Roma Writer's Group

The Works of Lee Goleby


A fictional reconstruction by Lee Goleby, May 2000, based on an actual event as told to Philip Goleby, by my great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Goleby. Philip was a son of David William Goleby, who came with his family to Queensland in 1911, when Philip was but a year old.

I don't know the place and time where this event occurred. James Goleby worked on the railway from Bigge's Camp (Grandchester) to Toowoomba, so I am assuming it happened somewhere along that construction. The date I chose is the official opening of the rail to Gatton.

The letter is written to Rachel Kemp, Mary Ann's half-sister. Henriette is a made-up name, although the chicken account is true.

24th May, 1866.

Dear Rachel,
My darling sister, I hope you are well, and that Mother and the other children continue the same. I cry still for poor little Charly, but the camp keeps me so occupied that I try to push him to the back of my mind. Two little souls laid to rest, and I thank God for our three boys He has left us. You would scarcely believe how brown they are, and Fred always with the men, wherever they are working. He is well-liked by all, and seems to have an old head on young shoulders.

I have told you of the planned official opening of the new section of rail. Today was that day. Oh my goodness! You would not believe what it was like.

We were all astir before dawn to make the final preparations for Governor Bowen's visit. Sometimes I wish we didn't have the engineer's house, the only wooden building at the campsite. Imagine my entertaining the Governor and his party. I was filled with trepidation, and only wished for the day to go smoothly. I thought I was managing tolerably well. All the ladies helped in whichever ways they could. I made sure I chose the chickens for the luncheon. No-one was going to chop Henriette's head off. Besides being our best layer, she is also your farewell gift to us, the last time we saw each other. I killed several chickens for the feast, and still kept enough layers to keep us in eggs.

We lost a number of chickens at first, some stolen by the natives, and others by the foxes and wild yellow dogs. They say the foxes were brought from England for sport. (I wonder who had that fool notion.) The bush natives disappeared about two months back. I don't know where they went. We prepared a magnificent table for the official guests and their families. It meant using up valuable supplies, but it was worth it for such a special occasion.

Everyone went down to watch the official opening. No one wanted to miss out, so we closed up the house to keep out the dogs, and all hurried down to the station to meet the train.

The ceremony went well. I was so proud of my wonderful husband, who gave his first public address. There were many more speeches, so we were all ready for a good meal when it was over. Jim walked with Governor Bowen and the vice-regal party back to the house. He was in top form, full of enthusiasm for the next project, and sharing his visions with our guests. I followed several chains behind with the women. Lady Bowen is such a pleasant woman, and is much travelled; therefore I was not paying a lot of attention to what was happening ahead of us.

Suddenly I realized that Jim and the men had stopped. I can tell you, I was somewhat distressed to think that my husband had not the manners to show our hungry guests into the house. I excused myself, and hurried forward to rectify matters. Then I saw the problem, and my blood boiled. Rachel, the sight was one I shall never forget. The blacks were everywhere in and around the house! Each one had handfuls of food. The outside of the house, littered with remains of the feast, was just some indication of the interior.

I cannot recall thinking what I would do next - I simply reacted. I hoisted my skirts, ran up the stairs, and grabbed the first black man I came to. I thrust with all my might, and he tumbled the three feet off the verandah, jumped to his feet, and took off, as if all the demons in hell were after him. Amazingly, the whole lot of them followed suit, and fled, howling with fear - I don't know why. Old Sam says they had never experienced a woman fighting a man before. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful that they left as they did. Some of them had weapons, against which I would have been powerless. It was indeed reckless of me.

The next scene I remember is of Jim and our guests looking at me with their mouths hanging open. All at once I realized what could have happened, and felt quite faint. We went inside, and the place was a ruin. Even the flour bins had been overturned. Several people came to clean and set up the tables out under the trees. They began to salvage what food they could, while I collected the axe.

I'm sorry to tell you, dear Rachel, but Henriette is no more. I could scarcely eat any of the luncheon, knowing what I have done. But there is no room for sentimentality here. It is a luxury we left behind in England. You might think you have few luxuries in Wilby, but Mother's shop would be a heaven on Earth here. We shall endeavour to get more chickens sent out on the train. As you know, we owned the only poultry in the camp.

Today was still another reminder of the backwardness here, and yet, in some strange way, the land gets under our skin. It's not just that I can breathe more easily here - the consumption has almost left me now. We feel as if we are really contributing towards something great. We have helped to open up fine farming land, and already more settlers are following in our footsteps. This day and its events seem to sever our last links with Suffolk. Perhaps it is true that we shall never return home. It saddens me to think that, but I still hope you will join us in the future, when we are more settled.

Give my love to Esther and Mary, and also our brothers. Tell Mother I will write again as soon as I am able. Stay well my dear. Greetings also from Jim, Fred, Jimmy and Lenny.

I remain, your affectionate sister,

Mary Ann