IRELAND was in turmoil in 1921; desperate fighting continued between the Unionists and the Nationalists, and partition in May of that year finally divided the island geopolitically, the north remaining within the UK and the south becoming the Republic of Ireland.
When James and Susan Barry and their seven children, Mary, William, Sarah, Wilson, John, Anna and James sold their properties and livestock in County Antrim to travel as emigrants to Loch 100 years ago, they responded to the recommendations of their former neighbours, the Wilson family, who had settled in Krowera, and later praised the district and Australia’s prosperity during a return visit to Ireland and the Barrys.
Even though supporting a large family on the small acreages in Ireland would have been difficult, on purchasing the 255-acre (103.19 hectares) property “Ashton” at Jeetho West, James and his family must have felt some alarm at the preponderance of tall bracken, tussocks, blackberries and rabbits, all of which had to be removed by hand. The homestead at least, sat on 30 acres of cleared land.
Descendants of James, Susan and their children recently gathered at “Springfield”, part of the original “Ashton” property now owned by Greig Barry, son of James and grandson of James and Susan, to celebrate the centenary of the family’s arrival in Port Melbourne, Australia on the TSS Demosthenes on March 21, 1921.
The reunion included 20 relations in Ireland and UK participating via Zoom.
Geoff Barry, fifth child of John, known as Jack, welcomed the gathering and read the poem “James Barry’s Farewell” which had been written and presented to James and Susan by a friend and neighbour, on the eve of their departure to Australia. The poem referenced and compared Ireland’s political environment, to the sublime weather and the prospects which abounded in the new land:
“It’s more for my family I’m going/to give them a start on life’s boat/ with opportunities Australia’s overflowing….”
Geoff paid homage to his grandparents, noting that descendants and their families gathered at the reunion were the beneficiaries of the enormous enterprise undertaken by James and Susan, who at the time of migrating, were aged 40 and 38 respectively.
John Kennedy, one of the four children of Mary, and who has lived all his life at “Quamby” on the Loch-Wonthaggi Road, spoke of the Loch he knew from the 1930s onward; the prosperous village with its two garages, two hardware stores, the tailor, butcher, hospital, doctor, chemist, three churches and the school, and the dangers of driving cattle on the narrow and constricted road at Cape Horn.
Loch was well served for entertainment with the Mechanics Hall (now the public hall) holding regular dances, balls, concerts and films, the football and cricket clubs, the rifle range, gymkhana days and trotting races at the rec, plus the huge annual Australia Day Sports Carnival.
John, the eldest of the 26 first generation Australian-born descendants, recalled the horses he and his Barry cousins rode saddleless to the Loch School, often with three children on each horse, and the subsequent arrival of the Ferguson tractor which changed farming in the district.
While Ian Barry, son of Wilson and one of 4 children, spoke amusingly of his own travels throughout Ireland, he also paid tribute to the families from the rural districts of Magheramorne and Ballyedward, who he met during his first trip to Northern Ireland in 1998. Some of the older residents well recalled the departure of the large Barry family to Australia more than 75 years earlier, the Barrys being billeted with different local families during the period between the sale of their property and leaving County Antrim, bound for Australia.
Ian also recalled his father taking their horses into Loch to be shod by the blacksmith, Arthur Worthington, assisted by Yorkie, who kept the forge going and reportedly lived in a tank.
David Barry, second son of William and one of six children, grew up on “Springfield” and later farmed in Collier’s Road before leaving for western Victoria.
David spoke of his father ploughing the back paddock in the 1940s and ‘50s, using a pair of horses hitched to a two-furrow disc shave plough that was reversable, which David considered advanced by today’s standard.
Recollections of the gurgling sounds made by the big earth worms underground, brought low chuckles from many of those gathered, invoking their own memories. We also recalled the horse-drawn sleds, or sledges, that had many uses, such as carting fence posts, milk cans, children and bags of super to be spread in the Robinson Superspreader.
He talked about the International mower used to cut grass for hay, which was drawn by two horses, and the horse drawn rake which made rows of hay to be picked up by a sweep, again drawn by a single horse. The haystack was built with the help of a horse which hoisted a hay-loaded grab, then, using a jib, the hay was swung onto the stack. This method gave way to square bales being made with a stationary hay press, which in turn was superseded by the International B45 pickup baler, towed and powered by the Ferguson tractor, which revolutionised farming in South Gippsland.
The little grey Fergy was used to perform many of the jobs a horse used to perform; ploughing, mowing, spreading super. The tasks were unending and the Fergy was an all-round work horse.
Milk was sent to the factory in cans. The milk was cooled over a water cooler before the cans were filled. The morning after evening milking, the cans were transported to a road-side stand, which was usually truck tray height, for collection. David recalled that as their dairy was close to the road, it enabled the use of a trolley that ran on rails, to carry the heavy cans to the stand. In warm weather the cans were covered, to keep the direct sun off until the milk was collected and taken to the Korumburra Butter Factory. Later, bulk milk pick-up was introduced, terminating the use of the cans.
David said the success of the Barry emigrants’ venture and settlement in a new country, was gained through sheer determination.
The reunion was the seventh quinquennial gathering to be held at “Ashton” and “Springfield” since the inaugural gathering in 1989, initiated by Greig Barry and his late mother Betty, wife of the late James.
The Australian descendants of James and Susan now total 220 and include 12 great, great, great grandchildren.