Half a lifetime ago, I packed my four year old,
my three year old and my two year old into the back seat of our Holden
sedan and set out on a sentimental journey to visit my hometown of
Inverell. I had not lived in Inverell since I was twelve years old, but
the place holds a fascination for me, for it was to here that my
forefathers moved in the early days of
My husband had agreed to look after himself for
a week, so that I could make this trip, and he did not envy me as I
drove out on the highway with the children excitedly wrestling and vying
for the best spot on the seat. After two days of being trapped in a
moving vehicle with my energetic youngsters, I was very much relieved
when all three dropped off to sleep for the last leg of the journey
between Glen Innes and Inverell (about an hour's drive). The greatest
gift that God can give to the mother of young children is an hour's
peace and quiet.
As I drove closer to the place where I was
born, I drank in the fresh spring air and my heart rejoiced at the sight
of new-born lambs frolicking on the new green growth in the paddocks.
The wheat was just poking its tips above the soil and I remembered that
this cycle of new birth and growth had gone on here for many
generations. My thoughts ran on to my mother's mother, who had been dead
for more than a decade. She had been born here, lived her life here, and
it was here that she was buried. What was it like for her when she was a
little girl? Her mother had many babies.... some lived, some died...
lived in a one-roomed shanty with a dirt floor. I thought of my
dishwasher and automatic washing machine. I found it difficult enough to
have my children and rear them with all the help of medical science and
all mod cons at my fingertips.... how had they managed four, five or six
History has recorded something of the lives of
these women...but it is usually glossed over with more detail given to
the lives of their menfolk. Little is said of the heartbreak, the
struggle against dirt and disease, the fear of giving birth unattended,
the constant labour of keeping food on the table and clothes on their
backs. To these women, Australia owes a great debt. This story tells how
some of these women may have lived.
This is not a true story, and any likeness to
any character living or dead is purely coincidental, but I spent a great
deal of time researching in museums, documents etc...to make it
realistic. Stefan Zeiger did not exist, but someone like him may have.
My thanks go to the Miles Museum and the
Pioneer Village at Inverell. Thanks also go to my friend Frank Turvey,
whose thesis on early architecture provided me with much useful
information about the structure of houses Stefan Zeiger may have built.
The stove in the story (a black "Croyden") was also found by
Frank and featured in his thesis.
My husband also deserves a special thank you
for his patience with me during the three years and eight months it took
to write this volume. He inspired me considerably and gave me material
for several parts of the story....for example, when Emily was frantic
because she had no idea where her overdue husband could be, my husband
was long overdue home from his work on the tractor and I was imagining
him dead in a ditch just as Emily was doing. The story of every birth in
this story happened to someone I have met during my life. The tiny
premature son who died was the son of the nurse who sat with me during
one of by own labours. The character of the little prem baby that Billy
manages to rear is a combination of two tiny babies (about one kilogram)
reared by a dear old lady I met in Maryborough. She kept them in her
nightgown to keep them warm for about eight weeks.. She really fed them
drop- by -drop by squeezing her breast milk into each tiny mouth. My own
first -born was also a very tiny prem who is now a healthy grown man,
but in his early years his lack of certain minerals caused him to
continuously eat dirt, fowl droppings and juicy insects.
Breast- feeding features strongly in this story
because it was difficult to rear a child by any other means. I was
encouraged to breast feed my children by studying information put out by
the Nursing Mothers Association. Women frequently relate their own
experiences but none inspired me more than an old lady I met, who told
me about feeding her first baby until he was eleven months old. At this
point his twin brothers were born. To prevent jealousy, she went right
on feeding all three who thrived for the next year. At the same time she
also milked over a hundred cows twice a day as well as performing all
the other tasks required of a homemaker.
The character of Billie has grown from the
stories of women like these, whose inner strength is the power behind
the growth of this Nation of Australia. My own great grandmotherís
maiden name was Wilhelmina and they called her Billy, so I borrowed her
name and applied it to the character. Today's liberated woman thinks she
is as good as any man, but I think yesterday's woman, had more courage
than any man then or now. I hope the reader enjoys the story as much as
I enjoyed creating it.
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