The following is an unpublished interview between Norma King, Poppy Finch and Wendy Folvig. It was recorded in 1978. They are mother and daughter and were early residents of Lawlers. Their family developed Yeelirrie station.
My mother, Poppy Finch, was born in Sydney in May 1893. Her parents were Percy Vernan Ross and Margaret May Ross, nee McCredie. Poppy’s father, who was an accountant, came to Western Australia in 1899 or 1900. My mother was then about seven years old.
She married in 1919 when my father came back from the First World War the second time. He was wounded twice. My father’s proper name was Valentine Finch but she called him Dick because when he was at University they all called him Dickey Bird, seeing his name was Finch. My mother met him on a boat on her way back to Melbourne from Sydney; she had been there to visit her aunt. She was then eighteen years old. She recalled this man coming up the gangplank. She was standing watching the passengers and as he walked past her he made some remark to her and she thought that he had a cheek. She didn’t realise then that she would end up marrying him. They had four children. I am the eldest. My sisters were Margaret and Judith and my brother’s name was Lloyd.
I remember seeing the soldiers on horseback going off to the Boer War. They had feathers on their hats. I was six years old. I was watching them from the comer of David Jones’ big department store. David Jones was my great, great grandfather. He came from Wales and had farms there. My other great grandfather was A.V. Ross who was a doctor, also a parson in the Congregational Church in Pitt Street. A man called Latamer was my mother’s great grandfather. He came from France and was an artist in some way.
My husband was an accountant with the firm of Finch, Ross and Harwood. He came to Perth in Western Australia and discovered there were no accountants there, and as there was no institution or University where they could be taught, he decided he would teach anyone who was interested. He set up his school in a building near where the newspapers were printed. A lot of young men enrolled in his course. He then set up his own business with a couple of partners.
This man Latimer, had three daughters and one of them married one of the McCredies. Latimer made the most beautiful furniture. It was a hobby of his. He made some furniture from the fittings of the wreck of the Dunbar. I’ve got some chairs that he made and various members of the family have got other lovely pieces. The Dunbar was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia sometime in the 1800s.
David Jones had a beautiful home. I remember as a young woman I often used to go to Sydney as I had so many relations there. I used to visit my grandfather. He had four daughters. When I went there when I was little. I used to run outside and start climbing a tree. I used to love climbing trees and the daughters would be so shocked. All of the houses around David Jones were owned by professional people, including the one where Beth Watson lived. She was Virgillia, who had a column in the Western Mail newspaper. Her father was Charles Harris, who was involved in the rescue of Modesto Varaschetti, the entombed miner at the Westralia gold mine in 1903. He is my cousin.
The women who lived in the houses around David Jones did no housework and had maids. They spent their time taking turns in having the others over for afternoon tea, or they would have card or tennis parties.
One family there was called Gay. One of their daughters married a Moore, who had a big store there and another one married Dr Sawell, a well-known doctor in Mount Street. I think their brother, Rick, was in the Shackelton Expedition that went to the South Pole.
After we came to West Australia I started school at Miss Scott’s school in Havelock Street. Both boys and girls went there. I made a few friends at school. One was Edith Woolf, whose father was an accountant. Another friend was Dorothy Lukin whose father came over to teach law with Norton Lukin and Hayle. She married Fred Patterson who lived on a station out of Wiluna. Dorothy and I have been friends all of our lives. We lived opposite each other in Sydney at Strathfields. Her father was a lawyer. I used to go and play in their sandpit. She had one brother and as we got older we used to sit on the balcony and talk about writing books about everything. Then we all came over here.
Dorothy and I went to school together. Miss Tindal was the first one who taught us, before Miss Scott. We lived in a house in Collin Grove then. There weren’t many houses and plenty of bush around. There was bush around the Observatory and I used to go up there to play with the Cookson children.
The Faulkners used to live in a house near us. Mr Faulker had all of those stations, Ilaroo, Carnegie, Wongawoll and some others.
There were four Faulkner boys. I used to play with Bob and Jim. We used to get up to all sorts of mischief. We’d pinch the lemons and icing sugar to eat them with. Then we used to go down to Faulkner’s cow paddock. Their property had a tennis court, a cow paddock and goodness knows what. We dug a big tunnel in the hill right near where St Thomas’ Church is now, right through to the other street. If our parents had known what we were doing they would have been horrified. The sand could have fallen in and we could have been buried. The hill overlooked the Showground and we used to watch the Speedway from there.
My mother’s sister, Jean, married a King who went with Canning and old Trotman on his expedition to open up the Canning Stock Route.
There was a hall near St Mary’s Church where we used to go for parties. They used to rent the hall and young men we played tennis with, and others like the boys and girls we had gone to school with, went there. They were private dances; you had to be invited. We had programs where people wrote their names to book certain dances. My program was always full.
One of my sisters was going to go to University before she got married. I think she was going to study the Classics. She was an excellent pianist and singer and an elegant lady. My sisters all married well in England.
After I was married my husband took me up to a gold mine. Claude de Bernales owned the mine and my husband managed it for him. It was called Waroonga and was eight or nine miles out of Lawlers. The people in Lawlers were very different to the types of people I knew and it was a completely different environment. I didn’t go into the town that much. We had a beautiful house where the previous manager had once lived. Mr Bemales used to come up and see us sometimes.
Grandma and Grandad lived a few miles out, between Lawlers and the mine. They had a beautiful garden. Claude de Bernales and some other mining men came up this day and my sister and I had been up the mulberry tree with nothing on and were covered in mulberry stains. They saw us and my grandmother was horrified and quickly put us in a bath. We used to stay with our grandparents when the station was first being developed; we stayed with alternate grandparents and when my brother was born in 1927, we spent nine months with them.
Then there was trouble with mine. The water came up and the pumps in those days couldn’t pump it out quickly enough and they had to stop working the mine. Around that time the land around Lawlers was thrown open for pastoral purposes and when Wendy was six, my husband, his brother, Jim, and his sister, Con took up a property halfway between Lawlers and Waroonga. They were developing it. Con and Jim put up the fences and my husband did the surveying. They called the station Yeelirrie . I didn’t go with them while they were doing this but stayed behind in Lawlers.
Then they bought a little hut thing out from Lawlers and we went out and lived in it. It was built round like a vestibule and there was a bedroom there and another little bedroom and a passageway, then a small room and a big room that was our private one. You went up a step to them all. This was when we were getting going there. Then on the other side, there was a bathroom and they managed to get water to it. Before that, they had to pull it up from a well. Then they got a tank and we had running water. I worked hard on the station but didn’t mind it.
My husband died in 1937. I went over to England in 1948 and was away for nine months. While I was there I went to visit my aunt, Kay Smith, in this beautiful house where gentlewomen were being looked after. Some had titles, too. It was a little way out of London. This woman ran it in her own home. It was a very big house. I was invited there one day to stay with my aunt. I had arrived at night and in the morning I went down to breakfast and I was a bit late and I felt awful as they had all waited for me. In the evening we all sat around and Aunt Kay, we called her AK, introduced me to everyone. It was a beautiful room with a big fireplace and maids doing all the work. AK was a widow as her husband had died during the war.
I had one sister in Manchester and another in Durham. I was able to go away then because my children had grown up and my son was at University. He got engaged while I was away. The girl he was engaged to was a good singer. Her mother had taken her to New York to study singing. She didn’t follow her career after she was married. One of my aunts was also a good singer.
When I was in Durham I went to the University and saw Edith Sitwell being honoured. I sat next to her at a luncheon and we all went to a church service afterwards. She was dressed differently to anybody else there and her clothes were very colourful and she wore a lot of fantastic jewellery.
When I was living at the station I used to read all the books and magazine articles by Miles Franklin. I wrote to her and told her how much I enjoyed her writing and asked her to send me a copy of a book for a relation’s seventieth birthday and I would send her the money. We then started writing to each other. We did this for quite a while. I gave up writing to her because in a letter she had said, ‘I think that Churchill is worse than anything that came out of Germany.’ She was very involved with the Australia One movement. She wrote to me one more time after she heard that my husband had died.
We all read a lot up on the station and my father used to send some books up once a month. He had books sent up to me from a library in Kalgoorlie. He sent me those he thought I would enjoy. He sent me a copy of The Forsythe Saga when it first came out He also sent books by Henry Williamson and Katherine Mansfield.
My uncle, Charles Piazzi Smith, or Smythe, had written several books. He and his wife, Kay, had lived in Egypt for a while and he wrote all about the Pyramids. He also wrote one book called Human History. He then got involved in the controversy over the Pitcairn Skull.
All of my children were taught with correspondence lessons. It was a good way of learning because the children could work at their own pace and they had to correct every mistake they made. When she got older, Wendy went to boarding school for a couple of years. After she was married, Wendy’s children were also taught by correspondence.
My great grandmother and grandfather, Finch, were second cousins She was the first white woman in Darlot and her daughter, Con, was three months old when they arrived there. They had originally come from Victoria and her husband was an engineer. He had done his apprenticeship in a foundry.
Granny’s father-in-law, Thomas Finch, was the only surviving child. There had been several pregnancies but the babies all died. She was probably RH Negative as both Auntie Con and I are, too. Great Grandma Finch died of TB when she was forty-five. Grandad was very strong-minded and unconventional in some ways.
He came over sometime in the 90′ s sometime. He came over here to erect batteries and was in charge of all of those around Lawlers. He had one of his own as well as the mine at Waroonga. Grandad had some connection with Bewick and Moreing and knew Herbert Hoover, who was also involved with Bewick and Moreing. Hoover later became President of America.
Grandad had been here about eighteen months when he broke his leg and Granny came over from Victoria to see what he was doing to himself. Uncle Jim, who was thirteen, insisted on going with her. He hated school. So Granny left my father, who was then about seven or eight, with her maiden sister and came over here to check up on Grandad and stayed over here. Then she went back to have Auntie Con in 1889 and three years later went back to have Uncle Mick. All this time my father was at University. He had won a scholarship to Scots College. He did Classics first and then came home and met my mother on the boat. Grandad thought that my father should do something else to earn a crust and he did his apprenticeship at the foundry and then became an Engineer.
My mother has books on her bookshelves that my Grandfather was given as prizes at Scots College. He was dux of the school. She has a lot of books. I have a lot too, as I also read a lot. I remember the first book I read by Henry Williamson was about someone called Madison’s youthful years when he lived on a farm in Devon. His descriptions of the countryside were absolutely heavenly.
When I was out on the station we had this old pensioner called Donald Irvine. He had come out from England with a whole lot of money and had gone out sheep farming in New Zealand and because he had no idea of doing things for himself, he soon went broke. He left his wife and family in Sydney and then came to Western Australia and worked on the mine at Waroonga. He was what you would call a real gentleman in those days and was well educated. Later on, he came out and worked on the station and he had the original little hut near where Auntie Con, Uncle Jim and my father were developing the station. He used to look after the vegetable garden, the chooks and that. He loved reading and used to order books from Angus and Robinson. He bought a first edition of the book “Lay Down Your Arms” by that Norwegian writer called Bertha von Suttner. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. That was in 1905. I have a first edition but it is very fragile, as I have read it so often.
There was a man called Langford who was a partner with Dad on the mine at Lawlers. We never found out but there were rumours that he was the illegitimate son of a Duke in England. He was an interesting character. I think these people gave their sons money and sent them out to Australia.
At one stage Grandad was building houses in Moonie Ponds in Victoria. That was where Auntie Con was born. He was building houses as well as his foundry type work. Granny had gambled on the stock exchange and had lost Grandad all his money. Then the banks went bust in 1892, as well as the land boom crash and that is why he came to Western Australia.
When my father died of a ruptured appendix m 1937, and after George and I got married in 1941, Mother came down and lived with us. My brother was at boarding school and my second sister was at University and my younger sister was about to start nursing at Princess Margaret Hospital. My mother has lived down here near us ever since.
I went out to Yelerrie Station when I was about four. My Grandfather had been away at the War for four years and my father had been living with his sister. He hadn’t come over here with his mother and father.
Auntie Con didn’t get married until she was thirty-five. She used to send away for all these banned books and she had this book by Marie Stokes and another called “The Wells of Loneliness”. They were about lesbians. When she was away helping them put up a windmill or something we would sneak in and look at these books. She always knew what we had been doing. We felt terribly guilty.
She was a very determined woman and one morning she came out looking triumphant and asked me if I had heard that talk on the radio. She said the talk was about arranging your funeral. I asked her what it was and she told me it was about donating your body to the University. She asked me to ring up and find out what one had to do. I did that and they sent out forms which she filled in. She was always interested in scientific things and thought if she donated her body it could be of use to science. I think if she hadn’t been up there she would have been a professional woman of some sort. She could have been a vet as she had some books on the subject and treated the horses on the station herself. Auntie Con finished up dying of a stroke.
Mum had something wrong with her and was in hospital for ten weeks. She sent for Allie Williams to look after the family and I think you could call her my Nanny. She stayed with us for six months. Later, she looked after her sister’s children after her sister had died. She finished up marrying her brother-in-law.
I have four and a half years to go before I am 100 years old. I have a lot of memories and I haven’t had much in the way of illnesses, not until lately, when I broke a hip.
More pictures and articles of Lawlers and Yeelirrie Station I came across in Trove: