A post written for RWNZ‘s Heart to Heart e-magazine for their travel issue.
After some, cough, fourteen years of marriage, it’s probably too late to elope. I just liked the alliteration. The truth is always blander. Our kid’s school did some fundraising recently, and one of the grandparents put their farm cottage (B&B) in the silent auction. Hubby threw in a bid and his parents agreed to watch our mob of children for the weekend. This would be only the second time we’ve ever spent two nights away from them.
We drove north out of Sydney, through the small NSW town of Taree, and then inland to Elands. Without stops, the drive takes just under five hours. It’s over 360km, and the final section to the farm cottage was 38km of dirt road. For context, it’s about a third of the way between Sydney and Brisbane.
The biggest redeeming feature of the cottage was that it was only the two of us, and a wood fire. We had the whole of Saturday to ourselves. Bliss. We decided to check out the Ellenborough Falls – the second highest waterfall in Australia, and only a short drive from our little cottage. If you read my last article, you’ll know I tore two ligaments in my ankle a few months ago. My physio recently recommended that I do more stairs to build the strength back into the joint. I don’t think he meant the 614 steps down to the bottom of the Ellenborough Falls – although it was the going back up again that took its toll! The falls are spectacular, even in drought.
As we drove along the dirt road towards the small town of Wingham, we spotted a sign “Jimmy Governor Plaque”. We detoured down the side road to see what on earth was worth a plaque way out here in the bush, only to find an interesting story.
Captured at this point
by Messrs A Cameron. T Green. W Moore. F Moore. T Moore. T Moore Jnr. J McPherson J. Wallace”
The small museum at Wingham shed more light on the sorry tale. Jimmy Governor was employed as a police tracker, and in 1898, he married a white woman, Ethel Page. Jimmy started working a fencing contractor and got on well with his employer, John Mawbey, however, life wasn’t as easy for his wife, who did housework for the same family. Mrs Mawbey, and her friends, taunted Ethel about her marriage, and things became “very strained.” One can only imagine the horrors covered by that rather understated comment. Mrs Mawbey’s friend took it too far one night, and Jimmy lashed out, killing Mrs Mawbey, her friend, and the three Mawbey teenage daughters.
Jimmy, and his brother Joe, went on a fourteen-week bushranging “rampage” until Jimmy was caught near the Ellenborough Falls. His brother was killed a few days later near Singleton. Jimmy stood trial for murder in Sydney, and was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol on 18 Jan 1901. The Wingham museum made no note of what happened to his wife Ethel, and it was only further research that uncovered her story. She’d had a son with Jimmy (not mentioned by the museum) and remarried a year later, and had nine more children with her second husband.
Life was tough back in the early years of Australia, and while I’d never condone the ‘good man gone bad’ trope, Jimmy’s actions are understandable in the context of Aboriginal dispossession and rampant racism. I’m struck by the bravery of Ethel – and the erasure of her from the story as told by the museum.
The great thing about travel, even small local trips, are the stories of discovery. Jimmy and Ethel’s story is just one of many stories about Australian history that need to be told so we can understand how our past frames our current society.
I would like to acknowledge the people of the Biripi nation, who are the traditional custodians of the land that the Ellenborough Falls is on.
Victorian-era historical romances. Each book in this series works as a stand-alone book.
Three remarkable young women, Josephine, Marie and Claire, graduate from Amsterdam University’s Medical program in 1887.