Anyone who drinks with me knows my habitual toast – “Freedom, Australia and Horses” as quoth by Breaker Morant in the 1970s film. (Formative. Saw it at the drive-in with my parents when I was in primary school. Watch it, if you need another reason why Australia should be a Republic.)
This is my daughter, Lil. She’s amazing. Just look at her.
She is riding our pony on a beach in same place her gt gt gt grandmother Margaret was sent to as a 15yo “Young Immigrant” (breeding stock) from Donegal in 1861, as Empire fodder.
Margaret, being Protestant, got married off immediately to a Cockney butcher, who built an inn at Capel, worked as farm labourer and ran Cobb & Co stagecoach post. The horses were paddocked in the river flat behind the pub. I’ve craned my neck from passing cars on trips to the beach to look at horses grazing in that green pasture behind the tavern my whole life – and I didn’t know the full family history connected with the town until last year.
Margaret bore many children, the first when she was 16. Margaret’s mother, (also named Margaret, with a suspicious amount of prematurely and suddenly deceased husbands over her lifetime) joined her daughter in the Swan Colony’s southwest district a few years afterward.
Margaret the Younger’s Australian born daughter, (also named Margaret and the last), married an Australian-born mounted policeman, son of a Royal Marine Pensioner convict guard, whose tours of duty included visiting “Irish stations” before placing his unfortunate neighbours below deck & escorting them thousands of miles away to an already occupied continent. He got land out of the agreement. His toddler died at sea on the voyage. His wife, a Welshwoman named Ann, gave birth to the future trooper three months after disembarking at Fremantle, then proceeded to farm, and build a house and raise funds for a school. She lost another adult son to shipwreck off Geraldton. The oldest daughter she brought as a baby on the convict ship gave birth out of wedlock and was married off to an old widower with many adult children and bore him many more. I thank Ann for her true grit. Her picture is in the Freshwater Bay museum at Claremont, along with her husband’s. They were pioneers of a settlement, now a suburb, that replaced sacred sites and sustainability of the Indigenous people who had lived there continuously for 65000 years.
None of my family have been able to afford to live there for decades. It’s multi-million dollar real estate now.
The last Margaret became a copper’s wife and when he retired, he started the first milk run in Busselton. She bore many sons. One of them didn’t marry until he was 60. He was my grandfather, a dairy farmer.
Our family farms was sold for pennies and lost to the subdivided estates of backyard swimming pools and bbqs decades ago. Home ownership is out of reach for most people of my kids’ generation.
Our predecessors existence included the invasion, displacement and dispossession, imprisonment and genocide of people all over the world – English white privilege in the name of a splinter church headed by a family of inbred German monarchs knew no bounds.
(One look at Boris Johnson and it is apparent it is still a structure of nonsensical myth and inequality that still exists in the fearful and ignorant)
My immigrant ancestors were working class and did the best they could to survive and thrive in the times they found themselves in.
I acknowledge our part in history. The injustice we were institutionally raised to believe and meted out to others.
I know the future is better for all our children if we listen to everyone’s voices. Australia’s egalitarian ideals are not yet lost.
Women have the vote. Women don’t have to marry a man they don’t know in order to shelter and feed themselves. Or they can marry women. They can work in any industry they want. It’s not always easy, but our daughters have more choices than the 15yo fatherless child born in the Famine who hopped on a boat to Bunbury, Western Australia.
And I look at my (nearly) 19yo strawberry blonde freckled colleen, who just successfully completed a year’s traineeship on a dairy farm near Busselton, laughing in the sunshine on a Capel beach astride a horse…..as I sit inside a cottage in Mayo in February…..and I ponder on the Margarets and the lives they led that led to the photo….and I say, again:
Freedom, Australia and Horses! Slainte!