The Heather to The Hawkesbury
Follows Mary Macdonald and her family; her brother Fergus MacKenzie; sister-in-law Caro MacLeod; cousins the Fraser and all their families who have had to emigrate from the Isle of Skye during the “Clearances”. The story follows the four families from Scotland, on the ship out and to the NSW colony in 1850’s. Mary does not cope with the changes and losses that occur in the first months in the colony. The other women in the family rely on her and she nearly crumbles. Through accidents, losses, trials, floods, and hard work the families struggle together and forge a strong bond with their new country.
Loosely based on the family history of both the Author and her husband who both had Scottish Highlander ancestry! Much of their family history has been woven into the many sagas these characters experience.
Sheila Hunter was passionate about her family and loved to research their history. This story is gleaned from a mix of both her husbands and her own Scottish families and their settlement and contribution to our country. Her Father was the grandson of Scottish immigrants and he was both born and brought up on the Victorian goldfields as was her mother. Sheila’s husbands family were also from Scotland (McLeans) and came out as described in the book, only they were of the illiterate class (speaking only Gaelic) from the Isle of Mull. Life was hard for them and they were helped to learn and settle in the new colony by John Dunmore Lang and his wife. They were taught to cut trees, farm, milk cows, make cheese and they learnt with gusto turning these skills into what later became Norco Dairy Co-Op in Northern New South Wales.
Sheila was born in New Zealand to Australian parents, Murdoch & Mabel McDonald (or Macdonald as they were known before they went to NZ) moved back to Melbourne Australia with her family when Sheila was only 4 yrs old. She was a nurse by training, but an adventurer in her life! A wife and mother she was a great story teller, often making up very long stories for both her children and grandchildren. They would listen enwrapped within the stories of her telling. Often these whiled away many hours of travel in the car while travelling Australia.
In 1999 Sheila was awarded one of 20 Senior Citizen Awards for NSW in the International Year of the Senior Citizen. She was an amazing woman! Life was tough - growing up during WW2 in a single parent family (her dad had left them to back to the two children from his first marriage who were still in New Zealand). They lived and ran a Service Station on the docks in Melbourne in a family Service Station. She went to school during the day and worked in the Service Station after school, weekends and at nights, with no pay. She won a full ‘Cello scholarship about this time, but it was during the war and on arriving home one day found that her mother had sold her ‘Cello to help pay the household bills! Yes life was hard! On leaving school she enrolled in Nursing only to be the butt of jokes from her family, but she not only succeeded but excelled at this caring role, ending up as acting Matron of “Roma” Private Hospital in East Gosford NSW.
Sheila married Norman M Hunter in 1955 and they lived in Avoca Beach all their married life. They had two children, Norman Jnr & Sara. Norman and Sheila were a well known couple on the Central Coast NSW with Norman a well know Real Estate Agent who also built, owned & operated Avoca Beach Picture Theatre in Avoca Beach NSW, as well as amassing an amazing Natural History Collection that was known and studied world wide and together they were part of many groups and associations in the area. It was soon after their marriage that they faced the loss of Normans orchard on the Nepean River at Birds Eye Corner, Castlereagh, due to dust from the Gravel pit from the next door farm at Castlereagh, near Penrith NSW. This same orchard was the first farm in the area in 1801 at ‘Jacksons Ford’ or ‘Birds Eye Corner’ at Castlereagh (known in the book as Riverbend). It was this that inspired the writing of this book.
In 2000, her beloved husband and fellow adventurer, Norman, died from Pneumonia/Dementia and she unfortunately followed only two years later from Cancer.
Sara Powter 2017
Australian Colonial history, Scottish Immigration, Australian History.