The tiny hamlet of Greenough, four hundred kilometres north of Perth in Western Australia and twenty-four kilometres south of Geraldton, draws me like a magnet.
Every few years, I have an urge to return to the district with its river and strange trees bend that bend away from the salt-filled wind.
Each visit enriches my understanding of who I am and where I’ve come from. My Irish, maternal great-grandparents settled in Greenough the mid-nineteenth century. It’s where my grandmother, my mother and her siblings grew up.
Greenough is my living history.
The hamlet, once the centre of the thriving settlement, no longer sits on the main road. The highway has been built to bypass what was once the main street of Greenough, where seven buildings still stand as a monument to the pioneers and to history.
These buildings, built from local limestone, have been carefully restored with funding from the National Trust of Australia, Lotterywest and other benefactors. The church, convent, civic hall, school, police quarters, court house and a private home show a fragment of how life might once have been lived in Greenough.
A handful of other buildings in the wider district have also been restored. Several are now private homes, glimpsed behind trees from the road. The museum was once the home of a prominent pioneer family. However, the stables, flour mill and store adjacent to the old homestead have collapsed in ruins, along with many others in the area.
The well-tended Pioneer Cemetery, away from the hamlet, tells stories of the original settlers and their families, including my own. The first recorded burial was that of five-month-old Elizabeth Lintott, in 1857. There have been no burials there since 1974.
My mother, Florence Stone, grandmother and aunts, all accomplished story-tellers, regaled me, my siblings and cousins with their versions of life on the land on the back flats of Greenough where they lived, separated from the front flats and the hamlet by a low limestone ridge.
Men working for the dole during the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s demolished many original stone buildings because there was no proper work available They crushed the material to make roads.
Family stories about Greenough
My great-great-grandfather, was a Pensioner Guard – a soldier who had fought in the Crimean War. These men could no longer fight wars because of their age or injuries. They came to Western Australia in the mid-nineteenth century as guards on the ships used to transport convicts from England.
For their services, the guards were promised an allotment of land in Greenough. My great-great-grandfather and hundreds of others took up their tiny parcels of land where they built shelters and eked out a meagre living for their wives and children.
Some of the stories I heard as a child were of hardship, isolation and desolation. Some stories were about devastating floods which washed away houses and fences and carried cattle downstream.
It was 38 degrees Celsius when John and I last went to Greenough, but my skin was goose-bumpy when we went into the one-classroom school where my mother and her four siblings were educated.
The room is sanitised now, the floors and desks polished – a tourist attraction like the rest of the hamlet. But I could imagine how it might have been all those years ago. My mother spoke proudly of her role as a ‘monitor’ when she was the oldest child in the school, with the job of helping the teacher with the younger children.
My maternal great-grandparents were of strong, Irish Catholic stock, so they probably went to Mass on Sundays, celebrated St Patrick’s Day and their children were baptised. St Peter’s Catholic Church is still a ‘working’ church, where Mass is celebrated on Sundays. My grandmother, Catherine Buckley, married Samuel Rogers in the church in 1902. Couples from Greenough and nearby Geraldton can still marry in the church.
There are historical records as well as descriptions of the day-to-day lives of the more prosperous families who first settled the region. But the people who lived on the back flats were away from public notice, and few records have been found about them.
However, this trip I found a mention in a document in the Geraldton museum of the delicious butter made by ‘the Buckley’s’, my family, and sold in the Greenough market. Last trip I discovered a record of the croup suffered by my Aunt Evelyn recorded in the apothecary’s notes in 1917.
A few years ago, I wrote a novel which I set in Greenough and Geraldton. I never finished it to my satisfaction. Now I’m itching to take it out again and dust it off. Perhaps I have enough energy, insight and knowledge after my latest visit to Greenough to think about reworking it.
Click here for more stories about my mother
https://www.facebook.com/SunshineFestival/ for information about the Greenough Festival to be held on Sunday, 6 October 2019.