Grandmother was born to a different world

My grandmother was born on the banks of the Delaney River in the far north Queensland outback, probably under her parent’s ox wagon or, hopefully, under canvas.  It was somewhere between Gilberton and Forsyth. Not even Google can find my grandmother’s birth place.

She was born into a family of 14. I imagine that her mother would not have had even another woman present at some of those births.

Only seven lived past 43 years. Six died in 1919 during the great influenza epidemic after World War I. Worldwide, millions died from what we now shrug off as the flu.

I don’t know why my great grandparents left Scotland and Ireland for Australia. Possibly they were looking for gold.  They got off a boat, probably the Persia in Rockhampton.  Queensland was a good choice.

They met there and married. They became tinkers, or hawkers, and would load their ox-drawn wagons full of goods – pots and pans, shovels and axes – and travel west and north to the Gulf and Karumba.

They also took sewing machines and would make mosquito nets at night by the camp fire. Then they would return to Rockhampton to load more goods from the ships.

I think of my grandmother whenever there is an electric storm. Only now can I realise what life must have been like for a child living on, in, or under, a wagon while the thunder rolled and lightning flashed.

On such nights my grandmother would come and sit on my bed and tell us stories of the Aborigines and how they would come to their camps. When her father saw their spears, he would simply show them his gun and there would be no trouble.

She said when they drew near to Karumba, her father would ask her mother how many mosquito nets they could make after camp was set up that night. The whole family would put in a big effort.

The next morning, he would count the nets and advise they had to make that many every night from then on, all the way to Karumba.

I can’t imagine how as a family they did this, how my great grandmother coped each day with so many children, and travelling, making and breaking camp, and tending the oxen.

She was born in 1843 and died in 1919, probably tending her sick family.

The family later settled in Rockhampton and became corner storekeepers. They had found their gold in Queensland. 

Elizabeth Webster, Jane Moore's mother