Friday, February 27, 2009

Uncle David's First Birthday Party at Raeshaw

Some photographs capture far more than a group of people, a place, an event or happening. Such is the case with this marvelous snapshot which my grandfather, William Borthwick, took at his eldest son’s first birthday party in 1922 at the family property, Raeshaw, which is at Fulham, a few miles west of Sale, on the northern side of the Princes’ Highway in East Gippsland.

dramatis personae are friends, relations, and neighbors, evidently engaging in a friendly tug-of-war between two teams of women and children apparently of roughly equal strength—the kind of happy social exercise in which by all accounts my grandfather specialized.

Ably assisted by my mother, whose memory is good, I have decyphered the highly abbreviated key on the reverse, which consists only of surnames. From left to right, therefore, beginning with the little boy, Cousin Norman “Torch” Gooch (so named for his glowing red hair), the son of Uncle Arch and Aunt Norn (Norma), the rest of the group may be identified as follows.

After Torch comes Airlie Harrison, a friend of Granny’s. The
Harrisons were an old Gippsland family. Then comes one of the three little Bowman cousins, the grandchildren of my grandfather’s Aunt Gwladys Bowman (Bell), of The Ridge, a portion of the original Snake’s Ridge station. Note the rather fetching headbands à la mode, and matching outfits. Reenie Crooke (Irene), or perhaps another of the Crookes of Holey Plain, who shared a long boundary with Kilmany Park, comes next. Then another of the Bowman girls, then Miss James, who was apparently something to do with the Crookes, maybe a governess. The little boy giggling immoderately next to her is Dale Crooke, then comes Aunt Kit (Gooch), then another Bowman child, and an older Bowman girl, evidently in her teens, and finally, leading the team on the left, Iris Thompson of Clydebank, another friend and neighbor.

Leading the opposing side is Alison Reid, a friend from
Sale, dangling sprightly toggles from the waist of her cardigan; then Edward Crooke of Holey Plain, Dale’s elder brother, holding on with some determination. Then comes their sister Marie Crooke (pronounced like starry); then Granny (Helen Borthwick); then Rose, whom Mum describes as “a funny old factotum who lived with Uncle Arch and Aunt Norn” (Gooch); then Granny’s loyal school friend from Hermitage days Eily Madden; then little Gwen Foster (who eventually married Dale Crooke); then Rosemary Thompson; then her grandmother, Mrs. Thompson, Iris Thompson’s mother-in-law; and, finally, bringing up the rear, Ruby, the wife of Ormond Foster, of Boisdale near Maffra.

The three infants in the foreground are (left to right) Master Macdonald, Miss Macdonald (of Armadale—the property, not the suburb of
Melbourne), and Uncle David Borthwick, aged one, who sits cheerfully on the rug.

The Bowman girls’ party dresses, the hats and coats worn by most of the grown-ups—where on earth are all the men?—the neat lawn, those plucky shrubs newly planted by Granny, and the wide gravel drive in the foreground stand in surprising contrast with the flat bleakness of the distant paddocks that descend into the background and the numerous dead trees dotted over them, although these are actually remnants of the aggressive process of land clearing, and not really any indication of severe drought or blight. (The whole of
East Gippsland was once densely forested.) The locality is not far from the site of the present Sale aerodrome.

The Fosters, the Crookes, the Thompsons, Harrisons, Gooches and Pearsons (Granny’s family) could justly lay claim to being the closest thing to a landed gentry that ever existed in
East Gippsland, but the mood here is hardly formal. They were pretty tough farming people, who educated and kept their small children fully occupied at home with the aid of governesses, or middle-aged spinster relations whose marital prospects were completely wrecked by the industrialized slaughter of the Great War. All were yet to be cast into the abyss of the Great Depression, though most of them survived it more or less intact, not without years of self-sacrifice and the mind-bogglingly ascetic money management strategies of the dessicated clerks of the Trustees Executors Company in Melbourne. Most of their living descendants, including me, remain powerfully connected to the rough and not especially hospitable sheep country that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents opened up in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Unfortunately we do not know which of the two teams won the tug-of-war, but I rather fancy that Alison Reid, who was formidable, made sure it was hers.

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