More tales from my mother 3 — Braefield NSW 1916-1923

My mother died in 1996. Internal evidence dates what follows to 1979, so my mother wrote it at the age of 68 at Oyster Bay while I was living in Wollongong. It is thus ten years more recent than the other memoir published here earlier. In the late 60s we had visited relatives at Wellington, Yeovil, and out towards Mudgee, some of whom had children affected by the rationalisation of the small schools. She may have also been thinking of them as she wrote.

The pages she left me have no title and consist of thirteen handwritten quarto writing pad pages. They overlap somewhat with the other memoir published here earlier. The subheadings are mine. I did not see these pages until after my mother’s death, so far as I know. The earlier memoir I had seen. Her theme in all these sketches is the worthiness of the small country schools of NSW.

The second extract dealt with Felled Timber Creek, NSW, from 1914 to 1915. This page continues her story.


My father at Braefield School   1916-1923


cottage Braefield was a small place: three railway night officers’ cottages, a Post Office Store of sorts, and a brand new school building. The old one became the local hall where church services — every denomination — were held once a month, and it was also the scene of all local social activity. It was War time and a very energetic committee made up of farmers’ wives and families knitted for soldiers and every lad that left Braefield was farewelled in the old school hall and presented with a watch, and welcomed home — those that came home — being then given a medal by a now saddened committee.

Dad could not live near the school for the first year, so drove daily by horse and sulky to the school from Quirindi.

This school was a real challenge. The enrolment was just on forty and maintained that average for the seven years he toiled there with much enthusiasm and a great deal of success.

rabbits At the end of the first year a farmer built a small fibro cottage on part of his farm, which we were able to rent. It was about half a mile from the school. Here we had two years of drought. The water used to come by special train from Murrurundi, and the only thing that grew were the rabbits. They took over by the hundreds. Everyone was trapping; the skins were worth a bit on the market. To this day I cannot abide rabbit, baked, stewed, fried, or in any condition! We were forced to rely on them as our main meat dish.

Besides the great enthusiasm Dad put into his work, he studied for his own Grade Exams to get promotion, which meant a trip away every June to the Inspectorate Headquarters at Muswellbrook. He also coached — for nothing — students at night when he thought them apt for Higher Education.

We also had acquired our own horse and sulky, but to sit for his exams Dad have to leave in the midnight hours to catch the North-West Mail from Quirindi, a journey of four miles he made on foot. At Quirindi he would be joined by another young man who had a school named Joseph and Jacob Creek, and together they would make this trip. We were close to the railway line, but the North West Mail did not stop at Braefield, so Mum and us older children would wait on the verandah in the cold and Dad would signal by switching on and off the light of the compartment in which he and Alan were travelling, to let us know that all was well.


North-West Mail by W E Pidgeon (WEP) — linked to source.

They would arrive at Inspectors’ Headquarters at 8.30 am and exams started at 9.30, going to about 5 pm.  Then the two would wait to catch the North-West back to Quirindi, arriving in the very early morning, and then it was teaching as usual.

The War still raged and Dad could not be accepted by the Army as he had only one eye, the result of an accident at 10 years of age playing soldiers: the boy in front of him with a stick to his shoulder instead of a gun poked Dad’s eye out. Strangely he became a teacher by clerical error because when he went for his medical check-up on joining the Department the clerk placed his name on the wrong list and it was not discovered until after he had already been successfully teaching for some years.

Braefield School became a Demonstration School at this time and the District Inspector used to send young men struggling to get their schools in order to sit in and watch us at work. We were proud of that. I too was a pupil by then; in fact my father was the only teacher I ever had!

He taught us his own love of poetry [That at least has passed down to me! — N] especially Australian poetry, and history, again a deal of Australian, and as a good oral reader he read for an hour each week to the whole school: Treasure Island — always a favourite — Gulliver’s Travels, and many other novels, Lorna Doone being one I recall.


For the technically minded, this is a phaeton, not a sulky…

Then came the Peace. Strangely word of it was brought to the school about 10 am on 12 November 1918 (1) by an excited German who had the farm opposite the school, and having gone to Quirindi early to do the weekly shopping came at breakneck speed shouting “The War is over! Schoolie, up with the flag! The Kaiser has been defeated!” What good settlers and citizens those Germans made in that section of the country!


Sydney’s Martin Place 11 November 1918

Life went on. If ever you have known black soil country in drought when daily mobs of sheep were driven by desperate farmers along the road looking for pasture and the sheep dying by the way you will know what heartbreak it can be. And then the floods came, and black soil country in flood time is really something! But did the wheat grow after that — and the Scotch thistles! That summer we heard the lovely sound of wheat being harvested and smelt the beautiful aroma of new mown hay.

The years had gone by and we had the aftermath of the War, the influenza epidemic. Many in our district succumbed. Dad himself was the only member of our family on his feet at one stage. Many a time at night he was called to the bedside of a dying mother, child, or father; doctors were hard to get and hospitalisation impossible, and as he had a First Aid Certificate they came to Dad. He could do nothing of course, but the people loved him and trusted him and he seemed to give them comfort. The rapport from pupil to teacher was carried over to parent and teacher.


Not the KKK but medical personnel in Sydney during the flu pandemic

In December 1920 we went to Sydney for the Christmas vacation, returning on Chaffey’s Mail, which left Central about 2 pm on Saturday and stopped all stations from Murrurundi to Tamworth where it terminated. We arrived home about 2.30 am.

The tornado

The following day, Monday, was Anniversary Day. Dad drove into Quirindi to get supplies; there were Chinese shops always open. Before his return we children had been watching the sky. At first we thought a dust storm was approaching across the Breeza Plains. The sky went from red to purple and then to deep indigo. Thank goodness Dad arrived home, and he said to Mother who was ironing in the kitchen, “There is a storm going to hit the back of the house, and we had better go into the bedrooms.” She refused as she wanted to finish her ironing. Within moments the verandah had gone and dad hustled us all into the dining room and under a heavy oak table. It became pitch dark. The storm only lasted for twenty minutes, but the dining room was all that was left of our home! If it had not been for a 10,000 gallon water tank which was luckily full and sheltered that room only, I would not be here today.

Kind neighbours took us in. The path of the storm could be traced back along the plains as large trees were chopped to match wood, and our place and the railway siding were in its direct path. Both were shattered. A kindly farmer lent us an unoccupied dwelling, scarcely a house, but shelter, and we were given bedding and necessary equipment so that we could survive. The iron roof of our place was found over a mile from the house! The other farmer had our home rebuilt as quickly as possible.

Poor Mother was pregnant again and a still-born child was born in June. Again it nearly cost our Mother’s life, and again, thank God for Dad’s wonderful mother who came and stayed through these very troublesome times.

Leaving Braefield

To get an assistant teacher the daily attendance had to be about  42, and even though 45 were enrolled, the average was only 34. The parents helped. Children walked in all weathers to keep enrolments up, but unexpected things kept it just below the then standard requirements. Dad passed his Grade Exams and his teaching efficiency mark was a grade higher, so he had to just keep slogging away and get the standard up to get promotion. It came in 1922 and he was given a school called Dunolly…

At Braefield parents, pupils, ex-pupils, even people from Quirindi and Willow Tree, gave Dad — Roy Christison — and my mother, Ada, the biggest send-off and good wishes of all in the district. It was a proud moment for them.

  Jean Christison to her grandmother — an undated letter from Braefield

This page is complete now. Go to More tales from my mother 4 — Dunolly NSW — and conclusions for the final episode. 


1. From the Australian War Memorial:

Seventeen members of the First AIF died on 11 November 1918, the day the Armistice ending World War I was signed. They came from all states of Australia: eight enlisted in NSW, three in Western Australia, two each in Tasmania and Victoria, and one apiece in South Australia and Queensland. There was no pattern to their deaths. Some died of wounds, others of illness. Most were single but some were married. Their ranks ranged from Private to Sergeant. Several had previously been wounded in action. One had been decorated for bravery. Like all other Australian service personnel who died during the war, their names are listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial…

The highest ranking and most decorated Australian who died on 11 November was Military Medal recipient Sergeant John Page (service number 2135). Born near Quirindi in New South Wales, he enlisted on 13 April 1916. He was an unmarried 28-year-old contractor who nominated his father Peter as his next of kin. On 24 August he embarked with the 3rd reinforcements of the 34th Battalion. He disembarked in England in October and proceeded to France in November. He was appointed Lance Corporal in January 1917, the first of a series of promotions.

On 6 May 1917 he was admitted to hospital suffering a gunshot wound to the groin. He spent several weeks in hospital but rejoined his unit on 15 June and five days later was appointed temporary Corporal. On 15 July, while serving in Belgium, he was wounded for a second time when he suffered a gunshot wound to the neck. He was admitted to hospital in England and shortly after reverted to the rank of Lance Corporal. On 27 October he rejoined his unit, who were now located in France, and in mid-November he was promoted to Corporal. In early December he was promoted to Sergeant. During January-February 1918 he spent six weeks at Brigade School before rejoining his unit on 23 February.

For his actions in early March he was awarded the Military Medal. His citation reads as follows: For devoted service on night of 4-5/3/18 during raid on enemy trenches in vicinity of Warneton. With his party he was temporarily held up by superior numbers of the enemy in the trench leading to his final objective but by his personal courage and determined fighting he eventually cleared the way for the advance. His gallant efforts were of the highest value, and relieved a critical situation for his party.

On 31 August, while serving in France, he was wounded for a third time. He was admitted to hospital in England suffering a gunshot wound to his right arm. He was released from hospital on 16 September and on 22 October 1918 he married 20-year-old domestic servant Elsie Hawkins. The wedding took place in the parish church of her hometown of Harefield, Middlesex. On 31 October he was hospitalised with influenza and he died on 11 November, just three weeks after the wedding.

9 thoughts on “More tales from my mother 3 — Braefield NSW 1916-1923

  1. Hello Neil. I discovered this site only recently and am pleasantly surprised!! It’s great to see you putting this information on the web. Some of it brings back and reinforces stories my father told me. I now drive through Braefield regularly on the way to Quirindi and am always reminded of dad’s story about the tornado. Keep it up!
    Love Ray

  2. Bravo for mum and Dad. He sounds an excellent teacher.

    By sheer serendipity, you also supplied information I’d sought without success. What celebrations, if any, took place on Armistice Day 11th november, 1918 in Sydney? The joyous crowd photo at Martin Place Cenotaph was answer enough for my WW1 story.

  3. Thanks, Neil.

    In the continuing dialogue between us, something that I continue to value greatly, we need to continue to work on the clatrity issue. So your mum’s work has its own value independent of individual factual corrections. As you will have seen, I am using it to illustrate points that I want to make, hopefully without disturbing its integrity.

  4. No offence taken, Jim; indeed I quietly corrected one slip as she had dated that announcement of the end of the War to 1917… On that one, too, her mentioning it, or recalling it especially, may well have been coloured by the close friendship she — indeed I too and my father — developed in Wollongong a few years before with Tilly and Willy Pigorsch, the latter a former member of the Werhmacht In WWII who had fought on the Russian Front.

  5. I hope that I did not give offence, Neil. I was not being critical, far from it. The material is vey interesting and well remembered after all this time. The strength of oral history, memories, is that it is remarkably good at giving an emotional context, always less good at precise chronology or facts.

    Her recollections do indeed bring out the significance of the schoolie in a small community, as well as the value of the small schools. I did not comment on this because I took it for granted.With the exception of Spencer, I know little about the history or life of the Hawkesbury, I know the country she is writing about pretty well. So it’s all very interesting at a range of levels.

  6. But I have to say as I try to recall things from 55 or so years ago that my mother had a pretty accurate memory, given that in this section all the events are around 60 years before the time of her writing them down; just about the only fact checking she would have been in a position to do would have been with her own earlier account written about ten years before. She had of course been telling these stories for years, as I do recall, and her father used to tell some versions of them too. Funnily enough her sister hardly ever did — her stories tended to cut in much later. Probably with a bit of thought I could reconcile some of the inconsistencies.

    Still, I think she amply demonstrates her point about the significance of the “schoolie” in small communities in those days.

  7. Interesting, Neil. As you might expect, there are a few apparent inconsistencies with the earlier material.

    I wonder why they caught the North West Mail? Quirindi is on the main north line, so there would have been the Glen Innes and Brisbane Mails as well. I suppose that it’s all a question of the time the trains went through.

    I had never heard of Chaffey’s mail terminating in Tamworth. Something else I did not know. In all, very interesting.

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