Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Esarly Days, Volume 7, 1969-1976

Catherine Gavin's Story, 1839-1923: an Irish exile at Solomon's Well on the Old Plains Road

Rica Erickson

Erickson, Rica 1971, 'Catherine Gavin's Story, 1839-1923: an Irish exile at Solomon's Well on the Old Plains Road', Early Days, vol. 7, part 1: 89-102.



About twelve miles to the north-west of Bolgart, tucked into a picturesque forest clearing, is a cameo of pioneering days a I century ago. It is a decaying, mud-walled cottage. Old-fashioned pink roses and pear trees still flourish along an old slab fence. The small fields, until a few years ago, were ploughed with a single-furrow plow and are fenced in the manner of early times.

A flock of sheep, led by a bell wether, is driven to the fold each night; the floor of the pens by now is a foot above ground level, paved with the droppings of many decades.

Twenty years ago the road past its front door was a mere relic, rutted and almost impassable, but nowadays it has been graded and widened to carry timber trucks. . Some tourists pass that way by accident, seeking wildflowers; they negotiate the road with ease. I used to wonder when I first drove over the rough winding track thirty years ago, what induced people to live in such isolation, until I learnt that this forsaken piece of road was once part of the famed "Old Plains Road”—the much-used highway from Perth to Champion Bay and the far North-West.

The old Victoria Plains Road is one of the oldest in the State and the small section, north of Solomon’s Well and south of New Norcia, which still meanders ungraded through primitive bush, may be the only part remaining as it was in the beginning. The mud-walled cottage was built at one of the watering-stages—"Solomon’s Well”. A Government bucket and chain was kept there for the benefit of travelling public. Here lived Catherine Gavin, who baked her bread in an earth-covered oven outside her house, and whose water was drawn from a cask on sleds, filled daily from the travellers’ well and pulled to her door. Her story I learnt in part from her grandson John Bourke commonly known as ‘Sonny’, although he is now a little, wizened old man past 70. Sonny has no roof to his mouth and in moments of embarrassment or excitement is not easy to understand, so most of this story has been gleaned from the pages of an old account-book in which his grandmother noted the important transactions of their lives.

Catherine Ellen Gavin, nee Fitzgerald, was born at Fethard, County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1839. Her brother Tom and some


other relatives had migrated to Western Australia during the 1850s and when she married Edward Gavin in January 1861 he also left for the Colony, leaving his bride to wait until he sent for her to join him.

She was not wanted on board the ship on which he travelled as a guard over convicts. In later years, Edward Gavin used to tell his children and grandchildren about the chains and leg-irons, and the terrible life aboard a convict ship, when he explained why his wife could not accompany him. He arrived in March of the year 1861. Catherine’s brother, Tom, had a pastoral lease at ‘Yamara’ along the Victoria Plains Road to New Norcia, but Gavin did not care for the lonely bush life and decided to become a policeman instead.

It was a tearful day for Catherine when she left Ireland. She had the company of six other women migrants from her own county of Tipperary, folk to whom she clung to the end of their days, as fellow travellers “from the Green Island of Erin to the fearful wilds of Western Australia.” She arrived in Fremantle in July, 1863, and journeyed immediately to Newcastle, where she lived for a few months at the police station. Not long afterwards, she and her husband lived at the “Nine Mile” road-party camp, on the Toodyay Road. Edward Gavin was in charge of the road gang, which was employed on maintaining and improving the road for about 41 miles on either side of their camp, within walking distance of the extremities of their job.

We can glean a picture of life at a convict road camp from reports written by a journalist from Victoria, who had been sent over expressly to find the worst side of convict life to back up the Eastern Colonies agitation for the withdrawal of convicts from Australia. The Eastern Colonies had been free from convicts for some years and were strongly opposed to the system in the West. Contrary to expectations, he found a convict road camp to be a reasonably pleasant place. If the men were well-behaved, they enjoyed a simple camping life, were free to wander and to keep pets, to hunt for food and to yarn round the camp fire of nights. In the Toodyay, or Newcastle area, road parties were established along the Northam Road, the Clackline Road, the New Road (Red Hill) and Culham Road.

In charge of the party near Culham Church was Police Sergeant Graham. His wife was among those women favoured by a visit from Squire Phillips' wife, who made regular calls on the cottages in the Toodyay valley. She used to take books and magazines to those who appreciated them—for not all could read. It is doubtful if Catherine Gavin was fortunate enough in her first year in the Colony to receive such a gracious visitor, but most certainly she


enjoyed instead the sight of a constant stream of travellers that passed on its way to and from Guildford.

There was the weekly trip of the Government carter, who contracted to take mails, and sometimes carried an impoverished sick or aged person in his cart to the Poorhouse at Perth. Able-bodied people in need of government charity walked with the cart. Such was the young girl of 16 years or so who, with her baby, was cast out by a wrathful father, because the child was bom out of wedlock; also there was the destitute widow with her hungry family. The sympathetic government Resident Magistrate, who arranged the journeys and authorised the expenses for food on the way, had to account for the cost to a careful Governor, whose Treasury never held enough funds for public works. Often the sick and destitute preferred a meagre existence or death in the country, rather than to go to the Poorhouse in Perth.

Catherine enjoyed seeing the travellers pass, whether they were poor folk or gentry, and would have made many friends amongst them, for hers was a friendly, cheery nature and jokes came readily in her broad, Irish brogue. There was excitement enough, too. While at the Nine Mile camp, Police Constable Gavin once caught that elusive horse stealer, Moondyne Joe, an incident proudly related to his grandchildren in his old age.

The Gavins moved down the road to the Baylup Police Station in February, 1864, going from there to Guildford Police Station in February, 1865, then to Gingin Police Station, where he stayed for four years. While in this last district he patrolled the Dandaragan area where he caught an ex-convict criminal and naturally wished to take him to Perth and thus collect the reward offered for his capture. His senior officer determined to take the convict himself, and he collected the reward too. This Gavin resented and promptly resigned taking his family to “Yamara” where he worked for his brother-in-law (Tom Fitzgerald) for a short while, thereafter moving to ‘Culham’, where in 1869 he entered the employ of Squire Phillips.

While at Gingin Catherine acted as Postmistress. The postal arrangements to the north of Champion Bay were altered while she was there. At first the mails were carried along the so-called coastal route (actually it did not touch the coast). There were no settlers between Dandaragan and Irwin House, so the policemen of the districts concerned acted as mail carriers, while they were on their regular patrols. Every month the policeman at Dandaragan, with his blacktracker, rode along the old coast road as far as the Irwin homestead and there they exchanged mailbags with the policeman who rode south from Geraldton.

There were isolated settlers further inland at Coorow and


Carnamah, who were obliged to travel down to ‘Glentromie’, Donald Macpherson’s homestead near New Norcia, to receive their mail. Following complaints from them, the old coastal route was cancelled, in favour of one which ran further inland from New Norcia through Glentromie, Coorow, Carnamah, Yandanooka to Irwin House. The police then gave up carrying the mails. Private contractors put in tenders for the work every three years.

The route over which the mail had first been taken was a well-known one, even if precarious. Stock was brought by the same route between Champion Bay and Newcastle. Squire Phillips and his partners, Hamersley and Lock Burges, had big pastoral runs along the Irwin River since 1852, and already men travelled rather frequently between the homesteads of the Toodyay Valley and the far distant runs of Champion Bay, the Nor-West and Murchison, where also the Dousts, Wheelocks, Gooches, Mackintoshes, Clinches and others from Toodyay had sent their flocks.

In 1872, the Gavins left their workman’s cottage at ‘Culham’ to go to ‘Yere Yere’, the Drummonds’ station at Dandaragan, and there they stayed for five years. By this time the Gavins had five girls and two boys. These were Kate, Bridget, Nellie, Lizzie and Mary. Edward, Junior, was born at ‘Culham’ in 1871 and son, John, was bom in 1873. John was not quite five years old when the family moved once more, this time to settle on a pastoral lease of Tom Fitzgerald’s at Solomon’s Well, and there they made their final home.

The decision to settle at Solomon’s Well may have been brought about by the death of James Drummond in 1873. His widow was forced to relinquish all his properties, to clear herself of mortgage and debts, which had accrued over the depression years following the withdrawal of the convict system. Solomon’s Well was offered by Fitzgerald as a haven to the Gavins and, at a rental of £11 per annum, they were glad to go. Situated on the old Plains Road, as it was, not far from relatives and within reach of the church at New Norcia, there were many advantages in the move. Solomon’s Well was a watering point for travellers. Solomon’s Brook and the Well had been named after an old shepherd who had tended flocks in that area many years before. One wonders if he was one of Captain Scully’s workmen, an illiterate servant, whose name was mis-spelt "Salmion” by an unlettered policeman in 1841. Originally the Gavins lived in a rough bush hut with an outdoor stone oven by the well. Travellers were welcomed and regaled with tea; they exchanged gossip with the good-hearted Irish folk.

Edward Gavin and his children would have tended their small flock in very much the same manner as Solomon had, so many years before, belling their sheep and shepherding them by day in


the bush, bringing them home to the fold at night. Catherine was a true Irish Catholic and the solace of her faith was essential to her happiness. It was about a 20-mile drive to the New Norcia Mission and there the Gavin family attended Mass as often as possible, rising in the small hours of the morning, jogging along in a cart by starlight and moonlight, arriving chilled to the bone and grateful for the warmth of a fire, lit for them by the Benedictine Brothers. The memory of those early morning drives to Mass stayed with the children to the end of their days.

Neighbours were miles distant. To the south were the Hardeys, who lived near the 24 Mile. Hardey was a linesman on the newly-erected Telegraph Line to New Norcia, which was opened in 1874 from Perth to Geraldton. One of the Dousts lived along this line, too, and further south, nearer to Newcastle, were Hennesseys, Butterlys, Kilpins, Lynches, Lahiffs and Chittys. Bishop Salvado leased an area of pastoral land immediately on their south boundary and his black shepherds would also have frequently visited Gavin’s home.

Over the years after convict labour was withdrawn from the Colony in 1868, the Plains Road deteriorated. In 1881, the Resident Magistrate at Newcastle, Octavius Burt, reported to the chairman of the Central Road Committee in Perth that “. . . this road is the worst in the district . . . the sum of £500 is apportioned to this line of road but up to the present time none of this money has been spent on it. Culverts are greatly needed in one or two places. If these were laid down at the hill at Beere’s homestead, which is now almost impassable and made good, this might answer all requirements for some considerable time to come, as the traffic along this line of road at present is not great.”

Wheeled traffic was not frequent. Horsemen were the usual travellers but the most frequent passers-by were tramps, men of whom Catherine Gavin had some fear but managed to keep in order. There was a regular seasonal traffic of tramps, many of them old lags, heading northwards to Champion Bay for the winter, and southwards to Albany for summer. Their regular journey both ways occupied the whole year, and the men scrounged food along the way. It was given grudgingly by poor settlers who worked hard for their living, but it was given nevertheless, for a muttered threat of bushfires endangered the crop and their year’s supply of flour, and if a man were sent hungry on his way, he usually contrived to take a fowl or duck with him by stealth. So Catherine Gavin put on a firm front and gave what was necessary and made sure that a big kangaroo dog was always at the homestead to guard her. A different reception was accorded to priests who passed that way. They were offered warm hospitality with much bobbing and greeting of “Yr. Rivirince”, in Irish manner, that never failed to please the


Spanish priests and brothers from New Norcia. Perhaps the best reception was accorded to the Afghan dealers who brought shirts and boots, and cottons and other such wares to exchange for sheep and kangaroo skins etc. For Newcastle was far away and the New Norcia store sold very little.

The young Gavins had a carefree life; the boys went shepherding sheep and hunting kangaroos. Two of the girls, Elizabeth and Mary Ann, went into convents at Fremantle and Cottesloe, and the other girls, Catherine, Bridget and Ellen, cared for the garden and poultry and learnt to sew and cook and keep house. There was little time for schooling and no school to go to. Mrs. Gavin’s own education had been very meagre; her spelling was vague and her figurings were limited to the simple reckoning of business transactions of the day. She did her best to teach her children their letters and numbers, but the boys evaded tutoring as much as possible and she was too busy to enforce it. Her vegetable garden and fruit trees needed constant attention, along with the fowls, geese, ducks, turkeys and pigs that all helped to swell the family income and which also roamed so freely round and through the house.

Edward Gavin, Senr., was obliged to clear and crop a few acres of wheat—enough at least to grist for their year’s needs. The corn was taken in a wagon, either to Newcastle or New Norcia to be ground. They preferred going to Newcastle, for such occasions were great treats for any of the family who could be spared to go shopping. In the late 1880s railways were being built “over the hills” and the line to Newcastle was opened in 1888. The Midland Railway was being built at the same time. Gavins at Solomon’s Well were about equidistant from Newcastle on one line and Mogumber on the other, and at this period used either of these railheads impartially, or possibly according to the state of the roads.

Vast areas of pastoral leases were being assigned to the Midland Railway Company and, in 1887, Sir John Forrest brought in new land regulations, which made it easier for the man of small means to purchase land. He planned for a “landed peasantry.” A minimum of 100 acres could be bought at an annual rental of 6d. an acre over 20 years, provided that it was fenced by then and that at least a quarter of it was cleared and under crop. Prior to this, the rental had been fixed at 1/- per acre for ten years.

The easier terms as well as the prospect of losing their pastoral lease to the Midland Railway Company, prompted the Gavins to take up two homestead blocks of 100 acres, adjacent to the Crown Reserve on the old well. They were helped by Tom Fitzgerald to make their choice. This was in 1889. The Midland Railway Company then consented to lease their old sheep run to them for £8 a year.


Catherine Gavin marked the importance of this transaction by buying a memorandum account book. In it, throughout the rest of her life, she entered the details of all transactions and farm work.

Her spelling and figuring were elementary, and the account entries are a puzzle to follow, until one realises that her entries made no difference between debit and credit, and that often they were doubly made, firstly, as a record, or reminder of a transaction, and the second entry was made when a payment was finally made. This lack of learning worried her, but schools were far distant, so at this time, in 1894, she paid an itinerant teacher, a Mr. Fisher, to come and give lessons. Who received the lessons is not noted. He came on three occasions, March, April and September, staying several days each time and receiving a total of £4/18/6. There was also a sale of boots and a shirt, but there is no hint of whether Fisher was the buyer or the seller. It is probable that he was also an itinerant vendor, selling clothing as a sideline to an unprofitable calling.

Ted and John, her sons, although 20 years or more of age, learnt no more than how to sign their names and to write barely well enough to express themselves in the rare necessary business transactions that came their way. They usually depended on their mother to write letters and cheques and to enter up the family’s business records. The girls had gone out to service; in the early 1890s, Kate went to work for the Burgeses at Tipperary, near York, where she met and married David Bourke. Mrs. Gavin openly disapproved of the marriage and brought her daughter home. David Bourke was apparently a shiftless sort and after his daughter’s birth was warned never to darken the doors at Solomon’s Well. Nellie was married to young Charles Hennessey but was destined not to live long. Bridget married Sutherland and they built a new home on their own block of land.

The old account book showed the pattern of Catherine’s life. She paid rates and taxes annually, drew cheques and kept the bank book. She it was who sold and bought stock and machinery, and also doled out the spending money to her “bhoys”—men now, who went to the races at Culham, or the sports at Yarrawindah, near New Norcia. It is interesting to read of her “scab tax” in 1894 (surely the last year for that disease to be rated in this State) and to see her account with the bootmaker Ellery in Newcastle (she paid him only once each year from before 1889 to the end of her life in 1923) and of her accounts for grinding flour at Maris’ mill at Newcastle, or the mill at New Norcia (every year until the end of World War I when it cost £2/18/9 to grist 47 bushels and 8 lbs. of wheat, giving 12 bags of flour and four of pollard and bran).


In the account books frequently appear the names of the Afghan hawkers, Sunda Sing and Budna Sing and others, about a half dozen in all, who regularly drove along the Old Plains Road in their hooded carts.

Annually after the New Year, old Mrs. Gavin, grown plump and with wrinkled face, donned her best black frock, shawl and bonnet and went down to Fremantle to visit her daughters at their Convents. Sometimes she had the special pleasure of welcoming them home to Solomon’s Well for a holiday in the country. The small expenses of her fares and meals, while travelling, were always carefully jotted down, along with the amount received for eggs and ducks and horse dealing.

A cryptic entry “funeral expenses” tells nothing of which loved one passed away, but always a few days later one may see where a contribution of 10/- or so had been made to a visiting priest, who stayed over night and held Mass in the home. Only David Bourke is mentioned by name when he died. He had made but two visits to Solomon’s Well—once by stealth, after which in due course his wife bore him a son (known always as Sonny) and once a few years later to tell in passing that he was on his way to work on Boolardy station in the North-West. Many years afterwards, in 1917, after his death at Subiaco, they received his personal effects— a notebook in which he had entered the sheep lists on the station up North.

But if David Bourke’s name is not written often in her memorandum book, those of his children figured on every page. The little girl, Mary, was convent-taught at Toodyay and later educated at Perth. She was a bright, pretty girl and wrote gentle, loving letters to her adoring grandmother. When grown up and working at a city bank or store, she returned every year to Solomon’s Well for the brief Christmas and Easter vacations, bringing fun and gaiety to the old place, which then became a meeting place for lads for miles around.

As for her grandson. Sonny, it was noted in her book when he received 2/- to spend at Culham Races, or when clothes were bought for his back. In the early 1890s, they railed from Mogumber or Newcastle sandalwood and skins and bales of washed wool as well as sheep. At Newcastle, most of their shopping was done at Mrs. Donegan’s. In May, 1896, they bought such items as:

Plants 6s. Od.
Watch and chain for Ted £1/2/6.
Screws for pictures 2s. 9d. (she had two portraits of her nun daughters to hang with pride on her wall).


Lamps and candles 4s. 9d.
Doctor Humphrey 5s. 0d.
Spirits as medisin 11s. 0d.

Over the years, the "spirits” became customary entries and not as ‘medisin’! And her ‘bhoys’, as a matter of course, brought home a keg of wine from Bull & Stevens, the vignerons at Toodyay. The buying, however, was always frugal, so that mention of a sewing machine in 1900 is a most important entry, This was a period of prosperity for the folk at Solomon’s Well. They were sending vegetables and poultry to the booming town of Kalgoorlie, to add to their usual income from farm produce. The men bought a winnowing machine for £11; a stripper for £55; mower and rake for £33 and a chaff cutter and two horse works for £19. More land was taken up. In addition to the general workman that Catherine could afford to employ at 10/- a week, she hired fencers and clearing contractors, to prepare the way for her to claim the titles to their blocks.

Hitherto, Catherine’s husband had figured very little in the books. No doubt, he was her mainstay and guide, the one who directed the farm affairs, who decided which plot of ground to clear, and who was to plow, or shepherd the sheep. He taught young Sonny Bourke how to bell the sheep, and how to carve the pegs that held the straps on the yokes. When the old man died at 4 o’clock in the morning of the 18th October, 1903, Catherine did not write any item of her grief into the book. When an acquaintance offered his condolences she thanked him briefly, and added cryptically: "I did not begrudge him to the Lord.” Funeral expenses were jotted down with bare simplicity. Similar items, not long afterwards, refer to another bereavement—Nellie’s death. Young Charles Hennessey was not a solid type and Mrs. Gavin bore the financial burden of her burial. John Gavin’s homestead block was sold for £270. It may be that the money was needed to cover the rather heavy expenses of the funerals as well as the essential farm machinery that they had so impetuously bought.

About the turn of the century one man’s name occurs frequently in the list of buyers of horses and pigs. That was W. Harrington, a newcomer to the district, who had settled on a block towards Wyening, ten miles or so distant. He had recently come from the Goldfields. His parents in Victoria were Irish and had migrated from Clare (now known as Killusty, not far from Fethard) at about the same time as Catherine’s own voyage out. When the older Harringtons came to visit their sons in Western Australia, a wonderful meeting of these Irish folk took place. W. Harrington was a leader in the district for community improvements, such as mail services, and the extension of the railhead from Newcastle to Bolgart. Mrs. Gavin had a clever nephew in Geraldton, who aspired to


politics. This was J. M. Drew, fearless editor of the local newspaper ‘Geraldton Express’. Drew was elected in 1905 to the Legislative Council. The old account book treasured between its yellowing pages his letter of thanks, on Parliamentary paper, to his dear relatives for the electioneering done in Victoria Plains for him by them.

The Wyening settlers in the following year, possibly with the abetting of James Drew, gave a dinner for the Premier at the Wyening Mission, which was the meeting-place for their Progress Association. All the settlers helped with services, money or kind, and a sumptuous banquet was prepared, which quite convinced the Parliamentarians that a railway to such a productive area was worth building. Catherine’s contribution to the feast was 6/-.

There had been some opposition by a few, small farmers of the Toodyay Valley to the extension of the railway, but the majority foresaw the steady employment for some years to come from its building and in January 1910 the great day of the opening arrived. People were picked up by the train, all the way from Newcastle to Bolgart, where a green bower of branches had been erected and two local stalwarts held the blue ribbon for the train to steam through. Sir Newton Moore, the Premier, drove the engine for the last mile or so and a large crowd of men, women and children gathered at the station down by the Bolgart Springs to see the sight. It was an event that the Gavins were sure to have witnessed. Soon after, in the account book, one reads of the passage of goods by rail from Bolgart instead of Newcastle or Mogumber and the sale to the storekeeper there, of farm produce such as eggs, butter and poultry. The blacksmithing was no longer done by Lee at Toodyay, but by Podd at Bolgart. The Gavins pressed for new lines of road to take them to the new town and siding.

The land to the north of Bolgart railhead, at Calingiri, was being opened up in small blocks and the Gavin brothers took up land at Boodadong and Coobrae. John was made manager and workman for his mother on the former, while Ted took up the latter in his own name. Sonny Bourke, the grandson, was given his chance in life, when his grandmother leased her homestead farm at Solomon Wells to him in 1913, at a rental of £12/10/- per annum for the 100 acres, for five years. The contract stated that he was to leave 40 acres of fallow, and fences in good repair.

Clearing, fencing and cropping went on at the new blocks but the men’s hopes were defeated by the 1914 drought and crops failed. In 1915, they were obliged to sell several horses and in 1916 each member of the family appealed for help from the Industrial Assistance Board. Old Mrs. Gavin copied the statements of their pitifully small assets into her memorandum book and it is obvious that if it were not for the eggs, butter, poultry and pigs,


which she sold, the family would have had a very wretched existence. The boys lost interest in their blocks and at the conclusion of World War I they offered them to the Repatriation Department for soldier settlers, a transaction that was concluded in 1920.

By now, the old lady’s writing was becoming large and hasty, as of one with poor sight and with little time or patience, writing from habit the record of the £.s.d. of their life. When Mary Bourke was home on holidays she wrote up the entries for her grandmother in a neat and scholarly hand. Mary with her pretty face, town clothes and careful speech, so unlike the broad brogue of the old lady, was like a being from another world and her presence was a comfort in the old Irishwoman’s life.

The old memorandum books by the 1920s were a jumble of facts, a tangled skein of records revealing a picture of life on an isolated, small farm of the primitive pioneering days. Although by this time they were well into the 20th century, little had changed in their habits and way of life, since their arrival in the State in convict days.

As I read the notes, of the 2/- worth of stamps bought on every visit to a Post Office (for Catherine wrote numerous letters to her friends and relatives); of the regular payment of rates and taxes; of the workmen and contractors employed, and the long, careful lists of goods and rations supplied to them, from Catherine’s stores; of the weights of pigs killed and of mutton supplied; of the copies of petitions for roads or watering holes; of payment for clearing "trays” (trees) off the road; of census returns and lists of blocks taken up; of subscriptions to Church papers and farmers’ journals; of the trading with the Afghan hawkers; of her rare holidays in Perth when 6d. would be spent on sweets and 1/6 on a river trip; of her hospitality to passers-by and of the setting of her hens (in an old stump, or in the carriage, or the closet) and of all the little transactions in farm produce; I find a picture emerging of a simple, hearty, generous and gallant battler, a pious Catholic, a blind opponent of Orangemen and, to the end of her days, an exiled Irishwoman.

Perhaps the most touching entry of all is a long note recording the death of an old friend, and written from the fullness of her heart. "December, 1916 at 12 p.m. Margaret Leahy Magher died. She was buried at New Norcia on the 12th December. She and her husband arrived by ship ‘Eena’ in West Australia, 27th July in year 1863. Deceased was 74 years of age at her death. Her first husband predeceased her. He died in 1872. Her second husband predeceased her, W. Butler. She was born in Fethard, County Tipperary, Ireland, where she emigrated from, to wild Western Australia. May the Almighty God have mercy on her soul. She


led a most innocent and holy life. She was a real Irish, true Catholic in her good innocent heart. I knew her from girlhood to her death. She was the last left of six persons that accompanied me when I left my home forever in 1863.”

At the time of writing these lines Catherine Gavin was 77 years of age, bereft and lonely in her own generation. She felt she had completed her span of life, but she held the reins of management for yet another seven years, and was to enjoy one brief moment of shining glory.

Throughout the years she spent at Solomon’s Well, she had been hostess to all who travelled the Old Plains Road. Stock agents, surveyors, workmen seeking jobs, priests, nuns, and on many a night, even the good Bishop Salvado himself, had graced her best room with his presence. So one wet day in 1920 when a neat but muddy man in uniform appeared at the door asking for assistance in pulling a car from a bog, the family readily turned out to help. John and Sonny found the Viceregal party, for such it was, on their way to New Norcia, but hopelessly bogged a few chains away from Solomon’s Well.

Motor cars were uncommon, although the first licence in Victoria Plains had been granted as far back as 1907. There was the memorable occasion when Loneragan of the Bolgart Store took a cricket team by car, past their door to New Norcia, using the relay system, carrying some men along the road to walk ahead while he went back for the rest, who in turn were dropped off some miles ahead. In winter, it needed a team of men to pull a car out of the boggy ruts, and cars seldom came their way in rainy weather.

When the chauffeur and John and Sonny reached the car, they found Governor and Lady Newdegate and a lady-in-waiting sitting patiently waiting for help. After much labour the car was freed only to become bogged again in a short distance. The day was fast drawing to a close and the party was obliged to accept Mrs. Gavin’s offer of hospitality. The next morning they pressed her to accept payment, which she with natural dignity, refused. Their gratitude was expressed by gifts of signed photographs, which took their place alongside the portrait of Bishop Salvado and of the two Gavin daughters who became nuns. It was an honour that shed warmth over the last years of Catherine Gavin’s life, but as it had nothing to do with £.s.d. no hint of it occurs in her battered old account book.

She continued to potter round her garden, setting her ducky fowls and growing blind with the years. There came a day when old Mrs. Gavin rose no more from her bed. Her son, Johnny Gavin,


and daughter, Mrs. Bourke, and grandson, Sonny, sought the aid of friends. A district nurse from Calingiri came to prepare the tired old body for its last resting place. The Harringtons hastened in their Ford car to the New Norcia Mission for the coffin, a rough-hewn casket that her family took pains to smooth and line before placing her within. Then lifted on to the frame of the car’s hood, she was reverently, yet roughly driven, on her last journey to the Monastery where she was laid to rest beside her husband, in 1923, a simple Irishwoman, a hard-working pioneer and a very gallant soul.

Garry Gillard | New: 30 August, 2020 | Now: 30 August, 2020