Z in the Middle of Rendezvous

My parents used to tell me the story of the time they organised to meet for lunch.  My father had written a note saying “Meet me at the Rendezvous Cafe”.  My mother must have been asking directions because she pronounced it REN-DEZ-VOOS and was very embarrassed when her ignorance was a cause for mirth.



I looked it up and it is still there in Langtree Avenue, Mildura.  The website Mildura City Heart says of it.

Since 1934, in its early days as a coffee lounge, the Rendezvous had eventually evolved into a restaurant when the Harding family took ownership in 1950 that started the journey of the Rendezvous being established as one of regional Victoria’s oldest fine dining restaurants.

I have been trying to imagine Mildura of 1950 with the pictures and postcards in my possession.  I’ve also been looking at the “Old Mildura” site on Facebook where I found a wonderful Tourist Guide from 1948. 

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The Ozone Theatre was also in Langtree Avenue so my parents would have gone there often as they were great fans of the “pictures” as they were called then.  My mother may have had her permanent wave done at Gibb’s Beauty Salon  “for that satisfied look”.  The ice for the ice chest would have come from Vergona’s Ice Works but I doubt they would have gone to The Old Mill for the non stop dancing on Saturday night as my father had two left feet.  They would have flown with Australian National Airways maybe booking through the Real Estate Agent RH Chaffey and Co.

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Langtree Avenue in the Pictorial Souvenir of Mildura 1949

My mother told me I flew to Sydney on the plane in a special basket.  I always imagined it was hung over the wing until I was old enough to realise that was impossible. 



When I was born my grandmother flew in from Sydney to help my mother.  She was shocked at the primitive conditions my mother was enduring including lighting the copper each day to boil the nappies, so she bought her an electric copper.  Unfortunately my grandmother developed gall stones after only staying a week and flew home in great pain to have her operation in Sydney.  I think my father was relieved as he didn’t seem to get on with his mother-in-law.

1950s electric copper

I used to love to hear the story of the grapes.  This happened when my mother was pregnant with me.  She had a craving for grapes and if you’ve ever been to Mildura you would know that there are thousand of acres of vines.  Somehow she persuaded my father to pull over in the truck,  crawl under a barbed wire fence and pick her a large, juicy bunch.

Another story often told was of the trip to Swan Hill.  Apparently I was partly bottle fed so when the bag of supplies fell off the back of the truck no-one knew until it was my feed time and then  I screamed so loudly a fellow traveller disappeared to the other end of the town.  My parents found a milk bar and were given some warmed milk which they spooned into me. Fortunately we all survived.

The heat in Mildura would have been almost unbearable in those days before air conditioning.  My mother told me how they would run the sprinkler at night and lie on the veranda under wet sheets in order to keep cool.  However she said it was a dry heat and during her pregnancy she had never felt better.

Growing up with these stories I imagined Mildura to be a garden paradise in the middle of a desert and a place where my parents were very happy.  While my mother was in hospital after giving birth my father came in to visit, full of new plans and new directions.  So worried was my mother that she developed “milk fever” (mastitis).  Of course the stress may not have been related to her illness but she thought it was.  It looked like the peaceful times were over.


Y at the End of Recovery

It took Ted quite a while to recover from his wounds.  He was taken by hospital ship to to the island of Lemnos where the hospital was in a terrible state.  Flies from the latrines swarmed over the food and the men as they lay on lousy blankets.  Ted would walk down to the Greek Church and lie in the shade of the verandah when he was well enough.  He wrote of  the magnificent sunsets behind the rugged, bare mountains and the old fashioned scene of women drawing water from the well.

A walk around the island led to the discovery of a vineyard where he feasted on grapes.  That led to a bout of sickness where his only object was to stay near the dreaded latrines.

Although his arm was still giving him considerable pain, Ted was pleased to be recalled to the ship “Marathon” and wondered where he would go next.  On September 8 he arrived in Cairo via Alexandria, travelling first class by train for the last segment and enjoying chicken, cigarettes and iced water. At the Palace Heliopolis he received a box containing chocolate, cigarettes, toothbrush and paste, scented soap, pencil, writing paper and envelopes and fine coffee biscuits.

It must have seemed like paradise after Gallipoli and Lemnos.  There were two hot baths and clean  pyjamas every day, electric light, a balcony overlooking the garden, good and varied food and lively nurses. Of course it couldn’t last and on September 13 he was transferred to Luna Park Hospital.  He was happy here except for the bed bugs but was promised a new bed. He must have been feeling better as he was able to get through a hole in the fence and go exploring the city of Cairo.

Ted’s arm was slowly getting better but would he be fit for service? He thought maybe he could get into the Signalling School.  On October 25 he paraded for a discharge but didn’t get it.  He was sent back to his unit and put on light duties.  On November 11 he was paraded and declared unfit for Active Service. After a short break in Alexandria he was given an office job with comfortable quarters but must have known this wouldn’t last because he began French lessons once more.  Still he wasn’t going to Europe yet and reported to a depot on the edge of the Suez Canal near where thousands of Australians were camped.

The Dump at Beersheba, Australian War Memorial Canberra

 The dioramas above and below are from the Australian War Memorial.  They show the use of horses and trucks to transport forage for animals, clothing and equipment, food for personnel, medical supplies etc from the divisional refilling point.  They were the target of enemy bomber pilots and artillery fire.

Divisional Refilling Point, Australian War Memorial , Canberra

The next depot was three or four miles from the firing line and was in a terrible mess until Ted and nine others sorted it out.  In amongst the bread and biscuits Ted had a dugout and an Arab servant.  The only problem was a lack of water and the sandstorms where goggles were needed to protect the face and a bivvy (tent) could be destroyed in a moment.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Now Ted tried for the School of Instrumentation but was knocked back.  He moved on to O.C. Groceries and commented how the horses were suffering from the heat. After talking to the O.C. of the 17th Depot Unit of Supply he was promised the position of Corporal so applied for a transfer.

Ted could have been describing his future home when he said:

The country is very hilly, all sand but numerous tussocks and salt bush.  It rises in numerous succession of hills and falls away into deep sand gullies.  Far to the south one can see the Red Sea, and the Bitter Lakes lie blue in the distance.

On June 1 Ted said farewell to the “blue skies, the feathery palms and wheeling kites of the Near East”.  On board the “Transylvania” he saw a large escort of destroyers.  As they approached Marseilles the ship a few miles behind them was torpedoed.

After landing in Marseilles Ted and his fellow troops were whisked quickly past the “brilliant cafes and miscellaneous peoples” and put on the train for the North of France.

Ted was in raptures at the beauty of the Rhone Valley.  “Magnificent snow capped mountains, noble rivers and beautiful garden like country; cared for, every inch of it.”

It was certainly a contrast to the dry, dusty countryside of Western Victoria and the heat, sun and sand of Egypt.  In Rouen Ted found his new job in the petrol depot was very tame and the weather was freezing cold.  Food was scarce and he had to buy vegetables to supplement the rations.

Thousands of wounded men were coming down but although he could hear the gunfire Ted was out of it and hoping to be sent up pretty soon.  He felt he may as well be home for all the good he was doing.  The only good thing was his French was improving and he felt he could converse on any subject now.

Then it was onto a troop train bound for Frévent  (21 miles from Arras).  Here Ted bought a violin and a bow (a Strad no less).  He met up with some nurses including one from Hamilton.  Work was hard but Ted became fitter and spent his spare time walking through the local woods and training for a swimming carnival.  On June 21 1917 Ted was transferred to the supply section 26th A.S.C.  He arrived in La Creche amid heavy German shelling, with townspeople killed around him and the church knocked down.  He observed the battles overhead between balloons and  Taubes.  The balloons went down but at least the observers parachuted out. Nights were lit by Fritz’s flares lighting up the target before dropping bombs.

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Despite increased use of rail and motorised transport to move essential supplies, horse or mule drawn wagons continued to provide the majority of material to the front lines during the war. Australian War Memorial, Canberra

We will leave Ted there in war torn France because we know he will survive.  If you would like to know more of his time in France visit M for Military Medal.  He will come back to Australia, take up a block in Red Cliffs, marry a charming woman, have four healthy children and lead a successful life in both business and community involvement.  He will join the Air Force in World War 2 and somewhat reluctantly recruit young men to do likewise.  He will be medically retired one year before the war ends.

And then, two or three years before his death, he will meet my mother.

X Marks the Spot

As every Australian knows, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  We celebrated Anzac Day only two days ago in Australia and around the world. 

In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the Allied Navies.  They lost the battle and retreated after eight gruelling months but ANZAC Day is now commemorated every April 25 as people remember the sacrifice of countless young men on both sides.

On the 20th May, 1915 Ted arrived at Anzac Cove. With the  photos taken during the two months and eleven days he spent there Ted describes life in the legendary battlefield. 

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Ted said that his first camp was on the lower edge of the picture above.    He and a mate used a damaged boat (shown in the photo) to build a dugout.  While they were knocking it apart a machine gun (marked with an X on the hill) started firing so they sat in the water for a while and then made a dash for the bush.  He said they used to swim at that beach but after sixteen men were shot in one morning it became “condemned”.

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This photo shows men bathing while another man is making a dugout.  A sunken trawler lies in the water while a battleship sits on the horizon. Ted refers to Tucker-time Annie and Beachy Bill, two guns which would open fire, clearing the beach and ripping open the boxes of tinned biscuits (hard as the hobs of Hades).  The photo below, taken opposite the Ordnance Store describes it as a perfect Hell Hole of a place on account of the poor cover and the number of shells which lobbed there.

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In the photo below is the place where all troops, stores, guns and ammunition were landed.   Ted marks with an X the spot on the hill where his dugout was for six weeks.  He also marks the spot on the beach where he was shot.

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Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 9.45.08 amTo transport  stores and ammunition mules were utilised .  This is the 9th Indian Mule transport in Headquarters Gully.  It was necessary to keep to the right of the gully as snipers hid in the higher slopes.

Ted spent his first night in Headquarters Gully.  The rain turned it into a watercourse.

All night the crack of rifles echoed down the gulf while every now and again the machine guns, bombs and mountain batteries would combine to disturb the velvety blackness of the night.

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This last photo is taken on the W Hills.  The dugouts have oilsheet roofs as the area was reasonably safe from shell fire but not from rifle fire.  Although men are standing about anyone could be shot at any time and any place.  Sandbags offered extra cover.  The cans in the foreground were used for holding and carrying water.  The men had to get water and had to exercise no matter the risk.

Ted always had a funny story to lighten the mood.  When unloading stores at Gallipoli it was common practice to drop a case on its corner, causing it to break open and empty its contents into the sea.  After dark the men would swim out and retrieve the tins to supplement their rations.  One night Ted was detained by a senior officer who appeared eager for a chat.  He quickly shoved the tin under his shirt but the lid worked loose and treacle oozed its way down his chest and legs.  When he finally escaped he was unable to remove the treacle with salt water and was pestered by flies and ants for weeks.

Ted’s diary entry for July 31:

Attack on the right flank… Midnight heavy shelling of beach.  Just dodged a couple but was caught with the third through the muscle of the right upper arm. Felt like a kick from a horse…Went to dressing station and had wound plugged and bandaged.  Taken to hospital ship with crowds of others.

So ended Ted’s time at Gallipoli.

W for Wrapping Up

There are a number of issues I have to talk about and questions to answer.

First of all Why did I change the names? All the names marked with an asterisk have been changed.  This makes it difficult to acknowledge the contribution made by *Ted’s son *Hugh in editing his father’s war diaries.  Not only did he decipher the handwriting and present it in an easily readable format but he added a Recollections section at the end which retold many stories about his life.  The war diary is now available online from the Australian War Memorial, Canberra but of course you won’t find it under Edward Turner.

I haven’t communicated with Hugh even though he is my half brother and I would love to talk to him about his (our) father.  I discussed the matter of publication of my story on A to Z with Denise and Jane and although they didn’t mind being named they felt it would not be in the best interest of the older members of the family.  

So that is why the surname and the names of those in the family who are still living have been altered.  The clues to my origin are all there however and like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book the events can play out in different ways.  The ending will be the same and as far as I am concerned that is good because I am here.  Something unexplainable happened 67 years ago which brought me into the world.  I had a happy childhood with loving parents.  I now have a husband, children and grand children and life is good.

Why am I sharing this story?  I want my children and grandchildren to know about their ancestry.  The last two A to Z Challenges forced me to dig deeper and further than I would have otherwise so I decided that was the path to take again.   I don’t judge my parents or Ted for what happened.  Rather I am glad it did because otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

What next?  I am in fairly constant communication with Denise and Jane.  There are cousins, nephews and nieces who have invited me to visit when I am next in their area.  Next month there will be a reunion of sorts in Melbourne to which I have been invited. Air tickets and accommodation are booked and I’m ready to meet a new half sister.  I doubt I will ever find out any more about my origins but meeting more of my relatives will add to my stock of stories and maybe answer a few questions.

The A to Z is far from over.  Tomorrow there will be a belated Anzac Day episode (two days late) describing in more detail Ted’s experiences at Gallipoli and beyond. Anzac Day certainly had more meaning for me this year after reading Ted’s diary.

That just about Wraps it up.

* Not their real names

V for Violin

There are many references to Ted and his violin in the Recollections at the end of his War Diary.  He never went anywhere without it.  His idea of a good time was playing and leading the singing.  One of his favourites was this song from World War I sung alternatively with great pathos and verve.

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A soldier playing the violin in WWI

Down at Bullicourt he fell, Parlez vous.

No word came to Mademoiselle, Parlez vous.

In that little old world town

She waits for the digger with eyes of brown.

Hinky, pinky, parlez vous.

Quiet is that old estaminet, Parlez vous.

No more diggers will pass that way, Parlez vous.

May your heart grow lighter with passing years.

Mademoiselle from Armentieres.

Oh landlord have you a daughter fair? Parlez vous.

With laughing eyes and silken hair.

Yes I have and she’s never been done, Parlez vous.

Yes I have and she’s never been done, Parlez vous.

Mais non papa, you are wrong,

Lots and lots of Australians.

Hinky, pinky, parlez vous.


Hugh, Ted’s son, travelled to France in 1950 to follow in his father’s footsteps.  In Frévent he found the estaminet behind the station where once Ted played his violin. Denise, the daughter of the proprietor, remembered that he was always happy and an enthusiastic  leader of the singing.

The tradition of singalongs with the violin continued after Ted married and moved onto the block.  Many lively parties were held at the Turner home.  Ted would welcome the guests by playing a welcoming tune on his violin as each guest arrived.  Amy would join the singing with her sweet soprano voice.

That developed into  every Wednesday night becoming a singing night with local musicians.  One would play the grand piano and three, including Ted, would play their violins.  Another would play the clarinet.  When Edith (my half sister) was old enough she accompanied on the piano.

Favourite songs were Drink to Me Only, Oh Dem Golden Slippers, Hear Dem Bells, The Tattooed Lady, Danny Boy, Lily Marlene and on rare occasions We are the Third Light Horse Brigade.

We are the Third Light Horse Brigade

We face the foe with never a man afraid

Although we cop it in the neck we fight on undismayed.

There would be a good supper and liquid refreshments.  It must have been a wonderful time for all and left his family with many fond memories.

Sometimes instead of reading a bedtime story Ted would play his violin.  He had a trick of making his violin sound like bagpipes.  He used the G string for the drone and played the melody on the D string.  A favourite amongst his children was Cock of the North.

U for Under the Ground

I was able to write nearly all of my A to Z before April as I knew I would be going on a road trip sometime in that month.  However I was stuck on the letter U.  Somehow it didn’t fit in with anything I had written.  There was nothing left to write!

Murray Pines Cemetery  Film Victoria

My husband suggested Underground as in tunnels and dugouts in wartime but suddenly all I could see was a funeral*.  A crowd of people gathered at a cemetery.  The newly turned soil was red and glistening after a light shower.

Then my mind turned against it.  Ted can’t die yet. I have written all the posts to Z and they are mainly about him.  

I was pulled back again to the funeral.  I started to recognise some of the people.  There was Amy, head bowed, leaning on her son’s arm.  Her three daughters stood close as if to shield her from grief.  There were representatives from the RSL, the Golf Club, local council members and even a politician.  Many were blockies and their families who had known Ted since the Soldier Settler days.  My mother and father were standing at the back of the crowd, near the gate.

A man was reading at the graveside:

Ted gave his best to the community and was always ready to help a lame dog when the occasion rose.

What was my father thinking?  He was worried.  Ted had been his mentor.  It had been Ted’s idea that he start up the irrigation business and his advice and contacts had been invaluable.  He felt as if he had been set adrift.  Now that supplies had dried up he would have to move on, back to Sydney and somehow start again.

The man continued:

He was a most colourful personality, born a real humorist, a great entertainer and an intensely human character.  He radiated vitality and charm.

My mother was thoughtful.   Life was complicated.  She had admired Ted’s  Joie de vivre, although she didn’t know what that meant until he told her.  Now there was the child to love and nurture.  The sense of loss gave way to determination.  This child would grow up with an education.  She would have two parents to love and care for her. She would never be left with strangers who didn’t want her as Elsa had been.  Across the crowd she saw the tall figure of Dr Bothroyd.  She felt confident he would never disclose her secret to any living soul, not even her husband.

On an occasion like this I am tempted to ask – what were the qualities which endeared him to so many people?  In the first place I would say he had a strong, abiding, dominating sense of public duty.  He had the genius of common sense.  He possessed simplicity, courage, self denial and tenacious devotion up to the last moment of conscious life to work, to duty, and to service.

Elsa looked at her husband.  She took his arm, smiled and whispered softly, “Let’s go home to our baby”.

  • This is purely a piece of fiction and is only roughly based on actual fact.


T for Tree (family)

IMG_8496As my daughter jokingly said, “the family that spits together stays together”.  We were gathered in my son’s apartment in Canberra.  My son, daughter and son-in-law were all valiantly trying to put enough saliva in the tube to reach the line after which a blue solution was  added and the whole thing sealed and posted to Ancestry.

Only a few week’s later I had two new matches on Ancestry.  They were correctly identified as my son and daughter.  I then checked with Denise and sure enough they had appeared on her matches as well.  That confirmed the fact that my match had not been a mistake.  My children also had a number of matches and DNA Circles on my husband’s side and after my recent discovery were pleased to see he was their father!

My father’s ancestry was from England and Northern Ireland.  Assuming that Ted is my biological father then it is interesting to find out where his ancestors originated.  Going back one generation his father and mother were both born in Victoria, Australia.  Ted’s paternal grandparents, William and Mary, both came from England and emigrated to Australia in 1864, one year after their marriage.  His maternal grandparents met and married in Portsea, Victoria in 1869 but they were both born in England and emigrated to Australia at different times.

If you examined my DNA map in A for Ancestry you would have noticed a dotted circular area marked in Southern England.  This indicates that I am genetically linked to this area through my DNA.  Let’s look at where Ted’s grandparents were born.

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William was born in St Marylebone, London.  His wife Mary was from Barking, Essex.  Ted’s maternal grandparents were John from Lambeth, London and Fanny from Portsea, Hampshire.  The map shows that they are all definitely from Southern England.  The only ones on my mother’s side who are out of the circle are the Robbie family from Aberdeen and Emma Moore from Bedworth, who is just outside.

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The red markers are Ted’s family.  The green markers are from my mother’s side.

There is a puzzle surrounding Ted’s grandfather William.  He and his younger brother were born after the death of the father of their brothers and sisters.  He and his brother may have been adopted or they may have had the same mother as the others and a different father.  It is quite possible that they were the children of a relative who died but as Mary already had a large family and was a widow an extra two mouths to feed would have been a difficult undertaking.  She died when William was 13 but he lived with older siblings before some or all of them emigrated to Australia.

Photo of the ironclad HMS Warrior (1860) with the tide in.

I have some more information on him. After he and his wife arrived in Hamilton in 1863 off the “Golden Land” he remained there the rest of his life except for a short visit to the Mt William Gold Rush.  In London he had been a shop hand, a sailor in the North Sea with a trawler fleet and an employee of the Victorian (London) dockyards where as a riveter he helped build the “Warrior”, the first iron ship in the Imperial Navy.  In Australia he was a blacksmith and carpenter.  His wife died 27 years before him and at the time of his death he was living with his son Thomas*, a bootmaker.  Thomas was Ted’s father.  

John, Ted’s maternal grandfather, arrived in Portland, Victoria with his family on the Athona in 1853, aged nine. Sixteen years later he married  Fanny.  He was a powerfully built man and  first occupation was pit-sawing with his father, cutting the timber for the construction of the old Portland jetty.  He moved on to wool-pressing and loading ships in Portland.  For the last 22 years of his life he lived in Hamilton and died at the age of 67.  His daughter Jane Eliza married Thomas and was Ted’s mother.

John’s wife Fanny came to Australia as part of a twelve month Servant Scheme supervised  by a Miss Rye. The vessel “Atalanta” departed London via Plymouth England 18th April, arriving at Portland Victoria 4th July 1867.  Each girl was placed as a general servant in separate homes.  Fanny was placed at Gawler Street, Portland.

Article from the Argus 5 July 1867

The Atalanta which arrived at the heads on Tuesday last, came up the Bay last evening and anchored off Sandridge. She has brought nearly 400 Government passengers and warrant passengers, a number of them having come out under the auspices of Miss Rye, and it is satisfactory to state that they arrived in satisfactory health praising doctor, captain and matron. The Atalanta left Plymouth April and has made a very favorable passage. In the channel very rough weather was met with and several days after. The ship crossed the equator on the 22nd day out.

I found some personal information about Ted’s father Thomas. He was very good at sport, particularly running and bike riding and this was blamed for his heart problems later in life.   However, with the wisdom of the 21st Century, this would seem unlikely.

Thomas was short, with pale blue eyes and blond hair.  His daughter said he was always quoting poetry and stories he had read and he was very proud of his children’s musical abilities. 

He was apprenticed as a boot-maker and his brother William, as a chemist. Thomas said he would like to have been a chemist, but he was not given a choice.  When the family moved to Mildura (following Ted), he bought a house on one of the blocks,but did not work the property himself, employing workmen to tend to it. His son Henry* eventually took over the block when his father died.  The house was divided into two, with Henry and his family living in one section and Jane Eliza in the other.  Thomas opened a shoe shop in Red Cliffs with a partner and sold it to him when he was ready to retire. He died of heart failure when he was in his early sixties after a long illness.

I was fortunate to be given some information by Jane* on the person who was my biological paternal grandmother.

Jane Eliza was born in 1869 in Portland, Victoria and  attended Mr Hill’s school in North Portland until she was 14, after which she went to “Greenmount” to work as a servant.   She visited Portland every year during the summer and so did we (Jane).

Greenmount in 1958?     Built in 1853      Victorian Heritage Database

 I remember as a child going to “Greenmount” a very imposing, but also scarey bluestone, dilapidated house , and she would tell us about the servant bells downstairs and what each room was used for, which fascinated me.   It had a long formal drive, wild gardens, convict quarters (convicts were there for a short time) and in 1957 was bulldozed to erect a Shell depot.   It stood on a hill across the swamp from the Portland Gardens, and the Shell depot was not an improvement.   Portland unfortunately let many of its beautiful old buildings go.

The family moved to Hamilton in Jane Eliza’s  later teenage years, living not far from the Turner family. Her brother William struck up a friendship with Thomas Turner and they became mates and best friends until William died aged 19.  During this time Thomas met Jane Eliza and they married in 1890, when he was 19 and she was 21.

She was short, under 5′ in height, with hazel eyes, brown with yellow specks and straight brown hair.   In her later years she needed a walking stick to get around but she was bright, cheerful and an inveterate talker.  She had seven children, ran a house, cooking all meals each day, plus working in Alf’s shoe shop, keeping the books and having a social life when she could.   Eventually she had two maids who did the housework, washing and sometimes looked after the children as well.   She was the image of a perfect grandmother, cardigan pockets stuffed with lollies to give to a good grandchild, embracing them to her ample bosum, jiggling them up and down on her knee singing nursery rhymes, songs and reciting poems. Her strong and lively personality is still remembered fondly by older members of her family.

  • Not their real names


S for Sandhills


Over 20 years ago I visited Mildura and saw the remains of “Big Lizzie” in a park at Red Cliffs.  I knew she played an important part in the clearing of land in the area but now reading  her story has taken on new significance.  Thanks again to Mary Chandler for her chapter entitled “A Most Remarkable Lady”.

It all began when Frank Bottrill observed camels carting wool into Broken Hill from outlying stations.  When a steam tractor was used for the same purpose it became bogged in the drifting sand so Frank decided to design something that would work in that environment.  In a backyard in Richmond, Melbourne, he built his traction engine with the help of A.M. McDonald.  She was 34 feet long and had two wagons of 32 feet.  3,000 gallons of fuel were carried on the vehicle and she trundled along at two miles per hour.  Bottrill had invented an improved road wheel in which a series of flat bearers rotated with the wheel and provided a track for it to run on. Somewhere on the vehicle he built a house for his wife and in 1915 they set off for Broken Hill.

What a sight she must have been crawling through Melbourne’s streets. She looked like a half tank, half house, belching smoke and trailing two wagons.  She travelled 174 miles  before stopping in Kerang for six months where Bottrill could not refuse a haulage contract.  Frank moved on, this time proving he could handle the Hattah sandhills.  Two years after leaving Melbourne, Big Lizzie arrived in Mildura.  The Murray River was in flood so she was unable to cross to the NSW side and so travel on to Broken Hill.  Frank found work for her carrying up to 899 bags of wheat at one time. 

Source: Museums Victoria


After WWI Frank obtained a contract to help with clearing 15, 000 acres at Red Cliffs.  A combination of hooks and steel cables were used to pull up to eight stumps out of the ground at a time. By 1924 her work was completed but Frank was doomed not to make it to Broken Hill.  He was asked to travel to Glendenning Station, west of the Grampians, so packed up his wife and cow and headed south.  Here he stayed until 1928 cleaning up sawn red gum trees which went off to Melbourne as blocks to support tram tracks.  Then the engine was sold to a quarry and the rest abandoned.

Big Lizzie lay rusting in a paddock until 1971.  Mary Chandler, the author of “Against the Odds” spent many a childhood holiday clambering over the decaying remains.  The Red Cliffs Jubilee Committee successfully returned Big Lizzie to Red Cliffs on a low loader and now she has been restored and placed in Barclay Square.

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Giant 60 hp oil engined tractor/truck Big Lizzie at Red Cliffs, Victoria, Australia.

I wondered what happened to Frank Bottrill.  He and his wife had no children. He worked as an engineer, a mechanic and a blacksmith in various locations.  He established the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Mildura and returned to that city in 1953 to die at Base Hospital.  The Australian Dictionary of Biography says of him “independent, modest, of strong build and unusual endurance, Bottrill was a vegetarian and teetotaller; he had a rich bass singing voice. His favourite book was the Bible.”

R is for Red Cliffs


George and William Chaffey had chosen the Red Cliffs area for the first Mildura settlement but had to abandon the idea as there were no pumps to lift the water to such a great height.  Thirty four years later it was felt technology had improved and mistakes of the past could be avoided. The country to be offered to the ex-diggers was reputed to be some of the richest land of the north-west.

Gangs of men started first on the thirty acres required for the nursery where the young grape vines would be grown. 800 men were divided into 30 gangs.  The men had tents but were too tired to prepare proper meals after a hard day’s work.  Boarding houses sprang up supplying cut lunches and evening meals.  Mail arrived by train in bags rolled down the hill as there was no station.  Despite the hard work endured by the men a football club was formed and the men played against the other towns, returning by train, jumping out and rolling down the hill like sacks of mail.  Surprisingly only one sprained foot was reported.  There were no doctors, nurses or dentists in the settlement and the journey to Mildura was long and torturous over unmade tracks.

To obtain a block of land Ted and other applicants had to obtain a qualification certificate with references from a minister of religion, a school teacher and a government authority.  He was then grilled by a board in Melbourne and when considered suitable presented himself to the Land Board in Mildura and was allocated his 15 acres. He was then handed over to Jim Bailey who assigned him to a gang.  The temperatures were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, there were flies and dust and no sign of a settlement.  Many turned around and went back to Melbourne.

For a few months there were no police in Red Cliffs.  Two-up, sly grog and all sorts of gambling were commonplace.  With the arrival of women it was felt a police presence was needed.  Constable Bill Winterton, six feet tall and eighteen stone, commanded respect after his arrival on April 21.  When at first the men stood up to him he took off his coat and challenged them to a fight.  No-one took up the challenge.

Feeding the men was still a problem so two large mess halls were built.  The men had one pound a week deducted from their wages.  This proved successful and the food was of good quality.  One day the men turned up and there was no food waiting for them.  The staff had all caught a train to Melbourne with four hundred pounds of the men’s money to put on the Melbourne Cup.  They lost the lot and from then on the mess was run by State Rivers.

Ted Turner was popular with the other ex soldiers and at night eight or ten men would gather round his tent, singing and yarning until all hours while he played his violin.

There were many setbacks of course.  Most 1921 planting were lost due to lack of water.  Then rabbits arrived, followed by huge sandstorms caused by clearing so much land.  The men learned from their mistakes and the town grew.

A lending library was established with donations, followed by the establishment of a literary society.  Children were arriving so a school began in the old woolshed.  The teacher was a blockie who thought he had left his former profession for good.  A doctor started visiting three times a week.  As well as football,  a cricket team was formed  and a tennis club began.  From nothing a community was emerging.

Everyone liked to tell a funny story, especially Ted Turner.  When the Reverend Fettell, an ex-digger, was to be transferred to Bendigo, Ted told the following story. Mr Fettell used to assist Ted in issuing shares in the Red Cliffs Co-operative Society.  A Dr Zimmer attended at the same office three days a week.  One day a woman arrived and immediately went into great detail about her ailments.  Although they tried to stop her outpouring she kept going to the end and then asked what they advised her to do.  “See a doctor, madam”, was the joint reply.

Q for Quest for Water

The use of the water from the  Murray River to expand the settlement of Mildura predates Ted’s arrival in Red Cliffs but is important in understanding what brought him there.

Mildura’s first residents included the Latje Latje and Yerri Yerri people.  Their population was relatively large as there was an abundance of food in and around the Murray River.  The first Europeans to arrive around 1857 brought sheep to graze on the rich pasture.    A major drought from 1877 to 1884 prompted Alfred Deakin (before he became Prime Minister) to visit irrigation areas in California.  There he met the Canadians George and William Chaffey. George came to Australia in 1886 and selected a derelict sheep station known as Mildura to be the site of his first irrigation settlement.


Dr Hamilton-McKenzie completed a Phd thesis titled “California Dreaming: The Establishment of the Mildura Irrigation Colony”.  She paints a picture of the men behind Mildura’s irrigation settlement as misguided dreamers.  First she points out the major differences between California and the Mildura area.

We didn’t have the river systems that California had – we’re the driest inhabited continent in the world. Our Murray Darling Basin is a drainage system, it is not a system that is actually rejuvinated by melting snows, as America is, as California’s system is.

I thought I’d check that out and found melted snow contributes less than 5% of the water in the Murray.  (Murray Darling Basin Authority)

Statue of William Chaffey in Mildura

The Chaffey brothers invested money into preparing and irrigating blocks of land for sale.  Many English settlers were attracted by a red book called The Australian Irrigation Colonies, promising much more than it was able to deliver.

After the initial success of early irrigation development work William began construction of Rio Vista in 1889. The Spanish name Rio Vista (River View) reflects the Californian influences found in the house.


Disaster struck.  The bank crash of 1893 left the brothers in a serious financial situation.  Everything that could go wrong did and many people just up and left their land.  The Chaffey Brothers firm ceased operation in 1895 and George returned to the United States.  William, however, stayed on in Mildura and worked hard to see the irrigation projects continue.

In 1889 William’s wife Hattie died of pneumonia shortly after the birth of their sixth child. The baby died soon afterwards and was buried, with his mother, close to the old homestead. On William’s final visit to America, he married his first wife’s niece Hattie and brought her back to live at Rio Vista. Six more children were subsequently born to William and his second wife. Sadly, their first child, Lillian Hattie Chaffey, died in infancy, aged only five months.  Tragedy continued to haunt the family. Their second son, Edward Lamport Chaffey, drowned in an ornate fountain in front of Rio Vista in 1897, aged 18 months.

The shattered parents had the fountain removed, and re-installed at its present location, in the Deakin Avenue centre plantation at the intersection with Eighth Street.

The fountain was moved to Deakin Avenue

William led a relatively successful and productive life in Mildura and became mayor in 1920.  He died in 1926 while Hattie remained living in the house for twenty-four years until her death in 1950.

It was this seemingly misguided scheme surrounded by personal tragedy that sowed the seeds for Ted’s arrival in Mildura.