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

Early Days, Volume 7, 1969-1976

The Muir family: settlers in the Albany-Mt. Barker-Manjimup districts of the South West of W.A. - from 1844

John Thomson

Thomson, John A. 1970, 'The Muir family: settlers in the Albany-Mt. Barker-Manjimup districts of the South West of W.A. - from 1844', Early Days, vol. 7, part 2: 19-38.

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I believe the story of the Muir family, in most ways, would be typical of other original settlers in the lower South West of W.A.

I first became interested about 20 years ago, when I came across some 1873-1875 diaries and letters of my wife’s grandmother Charlotte Muir, in the homestead cellar at “Deeside” farm. They were written for her husband during that two-year period when he was absent in Eucla with his brother John, trying to establish another Muir venture, whilst Charlotte was left in charge at Deeside. With six children—all girls, aged one to 13 years—also to look after, she personally managed the farm, and the whole enterprise. She accepted and shouldered every responsibility. She was the Boss in her own right, and made her own decisions. She supervised and organised the shifting of the herds of sheep, cattle and horses; for she knew every gully and hill and slope where the best feed grew just as well as any of her stockmen or shepherds. She knew best how to manage and get along with the natives. After all she grew up with them; she spoke their language fluently.

As she put it, in the homely words of the day, in her diary of 14th March 1874—“My husband has been gone 12 months today. I have been Gaffer (boss) this 12 months, and can crow on my own dunghill.”

And yet, as her diary shows, she was something much more than just a person with authority. In cases of sickness, accident or other distress, she mothered them and cared for them all. And by all, I mean all, natives included.

One of the remarkable facts about Charlotte, is that she had been denied the opportunity to learn to read and write. She dictated her diaries and letters to her faithful ally, and friend and the Governess to the children, a girl named Alice Hurst. Charlotte was lettered but certainly not unlearnt—she had every other qualification that mattered, including home doctor, nurse, midwife and veterinary surgeon.

From reading about the capable way in which she carried out a full-sized man’s job at Deeside for two long years, and the

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herculean physical tasks she performed, you might get the idea she was a massive, masculine type.

Actually she was a really good-looker—and, as her photographs show, knew how to dress up for the occasion with the best feminine taste. Her weight is recorded on several occasions in her diaries. Actually she never weighed more than 111 lb.—in more homely language, not more than an eight-stone bag of spuds!

As you can readily understand, I fell for Charlotte in a big way after reading her story. As old grandfather Tom Muir must have always thought, she was a real thoroughbred of class, every inch of her, and I always hoped I would some day record her story for posterity. In all of her ordeal of two long, weary years, she was incessantly nagged by the worries of the situation; she constantly longed to have her far-away husband by her side. She repeatedly expresses this longing in her diary and letters. One typical entry reads: “I wish Tom was here, but he is far away, poor man. I am always waiting for him and always will be.”

The central figure of a paper that I read to a gathering of Historical Society Branches at Deeside earlier this year, was that of Charlotte. At the same time, I feel that most other settlers’ wives of the time would have likewise faced-up to and survived a similar challenge, for the very good reason that the conditions of the day demanded women of that calibre and ability. I have written particularly about Charlotte, of course, because she actually was put to that special test and came out of it with flying colours. But of course, this is not just the story of Charlotte, or of Deeside, which is only one of the half-dozen or so farms pioneered by the Muir family in the 1850s, and I will have quite a bit to say about them later.

Needless to say this story gives me great pleasure in the telling, because for over fifty years, I have, as a Forestry man travelled, mostly by foot and sometimes on horseback and in later years by motor vehicle, over all of the 100 mile long belt of country, between Manjimup and Albany in which the Muirs shepherded their sheep, drove their cattle and hunted the dingo, the kangaroo and the ’possum in earlier days; a land in which their roots are established in the good earth of more than thirty farms.

NEIGHBOURS

I have selected the Muir family for the subject of this paper for two special reasons—firstly because of my close association over such a long period of time and secondly, because of the considerable family records—many personal letters; the “Forest Hill” diaries of 1861 to 1862 and 1871 and 1872 in whole, and in part 1873-1881, and the “Deeside” and “Eucla" diaries of 1873-1875.

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I specially want to say this—that the Muirs would hardly forgive me if they thought, that in writing this paper I made them appear any different from their old-time neighbours of the outback, where through mutual interdependence, the strongest bonds of comradeship and lasting friendship are forged. I call to mind particularly early pioneering families of the Manjimup district—people like the Dousts, the Blechyndens, Mottrams, Gibletts, Wheatleys, the Reeves and others whom I have also been privileged to know.

Here I want to say something that I have firmly believed for a long, long time; firstly not half enough credit has been given for the outstanding role of the settler’s wife, secondly the invaluable help given by the dispossessed natives to the white settlers, and perhaps I could add a third feature of this early era—the remarkable bond of friendship and helpfulness to each other, built up between the settlers as already referred to.

FAMILY NAMES

Before proceeding further, I must mention a disconcerting Muir family habit, and that is their tradition of bestowing the name of “Andrew” to the first and second son in each family, for there are plenty of families and plenty of sons; so if, as I jog along the track of my narrative, I refer to “Forest Hill” Andrew, or “Deeside” Andrew etc., you will know that he is being identified by the name of his particular farm!

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The general historical background of the Muirs together with other early pioneer families has been well and faithfully chronicled by Tom Sten, John E. Deacon and others, including various contributors to the “Blackwood Times” (of Bridgetown), “Manjimup-Warren Times”, "Albany Advertiser” and other journals.

Andrew and Elizabeth Muir and four sons Robert, Thomas, Andrew and John and two daughters Mary and Margaret arrived at Fremantle in the good ship “Ganges” on 18th January 1844. One of the grandmothers (Mrs. Muir’s mother Agnes Trail) also accompanied them.

A letter undated in Tom Muir’s (1833-1926) handwriting to his niece Sophie says: “It must have been in the year 1850 my grandmother died at Ongerup (their temporary rented property on the Hay River). I think grandmother was 84 years of age. She complained of a headache and went and laid down and died.”

A fifth son, James, apparently got caught up with the gold fever, and migrated to Ballarat some years earlier. He rejoined

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the family at "Forest Hill" about 20 years later. Typical of their economy of words, and sticking to the bare facts in writing up their diaries, is the succinct entry of 5th January 1862, and I quote: “James came from Melbourne.”

Anyway James after some time shifted further out—about 80 miles west in fact, a few miles north of where the town of Manjimup now stands. He pioneered his own farm, which he named "Fern Hill” because of the prolific growth of bracken fern. His son Jim who later carried on the farm is now retired and living in Manjimup. He reckons he’s getting a bit long in the tooth now and a bit old for work! He is 84 years of age I think he told me!

The family came from Fifeshire in Scotland—the well-known farm of “Deeside" being named after the River Dee in that province. They probably came from near a village called Star where Tom Muir is said to have received his meagre schooling. The Muirs migrated from Scotland toward the end of a 30 years’ period of declining agricultural economy.

So you could say, in effect, the Muirs were “economic conscripts’’! It also explains perhaps why none of the Muirs ever revisited their native land, except old Tom in his 79th year, but then he always was a bit of a roamer.

They came of a line of Scottish farmers. Although when they arrived in this country, their finances appear to have been rather limited, they were rich in their inheritance of farm “know how” and the skills and resources of the do-it-yourself farmer. In fact "Forest Hill" Andrew whom I well remember , (he died in 1945 aged 90 years) used to proudly boast—"when we needed anything (and he really meant anything) we jolly well made it, on the farm.”

STOCK, TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT

According to M. S. (“Shirley”) Muir (long time Councillor and past President of Manjimup Shire Council and one of the Lake Muir branch of the family) the Muirs brought with them besides a flock of sheep, every kind of tool and equipment they considered would be needed in pioneering a farm in the largely unknown country of their adoption.

There were, for instance, lasts for making their own footwear, axes, adzes and pit saws for felling and hand sawing and dressing their own building timber, and shingle splitting knives. There was no such thing as galvanised iron roofing sheets, so shingles split from the logs of trees had to be used for roofing. Incidentally

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I they are said to have brought their shepherds with them, from Scotland.

As was to be expected of such long-headed canny farmers, they took a good long hard look at their new environment. They had come here to stay! Their first five years were spent working with their cousin George Cheyne at Cape Riche, about 60 miles east of Albany. The herding, grazing and care of their sheep was their main preoccupation. As mentioned previously, they then shifted to a property on the Hay River known as Ongerup, which they rented for a couple of years. From here they explored the countryside and finally settled at “Forest Hill” on the Hay River, about 18 miles west of Mt. Barker.

The native name of “Forest Hill” was “Cooricup” meaning the red gum or Kino of the Marri tree which grew plentifully there.

It will be of interest to many to know that this property was I finally sold to the State Government and converted to a prison farm, now well known as Pardelup Prison Farm.

"Forest Hill” continued to be the headquarters of the family partnership which developed and continued for many years. During this period, sheep were brought in from the outstations “to the Westward” for annual shearing. A business was also set up in Albany (1866) to facilitate sale of sheep, bullocks and general farm produce to the local community and visiting ships. According to Roy Muir (bom 1902 at Lake Muir and now retired) the partnership continued until the death of the original Andrew in 1874, when all the properties were taken over by the respective families occupying them.

Reverting to the original selection of “Forest Hill”, no time was lost after settling in, before additional pastures were located. Within a few years other outstations and homesteads were established—Tom at “Deeside” 1856 (a shepherd’s hut was built at Perup six miles to the north at about the same time but the homestead was not built for some years), Andrew (2nd) at Lake Muir 1856 or 1857 (a hut was first built at Nabegup “Place of Cobbler Fish”, six miles or so to the east but a homestead was not set up for some years.”

Others to follow were “Fern Hill” as mentioned (1867), and in the 1890s Woodgreen, south end of Lake Muir; “Mordalup” and "Seaton Ross” about three and six miles respectively north of Lake Muir.

During the period of most active exploration—that is, in the early 1850s, some quite extensive trips were undertaken by Tom Muir. Together with a native boy from Albany he is on record as having ventured as far away as Lake King (200 miles from Mt.

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Barker), Newdegate and Lake Grace in his search for the magic grassland.

He and one of his brothers “being”, as one of the other Muirs later put it, “of a roving nature” about 20 years later, were to charter a ship and take themselves off to far away Eucla with "about 700 sheep, two horses, a cart, and other plant to form a station,” to quote from “The Herald” of 26th April 1873. But that of course is another story. As mentioned earlier Tom was away this time for a two-year period.

"DOWN ON THE FARM” — 1863 STYLE

I think I can best illustrate what life was like “down on the farm” a century or so ago, by an analysis of the "Forest Hill" diaries for the 12 months period ended 15th October 1862.

I have previously mentioned their economy of words in writing up their diaries. They were strictly utility affairs, written in a trial and error period of pioneering, in an environment entirely new to them. They are the bare bones of the skeleton, such as, for example the typical entry— “23rd December 1861; reaping barley, Charley and Jim carting fencing, John making shafts for the bullock cart. Dick working amongst the skins. A man came. Andrew came from the westward.” “The Westward” at that time you will understand, meant any, of at least five stations further out—Nabegup, Lake Muir, Deeside, Perup and Fern Hill.

However, I believe I have dug out a reasonably factual picture by dint of many hours of statistical recordings and classification of jobs performed, not to mention a good few painfully factual headaches in deciphering and copying some of their indifferent handwriting; understandably so, because it must have been an awfully tedious chore after a long, long hard day’s work to sit down and ‘write-up the diary’.

To really find out what made these people tick—how they lived, what their hopes and disappointments, what inspired and what sustained them throughout, what their home and social lives were like, we are lucky in that there are many old family letters in which to delve, as well as press records of interviews with several notable old-timers, and also there are still today many third-generation settlers, Muirs and others, who knew what it was all about.

THE BLACKSMITH SHOP

I must now describe the ‘blacksmith shop’, so-called, but in reality a workshop where pretty well every type of tool and household and farm equipment was produced.

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As old “Forest Hill” Andrew proudly boasted “we made anything we wanted”. He himself, besides being a competent blacksmith and general handyman, learnt to design and set jewellery for a hobby. Repairing watches and clocks was just in his line. He made his wife’s and daughter’s wedding rings from golden sovereigns. He learnt to draw teeth, having acquired a proper outfit of dental forceps (he had not previously seen a full set or I suppose he would probably have had a go at making them). One of his ‘patients’ once told me: “After you had had a searing toothache for a week or two, you were just too darned glad to sit on a chair, hang on like grim death, and hope for the best.” Blacks and whites alike came for treatment, all free, it goes without saying. His daughter, Mrs. Dot Medway, told me recently, with a smile, “anyway, I do not remember him losing any patients.”

But I am getting ahead of my story. Some of the jobs performed in the blacksmith shop according to the 1861-62 diaries were as follows: made complete iron work for cart, i.e., axles, wheel-rims, steps, screws, bolts, hooks etc., making bolts for sifter. 4th December 1861 “laying the plough shears,” and later “making a wheelbarrow” (wheel and all of course). It is noted on 28th January 1862, “Finished wheelbarrow, and painted it,” thereby, I think, denoting a real craftsman’s pride in his work. All of the vehicles required on the farm were built complete.

PIT SAWING

Perhaps I could be forgiven if I describe at some length just what is implied by the words ‘built complete’. As you will recall, I have noted in another place, “John made shafts for cart.” This meant, that in the first place, he selected a suitable tree of the right species, from which he and his assistant would cut perhaps a dozen or twenty pieces of timber of required size, which at a later date would be strip-stacked, under cover to dry and season and from which a shaft would be cut and shaped from each piece. The tree would most probably have been the Yate, which is indigenous to the locality.

A description of the Yate tree has been given by a one-time conservator of forests in this state and I quote from “Timbers of the World” by Alexander Howard. “The Yate tree is probably the strongest tree in the world, with tests for tensile strength of a breaking load up to 17.5 tons per square inch, 3.5 tons less than usually specified for wrought iron of ordinary quality.” In more readily understandable language, I once heard an old-time timber-cutter, who really knew, in terms of lost sweat, aching muscles and blistered hands what it was like to work this toughest of timbers, feelingly describe Yate as “hard as the hobs of hell and tougher than a goat’s horn.”

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Well, having cut down the tree, a couple of man-days or more, would be spent digging a pit alongside the crowned-off log, 4 feet or 5 feet longer than the log, and about 4 feet deep and 3 feet wide. The sides were then slabbed to prevent earth from the pit walls pouring into the pit.

A couple of good strong skids or bearers would be placed at right angles and equidistant across the pit and the log rolled over the pit centre, and secured with chocks to prevent rolling. All bark is then removed and straight longitudinal chalk lines are marked along the log, to the required thickness of the shafts. The work of cutting out the planks from which the shafts are cut to final size is then commenced with a double-handled pit saw, about 6 feet long cutting along the chalked lines and operated by one man standing on top of the log, whilst his offsider squats below, pulling his end of the saw. The offsider’s only consolation is that the flies do not worry him down there, because whilst the saw is being drawn up and down, he is being incessantly showered with sawdust!

All this labour and organisation was involved in obtaining a few cart shafts. Likewise every stick of timber for buildings had to be obtained in the same back-aching, laborious way. Incidentally the remains of 3 or 4 old saw pits are to be found to this day near the front entrance to Deeside. As a passing thought something might be done to preserve them and indicate their whereabouts!

Well, I seem to have side-tracked myself a bit! The work in the blacksmith shop, like that of grubbing out trees and extending the cultivable areas, is only superseded by urgent seasonal jobs like shearing or unforeseen emergencies; otherwise it goes on most of the time. As the diaries show there are always things to be made, such as horseshoes (and the shoeing of horses), maul rings and maul, bullock yokes, chains and hooks, rakes, knives and bells for stock (both latter items probably made from worn-out crosscut saws), shoes for human use, harrows, whipple tree, brick mould, sheep crook, saw set, hinges, gun-stock handle, wedges, axe handles, a handle for a tea-pot, a wind-all (probably a windlass), a sofa, a chair, and stools and mending a saddle, egg-cups, turned table-legs.

Building additions and repairs are often required. Again, everything is finished off with tradesman-like efficiency. All buildings are painted. Even the inside walls of the sheds are white-washed— the “paint" being made from clay dug from a local white-clay pit. There are dozens of other diary entries which simply say “John working in the smithy” or such like.

Incidentally and as another example of how the womenfolk were required at times to ‘fill-in’ when men were short, as for

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instance during the first World War, Mrs. Medway told me she was often required to help her father in the blacksmith shop and swing a fourteen-pound sledge-hammer; “and pity help you,” she said, “if you did not strike the red hot iron in the right place.” “But,” she went on to say, “we never felt it was any great hardship. It was a job that had to be done—and that was all about it. And anyway I used to get out of doing the housework!”

She also related how at that time, father made all the horseshoes and shod all the horses. Naturally she learnt to do this and on one occasion he had put a couple of shoes on a buggy horse, urgently required for a trip, when he was sudenly stricken with stones in the kidney. Dot took over and finished the job. It was just one of those little emergencies you took in your stride!

FIGURES

And now if you can bear with me for a few minutes I would like to quote some figures which I have ‘computed’ from the 1861-62 diaries. You will understand they are only a very rough guide because the diaries are very approximate and it is not possible to obtain the number of man-days required for each job. I have given a unit of one (1) to each job as it is mentioned in the diary. Sometimes it mentions the number of men used on each job and sometimes not.

It is surprising, in an economy in which the major income must have been obtained from sheep, cattle and horses, that the growing of crops—cereals, vegetables and fruit—represents 39% labour time at the homestead. Incidentally I have excluded the time of the shepherds from my calculations, but the number of men engaged at the homestead varied from five (5) in May to nine (9) in December.

Figures for other jobs are:

Blacksmith shop .............................. 18%
Land clearing (this was usually a two-man job .......... 10%
Fencing ......................................... 10%
Sheep (excluding shepherding) ........................... 7%
Horses (most time spent in hunting for them in the bush as they would no doubt be turned out after use) ....................................... 3%
Firewood—household and charcoal burning ................. 3%
Timber cutting ................................... 3%
Shoe making (for human use) .......................... 2%
Buildings (1 shepherd’s hut with thatched roof, 5 days) and maintenance ... ..................... 2%
Stock — general jobs............................... 1%

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Roads and maintenance ........................ 1%

Various jobs such as cleaning and tanning skins,) cleaning yards and water tanks, digging water) 1% holes, burning charcoal, burning the bush )
Sickness (3 man-days—1 man 2 days, 1 man 1 day) 1%

TOTAL ... 100%

As before mentioned one of the questions which intrigues me is why so much manpower was employed to produce crops beyond the farm requirements. It seems to indicate that the prices obtained for such produce were very attractive. However, they never mention prices in their diaries!

The meagre details indicate that practically all produce, wool, potatoes, hay and chaff, went to Albany although on 14/5/1862, "1 ton of potatoes was carted to Tony at Lake Matilda”. In several places details of a load are given—potatoes and chaff being weighed in pounds.

NATIVES

It seems from the list of jobs carried out by the natives they gave invaluable service as message carriers between outstations. They seemed to have been particularly intrigued by the magical letter message whereby the white man, over unlimited distances, could send and receive precise details of events and information. In this regard, the natives appear to have been completely trustworthy. They were entrusted as cattle drovers. They saved much time in searching for and bringing in from the bush, riding and harness horses and other stock as required, and were used sometimes as guides to visitors unfamiliar with the locality, to ensure they got on the right track. They were used, from time to time, for such menial tasks as cleaning up stockyards, but some were expert at other skilled jobs.

On the occasion of the golden wedding celebrations of Andrew and Sophie Muir after their retirement from Forest Hill, Andrew is quoted in the "West Australian” of 9th June 1934, as follows: “We had to blade-shear our sheep and some of the natives were expert shearers.” He went on to say also: “The natives were expert horsemen and skilled stockmen. They were very obedient and adaptable and I will say that in all my experience of the area (he was then 79 years of age) a native never once lifted a hand against me, although I often witnessed their armed tribal fights, and moved freely amongst them.

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“Kindness is the way to win their goodwill. The native is very responsive to kindness and will give splendid service if rightly treated and tribal laws and customs are respected—’’

BONDS OF AFFECTION

There seems to have been a genuine bond of affection and understanding between the Muir womenfolk and the native women at all their different farms. A typical example which reflects the prevailing relationships is given by Rhoda Glover (a writer well known to the Historical Society) in the “West Australian” in September 1946, in an account of her personal interview with Sophie Muir on the occasion of her 80th birthday anniversary: “You know,” said Mrs. Muir, “the natives were funny. Being bred on the place, it was of course their home, and the Boss, as they always called my husband, was always glad when more were born. I remember once my house girl, Kitty, was going to have a baby. She worked right up to the last as they always do. On the night her baby was born, and next morning before it was light, the other women came up to my room and knocked loudly at the door and wanted gruel for the mother. I got up and made it for them. A few days later the mother was sitting on the wash house steps nursing her baby and Boss came along. “What you got there, Kitty?” he asked. “A daughter, Boss.” Mr. Muir turned away pretending to be very disgusted. “Then I do not want to see it,” he said. “I wanted aboy, so’s he can ride round the fences and help with the stock. Take it away—I don’t want to see it!”

“Well, Boss,” said Kitty calmly, “black women, all the same as white women—they got to take what the good Lord sends them.”

HOME LIFE

There are many more such stories, but time and space will not here permit any more I’m afraid.

We often wonder how our first settlers endured the loneliness of their isolation. They no doubt did feel lonely at times, but not for long—they had to be far too busy. So far as the Muirs are concerned, they were rather more fortunate in this respect than some other settlers off the track, because the original Muir homesteads became the recognised route between Albany and Bunbury. Incidentally, most of that very same route, today, is known as “The Muir Highway”—the main road between Manjimup and Mt. Barker.

In this way in the earliest days, they received and welcomed and gave food and shelter to all travellers—swaggies and all. They were glad to have their company and receive news of the outside

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world. Their homes thus became, by tradition, open houses along the road.

ADOPTED

I might say I had heard of the Muirs nine years or so before I got to know them. It was in the horse and buggy era of Forestry survey work, 1918-19, in the karri country round Pemberton. The fact that they were old-time settlers did not seem to me, at the time, to be anything to get excited about. But I was specially interested in their local reputation as expert bushmen and kangaroo and 'possum hunters and bush horsemen of note and several were talked about as crack rough riders.

It was in October, 1927, that I was sent with a team of nine other young fellows and a cook to carry out a six months’ timber assessment survey, between “Deeside” and the Frankland River. I forgot to mention there was one "old bloke” on the camp—the cook aged about 40!

When ready to leave Manjimup by motor truck, for the job, I said to the District Forester: "Which road do we take to get to the Tone River crossing, Mick?” And Michael O’Sullivan replied: "You just take this road past the office here, Jack, and follow your nose until you get to ‘Deeside’, 20 miles out, and they’ll look after you.”

To cut a long story short, we were not only looked after, but Mrs. Muir before long had almost adopted us and more or less added us to her family of eight, without missing a beat. In fact two of us, Bill Whitfield and I, really did become part of the family permanently, when we later married the two eldest daughters.

It was all the breath and joy of life to Una Muir. She just loved to have people around her.

Church services were held mid-afternoon once a month on the farm (the combined church and school had been specially built by the Muirs) and mum would be quite disappointed if 25 or 30 people didn’t sit down for afternoon tea!

Church services were originally held in the Deeside dining room before noon and Una would make a temporary exit during the service “to turn the roast” being cooked for the meal to follow.

Needless to say it was not long before the whole ten of us Forestry fellows (excluding the old cook of course!) would arrive at Deeside on a Saturday night, generally for the evening meal, and then set off to a dance with mum and pop and the whole family, plus the young school teacher lass, who boarded there, and anybody else who happened to be around.

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On such occasions the boys brought their own swags which they unrolled in the barn or the garage. Bill Whitfield and I were rather favoured of course—we slept in the two spare beds always reserved for guests.

At any rate, on returning some time after daybreak (for the dancing hours of night were too precious to be wasted before then) we had a quick cup of tea, and all hands changed into working clothes and helped milk 70-odd cows by hand. After breakfast everybody slept for a few hours.

Then lunch and probably a marron picnic up the river.

After tea some singing round the family piano and probably a dance or two with mum playing the accordion so that Ethel at the piano could dance.

And then about 11 o’clock or thereabouts we would head off 10 or 20 miles or so to our camp in the bush.

The family I am glad to say have left the old homestead, just as it was, when it throbbed with the clatter and many voices of family and friends.

Family photos are hung around the walls of the large sitting-diningroom. Amongst them is the portrait of Una Muir, as a young bride, in all her magnificence and regal beauty. Truly queen of all she surveys.

I am more than glad that my kids will always remember her, as their Grannie.

To return to my theme, I guess it is hard for most of us today surrounded by telephones, radios, televisions—in fact one could call it “instant communication”—besides recorders of all sorts, to envisage the capacity of outback people, then, to amuse themselves.

There was always something happening around the farm. The birth of a foal, calves, lambs, pups or a new batch of chickens always intrigued and gladdened adults as well as children. The kids all had their pets—and lambs in particular or a joey kangaroo to be suckled from a bottle and helped to renewed life.

The same youngsters made hand carts, harnessed and rode calves, trapped ’possums—and skinned them for pocket money. At an early age—7 or 8 perhaps—they would be proudly helping to drove cattle. They soon learnt to look after themselves—girls as well as boys—whether in cattle droving, snaring 'possums, hunting and the like.

My wife recalls that once, due to her mother’s sickness, when she was 11, she filled the breach and became the “Little Missus”

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and cooked for the whole household including several shearers for perhaps a week or more—and in an open fireplace at that.

Father would, no doubt, have mixed and kneaded the dough and cooked the bread, up to 501b. at a time, in the special brick baker’s oven.

There was often some exciting episode of the farm or bush to relate—and probably added to a bit!

Charlotte Muir’s diaries are full of such incidents, such as:

8th November 1873—“Pulled down by a calf, hurt my knee. Everybody laughed fit to kill themselves.’’ No place for softies there!

9th December—“Run at by a cow, confound her, kicked by a calf.’’

24th January 1874—“Went out riding on Teddy by myself. Met Mr. Mottram 1 mile away, turned back again; went like the very mischief, won the race. Young as ever again.”

There is often some fun-provoking incident to relate and often the natives were involved, as when Mulyat, a stockman, said to Andrew at Deeside just before leaving on a coast trip: “Fill up the tucker bag plenty—bush plurry hungry place!”

Or at a time when nobody ever swore in front of women they would gleefully retell how Crinkly, another native, who had helped to pick some very prickly cape-gooseberries, was sent with some (a special treat then, no doubt) to Mrs. Blechynden at “Glenpennant” farm. When he handed the parcel to her he said: “Plenty sulky bugger that one, Missus!”

Bush picnics meant that the womenfolk at least escaped the monotony of household chores. The wildflower season would have a special appeal.

In the boronia season at “Forest Hill”, good pocket money was earned by collecting boronia seed which had a ready sale in the east. The women tanned and made up ’possum skin rugs— lining and sewing them mostly in the evening also as a source of pin money.

Parlour games were popular especially when there were visitors. Such games as “Family Coach”, “Hokey Pokey” and "Postman’s Knock” could be entertaining for hours on end and often gave rise to gales of laughter.

Ballroom dancing, of course, only came with increased population in the early 1900s.

34-35 (click/tap to enlarge)

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For a woman’s viewpoint of social and home life of the "Forest Hill" Muirs, and a description of pioneering conditions even as late as 1918, I am most indebted to Rhoda Glover, who graciously wrote the following for inclusion in this paper.

It tells its own story and is entitled “A Thinking Back On Atmosphere”.*

* See note at end of Paper.

LAKE MUIR FAMILY

I am sorry that shortage of time prevents me talking at much more length about these people, but if I may prevail upon your patience a little longer there are several other matters I would like to specially mention.

The Muirs, as I have indicated, were noted bushmen, hunters and horsemen—some without peer. Until about 30 years ago a regular source of income came from kangaroo and ’possum hunting in season and even dingo scalps.

I call to mind Rob Muir bom 1872—“the year Lake Muir overflowed” (and has not done so since). In passing, his widow Clara is still very much alive today in Manjimup, aged 95. Her face still lights up with the loveliness of youth when she meets her friends. She is affectionately known by children and all, as, simply— “Nan”.

But to return to Rob. He was one of the three sons of Andrew Jr. of Lake Muir. Rob and his two brothers, Willie and Andrew, eventually shared the Lake Muir cattle.

Willie stayed on at “The Lake” as the homestead was often referred to, Andrew moved a few miles to the north and developed “Mordalup”—and thereafter became known as “Mordalup Andrew”.

In 1898 Rob started “Seaton Ross” property, some miles further north again from Mordalup. At the same time, he retained an interest in "Woodgreen” situated on the south end of Lake Muir. He married Clara Blechynden in 1900, so no doubt Clara would have well and truly played her part in the development of “Seaton Ross”.

Rob’s main interest was horses. He bred and sold them—many to the Indian Army, as well as for the 10th Light Horse in the 1914-18 war. I have heard it said often “he could ride anything in horse hide—or bullock hide” and “Nothing could head him in bush riding, no matter how rough the going.”

He has in fact been acclaimed in his time as the best rough rider in Australia. It used to be said that when he started chewing

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the end of his moustache and a certain kind of glint came in his eye, the wildest horse—or bullock—wouldn’t stop him!

It is a matter of historical fact that he specially went to Adelaide in 1908 to ride the famous buck-jumper “Peter” in Skuthorpe’s Circus. This horse was reputed 'til then, to have never been ridden, but Rob Muir rode him.

His son Ron Muir, as a youth, also had a reputation as a champion rough rider, but he became a “beastly respectable” business man, and established the successful and well-known Manjimup firm of “Muir’s Garage and Service Station”. They tell me Ron, who is now retired, plays a fair game of golf, but truth to tell, in all the years I have known him I have never heard him mention the subject of horses.

Rob served on the local Road Board for 13 years. Incidentally, a number of other Muirs worthily played their part in local government. “Forest Hill” Andrew was a foundation member of the Plantagenet (i.e. Mt. Barker) Road Board.

Tom Sten in his thesis “Survey of Agricultural Development of the Hay River Area of W.A.” in reference to Road Board affairs has written- as follows:

“Perhaps the most dynamic character was Andrew Muir, of ‘Forest Hill’, who seems to have been the stormy petrel of the body. Never lacking in confidence or courage, he was always a severe critic of the transactions of the Board . . .”.

Others to make their contributions were, “Deeside” Andrew— foundation member of Manjimup Road Board, A. F. H. (Forrie) Muir of “Nabagup” (only quite recently deceased) served some years on the same Board.

The most notable Muir, in this field, would be Rob’s son, "Shirley” Muir, who continues as Councillor in Manjimup after 30 years’ service, including three years as President and several years 38 Vice-President. Which reminds me, too, of another exceptionally 1 capable and a very delightful Muir, Shirley’s daughter Evonne (now Mrs Phillips) who some years ago was acclaimed “Apple Queen of the South-West”.

Getting back to Lake Muir, it is today farmed by Ashley Muir, who lately took it over from his father Wally, who in turn inherited it from Willie Muir (Rob’s brother). Willie—gentle, quiet, rather shy in fact, on first acquaintance. He was completely at home in the bushland. His quietness absolutely deceived his alertness. Nothing escaped the constant vigilance of his eye. He, too, was a champion in his particular sport—rifle shooting. I remember “Deeside” Andrew, a cousin of Willie’s, telling me how in their younger

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days they had travelled to Perth for the rifle shooting championships and, out of his winnings, Willie had paid all his expenses and came home with an extra £17 in his pocket.

I might say that Rob, Willie and “Deeside” Andrew were the greatest of mates. Although they would not speak about themselves individually, they were very proud of the prowess of the others.

BUSH MEDICINE

But before concluding I must tell you about bush medical services. The nearest doctors for half a century or more were at Albany and Bunbury. Their charges even in those days were 10/-per mile for horse and buggy travelling. Needless to say, nobody called the doctor unless it was a touch-and-go matter of life and death.

Well, as one of the old-timers would have said, I think I had better “call it a day”, even though there is so much more I could tell you.

I could have easily written this paper, for instance, all about times we enjoyed so much in the six months survey job in the Muir country in the 1927-28 summer.

All of these kindly people, the Muirs and their good neighbours, seemed to me to represent the salt of the earth.

In conclusion, I think Whittier might have been writing about them in his “Song of Harvest” when he said:

“Give fools their gold, and knaves their power;
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall;

Who sows a field or trains a flower,
Or plants a tree, is more than all.”

I can only say with Rhoda Glover—I am glad I knew such people and shared their way of life.

* This paper is a condensation of a fuller account of which copies are preserved in the Battye Library and the Society's Library. The fuller account includes Rhoda Glover's “A Thinking Back on Atmosphere”.


Garry Gillard | New: 21 September, 2021s | Now: 25 November, 2021