Norfolk Plains

Continuing Our Tasmanian Story – from Norfolk Island

With the closure of the settlement, James Davey found himself sailing again for Van Diemen’s Land, one of the last to be removed from the British settlement on Norfolk Island. James, along with the last hundred or so to leave the island, settled at Norfolk Plains. On 20 January 1813, James Davey sailed aboard the Lady Nelson for Port Dalrymple, arriving there on the 1st of February. Travelling with James were nineteen free men, one male convict, six wives and sixteen children.[i] Six of the men and three of the women had arrived with the First Fleet. It is hardly surprising that some of them would have moved only reluctantly from their home of some 25 years to have to re-establish themselves in a new environment.

Three days after the Lady Nelson’s departure from Norfolk Island, the Minstrel set sail with 42 passengers, among them James’ future bride, Catherine Jordan. The Minstrel carried three men and a woman who had arrived with the First Fleet. The evacuation of Norfolk Island that had begun in 1805, gathering pace around 1808 was essentially completed with the passage of these two vessels. About thirty ‘best behaved’ convicts remained on Norfolk Island to kill and salt the remaining livestock and to destroy the last of the buildings to deter unauthorised resettlement. The brig Kangaroo finally completed the evacuation in March 1814.[ii]

Having spent many years clearing and cultivating the fertile land of Norfolk Island, many felt themselves to be ‘too old and too tired to start pioneering’ again.[iii] As inducement they were offered apparently generous grants of land in Van Diemen’s Land, as well as access to convict labour for the construction of homes and outbuildings and provision of food and clothing from twelve months to two years depending on the ‘class’ of setter. In practice some of the settlers received more than they appeared to be entitled to and others received far less.

James Davey received a grant of 40 acres at Norfolk Plains. Government records show that within a few years he was supplying meat and wheat to the Government stores. By 1816 he was living with sixteen year old Catherine Jordan, daughter of James Jordan (who had arrived at Sydney Cove aboard the notorious Queen in September 1791) and Second Fleet convict, Mary Butler. Sadly, Mary died on Norfolk Island when Catherine was only twelve or thirteen and just a few months before the family’s evacuation.

Prout, Longford & Norfolk Plains_Snapseed

Longford and part of Norfolk Plains V.D.L by John Skinner Prout

Early settlement at Norfolk Plains

The first explorers in the Norfolk Plains district were Dr Jacob Mountgarrett and Captain Hugh Piper, who had arrived in the colony with Lieutenant-Governor Patterson to establish the first settlement at York Town (later removed to Launceston). On 11 December 1811, Governor Lachlan Macquarie inspected the land between Launceston and the South Esk River, looking for an:

… eligible and good part of the country, not too far from this settlement, for giving farms to the Norfolk Island settlers whatever time they may happen to be removed from that Island on my orders to evacuate it. We rode … till we came to very fine extensive rich Plains, hitherto without any name and which I have now christened Norfolk Plains; conceiving this fine rich Tract of Country to be a most eligible and convenient Situation for accommodating the Norfolk Island Settlers with Farms, on that Settlement being entirely withdrawn.

The fine rich Tract of Country extends five or six miles along the Bank on the River South Esk; the Eastern extremity of them commencing about half a mile below where the Macquarie River (formerly known by the name of the Lake River) falls into the South Esk, and extending for about two miles to the foot of the Hills in the Center part of them; the Hills themselves having excellent Pasturage, and the River flowing along these fine Plains, render them highly advantageous for small Settlers, as the distance from Launceston – by which a good Cart Road might be made – does not exceed Nine miles. The Plains facing them, on the Left Bank of the South Esk, appear equally good and fit Tillage and Grazing.[iv]

Six months later Macquarie instructed the Surveyor to measure fifty farms at Norfolk Plains for free men still on Norfolk Island. There were to be four of eighty acres; eight of sixty acres; sixteen of fifty and twenty-two forty. The plan signed by Macquarie in April 1814 contained over 80 parcels of land, with more than fifty having river frontages on the South Esk or Lake Rivers.[v]

Arriving from Norfolk Island

The Norfolk Islanders who arrived on the Lady Nelson and Minstrel travelled from January to April, calling at Sydney on the way. Once they landed at George Town, the journey to Launceston probably took another week. There they encountered a camp ‘full of miserable hovels’, largely abandoned as Macquarie had ordered the settlement back to George Town. The new arrivals camped for a day or two and were given their rations and Government-supplied equipment, including axes, shovels, nails and hoes. Their goods were then loaded onto oxen pulled carts for the final nine mile journey, through bush, to their new home.[vi] Camping beside the campfire on their first night, they had much to reflect upon – all they had left behind, much hard work ahead and no doubt many stories about the dangers of bushrangers, the Aboriginals, wild animals and a strange land.

Their early shelters were no doubt rudimentary. Isabella Mead records that:

Reeds tied in bundles laced to the rafters were used to thatch the roof. The floor was pressed earth. The furniture was possibly a rough bench or table, blocks of wood for seats; perhaps, but doubtful, a bed, but always some kind of chest or box in which they packed their possessions. Near the door, outside on a rough hewn bench, was always a tub of water. Some of the cooking was done over the open fire but most of it was done outside where there was more light. They probably helped one another to build their shelters, all living together for a time.[vii]

The men were quickly occupied in clearing the land and making a living. They hunted kangaroo and emu and wild duck and sowed seeds in newly dug earth. Wheat crops did well in the early years but by the 1820s the land was suffering and yields were down.

In her research, exploring whether the Norfolk Island settlers were such poor characters as had frequently been portrayed, Isabella Mead notes that those who settled along the west bank of the River were ‘not much good’ and in fact had largely disappeared by the 1830s. They were, apparently, notorious for stealing sheep. Amongst them was Thomas Livermore, the first husband of Elizabeth Dewsnap, who was eventually to become James Davey’s third wife:

By Livermore’s Ford were two small holdings of forty and thirty acres to George Marshall and Thomas Livermore. Soon the seventy acres belonged to Thomas Livermore. The ford was most conveniently situated for the sheep stealing activities which he evidently carried on, for it gave easy access to all the settled land to the east. He was aided and abetted by his convict servants; his shepherd Thomas Pawley, was said to have joined Brady and McCabe and £10 was offered for his apprehension. In September 1827, Thomas Livermore was drowned when crossing the river. He had married four days previously.’[viii]

In 1833, Elizabeth Livermore was transported for fourteen years for receiving four sheep that Thomas Merritt had stolen from their neighbor Henry Clayton.[ix] Merritt was hanged.[x]

Mead goes on to say that those who settled along the eastern bank of the river fared better, particularly those settlers who were married with children. Families here included the Jordans, Saltmarshes, Stevens, Coxes, Whites and Claytons.


[i] Broxham, p135

[ii] Broxham, p135

[iii] Morgan, p15

[iv] Lachlan Macquarie, Journal to and from Van Diemen’s Land to Sydney in New South Wales, 4 November 1811 – 6 January 1812.
Original held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.
ML Ref: A777 pp.34-73. [Microfilm Reel CY302 Frames #380-419],

[v] Mead, p61

[vi] Mead, p63

[vii] Mead, pp63-64

[viii] Mead, p65; Thomas Livermore and Elizabeth Dewsnap, Marriage Registration, RGD 36-1-1, via LINC Tasmania,; Thomas Livermore, Burial Registration, RGD 34-1-1, via LINC Tasmania,

[ix] 1833 ‘(From the Launceston Independent’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 10 May, p. 4. , viewed 12 Mar 2016,; 1833 ‘SUPREME COURT.’, Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), 2 May, p. 3. , viewed 12 Mar 2016,

[x] Mead, p65




Having published James Deverell’s story earlier this week, I decided to compile some background about Tongataboo, a name I had only heard of in connection with Captain Cook’s landing site in Tonga (spelt Tongatapu) before I began my research.

James’ Tongataboo is a small place in Tasmania, near Deloraine. James was amongst its earliest residents and he died some years before its name was changed to Weetah when a post office was established there in 1912.

Jeremiah Sheehan, my Great Great Grandfather, also settled at Tongataboo following his marriage to James’s daughter Eliza in 1874.

With the exception of contemporary news reports about the state of the road from Deloraine to Tongataboo, there is very little published about the place and what follows is largely gleaned from newspaper reports on Trove.

Maureen Bennett’s book, Shamrock in the Clover, tells us that many of the Irish who arrived in the Deloraine district during the 1860s bought smallholdings, usually of about 50 acres. The only land available for purchase was the more marginal land outside the larger estates held by wealthy free settlers. Many of these people settled at Tongataboo, which Maureens says ‘is now Weetah, East Parkham and the back area of High Plains’. Irish families also bought land in another area known as Reedy Marsh and some bought land at Quamby Brook and Quamby Bluff (now known as Golden Valley).[1]

The families who settled in these areas had a very hard life. Their houses were originally very rough shelters and they had to work hard to make ends meet. The land which they bought was not usually as productive as that which was rented on the big estates but their only satisfaction was that they owned their own place. Life was particularly hard for women as besides doing all the chores in and around the house they bore large families unless they died in childbirth in the process. Most of them had no transport and walked everywhere. Many Catholics walked several miles to Mass on Sundays usually carrying a young baby. If they wished to receive Communion they fasted from midnight until they returned home. When schools were established the children walked to school regardless of the weather.   They usually had many chores to do around the farm such as milking the cows, before and after school.[2]

In 1905 The Examiner published a lengthy article on Deloraine and district, which described Tongataboo and the journey from Deloraine:

A road runs out from Barrack-street, Deloraine, for four miles, passing through what is known as High Plains, where there are some nice farms, and continuing on for four or five miles down a very rough and steep grade, passing through hilly, if not mountainous, country, full of farms till Tongataboo is reached. The people in this district are hard-working and good-natured, as well as hospitable, but do not comprise the wealthy class, the reason of this being that the land on which they live is not the best. As one journey’s through country like Tongataboo, with its rugged, mountainous character, and sees the kind of roads over which these good people have to drag their loads of produce up to market, one is amazed how they do it. It is very steep, though metalled in places, where it is unmetalled it must be fearful in winter.[3]


In 1908 a reporter for the Daily Telegraph wrote that, with the exception of the annual sports day, Tongataboo is rarely visited by strangers, ‘yet is one of the most charming of Deloraine suburbs for scenic attractions.’[4]

Certainly the road is somewhat hilly, but when the top is reached the outlook is well worth the trouble. From Everett Hill an excellent view of Bass Straits and the sea-bound coast is to be obtained, while all around one secures a grand panoramic view of highland and lowland scenery, well worth the hour’s journey from Deloraine to see.[5]

Early settlement

According to letters to the newspapers in the early 1890s, Tongataboo had then been established some thirty years, suggesting that the settlement began in the 1860s.[6]

An 1893 article notes:

… Tongataboo is the name of one of the Friendly Island in the Pacific Ocean, the soil of which is remarkable for its fertility, and doubtless it was this fact that induced the late Sergeant Bulger, of Westbury, to bestow the name on the same Tasmanian settlement, as he was, I think, the first to select land there about 35 years ago.[7]

The Road

During the 1890s and early years of the 20th Century much is written about the need for a better road between Deloraine and Tongataboo. I haven’t followed the story closely but not surprisingly there is a good deal of local politics involved including concerns that money initially set aside for the road was diverted elsewhere. In 1893 ‘An Unfortunate Settler’ wrote to the Daily Telegraph urging that work commence, noting that £800 had been set aside some three years earlier and that labour was now very cheap, enabling the road to be constructed for about half what it would have cost a few years earlier.[8] Road construction would also provide work for the unemployed, relieving ‘some of the distress that is so prevalent at the present’. The impact of the great 1890s Depression was no doubt severely felt in this already impoverished community.

Certainly the stories about the difficulty of carting goods to market indicate that work was needed:

It will give the public an idea what a state the road is in when it requires three good horses to cart seven bags of potatoes along it, and then the driver has great difficulty in getting along without capsizing the load. The mud in some parts of this road is actually up to the horses’ bellies. It is a common occurrence to find a beast bogged on this road, and it is a pitiful sight to see the people wending their way through the mud, which is almost impossible to escape.[9]

On Monday last it took a team of three horses to bring up three bags of wheat a distance of about three miles. …. If the road was made straight through from Deloraine to Parkham via Tongataboo, it would mean a saving of about eight miles to the farmers in getting their produce to market. [10]

As the greater part of the land in this district has been selected for about twenty years, it seems very hard that we should have to put up with this state of things. In fact, one settler, who has resided here for the last twenty-five years, has never been able to get a cart to his farm, and he has to carry even his flour in small parcels part of the road.[11]

Of course, the difficulty of the road presented even greater challenges when a service was required quickly: ‘If a person is taken ill it is no easy matter to get a doctor to come to this part, and more especially at night time’.[12]

I’m not sure when the roadwork was completed. There’s no news of a grand opening! But the complaints about the state of the road re-emerge in news reports of the 1930s suggesting that whatever work was done did not stand up to the traffic and conditions required of it.


A letter to the Daily Telegraph in October 1893, critical of a report by the Engineer-in-Chief about the vexed issue of the road, says:

The farmers of Tongataboo cannot feel very proud of their little farms if the Engineer-in-Chief’s report is to be taken as true, for on passing through this settlement on 17th March last he said the land was poor, and there were only two or three starved-looking selections on the road.[13]

The writer prefers Mr Archer’s assessment which values the land at between £3 and £5 an acre. The writer says:

The selectors of Tongataboo are hard-working, honest people and deserve better treatment from the Government, for they pay their debts without troubling the Insolvent Court, which is more than some do who have better land and good roads.[14]

A more extensive article in November 1893 tells us more about the district’s farming and land clearing methods and potential:

There is at Tongataboo about 1200 acres of land that has during the last 20 years been selected in blocks varying from 30 to 150 acres. Many of these small holdings have been considerably improved, and on several of them I saw some as good crops of wheat as I have seen this year, while the grass laid down after last summer’s burn on the newest selections is not to be surpassed by any I have seen. So that the place can hardly be considered the wretched, poor district the Engineer-in-Chief (Mr Fincham) would have one to believe. There are only two miles of really bad road where the metal and formation terminate on the road to Deloraine to where there is fairly good road through the Parkham settlement. But these two miles beggar description as they include huge rocks and deep ruts, so that vehicular traffic is out of the question, and I think the Government should formulate some scheme to enable bona fide settlers to get their produce off the land they have cleared, and abandon their wild fads of settling people on bush land, who would be as much out of place there as a belt of dogwood scrub would be in Macquarie Street, Hobart. To show the fertility of the Tongataboo soil, I may mention that the Messrs Everett have 25 acres of wheat that gives every promise of yielding from 25 to 30 bushels per acre, grown on land that twelve months ago was a thick forest in its virgin state. The scrub on this land was felled about last Christmas, and a good burn obtained, and wheat sown on the ashes in May. This will be — if all goes right — about the quickest return off bush land that I have heard of. Mr Coates has built a comfortable house on his selection and is now engaged felling scrub. Messrs Charlesworth, Hennesy and several others of the settlers have comfortable places, and there is a large State school situated in a central position.[15]

The following year, the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Rambler’ reported:

As I went along I saw that there had been a great deal of improvement made since I was through the district before. I noticed several new cottages have been erected, and what was once a dense forest is now under crop, and grain sown on it looks really well. I heard of one farmer in Tongataboo growing as much as 14 tons of potatoes to the acres this year.[16]

Local newspapers ran short reports under ‘Country News’ or ‘On the Land’ reporting on crops and harvests. Occasionally Tongataboo earns a mention (along with reminders about the state of the road):

[In December 1908] Nice samples of new potatoes are on the market from this locality, Mr T Coates, of Tongataboo, having brought his first digging into Deloraine on Saturday, which he sold at 8lb for 1s. … Mr Coates’s farm comprises 100 acre of fine land. Peas and potatoes are looking strong and healthy, as is also his hay (Algerian) crop. Judging from the general excellence of hay crops throughout this and other districts, the yield should attain a good average, and if the price is “anything like” as farmers put it, sale will be remunerative.[17]

[In September 1909] Farmers in Tongataboo have fully 100 tons of potatoes pitted ready for market. So far no Irish blight has been reported in this vicinity. Many tons of turnips are also ready for market. Residents of Tongataboo are greatly handicapped by the number of steep hills to negotiate between the settlement and Deloraine.[18]

There were also reports hinting at the invasion of the bush by blackberries and other exotics. The ‘Country News’ in the Launceston Examiner of March 1899 reports that the ‘blackberry harvest’ continues ‘to the great delight and profit’ of people of all ages. ‘The rustic belles of the Bluff and Tongataboo and other suburbs of the “agricultural capital of Tasmania” might be seen driving their chaise carts laden with the fruit.’[19]


A public school was established in 1885. One ‘Visitor’ from Deloraine echoed the district’s preoccupation with the state of the road in the following letter to the editor, arguing that the money would have been better spent if two-thirds had been diverted towards ensuring access to the new building.[20]

Tongataboo school

The challenges presented by the state of the road were not the only impediments to gaining an education. The Deloraine ‘Country News’ in July 1895 notes that ‘At Tongataboo there are some children whose parents are not able to pay school fees for them, indeed who have enough to do to get their children something to eat. There is a teacher and a State school, and it is a pity these children should be debarred from attending.’[21] Indeed, and even sadder to read some years earlier of 13 cases before the Deloraine Police Court for non-payment of school fees due to Mr Flannaghan, head teacher at the Tongataboo school.[22]

The 1905 Examiner article reported:

There is a state school at Tongataboo, built almost in the green bush, being an isolated spot. This school was closed temporarily for some weeks before Christmas owing to the teacher, Mr F Williams, falling ill, and lately passing away while in the Homeopathic Hospital in Launceston. The deceased gentleman was much thought of and highly respected both by the parents and children who reside here, and his death, though somewhat expected, was keenly felt by those who knew him.[23]

The school and residence were burnt down, in a suspected act of arson, in February 1934.[24]

Some residents

Below is a little information about some of the early settlers of Tongataboo. I will add more information as it comes to hand, and welcome contributions from readers.


John Charlesworth and his wife Catherine (nee O’Brien) arrived in the 1860s. Unlike many of the settlers, John was not Irish, but was from Yorskhire. Tragically John died in 1871, shortly after the birth of his ninth child and only daughter. Catherine remained on the 50 acre block and, with the help of her six surviving sons, worked the farm and increased its size to 150 acres.[25] The Charlesworth’s son, John James, died at Tongataboo in 1892 and the Daily Telegraph’s report tells us a little more about his circumstances, and those of others under threat of the ‘influenza epidemic’.

The influenza epidemic, which still lingers in this district, has recently removed one who could be ill-spared, and what was a few weeks ago a happy, if humble, home in the bush is now desolate, for the breadwinner has been called away suddenly and a widow with four young children left in the poorest of poor circumstances. Those who knew the late Mr John Charlesworth, of Tongataboo, can testify that he was a most industrious man, who wrought hard to subdue a portion of the unreclaimed forest in order to make a home for himself and his family, and if those he loved are now left destitute the fault was not his.[26]

Those feeling charitably disposed were called upon to attend a benefit concert at the Deloraine Town Hall.

John’s wife was Ellen Broomhall, my GGG Aunt, daughter of Welsh-born James Broomhall and Irish-born Catherine Coan. The Broomhalls lived at nearby Reedy Marsh.


In September 1906, the Daily Telegraph reported the death of Mrs James Everett of Woodcott, Tongataboo. She was 75 and had lived in the district for 55 years. She left four sons and a daughter to mourn her passing.[27]


In October 1912 the Deloraine and Westbury Advertiser notified residents that the locality known as Tongataboo would in future be called Weetah. The decision had been made by the Postal Department in connection with a decision to establish a post office there. [28]

[Added 16 January 2015]


[1] Maureen Bennett, Shamrock in the Clover, Launceston: Regal Press, 1987, p32

[2] Maureen Bennett, Shamrock in the Clover, Launceston: Regal Press, 1987, p32

[3] 1905 ‘DELORAINE AND DISTRICT.’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 4 March, p. 9 Edition: DAILY., viewed 15 January, 2015,

[4] 1908 ‘TONGATABOO.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 5 September, p. 9, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[5] 1908 ‘TONGATABOO.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 5 September, p. 9, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[6] 1893 ‘TONGATABOO ROAD.’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 28 August, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[7] 1893 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 24 November, p. 1, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[8] 1893 ‘SETTLERS’ DIFFICULTIES.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 10 June, p. 8, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[9] 1893 ‘TONGATABOO ROAD.’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 28 August, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[10] 1893 ‘SETTLERS’ DIFFICULTIES.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 10 June, p. 8, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[11] 1893 ‘SETTLERS’ DIFFICULTIES.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 10 June, p. 8, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[12] 1893 ‘TONGATABOO ROAD.’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 28 August, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[13] 1893 ‘TONGATABOO.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 24 October, p. 1, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[14] 1893 ‘TONGATABOO.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 24 October, p. 1, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[15] 1893 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 24 November, p. 1, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[16] 1894 ‘A TRIP THROUGH TONGATABOO.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 30 August, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[17] 1908 ‘PARKHAM.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 11 December, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[18] 1909 ‘ON THE LAND.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 1 September, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[19] 1899 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 28 March, p. 7, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[20] 1885 ‘TONGATABOO PUBLIC SCHOOL.’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 13 June, p. 1 Supplement: Supplement to the Launceston Examiner., viewed 15 January, 2015,

[21] 1895 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 16 July, p. 4, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[22] 1888 ‘DELORAINE POLICE COURT.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 8 March, p. 3, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[23] 1905 ‘DELORAINE AND DISTRICT.’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 4 March, p. 9 Edition: DAILY., viewed 15 January, 2015,

[24] 1934 ‘SCHOOL AND RESIDENCE DESTROYED.’, Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 24 February, p. 2, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[25] Maureen Bennett, Shamrock in the Clover, Launceston: Regal Press, 1987, p34

[26] 1892 ‘MINISTERIAL.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 4 February, p. 2, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[27] 1906 ‘DELORAINE.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 17 September, p. 8, viewed 15 January, 2015,

[28] 1912 ‘Local & General News.’, Deloraine and Westbury Advertiser (Tas. : 1910 – 1912), 19 October, p. 1, viewed 15 January, 2015,

Latrobe – the Mersey River

Memories of the Mersey

The beautiful Mersey River runs through my home town of Latrobe.  When I was young we would swim and try to learn the art of skimming stones along the surface of the river ‘up the Shale Road’.  The dirt road extended from Hamilton Street, where I lived, up past Perkins’ dairy farm, past Dye’s poultry farm and the A frame house, and past the turn-off to paddocks where we would go mushrooming in the early mornings around Easter time.  There were a number of swimming spots and best of all we could take the dog.  We often rode in the back of Dad’s ute, dog leaning into the wind, my sister and me turning our heads to avoid the spray of dust and dirt whenever we encountered a car coming in the opposite direction.

Sometimes we would float on lilos, making sure the gentle current didn’t take us too far from the safety of the rocky bank.  Some of the older kids, and better swimmers, would dive from an old concrete block into deeper water, while the older girls lay on the concrete soaking up the sun’s rays and probably rubbing in baby oil to develop a deeper tan in those days when we were oblivious to the dangers of skin cancer.

At other times we would walk along the banks of the Mersey at Bells Parade or run around the white painted gazebos and rotundas that have since disappeared.  We rarely swam there as the state of the river ‘down the Parade’ varied over time and was often shallow, dirty and reed-choked.  We would often hear how the damming of the Mersey had destroyed it for swimming and fishing and, most lamentably, destroyed the home of the wonderful whitebait that once were so plentiful they were caught by the 44 gallon drum full!    While their numbers were much reduced, whitebait was still available for a short season each year and I well remember Mum’s wonderful whitebait patties.  I ate as many as I could while my sister painfully cut the tiny heads off any that protruded from the batter.

The 26th of January is Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary, Australia Day and the holiday for Henley-on-the-Mersey.  Unfortunately there are no photos in my album of this event when we would dress in our best clothes, often something we had received for Christmas, for the town’s annual celebration.  Invariably we ended up sunburnt and probably whinged about the time spent watching the chopping when we really wanted to see the beer can derby and the judging for Miss Henley.  The diving from the high board on the other side of the river was also a highlight.

Walking Trudy at Bell's Parade, 1987

Walking Trudy at Bell’s Parade, 1987

During the school term Dad would sometimes pick up my sister and me at lunch time and treat us to pies and pasties from ‘the bottom bakery’ (next door to where Coventry’s pharmacy used to be) along with a lamington, rock cakes, or a jam and cream filed matchstick or cream horn. We would park down at the Parade to eat this welcome change from vegemite and cheese sandwiches!

The other childhood memory I have of the Mersey is seeing it in flood.  And, perhaps more particularly, envying those kids who were cut off by the flood waters and couldn’t attend school.

Pasture and flood plains on the Tarleton side of the Mersey

Pasture and flood plains on the Tarleton side of the Mersey

If you have stories or photos to share or are interested in knowing more about Latrobe you might be interested in the Facebook page my sister has set up: Latrobe