Mum would have been 98 today. To honour her memory I’ve dedicated my first post, in my first blog, to her, Teresa Bernadette WINTER (1917-2010).
Mum, known as Berna, was born on the 28th October 1917 at 93 Station St., Fairfield, at the back of her father’s butcher’s shop… or so the story goes.
It’s a pizza shop now.
She was the ninth child of an eventual eleven, born to William Thomas Rupert WINTER and Catherine WINTER, nee SELLARS.
WTR WINTER was a man of many occupations: soldier, cordial maker, publican, butcher, farmer, fiddle player, athlete—he played for Sth Melbourne football club in the late 1800s…but more of him in a later post.
When Mum was three, he took his still growing family to a farm in Cora Lynn, West Gippsland to grow potatoes and milk cows. He settled into farming for the rest of his life.
The area was pioneered by a large number of Irish families in the mid to late 1800s. They were drawn by the promise of work to reclaim the Koo Wee Rup Swamp which was prone to flooding. They created ‘The Main Drain’ which coursed through Cora Lynn and Iona. The Drain featured in many of the reminiscences of Mum’s relatives—so-and-so lived one side or the other, people and buggies fell in and no doubt the odd cow or two.
One of the family homes was “Culdees”, Cora Lynn (?1920-1927). It was a big house but not quite big enough to sleep all 13 of them. Solution? Block off one end of the front verandah. Mum and her two younger sisters slept in the resulting makeshift, little room. Mum loved hearing the rain on the tin roof. But it leaked. Solution? Cover the beds with the men’s waterproof coats. Country folk have a knack for making do.
When Mum was able to ride a horse, she was able to start school.
By seven she was ready. She happily took off on her charge, Little Meena, a former racehorse and often cantered all the way to Cora Lynn Convent school. She loooved riding Little Meena. But sometimes she had to ride the big, old, cranky horse who only wanted to go one way. Back home. So if he wouldn’t budge, she didn’t go to school.
Often on her way to school, Mum stopped at the Cora Lynn General Store to buy some lollies; aniseed balls her favourite. Little did she know that the young man behind the counter, Jack Coghlan, would one day be her husband.
But that’s another story…
On one of Mum’s rides to school she was ‘dinking’ her younger sister, Joyce. After a lack of two-way conversation Mum realized Joyce wasn’t behind her. She turned Little Meena around and found her sister lying on the road. She’d fallen off the back of the horse and broken her arm. Joyce spent several weeks in Warragul hospital.
At the age of ten, the family moved to a smaller farm at Vervale, just up the road. She changed schools to St Joseph’s, Iona. Still under the watchful eye of the ‘brown Joeys’, the Sisters of St Joseph, of Mary MacKillop fame. Mum expressed great admiration and respect for these women.
According to Mum life on the farm was hard but there was lots of fun too. Some of her memories:
I helped milk the cows—by hand of course, I fed the chooks before school, and I put the butter down the well to keep cool. I don’t know how I didn’t fall in!
We flew kites made out of brown paper… but the best thing was the swing strung up between the pine trees at Vervale. I used to go higher and higher and higher…
I’d take the billy of tea out to the men milking the cows and it was my job to sweep the floor. We used to throw the wet tea leaves over the floor first to soak up the dust.
And on Easter Sunday I’d get up at sunrise to see the sun dance—and it did!
At Christmas, Phyllis (Mum’s sister) and her nursing friends would come home to Cora Lynn. They’d play tennis on the court at the house. I remember them all staying for Christmas lunch once and Mum cooking five chooks!
The front yard at Vervale was always full of flowers and veggies. The one thing we were never short of was food.
After Mass on Sundays we’d come home to a beautiful, crunchy roast sizzling away in the wood stove.
I did my homework by candle or lamp. I played the organ at Benediction and had piano lessons at Iona.
At school, Mum sat next to Alice. Together they ate lollies, (a recurring theme?) from Alice’s parents’ shop at Nar Nar Goon, behind their open desk lids. Then there was Georgie Dixon with bucked teeth..something we don’t see anymore.
There was composition writing, ‘readers’, writing practice in copy books, catechism, poetry, such as, Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud…’ and George Evans ‘The Women of the West’.
In 1934, when Mum was seventeen a devastating flood hit the area. The Main Drain broke its banks. Mum, her mother and her two younger sisters sat on the roof rafters for 48 hours, eating freshly made Christmas cake, as the water slowly rose to the level of the piano keyboard. Through a hole in the roof they watched dead cows floating by. Mum was eventually carried out on her brother, Ted’s back. She remembered the terrible clean up; the smell and the mud. She had a special empathy for those who went through floods.
The Winter family were very involved in the active Catholic parish and the general community.
Mum’s father played jigs on his violin at the local dances and all the family played the piano at home. Singing around the piano was a favourite form of entertainment in the evenings.
Mum achieved her merit certificate (Grade 8) and after a 6 month stint at The Academy school in Fitzroy her father called her back home to help on the farm. She wasn’t disappointed as she was terribly homesick.
Well, that covers Mum’s first 20 years or so. I’ll return at a later date to continue her story.
TIP: Whenever you’re in conversation with rellies ask them about their earlier lives. Where did they grow up, where did they go to school, what games did they play? And you never know you might find out some wonderful snippets, like, ‘I was born at the back of a butcher shop’. Add some flesh and colour to the otherwise dry statistics of birth, death and marriage dates. You might find out where you got your big nose from, your squinty eyes, or your lack of hair. Who knows?
Then document it where someone can find it!