. He returned to Australia and was CO of the Bendigo Camp. An outstanding soldier, he earned the DSO and rose to the rank of Major.

Conscription became an issue in 1916, with the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, strongly in favour, and a referendum was called for. In anticipation of a “Yes” vote, the Prime Minister called up all eligible men for service within Australia. At Avoca, 121 men were medically examined but only 69 passed. Then 39 of those applied for exemption. The Exemption Courts were held at the Avoca Court House with a military officer presiding. The men could not be represented by a lawyer but had to appear personally and state their case in their own words.

The referendum gave a strong “No” vote and the conscripted men were discharged. A second referendum in 1917 gave an even stronger “No” vote throughout Australia.

The locals had got behind the war effort very quickly and every kind of social and sporting event was used to raise money; the Avoca branch of the Red Cross despatched parcels weekly, with much knitting of socks and sewing of shirts and pyjamas by the ladies; a Belgian Relief Fund was formed to assist the starving people of Belgium, and the school children worked for the State Schools’ Patriotic League by fund-raising, knitting and sewing.

The Australian Natives Association strongly supported the war effort. With the Arbor Day committee, they planted trees in 1918 in York Avenue, near the Avoca railway station, as an Avenue of Honour, to express the people’s sentiments to honour the enlisted men.

Anne is still trying to work out the full effect of the war on Avoca. Some changes were happening even as war was declared and people were moving away through lack of jobs in the mines. The community was obviously affected by the loss of so many active young men. With 370 enlisted men, a lot of families were affected. Sixty to seventy men died, and over half were wounded. Anne is very keen to share the results of her research, which is based on newspapers and the National Archives in Canberra. She has indexed the papers between 1914 and 1920 and will answer any queries about family members. She can also assist in how to search our war records on the Internet.

For her thesis, Anne is writing a short history of Avoca in those war years. She is anxious to hear your views of that period and would appreciate any information you can give to help her develop her thesis. Anne invites you to write to her at P.O. Box 30, Red Hill, ACT, 2603, or e-mail <Greg.Young@anu.edu.au>

We thank Anne for this interesting talk and wish her well with her studies and thesis.

Bus Trip to Castlemaine – A bus trip to Castlemaine is planned for Sunday, 20th August, leaving the Avoca Court House at 8.45 am, and returning about 4.45 pm. The bus will be met at Newstead by our guides and will proceed to Castlemaine via Guildford or Muckleford. After an inspection of the archives of the Castlemaine Historical Society, we will be taken on a town tour that the normal tourist does not see. Please provide your own morning and afternoon tea. There will be a break in the tour when lunch can be purchased, or you can take your own. It is planned to depart for home about 3.30 pm. Those wishing to go should phone Graeme Mills on 54 653 565, or Wendy Taylor on 54 677 228, no later than Wednesday, 16th August, to book a seat on the bus for this interesting tour.

Programme of Society’s Events – The following is a tentative programme of events for the next year:-

  • Sunday, 20th August – Bus tour to Castlemaine (as above).

Sunday, September 17 – Wes Dawson to speak on Memories of Avoca.

Sunday, October 16 – Meeting to organise opening of new extension to the Court House.

  • Sunday, November 19 – Official opening of new building at 11 am, followed by a light luncheon at 12.15 pm. Monthly meeting to follow.Sunday, December 10 – Christmas break-up.

January, 2001 – Possible Federation Trivia Night – date to be announced.

Saturday, February 18 – Garage Sale from 9 am. Meeting in afternoon.

Sunday, March 18 – Visit to Mooramong Homestead at Skipton.

April – Heritage Display – date to be announced.

Sunday, May 20 – Annual General Meeting

Sunday, June 17 – Daryl Wagstaff to speak.

Extensions to the Court House – Those attending our July meeting were delighted to see that work had commenced during that week on our new building. President Graeme Mills had dug 35 post holes and the concrete stumps were in place. As this newsletter is being prepared, the framework of the walls and roof have been completed and the next stage will be the roofing. It is great to see it all happening!

Donations – The Society is most appreciative of the following generous donations to our funds for the restoration of the Court House and the building of the new extension – E. Roberts, P. Grasso, R. Baker, L.A. Wilson, N.M. David, R. Bundy, J.L. Ellis, E. Cocking, A. Smith, D.K. Greenwood, L. Fraser, G. Noonan, J. Milne, R. Carless, J. Yetman, J. Wallden, A. Farns- worth, J. Heapey, L. and J. Purser, S. Driscoll, M. and H. Oulton, L. Finger, J. McGee, R. and R. de Fegely, C.A. Rohde, H. Harris, J. Severino and L. Croft.

Correction – In welcoming new member Kate Lougheed, of Sale, in our last newsletter, the listing of the names she is researching was incorrect. We apologise for this error. Her interests should read LOBB, LOUGHEED, BULL and STEWART.

The Olympic Torch was carried by well-known Avoca identity Faye Peck on Saturday, 22nd July, at Ararat. A bus load of well-wishers travelled there from Avoca to offer their support to Faye in her official role on this special occasion.


Opening of New Police Station at Avoca – An impressive ceremony took place on Tuesday, 18th July, for the opening of the new Avoca Police Station. In attendance were Police Minister Andre Haermeyer, Police Commissioner Neil Comrie and other visiting police officers, some of whom had served at Avoca, many local folk and school children. The children led the singing of the national anthem, the Police Minister officially opened the complex, and the plaque was unveiled by the Police Minister and the Police Commissioner. Senior Constable Gary Nelson, who has served the Avoca community for the past eleven years, was responsible for the historical display, which included a large frame containing photos of most of the policemen who have been stationed at Avoca over the years.

In his address, Police Commissioner Neil Comrie referred to his connections with Avoca and gave some history of early policing in the area. He said that his grandfather, Trooper Angus Comrie, was stationed at Avoca in the early 1900s, and went on to tell the story of his grandfather having to write to the then Chief Commissioner, on 28th December, 1907, to say that the Avoca police headquarters had been destroyed by fire on Christmas Day. Enquiries revealed that the fire was accidental. Mr. Comrie felt it was somewhat ironic that both he and his grandfather were involved with the replacement of police stations at Avoca, although for quite different reasons.

Mr. Comrie then referred to the gold rush era, with its dramatic changes to population as men moved from one rush to the next, making policing difficult. In 1853, with the establishment of the Victoria Police Force, a police station at Avoca was established, with a sergeant and eight mounted constables being sent from Melbourne. The police strength at Avoca in 1855 was 90 men, and this grew over the years to a total of 150 officers in 1865. Some of these were mounted troopers who set up make-shift police stations at the various rushes in the district. A permanent brick police residence was built in Avoca in 1867 and still stands today.

The new police complex includes a reception area, an office, property store, interview room and custodial facilities, also change rooms and mess facilities. It will be staffed by two police officers at this point in time, but can accommodate up to eight officers, if necessary.

Tributes were paid to Senior Constable Gary Nelson for the excellent job he has done in the community over the past eleven years. He will shortly transfer to Lexton and the comment was made, “Avoca’s loss will be Lexton’s gain”. The Society’s best wishes go with him to this new appointment.

A Leaf Has Softly Fallen – The death of Mrs. Muriel Clampett occurred on 25th July, 2000, bringing to a close an era of research into the Clampett and Weatherhead families, and we extend our sympathies to her family. Early in 1999, Muriel donated a copy of her book, Scattered Light, to the Society, and later, your Editor visited her and was given several more copies of the book for the Society to sell, with all proceeds to go to the Society. Muriel was a great family historian and wrote her books with great sensitivity and attention to detail in her research. Scattered Light is a tale full of love, joy and tragedy. It is the tale of a Franciscan Friar whose path in life was both varied and extraordinary. Born in Ireland and educated in Rome, Joseph Clampett came to Melbourne on the Marco Polo in 1863. His link with Avoca is through his ministry for a short time in 1876 at St. John’s Anglican Church, after the Rev. E.K. Yeatman left. Perhaps you may have a marriage certificate of an ancestor bearing Joseph’s name as the officiating minister, in which case you might find the story of the man behind the signature truly fascinating. There are a few copies of this book available at the Court House for $5 each, plus postage.

Amphitheatre Primary School – The 125th Anniversary of this school will be celebrated at the school with a BBQ luncheon at 12 noon on Friday, 15th September (the last day of this school term). To mark the occasion, new school gates will be unveiled after the luncheon. Enquiries should be directed to the Principal, Mr. Farrow, on 03 54 662 223.

Family History Fair – The Maryborough Family History Group will hold a Family History Fair on Saturday, 2nd September, 10 am to 4 pm, at the Baptist Church Hall, Cnr. Cross and Burke Streets, Maryborough. Resources and records will be available for research, and other local genealogy and history groups will be in attendance. Admission $5, with tea and coffee provided.

Historical Walk – The Community Information Centre, cnr. Tuaggra and Alma Streets, at Maryborough, has organised a guided tour of historic buildings in Maryborough during the Wattle Festival. The walk starts at the Centre at 10 am on Thursday, 7th September, and returns to the Centre for Devonshire tea. The cost is $3.

Lady Mary Teviot Family History Research Day – The Woady Yaloak Historical Society Inc. will hos tthis day on Sunday, 20th August, 10 am to 4 pm, at the Lederman Hall, Ascot Street South, Ballarat. Lady Teviot, the well-known genealogical expert from Britain, will be visiting Ballarat for a one-day seminar. She will discuss the Treasures of the Parish Chest, Wills and Inventories, Parish Registers, and ‘I Never Thought of That’. Cost of $22 includes GST, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. RSVP by 12th August to the Secretary, Post Office, Smythesdale, Vic. 3351. Enquiries to Elwyn on 5342 8651 or Alice on 5342 8478.

Lady Mary Teviot at Ararat – The Ararat Genealogical Society Inc. will host an evening meeting on Monday, 21st August, at 7.30 pm, at the Ararat Municipal Library, cnr. Barkly and Queen Streets, Ararat, when Lady Mary Teviot will be the guest speaker. Entry is by a gold coin and supper will be provided. Bookings are preferred and RSVP date is 16th August to the Secretary, P.O. Box 361, Ararat, 3377, phone 5352 4028.

A Gathering of the Descendants of the Pioneer Families Weekend will be hosted by the Lithgow and District Family History Society Inc. on 17th, 18th and 19th November, 2000, at Lithgow and Hartley Historic Village. Full details can be obtained from the Society, P.O. Box 516, Lithgow, NSW 2790, or phone 02 6355 6207.

RHSV State Biennial Conference – This will be held on 21st-22nd October, 2000, at historic Williamstown, the main venue being the Mechanics Institute, 5 Electra Street, Williamstown, and it is to be hosted by the Western Metropolitan Group of Historical Societies. The theme is ‘Plains, Ports, Planes’. Speakers on the Saturday include Susan Priestley, Charles Treleaven, Ian Rae, Susan Jennison, Bob Chalmers and David Gardiner. Guest speaker at the conference dinner will be Dr. John Lack, his topic being McKay Sunshine Harvester. A choice of tours of the area is available late Saturday and on the Sunday. For full details and application form, contact the RHSV at 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne, 3000, phone 9326 9288, or write to R. Hawkins, P.O. Box 455, Laverton, Vic. 3028, phone 03 9369 1496, for a registration form. Bookings should be made prior to 31st August and you are urged to book early as numbers are limited.