A Knight’s Tale (18: In The Bush)

Auntie Evelyn’s letter continues:

‘Towards the middle of February [1941] I had several posts offered to me in the Western and South Western parts of Queensland. I accepted one at a sheep station – 17 miles beyond Goondiwindi. This town is on the Macintyre river which forms the frontier of New South Wales. “Oona Vale” is quite the back of beyond and the “bush” there is very flat and uninteresting with stunted trees and coarse grass – a very brown tract of country. How I missed the lovely green of Ireland and the charming little green parks of Estonia. No good walks in any direction – sandy tracks everywhere and no wild flowers to speak of. The small garden at “Oona Vale” had some pretty flowering shrubs and many roses.

The people were very kind and I got fond of the children. I had two little boys to teach – Peter 9 years and Colin 5. The elder boy was not very clever and often rather lazy, so my work was not very easy, prodding him constantly. Colin was an affectionate little fellow and very anxious to please. I missed all my friends and acquaintances in Brisbane and found the new life rather dull. If I could have got in some good walks it would have been better for me.

After a few weeks I found myself running down fast and before Easter I felt a quite different being with very little interest in life. I think the change of food had a great deal to do with it – so much meat, which I had not been accustomed to, and often very tough it was. In Estonia I had been used to having plenty of milk and eggs and in catering at the flat in Brisbane I bought a lot of these. But here all the milk was separated. Then my eyesight was [so] seriously affected by m[y] nerves and the glare of the sun that when I had my fortnight’s holiday in August I decided to consult an oculist in Brisbane. It was not at all cheerful news that the doctor gave me. He said I had a cataract in the right eye and the beginning of it in the left one. He ordered new glasses for me and tablets for my general health. Then I returned to the bush for another 4 months. Towards the end f November the heat was very trying. I could not rest in my bedroom – it was intensely hot in the house so Mrs Savill kindly fixed up a mattress for me under the house where it was certainly several degrees cooler though the air was not very pure and little Margot the three year old was a very disturbing element always flitting around when I wanted to be quiet. Margot was a very spoilt little girl. Her father spoilt her most. He took far too much notice of her. She was the apple of his eye.

As my sight did not improve I decided to leave “Oona Vale” and return to Brisbane on December 10th when the Christmas holidays would begin and so prepare for my cataract operation in the autumn. The oculist who had formerly been a doctor wished to build me up before removing the cataract. So I had a quiet and restful time taking a furnished room in Red Hill, a suburb of Brisbane. At the end of April the operation was done and very successfully by my most careful oculist. Unfortunately a few days later my oculist was called up as the Japanese war had already started. So I was put under the care of another kind doctor, who would not undertake the “meddling” – a slight operation which is often necessary a few months later. As my oculist was still away in the north of Queensland I decided to get another oculist to do the “meddling”. He was a noted and skilful man and did it all right. As Brisbane was now so full of American soldiers it was difficult to get a decent room so I was eventually obliged to go into the Lady Musgrave Lodge – a hostel for borders and also Australians. A very mixed society here! However it was a home and I was always thankful to be out of Soviet Russia.

Then about six months later I made another attempt to teach in the “bush”. This time it was at another sheep station in Central Queensland. A rich grazier wanted a governess for his two children – a boy 9 years and a girl of 6. Barcaldine was six miles away and situated on the Downs [on] the Tropic of Cancer.’

The girl remained in touch with Evie long after she returned to England in 1945.

My blogging friend, Gwen has written a series of posts inspired by Dad’s aunt. Here is a link to the one that really fleshes out this episode: https://garrulousgwendoline.wordpress.com/2021/09/04/riga-exodus-7/

The youngest of the three sisters, my great aunt Evelyn lived longest, dying aged 92 in Bromley in 1975. In the late 1960s Jackie and I were visiting her in her sheltered housing rooms in a home for Distressed Gentlefolk in Chislehurst.

On one occasion she gave us a negative and print of herself taken at a recent party. I wondered whether they had been served tea there, and whether my great aunt had provided it. Evelyn’s sight, you see, was poor enough for her to be registered blind, and when she made tea she made it so she could see it. This very dark beverage was best left to grow cold so you could down it in one. That way you didn’t have to prolong its taste.


  1. So interesting–and such a range of travels and governess posts! I don’t think I’d like to be out in that bush area either. I sort of shudder to think of a cataract operation then. Now the actual procedure only takes a few minutes.
    Your comments about her tea made me laugh, and that hat is quite astounding. ?

    1. It certainly must have been an ordeal – I had such an op about 30 years ago – I had a great deal of pain for a fortnight until neuralgia was diagnosed and treated – I decided that must have been psychosomatic because it replicated the pain I had as a 14 year old injured by a cricket ball. Thanks very much, Merril

  2. Oh, gosh! I bet the cataract operation was quite the procedure back then. The climate sounds as thought it was very harsh and could wear a person down. I really do believe extreme heat is worse than the cold, which we have for many months in Maine. But we can bundle up and keep cozy. In the heat, there is only so much you can do to stay comfortable. And back then, no air conditioners. Or at least not many. Heck, in Maine in the 1960s, they weren’t common.

  3. It sounds like this was a very difficult period for her. Life on a sheep station in Australia’s hot outback is far removed from the comfortable and active life she had previously enjoyed in Eastern Europe.

  4. It sounds as though the Australian climate took its toll on Evie’s heatlh. That must have been a tough time for her. The home for Distressed Gentlefolk in Chislehurst was a nursing home?

  5. What a strong, amazing woman with such an interesting life! To learn about it in her own words is THE bestest! She certainly handled it all well…even the very tough times. And by her photo she looks like such a fun person! πŸ™‚ That’s quite the hat! πŸ˜‰
    How wonderful that you and Jackie got to visit with her. What you said about the tea she served made me laugh! πŸ˜€ Ha! I wonder if the question was ever whispered, “Do you know who made the tea? Was it Evelyn?” before tea was served. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜›
    I admire her for continuing to make tea, and do so many other things, even with failing eyesight. <3

  6. Personally, I wouldn’t be at all opposed to a stint in a home for Distressed Gentlefolk! Sometimes I miss the euphemisms of an earlier time. I know they’re trained to do it, but every time I thank a worker at our Chick-Fil-A restaurant and the response is, “My pleasure” rather than “No problem,” I smile.

    1. A home that was built beside the square in the village where I had my French house bore the slogan: “The future begins with us”, or words to that effect. Thanks very much, Linda

  7. Such an interesting life! I suppose and hope working in the bush paid well, but I’m glad she went back to Brisbane for Christmas. She seems to be having fun in the photo.

  8. She seems to have been all over the planet and how! I wish Keeping were here to produce a few illustrations, even though it has been richly narrated.

  9. Gosh, cataract surgery in those days was not a 10 minute procedure; it was serious business. I wonder what is meant by ‘meddling’ in the post-operative period?

  10. Not quite the happy-ever-after story I was hoping for, but we know she returned to England, so expected she did not settle in Australia. I’ve been through a nearby area, Warwick, when in drought. The grass was so brown and dry it felt like ice crushing underfoot. It’s not exactly “outback” but remote, especially in the 1940s. It can be a green area, so Evelyn was probably also there in drought. I had wondered about how she got a job as governess, as I thought demand had passed by then. There was a scheme called the Female Middle-Class Emigration Scheme, but that dates back to Victorian times. Impoverished daughters of clergy etc.

  11. The ‘bush’ in Australia is even hotter, drier and dustier than here in South Africa, Derrick. The sun does effect people’s eyes and all the elderly people need cataract operations. Being nearly blind must have been very difficult as they didn’t have all the technology and help that is available now.

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