Poowong Footage

We introduced, in the previous blog entry, the recently unearthed visual chronicles from my first husband, Fred. Leafing through old photograph albums, squinting myopically at black and white or sepia still images, reading old letters…. these are the experiences of exploring the past for most of our generation. Suddenly, thanks to Fred’s generous gifts, there is the daily life of a much, much younger Margaret: walking, laughing, smoking a cigarette, absently patting a long past dog.

In 1976, close to my 25th birthday, Fred and I visited our father and his wife Bev and Bev’s two young sons, Grant and Scott, at their fairly newly acquired property, the old Poowong homestead. Fred, the chronicler of our lives, with his trusty movie camera, recorded the visit on film. Until Fred sent it to me recently, I had not remembered the visit.

The significance of this particular flickering footage of Poowong rests not only on the fact that it is forty years old, not even on the fact that 1976 was during a short window in which we had a fairly normal grown up daughter-father relationship. Its power is much more recent.

Our father died three and a half years after this film was taken in early 1980. He was not even sixty. There was a family history of heart disease, and although, there were occasional bursts of a sunny warm personality, the Jim we had known for most of our lives had been tightly coiled and tense.

As Sue and I watched this footage: our fifty-five year old father walking the paddocks: strong, handsome and happy, clearly happy, I found myself bringing up the possibility of sending this footage to that other family. They had had him for such a short time. We looked at each other in amazement. The process of exploring and exposing our own pasts in this blog, at first staying with emotionally safe pathways, then probing gently the uneven terrain of long disused dark tracks, has led us both to this place. Together we marvelled that our long held animosity and rancour, seemed to have just … dried up.

After getting Fred’s permission, and after a little internet sleuthing, I found a family contact. I sent a tentative paragraph, using Facebook Messenger, together with a link to the film. There was an immediate response.

Bev, still living in that Poowong house, was very appreciative. She said it brought back “lots of great memories”. And apparently lots of us old ladies are good internet sleuths. Bev had been following this blog all along, and she has subsequently sent us some family history booklets and photos.

The family contact I had found was Robyn, wife of Grant, one of those little boys in the film, and Grant has a very special interest in this story. By chance, I had sent the footage to the very person who had found Jim, after he had died. In Grant’s own words:

One of the reasons for our move to Poowong was the poor health of my stepfather. He had suffered a serious heart attack and had been pensioned out of the teaching service, and a less stressful lifestyle was recommended. Sadly for Jim, he would only enjoy the more sedate lifestyle for two years, as he passed away early in 1980.

… Every summer without fail, my family would join with my mother’s sister’s family in a month-long Christmas vacation at our big old
(holiday) house. The summer of 1980 was no different except that, at the end of January, Jim and I returned to Poowong to attend to some work around the farm, leaving my mum and younger brother still vacationing at Inverloch.

It was one of those long daylight saving summer days and, towards the evening, Jim set off to search our boundary fence for his tobacco pouch that he had lost during the day. He had been gone for a long time and it was almost dark, so I decided to go for a walk to find him. My dog Butch led me out to the side paddock, and immediately ran to a steep incline covered in long grass, by our fence line. The world today is permeated with death, and even children as young as eleven are far too familiar with its many faces. But for me at eleven years old, death was foreign and the stuff of nightmares. To me at eleven and to me now at 44, it will always be the same - the face of a 58-year-old man drained of blood, sheer white, pale blue eyes staring up into a twilight sky. Jim died of a massive heart attack leaving me alone on the farm, waiting for mum’s ritual telephone call that night.

The details of the chaos of that night and the weeks ahead can be imagined. The trauma inflicted on our family was immeasurable, as anyone who has suffered an unexpected loss would know.

A few months after this, Grant had a life changing experience on the very spot where he had found Jim’s body.

He goes on to write,
In the more than 30 years since that experience, I have had much time to reflect on what it means to me. It has given me great comfort at times and has given me an unwavering belief in the hereafter.

Inspired by this, Grant went on to investigate and research the Paranormal,
travelling throughout Gippsland, interviewing people and compiling evidence on some of Gippsland’s greatest mysteries. His book, “Great Gippsland Mysteries” was published in 2014.