Post Script – 100 years of remembrance

Remembrance Day 2018 coincided with the tenth Richlands Open Day, when we throw open the historic Richlands homestead to the public.

Lately the Day has been popular with people tracing their roots to the early days of European Settlement, who have found a reference to the Macarthurs’ Richlands estate in their researches. This Parramatta and Camden-based family were prominent in official and business circles of the new colony; the most successful of the early entrepreneurial class.

Their lowland Scottish, and Devon farming, origins are reflected in the estates they established – firstly at Camden, named for John Macarthur’s patron Lord Camden, then at Richlands on the central tablelands; taking advantage of early discovery of good pastoral lands beyond the confines of Sydney, but after the first rush to take up land on the Bathurst plain following the crossing of the Blue Mountains.

In both cases they built up small communities of tenant farmers, inducing them to take up land around the main holding (Camden) or accumulated land holdings (Richlands). They employed assigned servants with required skills chosen from the arriving convict transports, or leased farm land on generous terms to young village families displaced by widespread rural poverty in England at the time. In time these groups blended as fair treatment by the landowning family induced long term loyalty to the places they settled.

Through their assiduous descendants we have been gratefully accumulating the stories of individual migrants who passed through – typically placed initially in Camden, then moved across the range to Richlands. These add to a progressive documentation of the estate history – otherwise overlooked in the official accounts of John Macarthur and his family and their pivotal role in the life of the colony from its first days (1791 onwards).

The homestead itself dates from the early 1840s – constructed in two stages 1841-44, and 1845-47 using respectively convict and paid labour. It retains most of the features of its original construction (as a residence and defensive headquarters for estate workers) notwithstanding the hundred years of Twynam possession, and shows no signs of disappearing.

This year was no different, with several parties intent on placing their forebear within the estate chronology, but with a wealth of genealogical information besides. However what people see, apart from the fabric of the house, and the vestiges of original plantings in the drive and orchard, is its adaptation as a family home and livelihood on the land over several generations; and the occupations, culture and background of the inhabitants and their relatives.

We were conscious of the date and this year we wanted to mark the centenary commemoration of Armistice Day in some way. Ned and Joan Twynam in the first war and Ted and Dorcas Twynam in the second had served in different capacities. Between them they echoed the motives, experiences and sacrifices of a large part of the rural population whose natural loyalty was towards the British home country.

Ned acquired a commission in the nascent Australian army some years prior to the start of the war. At outbreak he, Conrad style, sailed up the Fly in a schooner to take the surrender of German planters in New Guinea, later serving in the Middle East and France.

Joan had already spent several intrepid years as a pioneer bush nurse; and transferred to the first drafts of the Army Nursing Service in 1914 as an ‘efficient’. She was to spend 5 years abroad, mostly close to the battles, earning the highest award available. She could take no advantage in later life, however, never comfortably off and disappointed in career openings, finally supporting her ailing elder sisters, and assorted maimed veterans on modest rental income.

Both Joan and Ned witnessed Gallipoli – Joan from hospital ships and the Lemnos beach evacuation camps; Ned in training soldiers in the desert, before playing a short but significant role in the peninsular evacuation. Their nephew Andrew Cunningham narrowly survived the ANZAC campaign to distinguish himself later in the drive through Gaza to Damascas.

His mother Mary Cunningham was a socially prominent conscription referendum ‘Yes’ campaigner, reflecting her anxiety of the over reliance of imperial commanders on early volunteers from the colonies, and the brunt they bore in casualty lists. Nevertheless three of her daughters married officers graduating from the neighbouring, and recently open Duntroon, Commonwealth army staff training college.

The social consequences for this appetite for the military life have been played out within the family in a number of ways; perhaps best marked by the omnipresence of images in uniform on mantlepieces, frozen as if this were the family’s peak collective achievement, outstripping diverse personal and occupational incidents and accomplishments attached to their divergent personalities.

The shadows – Ned’s probable suicide on his scrabble soldier settler block after being turned away from enlisting in 1943; Ted KIA; Joan’s stoic dedication to picking up the pieces of smashed lives – seemed to us more important to remember than pride in their service – although there is that, privately, too.  

Any way at 11am visitors assembled in front of the house for 2 minutes silence, reflecting or not as they chose.  

In case you felt alone in querying the motives of boosters of this centenary, you may find some consolation in a posting from the London Review of Books and generated comments. After all our 62,000 ‘dead on the battlefield’ pales compared to the millions of victims – military and civil, on all sides at home, and among those over whose land the wars were fought – in this unnecessary but inevitable war:

If you are curious about the Twynams (my mother’s family), my notes, put together ahead of this event, will go up soon. My own raw thoughts, on attending the Australian premiere of Chris Latham’s  AWM-sponsored ‘Diggers Requiem’, are in a letter to the editor draft. A somewhat cut (and watered) down version did appear in the Canberra Times.

srth nov 2018