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.

big lizzie1
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.

P for Paris

Now we have travelled back in time to the last year of WWI.

On New Year’s Eve 1917 Ted and friends arrived at the Gare du Nord by train from Péronne. They were driven to the YMCA at Penenepe Barracks and given breakfast and a lecture.


dest gare
Le Gare d’Est, Paris. (Not Gare du Nord but you get the idea) Cherylg (fightingthekaiser.blogspot.com.au)

In France, the YMCA made arrangements for rest and recreation centers where particularly American soldiers could leave the front and relax away from the fighting.

Then they were free to take the metro to the Place de la Republic where they booked rooms at the Hotel Moderne.

Clean and refreshed they walked the streets, visiting Les Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb before dancing the evening away at the club.

The first day of 1918 saw Ted exploring Notre Dame Cathedral, strolling across bridges and around Place de la Concorde and Champs Elysees. A concert in the evening was followed by a dance and games.

Galeries Lafayette a few years earlier

It is hard to imagine it was 100 years ago as the next morning was spent at Galleries Lafayette and Au Printemps to look at the shops.  Then it was off to the Arc De Triumph followed by an afternoon at the Alhambra where Ted met some rather nice people.

On the afternoon of the 3rd Ted and his friends visited the Louvre and “The Big Wheel” (demolished in 1920).  At the casino that evening Ted was impressed with Gaby Deslys and found the “staging and dressing very fine.  Also the dances”.  Gaby Deslys died in 1920 of influenza at the age of 38.

It was the next day at Versailles where Ted became eloquent in his admiration.

“Versailles … surpasses anything that I have ever seen.  The rooms at the palace were simply gorgeous and the views and landscape magnificent…best of all I liked the Gobelin Tapestry work”.

Ted was able to translate the French signs and explanations to his friends in the Chamber of Deputies.

Versailles I (Vertical) Wall Tapestry – French Chateau Tapestry
Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.43.16 pm
Jeanne-Marie Bourgeois,Folies Bergère

That evening Ted and a friend went to the Folies Bergère.  He says, “the show was very dressy and the theatre promenade very fine.  At the interval the hall is packed with crowds of the demimonde* who are painted and powdered like dolls.”

Wikipedia  *The term was often used as one of disapprobation, the behavior of a person in the demimonde being contrary to more traditional or bourgeois values. 

The foyer of LÓpera, Paris. Cherylg (fightingthekaiser.blogspot.com.au) found this postcard in an antique shop in Oatlands, Tasmania. It was dated March 1918.

The next day’s highlight was the opera Hamlet which had marvellous scenery, singing and music. The orchestra contained 100 instruments and Ted thought the Grand Hall was a magnificent piece of architecture. Walking down the Rue de la Paix Ted recognised the fashion icons of Paquins and Worths.  At the Bois de Boulougne he watched thousands skating on the ice.  Lunch was at the Pyramides after which he booked seats for Aida.

Maximilien_Luce-La_Gare_de_l'Est_sous_la_neige-1917Arriving at the Tuileries Ted and his friends went sliding on the ice to the great amusement of the onlookers. 

Aida that night “was beautifully staged and the whole play a grand piece of singing and art”.

It was snowing all the next day when Ted and his companions walked to the Corner of Blighty*.

Miss Lily Butler opened a very popular leave club for men in Paris called A Corner of Blighty in Paris for Our Boys from the Front.  This club was particularly popular with servicemen from Australia. 


In the Place de la Vendome, in central Paris, it ran for two years.  There was no charge for its services and Lily Butler and her group of forty five female volunteers also arranged outings for groups of the men.





Ted was having a “rattling time’. Lunch at Cafe Boulant, then to the Olympia and sleeping at the Hotel Lafayette.  It was the last day so Ted bid a sad farewell to Paris and went off by train to Péronne in search of his unit.

O for Obstetrician

This is rather a large leap from sailing home across the Pacific with Ted in 1919 but that is the nature of A to Z.  It takes you where it wants with the letter of the day, a bit like a Ouija Board.  This is the only place I can  write about my mother’s favourite doctor who has been referred to as “a formidable Mildura institution”.

I felt I knew a lot about him before the DNA results came through.  My mother often talked about him as the  doctor she visited when she found she was pregnant.  She was impressed with his qualifications and his professional manner.  He may have seen both my parents before my conception to determine why my mother had not become pregnant but any speculation is pure fiction because we will never know what really happened.  He did bring me into the world however so I thought I would pay him this tribute.

John Strahan Bothroyd’s parents were both teachers and he attended a different school every year of his primary education.  After attending Scotch College in Melbourne he graduated in medicine at the University of Melbourne.  Before arriving in Mildura he worked at Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital and Royal Women’s Hospital up until 1931.  To further his studies while based in Mildura he made the long train journey to Melbourne many times to obtain qualifications from the Australasian College of Physicians and the Australasian College of Surgeons.  During World War 2 he was a Squadron Leader and Specialist Surgeon in the RAAF.

It is said in his obituary that he was one of that group of early specialist trained doctors who chose to live in provincial areas and in doing so established medical standards there comparable to city based practice.

hospital 2
From a Pictorial Souvenir of Mildura  GV and WR Hiscock Newsagents

According to N Fleming, who wrote in his College Roll, Bothroyd is credited with some revolutionary ideas for his time. He performed a novel technique of open prostatectomy with tonsillectomy instruments, explored internal fixation of fractures  and realised earlier than most the inherent risks of smoking. He took a delight in being difficult with people he thought were incompetent.  Nevertheless he cared for his patients with meticulous attention.

He would have known Edward Turner as he was on the hospital board and their two families also later became related through marriage.  That is all I know and the rest is conjecture.  His name is one of the few clues I have of my conception and birth in Mildura.

For whatever reason, thank you Dr Bothroyd for helping me come into the world.


N for New York

On January 26th 1919 Ted sailed on the “Adriatic” from Liverpool bound for New York.  There were a few regrets as he talks wistfully of walking along the Southport seashore with Doris.  The ship carried 2,000 American soldiers plus ten Australians. The berths were comfortable and the meals plain but good.  Ted describes arriving in New York Harbour at sunset with the skyscrapers reflecting the the last rays of the setting sun.



For four and a half weeks Ted attended a succession of social functions and enjoyed being in demand and meeting some very fine girls.  The only problem with New York was the need to spend a great deal of money.  This time a woman named Olive rates a mention as Ted explores the wonders of the Stock Exchange, the Woolworths Building and of course the Statue of Liberty.

One of the parties he attended was at the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue. The function was designed to organise relief for the Armenians but the Australians present, under the influence of too much strong liquor, vowed to help exterminate the entire Armenian nation much to the consternation of the other guests.  His story of mistaking Cornelius for the butler and handing him his great coat was later believed by some to be a slight exaggeration but a little digging into the Vanderbilt story makes it quite possible.

Cornelius Vanderbilt the Third was estranged from his father after marrying his wife Grace, against his father’s wishes.  As a result he was disinherited and only received a comparatively small amount upon the death of his father.  He did however inherit 640 Fifth Avenue plus one million dollars from an uncle in 1914.  It was one of two houses sharing the block known as the “twin” mansions.  Grace and Neily (as Cornelius was known) spent $500,000 refurbishing the house.  There were many parties held in the newly decorated mansion.   In the last year of WWI  Neily became a Brigadier General. Grace was all too pleased to call him “the General” in front of guests.

The French Ballroom Could Hold 500 People And Was Used At Least Once A Month For Balls, Events or Parties

After mixing with high society in New York,  Ted headed off to Buffalo where he wasn’t over impressed with Niagara Falls.  In Chicago he was offered three jobs but kept travelling to Kansas, Albequerque, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

During the war Ted received “Comfort Parcels” from some women in California. 


He had written to them rather exaggerated accounts of the exploits of the “boys at the front” and so was hugely embarrassed when he hopped off the train at Redlands (60 miles west of Los Angeles)  to be met with cheering crowds, bunting, flags and party invitations to welcome the hero.  They even believed him when he told them he had an emu farm in Melbourne.

On April 8th, 1919,  Ted boarded the SS Ventura bound for home via Honolulu, Pago Pago, Sydney and Melbourne.


M for Military Medal

Ted was unwilling to talk about how he earned his medal.  According to the official war records “Turner was awarded the Military Medal on 26 August 1918 for remaining at his post and issuing supplies whilst under heavy enemy shellfire on 10, 20 and 21 April 1918”.

He preferred instead to tell the story of a glorious party in the cellar of the Corbie Chateau which took place around this time. 

Ted was in charge of a platoon at Corbie which was told to go in and destroy everything of use to the Germans who were only a short distance away. They entered the chateau and were captivated by the opulence of the family home.  They found an open cellar filled with marvellous wines and so proceeded to sample them.  Laughing and talking they came up the stairs but were quickly subdued by the sound of a large group of Germans in the dining hall a few rooms away.  Fortunately they were able to beat a hasty retreat  and headed for the escape road.  The Germans had taken the bridge they had to cross but with courage enhanced by good French wine they managed to blow it up, thereby stopping  a heavy German transport from crossing. 


A chateau at Corbie used as brigade headquarters for Australian troops

When he first enlisted Ted thought that you would be put somewhere near the front line and fight it out until you were were either killed or the war finished.  He was surprised at the extensive sections servicing  the front line and that the infantry were so often withdrawn and spelled.

Despite efforts to transfer to other departments Ted seemed destined to remain with the 26th ASC (Army Service Corps) supply section.   Corbie is 4 kilometres north of Villers-Bretonneux which became the focus of a series of great battles in 1918.  During March and April the German offensive attempted to capture Villers-Bretonneux and open the way to Amiens. 

Reading from his diary on March 25 he says “we passed a rather exciting time as rumours were current everywhere and there was a chance of being cut off”.

He goes on to say “Fritz has attacked with immense numbers and forced us to retire…Household articles are plentiful, as are also pigs, fowls etc and wine as the civilians have evacuated.  Our brigade is doing fine work.”

On April 6th he writes,  

Have had several shifts and are now comfortably established at Ebart in a large farm, the owners of which have evacuated.  Shelling is very lively but not too close to us.  The Brigade were badly caught yesterday morning and had several hundred casualties.  The prevailing question is whether he will take Amiens.  We seem to have no support here and our chaps are standing the brunt of the attacks all along the line.

Amiens the Key to the West
by Arthur Streeton
Painted while Streeton was an Australian official war artist during the First World War. The French city of Amiens was a critical British base that was an original objective of the German Spring Offensive. The painting depicts the view to the east, overlooking the city, with gunfire on the horizon. Australian and British troops halted the German advance east of Amiens at Villers-Bretonneux.

The diary then simply names places where Ted was stationed until April 17 when he says:

For some days I have been stationed at Corbie salvaging forage left close to the line.  Corbie has been a fine town but has been cruelly wrecked.  We have as a billet a fine house and have the best of carpets and furniture.  We have a cut glass service for mess gear and live well. I have done some good salvaging which makes one feel more pleased.  So far we have sent to the rear some thousands of bales of forage and several tons of potatoes.

From here Ted moved on to a coal dump facing  Amiens.  With shells hitting the water and marsh around he expresses hope that Amiens Cathedral will survive the relentless attack.  In May he was in charge of 11 men gathering fresh vegetables from deserted plots in and around Amiens.  In June he had to move again further along the river  By July things were quiet, shelling had ceased, people were returning and some American divisions were in the village of Camon.  Nothing personal is written about the next few months or the now famous battles which brought about the end of the war.

A 1st Australian Division Artillery battery moves into position through the mud, with mules and horses pulling an 18-pounder gun and half limber wagon. Two soldiers on foot are wearing cape groundsheets to guard against the wet.

By the time the war officially ended on November 11, 1918, Ted was in England training for another role.

Peace has left me practically unmoved having experienced no emotion whatsoever, so apathetic have we become.

He returned to France and describes a cold, wet desolate country with the “wan, apathetic faces of returning prisoners” and the “dull, hopeless faces of the civilians”.  Ted couldn’t wait to get out of there but he wasn’t quite ready to go home yet.