Bacchus Marsh

Bacchus Marsh

Bessie Davison, my mother, was born on 29th January 1926 at a hospital in Essendon. Joan was born 10 minutes before her. They were very small twins and were several weeks premature. The doctors told my grandparents that, due to the complications with the birth, these were the only two children that they should ever have. However, they had 4 more children: Olive (Ollie), Edna, Lindsay and Lesley. None of the children received second names. Mum was known as Betty for virtually her whole life.

They lived 6 kilometres south of Bacchus Marsh in a weatherboard house right next to the railway bridge over the Rowsley Road. My grandfather, Norman David Davison, from whom I take my first name, was an original ANZAC soldier and, although he never talked much about the war and Gallipoli, he did tell us that, as the allied soldiers were retreating from the beaches of Gallipoli, he had received shrapnel wounds to his knee and was unable to walk and it was the St John’s Ambulance who saved him by helping him into a boat to get away.

The house had a small patch of land beside it on which he had a few chooks, and old steam driven tractor and a small vegetable garden. There was no hot water in the house and on cold winter nights when we were staying there for holidays, Papa, as he was known, used to fire up a wooden copper to heat some water which was transferred into a big old lion’s claw bath for all us kids to bathe in. The copper was in one corner of the outside bathroom with a flue pointing out through the roof. I seem to recall that, in order to get the fire under the copper to draw properly and to prevent the bathroom from filling with smoke, you needed to leave the bathroom door open, making it impossible to warm up at all. So, the routine was to rush into the bathroom, ditch your clothes and leap into the bath as quickly as possible, wash and get out again, dry hurriedly and put your pyjamas on and run inside to get in front of the warm fire in the lounge or the stove in the kitchen before you froze to death. We used hot water bottles in the beds and I often remember feeling all cosy at night when the big steam trains and later diesel trains came thundering past on their way to and from Ballarat.  I only ever remember being present once when Papa fired up the steam tractor. It seemed to take forever to heat the water to create enough steam to build up pressure to drive the big piston around. It had a large pulley on it with a belt which connected to the wood saw. Papa would saw up huge tree trunks and branches to make enough wood to keep the fires burning throughout winter. For the small amount of time he spent sawing up wood, it seemed an awfully cumbersome process to get it all working.  These days we would use an electric motor, but it was a wonderful old tractor that hissed and wheezed – a dinosaur of ages past.

Below the house was an embankment leading down to the Parwan Creek. The road beside the house passed under the railway bridge and over the creek which flowed through a large corrugated iron tube bridge about 10 metres in diameter and 20 metres in length. There were peppercorn trees on the banks and the creek was always gently flowing and rippling over rocks and formed small eddies as it flowed towards the Parwan river to the north east. I played there many a time and sometimes on hot days we would skinny dip in the creek. The only problem was leeches which would often attach themselves to the soft skin on our ankles, much to our shrieking horror. One day when I was 8 years old I surfaced from the creek to find a leech attached to my penis. I screamed the place down and never went skinny dipping again.

The area is part of the Rowsley Fault which starts at about 45 metres above sea level west of Geelong and rises to nearly 400 metres once it gets close to Ballarat. Because the old steam trains were unable to make the climb directly, the railway line makes a wide sweep out of Bacchus Marsh and slowly winds its way up, doubling back on itself twice or three times until it reaches the top of the plateau which forms the beginning of the Western District Plains. These plains stretch some 250 kilometres from here to Coleraine, 35 kilometres west of Hamilton. As you head towards Coleraine you can see off to the south the land sloping away towards the coast and you feel like you are driving on a giant dinner plate, about to drop off the edge. Just outside the outskirts of the town the road takes a very long, steep descent until it flattens out right at the township edge. You’ve reached the end of the Western District Plains. Glenthompson, back the other side of Hamilton towards Ballarat, is 286 metres above sea level.

My mother’s family was reasonably close-knit. Very often every one would meet at the house at Rowsley on school holidays and particularly every second Christmas we would all try to be there. There could be up to 40-50 people for Christmas lunch and Papa had a full sized billiards table in the lounge/dining room which could accommodate about 25 adults for lunch, with all the kids sitting around smaller tables and on chairs and garden seats outside. The billiards table was Papa’s pride and joy but it was rarely opened and used for the purpose that it was built – to play billiards. Mostly, it sat as the “good” table, its shiny dark mahogany surface protected by a green table cloth. The room also had a B & W tv in one corner, a large open fireplace with a very dark wood mantelpiece with a central mirror and two side mirrors, a couple of lounge chairs and a few smaller items, such as a small sideboard. On the mantelpiece was a lovely gold-coloured anniversary or 400-day clock inside a glass dome. The pendulum spun one whole turn clockwise, then anticlockwise and back again. Papa used to wind it once a year on Christmas Day. As a child I was mesmerised by the clock and dearly wanted it for my own. When Nana died in 1974, Edna inherited it, originally to my disappointment, but I’m glad she’s got it because she has looked after it well. The lounge/dining room was usually closed and we kids were only allowed in there on special occasions, although during the winter Papa would light the fire and we’d sit in there after dinner to watch a bit of tv.

I had 15 first cousins on my mother’s side. Edna, who was the first to get married, to Doug, had 5 children – Allan, Barbara, Peter and the twins Carol & Sharon, Ollie married Vern and had 4 – Patsy, Maree, Judith and Peter (who died some years ago), Lesley married David and had 4, Michael, Meredith, John and Richard and Joan married Bob and adopted 2 – Helen and Robert. Lindsay, being the only boy in the family, joined the army and never married. He was a very quiet man and seemed to avoid family gatherings. I rarely saw him and I think he found noisy kids a bit much. In later years he retired and unfortunately became an alcoholic. He bought a caravan at Echuca and finally died a sad and lonely man. Ollie lived in Bacchus Marsh until they moved to Echuca. Vern worked as an ambulance officer for many years. They separated and Vern moved to Queensland to live with another partner. After a few years, Ollie suffered dementia and, having reconciled with Vern, was moved to a care facility in Mount Perry, Queensland, not far from where Vern was living. She eventually died. Edna and Doug were still living in Bacchus Marsh, until Edna died in 2017, their children spread out through Victoria and Queensland. Unfortunately, Edna’s son, Peter, died of cancer in 2017. Lesley’s husband David died of motor-neurone disease some years ago. Their children are all in Melbourne. Lesley is finally married to her long-time friend Hank and alternating her time between his farm and her house in Melbourne. Joan and Bob moved to Queenstown, Tasmania in 1970 where Bob was working as an industrial chemist and engineer at the Mount Lyell Mining works until 1973 when they decided to move to Launceston where Bob set up his own industrial and electronic business. Joan died in 2007 and Bob died in 2017.