No doubt about it Georgiana McCrae was a high maintenance babe. But let’s leave that for awhile and splash into her history. She was the out of wedlock daughter of the Duke of Gordon, a real Scottish icon with a castle and the whole nobility bit. Unfortunately for Georgiana it was not the right century, ‘to be born on the wrong side of the blanket” as society put it. I mean imagine Prince Charles having to explain that sort of thing.
Georgiana was raised at the end of the terrible Napoleonic wars, when the only hope for an ambitious girl of fire was to go to the colonies. And Australia was the toughest colony of all. Particularly the newly formed Port Phillip settlement.
Yes, none of today’s nannied society. Lets cast the scene in 1840, the decade she came to Melbourne. In the late 1830’s its population was only a tad over 300. It was just prior to the chaotic gold rush era of the 1850s. Adventurers intent on quick money had not descended on the land of plenty. Instead a hardy lot of ambitious pioneers, mainly in search of independence and cheap land, came with a determination to forge ahead. The later ‘Gold rush’ was to radically change Melbourne and the McCrae’s thinking. But in the 1840s they had ‘smelly’ sanitation, roughshod buildings and a decided lack of refinement. Early Melbourne was a rough diamond and to Georgiana, bringing up 5 children, it was tough going. A lass in search of a future had only the prospect of cheap land and a hard working husband to brighten their fortunes. No rich middle class to sell stocks, bonds and real estate investments to.
Georgiana had married Andrew McCrae in Scotland in 1930 and we get the feeling, from her diary, that he never came up to her romantic childhood dreams. She refers to him always as Mr. McCrae and one can glean an aloofness from him which we suspect grew over the years . He is rarely praised. Still even today it is near impossible to get a praising wife and just quietly (shhh) a diary is a nice place to air your complaints without the vitriol of direct confrontation. I might start one myself.
Andrew and Georgiana came to Australia in 1839 (Sydney) and soon realized their fortunes lay in Melbourne or Port Phillip as it was known . We learn from her dairies she was a finicky soul, often complaining of headaches (when Andrew was around). Nevertheless, she was a highly talented artist and relentless domestic manager. Not one built ,perhaps, for the pioneering life but game enough regardless. They lived in Melbourne for a few years then in 1845 decided to build a series of shacks in what was to become our beloved McCrae.
This is where her real life’s adventure begins. Georgiana McCrae packed up in the ship “Midge” and sailed to Arthur’s seat whilst Andrew roughed it along the coastal tracks by horse. Andrew had by this time half built the original shacks which you can inspect to this day. They are well worth the visit despite being ritzed up for the tourists. Included in the outhouses are what she calls her “University of Arthur’s Seat”. Here she dutifully taught the children a remarkable spectrum of skills from languages, Greek and Roman history, to maths and of course her beloved art.
And this is where a fascinating part of the tale begins. She befriended members of the local Bunurong tribe who numbered some 300. Amongst them she sported a few very close mates. In particular was Ben-Benjie who she often went spear fishing with around the rocks and beaches . They even gathered wild raspberries together. The local Bunurong were frequent visitors and there is even a picture drawn by her son of a Corroboree held at their house. Many of her sketches featured these brethren of the bush. We learn such fascinating gems as the Bunurong’s fondness for possum meat as against Kangaroo.
But of course Georgiana McCrae could not but help but getting involved in their local love trysts and she even hid one of the young Bunurong girls who had run away from her husband for a more suitable lover. Nothing much changes. An endearing trait was the universal appeal of her piano playing and the local Bunurong would often gather around to hear her play. Her famous piano still lives in the house for all to witness.
We must never forget Georgiana’s reigning passion for art. By the time she left Scotland she had a fine reputation as a painter of miniatures. At one stage she even entertained the idea of making a living from her craft. Ah! but the family forbade it as undignified and Georgiana acquiesced. I can’t quite imagine Janine Daddo succumbing so easily. There would of been hell to pay. But these were different times.
But for all the charm and fascination of the dairy, for me the archaeologist, the real gem is the revelation that the Bunurong tribe had witnessed the cataclysmic formation of Port Phillip bay. She records how a Mr Cobb talks to the blacks. They said originally you could
“walk dry foot from our side of the bay to Geelong”. It was a Kangaroo grazing ground. He quotes that,”long ago, in a night of great tempests, the trees blew down and a great sea rushed in through the heads at Portsea. The land sank under earthquakes and the water became deep and void, just as it is today”
She notes Governor Batman also added the aboriginal tradition that the Yarra once flowed along the Carrum swamps and came out in Westernport bay. What a great catastrophic event this must of been . Thanks Georgiana for your fascinating diaries.
Peter Mungo Jupp also filmed in MUNGOFLIX.com