Chapter 32

William was laid to rest at Coraki side by side with Harry.

Everything about Coraki Cottage and the nearby property was permeated by the personality of William. There was nothing that he had not overseen personally, many of the things he had made with his own hands.

At first Magdalen was overcome with paralysing shock. Then she walked from room to room in a stupor. William was everywhere. He was no longer there to support her, but there would never be any escape from his omnipresence. The sight of his vacant chair hurt her like a stab. She could not bear to go near the river.

For forty-seven years he had directed and influenced, even when absent. Every day since they had married his ambition had marked the course of their lives.

Magdalen thought of the three tiny babies who had died in Plymouth. The tragedy of their premature deaths had been softened by the years with the arrival of more tiny babies. Friends had died, but there were always more friends. She had lost grandchildren and the grief passed. Even the anguish over Annie and Harry was less acute a year later. With William there could be no lessening of the sense of loss. Life would go on, but without purpose. Her first waking thought each day was disbelief, then the wish to be able to turn back the time to last year.

Her children all had their own lives and families, and sad as they might feel, and heavy at heart they must go on caring for the daily needs of the little ones, their properties, their animals and undertakings. Within a few weeks or months they would be remembering less and hurting less. Would Magdalen ever get through one day or one hour without the anguish of memory? Or one night without the nightmare of drowning? How many years must she go on alone?

Everyone called and told her about their recognition of her sorrow and their admiration for William's achievement. William Clement and Henry Barnes expressed their personal loss as his close friends and their deep sympathy. The Blacks celebrated the event in their own way, expressing their grief openly and vocally. Magdalen wished she could wail and scream and get rid of the terrible hurt and the feeling of futility. Family and friends were reluctant to leave her alone.

William wrote in his diary a few days after the funeral.
Wednesday 28th January 1880. Went to work with a sad heart. No father to ring the bell.

Eliza ordered a black dress for her mother from a dressmaker, Miss Grant of Woodburn. The waist and skirt were separate, and it had a small train and was trimmed with black lace. Eliza thought it looked very stylish for a woman of her mother's age. To Magdalen it did not matter if she wore a sugar bag.

For the first time in her life Magdalen had no capacity to face a problem. Every morning when she woke the knowledge came flooding into her mind and every day as she went about the house she could not overcome the feeling that nothing mattered any more, and every night she lay awake depressed. Local events passed her by and she would not be involved in anything.

Jane was too far away to get to the funeral, but she wrote that her mother should come to Fernmount for a few weeks. Charley and Tommy agreed to let their wives go with her to Fernmount to visit their family. For a while Magdalen was diverted by her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. Little William Kinny was now eight, Harry was six and was ambidextrous like his grandfather. Then there were three more girls, Elizabeth, Minnie and Maud. They had rented the middle floor of their store to Mr Joseph Mackey who printed the first newspaper of the district "The North Coast Times" there. The nearby town of Bellingen had begun to develop, and some of the buildings from Fernmount had been removed there by bullock dray. It seemed to Magdalen that Fernmount would remain a quiet pretty village. It was peaceful and relaxing, but she felt unsettled and wanted to be alone in her own home again.

emma KinnyEmma Kinny

A month after the accident, a preliminary hearing was to be held at Casino as to the cause of death of William and four others, and his son was called to be present. The case was not held and he had to go again in March, and finally to Grafton in April when the captain of the 'Vesta' was sentenced to a year in gaol.

By the terms of the will, the proceeds from the sale of the 'Schoolboy' and the 'Examiner' were to go to Magdalen and her daughters Jane, Eliza, Magdalen and Elizabeth, and amounted to £1000 each, and the Coraki Estate was to be divided among the sons William, Charles and Thomas. The cattle had to be mustered, branded and divided, the two younger brothers taking sections previously selected on their behalf, and William taking Coraki and the Big Shed.

William wrote to William Clement saying that they could not endorse the Promissory Note their father had written, and were unwilling to take the risk on their own account and begging to inform him that they held a letter acknowledging he owed their father £600 to be repaid in three instalments at 6%. They asked for some settlement.

William Clement had mortgaged his property, the bank foreclosed and he lost everything. His only income was from oyster leases on North Creek. Magdalen felt it was a shame. If William were alive he would not have pressed for payment from his old friend, but the boys did not feel it was realistic to allow him any more time. Magdalen did not see him again, but she heard that he eventually selected fifty acres at North Creek where he planted maize and where his wife and family grew and crushed arrowroot to supplement the family income. He established the first Temperance Society in Ballina and worked eagerly for the School of Arts, a telegraph line and harbour improvements, and was highly regarded.

Henry Barnes however kept in touch and often brought his wife and some of his children. The pastoral industry was booming and although he was sixty-two, he continued experiments in breeding thoroughbred stock, and introduced a new strain of draught horse which was much in demand as roads began to be built and agriculture began to increase.

Eliza's husband died, leaving eleven children, the youngest just a baby. Magdalen was needed until Eliza learned how to cope and this helped Magdalen to feel useful and wanted. Two of Eliza's girls, Elizabeth Grace and Janette went back to Coraki Cottage to be company for Magdalen and to help her in the big old house. Later Magdalen kept a small store in Coraki to keep in touch with neighbours and friends. She also carried soup and food to sick members of the Aboriginal settlement, especially to those who had done so much of the work on the run in the early days.

She was busy but the loneliness did not diminish.

john robinson eliza yabsleyJohn and Eliza Robinson

Casino was declared a Municipality with a population of 600, and Lismore seemed to grow overnight to the same size. Charles Fawcett was re-elected for the Richmond and Thomas Bawden had to resign because of ill health and the Clarence seat remained vacant until the following election. There were continued meetings about proposals for a railway.

Coraki was important as a port and depot for merchandise as the demand for hardwood grew, to be used in the new cattle yards at Homebush, Sydney, the new railways, bridges, wharves and telegraph poles. It was the only village that could boast a School of Arts, in a new building erected on a site donated by William junior, who was in the chair at the meetings. The floor was of teak, suitable for dancing as well as meetings. A system of drainage was commenced from Bridge Street to the low lying ground at the back. William was one of the founders of the Coraki Racing Club, and formed a racecourse on his property, in the flat south of Spring Hill, at his own expense, for the benefit of the club. He took great pride in the upkeep of the grounds and grandstand. By comparison the old course seemed primitive and rough, but the tea tree winning post was still in perfect condition as his father had promised.

Lady FranklinThe 'Lady Franklin' at Coraki. (by courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society)

The Coraki newspaper reported "When Mr Yabsley was asked to assist the project, he gave his warmest support as he has always done whenever a public movement was a foot, calculated to benefit the town or district."

Soon after his father's death he had turned the huge Ship Shed into a steam saw-mill in competition with Bill Yeager, whose mill, a little down-river, was also fitted with every type of modern machinery. Bill Yeager had built a complete village for his 60 workers, called Yeagertown and a luxurious two story home for his young family. His passenger and cargo steamers made regular runs to Sydney and Melbourne, and travellers from inland transferred to sea-going vessels at Coraki. A person could lunch in Coraki on Saturday, and dine in Sydney on Sunday evening.

There was plenty of work for both timber merchants who enjoyed flourishing businesses. William bought a sleek new ship the 'Lady Franklin', and put Lachlan McKinnon in charge. All transactions were carried on round the shipping schedule. At times when William had big orders for Railway Contractors, the mill worked overtime until 2am with all hands cutting.

* * *

Oliver and Elizabeth JonesOliver and Elizabeth Jones in later years (by courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society)

Elizabeth had seven little children, and was not well since the birth of the baby, Florence. She agreed to let Magdalen look after Ida Rose who was a toddler. Oliver took the little one to Coraki on horseback to see Grandmama, and Magdalen took her to help feed the chickens, while her father made his departure. The child was a delight and Grace and Janette Robinson were there to help care for her. Elizabeth and Oliver visited often, and at each visit always agreed to leave the child a little longer as she had settled down and had become devoted to her grandmother who had plenty of time to give her.

* * *

Sugar exports increased rapidly when capital was introduced and scientific methods used. The river flats around Coraki were found to be ideal for cane. The timber boom was partly giving way to a sugar boom, and there was talk of a dairy boom. Small factories separated milk and sent cream to Norco at Byron Bay, from where butter was shipped to Sydney by steamer in cool weather. The first separator was in Lismore where a co-operative was formed and machinery bought on credit.

In the 1890's there was a great economic depression. Timber mills closed, banks crashed, small dairy factories went out of business. But other wonderful things were happening as the 20th century approached. Roads were being built and there was talk of motor cars to replace the horse, and at last the railway was begun. Great crowds gathered in Lismore streets to see the turning of the first sod of a track from Lismore to Murwillumbah, followed by a feast of a large bullock roasted on a spit, to which William was invited as the Mayor of Coraki. William Clement, Mayor of Ballina was also there. Magdalen and Ida Rose had gone with the family and other passengers on William's steamer "Catherine", but had found it noisy and threatening. 8000 people had come by boat, cart and on foot. There were festoons of flags across the streets, and shops and homes displayed bunting and decorations. Lismore was now the main business centre with a cottage hospital, gas lighting and water supply system, paved streets, two bridges, and a population of 3000. It seemed unbelievable to Magdalen.

William had wanted the railway to come to deep water at Coraki and had spoken at a meeting to put that point of view. He was disappointed that he had lost the argument, but was pleased to get contracts for railway transoms and sleepers.

Three years later the railway was opened amid wild excitement. The first train took the official party to Byron Bay, and the people called it the railway from "Nowhere to Nowhere" as Byron Bay had a poor harbour and was not suitable for large ships. This time Magdalen stayed at home leaving Janette to take Ida Rose. Magdalen had come to hate crowds. She did not even like the noise from the race meetings or the Highland Gathering of 2000 people which was held at the Coraki racecourse at Easter. She complained of the noise from the sawmill.

* * *

It was sixteen years since William's death. Magdalen sat on the verandah at Coraki Cottage. In her hands was a little sewing box in which was inscribed:-
Genteel it is to play the beau
But not genteel to reap and sow.
Genteel it is to keep a gig
But not genteel to hoe and dig.
Genteel it is to run away
But not genteel at home to stay.

Was it meant to be satirical or serious? The children had given her the sewing box without any thought of the significance of the words. Magdalen found that these days her mind dwelt on such things. She reflected about the meaning of the verse. The children now occupied positions in the world where they need not soil their hands with menial tasks but they would never have been so prosperous if William had not toiled day and night in mud and heat, dressed in dungarees, greenhide shoes and a cabbage tree hat. He had been laid to rest sixteen years ago but Coraki was still HIS town in a way which the young did not recognise. Silly rhyme. Then why did it bother her? Because she felt that the children thought she was out-of-date, living in the past. They could not understand why she did not spend more money on amusement and pretty clothes, why she insisted on keeping the small shop, why she carried soup to the Aborigines, why she grieved when Black Mary, Mundoon's mother died, why she was so little interested in the progress of the district.

Magdalen made a detailed will leaving all her treasured pieces of furniture and mementoes to individual children and grandchildren, according to their tastes. Thomas King and Oliver Jones, her sons-in-law, were executors.

William had gone in for a dairy herd and had taken an active part in establishing a creamery at Coraki. A boiler had been ordered and he had organised the delivery of it from the wharf, by bullock teams. The Creamery was to be opened soon and he called on his mother to tell her he would take her.

"Don't bother," said Magdalen. "I don't really want to go. There'll be such crowds of people and I hate crowds."
"I've arranged for you to be seated where you won't feel crowded. There'll be speeches about Father and how he helped establish the town and so on. Wouldn't you like to hear what they say? People expect you to be there."
"They mostly talk a lot of rubbish. They weren't here and they don't really know what it was like. Your father just did what was in him to do and didn't set out to be a Grandee, as they seem to think. All these speeches about the 'Father of Coraki'. I've heard them all before. He didn't set out to establish a town. He did what he had to to support us."
"Wouldn't you like to see the Creamery? It's a big step forward for the people of the district. No more spoiled butter, melting in hot weather, and wasted. All done by machinery, so efficient and modern. Even the ships going overseas now have refrigerated machinery."
"Have you ever thought how many men are being put out of a job with all this machinery?"
"We must progress you know Mother. Life can't stand still. The timber is going. Red cedar is now almost non-existent. It's mainly hardwoods now. Sugar cane is risky. Dairying is the coming thing."
"I suppose so. But I think the Blacks had a better system. They lived in harmony with the land. They weren't always trying to change it. Nothing was destroyed but there was food for all. Dairy cattle eat saplings so that the forests don't grow again. Only the cabbage tree palms show how high the forest was fifty years ago. It makes me sad to see them looking lonely and bare. When we came here fifty years ago there were fish and wild fowl enough for an army. Now the fish can't breed because of the noisy dirty steamers and the water hyacinths clogging the river; the water birds have gone because there are no fish, and the other birds because there are no forests."
"Yes. Yes Mother. Well you know the river is going to become less important. Railways and roads are the coming thing. Lismore will be a big busy town now it has a railway."
"And Coraki will die. I'm glad your father isn't here to see it, what has happened these last sixteen years."

Her son dismissed the thoughts as the grumblings of an elderly lonely woman. There was still forest on the mountainsides. There were fish in the oceans. There were cattle to eat instead of kangaroos. One MUST progress. He put his mind to the big railway order he had in hand.

Magdalen thought it's no use trying to tell the younger generation how it was before. But she knew that the Blacks understood the preservation of the land and food. When the Blacks went the fish went. The natives who stayed were no longer the proud beautiful people who knew how to live with nature. She had read in the Northern Star the day before:- "One of the most valuable of soft woods in the world has virtually disappeared. The harvest is over."

She thought how things had changed. She was eighty-four with seven living children and over sixty grandchildren and several great grandchildren. Janette Robinson was still with her, helping with the housework and keeping her company. Ida Rose Jones was now ten and regarded Coraki Cottage as her home. Magdalen told the girls a lot about their early days on the river and tried to explain how things had been then.

She thought about her eldest son, a stern but kindly father, very much aware of his position as J.P. and Mayor of Coraki, with an air of the Lord of the Manor in his grand house with the thick carpets and modern devices. His children attended private schools and he had even entertained a dozen visiting M.P.'s. And the peacocks he kept on his lawn! She thought 'we lived clean and comfortable in our bark huts, with only the things we really needed and no clutter.'

William yabsley houseWilliam (junior) in his home at Coraki. Note the portraits of his parents behind him
(by courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society)

The evening before the opening of the Creamery, before he went home from the saw-mill, William called in to say

"Think about it Mother. If you want to come, be ready and I'll call for you. Send Ida Rose to let me know in time. You'll see some friends there."
"Yes. Yes. I'll be ready if I'm coming. Janette got my dress ready in case I want to go."

The next day Magdalen was not well and there was no question of her attending the Opening. Henry Barnes was at the ceremony and visited Magdalen afterwards. They talked together about how beautiful the valley had been, grand and abundant with life. Henry had also begun to think that progress had gone too far in some areas.

"So much has been cut down, so much timber wasted. People want more and more. They destroy everything to get what they want," lamented Magdalen.
"You know there are still huge logs of cedar, prepared for cartage to the mill, but never taken because it turned out to be too difficult. Who cared when timber was so abundant? It seemed never-ending."
"Yes. People were so careless and selfish. They want too much too soon, and they're no happier than we were in our bark huts with few wants and few worries and everything to look forward to."
"Of course at our age we don't want much anyway."
"There's only one thing I ask," said Magdalen half joking. "I don't want to be taken to the cemetery in that new fangled Funeral cart. If they rattle my old bones in that cart I'll come back and haunt them."
And Henry joked. "Don't worry. If necessary I'll carry you myself the three miles to the cemetery through the hot sands."
"I'll help you if I can wear my new boots," said Ida Rose, not sure how serious they were.
"They're too new. That would be agony, you poor child," said Magdalen. "I'd better wait until they're properly broken in."

A few days later William called the doctor. Magdalen was very ill and could not move her left leg. She was crying with pain. William stayed with her taking a turn to watch beside her bed as she steadily got more and more weak. Jane was informed by telegraph.

William wrote in his diary:-
Tuesday 13th October 1896. We are all very sad. Mother is not expected to ever recover.
Wednesday 14th. Keeping watch at Mother's bedside with sisters and brothers.
Friday 16th. Never more will we see our dear and loving mother up again.
Sunday 18th. Mother is getting very weak. Suffering great pain and cannot move.

The pain was unbearable and the only thought that Magdalen was capable of, was the thought of escape. Her mind was numb to anything else. She knew that Jane, Eliza, William, Charles, Elizabeth and Thomas were there. Jane was almost a stranger, a grey-haired woman, talking about her own grandchildren. How could that be? Jane was a slight, quiet child, not this little grey lady. William was not this tall handsome well-dressed man at all. William was just a little taller than she was, he was dressed in dungarees and a cabbage tree hat, and had an unkempt beard.

Magdalen felt herself drifting and floating. The pain eased. Now there was no-one but William, and no pain except a little from smoke in her eyes, as she squatted in front of a bark hut trying to light a fire. The tall beautiful trees were everywhere and currawongs sang.
She heard a voice behind her.
"So here you are," he said.
"William?" she said without turning around. "Is that you?"

Wednesday 21st Dear Mother died this morning at half past nine.
Thursday 22nd. Mother and Father are now lying side by side at rest forever.


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