Friday, September 23, 2011


I spent a wonderful afternoon last Sunday out at what was originally my Great Grandparents farm. My Great Grandparents migrated to Australia from Paisley in Scotland in 1854 and were a pioneering family and the first people to take up the land when the first allotments were sold off to the settlers. Two of my cousins were at the farm, so I was able to scan my Grandmothers hand written cook book as it is still kept in the kitchen drawer with the tea towels. The same place it has been for most of my life. Grandma had a new kitchen built around 1966 when the house was renovated and electricity was first connected. Before that Grandma had a small kitchen off the veranda and the breakfast room as it was called, a large room with a big open fireplace where Grandma cooked in pots that hung from iron chains. The room also had a large table where the family ate and an old fashioned rocking chair that Grandma sat by the fire in. An old clock ticked away on the mantelpiece and the old miner’s couch that sat at one end of the table had one arm worn flat where the kids climbed over it to get to the table to eat. My Grandmother had seven children over a period of 25 years and with no modern conveniences, I doubt that Grandma had a lot of spare time to sit when the family was all at home. Like many people who lived with little money to spend, most thing were reused and the cook book had apparently been used before as it had 'sheep book' hand written on the cover, then the year 1957, two years before I was born. Grandma Herd was born on the 4th April 1890 and died just before what would have been her 87th birthday in 1977 when I was 17 and was the only grandparent that I ever really got to know as the others had all passed away before I began school. Grandma was a tiny woman and none of the grandchildren were very old before we were as tall as her. Like most other women of her era, Grandma had little education and I am not certain if she received her ' Merit Certificate' But she was incredibly well informed about world and local happenings, had an amazing memory that she was well known for, and crossword puzzles, the larger and more difficult were her favorites. A dictionary sat beside her chair and was so well worn that it was held together with a fowler’s vacola rubber band. You were frowned upon if you gave her recycled magazines that someone else had begun the crossword in! It is difficult to imagine what her life was like as she had never ventured more than a 50 km radius from where she was born. My father commented often that his mother was a fabulous cook as she could make a family meal out of nothing. Because that is what they had some times, meaning very little. Grandma would go up into the sheep yards and pick stinging nettles to cook if they were the only available green vegetable. My father's youngest brother never married and returned home to the farm during the Second World War and lived there for the rest of his life. The original part of the house, three bedrooms and the lounge room was built out of mud brick in1907. The timber for the house was sourced locally and the door jams, skirting boards, architrave's and window frames were all hand cut using an adze. The trendy term now would be a "hand made" house. My uncle along with all of the rest of the family was a very simple type of person. Consumerism did not run in this family. Uncle Mac had about three changes of clothes, a pair of pajamas reserved for hospital stays and a suit to wear to funerals and not one other possession to his name that he did not need, use, or had not been passed down to him from his parents. The only changes in the original interior of the house apart from the electricity were that all of the rooms except Grandma's bedroom were re wallpapered in the 1930's. Four of the seven children were born in the that room, delivered by Grandmother's mother Julia, who acted as the local midwife.
Grandma's room
In 2002 I took this photo of my son Coen standing in front of Grandmas bed, the bed that my father had been born in 90 years before. My cousin Yvonne commented to me after Uncle Mac passed away, how little there was in the house and that the kitchen dresser's bottom cupboards was only full of old washed jam jars, ready to be reused. Which by the way I am now using when I make jam. My oldest cousin Lindsay has celebrated his 80th birthday and I am the second youngest. We are blessed that as a family we can return to our Grandparents house and nothing much has changed, it is always the same as we remember it. Daniel Thomas in the catalogue of drawings by the artist Grace Cossington Smith says of ‘Cossington’, the artists family home ' The artist's own house, which like any long-inhabited home, had become a tribal sacred site for Smith family memories.' To the Herd family this farm and house are definitely our 'tribal sacred site'
This is a photo of my Grandmother sitting on the gate at the side of the house. I am not certain how old she would have been at the time but her oldest son was born just before the house was finished in 1907. The gate is still there and Rod was doing some welding on it to fix some problem with it while I was there on Sunday.
coen in the orchard
I took this photo of Coen down at the original orchard that my Great Grandparents had planted, and earned a living from. Coen is wearing a jumper that I knitted for him. I bought a cream coloured hand knitted jumper at an op shop for 50cents and un pulled it and dyed the wool to recycle into the jumper for him. It is amazing really how the world changed in the years after the Second World War. Manufacturing and consumerism rule now. Yvonne, Julia and I all agreed on Sunday that we were born at the wrong time, life for our parents was much simpler, there was more of a sense of community and having less is actually a LOT MORE!

I noticed after I scanned these photos that the bed on the scanner must have some of the flour that fell out of Grandma’s cook book onto it still. Somehow I think that it is nice to just leave the photos how they are.


  1. Love your story about the family house and the family. I grew up in a similar house in Westmeadows and can relate very easily to your reminicences about recipe books, jam jars and old uncles.

  2. Hi Glennis, thanks for the comment. Those family homes are a 'tribal sacred site' So different to our time now. It was 100 years in April since my father was born in that house.


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