A Very Different Life I
I’ve had the complete audacity and taken a great liberty in posting the following vignettes on my website ‘blog’. It’s written by a very special lady. I think I’ll let her tell her story? It’s easier to beg forgiveness than to plead for permission!
Featured Image: The ‘Widden Valley’ which Jennifer Ellis knows so very well
By Jenifer Ellis
It is close on 4 years now that I have become a resident of Bupa Rosevile. I came to reside in this Nursing Home in a rather convoluted manner. I am here now, but perhaps I could write about the valley in which I lived as a young bride.
Although I was born and received my education in Sydney, after my marriage in 1961 I went to live on an isolated farm in the upper reaches of the Hunter Valley. I had married a country boy who at that time was the manager of a large property, on which fat cattle were grazed, destined for the Sydney markets at Homebush.
Our home was in a valley, on the eastern fall of the Great Dividing Range. The valley was a beautiful and peaceful place, but its history was anything but calm and tranquil. In the early days it was the haunt of cattle thieves and bushrangers. Its very isolation made the valley an ideal hideaway for those desperados hoping to escape the long arm of the law.
Perhaps the most infamous of those bushrangers was the self-styled Captain Thunderbolt. Born Frederick Ward at Windsor of convict parents, at a young age Ward took to horse-stealing, and was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in the penetentiary on Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour. After serving less than three years of his sentence, Frederick Ward escaped imprisonment by swimming from the north side of the island onto land near the present-day Woolwich.
From there, Ward, or Thunderbolt as he now called himself, roamed the highways and byways of the New England ranges, holding up and robbing mail coaches and any sole traveller making his way along the dusty roads. Thunderbolt made his home in my valley, in a cave, high up among the craggy bluffs of the surrounding mountains. From his cave he had an excellent view of the goings on in the valley. His particular interests were the horses belonging to the valley settlers. He stole the best of these, one that was fresh and could outrun any pursuing mounted policeman. It is to be said that he always left a horse in its place, albeit a tired or sore-footed one!
Living with Thunderbolt in my valley was his unchurched, but faithful wife, who went by the name of Yellow Long. It was Wintertime in the valley, and cold and damp in Thunderbolt’s cave. The only warmth was provided by a small fire at the cave’s entrance which offered very little protection against the biting winds that swirled along the sandstone cliffs. Thunderbolt and Yellow Long huddled together for warmth, but after a particularly vicious snowstorm when the temperature dropped well below zero, Yellow Long became seriously ill. Thunderbolt realised that she needed medical attention that he couldn’t provide, but above all she needed a place to rest, which was warm and dry.
Thunderbolt carried her on his saddle some sixty miles from my valley, to the nearest hospital, at Muswellbrook. There, Yellow Long was refused admission, not because of her part-Aboriginality, but because Thunderbolt was a proscribed outlaw. By this time she was desparately ill with Pneumonia and Thunderbolt knew that he must find help for her.
He carried Yellow Long on his saddle to the cottage of one of the valley settlers. She was given succour the there, and the comfort of a warm bed, but despite the settler’s careful attention, Yellow Long’s condition worsened, and she died, cradled in the arms of the valley cottager. She was buried nearby, in a dry, rocky gully by the valley settlers. How do I know this? The descendants of these valley settlers were my godparents.
Some twenty or more years later, a man by the name of Thomas Browne came to holiday in the valley. He was a writer, who wrote under the pen-name of Rolf Boldrewood. He heard stories told to him by the valley people, and later became the author of one of the country’s best-known and favourite stories, “Robbery Under Arms”. As the title would suggest, Thomas Browne borrowed from the valley settlers’ stories for the exploits and adventures of the fictitious Captain Strarlight.
It is many years since I left my valley. I can remember more of my life in the valley, but perhaps that can wait for another time.