Gillian tells me a truly amazing woman can silence rabble with just a look. And, to give credit where it’s due, any mother will tell you that a good quelling look is very definitely an art worth cultivating. But you know, I get this feeling that, had I been the young and innocent girl being sexually accosted by a drunken ruffian in the frontier town of Bald Hills in the 1800’s, I would have far rather had Mother Buntine there to take to the cad with her bullocky whip, and thrash him into soberness, than another woman who might have given him the glare of a lifetime.
So – is this guest blog about Mother Buntine? In part, but it’s been sparked by several things:
a) my hackles rising every time someone tells me Australia’s history is boring;
b) some of you might know of my Granny alter ego, a friend recently said she wished she could create a character as interesting as Granny, and hang on – Granny is based on my real (if tea total) Grandma. Granny characters are all around us if we take the time to look; and
c) the surprise I still feel that a very good friend of mine, university educated, and interested in history, hadn’t so much as heard of the Battle of Broken Hill, until in her forties. This blog post is about some of those Australian women whose lives have inspired me, ever since I was old enough to hang about in the front room, reading a book, but truly eavesdropping on the conversations of my elders. *g* I hope it might interest some of you enough to find out more for yourselves.
Mother Buntine’s name was Agnes, and A is a good place as any to start, so: Agnes Buntine (nee Davidson. C 1822-1896) Born the eldest of six children to a Scottish crofter and his wife, she emigrated to Australia with her family, leaving Glasgow December 1839. In October 1840 she married farmer Hugh Buntine, an ailing widower with five children. They moved to the Gippsland area where she was not only the first European woman, but where she gave birth to her first child when she was 19, and in the same year set up a fledgling business as a bullocky driver. I’d lay good money that Mother Buntine could do a wonderfully quelling look, but she was also noted to keep insolent men in their place by boxing their ears, and twisting their necks. Mother Buntine raised eleven children in a bark hut. She cared for her ailing husband, and together they ran an 8,000 acre station, all the while she built up her business as one of Australia’s few female bullocky drivers, often beating the men at their own game, by being the very first to bring supplies to new, remote gold mining areas. She could ride after stock, kill, and dress a bullock, use a pick and shovel, split posts and rails, as well as run a store, and help her husband run a pub.
B is for Bushranger, and while most people concentrate on the men, (which, to be fair, we did have six thousand of them) there were some female bushrangers too. The three best known were Mary Ann Bugg, known as the wife of Captain Thunderbolt, the fact he evaded capture for so long was entirely due to the particular life skills of Mary Ann. She is described as being very beautiful, with a boarding school education from her European father and bush skills from her Indigenous mother. She even swam out to Cockatoo Island to help rescue Captain Thunderbolt from prison;
Mary Cockerill, also known as Black Mary, who was the partner of The Governor of the Woods, Michael Howe. Mary was also described as being very beautiful, with superb tracking and bush craft skills. She stood by her partner, keeping up with him, no matter what the circumstances. There are two stories about their parting of the ways, one has him shooting the heavily pregnant Mary in order to distract the troopers, and allowing him to flee, the other has it that Mary was shot in the melee between Howe and the troopers. I tend to believe the first, because Mary, once healed, tracked her former partner down, delivering him to the law, but I wasn’t there, so of course, it is all only conjecture, but no matter how bare the lines between the story, what does shine through is a fleeting glimpse of one hell of a remarkable woman;
Elizabeth Jessie Hunt, known as The Lady Bushranger, at approximately eight years of age her parents gave her to a travelling bush circus. A young girl in those times and conditions, it can be conjectured with some degree of surety that there was every chance she was used and abused. Jessie was a champion rough rider, and after the breakdown of her marriage in 1924, she established herself near Kandos, running her own outlaw gang, stealing cattle and horses. Jessie was a survivor, and she used great daring and a degree of impudence to steal cattle from police holding yards, and convincing a jury that the cattle she was accused of stealing had actually strayed into her own herd. She died in 1936 of a brain tumour, and her granddaughter, Di Moore, has written a book about her life.
C, well that is going to have to go hands down to Children’s author, and the Children’s author that exemplifies Australian history for me, as well as being one of the loveliest ladies I was ever lucky enough to meet, is Elyne Mitchell, OAM. Author of the Silver Brumby series, stories set in the Snowy Mountains, these books were the first that gave me a landscape I recognised. I remember being constantly confused as a child by the books from the UK talking about the green grass of summer. Huh? What planet did that author live on? You don’t get green grass in summer (ok, we have green grass this summer – but it’s hardly a usual summer, water wise.) The ranges that Thowra rode through were the ones I saw every time I looked towards the mountains. But aside from creating wonderful stories, Mrs Mitchell was also an accomplished skier, winning the 1938 Canadian downhill skiing Championship, and in 1941, according to some sources, being the first woman to descend on skis, the entire western face of the Snowy Mountains. She and her husband raised their four children on their High Country station, working together, and being a part of an isolated community.
I could fill an entire alphabet of amazing women, from the forthright and passionate Women’s Rights leaders of the 70s, and their impact on my childhood; to Australian scientists; teachers and musicians. But I’ll stop with this A B and C that takes us from the 1800s to this century when Ms Mitchell passed away. We have a history of remarkable characters, people who took big bold steps to a new land, a new life, and tried to make their world a little bit better for them being there. People who most likely didn’t give a rat’s behind about whether their descendants thought their lives were boring; because they were too busy living those lives.