The Life and Times of Myrtle Young

Myrtle Alice Young was born at Georges Creek, northern Victoria, on October 12, 1895, the fourth living child and second daughter of Ada and Tom Young. The background of Tom and Ada is worth documenting as it is a relevant backdrop to Myrtle’s childhood.     

Ada Seal was born in Lee, Kent, in 1870, the tenth child and ninth daughter of Charles Frederick Seal and Margaret Brown. Charles Frederick had migrated from his father’s dairy in Lee in the late 1840s, presumably to seek his fortune in New South Wales. Both his father and grandfather (John Seal the younger and John Seal the older) had been simultaneously sentenced to seven years transportation at the Maidstone Petty Sessions in 1820 for felony, allegedly conniving to steal thirteen chickens from Obed Woodhams of Edenbridge (Maidstone Journal). After serving four years awaiting transportation to Botany Bay on the hulk Retribution, a former 74-gun warship moored at Sheerness, they had the good fortune to be granted a free pardon. If a prisoner had served over half their sentence and their conduct had been good throughout, they became eligible for selection by the captain of the hulk for a free pardon. Two in every hundred convicts were selected.[1]

It would seem that John Seal the younger had deserted his wife and children before his conviction and, following his free pardon from the hulk in 1824, John Seal the younger married Sarah (Sally) Butcher in 1826 possibly becoming a bigamist.

At all events, in the late 1840s Charles Frederick Seal, then in his early 20s, decided to emigrate to Australia. For some reason he changed his surname to Butcher, his mother’s maiden name. Was this because of his father and grandfather’s convictions for felony or perhaps his father’s bigamy? We do not know – but for the whole of his twenty years in Australia he and his children bore the surname Butcher before reverting to Seal upon his return to England.                          

In Australia, Charles Frederick worked as a carpenter on a property – ‘Neotsfield’ in Singleton. There, he met and married Margaret Brown, a Scot from Aberdeen. She went on to bear Charles Frederick eight daughters before the family returned to Burnt Ash Farm at Lee, Surrey, where in 1868 Charles Frederick took over the running of a dairy from his father, John Seal. They left behind in Australia Sally Ann, who was by then betrothed to John Waterberry.

In Surrey, Charles Frederick in 1870 fathered a ninth daughter, Miriam Ada, who became Myrtle’s mother, Finally, there followed two sons, George and Christopher – a total of eleven children.

In 1879, Charles Frederick lost both his wife Sally and youngest son, Christopher, aged three, to the ever-present tuberculosis. This probably was the stimulus for Charles Frederick to sell up once again in 1880 and re-emigrate with his family, this time to Melbourne. Together with his eight children, ranging in age from 26 down to seven, he brought with him the first steam-driven carousel to arrive in Australia. Charles Frederick’s fifth daughter, Clara Beatrice, had married Harry Bellingham at Maidstone in 1879 and stayed in England.

Upon his arrival in Melbourne, Charles Frederick lost no time in finding another wife, a recent widow named Ann Swan, who brought to the marriage four young children.

Myrtle’s mother, Ada, then aged ten, was part of a household containing twelve children of all ages. It would seem that Charles Frederick quickly busied himself away from home by touring the countryside with his popular carousel.

Above: Charles Frederick Seal (right) with his carousel somewhere in Victoria

Not surprisingly, Ann Swan died four years into the marriage and so it was left to the older children to look after the younger ones, presumably supported by Charles Frederick as he travelled country Victoria.

Ada must have found the household overwhelming. She was blessed with a bright, bubbly personality and was a self-sufficient person, although somewhat dominated for most of her life by an older sister of six years, Louise (Lou). At all events Ada must have grasped her opportunity to opt out of the household when she met, and quickly married, a Tom Young in Melbourne when she was a mere seventeen years old. They were married in 1887 in the fashionable ‘cathedral church’, St James Church of England, on the corner of William Street and Little Collins Street. Tom was also very young, just nineteen. As both parties were under the age of consent they required written consent from their guardians.

Ada as a teenager

Perhaps because she was the only daughter to be born in ‘the old country’, Ada always stuck rigidly to her English heritage. She never went to church herself but was nevertheless staunchly C of E, very anti-Catholic, and strongly resisted the approaches by her daughters Marie and Myrtle to become a Cooneyite (see below).

When Ada stayed with us at Woodville for protracted periods in her eighties, she developed strong bonds with my three adult sisters, regaling them with tales of her life in the raw Australian bush at Georges Creek and her love of the theatre in Melbourne with Dame Nellie Melba and her niece by marriage, the internationally famous Florence Young, known as the ‘Queen of Comic Opera’.

Tom Young’s father, Thomas Young, also had a very interesting background. He had been an established goldsmith and jeweller in London in the mid-nineteenth century, supporting a wife, Hannah, and six children.

At some stage in the 1840s, he began an extra-marital affair with a Mary Ann Purchass and in 1852, at the age of 39, made the life-changing decision to desert his family and run away with his lover to Australia.

Thomas Young left the shores of England for good, bound for Australia on the Negotiator[2]. Mary Ann was 26, listed on the ship’s indent as Mary ‘Young’. Strangely, they were accompanied by Thomas’s youngest son, Henry, aged 13. The reason for young Henry joining his deserting father has never been discovered and is open to speculation. Neither of them ever returned to England. One presumes that at such a young age Henry would have continued contact with his mother, Hannah, and siblings in England. Certainly, his father was aware of the subsequent death of Hannah in 1866, when she was 54.

The deserted wife Hannah, with four daughters and one son, were left in Chelsea, London, to fend for themselves. The oldest boy, also Thomas, aged eighteen, was an apprentice goldsmith/jeweller and so perhaps the family was not completely destitute. The two older daughters, Hannah, seventeen, and Ann, fifteen, were stage dancers, while the younger daughters, Mary Ann, ten, and Sophia, twelve, were students.

After arriving in Melbourne, Thomas had a further three illegitimate children with Mary Ann before eventually marrying her in 1866 after Hannah died. After their marriage, Mary Ann bore him a further two children, the last of whom was Tom Horace, who married Ada. By this time, Thomas Young had built up a very successful jewellers manufacturing business in Spring Street and later Exhibition Street.    

Tom had been born in 1868, at which time his oldest half sibling, Henry, was aged 30. Their father became very wealthy with extensive property holdings in and around Melbourne and was able to look after his five Australian children very well. Whether or not he contributed to the welfare of his wife and their five other children who remained in England is doubtful. Henry eventually took over the family jewellery/goldsmith business and prospered. One of his children was the world famous Florence Young, mentioned above – the ‘Queen of Comic Opera’.

As an aside, Florence’s sister Amelia married George Tallis (later Sir George) who was the manager and brains behind the J.C. Williamson Theatre Company around the turn of the century. Sir George was instrumental in promoting Florence Young, Dame Nellie Melba and many others and became the owner of ‘Beleura’, a heritage house and gardens on the Mornington Peninsula, bequeathed to the people of Victoria and still open to the public to this day.

Ada Young, Myrtle’s mother, often came down from Georges Creek by train and loved to see Florence, her niece by marriage, perform on the stage in Melbourne.

Unfortunately, Thomas Young Senior died from pyelitis (severe kidney infection) in 1883, aged 60, and Mary Ann, his wife, died three years later, in 1886. Tom thus became an orphan at the age of 18, inherited considerable property and became very wealthy (on paper at least) at the time of his marriage to Ada in 1887. Neither Tom nor Ada had any idea of how to manage their wealth. They lived ‘the good life’ as Tom had been accustomed to doing in his wealthy parents’ household. Tom had no trade nor profession at the time of his marriage – but he was an excellent pianist.

The 1880s were boom times in Melbourne but in 1890 there was a property crash and a depression, which left many of the population bankrupt. Suddenly, Tom and Ada had lost their fortune and there were no wealthy parents around to bail them out. They were on their own.

Tom’s older half-brother, Henry, who had taken over the jewellery business, was aged 62 in 1900 and lived a separate life in the Melbourne theatre scene. He, too, would have suffered a severe financial setback and, it would seem, was disinclined to help out his sibling who, in any case, was not of his generation.

In 1890, property prices in Melbourne were plunging. Those with heavy mortgages such as Tom would have been in dire straits. But it seems Tom was unaware of his predicament or ignorant about how to respond. It would seem that he continued to live the high life, spending until, inevitably, the money ran out and debtors came knocking on his door.

What to do? Unwisely, he chose to borrow from whomsoever would lend, accumulating promissory notes and promises of repayment. Things went from bad to worse and writs were issued against Tom by the Supreme Court of Victoria.[3]

Florence Young, Queen of Australian Comic Opera

Supreme Court of Victoria 1890 No. 5899 28/11/1890 Writ

Between Arthur Hart (Plaintiff) v Tom Horace Young (Defendant)

A summary of the case (and background) would appear to be as follows:

The 1880s had witnessed enormous expansion in Melbourne with property prices soaring. Thomas Young senior, the jeweller, had himself invested in 25 properties in and around Melbourne, all heavily mortgaged. Following his death in 1883 he named Joseph Saddler, a customs officer, together with his eldest daughter, Jane Wild (nee Young) as executors. Thomas Young senior’s wife, Mary Ann Purchass, died in 1886 and the executors were called upon to realise on Thomas Young’s estate.

Melbourne, at that time, was moving towards a severe recession and property crash such that Thomas Young’s properties were being sold for less than their designated mortgages.

In addition, the honesty of the executor Joseph Saddler of Marine Street, East Collingwood, was called into question. For these reasons, Thomas Young’s estate, although vast in theory, realised very little, if any, hard cash.

Tom Young, aged twenty-two, and his wife Ada, twenty, together with baby Percy aged probably less than twelve months, took up residence in the household of Arthur Hart and his wife (Tom’s older sister by a year, also named Ada) around the middle of 1889. Tom agreed to pay the Harts twenty shillings per week as board and lodging.

During this rental period Tom accrued debts, some paid by Arthur Hart at Tom’s request;

  • To Wardley and O’Connell £10.0.0
  • To Rosenthal Aronson & Co. £10.3.6
  • Dishonoured cheque paid to Arthur Hart by Tom Young £10.0.0
  • Promissory Note payable with interest after three months £240.12.8
  • Upon leaving the Harts’ residence after seven months Tom failed to pay the rent outstanding £56.0.0

These events caused Arthur Hart to issue a writ against Tom Young lodged in the Supreme Court of Melbourne 0n November 17, 1890 claiming an amount of £432.19.8.

This was unsatisfied.

Supreme Court of Victoria 1891 No.2193 7/5/1891. Writ

Between William Adamson (Plaintiff) v Tom Horace Young (Defendant)

A summary of this case would appear to be as follows:

Tom Young at this time was living at Normanby Road, Kew. He had signed a promissory note made out to William Adamson & Co. for the sum of £167.2.1 on December 12, 1890. This was apparently payment for cattle and probably occurred after Tom and his family vacated his sister’s residence at ‘Narbethong’, Moonee Ponds. The promissory note was due for repayment after three months, on March 15, 1891. .Tom failed to repay his debt in the allotted time span, resulting in a writ being issued by the Supreme Court on May 7, 1891.

Evidence was produced in the writ that at about the end of January, 1891, Tom and his family suddenly vacated the property in Kew to an undisclosed address. The property at Kew was valuable and worth several thousand pounds and was thereafter deserted and unoccupied. It was believed – and this was stated in the deposition – that ‘it was mortgaged for a large sum’.

Enquiries were made of the postman who stated that no forwarding address had been left. At the time, Tom was apparently in a business partnership as a financial agent[4] with an Arthur Kirkby. Arthur Kirkby had no knowledge as to where Tom could be found.

Further evidence revealed that, since early 1890, twelve writs had been issued against Tom Young in the Supreme Court, six of these being in 1891.

One of these 1891 writs, number 317 served on February 20, 1891, listed The Mercantile Finance Trustees and Agency Company Ltd as plaintiff and Tom Young as defendant, and was delivered under the terms of a ‘substituted service’. A substituted service is where the defendant indicates that legal documents, normally required to be served personally, may be served by leaving the documents with an adult resident at the home of the person to be served. Tom had apparently indicated that these documents could be served on Ada Hart, his sister, at ‘Narbethong’, Moonee Ponds. No doubt she was duly unimpressed!

At one stage in May, 1891, the defendant’s lawyer caught up with Tom and arranged for him to attend his office the same day so that he could serve the writ. Not surprisingly, Tom failed to turn up in the lawyer’s office but he did indicate that his brother-in-law was ‘arranging his affairs’ and that he was going to see him. Highly unlikely. Arthur Hart at that stage was employed at Messrs Willis & Co. of Little Collins Street, Melbourne.

At all events, the substituted service of the writ being served to Arthur and Ada Hart was deemed to be legally served and judgement was signed and execution issued, whereby the Sheriff of Melbourne was then able to advertise certain property of the defendant for sale.

It was confirmed in the judgement that Tom ‘had left his place of residence at Kew in the said Colony and that he is now in hiding in the said Colony for the purpose of avoiding service of process upon him.’ Signed by Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

At that stage, probably 1892, Tom Young was served with an ‘Order of the Sheriff of Melbourne’ to get out of Melbourne. He was indeed fortunate not to have been handed a custodial sentence as it would seem on the evidence that a gaol term was well deserved.

Tom was helped out by the husband of Ada’s older sister Alice, Syd Hocking, who had a relative in the Lands Department, who obtained for Tom two blocks near the NSW border at Georges Creek. An adjacent block was purchased under the name of Charles Frederick Seal, Tom’s father-in-law. Who paid the required £45.00 for the three blocks is open to supposition – probably Charles Frederick Seal, who subsequently travelled up to Georges Creek and built a house on the Young’s block for his daughter Miriam Ada. It would seem that Seal never took up any sort of permanent residence on his own block at Georges Creek and he died in Melbourne in 1911.

When Ada lived with us in Adelaide during her later years, she and daughter Myrtle insisted Tom Horace Young was a lovely fellow – upright, a model husband, model father and a perfect gentleman. It was conceded that he was not ‘a man of the land’ but he ‘played the piano beautifully’ and seemed therefore to have been excused from dirtying his hands. Ada was left to run the farm and become the major income earner.

Hard as we may try to fit Tom into this mould, the facts would seem to fly in our face. He dodged his obligations to his sister and society and borrowed freely from those foolish enough to lend him money. Was he supported in these activities by Ada? Certainly, she would have realised they were flouting the law when she was forced into hiding with Tom and their children in Melbourne. Although they were both very young at the time, there is really no excuse for their indisputable unlawfulness.

On the orders of the Sheriff of Melbourne Tom, Ada and their three children vacated Melbourne and moved to northern Victoria.

Ada with Percy and baby Marie, photographed ‘somewhere’ in Melbourne in 1891 around the time of the property crash and the order by the Sheriff to Tom Young ‘to leave Melbourne’

Their selection consisted of thirteen acres way up in northern Victoria at a remote place, six miles northeast from Tallangatta, called Georges Creek. Tom had no idea about farming but Ada had lived on Burnt Ash Farm in Kent until she was aged ten. At this stage, in 1894, Tom and Ada had three children, six-year-old Percy, Marie aged four and Vernon, twelve months. Ada lost a baby shortly after birth in 1892. She had prevailed upon her father, Charles Frederick Seal, then aged 67, to join them in Georges Creek and help clear the land and build a house. This he did.

The first settlers had arrived at Georges Creek around 1888 – the Woods, the Walshes, the Schulzs and Alex Moscrop, the smithy. Many settlers had smaller blocks known as garden sites; the Mulhollands and the Youngs were in this group. The Schulzs preceded the Youngs to Georges Creek and set up a mill to process the excellent timber in the hills behind their property. Paul Schulz, a preacher in the Cooneyites, was later in 1906 to marry Marie, Myrtle’s older sister, when Marie was sixteen and Myrtle ten.

Myrtle aged three and a half

In 1889, James Wood and Mr L Walsh each donated an acre of land for a school to be built and, in 1890, the parents built a weatherboard room twenty feet by fourteen by ten feet, floored, lined, well-lit and with a fireplace and chimney. State School no. 3052, Bullioh, opened on August 24, 1890. Margaret Reid was the first Head Teacher (and only teacher!) and there was an average attendance of thirteen pupils. By 1906 there were 34 children which probably included four Young children (Myrtle, aged eleven, among them). A new school was built in 1909 and that eventually closed in 1954.

During their first or second year at Georges Creek, on October 12, 1995, another baby arrived on the scene. Tom and Ada named her Myrtle Alice. Myrtle was born on the farm, with the nearest neighbour, Mrs Walsh, acting as accoucheur. The birth was not registered until one month later. In celebration of the first baby born in the country, Tom and Ada named a block which they had cleared near the homestead ‘Myrtle’s Block’, as it’s still known today to the present incumbents.

Class of 1927

By dint of perseverence and hard work, mostly carried out Ada, the Youngs prospered and were happy. They had had to start from scratch: clear the land, build a house, plant vegetables, buy animals and eke out a subsistence. Other babies followed the birth of Myrtle – Olive in 1897 and Madge in 1900. The children had a happy, carefree upbringing with horses to ride across wide open spaces. There were scattered farms in the area, the Walshs being reasonably close. Ada found a means of supplementing the family income by rearing remount horses for the British Army in India. Buying agents would scour the country looking for remounts for export from time to time, especially during the first world war which coincided with a severe drought in northern Victoria.

Fred Layman, a neighbour, also bred horses, and had thoroughbred stallions which Ada used to service her mares. Ada also had a beautiful palamino horse, ‘Fairy’, a dark chestnut mare with typical silver mane and tail from which she also bred. In addition, Ada ran cows, sheep and pigs and developed an extensive orchard.

Myrtle was a particularly athletic young girl, a very fast runner and excellent horsewoman. Her father, Tom, taught her to ride. At a very young age, he would put her on a horse and then push her off the other side so she learnt to fall without injuring herself. Tom, of course, had had a very privileged upbringing in Melbourne, with grooms and stable-hands to prepare the horses at his parents’ house, so he was not accustomed to dirtying his hands – but he could ride well. Myrtle was courageous and was prepared to ride anything on four legs. She was the only person Fred Layman would allow to ride his stallions and she always rode at full gallop. Most women of the day rode side-saddle but Myrtle had a divided skirt and rode astride.

The Georges Creek Valley was very cold in winter so Ada made covers for the cows out of seed bags. She was also in the habit of putting fruit on the train at Tallangatta for her favourite sister, Lou, to pick up in Melbourne, although Lou was much more comfortably off than Ada. In addition, she supplied the horses for Lou’s traps.

Tom, very well educated by his jeweller father but not a great farmer was rather more artistically inclined. He used his piano skills and would pedal around Georges Creek on his bicycle teaching the piano. He also played for country dances far and near. However, times were hard and the income miserly. On still nights they could hear corroborees and see smoke from the Aborigines’ fires in the nearby hills but they were never troubled by the natives who kept very much to themselves and were rarely sighted.

The Georges Creek community was a tightly knit bunch of hardy souls who were mutually supportive in the scattered settlement. Church services were held in the school when anyone was available to conduct them and everyone attended, no matter the denomination. The Catholic Mulhollands and Walshes joined with the Anglican Youngs and it was all very ecumenical. Similarly, if they had a dance in the school, the whole community joined in with gusto, and Tom Young played the piano.

Ada with her father, Charles Frederick, possibly at Georges Creek.  

Even the youngest of the children would accompany Tom when he was invited to play the piano at country gigs. On one occasion when they were all returning in the horse trap from a distant dance at about 2.00am, they witnessed a phenomenon which caused the whole night sky to light up. It was as bright as day and they were all terrified that the end of the world had come. The following day they were informed by the resident school teacher, Mr Alf Greer, that it was an ‘Aurora Australis’, luminous electrical radiation from the southern magnetic pole. On another similar occasion in 1910, again when they were all together in the trap coming home through the bush, they witnessed Halley’s Comet moving across the sky.

Ada and Tom were made for each other. Tom sent Ada to Melbourne every year for a holiday where she would stay with her beloved sister Lou and indulge herself in her passion of theatre-going. She saw all the best shows of the era, including George Wallace and the dancing of Pavlova. She would have seen her niece by marriage, the above-mentioned Queen of the Comic Opera, Florence Young. Working for the Royal Comic Opera Company, Florence held the leading roles in all the J.C. Williamson shows, including The Merry Widow and La Mascotte.

On the birth of each of their children Tom was in the custom of presenting Ada with a gift. The birth of Myrtle was followed by the gift of an alabaster statuette, ‘Taking the Cream’. 

The Georges Creek days were not all blissful. The small school at Georges Creek was served by one teacher who taught all grades. The teacher boarded with families in the Creek, turn and turn about. In 1911, when Myrtle was aged fifteen, it was the Youngs’ turn to board the teacher, the afore-mentioned Alf Greer (pictured with Myrtle at left). It seems that Alf, a bachelor, took more than a passing interest in Myrtle and there appeared to be some reciprocity. This not sit well with Tom and Ada.

There may have been another factor taken into consideration. Ada and Tom’s eldest daughter, Marie, had married Paul Schulz four or five years before and was also living in Georges Creek at the time. The Schulz family owned and ran the timber mill in the settlement and were reasonably well-off. They adhered to a religious sect, the exclusive Cooneyites, with Paul playing a leading role. Marie had naturally joined her husband in the sect but she was also a strong influence on Myrtle and there may have been concern that the younger daughter could also become unduly involved.

Whatever their reasons, Ada and Tom decided to send Myrtle down to Melbourne to live with her Aunt Lou and further her education. She was a good student and opportunities for further education in the bush were negligible. No doubt Lou was influential in the outcome as she considered herself to be the matriarch of the family.

Fred Hill, Lou’s husband, was lay superintendent of the Kew Lunatic Asylum in Melbourne and they lived comfortably, provided with a large, spacious house, initially in the grounds of the asylum but later shifting to Royal Parade. Fred was a teacher by profession but he enjoyed being in a position of authority and was better paid.

Interestingly, many of the inmates were immigrants who found themselves in the asylum under Fred’s supervision simply because they were unable to communicate in the English language. Several of them finished up in Fred’s household – Ella helping in the kitchen, and others in the garden or as domestics. Very early in the century, Fred purchased an early model ‘Sampson’, and this enabled him to do away with horses and traps. His chauffeur for this beautiful, expensive new vehicle was, again, one of the non-English speaking immigrants of the asylum, a Russian in this case, who was dressed by Fred in the appropriate livery to match his new car (on far right in the photograph below – note Campbell’s gun in this picture).

Lou, the lady of the house, led a very comfortable existence and rarely soiled her hands. Instead, she indulged herself in the arts and became a very proficient oil painter.

Uncle Fred’s talents were exercised on occasions beyond the family circle and he had a lady friend in the district. One of his older sons, Norman, on returning from Gallipoli wanted to follow his father on one of these excursions but Lou forbade him: “What your father does is his own business,” she proclaimed. Norman’s older brother, Frank, unfortunately lost his life in the fighting at Gallipoli.

Lou’s younger daughter Elizabeth, known as Bet, was the same age as Myrtle and they became inseparable. Bet was much closer to Myrtle than any of Myrtle’s sisters.

Myrtle was enrolled in Zerco’s Business College where she became proficient in shorthand, English and bookkeeping. Bet’s sister Rita, older by four years, was a very serious academic and had little time for the shenanigans of Bet and her cousin from the bush. Unfortunately, Rita died in the influenza pandemic of 1919.

The Kew Asylum was situated between Princess Street and Yarra Boulevard in Kew and was operational from 1871 to 1988. It was one of the largest asylums ever built in Australia. However, like most of these institutions, it had a chequered history, with accusations of overcrowding, mismanagement, poor sanitation and disease. The 400 acres were meticulously landscaped, so Bet and Myrtle had glorious surrounds in which to ride their horses, extending into Victoria Park, Kew. The big city was a revelation to the country girl, Myrtle, and cousin Bet was an able tutor. The two girls led each other into all manner of scrapes especially as they became older.

The Hill family’s move to Royal Parade brought them close to the University with its population of young students and interesting haunts. Bet and Myrtle would go out on the town using assumed names – and it would  appear that Aunt Lou was fairly indulgent to the young girls, unbeknown to Myrtle’s parents who were out of sight and out of mind. Myrtle recalled that on one occasion the two girls were riding two of the horses used in the traps in Royal Park when Bet fell off and was winded. Myrtle jumped off to assist her, whereupon Bet, who thought she was not long for this world, gasped, “Myrtle, kiss me quick before I die!”  

Kew Asylum, circa 1980

            Tom Young, musician, circa 1908           

Cousin Bet led an interesting life. Inevitably, a young university student became interested in her but Kingsley Allen, a medical student, seemed disinclined to rise further up the social scale and Bet changed her allegiance. Kingsley had been a stretcher-bearer at the front in France in WW I and began his medical course in Melbourne after the war ended. They made an odd couple with Bet being tall, statuesque and full breasted, whilst Kingsley was short and rotund, and walked with his head cocked on one side. He became bald prematurely but despite all his physical shortcomings he had a delightful, gentle personality and was very fond of Myrtle all his life, giving her great cause for mirth on many occasions. Kingsley became Medical Superintendent of the Medical Unit at Keswick Army Barracks on Anzac Highway and so, as a family we saw much of them over the years. 

Meanwhile, Myrtle befriended a young Jewish law student named Joel Harris around 1916 but this came to nothing. Instead, Myrtle met up with a determined, ambitious young man, Gordon Johnson, who at 19 was two years her junior.

By this time, Myrtle had finished her course at Zerco’s and was employed as a secretary/typist in a school office. Having finished her education and now with employment, she left the security of her Aunt Lou’s and went to board with her older brother, Perce, and his family.

Perce was aged about 30 and had long since left Georges Creek. He worked as a truck driver with the Shell Oil Company.

When Myrtle fell pregnant in January, 1918, she and Gordon decided to share a house at 33 Park Street, Brunswick. Brother Perce, no doubt, felt more comfortable with this arrangement.

On May 4, 1918, Gordon and Myrtle were married at Christ Church, Brunswick, by a clerk in Holy Orders under the rites of the Church of England and went to live in rented accommodation at Mordiallic. On September 12, 1918, Myrtle was delivered of a healthy girl, Gretta, in the Mordiallic Hospital. It is sometimes said that first babies come earlier than the normal nine-month gestation period!          

Myrtle and Gordon, c1917

Myrtle was very close to her mother and relied on Ada’s strong character in times of stress. From time to time Gordon would send his young wife and small daughter by train back up to experience Myrtle’s childhood haunts in the bush at Georges Creek. There, Myrtle would renew herself in the peace and tranquillity of her surrounds. Inevitably, on these occasions, with Ada left to mind Gretta, she would find herself a horse to ride and, with the wind in her hair, all the cares of motherhood and city life would dissipate.

Tragedy struck the Youngs on January 9, 1920. Tom was trying to restrain his dogs in order to go hunting on the farm at Georges Creek and attempted to push one away with the butt of the rifle. Nobody well-versed in  the handling of firearms would contemplate such a risky manoeuvre but then Tom was a musician, rather than a farmer. The firearm discharged, wounding Tom in the abdomen. Still conscious, he was taken the six miles to Tallangatta Hospital by horse trap but medical facilities in 1920 were primitive. It would seem probable that the bullet had perforated the bowel and, inevitably, peritonitis set in with only one possible outcome. Tom died on January 11, 1920. 

It was probably a salvageable accident in the latter half of the 20th century if a surgeon had been available but in 1920, in the back country, it was a mortal injury. An inquest was held at Tallangatta by the deputy coroner of the district, a Mr James Grant, on January 12, 1920, and his findings were ‘Gunshot wound, accidently inflicted’.             

Tom, aged just 50, was buried at Tallangatta Cemetery on the same day, January 12, 1920. The cemetery is now, regrettably, under the waters of the Hume Weir. Tom’s interests and skills had been musical rather than practical but he had tried to help Ada as best he could. He was the last born of his father’s eleven children whose ages ranged across 35 years at his birth.

The Youngs lived well and were accustomed to having large family gatherings in Melbourne. In later years, Ada recalled that when she and Tom were first married, the family gatherings became rather raucous, with somewhat bawdy story telling. Whilst Ada coped well with these occasions, Tom found them embarrassing and often excused himself from the gatherings.

The criminal behaviour of Tom in the early years of his marriage was discovered generations later, seemingly well-hidden from his own progeny. There is no evidence of any further misdemeanours in Tom’s life after he was expelled from Melbourne by the Sheriff and during his 30 years at Georges Creek. Had he learned his lesson?                  

At the time of their father’s death the children were all adults, the youngest being Madge, aged twenty. All had left the farm except Madge and Olive, twenty-three. Madge married Ernie Condick a few months after her father’s death whilst Olive did not marry her husband Frank Holt until 1928. As mentioned earlier, Marie, the oldest girl, was the first child married at the tender age of sixteen in 1906. She married a Paul Schulz, who was of German descent and a self-proclaimed preacher of the Cooneyite sect.

Tom’s death left a pall of sadness over the happy farm but the ever-resourceful Ada pulled herself together and carried on running things much as she had before. They had staunch neighbours who helped where and when they could. Ernie Schulz, Ada’s grandson, then about fourteen, came to live on the farm with Ada and Olive so they would not be without a man out in the bush.

Around 1923, Ada sold the farm and with the funds indulged herself in several investments. She moved to Melbourne and purchased a small confectionary shop at Mordiallic, although the image below would suggest it was more a mixed business. Olive helped to managed the shop for five or six years and Ernie Schulz also lived with them in a small attached residence. In addition, Ada purchased investment houses in Lobb Street, Brunswick, but when the Great Depression of the late 1920s arrived, tenants were unable to pay their rents and the houses were sold at a loss.

The remainder of the farm assets Ada spent on a trip back to her homeland, England, in 1924, to visit her sister Clara. They hadn’t seen each other since 1880, when Ada was 10, and her father re-emigrated to Australia. Accompanying Ada were her sister Lou with husband Fred, together with Myrtle’s mother-in-law, Gussie Johnson, and Gussie’s young daughter, Doris, aged twenty-one. Gussie took Doris on a tour of the continent and visited her niece, the Countess of Portarlington, at Ascot, whilst Ada and Lou visited relatives.

The house at Mordiallic, into which Gordon and Myrtle shifted, was probably owned by Gussie Johnson and rented to the young couple. Gussie had inherited a number of properties from her mother’s former defacto partner, one George King Thornhill.

Gussie’s mother, Mary Wilkins, had been linked for many years to the wealthy Thornhill before marrying Gussie’s father, Leeming Riley. Thornhill was known to own 89 properties, including two at Mordialloc – but he died violently in 1856, falling 90 feet down the mineshaft of his goldmine at Muckleford in northern Victoria. He was aged just 37 and Mary, 26, was left in Melbourne with three small children.[5]

It would seem, in retrospect, that Myrtle must have suffered severe postnatal depression after the birth of her first daughter in 1918. Her treating doctor offered to tie her tubes to prevent further pregnancies but Myrtle declined, fortunately for the author and his descendants, and went on to have three further pregnancies.

It is noted from his references that Gordon had two jobs simultaneously in 1918 and possibly a third as he worked as a movie projectionist during the evenings. This would have been in the days of silent movies.

A year or two later, the family moved back to Brunswick, again probably renting one of Gussie’s numerous investment properties. There, Elvia Estelle was born in 1921 and at six months of age contracted measles, followed by pneumonia. At the same time, Gretta developed diphtheria and both became seriously ill and were hospitalised in separate hospitals, Gretta being admitted to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital some distance from Brunswick. (Elvia later developed bronchiectasis as a result of this illness which troubled her for the rest of her life, eventually necessitating a lobectomy of one lung in 1947, the first performed in South Australia by D’Arcy Sutherland, Adelaide’s first cardio-thoracic surgeon.)

These serious illnesses of her small children had a devastating effect on Myrtle, whose nervous state had become perilous at the best of times. Accordingly, Gordon did all the hospital visiting as well as working and probably helping run the house. He was never known to crumble in times of crisis.

Fortunately, both young children recovered but Myrtle’s nervous state remained brittle for the rest of her life. Compounding the illnesses of Myrtle’s two children, Gretta and Elvia, was Myrtle’s tragic loss of her dearly loved father up on the farm at Georges Creek a year earlier.

Myrtle and Gordon’s third daughter, Lesley, was born in February, 1924, also at Brunswick. Gretta was the only child born in a hospital, her siblings all having home deliveries by a nurse – the same nurse attending on each occasion, even being brought from Melbourne to Adelaide for Myrtle’s last delivery in 1933.

In 1924, Gordon obtained employment as a costings clerk with Tarrant motors, a firm involved with the assembly of Model ‘T’ Fords. The following year, after an assessing visit to Australia by Canadian Hubert Charles French, Ford Canada decided to open a branch in Australia and take over the assembly. The ‘French Report’ sent back to Canada was scathing in its criticism of the various state motor companies individually involved in assembling the motor cars for Ford and Tarrant Motors in Melbourne was no exception, nor Duncan and Fraser in Adelaide. Gordon Johnson must have seen the opportunities that would open up and he immediately resigned from Tarrant Motors to work for the embryo Ford Motor Company at Geelong.

This change of employment necessitated Gordon uprooting his family from Brunswick and relocating to 5 St David Street, North Geelong, where he built a modest weatherboard dwelling from funds left to him by his grandmother Mary Wilkins, who had died in 1902.

The house still exists but has been extensively renovated from the original. It was close to the sea at Corio Bay and not far from the new Ford Motor Company.

Gordon was very close to his younger brother Les, who was still unmarried at this time. Gordon obtained employment for Les in the paint shop at Fords and he lived with the Johnson family at St David Street. Myrtle’s three girls were very fond of Les and waited for him each evening at the bus stop, eating his sandwiches whilst walking home with him.

Myrtle’s mental state continued to be brittle, such that most of the shopping for food and children’s clothes fell on Gordon. He was competent both in his job and domestically and supported Myrtle in her disability. At Gordon’s instigation, Myrtle had regular visits back to Georges Creek by train during this time at Geelong. These holidays with Ada were restorative and she would return to Geelong refreshed. On one of these visits, her sister Marie influenced her into seeking the help of the Cooneyites and Marie and Paul arranged for the local preachers of the sect at Geelong to visit Myrtle.

The Cooneyites could be labelled as a sect. They refer to each other as ‘the friends,’ or ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. Their church has no name as they believe there is no other path to heaven beyond their organisation. They refer to their belief group as belonging to ‘the Way,’ a term used in the New Testament. They are an almost invisible group but probably number in the thousands across Australia. They have no churches but a group of perhaps a dozen or twenty or so congregate twice a week in a designated home of one of ‘the saints’. On Sunday morning, or afternoon, the local elder leads the service after all are gathered together in silence in the dining room or sitting room where the chairs are arranged in a circle. A hymn is sung unaccompanied and then each in turn delivers a prayer – all with the same theme of thanking God, nothing personal. Another hymn and then personal testimonies, delivered by each in turn, in a random fashion, where they choose any scriptural passage and describe the effect it has had on them in the past week. The presiding member gives his testimony last. Another hymn from ‘Hymns Old and New’ which contains mostly Sankey and Moody hymns.

Who were Sankey and Moody? They were 19th century revivalist evangelists who preached and sang to vast crowds in America and England.  They also undertook missionary work. The words were written by Moody and Sankey wrote the tunes, all with characteristic ‘Hot Gospel’ lilts. The music was used to raise the fervour and commitment of those they preached to and was later adopted by the Wesleyans and Salvation Army. It is in the style of Negro Spirituals.

Next in the proscribed liturgy comes the breaking of bread, which is passed around the circle, followed by grape juice from a common cup. Another hymn and it’s finished and everyone stands up and greets each other. No sermon, no collection but occasionally some announcements.

On Sunday evenings, the preachers, who work in pairs, hire a hall – Rechabite, Masonic or such like – and one or two hundred of the ‘friends’ gather for mission meetings over the course of about a year. The preachers, either male or female, do not have homes but reside in the houses of one of the ‘friends’, from whence they door-knock a district inviting everyone to their Sunday night ‘meetings’. The Sunday liturgy follows the same pattern as the other gatherings;  a hymn, prayers from each preacher, another hymn, a sermon from the novice preacher who learns on the job (no school of learning of any doctrine – there is none), another hymn followed by a fire and brim stone sermon from the senior preacher. Then, a final prayer and hymn. Towards the end of a mission the meeting will be ‘tested’ where any potential candidates will be asked to stand and give their life to Christ, Billy Graham style.

Mid-week there is often another gathering similar to the Sunday morning meeting – in a private house and with the same people.   

In January of each year, conventions are held at which two or three hundred ‘friends’ spend some four days under canvas with meetings three times a day, each lasting one and a half hours. On the last day of the convention, and between meetings, immersion baptisms are held. Anyone not already baptised is free to dress in a white gown and be totally immersed in a local stream, as in the days of the Jordan baptisms, again to the tunes of Sankey’s most emotional hymns.

Strangely, Easter and Christmas are not celebrated. Members dress modestly, with little jewellery and no makeup. Men are clean shaven with short hair. Almost universally the women have long hair, collected in buns at the back of their head. Makeup is not allowed. No newspapers and no televisions. No smoking, no drinking, no dancing, no attending movies or watching television. Any transgressions can lead to shunning and ‘excommunication’ and inevitably the hell fire. Very serious stuff.

Marriages are performed by secular authorities, as no-one in the group is authorised by state authorities to perform marriage ceremonies. They do conduct funeral ceremonies however.

Such are the beliefs and life style of the Cooneyites and they became part of the existence of Gordon and Myrtle at Geelong. Myrtle was the instigator, stemming from her relationship with the Schulzs at Georges Creek. She influenced Gordon, who at that stage went along with it, although he never actually joined.

Much of Gordon’s employment with the Ford Motor Company at Geelong involved him in visiting Ford dealers around Victoria and his daughters became very excited at the week’s end when their father returned. He was a good father and had the added burden of having to take Myrtle shopping as she was unable to go anywhere without him. Ada, Myrtle’s mother, came frequently by train from Georges Creek to visit Myrtle at Geelong and Myrtle always wanted her to stay longer as she was very dependant.

It would have been around this time that Myrtle developed panic attacks and agoraphobia.[6] She had a morbid fear of having a panic attack in a public place. She refused to go shopping or travel in public transport. She did manage to enter small shops but had to be driven. She was too nervous to drive herself, although at one stage made an effort to try to learn. This was short lasting. Her chemist prescribed her phenobarbitone tablets and throughout her life if any crisis occurred or any event was pending she resorted to these tablets which she found helped to some degree. The severity of her condition did fluctuate from time to time but it was never far from the surface.

Gordon must have applied himself diligently to his new post in Geelong as, in 1928, after three years with the company and at the age of 30, he was selected to set up a branch of the company in Adelaide, which would remain under the jurisdiction of Geelong. After disposing of their house, he duly transported his family and their belongings to Adelaide.

Lesley, Gretta , Elvia, Myrtle and Ada in Ford car, moving to Adelaide, 1928. Picture taken driving through Coorong.

Gordon elected to drive his family to Adelaide via the Coorong. Ada Young, at that stage a widow for nine years, accompanied them, to provide both physical help with the three girls and also moral support for the new venture. Upon arrival in Adelaide they all stayed at the Grosvenor Hotel in North Terrace. This gave Gordon time to organise accommodation in a rented house at Mitcham and also to assess the motor industry in and around Adelaide. Schooling at the Mitcham Primary School also had to be arranged.

Initially the company was under the umbrella of the Adelaide Car and Tractor Company but in 1935 the Ford Motor Company became a separate entity and Gordon was accorded the title of Manager of the Ford Motor Co. (SA Branch). He was granted Power of Attorney to act on behalf of the company and no doubt accorded other privileges along with a raise in salary befitting his increased responsibility.

He remained as manager in SA for the next 28 years. A large new factory was built at Birkenhead with extensive office space for secretaries, additional staff and on a lower level there was a huge factory floor and paint shop where limited vehicle assembly could take place.

The family car in driveway at Mitcham after arrival in 1929.

Myrtle managed with her mother’s support although she did not cope well with her elevated role as the wife of a business manager. Gordon, by all accounts, looked after his family well, taking them for picnics of a weekend to such haunts as Strathalbyn, and helping with the shopping and household activities.

Extensive assembly floor at Birkenhead Ford factory cleared for the purposes of demonstrating the new 1949 design sensation (at the time!), a double ended Ford with the single ‘spinner’ grill. Note the English Ford Pilot model in the background.[7]

One of the family picnics with Sam Johnson and one of his former butcher apprentices who had shifted to Adelaide from Melbourne, Mr Taylor, and wife c1930

After a year or so, the family shifted to larger rented accommodation at Avenue Road, Highgate. That house had a tennis court and room for a horse in the back yard. A pony named Jonniper was acquired and Gretta, then aged about thirteen, was delegated to look after it. They were happy, carefree days for the Johnson daughters who made many life-long friends at school and in the district, and all came to Avenue Road to play.

Sister Marie, still in Georges Creek, continued to take it upon herself to care for Myrtle’s spiritual well-being so, before long, preachers came knocking at the door, inviting the family to meetings.  

The house to which the family was invited on a Sunday morning was on Fullarton Road opposite the Lunatic Asylum and was owned by two delightful spinster school teachers, Milly and Ally Bradley. The whole family went along, including Gordon, but he never actually joined and soon fell off attending. Nevertheless, he insisted on his daughters attending the meetings at the Bradleys every Sunday morning and they had to walk the three miles or so down Fullarton Road and three miles back by themselves when Myrtle was not well enough to attend. They duly obeyed but with no great enthusiasm.  

In 1933, some nine years after the birth of her youngest daughter, Lesley, Myrtle became pregnant again. No mention of her pregnancy was discussed with the girls who were then aged fifteen, twelve and nine, presumably due to Myrtle’s surprise and embarrassment. Nothing, therefore, was known or discussed until the arrival of the midwife brought across from Melbourne especially for the occasion. Presumably, Myrtle’s growing rotundity was hidden by appropriate clothing, although her middle daughter Elvia on one occasion put her arms around her mother and exclaimed, “If you get any fatter you’ll burst” Eventually, Gordon confided in Gretta but she did not divulge the secret to her sisters.

Nurse’ with the new baby.                  

In October, 1933, ‘nurse’ officiated at the home birth of a son in the household. Gretta was the only one of the four children not born at home.

A tennis day at Highgate with Gordon’s parents, Sam and Gussie, over from Melbourne

Sometime around 1935, the family shifted to another rented property in Queen Street, Norwood. This was a two-storeyed house in a pleasant, gum tree setting, with a creek running through, a tennis court and room for a horse. The girls continued their secondary schooling at Unley High School, where they became close friends with the four Gates girls, daughters of Benny Gates, the headmaster.

Norwood was far removed from Gordon’s workplace at Birkenhead, so another move was made in 1939, this time to 503 Torrens Road, Woodville. This house was in about one acre of land, again with a lawn tennis court and room for a horse and a menagerie of other animals. On this occasion, Gordon purchased the house rather than renting and the family had very pleasant surroundings for the rest of their childhood and teenage years.

When World War II broke out in September, 1939, the Johnson family was in the fortunate circumstance that Gordon had been too young for the first world war and was now too old, at 41, to enlist. In any case, as manager of the Ford Motor Company, he was in an essential service involved in supplying vehicles to the war zones and so was precluded from the forces.

503 Torrens Road, Woodville

Myrtle was thrilled with the new house. The garden was extensive and beautifully laid out with roses, shrubs, lawns and trees. The Ford Motor Company paid for a full-time gardener and Gordon’s position enabled Myrtle to employ a cleaning lady, a sewing lady and another for washing days. Myrtle purchased a little Ford 10 ‘Prefect’ but never organised herself to drive so Gordon sent one of his staff up to Woodville each week to drive Myrtle to the shops. He was indeed king of all he surveyed at the Ford Motor Company.

Myrtle was enchanted with the garden and spent many enthralled hours among her precious plants and shrubs. With the household help she was able to rest most afternoons but she continued suffering from anxiety and depression and when called upon to entertain the executives over from Geelong, she had great difficulty coping.

Again, the Cooneyites soon came knocking on the door and Myrtle responded. Her allocated meeting house was with a family named Flavel – no doubt lapsed Irish Catholics. Gordon put up with her connection to them but had diminishing tolerance. In fact, he had initially employed old Mr Flavel as a gardener at Woodville which didn’t last long – possibly because of Mr Flavel’s diminishing health or perhaps because of Gordon’s strong personality and irritation with the sect. Mr Flavel died shortly after.

During the war, Myrtle felt obliged to contribute and opened up the house to servicemen billeted away from home. Each weekend, three or four servicemen came to stay at our house – army, airforce and American servicemen. Myrtle’s three daughters thought it a wonderful idea and the house would be pulsating with fun – tennis, table tennis, cards and all manner of activities and games. Gordon was nonplussed and usually took himself elsewhere for these weekends. He was fiercely protective of his daughters and was overwhelmed and unable to communicate with so many happy young men in his house. Myrtle, however, enjoyed herself immensely and joined in the fun.

I suppose one would say that we were relatively untouched by the war. There were blackout practices when it was thought that a Japanese invasion was imminent and we were instructed to dig trenches. Gordon chose a suitable spot under the grapevines, laid out a plan, and commenced to dig. The ground was rock hard and after he dug down some half a metre he abandoned the project and came in for a drink. He never resumed, so there the unfinished trench remained as a monument to his war effort for the duration of hostilities and the decades beyond.

The Cooneyites ignored the war and none of them enlisted. My sisters had ceased any association with the sect by this time, so I was left to accompany my mother to the meetings and the mission gatherings every Sunday afternoon and night. For the whole of the war, I only ever saw one man in uniform at the meetings and learned that he was courting the pretty young girl who played the piano for the Sankey hymns. I loathed the experience but there was no arguing – I did as I was told.

During the week the two women ‘workers’ would often visit Myrtle for afternoon tea – she never asked them for a meal as she knew Gordon would be hostile and he was never restrained in displaying his emotions. One of the preachers was a tall, slender woman by the extraordinary name of Emma Mole. Her co-worker was shorter, plumper and was named Ivy. They would walk around the garden, Myrtle explaining her various treasures and their behaviour patterns and occasionally bending down to present them with a slip of a plant to strike. Goodness knows where this planting would took place as they only had temporary residence in one of the ‘friend’s’ homes.

Emma, or ‘Em’ as my mother called her, always wore a tight mid-calf length black skirt, cardigan and hat. She was a fire and brimstone preacher, full of confidence, and when the hymns were sung she would come in over the top of the congregation with her raucous tones drowning everyone. In a sort of way I responded and was inspired and admired her.  During her fire and brimstone preaching, I would daydream and picture myself doing daring and amazing feats on the football field, totally fearless. Of course, no-one was permitted to play any sort of sport in the Cooneyites.

Well, Myrtle was intent on saving her precious son’s soul and on many afternoons when she took to her bed she would make me accompany her and read old testament Bible stories. Horrendous, gruesome stories they were and I did not enjoy them.

Once a year, in January, the convention at Strathalbyn would come around and I would be forced to endure four or five days under canvas. There would be meetings three times a day, each lasting about one and a half hours. At that time, I was about twelve but considered too old to sleep in my mother’s tent so I was put in with a couple of men. I hated it. I hated the toilet facilities. They were of the long drop variety and the stench was nauseating. One had to put a scoop of lime down the putrid hole after a bowel action and each time I almost vomited. The food, however, was good. Breakfast consisted of porridge or stew, or both and it was delicious, as were the other meals. The venue was a working farm and about 300 ‘friends’ attended each convention, all under canvas. As was customary, the meetings were periodically ‘tested’ with invitations to the uninitiated to join. A couple of young lads I became friendly with joined but I resisted. On the Sunday there was a baptising ceremony in the creek. About six to ten were garbed in white theatre gown-type rigouts and with a preacher on either side holding them they were plunged under the water, emerging spluttering and often crying. All this accompanied by the congregation standing around singing Sankey hymns.

During this period, the relationship between Myrtle and Gordon was deteriorating. At times in the middle of the night they would fight, perhaps with him demanding his conjugal rights – I don’t know – my father would then come stomping into my room and take over my bed instructing me to go into my mother’s bed. I found it always a very upsetting experience.

At other times they would fight at the dinner table and I became terrified they would fight in front of my friends – and this did occur occasionally, to my mortification.

On one occasion, the only occasion I can remember them going on holiday together, my parents and I were all packed up ready to leave for a week at Point Turton on Yorke Peninsula; my friend Murray Stevens had been asked to join us and I was very excited at the prospect of a rare family holiday with a friend. Murray arrived and there was a sudden family row with raised voices and the full works: “You can all stay home!” I felt humiliated. However, everyone cooled off slowly and the preparations were completed and we went. Murray and I enjoyed ourselves but I was nevertheless on tenterhooks for the whole holiday fearing, that at any time the powder keg would blow up again. I was perhaps twelve and I think it was to be the last family holiday. I was envious of my sisters, by that time grown up and beyond family holidays, as they had enjoyed many, many happy family holidays during their growing up years when the relationship between my parents had been better.

Gordon was working hard during this time. I would often go with him down to the Ford works on a Saturday morning when we would be the only ones in the factory. I would amuse myself on a typewriter or wander around the expansive factory by myself. Often, we would then come home, have lunch and then I would join him driving around the parklands watching any ball sports but particularly baseball which he enjoyed. Myrtle never came.

Myrtle became somewhat of a recluse. She had to make the meals as she had two hungry men to feed. She spent long hours in her double bed which she had to herself by this time as Gordon shifted out to another room. Her nerves were bad and she regularly took phenobarbitone tablets to calm herself. She did have happy times, however, when her eldest daughter Gretta married Jock McDonough and they produced a grandson which she adored and whom she saw often, as she and her eldest daughter were very close.

Myrtle’s youngest daughter Lesley started her nursing training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital when she turned eighteen and thereafter never lived at home, although she visited regularly. Myrtle’s second daughter, Elvia, lived at home apart from a stint in the Women’s Australian Airforce during the war, when she was based at Tocumwal, in NSW. Myrtle and Elvia had a close relationship, although there were occasional vigorous disagreements as would be expected with two forceful personalities under the one roof. Elvia had employment as a secretary, stenographer and typist and was a constant source of entertainment. She moved into a home unit by herself only when Myrtle died in 1969. She and her father never saw eye to eye, so the prospect of them sharing a house was never an option.

Adding to Myrtle’s woes in her later years was Gordon’s unfaithfulness. She became fully aware of his philanderings after Gordon lost his job with the Ford Motor Company in 1954. The house at Woodville was sold and a house at 146 Watson Avenue, Toorak Gardens, was purchased. By accident, or more likely by design, this was within a kilometre or so of Gordon’s girlfriend Alice Hunt in Stirling Street, Tusmore. Gordon would go for ‘walks’ on a regular basis after his evening meal. Nothing was said but the whole family was aware of his activities. Certainly, this did not improve the atmosphere in the home nor did it help Myrtle’s nervous state. She continued to keep in contact with the Cooneyites but probably did not attend their gatherings on a regular basis due to her isolation and her poor nervous state.                

Myrtle’s last few years were by and large miserable. She had several trips to hospital to try to settle her nervous state and during the last of these in Calvary Hospital she died suddenly and unexpectedly. This was a shock to everyone and the subsequent autopsy revealed no disease processes beyond the minor degenerative processes expected in a 73-year-old. Myrtle’s funeral was conducted by ‘the preachers’ led by the indomitable Emma Mole. It was a sad affair as none of the family had any rapport with the Cooneyites. A touch of pathos occurred when Gordon placed a single bloom of a Belladonna Lily, her favourite, on her coffin. What were his thoughts at her funeral? Nobody knew and nobody asked, knowing as they did, that he had lost all communication with his wife of 51 years. She lies buried in Centennial Park Cemetery.

Gordon hastened to reassure his family that they had no need to take him into their care as he had someone to look after him. He must have known that that was apparent to all but then he always enjoyed being provocative. It was not long before he married Alice Hunt, a widow, and their eight years of marriage proved to be a happy union.

What would one say on the life of Myrtle Alice Young/Johnson? She was blessed with a delightful upbringing in Georges Creek. She idolised her mother and father. Her happy times continued during her adolescence with her Aunty Lou and cousin Bet in Melbourne. Her marriage to Gordon was initially a happy one but, with life-threatening illnesses affecting her two oldest children, things started to unravel psychologically and she never completely recovered. Her problems of anxiety and depression hovered in the wings throughout the rest of her life. Dare one say but her life, in my opinion, was stunted by the rigours of fundamentalism and the constant battle she had to adhere to its unyielding and uncompromising demands.

In their younger days, Gordon had been a tower of strength in the family and he looked after their needs selflessly and assiduously. Gordon’s rapid rise through the ranks of the business world, Myrtle found to be a big strain on her nerves, but Gordon catered patiently with her needs and disabilities. In the end, he found her stubborn adherence to fundamentalist and sectarian dogmas and doctrines more than he could handle and he grew bitter at his lot in life, often letting his anger get the better of him. Perhaps they would have better off living apart but in the mid 20th century that would have been looked upon as failure. In those times, couples put up with their problems and stayed together.

Myrtle was devoted to her family and home all her life and was a loving mother. She kept a scrupulously clean house and was a good cook. She had a good sense of fun and enjoyed family gatherings and outings, although not towards the end. She was understanding but totally uncompromising in where she stood on matters of principle.

She had little joy in her last years which were sad and distressing both to herself and to those close to her. In the end perhaps, it was a merciful release from a situation from which she saw no escape.

Gretta and Myrtle on a picnic, c1945

Johnsons with Sam Johnson, Highgate, c1935

[1] Ross Johnson, Eight Pioneering Australians, Ross Johnson, 2008, pp. 139-57.

[2] The Negotiator was a 587 ton sailing vessel with 250 passengers built in 1848 and diverted to the Australia run from coastal duties due to the goldrush. The vessel left London on May 14, 1852, arriving Melbourne, September, 1852.

[3] Material sourced from the Public Records of Victoria, Shiel St, North Melbourne by Ross Johnson, grandson of Tom Young, April 2013.

[4]Financial agent! Hard to believe!

[5] Ross Johnson, Eight Pioneering Australians, 2008, pp. 28-38.

[6] Agoraphobia – Gr. agora = marketplace. Hence phobia to the marketplace.

[7] Photo, taken, developed and printed, by author in 1948 with his new Box Brownie camera. In 1949 at the age of 16, he and several friends were employed driving English imported Ford Pilots from the Port Adelaide wharves to the factory after fitting trade plates. It was a good job and helped us young lads to learn to drive, although a bit rough on new clutch plates! No automatics in those days.

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