Ted & Annie
These pages were written by Dorothy Bremner for the
The Early Years
In Melbourne Ted Smith met Annie Currie, both of Wesleyan (Methodist) background. She had grown into a most attractive young woman, with a slim build and dark eyes and dark hair long enough to sit on. She was proud of the fact that she could kick as high as her eyebrow and could hold threepence, (a very small coin), between the calves of her shapely legs. While they were walking out Ted tried to steal a kiss and she slapped his face, which did not deter him. He admired her spirit and her character. They were married in Benalla in 1887 when he was twenty-eight, she twenty-five. Apparently Annie and her mother were reconciled.
The first three children were born in Melbourne. Annie was well equipped to run a house and care for children. Ted was working as a bootmaker at Richmond on the other side of the city to their home at Footscray, several miles away by tram. At the time all shoes and boots were made by hand. Hand tools such as an awl (used to make the holes through which the sole was stitched), a tack hammer, a scraper and a wooden or metal last were the basic requirements for repairs. Machinery was coming into use in factories and bigger workshops.
Bert and Viv in their best clothes
The first baby, Albert, named after his father got ill with summer diarrhoea at weaning time. His motions were green. Ted wanted to feed him up on solid food. Annie felt that this was the wrong thing. The baby died. The next baby was Herbert Andrew (Bertie), born at Toorak, with very fair hair, and twenty-one months later Edward Vivian was born in Footscray with Annie's mother, Maria Currie, present at the birth. Ted and Annie and two little sons then went to North Winton to her father's farm, where Percy Ellesmere was born in 1893, the fourth birth in six years.
The naming of the children was partly a variation of tradition. Family names were used as second names if at all. Ted had half brothers in Tasmania named Herbert and Percy; Edward and Albert* were Ted's names; Andrew was from Annie's father and grandfather. The name Vivian occurs in the Corry family in Ireland. The origin of Ellesmere is unknown.* King George V had a son Albert in 1895, named after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort
Annie was back at her birthplace for a short period. Her sisters, Allie and Fanny were now young ladies so Annie probably had help. Annie's thirteen-year-old brother, James Roulstone, whom they called Rollie, had had a swimming accident in the dam as a boy, and had nearly drowned before being dragged out. Since then he was prone to epileptic fits and was often ill. They were protective of him and never left him alone. Epilepsy was regarded as a mental disorder, and people were ashamed of it in the family. Fanny joined Gospel Temperance.Allie and Fanny in their finery
The other Currie boys had all grown into big, tall men, well over six feet [1.9m] and well built, especially Arthur who was six feet three or four inches. They worked on the farm when needed; at other times they went around the countryside, looking for work. Only elementary education had been available so their academic skills were limited. They were tall dark and handsome uncles to the young Smith boys.
Ted liked to sing the boys to sleep, often "Mothers of Salem", a favourite hymn.
The mothers of Salem, their children brought to Jesus.
The stern disciples harkened not and bade them to depart.
But Jesus saw them ere they fled and sweetly smiled and softly said
Suffer the little children and let them come to me.
For many years the church at Bourne Bank, Currie's Hill had, according to the paper "served its noble purpose, but gradually the white ants played havoc, and the sight of the church being propped up to keep it from tumbling over was not at all inspiring to one of its founders. Impulsive then one morning he took his axe, and the building tottered to earth".
Even if not openly expressed, most people felt they were accountable to God and that they had a duty to "do well". Going to church was also a social activity.
The enrolment of North Winton school* was fifty-two and the accommodation had had to be enlarged. The older Currie children had completed elementary school, which was free, but nothing was supplied. There was no individual help and quietness was enforced. Andrew was diversifying his income by contracting to supply sleepers for the railway at the rate of three shillings and threepence halfpenny. He was also appointed the secretary of the company to manage the newly built Winton butter factory.* Six years later the building burnt down having been used as a polling booth the previous day. The Methodist Church was used until portable buildings arrived in 1900. Another school was built in Winton which was still in use in 1993.
After every period of rain, he was having trouble with flooding on his property. The railway embankment increased the problem. He had previously won a case against the council but had got no damages. His grievance was becoming an obsession.
Annie's brother Robert went to Adelaide and bought the complete works of Shakespeare while he was there. He had also bought land of his own. He selected land in the hills at Upper Boggy Creek, now Myrrhee (My-ree) meaning "wind", [Fifteen Mile Creek] twenty-five miles [40km] east of North Winton. The land he chose was on a hillside, in a beautiful area, a large block of 360 acres with a mountain stream for fishing and swimming, ferns growing on the banks, a waterfall and timber. The Government had decided to open up this area to closer settlement because the Kelly Gang and their sympathisers had used it for their hideouts. A railway to Wombat (Tolmie) at the foothills of the range near Whitfield was promised, but years later it had not been built. Sometimes the creeks overflowed but the land was well above the flood-prone areas around North Winton.
Graziers had used the district for over fifty years and Robert's Uncle James had often been there soon after arriving in Australia, as part of his duties while employed at Goulburn fifty years earlier.
To get to Myrrhee, Robert passed near the property Uncle James had bought at nearby Greta after selling his North Winton selection. It was now getting too much for James as he had had a fall, which left him with hip disease. One of the earliest settlers of the district, he had lost his wife, Mary, aged 58 and his twice-widowed mother-in-law, Jane, within days of each other in 1891. His children, Annie's cousins all now grown up, had mostly married and left. He planned to sell up and move away. His eldest daughter Catherine and her husband Samuel Rule had had five children, four sons and a daughter, but only the eldest James Oliver Roulstone Rule survived tuberculosis and diphtheria.
Robert and Annie had often not seen eye to eye when young. Now Annie had a falling out with her two younger sisters Alice (Allie), nineteen and Francis (Fanny), fourteen.
The Smiths with three little boys, undertook the long journey to Jerilderie, a small railway town in southwestern NSW on Billabong Creek, which meandered across the hot, dry, flat plain, creating many lagoons and waterholes at the bends and finally joined the Murray River. Not a hill could be seen in any direction from Jerilderie. There was a billabong with huge trees and many reeds growing near the water. The name means "reedy place". Few trees grew away from the creek, but some pepper trees had been planted in the town and there were native red kurrajongs, Brachychiton populneus. After 1861 the government policy had been to encourage selection in many small communities.
John Caractacus Powell, a travelling draper had built a strong, narrow but rough bridge across Billabong Creek for which he charged a toll, and set up a shop nearby. Later he added a hotel and postal service.
Jerilderie became a busy crossroads with a mail coach and train service, a local rural community of about 450-500, and passing travellers, which supported half a dozen hotels, three large general stores, two blacksmith's shops, a draper, fruiters, a telegraph office, post office, school, Bank of NSW, several small business places and a newspaper. It was very hot in summer with temperatures to 115° F [47oC] not uncommon; so many houses had a cellar to keep things cool. The rainfall was fourteen inches [36cm].
The Smiths lived in a house that had once been a hotel and had a cellar, next door to Steele's Drapery. Annie and Ted decided to change their name. There were two other Smiths living nearby at the time, and the confusion caused was stated to the children as a reason for the change. Henry Smythe had been the Land's Commissioner in Launceston, Benalla (where a street had been named after him) and later Beechworth. The name undoubtedly sounded more dignified than Smith. Annie was due to have another baby about the time of her thirty-second birthday so she and Ted registered Erle Vernon Smythe and simply adopted the name in 1894.
The 1890s were difficult years for everyone because a severe, prolonged and widespread drought caused a Depression. At this time the premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes strongly promoted the idea that the states should federate, but there was little enthusiasm as there was rivalry and competition with Victoria. Customs and taxes on goods passing between NSW and Victoria stifled trade and caused hardship, which resulted in a renewed push for federation by producers along the Murray River. In 1893 a meeting took place at the border town of Corowa, which was called the "Cradle of Federation". Negotiations were then begun for the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia, mainly for defence, the unification of the railways and the reduction of tariffs.
Ted found his earnings as a bootmaker were not large. Mass production reduced the price of new shoes and the number of repairs. There was no dole or welfare. Annie supplemented their income by cooking pies and serving them on Saturday nights in their dining room, when people of the district, especially single men, liked to have a bath, dress up and come to town. The older children did the washing up. Annie also made and sold icecream and during a gastro-enteritis epidemic she gave it to babies, which got some liquid into them and they survived.
A little later the Smythes had another son Lionel Roulston. The name Lionel occurs in the Corrie family and in the family of Annie Clarke in Bondi. Roulston was a Currie family name from Tyrone, Ireland. At six weeks of age before he had any grip on life, the baby got enteric fever (enteritis) and in spite of all care, he died. Life was always uncertain.
Annie was determined that her standards of housekeeping would never be lowered. That was one thing she had some control over. She always saw to it that each child had a good outfit for best. She was proud of her organising ability and the strict upbringing of her children. Both Annie and Ted encouraged an interest in literature. Annie was fond of music. There were no airs and graces but common sense, courtesy and consideration for others. Schooling was very important to the Smythes and they encouraged the older boys to excel. Still only elementary education was offered.
In Jerilderie much progress had been made and by 1896 the school, built to accommodate sixty, held a hundred pupils in two rooms, 30x18x12 feet [9 x 5.5 x 3.5m] and 12x18x12 feet [3.5 x 5.5 x 3.5m]. The site was said to be unsuitable because of runoff. In 1897 a new brick classroom was built at a cost of £789 and a picnic was held on a school day to celebrate.
At last after the birth of six boys, two of whom had died, Annie had a daughter and named her Eileen Viola, (the third child with the same initials) whom they called Viola. The four boys were delighted to have a baby sister, especially Bertie, then aged eight and a half whose pet she became. She was another very fair-haired baby.
One evening, very tired, pushing herself to the limit and perhaps not fully attentive, Annie was carrying Viola, to put her down to sleep. Viv aged eight or nine was helping with the chores and had left the trapdoor to the cellar open. As Annie came from the lighted room and passed the trapdoor, she tripped, and as she fell half threw the baby into Viv's arms, but could not save herself from tumbling down the steps. She landed awkwardly, seriously hurting her left shin. Weeks went by and the leg did not heal properly. With five young children and the house and pie making, she had no chance to rest it. It became ulcerated and she habitually walked on the ball of her foot to ease the pain, finally causing permanent damage. She used a variety of home recipes and treatments to promote healing, but the Achilles tendon in her ankle became shortened for the rest of her life. She learned to walk proudly and aristocratically and always believed her leg would improve.
To help make ends meet Bertie left school and worked for Steele's Drapery as a labourer, carrying bags of wheat and other goods. He was a well-liked boy with fair curly hair, remarkably blue eyes and a cheerful smile. He found the funny side of every situation. Steele's had a large showroom with the cashier in the office above. Shop assistants sent the money and received the change via a system of wires and pulleys. Three semicircular windows facing the street on the first floor, gave the building a unique appearance.Steele's Drapery - note the semi-circular windows and pulley wires
The Turn of the Century
The population of the Colony was now about 3.75 million plus 100,000 Aborigines. This was a period of great patriotism and devotion to duty, stirred by the Boer War. There had been celebrations for the jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign and anticipation of Federation.
Annie's brothers Robert, Andy and Arthur went around the countryside looking for work, sometimes calling at Jerilderie. To the Smythe children they were tall uncles, greatly admired.
Percy aged six or seven, visited Myrrhee about this time, probably when his bigger brothers, Bertie and Viv were taken to North Winton to work for their grandfather. When Viv was nine, he had to leave school as Bertie had previously done. They had to do school lessons in the evening for their grandfather after working hard all day. A letter from Andrew said, "The boys are fairly well up in figures, but deficient in Geography. Viv seems to be a bit quicker than Bert at figures but not such a sticker. They are improving in appearance losing that sallow look that they had about the face, Bert especially. I reckon by the time they are up here a few months you won't know them. I think everyone who lives in that burnt and sun dried plain [Jerilderie] must have a dried and wizend look." (sic)
During the next few years the boys went reluctantly to work for their grandfather. After they returned home their Uncle Andy wrote to Viv in a semi literate hand "I was very pleased to receive your very interesting letter though what I am to write about I can't say. I believe you don't get very much rain well we are in the same trouble here. When are you coming up to Winton to see us all I am afraid if I don't go to see you until I get a bike I will never go as I have not got even as much toward one as you. You have £2. 10 I believe, hurry up & make it into a fiver as soon as possible then you will be all right. I told Fanny about that song & I believe she is writing it out. Remember me to Bertie. I would like to see you & he (sic) again, if you are not too cheeky & if you were I would skelp that out of you. I don't suppose you will be able to read this letter, but any that you can't read guess & you will be near enough. With best wishes to your father mother Bertie & all the others I know. I am your Uncle Andy."
Just before 1900 Andy aged thirty and a friend, according to the Benalla Standard "had a contract with the Railway Department to supply 5000 sleepers. Being unable to secure them in this district they proceeded to the flats of the Murray and camped at a spot about four miles this side of Tocumwal, and seven miles from Cobram."
The river winds across flat country with river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) on the flood plain and Murray Pine (Callitris columellaris) on either side. It was very hard manual work. Five other men were with them. One hot Sunday morning in mid-November soon after their arrival some of them went to the river at Dixon's Bend, Koonoomoo to cool off and were joined by two little boys. They were unfamiliar with the river but one of the men swam across to the NSW bank. "By the time he neared the opposite bank he was very much exhausted, the river having proved to be very much wider than what it looked. To rest himself he caught hold of a tree and on turning around he saw Currie was sinking."
He called out to the others some distance upstream and they ran down "and saw the unfortunate man rise twice about a chain [twenty or thirty metres] from the shore, and then sink out of sight altogether. The current was pretty strong, and the impression was that he got in a whirlpool and was unable to get out of it.
"None of them could swim well enough & were therefore unable to render assistance. One of the men rode on a bicycle into Cobram and informed the police, who said they had nothing to do with the Murray, but they would go out and do the best they could. The friend then rode into Benalla, a distance of sixty miles where he arrived at seven o'clock and the news was taken out to the relatives of the deceased".
Andy was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Cobram cemetery. Maria and Andrew had now lost three of their ten children. The youngest son Rollie, who had been almost drowned when little, was still dependent as an adult because of severe epilepsy.
Ted's sister Clara and her husband William in Tasmania had had eight children, one of whom had died soon after birth. On a warm day in September they lost their oldest son aged eleven in an accident, when he slipped from a steep rock while trying to cross the Cascade River near Derby. This incident was used to stress to all the children the danger of deep water. The accidents were used by Ted and Annie to warn their children of the danger of diving into water without due care.
Fanny said that her brother, Andy had been trying to earn money to help their father fight the Council. The family was adamant that flooding had increased since Council had made a drain on Broken River in Benalla. The dispute was to be carried well into the next century.
This was the heyday of Jerilderie. Settlers and small businesses were thriving. Annie was due to have another baby, her eighth child, six of whom were living. A couple of weeks before the "turn of the century" Ida Clare Marie was born. The Smythes had moved to the corner of Powell and Jerilderie Streets, which met at an angle forming a triangular block. As the house had no cellar there were no steps to negotiate.
Bertie was very affectionate with his little brothers and sisters. If Viola wet her pants she would go for help to Bertie aged eleven, whom she adored. The children were all taught to be considerate of each other. Although she looked years younger, being slim, dark and of striking appearance, Annie was approaching forty.
A year later Annie had a studio photo of the family with Ida as a baby on her mother's knee, a fine-looking group.
Ted was inclined to consider, to speculate and ponder and was more inclined to "make up" and be relaxed about the children's shortcomings when they had been punished, whereas Annie did not, as she felt it defeated the purpose. Ted was always proud of good work and never money-conscious but enjoyed a social drink. Annie was a very active person, a doer. The greater burden fell on her shoulders to make ends meet and keep up the standard she had set herself.
"A continent for a nation and a nation for a continent” was the slogan as the states headed for Federation. The name Australia became official, although there was no agreement about the proposed site for the Federal capital. Sir Henry Parkes, who had long urged the formation of a commonwealth, did not live to see the event. Sir Edmund Barton of NSW became the first Prime Minister, based temporarily in Melbourne.
In general, conditions had improved enormously since the colonies were formed and were mostly better than in Britain.
All mail and telephones came under Federal Government control and the Post Master General's (PMG) Office was established. On 1st Jan 1901 the Duke of York, later George V, grandson of Queen Victoria declared the formation of the nation. For six years women in South Australia had had the vote, which would soon be extended to the whole nation. Women argued that they lacked political influence and many men, especially when they drank too much, ill-treated their wives and families. Women joined the Temperance Movement to draw attention to this injustice.
Queen Victoria died soon afterwards, newspapers were edged in black and sixty-year-old Edward Vll came to the throne.
All Australian boys over the age of twelve were required to be military cadets; those who had left school were in the senior cadets. There was a ceremony at school every Monday morning for saluting the flag. Military drill was part of school discipline. Empire Day was celebrated with singing patriotic songs, lessons about the Union Jack, the British flag and the British Empire.
The good years in the Jerilderie district were followed by another severe drought, which resulted in many of the settlers leaving; a major blow to the town. The big stations acquired a lot of the land. Fewer residents reduced the viability of all the trades. Jerilderie Motor Garage opened and diminished the need for saddlery and blacksmithing. In turn Ted had fewer orders.
Birth of Rita
The next baby, the third girl in a row, was named Rita* Staniforth, her second name coming from Lucy Staniforth, Ted's mother who had died young of consumption. Priding herself on her ability to cope, Annie was alarmed to find occasionally that the pressure was mounting and she was getting depressed and angry if the baby cried and she could not attend to her. One day she confided to a neighbour that she sometimes felt desperate. The tactful neighbour said, "Whenever you feel like that, just come straight over to me and I'll make us a cup of tea." Occasionally Annie took advantage of the offer. She felt that she could not relax her standards for herself and everyone else for fear that everything would go to pieces. She did more than her share of kind deeds in the town, including making little gifts for people. She wasted no time in getting her name on the next electoral roll after women became eligible to vote.* Rita perhaps from Margaret, her great grandmother whose initials were M.N. Margaret Nancy (Barr) Currie.
Dispute about the Farm
Bert and Viv in work clothes - probably at North Winton
The Smythe children were encouraged to read well and to keep up an interest in current affairs. As they got older Ted liked to do science experiments with them. He also teased them, which intimidated Ida but tended to favour Vern who had more cheek and confidence and managed to get away with independent behaviour so long as he did not forget his manners.
Viola was not allowed to play with the neighbour's children who were Catholic and who SWORE. Across the road lived another little girl, the same age as Viola, Irene Hanna, who was known as Rene (pronounced Reeny), with whom she was friendly for many years. David Hanna her father was a remittance man from County Donegal. In time he became the publican at Jerilderie Hotel where a developed a problem with alcoholism. Remittance men were often scorned because they had been sponsored by previous immigrants or were paid by their family to stay in the colony.
Each Easter Monday in Jerilderie there was an annual picnic in the police paddock at the bend near the Water Works. A pig was donated as a prize. At ten o'clock the children assembled at the PO and walked the half-mile with the town band in a fancy-dress procession. About 600-700 people attended, about 200 more than the local residents. There were 200 toys for the children and merry-go-rounds, food and games until sunset. A five-shilling prize was awarded for the most original character in the procession. Annie had found time to create costumes for five children. Later a bus took the children back while the others walked.
Hanna Hotel Jerilderie
The Hanna Family was Presbyterian, but after the death of her husband from alcoholism at the age of 50, Susan Hanna remarried to avoid losing the hotel licence. Rene was sent to the Catholic school and Viola lost her friend, missed her and wanted to go too. Annie said definitely “NO”!
Percy aged about nine, wrote a composition describing the Easter Parade, and what he and his brothers wore, and the failure of some of the costumes to stand up to the strain.
"Last Easter Monday picnic, there was a procession; Bertie and Vivie were Peruvian chiefs. Vernie was a cat, but he had his wool off before he got home. I was a monkey, but I got my wool off before starting, and so couldn't go. There was Mr Jack Watson, saveloy seller; there was Mr Pepper's band; and there was Bill Hanna, old black gin, Mr Brooks, the husband, (washing the clothes), Otto Brooks little black boy, and Viola, and Rene Hanna, little pickaninnies. Bill Curry was dressed as a police-man, with his father's coat and Wellington boots: while the procession proceeded, his mostache came off, and he couldn't get it on again. There was also Maloneys band."
In April Annie's father wrote to Ted saying they were all well and asking for Bertie to be allowed to go to help them on the farm. "We could get a lad at any time but I do not like to have a stranger on account of Rollie." He suggested there was a misunderstanding about the motives of Fanny and Allie, which had caused bitterness and ill feeling. Annie should forget and forgive. He thought that Viola would now have forgotten Winton and that Percy and Vern would have taken their certificates.
From time to time Annie's older boys still went to work on the farm at North Winton. Percy was expected to go as soon as he was big enough to be useful. They had to walk around with wet feet doing their various jobs as required. After long days they had to do their lessons for their grandfather.
There were continual problems with flooding of the two creeks for which Andrew blamed the Council. There was a proposal to dam one of the creeks and create a reservoir, but nothing was done. Some land had been bought fifteen years earlier to make Lake Mokoan a water storage. The Currie family began a long drawn-out case against the council, having become obsessed with the perceived hostility. Friends and neighbours were to be drawn into the conflict.
Andrew was no longer so active as he was getting old and was not well but his younger daughters willingly took up the fight.
Of the Currie siblings who had arrived from County Tyrone in the 1840s, only James then over eighty and Andrew seventy-six were known to be alive, both in Victoria. Lydia remains a mystery.
About this time, the oldest sister, eighty-three year old Annie Clarke died in Sydney and was buried at South Head Cemetery with her husband Edmund who had died twenty years earlier. On the gravestone it says only "Ann relict of the above". In his will Edmund referred to her as "the mother of my children". No marriage certificate has been found.
1903 James, his grandson James Oliver Roulstone Rule,
his daughter Catherine Rule nursing baby Alice Greta Rule
In Tasmania, Ted's only remaining grandparent, the only one who had not arrived as a convict, Mary (Brain) Staniforth had died at the age of eighty-eight, having arrived sixty-eight years earlier with her family to join her convict brother, later married John Staniforth and been widowed in 1857. She had had only two children, Ted's mother, Lucy, who had died a young woman, and Isabella who had married Charles Webb and had a large family. Mary married again, but apparently had no more children to James Bellion, a widower and master mariner. In her old age Mary, widowed again lived with her granddaughter Mary Eliza Webb. Ted's sister, Clara and her family also remained in Tasmania, her tenth child born in 1904. By then her two sons aged thirteen and eight were old enough to be some help on the farm at Derby, which did not allow them time for any social activities or sport. There were also five daughters and two little boys.
In 1905 Annie's Uncle James, farmer, aged eighty-three, died of senile decay and exhaustion, after having been invalided by a fall eight years before, causing hip disease followed by a year's illness. He died in Mackey St, Wangaratta, Victoria and was buried at Greta. "The funeral cortege... was largely attended and showed the esteem in which the deceased was held."
The informant for the certificate was his son, James Roulstone Currie, of South Yarra. It was stated that his father came from Derry, (the Diocese), Ireland, was five years in NSW and fifty-four years in Victoria, which was not quite accurate. His father was stated as "Andrew Currie school teacher", his mother was "Nancy Currie, M.N. Barr”. He had been married in Melbourne to Mary Gamble for thirty years, she had predeceased him. Children aged between fifty and thirty-four were Catherine Jane, William John, Thomas Arnold, James Roulstone, Robert (dead), Annie, Lydia Mary (dead), Matilda Elizabeth (dead), Frances Margaret, these being mostly family names. There were also grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Apparently James had acquired his brother Robert's property at Laceby when Robert died, and James' son William stated it as his father's address on the certificate. William then seems to have inherited or bought it.
Tragedy at Macrorhyncha
In 1901 Annie's brother Robert, aged 33, had married Augusta Helms whose family had come from Germany. Robert had selected land at Myrrhee in the hills about twenty-five miles east of North Winton and he had to work there to meet the requirements. They called the property "Macrorhnycha" (Macro-rinka) after a Eucalypt with stringy bark and an elongated fruit, the timber much-prized for hop poles in the district.
Annie and Robert were the only married children of Andrew and Maria. Lydia was engaged to Bill, one brother, Andy had drowned, Arthur remained a bachelor, two babies had died, Allie and Fanny were unmarried, Rollie, severely handicapped with epilepsy was now a young adult.
With the help of Augusta's (Gussie's) older brothers, Robert and his brother Arthur began to clear the land for farming. Physically very strong Robert was a good homegrown carpenter and handyman, thought by his neighbours to be clever and very good living, but not very sociable. Robert had with him copies of Shakespeare and Burns and his violin, which he still played.
The soil around the creek was suitable to make bricks. Nearby, Robert dug a well and built a bush timber home, a slab hut with a bark roof and tin chimney. With help from the family he cleared sixty acres along the creek flats and grew tobacco and hops and built large sheds for the crops.
A cricket match was held on the neighbouring Evans property with the Evans team playing against the Myrrhee Cricket Club. It was reported in the local paper:
"The match was proceeding normally until R Currie steered the ball to leg and into a rabbit burrow. The Evans side crowded around, reaching down into the darkness to try to locate the pill, while Myrrhee piled on the runs. A shovel was called for, while the umpires tried to remember what the MCC rules had to say about rabbit burrows. The house side even whistled up a dog to get busy on the burrow, but Myrrhee objected on the grounds that it represented an extra fieldsman. The batsmen meanwhile were getting quite dizzy running. A lost ball was declared and afternoon tea served. A new ball was found and the match resumed with the Evans team in a hopeless position from which it never recovered. Myrrhee was declared the winners by a country mile."
On their farm "Macrorhyncha" at Myrrhee, Robert and Gussie had two children, a son called Robert McAlpine (also a Currie family name) to distinguish him from his father Robert Ireland, and a daughter Flora Kathleen. Gussie had been in robust health until her third confinement in the slab hut with a midwife in attendance.
After giving birth to her third child, Eileen Augusta, Gussie died suddenly, probably of haemorrhage. Life was unpredictable. Immediately Lydia Currie went to her brother's aid to look after the two little children and the newborn baby who was delicate, and to cook for the workmen. Bill, her fiancé, broke off their engagement and Lydia was thought by the family to be a near saint because of her sacrifice.
A. Currie (probably Allie) wrote that she planned to go down and "cut him (Bill) out” so Lydia needn't "waste any more sighs or tender thoughts on him".
In spite of a very bad bushfire, which had burnt some homes, the creamery and the school, the little community of Myrrhee was progressing. As the farms were scattered along three adjoining valleys the people of the district could not agree where the new school should be built. For a while lessons were held in a large draughty hop shed, except for three weeks in the hop season when the shed was in use, until a compromise was reached. In November 1903 an acre was reserved on the top of the hill at Myrrhee. A room 22 x 14 feet [6.6 x 4.2 m] was opened to thirty pupils a year later with a picket fence in front, a wire netting fence at the back against wombats and rabbits and a horse enclosure. Many children rode five miles and were granted a conveyance allowance of four pence per child per week. From their farm, the Curries could see the hill over which their children would walk when they started school.
Robert Currie seated with violin in front of his slab and bark home on a hops farm in Myrrhee.
Lydia Currie seated with Arthur Currie standing. The two boys sitting on the ground are unknown but could be Rollie.
As children, Annie and Robert had frequently disagreed and Annie thought her brother was not easy to live with. As an adult, the loss of his wife only added to his problems. He was held in some awe by the younger generation and the locals found him rather aloof.
Gospel Temperance certificate
Lydia stayed at Myrrhee to look after Robert's motherless children, dependant on his income. A photo shows a neat hut, Arthur standing, Lydia seated, Robert seated with his violin. There is a large, well-built farm building in the background. Arthur, a very good-natured, easygoing man often worked for Robert at Myrrhee, where his nephew and nieces adored him, and he was on the Myrrhee electoral roll as a hop-grower (1908 and 1912) but most of the time lived and worked on his father’s property at North Winton with Allie and Fanny. Fanny although six years younger than Allie, was the leader, bossy and sharp-tongued. She had worked for a while as a teacher's assistant. Both women belonged to the Gospel Temperance Society, a movement that used the insobriety of some men in order to draw attention to the inequality suffered by many women. Enthusiastically they supported their father whom they referred to as Pater, in his dispute about the farm.
Lacking the easy assurance of his brothers, Percy enjoyed writing and drawing. He always did what he considered to be correct or sensible. He was a bit of a stickler for detail and rectitude. On one occasion he took to school a girl's school-case because it suited his purpose, and he ignored the teasing of some of the boys who suggested it was sissy.
Another time when the circus was in town Percy asked his father if he could go. Ted said no, because there was wood to be chopped first. Vern did not ask, he just went. And when he came home he did not get into trouble. Or so it seemed to the others. Annie felt that Vern seemed to be favoured by Ted and she felt sorry for Percy.
Percy recalled having to walk around his grandfather’s farm in North Winton with wet feet, bringing in the cattle. He was a rather quiet child, less outgoing than his brothers but very intrigued by the stories about bunyips and the prizes offered to anyone who could solve the mystery. Stories about bunyips had begun with the Aborigines and had been enthusiastically taken up by the early settlers. Supposedly, bunyips, dark creatures with large shining eyes and a bellowing voice, emerged from swamps on moonlit nights to eat human prey especially women. The loud boom-boom-boom, the bellowing mating call, sounded across the country. Some people said it was a seal, which occasionally came inland in flood times. In 1894 the Melbourne Argus had announced that the bunyip was the swamp-dwelling bittern, a bird which is seldom seen. Percy was not completely convinced but wanted to see for himself before he fully accepted the explanation. When he had spare time he often tried to follow the sound, but when he got to a point it always seemed to come from a different direction. His fascination developed into a continuing interest.
Viv did not like working for his grandfather at North Winton so at the age of fourteen he joined the Post Master General's Office (PMG) as a junior mechanic and soon became a telephone attendant in the electrical engineer's branch dealing with telephones. At the time the PMG controlled the mail, telegraph messages, tapped out letter by letter in Morse code, and telephones when they became available.
Percy was enrolled at the Winton school* in May 1905 at the age of twelve and was presumably working for his grandfather before and after school and at weekends. All the Smythe boys were clever but the classes were crowded and there were few books or other facilities. Teachers were poorly trained and over-worked. A stern disciplinarian, the teacher wore out a strap and resorted to a switch to keep order. Percy left school at the end of the year to look for paid work. There were then three Smythe boys bringing in a few shillings when they could find work.* On the WWI Honour Board at Winton School in 1993 were the names P Smyth (sic) and V Smyth (sic) although there is no evidence of Viv or Vern having attended school in Victoria. When North Winton school was closed the board was put aside and deteriorated sadly. Later the names were put on the Winton Board from memory.
Whenever possible Percy indulged in his pastimes of writing and drawing. He got several certificates and silver medals from "Chum Peggy" who conducted the children's page of the Victorian magazine "The New Idea".
His tongue-in-cheek poem "I am the Boss of the School" appeared in April 1906 and won him a silver medal. The address given was Winton. He was finding an outlet for his reticent personality. The poem suggests he was in fact or fancy a monitor or teacher's aid or perhaps he was mocking another boy.
The "Boss" at School
I am the leader of the school,
At school I am the "boss",
The others have to make up for
My every trivial loss.
When slate, or pen, or pencil's lost,
I'm heedless of the rule,
And make 'em give me what I want,
‘Cause I'm the "boss" at school.
The others play which games I wish,
At marbles, bat, or ball,
And for the games we play, I choose
The winners of them all.
The others dare not slander me,
Or say I am a fool.
They just do what I tell 'em to,
'Cause I'm the "boss" at school.
I choose the ones to win the prize
That comes round ev'ry year,
And every schoolboy envies me
My rank in the schoolhouse here.
I make 'em share their sweets with me,
And they think I'm "pretty cool".
But none of 'em dares to refuse
'Cause I'm the "boss" at school.
With the hope of improving his prospects Andrew had left Ireland fifty-seven years earlier and had never lost sight of his aspiration, but fought to the last to cling to the piece of land he had selected forty-five years ago. He was convinced the Council had treated him unjustly.
The next year on May 19th, he died of cardiac failure and senile decay, aged seventy-nine just after changing his will. He had been ill for a year, but Annie was not able to attend his funeral because she was not informed in time to travel from Jerilderie. Bert then seventeen was there when his grandfather died.
A letter from Allie said he had got up "leaning on Bert and I (sic). She had rung (sic) out a flannel in brandy and heated it over the fire. He looked so young for his years (he was 79 but looked less than 60). I think he knew last Saturday he was dying for while I was away getting the doctor, and Fanny was attending to him, he would clasp her hand tightly. Don't go away, don't leave me was his constant cry. It seems so lonely without him because I was all my time attending to him. We kept a lock of his hair for you. Goodbye. Allie”. There was no mention of her mother, Maria.
A little later Allie again wrote, writing across the page as usual, then turning the paper and writing the other way. She said that she had helped prepare and wash him. They had written to Lydia to come from Myrrhee but she did not see him alive. "Pater wanted to give the four girls so much." Fanny and Allie had agreed to continue the fight he had previously begun with the council.
"Arthur wouldn't take it on if the women were to get anything. My opinion is that the two of them [Robert and Arthur?] reckoned if they hung off they would get the lot and only have Mater and Rollie to look after. They reckoned on the old rule sons before daughters, never that they would be left out. He wanted Rollie's future to be secure. He gave us our own time to pay you. We have no horses only old Jess and Teddy and they are very ancient indeed. The probate etc cost £40. There might have been a chance of Pater's rallying if he had not been so worried over his will. It was to be sent out by train. "It ought soon be here. Isn't it coming?" He was worrying terribly. He got Fanny to read it to him. Got us to prop him up. He had just enough grip left in his fingers to sign his name. He repeated over to himself Andrew Currie. It was the last. We must now keep careful books. Six stamps cost a shilling."
By their father's will Annie and Lydia were to receive £100 each (about a year's wage) when the money was available, but their sisters did not have the cash because of their constant litigation. In Annie's opinion her sisters influenced their father to change his will. The boys had worked hard on the farm and should have been treated equally. Perhaps their father believed that Robert was comfortable on his own property and Arthur was a confirmed bachelor. Their mother and Rollie were to be looked after. After a period Arthur went his own way being a willing worker well-liked and easy-going, but finding his younger sister Fanny very bossy and probably saw the fight as a lost cause.
"Always speak well and never use bad language. It shows ignorance," Annie and Ted continually reminded their children. The older ones were encouraged to act responsibly and to believe that their futures were in their own hands. There was a strong sense of duty but not of revenge for real or imagined slights.
They were also encouraged to have hobbies, keep up their education by reading well and to keep up an interest in current affairs. Their upbringing emphasised having a vision, using reason and ingenuity to find solutions in attaining those ends, finding satisfaction in contributing to the community, helping each other. The individual remained responsible for his actions and would be accountable to God in the next life. There were no government handouts for the foolish or the unfortunate and people with ambition developed their own skills. Annie and Ted had the examples of their own families rising above their backgrounds, helping each other, one from the poverty of Ireland in the potato famine, the other from the disruption of the Industrial Revolution.
Vern had developed the habit of saying "Crumb" (an acceptable word) when he realised he had made a mistake and had acquired the nickname of "Crumb" from his classmates.
Viola had been the adored first daughter for a while and had attracted plenty of attention from her brothers who tended to spoil her. She could mostly get her own way but had a sunny personality, big brown eyes and pretty fair hair and was everybody's pet. Being an enterprising tomboy she had built herself a cubbyhouse in a huge pepper tree that grew outside the window. She used to climb through the window to play in it. One day she persuaded Ida who was a timid child to join her but Ida became agitated and Viola got into trouble. Although her parents were very strict Viola usually got away with a lot because of her winsome ways. Rita, four years younger, enjoyed playing in the tree house, when she was big enough to do so.
On one occasion Ted took the girls for a swim in the billabong on a very hot day. It was common for boys to go swimming but not girls, so he took them to a quiet spot and let them go in wearing only their petticoats and pants. Ida got frightened by a leech and panicked and their father had to hurry them out of the water and into their clothes and take them home because of the curiosity of people who heard her screams. Viola was disgusted! Such things did not intimidate HER.
Annie saw to it that the three girls always wore white pinafores over their frocks to keep them clean. Every morning there was a freshly starched pinny (apron) hanging on a nail over their beds. Each child always had one good outfit for best.
Two more boys arrived, Eric Arthur Robert (Currie names) and Gordon Louis (Smith names) and there were now nine living children, the oldest being seventeen. Annie's older children were able to be more help and she had more time than when Ida and Rita were babies and Viola was now old enough to do little chores. Annie was forty-five with a well-used nursing chair, a low chair more comfortable when supporting a baby to feed. Annie noticed that Gordon was a playful baby. As no more babies came, Annie had more energy than she had for years and there was always an older child to do the chores and entertain the little ones. Gordon especially got lots of attention, and because of his smiling response, was much adored. When he was weaned, the nursing chair was put aside for the last time.
In the meantime Viola was delighted to discover Ethel Turner and "Seven Little Australians" in which the children were sometimes naughty. She was glad and relieved to learn that there were other naughty little children in the world.