REEDY MARSH – A CHRISTMAS STORY

 

My mother Myra about to go riding at Reedy Marsh, circa 1937

My maternal grandparents James and Nora Larcombe raised a large family on a sheep farm at Reedy Marsh, seven miles from the small town of Deloraine in northern Tasmania. The pair married just before WWI , when James was a crusty old bachelor.  Norah May Upston was a cook,  twenty years his junior.  James had accumulated extensive sheep runs  at  The Marsh, but life  was hard  and there was a family joke that he  would show the kids  a line of rabbit dirts and tell them, ‘Your dinner’s on the other end!’

Often that dinner would be a family favourite called Reedy Marsh Pie. I don’t know where it originated….perhaps with ‘poaching’ ancestors back in England?  I famously won hundreds of dollars worth of electrical appliances with the recipe in a  Sydney radio competition. It has also appeared in a book of recipes by residents of Mosman, on Sydney’s  North Shore. The suburb is a bit ‘posh’ and  the other recipes were for delicate sorbets and the like. I wonder whether my ex Mosman neighbours ever put the pie on their  dinner party  menus? I’d like to think so. I live in the Blue Mountains now, where I suspect rabbit is quite popular, especially in winter.

 REEDY MARSH PIE – Follow a trail of rabbit dirts or buy a fresh bunny. Divide the rabbit into six pieces. Coat with seasoned flour and brown in a little butter.  Place in  a 3 pint casserole or pie dish and cover with chicken stock to which one tablespoon of vinegar  and one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce has been added. Add a layer of bacon cut into 5cm  (2 inch) lengths. Add a layer of sauteed, sliced onion, a thick layer of sliced tomato seasoned with salt and pepper,  and then a layer of  overlapping, thinly sliced potatoes.  Top with a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs and dried, mixed herbs. Dot with butter and  bake in a moderate oven for about two hours, or until the rabbit is tender. Serve with green peas.

Fortunately the family was almost self-sufficient. Along with  sheep they kept cows,  poultry and bees, and grew their own vegetables and fruit . Norah  harvested  honey for mead, made her own butter  and  baked vast quantities of  bread in a Dutch oven. Unfortunately she was often sick as she was a severe  asthmatic, and in those days there was no effective treatment.  Years later my mother said she wondered how my grandmother coped, especially as the washing had to be  done in the nearby creek.   The photo below is  dreadfully out of focus, but the only one we have of Nora with some of  her little ones.

Nora Larcombe and her children at Reedy Marsh.

Nora and the first five of her ten children.

Of course there were  good times as well.  There was always a pony for the kids to ride, wild flowers to pick,  and ‘tiddlers’  to catch  as they dawdled their  way to a one room bush school.  On summer evenings  Irish farm labourer Ted Sullivan would play  the accordion on the front veranda  To the children, Ted was a much loved figure. He would unfailingly  bring them back a pocketful  of sweets from Deloraine, and give them bits of  ‘backy’ to smoke.   Neighbours  often came over to play cards  by lamplight and there was entertainment from a wind-up gramophone.  Between Ted’s accordion  and a pile of old 78 records  my mother Myra grew  up with  a great love of   Scottish and Irish songs.

CHRISTMAS AT THE MARSH

After the Great Depression set in there  was even less money to spare.  As  Christmas loomed  one year,  pragmatic James decreed  there were to be no presents.  Now Nora was too busy and harassed for much  sentiment herself , but this was Christmas and she was not about to let her brood down!    A few days later she drove the horse and buggy into Deloraine to collect the weekly supplies. Before returning home she bought a wicker basket and a collection of inexpensive gifts; spinning tops  and tin whistles  for the boys, miniature   china dolls,  and  bead necklaces  for the  girls. She filled   the basket  with the  toys and knick-knacks, and topped it off with  oranges and boiled sweets.

When she got home she told my grandfather  she had won the ‘hamper’ in a raffle.   James may have  doubted her , but to his credit   he  said not a word.  The kids   hung up their stockings up as usual  on Christmas Eve  and Nora lovingly   filled each one.  Next day she forgot how weary she was and shared  in their excitement as she set about  roasting  the goose and boiling  the plum pudding.

The postcard photograph below is  another illustration of my grandmother’s deep, though rarely demonstrated  affection for her little ones.  It dates from  about 1920.  From left the  children are Myra, Reg, Eric and Grace.  They are dressed in their ‘best’, although none  are wearing shoes!  If you look really closely you can see that each child had been  given a flower to hold. To me this is the most touching detail of all. The postcard was sent to a close  friend and neighbour, Rene McMahon.  It was only by sheer luck that it  was passed on after Rene’s death.   Six more children  would arrive  in the years that followed; Ray, Ken, Leah, Lillian, William and Esau. Each pregnancy took  its toll on Nora’s health and each addition to the family  increased her workload. By the age of 12 my mother was helping out by  baking the  bread but in later years she regretted not doing more, as I guess we all do.

 

Larcombe sibling, Reedy Marsh Tasmania circa 1920

Four little Larcombes all in a row.

We have only one photo of Nora with some of the children. The quality is bad, but it’s still a treasure.

 

Nora Larcombe and her children at Reedy Marsh.

Nora and the first five of her ten children.

One rainy night in 1937  Nora harnessed up the horse and took the younger  children to a community  bonfire. Sadly, she caught a chill which developed into pneumonia. She died aged 44, when her youngest,  Esau, was just five years old.

 

Larcombe's Road, Reedy Marsh

Larcombe’s Road, Reedy Marsh

My grandfather died ten years after Nora, in 1947, several years before  I was born. My only knowledge of  my grandparents  came through my mother’s stories. Much has changed at Reedy Marsh. The old homestead burned down years ago and  the home farm has been obliterated  by sterile forestry plantations.  However,  the   memory of Nora and James lives on in their descendants, and in Larcombe’s Road. The couple lie together in the Deloraine cemetery.  Let’s close the gate and let their spirits rest in peace at The Marsh, an almost sacred place  in  our family folklore.

This little article  is for Nora’s  great grand-daughter,  Bonnie, a London based singer-songwriter.  Bonnie’s   mother  Nora was the  eldest  child of my uncle  Ray, who named his  daughter  in memory of  his  late mother. In a similar tribute, Ray’s  first born  son was christened  James.

James Edgar Larcombe, ready for town!

James Edgar Larcombe, ready for town!

My mother  went on to create magical Christmasses for myself and my siblings. Like Nora she died far too young, but  she enjoyed some special festive seasons with her beloved grandchildren.

Christmas biscuit making

Making the Christmas kiss biscuits

I hope this post will bring back memories of Christmases past for others.  Do share them by leaving a message below.

26 Comments
  1. The ensuing generations continued to celebrate many Christmas’and Easters, tagging along with my father as we trekked all over the area looking for places he could remember as a young boy. This was all done with still no electricity at “the shack” not far from the old homestead but we learnt what it was like to have baked bread from an old oven, games by candlelight and family talk…. Gee I surely didnt appreciate that at the time like I do now.

    • Pauline

      You were very lucky to have that continued link with The Marsh Donna, and to be able to pass another lot of stories on to your children and grandchildren. It’s lovely that it meant so much to you.

  2. Christmas at Reedy March has touched my heart. What a lovely story. Isn’t it wonderful how the loved ones in our past, that died before we were born even, live on in us. Sadly I never knew my maternal grandfather. Although, I feel I did, because my mother told me so many amazing stories about him. He built bridges on horseback during The Great War, and was shot three months before the war ended. He survived, but the bullet went through his knee into the heart of his horse, The horse died underhim. She also told me about her childhood in the 1930s and her life as a young woman during World War Two. Many of the stories I’ve used in my novel.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for sharing the story about your grandfather Maddie. I think there is something very special about getting to know a relative through someone else. My nephews loved my mother’s stories as much as I did. They used to say “Tell us about Greedy Marsh Grandma” lol. How special that your mother’s experiences will be incorporated in Foxton Acres.

  3. Oh no! What happened to the children when their parents died or was the youngest (at 15?) considered an adult?

    Xx

    • Pauline

      Well Vikki, what happened was that my mother came home from working in Melbourne when Nora was dying and stayed home to look after the little ones. She was nineteen then. The whole course of her life changed. Her young siblings never really forgave her for making them go to school!

  4. It sounds like your grandmother had a remarkable and fulfilling life despite the restrictions!

    My dad shared a ‘two-up, two-down’ house with his parents and four siblings. The parents had one bedroom, the three boys shared a bed in the other, and the two girls slept in the parlour. Tin bath in front of the fire and dunny in the street! – and this was only the 1940s. The house was knocked down as part of the post-war slum clearance. Curiously, the few of those houses that escaped demolition are now ‘bijou’ expensive shops and cafes… how the world changes.

    • Well Diane, when I was little we had a tin bath in front of the fire too! And an outside dunny. Now our new house has three bathrooms plus a guest loo, I’m not sure if it’s an improvement or not really. I’ve always dreamed of living in one of those Chelsea Mews houses, which used to be stables. Humans are very odd indeed.

  5. A wonderful record of Christmas in another time, another world – thank you Pauline!

    I can’t tell of old family Christmases past, only a story of my own as a child, not long after the end of WW2. All the British manufacturing effort was directed into our recovery from the war, so toys were rare and very expensive. Presents were an apple and an orange in the toe of one of Dad’s socks, some new pennies, and usually a chocolate ‘orange’ from Terry’s in York. And always a book or two. Aged 5, I wanted a teddy bear for Christmas – didn’t get one, as there were none to be had. Years before, my great-aunt had knitted a ‘Peter Rabbit’ – a famous character from Beatrix Potter. I loved that rabbit to bits – literally! I took the poor old thing – with stuffing leaking from his little knitted body – into hospital, where I was due to have my tonsils removed.
    It was just before my birthday in April. Brought home by ambulance, and still clutching Peter Rabbit, I was weepy with relief at being reunited with my Mum. And guess what was waiting for me? YES! A little teddy bear, sitting on the sofa! Wow! Sobbed my heart out, I was so happy!
    Heaven only knows where my Mum saw him for sale – and I dread to think how much he must have cost – but I still have that old teddy bear. (Funnily enough, having relinquished Peter Rabbit, I never saw him again!)
    Not quite a Christmas story, but one that makes me appreciate what we have now. Having just bought my own grandchildren presents for Christmas – and been spoiled for choice – I think how easy it is for us by comparison to what life was like in the old days – even in the early 1950s.

    • Oh dear Ann, your Teddy story made my eyes fill up. How sweet of your parents and how wonderful that you still have him!

      Oranges seem to have been a festive fruit around the world. We always found one at the end of our Christmas stocking. And guess what I bought for Rob’s Mum the other day? A chocolate orange.

  6. Hi Pauline,

    I’m in Washington State east of the Cascades where winter is much in evidence. Meanwhile, there is much news of the heat in OZ. I read Joanne Nova’s blog and a comment there links to your site about the Southerly Buster (April 2012). The comment is #6.1.3 by Siliggy on the post
    http://joannenova.com.au/2013/01/australia-was-hot-and-is-hot-so-what-this-is-not-an-unusual-heat-wave/#comments

    This might cause a spike in readers to your site for a few days. Just thought you might like to know. And some of us may even stay around and read some of the other things. Thanks.

    John H.

    • Hello John

      Thank you so much for taking the trouble to leave this message, I really appreciate it. We writers need all the encouragement and support we can get!

      Here in the Blue Mountains we have escaped the worst of the heat and fires, but my homeland of Tasmania has not been so fortunate. I lived in Sydney for 20 years so greatly appreciated the ‘busters’.

      Hope you will enjoy some of the other material on the website.

      Thanks again
      Pauline

      • I just checked back, saw the link to the fancy loo, and read that. Then I sent the link to my spouse. I used the term this week and she looked at me in a funny manner. Being from Atlanta, she knows about grits and how to say Y’all, but loo was new. We had massive fires here last fall – just search for — taylor bridge fire — and have a look. We were on evacuation alert with truck and camper headed out the drive but the fire changed direction. Fires happen in dry country. Hope yours end soon.

        • Had a look at the Taylor Bridge fires John…hmmm not good!
          You know those bugs they mentioned that were killing the trees and increasing the fuel load? Well our problem is also bugs, but human fire bugs. Last week someone lit a fire in our little village which is right next to the Blue Mountains national park.

          Tell your wife that I tried grits while visiting the Deep South. Also boiled peanuts, which I had never tasted before but which were delicious.

          • My wife’s uncle (and most of her mother’s family) lived in rural Georgia about 30 miles west of Savannah. Before our marriage a dinner was held at the farm. After the dinner the women folk cleaned up and washed dishes. The men folk retired to the back porch, smoked, drank, and ate boiled peanuts out of a large tub. My mother raised me in her kitchen and both she and I were somewhat shocked by this behavior.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goober_Peas

          • Pauline

            Hi John

            I was very amused about the pre wedding party. I must say We thought Savannah was wonderful. Thanks for the link. Burl Ives was one of my mother’s favourite singers, but I had no idea goober peas were peanuts. I think they were called pindars where we bought them from a roadside stall in the South.

  7. A lovely, lovely story of your family Pauline, and what a trouper Nora was, coping with every adversity that came her way, apart from sadly, the fatal chill that took her off when she far too young. I feel honoured that you have shared this with us, and know Bonnie will have got to know her family just that little bit better because of it.

    And before I post this, have been looking at everyone’s comments and realised just how long ago this blog was originally posted by you.

  8. Hi Pauline, I received a link to this wonderful story from a Kate who is managing a wonderful Facebook page for Deloraine.
    I so enjoyed your story. I grew up in Reedy Marsh and new many of the Larcombes sadly now mostly passed.
    The older generations I mean. My maiden name was Crocker and our family farm is Greenmount closer to Deloraine. We still own it my mother died almost a year ago at 93 and with her my link to the stories.
    As the oldest I remember the stories more than my brothers.
    My youth included riding all those roads and trails of Reedy Marsh. Sadly it is very changed but I guess life goes on.
    I now live at Selbourne but I am regularly in the Marsh.
    Emily Wise who was a Larcombe was our neighbour during my childhood and much like a Grandmother to me.
    Cheers Jen

    • Pauline

      A true delight to hear from you Jen, and thanks for your kind comments. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. Growing up on a farm near Ulverstone my sister and I were always saying, ‘Tell us about Reedy Marsh, Mum.’ Her grand-children did the same. I will ask my family who still in Tasmania if they remember the name Crocker. I have lived in New South Wales for many years but loved going back the The Marsh when visiting Tassie….except for my phobia about leeches!

  9. Hi Pauline, and yes, your story brought a tear to my eye, too. What a great job your mother did bringing up her siblings. Ken Larcombe was such a lovely man. My late brother, Bernard Cassidy, married his beautiful daughter, Sandra. I found it interesting that they had goose and plum pudding at Christmas at the Marsh as it was my Cassidy family’s tradition too. Sandra cooked roast goose and plum pudding for our family Christmas with her family and my loved nephew and family, my son and husband when we were down in Tassie earlier this month. We are spending Christmas Day with Ken’s grandson, Patrick, tomorrow so I will be keen to point your story out to him if he hasn’t already read it. Seeing the photo of his great grandfather will also be of interest to him.
    I believe that ‘Jen’ who wrote to you is the daughter of a Cassidy and she may be interested in a book (‘Irish Town Farm’) near Deloraine that was owned by John and Susan Cassidy (Jen’s great, great grandparents) from 1853 and, three generations on, is now owned by Sandra Cassidy.
    The book is available at The Great Western Tiers Visitor Centre in Deloraine for $34.95. It contains 200 photos relating to the Cassidy family.
    I hope to read more of your stories, Pauline.
    Thank you.
    Gabrielle Neaves

    • Hi Gabriell. Slightly rong branch of the Crockers I was Jenny Crocker ,Laurie`s daugther I remember you and Bernard and Sandra well and your parents. My cousin much older than me Stan Crocker`s wife Nell (now both passed on ) was a Cassidy. I will pass on the message to her daughters Pam and Margaret.
      Were you the same year as Sarah Fitzpatrick at OLMC ? I used to play with Sarah as our fathers were friends. I seem to recall birthday parties where I was the only state school kid.
      Cheers Jen

    • Pauline

      Hello Gabrielle, how lovely to hear from you. It’s quite funny, because I grew up calling Ken Uncle Blondie, as Blondie was his nickname. His brother Reg we called Uncle Sheriff, because he was always the bossy sheriff when the Larcombes were kids. I met up with Sandra’s sister Lorraine when my husband and I were in Hobart a few months ago.

      Here are a couple of other Larcombe stories you might find interesting, http://paulineconolly.com/2016/tarraleah-paintings/ and http://paulineconolly.com/?s=reedy+marsh+pie Hope you had a lovely Christmas day. Warm wishes, Pauline.

  10. Hi Pauline
    Do you know what happened to Nora’s brother Charkie 9I think that was his name), can not find what happened to him.
    I am Great Grand daughter of George and Sarah Ann Upston (Nee Davis)

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