“There’s not a lot to tell about my family, I don’t think”, says Peggy, modestly.
“Thanks very much!” replies Malcolm, her eldest surviving son.
A sheepish smile emerges on Peggy’s face. “Well, there is a little bit to tell.”
We are sitting in Margaret “Peggy” Young’s living room on a chilly winter day in Clunes, the reverse-cycle air-conditioner blasting welcome warm air over the three of us.
“My great grandfather’s name was Hely,” Peggy begins. “His father, Frederick Augustus Hely, came out in 1823 to be principal superintendent of convicts.”
The tale goes that Peggy’s great grandfather, Hovenden Hely, just an infant on the boat trip, became an explorer who accompanied Ludwig Leichhardt on his second expedition through Queensland.
“They clashed. So Hovenden was in Leichhardt’s bad books. But Hovenden didn’t think much of Leichhardt either,” Peggy jokes. When Leichhardt set off for a third time in 1848 and vanished with his entire party somewhere west of the Darling Downs, Hovenden led the expedition to search for them. “So that’s my claim to fame.”
Peggy and her husband, Horace Anthony “Tony” Young, raised four children and spent most of their married life on their farm, The Rocky, 17 miles outside of Mendooran in central western NSW.
Originally from Brisbane, Peggy found she loved life on the sheep station. She taught herself to paint from books, home schooled her children for a while, and managed to keep geraniums alive by growing them on her verandah and covering them at night to protect them from the heavy frosts.
Finishing their schooling in Sydney, the children always looked forward to returning to the farm in the holidays.
“They ‘d say ‘I hope you haven’t accepted any of those silly invitations to tennis parties.’ They’d get invitations, you see, and I’d foolishly say ‘oh yes, that’d be very nice, thank you.’ But that wasn’t their cup of tea at all, they just wanted to go out shooting.”
Peggy’s first son, Mark, died only 16hrs after birth. “His lungs didn’t open up properly. In those days they never showed him to me, I didn’t get to see him or hold him or anything. That was 1947.” Malcolm, the next born, now lives in Eltham, and enticed Peggy to move to the Northern Rivers last year.
Peggy’s husband, Tony, and their third son, James, both passed away several years ago, while her two youngest children, Lisa and Angus, now live in Hobart and Dubbo. Having recently celebrated her 90thbirthday, Peggy now has 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Peggy and Tony met in Brisbane during WWII. “He was in the navy and we met one fateful night”, she laughs, raising her eyebrows. “I had him guessing. I had a little broach with an M on it, and he wanted to know what my name was so I just teased him all night and said ‘guess’. I don’t know whether he did, but he made me laugh.”
Tony’s ship had come into port and dances were put on for the servicemen.
“There was an advertisement in the paper that said they wanted ‘nice young girls’, you know, very proper, to come and they had to be interviewed to make sure. So I passed. Today you wouldn’t read about it.”
They were married soon after Tony was discharged in 1946. “I didn’t worry about leaving my poor mother,” says Peggy, matter-of-factly. “I was her only child and she was separated from my dad very early on. I was just about 21. I was in my romantic dream of marrying my sailor love.”