Saturday, 3 October 2009

Martha Ann McIlhagger

John and Jane Mary McIlhagger's four children, their thirty grandchildren and their numerous great grandchildren for the most part began their lives and for the most part ended them in Bundaberg, Queensland, and life was often hard. In the early days land had to be cleared by hand, primary age children had to walk five miles to school, and there were no labour-saving devices in the home. Here's a quote from the family's record of their reunion in 1988:

"Consider a wash-day for Martha when house well-water (hand-drawn in buckets) was in short supply. Gathering the dirty clothes, a kerosene tin (for the boiler), a packed lunch and four young children, Martha would head for Gordon's Creek. The clothes, boiled, scrubbed and rinsed (tubs were places at the Creek permanently) would be draped on trees and bushes to dry. Late afternoon the clean clothes would be gathered into a sheet and carried home on Martha's back, tired children following".

Martha Ann was John and Mary's fifth child and fourth daughter. She arrived in Australia aged 7 years. In 1884 she was enrolled at Gooburran School but finished her schooldays at the North Bundaberg State School. She was then employed locally as a housemaid before her marriage to Robert Yendel Heale on 9th June 1897 at Martha's father's home. Robert had emigrated from Devonshire, England, in 1882. After the birth of their first child Robert purchased 160 acres of uncleared land at Splitter's Creek for £100. The family moved there to live in a two-roomed house with a separate kitchen. The whole was made of slab walls and bagged floor plus a shingle roof. Two more rooms were added as the family expanded.

Robert worked first as a butcher in Lassig's shop in Perry Street, North Bundaberg, then in Jack Bauer's slaughter yards off Rosedale Road, Oakwood. When he worked at the slaughter-house during the week, he spent the nights in a shed with bags for blankets, then he walked home to Martha and his children for the weekend. Weekends and off-times were spent laboriously clearing his virgin land by hand. Firewood from the farm was sold to the North Bundaberg bakery. A childhood memory Fred their eldest boy liked to recall was how he had to attend the burning tree stumps on the newly cleared land, late into the night and still had to be ready for school by 7am. His sister Mary Elizabeth remembered how they would walk and then run set sections of the way to Gooburram School to ensure that they were not late. The way was a dirt-track through thickly populated bush. Things were better when the Erin Hilki School opened in 1917 and the Heale children had a 1.2km walk instead of 8km. Later in life, to increase his income, Robert had a labouring job at Invicta which meant that Saturday afternoons were spent walking from his Splinter's Creek home to Invicta.

Robert was paid the princely sum of £2 per week when employed as a butcher. Consequently the farm had to supply much of the food for the family. Goats and cows provided milk and butter (homemade). A large variety of trees gave ample fruit. Poultry supplied eggs as well as roast chicken, while wild kangaroo, wallaby, bandicoot and goat meat would provide delicacies to grace the dinner table for family and visitors alike. Visiting neighbours was the social pass-time. Robert would often request 'On the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond' be played on the gramaphone as he set off strolling home arm-in-arm with Martha.

At the time of his untimely death on 21st January 1918 Robert had cleared 15 acres of which four acres were under sugar-cane cultivation. Their sons Fred, John, Robert and Thomas had all left school by then and were employed at either Fairymead Sugar Plantation or the Sharon Mill. They were able to support Martha and her four youngest children financially. There were no Social Security cheques in those days! The sons developed the 15 acres into sugar-cane plantation for Martha, thus giving her independence. With Martha's consent any further cleared land became their own. In the 1920s her sons built Martha a new ready-to-erect home on the farm. Because of the conditions for new cane assignment in the 1950s Martha transferred her land to her sons so that the farm could expand. John, Robert and Thomas were now share farmers and they financially supported their mother until her death on 15th April 1958, aged 81.

Their eldest son, Frederick William, on leaving the Sharon School acquired labouring jobs and also helped develop the family farm. His brothers bought out his share of the farm and he bought his own farm at the Elliot, now called Calavos. By this time he had married a Brisbane lass, Hanorah McCarthy and they had two children. After selling his cane farm, Fred worked at the Qunaba Sugar Plantation until his early retirement due to ill-health. The family were now living at River Terrace, Millbank, Bundaberg. During World War 2 Frederick was an active member of the Victory Defence Corps. Robert and Martha had nine children. After Fred came John who married Ellen Wheeler and had a son. Jack as he was known bought a small market garden acreage from Les Palmer (see previous blog), adjoining the Heale property and built a home there for his wife and child. On retirement due to ill-health, Jack and Ellen moved to Bundaberg to live. Robert James was number three, who married Ethel Olm at Brigalow, Queensland. Bob, as he was known, built a home adjacent to Martha's on their farm and lived there until retirement when he and Ethel moved to Beatrice Street, Bundaberg. Thomas, number four, married a local girl, Mary Poulson, and built a home for his family across the road from Martha's. They had one daughter. On retirement he had the house moved to 5 Child Street, Bundaberg. Number five was Mary Elizabeth, who married Frank McGuirk and had three children. The next two children were Isabella and Gladys. They kept house for their brothers at Splatters Creek Farm for a time. Isabella then married a 'most eligible bachelor', Donald Royan, from Earn Hill Farm, Sharon. With Saturday night dances and Sunday tennis, Earn Hill was the rage scene of the 1920s and 1930s. They had five children, one of whom emigrated to live in Vancouver. Donald and Isabella lived on their farm until April 1975 when they retired to 44 Churchill Street Bundaberg. Gladys married Wilfred Proctor and they had six children. After a period of farming at Oakwood this family moved to live in New Zealand. One son moved to Venezuela and one back to Australia. Martha's eighth's child, Pearl Ivy, died in infancy. Her last, Samuel George, after education at Erin High School, found employment at the Fairymead Sugar Plantation. His share of the farm was bought out by his brothers. Sam married Mavis Fagg in 1944 when they lived with Martha for a time before moving to a home in Fairymead. After Mavis' early death aged 44, Sam and his two children lived in Collinsville for a few years. Returning to Bundaberg Sam was employed with the Bundaberg City Council until his death.

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