Greg and I took our first holiday in a year to Mildura to visit some family history places nearby. A combination of illness and various lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic had prevented any travelling away from home overnight in the last twelve months. We decided to take the opportunity of some free time to meet with a cousin and see some of the places we had only read about.

Tuesday 9 February we drove north to Mildura via Warracknabeal. We travelled through the Wimmera region and the scenery matched that captured in the recent film ‘The Dry’ which I had seen only a few weeks ago.

The drive north from Ballarat to Mildura via Warracknabeal

We came upon some painted silos at Rupanyup, part of a 200 kilometer series of portraits of local people painted on grain silos from 2016. A few kilometers further on we paused to admire the pretty weatherboard St John’s Lutheran Church in Minyip.

We had a terrific lunch at Warracknabeal at The Creekside Hotel in a very nice beer garden beside the Yarriambiack Creek. The hotel’s staff were very Covid-conscientious with masks, check in, sanitiser, and ordering lunch via an online webpage retrieved by a QR code; we even managed to order a jug of iced water and 3 glasses for the table, free, through this page.

We planned to have lunch at the Warracknabeal Hotel but it was closed. The hotel had been owned by the great grandfather of a friend and passed down to our friend’s father who finally sold it. Our friend commented “Wheat all sown and harvested by Collins St contractors so pubs shut.” Sadly the hotel seems to have been stripped of its wrought iron which had still been in place in 2010 but was gone by 2019. The hotel was registered on the Register of the National Estate but that register was closed in 2007 and is no longer a statutory list and is maintained on a non-statutory basis as a publicly available archive and educational resource. It seems a pity that heritage buildings are not better protected.

Yarriambiack Creek was fairly full and attractive to look at. There was a park across the creek with some cages of birds and an enclosure of kangaroos.

Our trip north continued with more silos and a stop in Ouyen. Ouyen had been famous for its vanilla slices having hosted a competition from 1998 to 2011 initiated by Jeff Kennett, the then premier of Victoria. Kennett acted as guest judge until 2005. In 2011 volunteers relinquished the competition to another small town. This afternoon the bakery and many other shops were closed and there were no vanilla slices to be bought.

Wednesday 10 February we visited the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens just across the Murray River in New South Wales and also the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers at Wentworth. When we visited the confluence last in 2010 you could see the muddy Darling joining the clearer Murray. This time the two rivers were a similar colour.

Trip into New South Wales

On Wednesday afternoon we visited Avoca Station and met one of my fourth cousins, AL, and her mother, JA, my third cousin once removed. JA’s grandfather (AL’s great grandfather), George Agars (1864 – 1943) was the son of Margaret Alice Agars nee Cudmore (1842 – 1871) and grandson of Daniel Michael Paul Cudmore (1811 – 1891) and Mary Cudmore nee Nihill (1811 – 1893).

George’s mother Margaret died in 1871 at 29 from an ear infection. George was brought up by his grandparents Daniel and Mary Cudmore. He was educated in Adelaide to become an accountant for his Uncle Dan at Avoca Station. George later became an irrigation pioneer in Mildura when the Chaffey Brothers arrived from Canada. My cousin commented “He did not do that well on the land and should have followed his dream of being a writer and poet.”

The current owners of Avoca Station are Barb and Ian Laws who have owned the property for 21 years. They bought the house with 104 acres. 

The property was established on the west bank of the Darling River in 1871 by Daniel Henry Cashel Cudmore (1844 – 1913), the fifth of nine children of Daniel Michael Paul and Mary Cudmore. Daniel H  purchased the western half of Tapio Station on the Darling from Messrs. Menzies and Douglas, and named it Avoca, said to be  after his father’s hometown in Ireland; however Daniel Michael Paul Cudmore was born in Tory Hill, Limerick near Adare, 230 km west of Avoca.

Avoca Station had frontages of ten miles (16 km) to the Murray and twenty-five miles (40 km) to the Darling. Other properties in the area were acquired and in 1885 Daniel Henry and two of his brothers, Milo Robert (1852 – 1913) and Arthur Frederick (1854 – 1919), managed 709,000 acres including Avoca and Popiltah Station to the north of Avoca. 120,000 sheep were shorn at Avoca in 1888 with new Wolseley shearing machines. The wool clip was transported by paddle steamer from the woolshed downstream via the Darling River to the Murray River. Daniel Henry retired in 1895 to Victor Harbour. Avoca Station was sold in 1911.

The homestead was built in two stages. In 1871 the first stage was constructed of cypress pine drop logs. Many of the outbuildings are believed to have also been built at this time. In 1879 a second stage stone wing of the homestead was added.

I have previously written about Ernest Osmond Cudmore (1894 – 1924). He was the second of four sons of Milo Robert Cudmore and a cousin of my great grandfather Arthur Murray Cudmore. In 1908 Ernest was holidaying at Avoca when he jumped from a horse as he feared he was about to collide with a portion of the stable. He broke his leg and it was badly shattered; the bone did not set and his leg had to be amputated below the knee.

the stables

Sara Kathleen de Lacy Roberts (nee Cudmore) (1883 – 1972), the daughter of  Arthur Frederick Cudmore, was another cousin of my great grandfather Arthur Murray Cudmore. In 1971 Kathleen Roberts was interviewed by a granddaughter of Milo Robert Cudmore, Helen Bewsher nee Cudmore (1928 – 2001). Kathleen lived at Avoca as a teenager and young adult from 1895 until her marriage in 1909. She was educated at boarding school in Melbourne and travelled to and from school via train and the paddle steamer, Trafalgar. Her recollections of Avoca, when she was 88 years old in 1971, were as follows:

One cook, one housemaid, one nurse at Popiltah. No Aborigines in the house at Popiltah, one at Avoca. A camp of 30 as stockmen. 

The Avoca vegetable garden was on the river. A huge steam engine, between the vegetable and flower gardens, pumped river water to them. In the hot weather this was done at night and made a terrible noise. A Chinaman worked full time on these gardens and would come to the kitchen door every morning to enquire on what vegetables were required that day. All the linen was made at Avoca, the girls spending their time sewing, making visitors’ beds and preserving.

Staff of 10 men at Avoca, jackaroo and overseer. 

Bred horses there – had about 100. Every second year, one of the men spent two or three months breaking in – always gently.

reminiscence of Kathleen Roberts nee Cudmore

1911 sale poster on display at Avoca Homestead

Ian and Barb Law, the present owners of Avoca, gave us afternoon tea and showed us around the property. It was delightful to meet them and our cousins too.