Monday, June 17, 2013

A bit of history of the Grange: Mike Wilson lived here 1949 - 1966

Here I am, pottering about in the kitchen with Helen late in the afternoon, and Tassie from the Nursery comes knocking at the door. He's accompanied by a tall, rather good-looking gentleman with an affable air. "Mieke, this is Michael ... he used to live here in this house, way back". The man proffers his hand "Mike, Mike Wilson. My parents lived here from 1949 till 1966. I grew up here."

Well of course, I was absolutely stunned, and delighted. I invited Mike in to show him around and hear his stories. This is what I learned.

Mike's parents were George and Doreen Wilson. When they bought the farm it was 120 acres and ranged from Bangalow Road all the way to Booyong Road. They had five children: two girls and three boys. Mike himself, born in 1946, was three when they moved to the Grange. Mike first went to Bexhill Primary school, then later to Clunes Primary before attending the Convent School in Bangalow. Finally he completed his secondary schooling in Lismore. I know Mike must have gone on to do well in his education for he worked in international oil and has travelled the world extensively since those early days. Mike's parents subdivided the land, leaving ten acres, which we have now.

Mike's family were Catholic. The only other Catholic family at the time was the baker's family across the road. I had read that there were very few Catholics in the area, and that this was a protestant stronghold, bar the bakery families (Richmond River Historical Society notes). So strange to think that religion at this level was an issue, even still in the 1950s. I wouldn't have a clue which of my neighbours are members (or not) of which church.

Protestant Orange Lodge march, Clunes, ca. 1884

Mike was happy to see the big old fig still standing. He told me he used to climb it looking for eggs for his collection. I gathered his Mum wasn't mad keen on him climbing so high!! He said that he probably was responsible for the demise of many a bird, but that was not considered an issue in those days. He was very sad though to see that the huge old River Redgum had been felled ... I told him Bert had chopped it down for unknown reasons (selling firewood maybe?) just before we bought the property. I also told him that Val Battistuzzi, who raised a family here with her husband Cec from 1970 to 2000, actually cried when she saw Bert had felled the tree (and her much-loved orchards). Mike told me that the Redgum used to be home to thousands of birds and the sky would be full of their singing, and that this sound formed part of his daily life, and he loved it. I was very moved to hear that. That tree must be the most mourned tree in the village. Drat Bert and his mercenary ways.

Mike told me he had a ginger cat - it was a stray and he kept it safe and fed it until it became tamer. It used to kill and eat rabbits, just like Sunny used to. When the cat became older though it turned to eating their hens and Mike had to shoot it, which I thought was brave. It certainly took a fair bit to kill, apparently! Must have been a very tough cat. Val also had a ginger stray turn up, which she kept for years. Must be a good place for ginger cats. Mike told me he used his gun too to shoot working dogs when they got too old... He didn't waste shot though - he had to buy the ammunition himself. They were different days then and animals had to be useful to be worth keeping. I wonder if people had a slightly more prosaic attitude to pets nowadays, we wouldn't have as many strays.

Mike told me his Dad had an old mare ('Bessie'?) over in the top paddock and he sent her off to the stallion and the ensuing foal, born not far from where Romany Ruby was foaled, was for Mike to ride. He told me its name but I can't recall it right now.

The farm under the Wilson family kept dairy cows, pigs, poultry, and they cultivated pineapples on the top paddock. There were also many orchard trees (most of which Bert cut down). There was a bull paddock down the north-east end; a pig paddock on the western side. They pulled the old dairy apart and built a newer more functional dairy on the site where the current big sheds are. In time, the Battistuzzi's pulled down the Wilsons' dairy and reused the timbers to make the big sheds that are here now to house the big machines and store fodder. There was also a buttery / creamery type shed over on the western side (the foundations are still visible), downhill from the Wilsons' dairy, so the milk could gravity feed to there ready for processing.

I gather Mike spent a good deal of time outside in his youth, far more than current teenagers and youngsters do. He also had chores to do: such as shifting rocks and bricks around the dairy water trough so the cows would not churn the earth to a morass. The rocks and bricks are still there, as is the trough but it no longer holds water.

The front of the house had a lovely picket fence and a sunken front garden (now all filled in). The verndahs had railings and decorative mouldings (if you look closely you can see the mouldings on the clip of the photo above taken in 1884. The house had a lovely old stained glass window above the front door with its name, "The Grange"... to everyone's sadness, this has gone - there's only plain glass there now.

Decorative mouldings on the verandah posts 1884. You can also see the kitchen stove chimney and housing.

Inside the house, not so much had changed, except the big addition of the verandah out the back of course. Mike walked round with me and we visited each room and he described what the room was used for, and what kind of furniture was in it. The bedroom floors had lino. John and I found some small tattered bits, very faded and cracked, in one of the rooms when we removed the layers of carpet after we moved in. The lino we found did not go from wall to wall: it was a patterned central square (or, it had once been), much in the style of a rug. Mike told me the hallway had a long single runner. The house had no major heating bar the kitchen stove (once used to be a wood stove but the Wilsons moved to a gas range), and a one-rung electric heater which Mike's father kept in front of his lounge chair in the living room. Mike said the draughts would come up through the cracks between the floorboards and that wasn't very nice. We have since had the gaps in the living room and hallway filled with expandable gapfiller, which allows the floors to expand and contract depending on the temperature. Now John and I have the big Lopi wood stove which heats the house nicely.

The room that is now John and my bedroom, off the living room, was the formal dining room in Mike's time. It had lovely dresser / cabinets against the walls. The kitchen was separate from the main house: the current wide opening between kitchen and living room did not exist. I already knew that because Cec Battistuzzi told me with great humour how sometime in the '80s he got sick of the kids sneaking from the kitchen at mealtimes to watch telly, so he took the big saw out one day and just sawed a ruddy great opening so he could keep an eye on them :-)

Mike's two sisters slept in what is now Briony's room (one of the nicer front rooms, with architraves and panelled door); and his parents in what is now Tess' room opposite (the other nice front room). They had a tallboy in their room. The two next rooms are plainer with simple plank doors and no architraves, even now. The one on the right (now Yarrow's) was Mike's own room and the one on the left was a nursery with cots. The sunroom had single beds at each short end and the central place was where Mike's mother did her sewing: apparently she was a keen seamstress in her time.

The house had an internal bathroom / washroom roughly where the old one is now, but there was an outside toilet (near the mandarin tree) and an outside laundry / washroom near the frangipani. There were several water tanks, including a very tall one just outside what was then the formal dining room window. The foundation is still there. It had a shower underneath it. It gravity fed the house. (Cec told me it fell down one stormy night and made a heck of a crashing sound). Later on, Bert removed all the remaining moveable water tanks - no idea why - so when we moved in there was no way of storing water. We took advantage of the great Rudd rebates at the time and put in some massive water tanks behind the metal shed.

Mike now lives in Perth. He and his wife have three daughters. I really enjoyed Mike's visit and am grateful for his sharing of his stories. I had the impression of a cohesive and supportive family who gave their children good education and a good upbringing and lived well on the land.  Mike seems like he had a healthy boyhood here and he revisited the house and land with affection.

Mike has since sent me this marvellous photo of the Grange in 1960, showing his mum on the front veranda and his younger sister Maureen on the front lawn.

"The Grange", 1960

"The Grange", same angle photo from 2012 (now in 2013 we have solar panels though)

Thank you so much Mike Wilson for visiting and sharing your stories!


Jeni at Northern Rivers Dreaming said...

Wow. How amazing.

The photos were a lovely final touch :)

Anonymous said...

So awsome to read about some family history i did not know. I an natasha wilson and my dad was michaels brother :) ps there were 3 sisters and 2 brothers. I hope u enjoy the house as much as my dd and aunties n uncle did. Natasha

Anonymous said...

So awsome to read about some family history i did not know. I an natasha wilson and my dad was michaels brother :) ps there were 3 sisters and 2 brothers. I hope u enjoy the house as much as my dd and aunties n uncle did. Natasha