1960 Memoirs of Florence Mary Kemp (nee Taylor)
These are some of the things I remember of my life now that I have time to think and write at three score years and ten, and shut away from the world so much. I will call it "Crossing the Bridge".
My earliest recollection of life was when, at two years of age, I was rocking my cedar wood cradle that my father made for me. I rocked my dolls in it. Mother had kept it for my baby sister but she died when four days old. So I was still the baby and I suppose a bit spoilt. Father was very proud of my being Australian - 'the corn stalk' they called me.
My sister Emily who was the oldest of the family, and my four brothers, came from England in 1883 in a sailing ship. The voyage took six months and they suffered a lot of hardships before they landed in Brisbane at the time Queen Street was being made. Father worked his way out as ship's carpenter and they were looking forward to making plenty of money in Australia, to go back to the comforts of the life mother had been used to. Her father was a ship owner in the north of England. She was born in Hartapool, South Shields. She had five sisters and two brothers. One brother was the captain of his father's ship. The six daughters were educated at boarding school. They never had to work and kept servants. My father was a sailor on one of grandfather's ships; his best sailor it was said, but father had little education and could not advance much. However, he had a lot of experience going to sea at eight years of age.
On the day his brother was born his father was killed when he fell from a pilot-chain. The shock killed his mother and his blind granny looked after the two boys. Father was of very independent nature and lively in spirit, so he ran off to sea, away often six months at a time. He was in many countries and learned many languages but he could only go to school while they were loading the ship. He and his brother were brought up Quakers, but it did not suit my father's lively nature. Mother would always meet his boat to see him do a 'horn-pipe' or a 'jog' and she would take some tit-bit from their kitchen their cook had made. Her mother rebuked her for this and said he was just a sailor and not in their station of life. However, love won and mother left it all. After five of a family she had many 'bridges to cross'. She was nineteen when married with curls around her shoulders and twenty when the first boy was born. He died when two, with the black fever that raged through England. The second boy died on his second birthday.
Father gave up the sea and went down the mines. He was nearly killed when a truck ran over his head. They had three severe winters, snowed in for weeks. My oldest brother, Willie, developed chest trouble and only a warmer climate would save him, so they 'crossed the bridge' and set out to make their fortune or pick up gold in Australia. Father wanted to build houses but every one built their own slab house or lived in a tent outside the town. So Father went to mast making for sailing ships. We went to live at "German Station" now called Nundah. There were no houses there then and people lived in tents with blacks all around. Mother was feared of them, so father tamed a dingo for protection and he was a beautiful beast and so faithful. I was grown up when he died. Father told me our house was the first he built in Nundah, only four rooms and a large kitchen later, and we were thought grand folk with such a house. Most of the German settlers had slab houses. Father got most of the houses to build but money was scarce. He worked very hard. Stumps and palings he got from the bush and he also did the plumbing. As my brothers grew they helped but my father's hard life was telling on him. Our house was built before I was born and it still stands in Nundah. I loved those old black gins with their picininies in a bag over their backs, looking over the fence say "little bit backy", "little bit tea". We always kept a stick of "Yanky twist" tobacco for them, it was worth 2d a stick. I saved the end of scented soap to wash the picaninies they looked so dirty. The gins used to throw the babies in the waterhole on a piece of bark, which would float and teach them to swim. They would set up camp next to our house, being near a waterhole and plenty of yams in the hill at the back, so we say a lot of their customs. Father never chased them. He would say "we took their country from them and it belongs to them".
I was three and a half years old when my sister married, just seventeen. Emily was strong and well built and mother's help in all things. Mother was not strong and never used to work or hardships, but was always a good cook. Father adored her and took her advice in all things. Her education made up for his. She did all his writing and reckoning for his buildings, and also lots of letters for folk who came from Ireland. She was always willing to help anyone, yet she was very proud and would never admit she was poor. I used to say "can I write to some of my aunts in England and tell them we want a lot of things?" "No" mother would say "Never tell them we're poor". So I had to be careful but they may have guessed for they sent boxes of clothing for us, but they never knew how mother looked when she received them or read their letters. She would never see them again on this earth. They have all 'crossed the bridge' this long while.
My father loved his home although very humble. Mother made it very comfortable with her crochet work for bedcovers and antimacassas and with her patchwork quilts. She was clever and thrifty and all the good rags were saved to make floor mats with a wood tool father made. She would draw patterns on sugar bags too and there was always one on hand for us to work on as we sat around the kitchen fire on a cold night and listened to father tell his tales of sea life. He would say "The most beautiful sight in the world is a sailing ship in full sail at sea". He had many narrow escapes in shipwrecks, and there were many in those days. He was made to drink rum to keep the cold out and the spirit in. Oh but he loved the sea and he would turn the frying pad upside down and bang it and sing "Blow your winds awar: I ain't got long to store, the ship is ready and the wind blows fair and I'm bound for the sea May Ann."
Well the corn stalk was growing up, and my ambition was to be a dressmaker and make mother and me some fine clothes. She looked lovely in her bottle green dress with velvet panels and green silk gloves lined with purple. Father said "You look as good as Princess Patricia Ramsey". She was the beauty of England. Mother said her cousin's mother's sister Margaret was married to Captain Ramsey. Her sister sent her the dress but she did not wear it much - "not in her station in life" she would say. I started dressmaking at Finney's when fourteen years. Father died nine months later at the age of fifty-eight with lung trouble. Well the light of my life seemed to go out when I saw the vacant chair. I knew I had to earn my living but the close work proved too much. I tried shop and office work, but I broke down. Then a change to Maryborough for four months worked wonders. I went from seven stone to ten stone. Ma and I had the house to ourselves as all the others were married except my brother Harry and he was away most of the time. I always wanted to make hats. I made them for dolls when very young from plaited grass. I sold them at school for 2d and 3d and at last I came into my own and got into McWhirter's showroom selling hats but learning to make them by watching in the workroom. My wages were small but I worked at home at night and Saturday afternoon and was able to keep the wolf from the door with help from my brothers. All my time was put into the Baptist church which I loved - three times a week and three times on Sundays. I was baptised when seventeen in June, also my boyfriend. I have never regretted taking this stand to profess the Lord Jesus as my personal Saviour. I have made many mistakes and wandered away but he is able to restore with pardon and grace, and there has been much joy in His service and blessing. I would have liked to be a missionary but the way did not open. I don't know of one soul I have brought to Christ but perhaps indirectly by prayer. I remember the sermons of the Rev A D Shaw at Nundah just on sixty years ago "I would have gathered you as a hen gathered her chickens beneath her wings but ye would not". May my children be gathered beneath the heavenly Father's care and put their trust in His salvation redeemed by His own precious blood shed for us. This is the bridge to cross to get to the other side of the glory of God, His promises are sure.
Mother and I used to go with Father once in a while to Quaker or Society of Friends' meeting house in Tank Street, Brisbane. Mother had been brought up Church of England. She had two cousins Curates in England but they got too high for her liking. The Quaker service is a very sincere and humble one, no minister, no collection, and they only speak when the spirit moves them. I could never understand it as a child and would stick a pin into father when things got toon quiet, and giggle when they called everyone by their Christian name. But they always gave money away every week to the poor and twenty pounds to each one getting married. My eldest brother was married there. But father loved the Salvation Army and would listen to them for hours. We all found our way to the Baptist church and found much joy in the services. The Rev A D Shaw our Baptist pastor was very attached to father. He had been converted while under the brotherhood to our faith and had no work but was handy with tools. Father was head bench hand at Agnew's saw mill and put him on. His righteous living and shocked face when father's quick temper got out of hand pulled father up. In his long and trying illness Mr Shaw came every evening to see father and would not leave our Baptist church for bigger churches. He loved the people and they loved him. He wanted to be with father at the last. He had won him for Christ and helped to bear his burden. Father lingered on and Rev Shaw was called to Rockhampton and father passed away the day he arrived there. But father was ready to meet his maker. His last bridge was crossed.
When I was twenty I was laid low with Rheumatic fever for four months and it was a great trial for me and for mother. "Pride comes before a fall" I was full of life and high spirits, fond of dress and hats to no end! Plenty of compliments for my looks, plenty of friends.
I preferred men as friends. They seemed to ring true. But as suitors they were ten years older or one year younger. Well the older ones I thought better for good advice but the younger ones suited my spirits. All the time the voice within would say, study to be a missionary, but the Rheumatic fever left me with after effects for a long time. I went back to McWhirters as they had kept my position open for me, then mother fell ill and I had to leave to nurse her. Her suffering was great and the end came in a few months. She was so loving and patient. I was twenty then and had to face the world alone asking God's guidance and care. It was hard to leave that old house and I couldn't bear to see anyone else to in so I went to Stanthorpe with an old maid who could have been my aunt. We opened a Millinery and Fancy Goods shop. I had just turned twenty-one, was full of life and fun and thrilled to the wide open spaces, flowers growing wild, mountains, and hiring a horse and sulky and driving out to the stations. I loved horses and was never happier than when riding or driving.
I attended the Methodist church and the minister often took a service 22 miles away in the country and would ask us in turns to go with him. His wife could not go as they had eight children, and we would stay weekends on one of the stations which I loved and there were many private sermons on the way back. I was always away on a horse when time to go home. I met lovely people. Then, I would go with the Presbyterian minster just out from Scotland, a handsome man but so conceited and so cruel to his horse. It would lie down and I told him to feed it better. He would ask me to sit on it's head while he unharnessed it but when I'd pet it it would get up. He's say he couldn't keep a wife as he couldn't keep a horse in feed and I'd say yes, they'd need more than chaff. He played the violin well and loved a scotch reel and I loved to dance. The Methodist minister did not like it although it was all harmless fun, but a storm was brewing and caused me to sever my connections with the shop, the Downs and Stanthorpe.
I was offered a good position in Sydney but they all said "Don't go". Well the way opened for me in a store to take charge of the drapery and millinery, and live with the owners. I thought I was going to the end of the world and when I got to Yangan it was raining and the black mud came over my shoe tops. I told them I would stay a week and then go on to Brisbane. They were very kind to me and good Christian folk of the Presbyterian Church. The rain cleared and I saw the beauty of the hills and the farms, the open spaces and all the horses. Everyone wanted to be friendly and there were invitations to visit any time and I was happy - just like one of the family. I had to work long hours in the sho and help in all departments and help with the books at night.
My brightest days were when the travellers came with top news and jokes. They were gay boys but I knew quite a lot of tales about travellers and I had worked with them at Finney's so I was very careful even though I enjoyed their company. One had to make their own fun in Yangan and dancing was the main recreation. Almost everyone went and there were no end of balls and seeing who could dress the best even the church folk. At times they had good orchestrals and concerts; there was plenty of talent and the Kemps were always in it. Mrs W Smith, who was Jean Kemp, was very musical and also Alex with his violin and bass voice and Peter the bass fiddle. There were Church of England, Presbyterian and Salvation Army and I went to the Presbyterian Church and joined the choir. Alex Kemp was choir master, Jean played the organ, Tom and Peter sang bass, Jim tenor and Jessie soprano. James Kemp Snr was a great old man and a friend to everyone, and he did a lot of good with his knowledge, having attended the Edinborough University. He never failed to ask if you had accepted the Lord Jesus as your saviour. His religion was very real to him and he would take the service at the church if needed, or pull out a troublesome tooth, or lance a boil at the back of the church, or go ninety miles to see anyone sick or stay to nurse them. I enjoyed many talks with him, and he would invite me to visit them, which I did.
Their home was so peaceful and his wife so gentle and sweet but she kept her eyes on her sons. Most of them were bachelors. Only Alex was married. The men all sat on one side of the table and the women on the other. Peter kept bees which I loved to watch. I often got honeycomb or a drive after church. I thought all farmers must have plenty of money they seemed so care free and easy going. Peter and I met everywhere - choir, church, tennis, picnics. His mother was a good cook and she loved it. She seldom went out and was so proud of her jams and preserves and got many prizes at shows. She put sixteen cups of flour into biscuits for one batch!
It frightened me to think of farm life and I wanted to go to New Zealand. I visited another Scottish family and the son had a lovely horse which I was allowed to ride much to the surprise of his parents. They say life begins at forty. Mine began at twenty-four when Peter and I were married with nearly 100 guests, and I was a farmer's wife with a place to call home. We were very happy and plenty of work took my mind off the loneliness. I soon learned to make bread, jam and preserves. Grandma was always willing to help me with advice. I loved my home and Peter worked hard, but his luck with farming was out. The money was our standby when we had a severe drought and no crops for two years.
My first son, Ronald, was born ten months after we married, Malcolm the next year and Margaret (Peggy) the next year. I had my hands full but they were good children and brought much happiness into the home. We had little money but they were well fed with plenty of milk, eggs and poultry. They got few toys but were happy with a stick to ride or a cart made from a box or a rag doll. They were very healthy and never needed a doctor. Peter was handy with tools and he built our house, a bungalow with verandas all around, large rooms and a fireplace. We were quite comfortable although passing through a severe drought … cattle dying, no water in the tanks, the creeks almost dry. We had mostly corned meat and pumpkins to eat. Then the war came. Gordon was born three years after Peggy. Peter was tired of farm life, hard work and no returns so we moved to the township and he took up carpentering. Well at least we made a living but no prospects for the family. My fourth son, Tom was born.
I had always wanted four boys. Peggy was my right hand and always wanting to help me, not spoilt being the only girl but rather spoilt her brothers, and waited on them. Everyone loved Peg. My children all loved school and did well. Ronald was the lively one and would dance at two years when he heard music. I had to dance and sing "Pork Pie Hat" every evening around the table before tea. He always saw the funny side of things yet he studied well at school and drew perfect maps. He passed scholarship and went to Warwick High School. Malcolm passed the next year and did the same travelling 12 miles each way by train. Mac was more placid, a lovely nature, content - all he ever wanted were football boots and a gun. He was very healthy, quick at learning but liked outdoor life. Peggy passed scholarship next year and that meant three going to high school. I had to scratch and save to keep them going. I made all the clothes we wore, own bread, jams, preserves, and sold lots from the garden, also eggs. Our income was small, few houses to build, only repark work and not future for my boys.
Thomas was born at the end of World War I. I little realised then they would all be soldiers in World War II. Tom would say, "I'm going to be a famer and make a lot of money and go to see Scotland". Grandma Kemp used to tell them about bonny Scotland and the heather. Yangan was very cold with heavy frost, snow at times and Gordon suffered a lot with bronchitis especially in the winter.
He had to stay indoors a lot but was quite happy drawing - mostly funny pictures. He and Tom were great mates and played together well. They were all growing up so quickly and not future. I talked many times of selling up and going to Brisbane, but Peter could not make the break, this was a big bridge for him to cross.
Then, his work seemed to be at a standstill, so he went to Brisbane to find work, and he did. Ronald had started in the Titles Office and studying to be a draughtsman. I left Yangan, sad and happy days behind, but my family was in Brisbane and that meant a lot to me, but Peter was leaving behind his mother in advanced years and he felt it keenly. His father had passed on. We settle in Graceville and Gordon and Tom went to school there. There were eight and ten then. They both won gold medals for the highest marks in scholarship and went to high school. Gordon had done exceptionally well as he had been kept back and away from school with bronchitis. He was a quiet lad and liked to draw and paint pictures. He would have made a good artist.
Peter's income was only enough for carful living and Tom was only nine and a half years when Valmai was born. It was a great trial for me with enough to keep, but Peggy being the only girl, it brought new light into our home. Peggy had to leave high school to help me at home. She loved school but always obedient, she did as I wished - and to have a baby sister! The day Valmai was born the four boys came to see her. I'll never forget their faces. They couldn't believe it. Well they all spoilt her. She was very shy with funnily ways and quick at learning. When she was three Val had diphtheria and was in hospital for three months. We couldn't see her for six weeks. Gordon was the carrier and was isolated in hospital for three months, too long away to get his junior. I began to feel the strain of life and my health was giving way, but I must fight on to give my children the footing they needed to earn their living. They all had ability and I wanted them to use it in the best way.
Tom was a good thoughtful lad to me, help me with anything, and always cheerful. They all joined tennis clubs, and attended the Methodist church. They were fond of company and brought plenty home and we had many house parties. I bought a piano for Valmai to learn to play and she became very fond of music. The three eldest were married and Tom was twenty when war broke out. He wanted to go right away but I would not consent. Their father was not earning much and I was depending on Tom and Gordon. I gave Tom a big party when he was twenty-one and then had to part with him for six long years. He went in the 'Queen Mary" to England, Scotland and many part of the world and was in a few battles. His going was very sad to me and a big bridge between us. I was in poor health and had to go to hospital for a plaster jacket for my back. I got very ill and sent for all the family. They took the jacket off and found I had kidney trouble and they would have to remove the kidney to save my life. After that I felt fine and could work hard for two years but the one kidney could not take the strain and had to be rifted - a severe operation. I had two specialists but the operation left me an invalid. I have been near death's door many times but the Lord has seen fit to restore and been very close to me. He has said "Fear thou not for I am with thee; be not dismayed for I am thy God I will strengthen thee yes I will help thee, yea I will uphold thee, with the right hand of my righteousness." He has been with me and kept me by His grace, and spared me to see my family all married. They have had many joys and disappointments but have much to thank God for. They all came back safely from the war. The years of war, no two were very long and caused many sad hearts.
Tom's six years away took a lot of his home life and it was an anxious time for he was in danger many times. He did not come back with his mates but was sent to Celon after having pneumonia and came back in the hospital ship. He arrived on a very wet Sunday afternoon. We were having a lazy day, not expecting anyone. I had planned a treat welcome many times and was disappointed. The hospital ship was a secret. I could scarcely believe my eyes and couldn't speak. His old bright smile, but grown into a fine man and glad to be home, not even a cake baked. But it was some time before he could settle, and the he was called to New Guinea. Gordon went too, and Mac to Townsville. Peter went to Darwin after a nervous break-down. He built our new home at Gordon Park after we'd rented houses for many years and those hard to get and always being sold, so we made an effort to get our own house and provide for our old age. It was wonderful to have a home of our own an a few comforts after all the struggling. Gordon has had many setbacks in life but study and perseverance and steady life and better health, has placed him well. He was the main-stay in the home before he was accepted for the army.
Valmai did well at school, passed scholarship and junior but when the boys came back I could not manage and help was hard to get so Valmai took over and did a good job. But she was not happy with housework. It came hard when she had not been used to doing much in the home. She got a position, and her father, over retiring age, left his work to keep the home going. When the boys married, Valmai was the only one at home, but seldom in it except for music. She bought a new piano and loved to play. She was very musical and busy - in choirs and all kinds of sport. No doubt she missed the company of the family and their musical evenings. No doubt her home was very dull after the boys went but her music kept us alive, and although she looked after the home when I was sick, I felt her life could not always be thus. So I was very pleased to see Valmai settled down with a home of her own and a mother the first year with the birth of Dianna. I think Vivianne the next year was rather a shock to her as she had no experience with babies. However, God makes the back for the broom.
During these years of my trials and difficulties, God has helped me cross many bridges. Putting my hand in His, He leads me on.
Many times I've thought how lovely if I could see all my children settled in life and be around and to live to enjoy a Golden Wedding. Well my dream came true and I crossed that bridge. It was a wonderful time for my husband and I to receive congratulations from so many folk. The celebration at Ronald's home which the family gave us, was wonderful and it was a great joy to meet so many of our friends of over fifty years ago.
God has been very good to us and we've many blessings to count. Thy love is so wonderful, but what have I done for thee? God's grace is all sufficient for He has bought me with His own blood. I will know Him by the nail prints in his two hands when I see Him face to face, and join the loved ones gone before, never to part again.
I'll be waiting for my family, and God will make us all ready for His Kingdom.