An Australian childhood in the 1900s

When I was just one year old my dear eighty-one year old Nannie (great-grandmother) wrote me a letter, to be opened on my fourteenth birthday. Inside she described her earliest memories and her own childhood.

It's one of my most treasured possessions.

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Dear Drew
I am writing a
letter to you for your 14th
birthday.
You're one year old today, and
I'm wondering what life will have in
store for you when you're 14 years old
You'll be finishing with boyhood
and fast becoming a young man with
the successes, frustrations and
responsibilities that go with life.

How I would dearly love to be
here to see what you & your cousins
and perhaps a brother and sister will
make of that life. It will be very
different from what my life has been,
but I'm quite sure you will be
honest, have integrity and a love
for your fellow man - live well
and work hard - you have a good
ancestry, one to be proud of - people
who helped build Australia - a
country with lots of ups and downs
but still a good country to love
and live in. Would you care
to hear something of my childhood
memories

002
We were not rich but my
childhood was happy.
My first recollections
were, when I was 3 years old
we had travelled from
Bears Lagoon near Serpentine to
live in Rochester, had come in
a covered van drawn by horses, and
I don't remember that - but I do
remember standing on a foot path
with my brothers and sisters, when a
boy about the size of my brother Rhode
said to him "hallo cockeye" - Rhode
had a crossed eye which had not
then been attended to - and I do
remember Mother taking the pair
of them inside, bathing black eyes
and blood noses and sending the
boy home. Rhode was nick named
Corky till he left school.

Next, the memories were of the
bullock wagons loaded heavily with
bags of wheat, resting on vacant
land near the bridge over the
Campaspe river, waiting their
turn to go on to the weigh
bridge. The bullock wagons
faded out and better built wagons

003
drawn by draught horses
took their place
The scene changed from
wheat to dairying when the
government bought wheat
farms and started the dairying
industry with irrigation water
from the Waranga Basin near
Rushworth -

I remember clearly the lamp
lighter, an elderly man, Mr Waters,
would carry a small ladder and a
tin of kerosene, and would clean the
lamp glasses & fill the bowls and in
the evening light the lamps with a
torch on a long stick. I was
about 10 years old when the town
was lit with electricity
a wonderful thing indeed.
Floods were exciting things -
heavy rains in the catchment areas
would cause the river to rise and
flood the township. That happened
several times. Mother would
send we younger children to the
shops for extra food while she
and the elder ones prepared the
house, pulling anything likely to be

004
up on boxes with boards
across them to form benches.

The water would come
into the houses sometimes
once to the depth of 14 inches.
that time we were "rescued" by a
lifeboat manned by policemen
sent from Bendigo to help marooned
people. There were 2 Salvation
Army Officers (women) with us and the
police had us all singing "We are
out on the Ocean sailing" going up
the main St - such fun.
Then every Nov 5th we had the
big "Guy Fawkes Bonfire". The boys
would form groups, make a rag
guy & push it round the town in a
billie cart collecting pennies to buy
crackers & fireworks for the bonfire
that night & they'd toss the guys into
the fire to help make the blaze last
a little longer.
Another big event was the
annual holiday, a picnic on King
Edward 4th's birthday Nov 9th.
There was a big procession of decorated
wagons and all the fun that goes
with such events.

005
One year a lot of country boys
rode into town on their horses
and ran the Melbourne Cup
down the main street causing
much excitement, especially
among the horses drawing the
wagons. They wanted to join in too.

The Parade would end at the
Recreation Reserve in a big sports,
Picnic and Games Day.

Boxing Day was always a
red letter Day. 3 families would
hire a big covered van with 2 horses
& drive into the country for a
yabby picnic. We'd catch them
in dams, then bring them home
in buckets and the boys would
cook them while we girls would
go over to the bake house and
buy hot bread. Those suppers were
a lovely ending to a happy day.

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I wonder what you think of our
life, as lived in 1900's
I hope you will be able to
look back on happy childhood
days & carry those memories with
you till you're 81 years old.

God bless you dear boy,
may your parents have the same
blessing from you and yours as I
have from my children, grand
children and great grandchildren.
How I wish your great Grand
father Rose could have known
you all. It would have been
a great joy to him.
Your loving
Nannie