Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mosquito Point

Mum again:
It was a really tricky business for my mother to feed us at Metung. Meat was ordered from the butcher in Bairnsdale and came on the boat until later it came on the mail car. This was an ancient vehicle with an extra seat so that it took about 10 passengers. Passengers from Melbourne by train caught the bust to Lakes Entrance at Bairnsdale, got out at a house in Johnsonville which was also the local post office, waited there with the Metung mail bags, assorted parcels, etc., to be collected by Mr. Howlett in the mail car, driven across on the punt at Johnsonville, and eventually to Metung. By the time of WW2 we were living in Geelong and the journey for my mother must have been appalling—up at daybreak to catch a very early train from Geelong to Melbourne in time to get the Gippslander (changing from Spencer Street to Flinders Street with several kids and mountains of luggage through platforms absolutely packed with train travelers—petrol rationing put everyone onto public transport—what a good thing for the environment but ruinous to Mum’s nerves), the long slow trip to Bairnsdale, the bus, the mail car and finally Metung by about 5 p.m. if we were lucky, then unpacking, making beds, feeding us. We spent the entire summer holidays at Metung—10 weeks. Before we went to Geelong we probably went from Raeshaw for longer, I don’t remember. We had a chook pen and used to take hens down with us for the eggs, and Anne’s pony. Also, I’ve been told, in the very early years, a house cow. The block included that which is now the Weymouths and extended on the other side to what is now occupied by the motel. Later we bought milk from the Casements, whose cows kept coming in and eating such trees as Mum was able to keep alive (no town water, only tanks and none to spare for the garden except the occasional bucket of bath water). We didn’t have electricity connected until 1939 (I think that was the year). The oak tree had to have a wooden guard round it to protect it as the cows continually chomped it. Probably why it developed the root system which sustains that giant now. I think the Casements’ cows must have been more or less (rather more) free-range then, as the Casements lived over on Mosquito point. I can remember the Misses Casement rowing across in a heavy, narrow dinghy which seemed to sit low in the water, in all weathers to (a) milk the cows, and (b) deliver to milk. There was an Italian market gardener who used to come round in his motor boat selling vegetables. I can remember going down to the jetty with Mum and thinking how lovely he looked, dark hair, olive skin, the array of colourful vegetables in the trim wooden boat. I wonder what happened to him.
The Misses Casement—Ethel, Meanie, Maud, Dorrie, May, Savina, and Roberta—and their brother William were first cousins of the Anglo-Irishman Sir Roger Casement, who was tried and found guilty of high treason then hanged following the Easter Rising of 1916. The case was especially traumatic in its wider, imperial context because Sir Roger Casement had earlier distinguished himself in the British Foreign Office, specifically by bringing to light the appalling atrocities perpetrated in the Congo by the administration of King Leopold of the Belgians—hitherto in effect a vast and vastly profitable personal fiefdom. Sir Roger Casement’s grandfather Hugh sailed to Melbourne much earlier, in the 1850s, and in 1894 his son David (Roger Casement’s uncle) bought land and built a house on Mosquito Point at Metung for his enormous family of eight children. Somewhat incongruously, he named it Dingle Dell. The Casements evidently swam their cattle across from Shaving Point—and clearly from time to time back again also. It is unclear whether the scandal of their famous kinsman’s trial and execution touched the Metung Casements during or indeed after World War I. It must have had at least some impact, though of course on Mosquito Point they were just about as isolated from any damaging fallout as they could have been. As far as I can remember, Mum never once mentioned it.

The mighty oak beside Balmadies at Metung was grown from an acorn prudently harvested by Gran from the tree at Kilmany Park that was, in turn, planted on his visit there for a day of shooting in May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York, the future King George V.

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