IT’S hardly surprising the mystery of the Lady of the Swamp would be of lasting interest to the late Harold David (Dave) Webster of Middle Tarwin.
As a 12-year-old schoolboy, born and bred in the area, he joined the exhaustive search for the missing woman, Margaret Clement, towards the end of May 1952, but to no avail.
As revealed by his oldest daughter, Jenny, at his funeral in the Meeniyan-Dumbalk Football Netball Clubrooms last Wednesday afternoon, Dave came back to the incident time and time again.
“One of his favourite tales was the Mystery of the Lady of the Swamp, the disappearance of Margaret Clement, a wealthy heiress, whose life fell into ruins and who lived in seclusion with her sister.
“After her sister’s death, she lived as a hermit and would wade through the swamp and floodwaters surrounding her home Tullaree for supplies. Dad and his father Harold joined the search for her after her disappearance in 1952, dad taking a day off school for the search. “Dad loved to talk about this mystery and his theories on who disposed of Margaret.”
A photo of a young Dave Webster with the other searchers was included in Richard Shears’ famous book, The Lady of the Swamp, and displayed during a photo montage at the funeral.
That was a different era, where regular floods and abundant surface water in the area were the bane of the local dairy farmers’ existence and much of the land still remained to be cleared of bush.
The idea that stock, and indeed a local resident, might go missing for days wasn’t out of the question.
Born on November 8, 1939, the first and only son of Harold and Jean Webster, Dave’s only sibling was Margaret, born in 1944, and with whom he was very close.
He was named for both of his grandfathers, Harold Webster and David Browne, each of them sons of the district’s pioneers, who had both died before he was born.
He always lamented the fact he never got to know his grandfathers, and as a result, was always fascinated with the concept of being a grandfather.
A keen student of history, Dave was particularly fascinated by his great grandfather Cape Webster who had arrived in Australia as a young man in the 1850s. A hard-working and entrepreneurial man, he did an enormous amount of surveying in the Victorian area and, in fact, surveyed the very land the Websters have farmed for four generations. David attended Middle Tarwin Primary School, which was founded in 1922, on land donated by his grandfathers.
Sadly, the school closed in 1983, after several generations had attended the school but it was a source of pride for Dave that he was able to negotiate the buying back of the land where son Gary’s cows now graze.
Academically strong at school, David set aside the encouragement of his teachers to go further with his studies, and took up dairy farming, proving to be a very innovative operator, installing one of the first herringbone sheds in the district, extensively using the best AI genetics and consistently topping the market with his pigs.
The broad range of skills needed to be a successful farmer were acknowledged at the service by celebrant Pat Kuhne in a poem called ‘Just a Farmer’ by Ryan Goodman.
Encouraged to attend a dance at the Dollar Hall in the late 1950s, by great friend, the late John Mackie, he met and ultimately married Noreen Jones on July 9, 1960, delighted the pair shared a keen interest in sport.
A useful footballer and a handy cricketer, Dave spent much of his spare time involved in sport, with a fair amount of success, later as an administrator, and with Noreen, taking great delight in the sporting achievements of their family of four, their partners and grandchildren.
A fanatical Melbourne supporter, he witnessed most of the Demons’ triumphs through the ‘50s and ‘60s, including their most recent win over Collingwood back in 1964. Mourners wore red and blue scarves as a tribute.
A resident of Koorooman House in recent times, Dave Webster passed away on July 26, 2021, leaving his loving wife of 61 years, Noreen, children Jenny, Gary, Kerry and Shane, their partners Chris, Liselott, Jeremy and Lisa and grandchildren Daniel, Charlotte, Natasha, Gabriella, Annika, Alex, Erik, Reilly and Ellie.
He was buried with the Webster family in the Meeniyan Cemetery and a get-together followed at the Leongatha RSL.