Memories of a rural childhood – F is for figs and flower shows



Dad loved figs and regularly checked for ripe fruit in the trees near the house.  These figs were a small variety, pale in colour, but very tasty – quite a contrast to the also tasty but much larger, darker figs that I first met in the backyard of the house we bought from a Greek family in Coburg, and that I am fighting a losing battle for with the hungry birds in my current garden!

Flower Shows

The annual winter flower show started when I was quite young. My grandmother and I both had an entry in the first show. Soon it was a regular part of our year. At Brownies, we were shown how best to decorate saucers of sand so none of the sand was visible and instructed about the fundamentals of floral art.

Getting all the entries ready was quite a process, especially for Mum! During the day, she collected and scrubbed all of Dad’s vegetables for the Produce section, and also gathered most of the flowers, leaves, sand and vases we would need after school. It was a rush to get everything ready and in place at the local hall by the 7 pm deadline. Last minute repairs were often needed, even though the most delicate entries were cradled on our laps in the car!

I still have certificates showing that I won or came second in such sections as “Arrangement for a Dressing Table”, “As I Like It”, “Craft for Girls”, “Arrangement to Illustrate a Nursery Rhyme”, “Flat Arrangement in a Saucer of Damp Sand”, “Creature made of Horticultural Material” and even one for “Parsnips”. I think that I won “Best in Section” a couple of times but can only remember one of the prizes, a colourful book about native flowers! Dad won many prizes for “Collection of Vegetables” and lots of other certificates.


Memories of a rural childhood – E is for eels, eczema and education



The dam at the bottom of the hill was conveniently located for my brothers to try out their fishing rods. As their big sister, I seemed to mostly spend my time attaching worms and untangling the lines. Not many fish were caught, mainly just eels. These were carried back up the hill for Mum to cook. The whole family had a share, sometimes just a tiny morsel. There were yabbies in the dam too, but these weren’t caught very often!


Imagine having to bandage your young child from head to toe, including a face mask. That’s what my mother had to do when I developed weeping sores due to eczema from the age of 6 months. Whether it was due to a food intolerance or an allergy was never established. I was fortunate in that I was only hospitalised for a couple of weeks and eventually recovered fully. Allergies to pollens and dust have caused me to have hay fever symptoms and itchy eyes from time to time, but I have never had eczema again. One of my brothers was far more severely affected for a much longer time than me. I vaguely remember Mum bathing him in Pinetarsol and then dabbing the sores with cotton wool soaked in Gentian Violet. My sister and I sometimes used the leftovers to anoint our dolls!


Our parents were determined to enable all their children to make the most of their educational opportunities. It must have been quite a challenge to pay for books and uniforms at times. A couple of us winning scholarships must have helped! Mum and Dad definitely succeeded in this aim, as all eight of us started some form of tertiary education and it has become an expectation for the next generation.

D is for dracunculus and decimal currency


Dracunculus vulgaris

These unusual lilies were originally planted by my grandfather, Frederick Arthur Roberts. They grew near the old chestnut tree for many years and had nearly died out by the time Mum and I decided to rescue them. We knew them as Dead Horse Lilies though that name is usually given to a different species. They have beautifully marked green and white stems and deep purple flowers. A wonderful garden plant except for the smell of rotting meat on the one or two days a year that it needs to attract flies for pollination! The hotter the day, the worse the smell.

dead horse lilystems






Decimal Currency

Australia changed from using pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents on 14th February 1966. My first view of the new currency occurred that morning on the school bus when one of our teachers showed us some shiny new coins with Australian animals on the reverse.  There seemed to be quite a fuss being made of the “decimal currency babies” who were born that day. My youngest brother had arrived five days earlier and so missed out on the attention.

Memories of a rural childhood – C is for Chickens, Carrots, Corn and Chilblains



My sister and I once washed some chickens! We were very young at the time – preschoolers! I have no real memories of the washing process but have a very vague mental picture of a number of very wet, bedraggled dead chickens lined up on a potato or sugar bag in the sun. Needless to say, Mum wasn’t impressed with our helping the hen to keep her chickens clean!


Helping Dad at the carrot washer was a semi-frequent task after school on winter Mondays and Wednesdays. The rollers sorted the carrots into three size ranges: small, premium, and large. We checked the carrots as they rolled down the slope, discarded any deformed or broken ones and pushed the rest into the labelled plastic bags. Dad dealt with the larger numbers of the best size. I preferred the little ones as there was always a chance of nibbling a few of the very tasty broken tips. They were definitely the best carrots for eating raw. Nothing in the shops these days is in any way comparable to these freshly washed morsels. It was fun to use the big scales to weigh the bags and the gadget that twisted the wires holding the bags closed.


Dad started growing corn at about the time I started High School. Having an income at the same time as all the expenses of buying books and uniforms and the haircuts and dentist visits was very useful. Fresh corn was a regular part of our diet in summer from then on – cooked within a few minutes of picking. Fresh is definitely best! Lots of the excess corn was frozen for use for the rest of the year.


We alternately walked or rode bikes to primary school but caught the bus to high school. Standing for ages waiting for the bus on frosty mornings was not fun! Leather school shoes and thin grey stockings provided little insulation from the cold, so chilblains were a regular occurrence!


Memories of a rural childhood – B is for Blackberries and Birthdays



The best blackberries to pick were often in the most difficult places. I remember one time when I donned gumboots and carried a bucket and billy down the hill in order to pick the large, sweet, tasty, well-watered blackberries near the creek at the bottom. Our dog Axel accompanied me. He stood beside the bucket whilst I clambered out along a fallen gum tree to pick the delicious fruits. Every so often I returned to empty the billy into the bucket. I was impressed with Axel’s loyalty and staying power until I realised that he, having a sweet tooth, was helping himself from the conveniently placed bucket!


I was most impressed when reading an extract from a Family Bible with my Grandmother, I realised that I was born 100 years to the day after my great grandfather, Robert Ferres – and that one of my brothers was born 100 years after one of his brothers! The chances of such duplication seemed quite incredible.

Many years later when teaching probability to a year 12 Maths class, I came across the shared birthday paradox – in a room of 23 people, the chance of two sharing the same birthday is 50%. I took a chance and introduced the concept. My students were sceptical until we shared birthdays and, fortunately for me, discovered that two of them did share a birthday! Anyone interested in the maths can find a relatively simple explanation on this site. It doesn’t, however, help with the added complexity of the 100-year gap!




Memories of a rural childhood – A is for Apples and Apricots



My maternal grandmother Ida Mary Gibson Roberts (nee Ferres) visited us one day a week for many years. One of my most enduring memories is of her sitting at the kitchen table peeling, trimming and cutting up huge piles of windfall apples (even the very tiniest most grub-eaten ones) so they could be stewed for the family to eat with our evening meal.


Some hot years Dad drove into the Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market between Christmas and New Year to take advantage of the availability of cheaper fruit at that time. We loved it when he came home with many cases of luscious, ripe apricots. We kids ate lots of them fresh. We also helped with cutting them in half and placing them in the Fowler’s Vacola bottles ready for preserving and cutting them up for jam making.

Trove Tuesday – Australia Day 1915

Australia Day has not always been 26th January. In 1915, it was celebrated on 30th July in order to raise funds to help sick and wounded soldiers.

Wattle by Caroline Peebles. ca. 1870-ca. 1910
Wattle, watercolour by Caroline Peebles. ca. 1870-ca. 1910


On Saturday 2 October, The Australasian published a letter by a young girl describing some of the sights in the Rutherglen district on that day. It was obviously a memorable day for her. She describes selling wattle “to help the soldiers” in the morning and a ride on the teacher’s motorcycle to see the cars and flags on display.

Times have definitely changed – her teacher would most certainly not be praised for taking “little girls on his motor-bicycle” today!

THE YOUNG FOLK. (1915, October 2). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 53. Retrieved January 26, 2016, from
THE YOUNG FOLK. (1915, October 2). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), p. 53. Retrieved January 26, 2016, from

Nathalie Dugay from Dugay’s Bridge, Rutherglen). – “Dear ‘Patience,’ – I was very glad to see my letter in the ‘Young Folk’s Page,’ and I am going to write you a longer one this time. I am in the third grade at school now; my brother Lance is getting on well, too, he’s in the second grade. We have a new teacher since I wrote to you last; but we have only got half-time school now, and I do not like it so well as the full time, as I sometimes forget things the teacher tells me when there is a day in between with no school. Our new schoolmaster has a motor cycle; and sometimes he takes us children for little rides up the road; it is lovely to ride on it. On Australia Day he took two of us in to Rutherglen to see the motor cars and the shops all decorated with flags and wattle; we had a half-holiday; I enjoyed myself very much, I sold some bunches of wattle in the morning at our school to help the soldiers. We had our school decorated with flags and wattle, and the Union Jack, and the Australian flags. My father put a French flag on the longest pole, because it is the flag of his native land. On the days that there is no school our grandma gives lessons in French; we do not know much yet, but some day I hope we will, because my father and grandma speak French as well as English. We have had a lot of rain lately, and the grass is growing well; also the crops. This is very pleasant to see after the drought. I remain your correspondent, ‘Nathalie.’ ” – I must compliment you on your writing, Nathalie; it is so well formed and very clear. In learning French you have a great advantage over most children, as you hear it spoken in your own house by French people; and that is quite the best way to acquire a language. What a good natured teacher you have to give you those rides; it is not every man that will take little girls on his motor-bicycle. – Love from “Patience.”

Trove Tuesday – Bushfires in Emerald

Some areas have floods, we have bushfires!

Fortunately, not all the time, but it is always a summer risk, especially on very hot days with strong northerly winds. Today was hot but not too windy, so the ‘beep’ of the Fire Ready app on my mobile phone this afternoon didn’t cause alarm. It was fairly close to home this time – a stump fire in the Puffing Billy yard according to a friend. It must have been fairly easily dealt with, as it soon disappeared from the app. Not so, many of the much larger fires in other areas of Australia already this summer. Six of our local brigades were reported as sending teams to continue the blacking out and patrolling of the Crib Point fire this afternoon.

Fire was even more of a problem for our early settlers. I have been correcting the text on newspaper articles about earlier bushfires for some time and intend to share some which have links to my family and/or the places they lived in a series of TroveTuesday posts.

There were many fires in February of 1926 and newspapers included quite a bit of information about the firefighting efforts of the local people – including the congregation of one of the churches!

MANY BUSH FIRES. (1926, February 1).The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 11. Retrieved January 14, 2016, from
MANY BUSH FIRES. (1926, February 1).The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 11. Retrieved January 14, 2016, from

EMERALD. – A bush fire broke out in the town on Sunday morning. It began in Ferres Gully, and came up near the house owned by Mr. Walton. Help was forthcoming, and the house was saved. The flames went on and up to the main road, and crossed the road by the Church of Christ. The morning service was in progress. The congregation left the church and beat the flames out in the vicinity of the building. The fire turned back, and burnt a shed at the back of Mr Walton’s house. Men beat back the flames, and made Mr. Paling’s house safe. A number of beaters went to the top of the hill and burnt a break around Mr. Tyrer’s house. A break was burnt along King’s road, and the fire gradually died out. The house occupied by Mrs. Warren in Williams’s Orchard Estate was in danger for a time.

This extract of a much larger article makes it very clear that the bushfire was right in the centre of Emerald.

Ferres Gully is a description not in use today, but it obviously referred to the steep gully between the two present-day sections of Ferres Road. My great uncle George Ferres ran a dairy farm in the far side of that road and from 1922 to 1949 used a horse and cart to deliver milk and cream to houses in both Emerald and Clematis. George’s farm was probably in no danger from the fire which was rushing up the opposite side of the valley.

From Ferres Gully, it appears that the fire crossed the main road somewhere near the present Emerald Co-Op (Mitre 10) store heading up the hill past the Church of Christ ( now the Community House hall) towards the highest point in Emerald, Kings Road.

The quick-thinking members of the congregation who raced out to fight the fire with branches hastily pulled from nearby trees no doubt helped reduce the spread of this fire. Their ‘Sunday best’ clothes are likely to have suffered somewhat in the process, I guess.

I have been unable to identify the reference to ‘Williams’s Orchard Estate’. There is a William St and an Orchard grove in Emerald, but not near the area in which the bushfire was burning.

As an amazing coincidence, whilst I was working on this post, the Fire Ready app beeped again – a ‘bushfire’ at the top of the same section of Ferres Road. It was declared ‘safe’ fairly quickly, but nearly an hour later the app reports that there are still two CFA vehicles in attendance!

We are very fortunate not to have to fight fires the way our ancestors did!

TroveTuesday – Frederick Arthur Roberts, Driver

Where or when my grandfather, Frederick Arthur Roberts, learned to drive is a mystery to me, but drive he did, both during and after World War 1. The first record I can find is from 12th February 1916 when he enlisted in the AIF as a Motor Driver.

Perhaps he was the driver for bread deliveries or supplies when his father moved the family from their 10-acre selections on the “Olinda hill” in 1910 and built a bakery in Monbulk? This seems very unlikely to me on two grounds: affordability and the likely state of the roads in Monbulk at the time!

Fred served as a driver in France in the 3rd Australian Ammunition Sub-Park till early in 1918 when he was transferred to the 3rd Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company. His Service Record gives few personal details of his experiences during the war: two weeks leave in February 1918 and the “crime” of driving a lorry at excessive speed in June of that year – deprived of 3 day’s pay!

Drivers were obviously needed to move people and supplies for some time after the War was over, so his return was delayed till the end of 1919, six months after his anxious mother had written asking whether the F. A. Roberts returning home at that time was her son. It obviously wasn’t!

After returning to Australia, Fred presumably spent some time with his family. I have heard that he also spent some time in Queensland, cutting sugar cane. For how long, I have no idea. Perhaps it was to earn sufficient money to buy a car? In any case, it appears that he was back in Monbulk in possession of a brand new car during October 1922, when The Argus reported on this mishap:

Report of Fred Roberts' car accident in 1922
COUNTRY NEWS. (1922, October 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 25. Retrieved December 20, 2015, from
"MONBULK - Mr. F. Roberts, of Monbulk, was driving a new motor car from Monbulk to Ferntree Gully across Zercho's bridge at Upwey on Wednesday night when the car struck the side rails of the bridge. But that the rails are strong and withstood the shock of the impact, the car must have fallen over the embankment into the gully below. The front of the car was considerably damaged. Mr Roberts escaped injury."

I have not been able to find any reference to Zercho’s bridge but, from the description in the article, assume it must have been the one pictured below where the old Main Road crossed the railway line before turning left and down the hill towards Ferntree Gully. The present Burwood Highway bypasses Upwey township on the far side of the railway line, the section going down towards Ferntree Gully often being referred to as the “mad mile”.

This might be Zercho's bridge where Fred Roberts had a car accident in 1922
THE BRIDGE LOOKING EAST, UPWEY, VIC.; Rose Stereograph Co; c1920-1954

Car accidents are a great shock and bother today, but at least, most of the expense of repairs is covered by our insurance. I have no idea if there was such a thing as car insurance in 1922. Having what must have been a very expensive car at the time being damaged would have been a great disappointment. The added expense of repairs would have been quite a burden I suspect.

Next post: Fred Roberts – Car for Hire



Trove Tuesday: How Old is Elderly?


My great great grandfather Benjamin Alfred Smart LATTER (1834-1903) was mentioned in newspapers many times. This is the only time that I have seen him called “elderly”. The fact that he was lifting a wagon out of the mud when injured makes this description rather surprising.

No title. (1888, August 21). The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), p. 2. Retrieved October 25, 2015, from
No title. (1888, August 21). The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved October 25, 2015, from