Friday, January 2, 2009


In about 1898, my great-grandparents, William and Sophie Pearson, first started bringing their family to Cunninghame, as Lakes Entrance was then known, for their summer holidays in East Gippsland. They usually took either of the two passenger steamers from Sale, the Sale Steamship Company’s Omeo or the Dargo, or else the Dahlsens 109-foot J.C.D., or their Gippsland from Bairnsdale.

On one occasion “Long Peter” Nielsen of the Gippsland lost his master’s ticket for six weeks after a Gippsland marine court of inquiry found that he had overtaken the Omeo or the Dargo in Lake King, recklessly circled her, and steamed past again flying pennants that read “cock o’ the walk.” It seems probable that this lapse of judgment was caused by intoxicating beverages.

Granny recalled:

The boat left at 2.30 after the Melbourne train got in and used to get to Cunninghame any time between 8.30 and 10.30. But we did not mind how long it took. The first excitement was to hurry down to the saloon and get seats for dinner. It had two long tables on either side. The seats were red velvet. There was a gorgeous smell of fried fish and roast meat and puddings and the same for tea at 5.30, so warm and comfortable! Sometimes Lake Wellington could be very rough indeed, however it never worried us children. The boats were driven by wood fires. I can see the big logs being shoved into the furnace. All the crew seemed to be the same each year, and were very kind and good to us. We used even to be allowed to stear the boat.

The first time the family visited Lakes Entrance, they stayed at the Club Hotel, while my great-grandfather searched in vain for a suitable block of land on which to build a house. At this date, the steamers came and went from the Kalimna jetty, there was only a rough dirt track skirting Jemmy’s Point, and there were no cars, and hardly any other holiday-makers. It must have been heaven.

Great-grandfather Pearson nearly gave up searching for somewhere to build, but eventually purchased a property “on the front,” and in due course built a pretty house, which has long since been demolished. In the early 1970s, Granny recalled that the original house was on the site of what she called Victoria House, but that too has now vanished, no doubt obliterated by the Lakes Entrance strip mall.

In due course the Pearsons recruited local servants, including a Russian and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Markovitch. Mrs. Markovitch was cook and housekeeper. Mr. Markovitch, or “Markie,” as the children knew him, did odd jobs, and looked after the boats.

It was a great excitement when we got our first motor boat. It used to belong to the [Richard] Brownlows at [Eaglescourt, overlooking the Mitchell River and Eagle Point Bluff, near] Bairnsdale, and was one of the first on the Lakes. When they got a “bigger and better” one, father bought the other. I think they often regretted selling it, as the Brownlows’ new one was never the family boat that the Bonegilla was. We kept it until during the 14–18 war, whilst we were in England, when my father was advised by his businessman in Australia to sell it. How sad we were, and how we missed her when we returned to Lakes Entrance for visits and no “Bonegilla.”

The Bonegilla, which was named after my great-grandparents’ first property near Wodonga, was actually one of two lifeboats salvaged from P.&O.’s elegant S.S. Australia, which, on June 20, 1904, went aground on the Corsair Rock off Point Nepean, and was afterwards wrecked by fire.

Most satisfactorily, the Bonegilla was widely understood to be the fastest of the five private motor boats plying the Gippsland Lakes before World War I. I am reliably informed that it had a single-cylinder Standard engine. Certainly this was the farthest any member of our family took the concept of speed, and all subsequent attempts to make motor boats even work at all proved sadly futile.

Occasionally, well before World War I, the Pearsons came to Metung to stay with their friends Dr. and Mrs. Jack Tuthill, who in 1910 built a house they called Allambie, which still occupies a commanding site, high above Gardiner’s Creek.

The settlement, as distinct from the locality, at first took its name from Rosherville, the charming old pub on the shore of Bancroft Bay, which was built in the 1870s on the site of the present monstrosity, and burned down in suspicious circumstances in the 1950s. The pier was built next to the pub, and not the other way around.

The aboriginal (Kurnai) name Metung, which apparently means “tea-tree” or “mainland,” or “bend in the lake,” possibly all three or none, came into general use in about 1888, around the time the pub changed hands, and was somewhat pompously renamed the Scarborough (“The Gem of the Lakes,” according to nearly contemporary advertorial).

Not surprisingly, Metung attracted a number of distinguished early holiday-makers, some of whom settled there permanently, including the explorer and mineralogist Dr. Alfred Howitt; His Honour Judge John Burnett Box; and John King, the second son of Rear Admiral Philip Parker King.

The Bull, Bury, Byrne, Cantrill, Casement (in fact a nephew of the Roger Casement who was hanged for treason in 1916), Hunter, and Travers families all clustered around these notables in the neighborhood of Metung rather early, and there was also a small Chinese community, including an enterprizing market gardener called Poo Chong (old Pooey), whose plot was near the Buffalo Patch.

In 1920, now widowed, and having returned to Australia from England, old Mrs. Pearson bought Allambie from Dr. and Mrs. Tuthill, and, perhaps for moral support, her sister, Aunt Nance (Gooch) and her husband, Uncle Arthur Gillion, also bought land at Metung, on the hill behind the village, and built a house there.

In due course, my grandparents, William and Helen Borthwick, bought a substantial block of land on Shaving Point from the solicitor and New South Wales grazier, James (“Jim”) McLaughlin, on which in 1926 they built their pretty house Balmadies, where Mum and her siblings enjoyed many idyllic summer holidays.

Writing to Gay Halstead in the mid-1970s, Aunt Anne recalled:

We had super holidays; there always seemed to be a tribe of children with or without attendant parents; most of them couldnt swim. A certain board on the jetty (one of the first jetties in Metung) was painted brown and the non-swimmers were not allowed past it without an adult. (It speaks volumes for the sort of discipline of the times, that no-one did.) Of course, it was fiercely and jealously policed by us swimmers!

It seemed it was always sunny, but when it did rain wed be be turned out in minimum clothing for a long walk to the Bluff along the shore. We got so wet that it didn’t matter, as it counted for our bath for the day. Water was always short and our ablutions pretty sketchy, a swim before breakfast being the only rule; we had one hot bath a week, the water being heated in the copper, and each child dunked in turn, beginning with the smallest, followed by our clothes.

The Balmadies land was gradually and repeatedly subdivided. The old tennis court, which was paved with asphalt, was sacrificed to provide a block of land for the Byrnes.

Another chunk of land was evidently sold back to Mr. McLaughlin so he could resume his fishing activities, which he missed.

Another wedge-shaped parcel of land was given to Mum as a wedding present, and offered plenty of room for Dad to build our house, which he did so with his own hands, on the side of the property closest the Misses Curr, and, finally, much later on, Granny gave the last allotment to Aunt Anne and Uncle Henry, who built their house on the north side.

Originally there were four Misses Curr, Margery, Kitty, Elaine, and Fairlie, but I have only the dimmest recollection of two, then one: Fairlie. Their mother’s sister was the Mrs. Tuthill from whose husband my great-grandmother Pearson purchased Allambie.

The Tuthills must have thrown in their boat Carino, as well, because Aunt Anne remembered it being used as the Borthwick family’s principal vessel, mainly to transport hordes of children to the Barrier and back, for picnics.

In a neat twist, the Carino was the other lifeboat salvaged from the wreck of the Australia, and it must have given Granny particular satisfaction to retrieve and re-enact those happy memories of beach picnics aboard the Pearsons Bonegilla.

I do not know what happened to either boat.

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