Trip to Dalwallinu | Queenies letters to Norman

At this moment in history…

Queenie (Margaretta Elizabeth Nicholas), still single young woman now 19 years old, takes a short trip to Dalwallinu in November 1918 leaving her beloved Norman Devenish behind. Queenie clearly misses Norman and although she writes often, he does not, much to her dismay. Occasionally she refers to Norman as “Comrade”.

WWI has only just officially ended a few days before the trip (WWI ended 11 November 1918). During this time when Queenie has gone to visit Dalwallinu, trouble continues to brew away at the Fremantle wharf which will impact Queenie’s life later in 1919.

Queenie is visiting the Garland’s farm in Dalwallinu where harvesting is in full swing with a bumper crop expected, far exceeding Western Australia’s average at the time. Meanwhile, the Flynn’s were not so fortunate with a hail storm devastating their crop. The misfortune of the Flynn’s is not mentioned in the letters, I only mention it here for perspective on other things happening in Dalwallinu at the time. Although a thunderstorm is mentioned for 21st November which unsettled the horses, perhaps this is when the hail occurred.

Crop growing on June and Headleys farm
Crop growing on June and Headley farm in Dalwallinu (June is the granddaughter of Queenie).

Hilda G, mentioned in the letters, refers to Hilda Garland Mulligan. The West Australian newspaper printed in the Family Notices on Wednesday 20th March 1918 “MULLIGAN (nee Hilda Garland). —On March 17, of  Armadale-road, Burswood, to Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Mulligan —a daughter. Both well.”

John Joseph Mulligan was referred to as Jack. Jack moved to Dalwallinu during WWI and managed the Garland’s farm where he met Hilda Garland, a teacher. Later, on April 9th, 1919, he commenced work for the Dalwallinu store co-op. Tom was the farmhand during this visit.

Stella Mulligan, Jack’s sister and Queenies friend, also kept a diary. Queenie states that Stella is 16 at the time of her writing but she may have been unaware of Stella’s recent birthday. Stella was born on  22nd of August 1901.  On the 14th of October 1918, Stella’s diary shows she left Perth (believed to have lived in Burswood with Percy and Daisy Mulligan) for Dalwallinu, a trip she made often. From Stella’s diary entries it appears that the baby referred to here is Doris.

Anthony Bell is another key character in Queenies letters. Little is known of Anthony except that much later on (1927) he donated a sum of money that enabled the relocation of the Kununoppin church to Dalwallinu. Much later a hall was attached to the Dalwallinu Uniting Church building and named the “Anthony Bell Hall“. If you have further information please contact us.

1918, 14th November, Thursday

The adventures of the train ride to Dalwallinu

Cet est mon jour!

To the Dearest and Best of them all.

I am locked in a 1st Class carriage and I’ve got all night to write to you. It’s about 8.5pm and we’re just past Bellevue – I can see your star out on the right. Now we’re passing Blackboy (I think) it looks and smells like it.Every compartment has its own water bag – and as I’ve just eaten 3 rosy apples I don’t have any, thanks. My! You aughter see the bathroom! All except the Bath.

Now we’re in the Tunnel some smoke. Glad I got a warning about the windows! It’s all condensed on the windows, now we’re out. It’s a lovely moonlight night and a musical crowd are going some on “Land of H & G” up at the front (of the train I mean). Over a short viaduct we go. Tall stately gums stand silent in the sombre moonlight, but your star above all, now to the back – guiding me always. (I hope my literary effort is appreciated) – now it’s over the engine! I quote this (train jumps) to show how we turn and twist. I’ve seen 2 orchards already.

Now Parkerville. Here is a hill with gaunt, despairing tree-trunks, opening their white beseeching branches to the moon as if praying. I see 5 houses and hear frogs – above the noise of the train. It’s Lion Mill! Now Orion has appeared as if I’ve been looking for him. Now we’re through the Ranges and the engine “thinks-it-can.” We’re moving the noo like a young horse on a long straight road. Now Chidlows Well and the train stopped with me not 5 ft from the Bar. The Guard unlocks the door.

Quite a big tea shop is Chidlows. I bought some Milk Arrowroot Bis for myself, 10d., a young man brought to me. We’re off again now s’more houses (4). Goodness! I nearly lost me eyesight that time- looking for the name, it’s Wooroloo. The ground has been flatter than V.P. since Lion Mill. My fifth buskit. I’ll be able to chew all night now after that. I think I’ll have a sleep! If possible – nothing happening yet – I spose its abt 10.30.

Stop at Baker’s Hill. 6 houses and a shop, no “Hill” I can see. Now if they’d called this Station a “Hill” instead of Clackline there might be more sense. I see my first farm at Spencer’s Brook – pretty big Station with extensive fields on either side, another viaduct and a sweet little brook.

I must have made a mistake about the time – we’re at Northam and it’s 10.30 now. The engine’s having a drink – hope it doesn’t take too much. Northam – a big station – Railway workshops, abt 30 two storied sheep trucks full in transit – much wheat on another train and about 10 mins’ stay. Wood etc on another. Relieved of my ticket here. One solid hive of industry here too – whistle stop!

“What’s this place?” Ses I to a friendly porter. “Eas’ Northam, Miss!” says he. If I get up to look at every station I’ll be up & down all night. Heavens! Here’s a race-course! & Grandstand! A slight alteration in Tennyson – [?].

On either side as we hurry by

Fields of wheat in stillness lie. Witness – I’ve seen my first field of wheat! By moonlight and all made into sheaves! I now know what “white unto harvest” means.

Burke’s siding – no platform and a neat little waiting room. Big bundles of what looked like compressed lucerne, big flocks of sheep. We’re going right East I can tell by Mars (it rises in the east & follows the Sun).

Yarnadinning siding, it looks as if the Angels have put a white counterpane over the hillside (harvest), no sheep. Rossmore – ditto. Yarnadinning except that there are horses & cows in the corn.

I wake up! Train stopped! It sounds like on shipboard when the boat stops – men stretching their legs on the platform, another refreshment depot. I’m off the station, big jump to ground. It must be getting late, anyhow I’m going to have another biscuit. Much colder now and more cloud.-  good morning – I can’t be bothered looking for your star. Engines got some more [water] in (so have I).

“Got any cups there, madam?”  “No!” Away we go. Someone says “What time is it please?” “Quarter to one!” 4 ½ hours to go! Hope I don’t fall out of “bed”. One or 2 hills – first since Lion M, and more fields and flat as a Social with nothing but Speeches.

We stop again after a piece of bush land and I hop up to see the home, but only a small iron shed with no visible name and a good gravel road meet my eye. Lie down and after a while ‘stop!’ Botherling siding. Amen. Push on old chap. The moon is setting so I can’t see much. Anyhow somebody says “Konnongorring.” An old dame has a wongy with the Guard and the train has to wait. I’ve had a good rest and we’ve got to Wongon Hills, I think I must be getting near the North Pole. It’s quite dark now & W.A. looks pretty black & flat gravelly earth. It’s abt 3 am. A cheery guard walks up and down and I arrive at my place at sunrise, he says.

A shooting star just went, it looked like a skyrocket. I’m getting colder and colder. I’ve got my tin trunk on the middle of cabin floor and in a minute I’ll start hurdle racing (they’re testing the wheels of train) between the two doors!! I’m getting tired of this, I’ll have a clean up and wait for dawn. I’m now ready, hat on and a clean face, sitting on the edge of the seat slowly freezing, but I mustn’t shut the window.

A Brightness comes and I’ve watched the slow twilight just merge into light as we speed past the salt lakes. They are flat shallow, white salt fringed with meagre growth of stunted marsh plants. There is a cloud which looks just like the Hand of a great giant holding a high-heeled shoe to a group of eager girls with Charles 1st clothes on. So my fancy imagines it as the sunrise paints it a glorious purple and vermillion. Now the soft sough of the breeze on the curtseying wheat, and the train pulls up at Pithara as the sun comes out. The guard asks if I want breakfast at Buntine but next stop is mine and I begin to look round. The ground is all baked clay about here, easy to walk on. I notice the mile posts and stand at the window to watch the miles of wheat fields scurry by. How the freshness brings a tingle to my cheeks and where the wheat is garnered the sweet scent of it makes me feel the gladness of life.

Here’s the station and a strong horse is pulling a cart towards the station. The sun seems in the wrong place to me and I don’t feel as if it is morning, it seems like evening. And then the guard comes and helps me out, no platform much but a busy place. Supplies have come and the farmers drive in for their mail and papers and goods.

Norman Dear, this is my journey – I wonder if you can imagine it and read the dreful scrawl, my pencil has done it’s dooty – Dinna forget, Queen.

1918, 16th November, Saturday

Bumper harvest and attending the Dalwallinu dance in Anthony Bell’s horse and cart

Comrade of Mine.

I had to count on my fingers the days to get the date.

Yesterday after I arrived I inspected the place and had breakfast. The house is made of hessian and is really a camp, very comfortable nevertheless. Geraniums all round it and a white duck outer wall. Pot plants etc are very cooling and it stands in the middle of the sky with its own wheat and oat fields stretching round it as far as eye can see.

The harvest is remarkable this year. Mr Garland told me this morning as we went out in the cart for another load – that the average wheat yield for W.A. is 11 bushels to the acre – he expects 24 bushels this year and has abt 500 acres in heavy crop. It stands about 3 ½ – 4 ft high & looks as smooth as a lawn. There is a large haystack behind the house, and behind that, abt 70 bags of 1st class wheat or oats (both). Oats is paying best this year, but they only have 80 acres! of that.

The cream and home made bread and fresh milk are delicious. It isn’t very hot because a cool breeze is blowing all the time. When I shut my eyes I imagine it’s the wind on the sea – just rustling the wheat and trees behind the house.

There are six horses – four are up abt ½ mile away on the harvester, mere specks amid the gold. Have you seen a harvester at work? Crumbs, it’s a revelation to me. You see the crop standing and the machine goes over it and comes round with the grain all ready for the bag – into which it is poured & sewed in, and ready for transit to the user. They took 70 bags yesterday in four hrs off half a paddock. I intend to take a snap of them if they are collected near the house.

Last night I witnessed a country dance. Oh, boy! I wish you could have seen it – but of course it wasn’t much, the pianist played a tune in 2 different keys at once and was rather dreful, but I laughed at a big farmer hopping round with one of the girls there. He looked so clumsy.

I’ve taken 3 fotos already – Stella Mulligan (Hilda’s 16 yr old sister-in-law) and I are going to develop them tonight.

This is Saturday and tomorrow there is to be a big thanksgiving in the Hall (of last night’s dance) and we are going to drive over in a young farmer’s cart (Anthony Bell by name). Mrs Mulligan’s baby (Hilda G.’s) is protesting against bed at 6 o’clock.

Oh! We walked 3 miles to the dance last night and got there at 9.15 but everyone was late because they are very busy harvesting. We landed back at 12.30 am. and was in bed by 1.

Mrs G likes the black apron and rhubarb – very much!

How I wish you could be up here, it’s so fresh and happy, Norman. I wonder how the Park survives my absence and if you miss me. Write to me, Norman, the mail leaves Perth on Monday & Thursday at 5.30pm, surely you can write me one little letter. Please forgive the writing, I am leaving out letters & portions of letters all the time. It’s 6.30 now and the sun is shining horizontally over the wheat.

Every home is waiting for Stewart’s return, and Mrs G is counting the days. Peace was declared on his birthday (13 Nov.) so she takes that as a good omen. Everything shows “his mark”. There is a horizontal bar he put up 4 yrs ago and his snapshots with cameras and his photo etc.

The farmhand put my flag up on a pole over the wagon shed. It looks quite gay and rather small.

Goodbye – Goodnight the noo –


1918, November 18, Monday

Harvesting and water shortages

Norman Dear,

Yesterday we went to Church. The folk up here do no work on Sunday except what is necessary. We began to get ready at 1 o’clock and some walked while Mrs Mulligan and baby and me were called for by Anthony Bell in his sulky. It’s about 3 miles to the Hall, and we got there abt 3.45, but that’s nothing because they always start late.

They started abt 4 o’clock. David Davies of Leederville preached. We went down for a thanksgiving service & landed at the Sunday School Anniversary. It was a dreful long service and baby went out halfway.

Everyone has to go a long way home and most people drive. There were 3 vehicles coming home along our way and every time we came to a sliprail the first one’s (our) driver had to get out and open it. The last one was supposed to shut it and did until we got to the last home gate and Tom opened and Anthony wouldn’t shut it but drove straight through leaving Tom (the farm hand driving us in the spring cart) to shut it, but I drove straight round and he cut across the field and through the fence so Anthony had to go back. Whenever we talk there’s shure to be a remark abt “when Stuart comes home.”

Anthony stayed to tea, and I nearly burst with laugh & food.
I dreamt last night abt Ruth, don’t know what it was all abt, but I woke up feeling quite unhappy. First dream I’ve had up here.

I did nearly 2 hrs practice this afternoon out in the harness room because of the baby. When I come home you won’t know me, I’ll be looking so blooming! The water problem is menacing us and in consequence I haven’t washed my face today, I’ll wash tomorrow. We’re like the man who washed his clothes & then had a bath and then washed his kitchen utensils and then used the water for drinking. Not quite! But still there is no water to waste and I don’t like using it. Anyhow I’m not very dirty, and they don’t know I haven’t washed.

The weather is rather good for me, though Mr G would like a good rain and then heat. They can’t do any harvesting early in the morn because the wheat is all damp & it must be bone dry or else the machine gets clogged & the wheat will not separate.

Stella has just taken afternoon tea up to the paddock, it’s rough going and she wears Stewart’s old leggings. The ground is gravel and the distance about as far as from Fire Stn. To Ozone Hotel Perth. But you can see the men as small black dots in the field.

I am writing these letters on my knees so you must not think I am lazy. I must write to the home folk now. I do hope you will write to me, Norman, but I feel as if you won’t – but I think it’s up to you. I’ve developed one film and it’s gorgeous. I will wait till I come home to fix the prints (water!).
Goodbye for today, old boy, it’s now 5.30. Don’t bite your nails.

1918, November 21,  Thursday

Problems hit the Harvesting and homesick

I have a great deal to say to you. I never wrote anything yesterday so I’m doin’ it today.

I went for a ride on the Harvester yesterday and watched as well as I could how it works. The wheat came pouring into the bin like water and such a din. When we got round on the other side I got the husks down my back and felt as if I had a shirt made of sandpaper. It makes a terrific row going along.
Dalwallinu has the name of the best wheat growing district in W.A. and few farmers are stripping such fine crops as Mr G. He has only one man to help him and 500 acres to do before fire or hail or winds or over-ripeness destroys it. We had a thunderstorm last night and he got up to console the horses and assure his mind. However it rained rather heavily and we all hoped no hail would come. It’s a very anxious time.

Last evening abt 5.30 I was knitting when I heard a shout and the wretched cows had got out! So I went to aid and saw one of the huge harvester horses come tearing over the hill at the end of the field. Then as he came thundering down, tail up, ears back and chains dangling we got a scare. He was so nervy. Stella dived at the slip rail and he came right in, chased poor Topsy (cow) all over the yard and got tangled up down near the back crop.

I went halfway up to the field when the other 3 horses did likewise. But they stopped abt 50 paces from me & stared at me and all round. Tom approached and brought them home. One of the ropes broke & Prince (horse) bolted, dragged the harvester (cost £156.) & the others across 21 bags of wheat standing in a row across their path, and tore home.

We were overwhelmed – a catastrophe in truth but Mr G was too busy with the horses to think too long of the damage then. So after tea Stella and I stayed at home with Baby and the others took lanterns and went up. It’s ¾ mile now – one of the best crops he has (Currawa wheat – can’t spell it but that’s how it’s pronounced). About 5 bags were ripped up by the combs on harvester and the harvester itself was left perched jauntily on top. Wheat was everywhere & one of the stays gone ta-ta.

[Here she draws a tiny diagram: 4 horses side by side with traces on each flank leading to a stay behind each horse. Behind that are two wider stays each linked to two of the forward stays and those two in turn linked by chains to the main bar attached to the long comb of the harvester. The front of the harvester has a wide comb & it’s the teeth of the comb, which strips the ears of wheat off & leaves the stalks standing.]

Anyhow, today Mr G looked for it but eventually made another. If it had been any other part it might have cost some time and expense, all the parts have to come from Perth.

I was a bit sick and my eyes ached when I woke (at 6.45) and though I got up I didn’t stay long but went back to bed and slept till ten o’c.

Stella and I walked to the dam and saw the beautiful flowers & grasses. We also found some flannel flowers like those at Darlington d’ye ken? I have been knitting and have a small blister on my index finger. The grass seeds are the worry of my life, you get them in stockings and skirts and shoes and everything.

Oh! I’m beginning to want you all again – (Homesick). I want to come home. Every time I go to sleep I dream of you now. I look at your star every night and it winks at me Norman.

This is a glorious life up here and I think a man who toils away like Mr G and has disappointments and accidents and yet is ever ready to joke and look on the glad, forgiving side of things is good. Norman, since I came up here I have seen more of what a Christian man is than in Perth. There is no brag, or false insincere religion, but a spontaneous natural worship among these people who never know they are doing it – just knowing that God is giving sunshine & rain to give their harvest.

Goodnight, dear old chum and keep on pegging awa’ KOPA.

1918, 24th November, Sunday

Heat, flies and missing home

Flies in Dalwallinu Western Australia Queenie
Queenies illustration in one of her letters to Norman while in Dalwallinu in November 1918. The original was on a small scrap of paper (40mm high) with the words so small that some could not be read until enlarged (like ‘flies’).

The Great High Beloved (!)

This is Sunday. I have not written to you every day as I said – because I thought praps you would think I am too babyish, also it is easy for me to write now and again.

The day is hot and sultry and just now I went outside and the ground got up and hit me. We were all going over to the dam to get flowers and eat our lunch today but it’s miles too hot and so we’re all at home trying to keep cool. I read a book this morn and then played a few hymns but they made me feel sad (I wanted to be home) so I stopped and played with the babe for a while. Mr G says “fine dry day for stripping the 18 acre paddock – but I’m glad it’s Sunday so I needn’t go out in the heat!”

I’m beginning to miss you drefully! Only tonight and tomorrow night, then I start for home! On Tuesday at 10 pm. I imagine you all down there in Ye Olde Kirk and I “want to go back.” Oh! Norman dear, I wonder if you do miss me – at first it was alright, but now I am gradually getting more lonely. When I go to bed I try to picture you and the others whom I love – and it’s some consolation but not enough.

It’s just abt S.S time now and I picture you all sitting in the Church – and my baby class – I can’t picture them cause I don’t know what they’re up to. Did you get the C.B. Present? Last night in bed I just remembered it and wondered if you did, anyhow, you have not said anything.

The paper is curling up and sticking to my arms as I write. I have been practicing pretty gude these last two days. I took all the apparatus down to the clump of gum trees about 20 yds from house and made a very serviceable music-stand out of 4 nails, a piece of kerosene case, two gum trees and forked twigs to keep the pages open. Yesterday I stayed there all the morning till the sun worked round. The trees kept the sun off till then. 2 ½ hrs straight off and py gory (as the black man says) don’t yer neck and arms ache? Today I discovered that the back of my right hand is brown as a berry – must have got caught by sun.

There are some persistent fires about here and the breeze is hot and smoky. The fires cause much anxiety among the farmers because the crop is dry and ripe.

Today we just washed up, made beds and things like that – no cooking – no work and I’m mooning round thinking of my dear down there in the heat trying to cultivate some fruits of the gospel in the refractory minds of small boys!! Nevertheless, I hope to see you soon, and I wonder if you think of me. Norman, the stars were clear and shining points of light when I went out to get tooth water at 9.45 pm. I looked at Venus and she winked twice this time.

Goodbye, olde comrade. I hope you are not frizzling like me. The first really hot day I’ve had up here. Flannel flowers (like Darlington’s) grow beautifully here.

Dinna forget.-

Letter from Queenie to Norman while she was in Dalwallinu, Western Australia

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