My grandfather, Harry, first saw Melbourne on his way to Gallipoli. I imagine it felt like a ticket to a new life after a childhood framed by tragedy.
When his mother died giving birth to his brother, little Harry was left in the care of his Irish grandmother. He worked her hillside farm hard and, at one stage, never left the property for the good part of a year. The stories my own father passed down to me spoke of a Harry abandoned by his father and shown little pity.
When war came, Harry became an ANZAC light horseman and carried water to the front line. My aunt Heather says dysentery “saved him” from the Western front and nearly a year later, he was home and regarded as a man.
In 1917, Harry applied to secure a parcel of land under the soldier settlement scheme. The inspector recommended against it and his report forewarns of a battle too great for a returned soldier.
Mr Dermody’s advice made sense. I’ve been there many times and tried to imagine how it must have been 100 years ago. The valley is sweet but the property, known as Yosemite, does indeed reach up “precipitous” faces lined with cattle track terraces. Impossible country to farm with a tractor, nigh-on impossible with a fern hook and crosscut saw.
Although still recovering from dysentery and the psychological damage of war that he called “neurasthenia“, Harry’s ambition is palpable in his own submission.
Against the odds, Harry made it. And after his first two children were born around 15 years later, he built a new house with his bride, Pearlie, in the foothills down the valley.That is the place I remember when I think of Grandpa. Heather recalls her father wanting to sign up again in 1939 only to be told farmers were to remain on the land. So, she says, he resolved to buy the land we farm now in order to “do his duty and grow more food”. A notion almost incomprehensible in this era of plenty.
It’s to that lonely boy’s courage in the face of battle – both on the shores of Gallipoli and later in the hills of Gippsland – that I owe this farm. I will not forget.