Talk about having one’s brains blown! I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as we snaked down the corrugated, dirt road, past the cemetery, and on the way to Licola, with the Jamieson river flats on our left.
‘Oh sure!’ exclaimed Wendy as she vacuumed the crumbs around Rhonda’s chair at breakfast in the Courthouse Pub that first morning, ‘I know where Old Stivy Cole lived. Not far from where I live now. You used to be able to see his chimney stack just above the brow of the slope. I finish here in half an hour, and I’ll take youse down’. And she did.
And we stood there, beside the barbed-wire fence, taking care with the mangle of blackberry vines, gawping. It was hard to fathom that we found the location so quickly. That folk still remembered; that they gave a damn that we were reunited with our roots. But they did; care, that is. And we were dumbfounded. There were five of us blood-cousins: Rhonda, and Sandra, and Julie, and Brett, and Dean. And four others keeping us company.
We asked permission of the current owner to return the next day, and traipsed in convoy over the sodden pastures towards this apparent nothingness in the greater landscape. With the snaking line of the Jamieson River to our right, our eyes swept across the river flats, up the rise to where Stephen and Hannah had sited their home. The very word sends visions across my brow of a warm hearth, and hearty children, growing up free and happy. The reality was far different. Yes, they were free. And maybe they were happy. Happier than in the Old Dart. But, boy oh boy, it was a tough life, a rugged life, a poor life. Talk about struggle street.
All that remained was a pair of apple trees, loaded with what appeared to be crab-apples, one tree bent and twisted and weathered through the years. The chimney was long gone, reduced to a few bricks in amongst a tussock of grass, a shattering of slate from a chimney grate. Gone was any form of foundation. Gone were the horse-works in the paddock. But, to stand upon the chimney mound and to lift one’s eyes upward and sweep down the tree-lined river, to the vista of the high country beyond, was to stand in their shoes and to see with their eyes, and to understand why THIS was their chosen Eldorado.
This was where Hannah died in 1878, of heart failure at the age of 58. This was where Stephen, the father, died in 1890 of diabetes and its complications. This is where Stivy lived until close to his 90s when concerned townsfolk transferred him to another hut in the township before he died of dementia and other afflictions of old age, in Mansfield in 1948. The other three children moved on: Charles Wilkins to the outblocks of NSW: Mary Louisa into Jamieson with her newspaperman husband, Tom Still, and then to Dandenong in the early 1920s where she died in 1940. Emma Kezia, the only one born to Stephen and Hannah in Jamieson, moved to Dandenong with Mary, and died in 1957 at the age of 92.
We paid our respects, we thought our thoughts, then we brushed our tears, patting the cold, hard headstones of eternity peeking into the very crevices of our own minds.
Emma Kezia was born on this site in 1865. George Stephen was also, in 1887. As was Olive Sylvia Annie in 1888. Some people were born. Some people died. And some people moved away. But they were not just any people, but OUR people.