Well readers you can see why this blog is called a discontinuous narrative as I bounce back a few posts and rejoin the tale of my Great Grand Father Edmund Cahill and his pioneering life in Western Australia.
At the end of my post (https://piecemealadventurer.com/2021/11/08/with-time-served-in-fremantle-gaol-then-it-was-on-to-york/ ) Edmund had settled and become a successful farmer in the settlement of York. The first inland colonial settlement in Western Australia established in 1830.
The rolling hills around York and a ready water supply from the Avon River made the area favourable for grazing and by 1851 convicts, like Edmund, were sent to the area to expand the settlements and to colonise the lands.
Convicts built new settlements like Toodyay 64 km, north of York, where the old mill and hotel show its early prosperity. Northam become the major town in the district when the trainline to the gold towns further west was routed through it.
Settlements like Greenhills have all but disappeared with only the old pub left.
Others like Beverly have reborn as areas of tourism and art.
As settlement spread more and more the Ngoongar Aboriginal people were displaced. But they never ceded their land.
In the 1847 Spanish monks had established a monastical village, New Norcia as a base for missionary activities in Western Australia. It was here the many aboriginal children stolen from their parents were trained as maids and servants and deprived of their own ancient culture.
In Northam the Bilya Koort Boodja Aboriginal Cultural Centre provides in its building the story of dispossession, the frontier wars and the families broken and the children taken away.
The treatment of the Australian Aborigines, the disrespect for and destruction of their culture, is in my view marks the worst aspect of European colonisation. It was a brutal destruction. I think there is nothing more emblematic of the destruction of the culture than the stealing of Aboriginal children form their parents, a process that was undertaken in Australia for 100 years from 1869 -1969 as part of the policy of Australian Governments.
Despite it all this, below is the last piece a visitor reads before leaving the centre.
Edmund and his brother were most likely part of this dispossession as they successfully farmed their land. Young Irish convicts themselves stolen from their family and land, having been driven to stealing by the famine and the seizing of crops and livestock by the English overlords . Transported from their homeland that had been struck by famine and forced on a long dangerous voyage to the hot dry strange land.
They also pined for home. The Tipperary School in York an example of the Irish calling out to home.
But for Edmund, his wife Bridget and family, success in farming wasn’t enough and when in 1887 gold was found nearly 300 km west of York followed the gold rush to the new settlement of Southern Cross. In Southern Cross there is a monument to the pioneers. The Shovel and Pick representing the miners and the Scythe and Rake representing the farmers.
In moving to Southern Cross they really did start a new life. Edmund changed his name to Edward and claimed to be 10 years younger than his age. Why he did this is unclear. Whether it was to escape his convict past or to make himself available for a position suitable for a younger man or some other reason, Im left to guess. Its a sign of the times that a man who was prominent in society could make such a change.
Edward lived in Southern Cross until his passing on 24 April 1895 at the reported aged of 55. (but he was born in Ireland in 1830 so really 65). On the edge of Southern Cross there is a list of those who were buried in the original cemetery (now destroyed)
In the Southern Cross Museum I found a transcript of Edmund/Edward’s obituary which had been posted in the Southern Cross Herald. It states he was ‘one of the first residents of the town’, ‘was held in high esteem’ and ‘was a former resident of York’.
But the family had contracted gold fever and following Edmunds death Bridget and her two youngest children, Patrick (My Grandfather) and Michael with their families headed further east, to the edge of the desert, chasing gold that had been found in and around Kalgoorlie. That’s a tale for another time.
In my journey through Australia last year I was determined to make myself open to Australian Aboriginal culture and through that make my own connection to the land. It has been an experience that has affected my greatly and has allowed me to at least have some understanding of aboriginal connection to the land and how beautiful and powerful that is.
Seeking out my family history at the same time allowed me to feel the longing for their homeland my fore bares felt and to some small extent maybe I do. Maybe its my once ginger hair which is part of the Celtic gene that makes me feel that way.
I have travelled to Ireland twice and will likely return again. On my last visit there, (look for Ireland in the drop down menus) I was in a pub in Bantry. I had just finished a pint of Guinness when another was plonked in front of me. I looked up at the barman and was about to speak when he said – ‘the boss said you have an Irish head on ya, this ones on the house’ – says it all really!
4 thoughts on “The settlement of the Western Australian Wheatbelt around York and the Family chases gold.”
What a fabulous history – and well told. I remember York as a bustling town during the years of the York Jazz Festival in the 1980s. I loved that time. My connection goes back earlier to our high school history camp when we teased the kids who had to say at the ‘haunted’ Faversham House, while we were safely annexed at the Old York Hospital. Eek! Thanks for invoking my memories with your post.
Thanks so much Sandra, I’m glad it bought back good memories for you.
Another fabulous piece. Thanks!
Thanks so much Tim