Melbourne Observer Editor Ash Long has been contributing a series of special features over the summer feature.
In the week of Australia Day 2019, Ash Long files this ‘Something Personal’ feature, with a story from 130 years ago. It is the story of his own grandmother, Althea Long, and an unanswered question about Australian aboriginality.
My paternal grandmother was Althea Clara Long (nee Clay).
She was fifth of the 11 children of Charles and Ellen Norah Clay (nee Martyn), of Gorae, near Portland, in south-western Victoria.
Ellen had been born at Cape Bridgewater, near Portland, in 1864.
It is confidently believed that at least three of the 11 children – Althea, Charlotte and Edith – had Australian Aboriginal heritage.
Definite confirmation of Aboriginalty may never be known. But we can rely on the girls’ quite different appearance to other family members, and oral history from my father Jim Long (1921-1987), related to my mother Marjory in 1944, and also directly by Jim to my sister Denise as a child.
According to her birth certificate, listed with Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria, Althea was born at Gorae on July 4, 1889.
Some family records had her birth listed as 1890.
The entry of births records in the 19th Century was less disciplined than the computer-driven 21st Century.
Was Althea the biological daughter of Ellen Clay? Was she the issue of Charles Clay and an Aboriginal woman? Was she adopted – either formally or informally? Was she part of an early stolen generation?
There are about 15 years in some births records missing from the region, believed to be destroyed by fire.
Of another family situation, author Gideon Haigh in his book, Certain Admissions, said: “As far as establishing adoption was concerned, there were no records of handover to look at … years would elapse until the Adoption of Children Actmade formal what had previously done through private networks.
“At the time, Victorians simply had sixty days to register a birth under the antique Registration (Births, Deaths and Marriages) Act – plenty of time to quietly place a baby in the right hands if you knew the right people”.
The 11 children of Charles and Ellen were:
• Leveniah, born Feb. 12, 1883, Portland;
• Charlotte, (no date avail-
able) 1884, Portland;
• Ellen (no date available) 1886, Portland;
• Christina (later Cock), December 25, 1887, Gorae:
• Althea Clara (later Long), July 4, 1889, Gorae;
• Elizabeth Latimer, 1891, Gorae;
• Charles William, 1893 (died July 20, 1909, aged 16);
• George Edwin, 1895;
• Arthur Boswell, 1900;
• Edith Victoria (later Schofield), 1903;
• Violet Rosalie, 1906.
Christina was recorded as the oldest verified super-centenarian in Australian history, aged 114 years, 148 days when she died on May 22, 2002.
She was one of the 100 oldest verified people of all time.
At the time of Christina’s death, she was the second-oldest person in the world. She missed becoming the world’s oldest person by just six days (Grace Clawson of the United States, born November 15, 1887, in the UK, died May 28, 2002, aged 114 years 194 days, six days after Christina).
My mother, Marjory, recalls Althea’s sister, Charlotte (‘Lottie’), as childlike, always remaining about the age 12.
She lived with her father all of her life, completing jobs such as setting tables, and folding laundry.
Marjory says Lottie looked like Althea, although Lottie was quite short.
Both had resemblances to the dark-skinned Edith.
Our own family paid visits to Edith and Jim Schofield in the 1950s and 1960s, at their Portland petrol station.
My mother Marjory met my father Jim at the Bandiana Army Workshops in north-eastern Victoria, in the later World War II years.
When they were courting in 1944, Marjory asked about Jim’s dark skin. He replied that he was Aboriginal. The subject was never raised again in their 42-year marriage from 1945-1987.
After she was born in 1949, my sister Denise recalls our Dad calling her “my little black princess” and “my Aboriginal princess”.
The 1950s were an era in which there was still much prejudice against Aboriginal people.
It was not until 1962, when the Menzies Government amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act to give Indigenous people the right to enrol and vote in Commonwealth elections.
On May 27, 1967, Australians voted in favour of changes to the Australian Constitution to improve the services available to Indigenous Australians.
The changes focused on two sections of the Constitution, which discriminated against Aborigines.
Throughout these earlier decades, Aborigines were not generally given respect as full humans.
It is doubtful that my father Jim would have described himself and his daughter as Aboriginal unless it were fact.
I have a personal anecdote. I was aged about 9 or 10, so it would have been about 1965 or 1966. My grandmother Althea would have been aged 75 or 76.
It was Christmas, and I was given a boomerang. I do not know why. My grandmother took me out to a paddock at the rear of their home in Glenard Drive, Heidelberg.
She taught me how to throw the boomerang, and ran around the paddock, throwing and catching it.
This was a woman, at 75-76, who was normally seen in ker kitchen, pantry and dining room, certainly not running around a paddock.
Althea continually rubbed her hands with a cream. Was it to make her skin lighter?
If she were to go to the shops, her attire would include white hand gloves.
My sister Denise and I have a theory that a decision was made for Althea and her sisters to live “as if they were white”.
A lifestyle and achievements, not generally available to Indigenous children, was afforded to Althea and her sisters.
Our theory is that Jim, his sister ‘Girlie’, and brother Alan, vowed to not mention any aboriginality, so as to give their children every opportunity possible.
Althea had been part of the well-known Clay family in Gorae/Portland.
They had operated a well-known timber sawmilling business (including shingle cutting) and orchards at Gorae.
Her father, Charles Clay, was born in Buninyong in 1857. His first home, ‘Sunnyside’, Gorae was north of Berrys Rd.
His second home, ‘Latimer’, north of Cockatoo Valley Rd was opposite the railway line siding.
He married Ellen Martyn, whose mother was the former Anne Latimer. The Latimer family has strong links to the earliest days of settlement around Portland.
Althea’s mother, Ellen, died at the age of 65, at the Nathalia home of Althea and Allan Long. The death was reported in the July 2, 1928, edition of the Portland Guardian local newspaper.
“We regret to record the death of a highly respected resident of Gorae in the person of Mrs Clay, wife of Mr Charles Clay.
“She was on a visit to her daughter at Nathalia (Mrs Allan Long), when she was taken seriously ill and died on Tuesday last.
“She leaves a large family of six daughters – Mrs P. Robins, Mrs Wilbert Cock, Mrs Allan Long, Edith, Lizzie and Lottie – and two sons – George and Arthur – who have the sympathy of their many friends in their sad bereavement.
“Deceased was 65 years of age. The funeral took place today, Rev. R. Toi (?) officiating at the graveside.
“The mortuary arrangements were carried out by Mr W.A. Jarrett.”
Althea’s sister, Edith, with assistance from sisters Nell and Chris, related the following:
“In her young days, as always, she was practical and very conscientious in her share of work, and Mother, with her large family, depended on her to a great extent.
“At quite an early age she showed a natural instinct for nursing, and would cheerfully get up at night to attend any member of the family if sick.
“On leaving school, she went to Melbourne, where she lived with Mother’s sister and husband, the Crosbies.
“She gained entry as a student teacher to the Melbourne Teachers’ College, but later found that nursing was her first love. “Subsequently, she began training at the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg, living with the Crosbies for several years.
“Eventually, she came home to nurse at the Private Hospital in Portland, and when Sister Brown retired, Althea ran the Hospital for several years as Matron.
“So devoted was she to her parents, brothers and sisters, that at one time or another, each member of the family if very sick, became a patient at the Hospital under her loving and capable care.”
Nell said that when young, Althea loved running messages, and would be prepared to go anywhere to act as a messenger.
Chris said Althea dearly loved the element of fun, and recalled that when Nell and Perce Robins were keeping company, Nell would stroll up the drive at ‘Latimer’ to meet him.
“One night Althea decided to play a trick on Perce, and was greeted by Perce, thinking it was Nell.
“Althea was a clever mimic, and her aunts with their different mannerisms were the subject of her amusing but harmless mimicry.
“Althea was a great lover of horses, and was a competent horsewoman.
“Together with Beth, they won many championships. “Althea once rode through a bushfire to get assistance. The horse was a rebellious one, but being a capable horsewoman she managed to get through the alarm, although it was a frightening experience.”
Althea was a markswoman with a rifle, no doubt trained by her father who was a crack shot.
On many occasions, she had to shoot or frighten kangaroos, rabbits or birds which threatened her father’s crops.
Althea’s love of poultry lasted a lifetime. She was very capable and artistic with embroidery, crochet and knitting. She would always be knitting for her children or grandchildren.
Summarised by her younger son, Alan C. Long: “She was also a great cook and nothing would be a task for her to cook one of her children’s favourite treats. “Along with Dad, Mum had a great love for the garden, and often assisted him with the planting and maintenance. Her life was full of devotion and love for her husband and family. Also, she adored her grandchildren and was, more or less, personally involved with their problems and well-being.
“If any member was sick she was the first to offer advice and help for their recovery.”
Allan and Althea were married on April 5, 1920, at Auburn Methodist Church, by the Rev. Mr Hunt.
Allan Leslie Long was born on January 24, 1893, the first child of Arthur Henry Long and his wife Sarah Ann (nee Hill).
Allan wrote: “I had rickets and was unable to walk, suffering from colds and weakness, so my grandparents too me to see what they could do.”
“Being unable to always attend school, my Aunt Sarah taught me to read and do sums.
“From time-to-time, I was sent back to my parents, but this was put off time and time again and so I remained.”
Allan’s father, Arthur, worked in Maryborough, Victoria, and later as a commercial traveller.
“When my grandparents went to Portland they discussed the advisability of sending me back to my parents and the company of my brothers and sisters, and again the return was put off.
“I was then gaining in strength and was sent to the Portland State School, and when a private school started, I was sent there.
“But I think that my Aunt Sarah may be given credit for what education I may have had.”
Allan Long was placed in a solicitor’s office at his grandfather’s wish.
He wanted to be a chemist but James Long over-ruled. Allan amusingly stated that his first job was writing his own summons for having been caught by a policeman for riding his bicycle on a footpath.
In what was a rare move for a woman in 1920, Althea Clay brought a legal action in Portland Court for money that was owed to her.
Just 10 days after her marriage, the April 15, 1920 issue of the Portland Guardian noted:
“At the Portland Police Court yesterday several local debt cases were heard, most of which, however, were adjourned for different reasons for a week, Althea Clara Clay sued J. C. Wellner for £23, being amount due for work and labor done, board and lodging provided, and goods sold and delivered.
“Mr Silvester appeared for the prosecution, and Mr Williamson for the defence, the latter of whom agreed to an order for the amount being made.
“The Bench—Messrs J. Wiltshire and J. J. Couch, J’s.P.—fixed the costs at £1/6/.”
Details of the wedding between Allan Long and Althea Clay were published a fortnight later (April 29, 1920) in thePortland Guardian:
“The wedding of Mr Allan Long, eldest son of Mr and Mrs Arthur H. Long, of Brunswick, and Miss Althea Clara Clay, first daughter of Mr and Mrs Charles Clay, of Latimer, Portland, was celebrated on April 5 at the Methodist Church, Oxley Rd, Auburn, by the Rev. Wm. Hurst.
“The organist rendered suitable selections, including the Wedding March.
“The bride was given away by her father, and wore a gown of ivory crepe-de-chene and georgette, the long train being lined with the palest pink and embroidered in silver and horseshoe of orange blossoms.
“The draped bodice of georgette was also embroidered with silver, and the bridge wore an aquamarion and pearl pendant, the gift of the bridegroom.
“A wreath of orange blossoms caught up a beautiful tuile veil, finely embroidered by a sister of the bride.
“A dainty bouquet of roses and cactus dahlias was carried.
“The bridesmaids were Miss Elizabeth Clay, sister of the bride, who wore sand coloured crepe de been and georgette, with pink and Miss Nellie Long (sister of bridegroom) in blue georgette frock and biscuit hat, with touch of saxe.
“Both carried shower bouquets of pink roses and fern, with streamers.
“The train bearer was little Betty Cock, niece of bride. She was sweetly frocked in oale pink chene de chene, trimmed with pink rose bud, and had the same dainty finish in her hair, with a touch of blue. The bridegroom’s gifts to the bridesmaids were aquamarine brooches, and to the little maid a god cable bangle.
“Mr Harold Long was best man, while Mr Neil Cameron acted a s groomsman.
“After the ceremony wedding tea was held at Hawthorn Hall. The bride travelled in a navy tailored costume, with collar and vest of mastic and Oriental trimmings, hat of navy chenille straw, trimmed with mastic.
“The bride was the recipient of numerous beautiful presents.”
Allan and Althea Long moved on from their Portland district origins to other country Victorian locations
Their first child, James Wilcock Long (my father), was born at Numurkah on June 8, 1921.
Violet Althea (‘Girlie’) was born at Eaglemont, Melbourne, on October 13, 1925.
Alan Charles (often referred to by relatives as ‘Mick’ or ‘Doolan’) was born at Williamson St, Bendigo, on November 15, 1931, next door to the grocery store operated by his mother and father at the corner of Calvin St.
During the early years of their marriage, Allan managed grocery stores in Victorian country towns.
Around 1929, they had saved enough to establish their own grocery store in Bendigo.
Their wise business ability was evidenced. Within a short period they bought two more stores in Bendigo: one by Lake Weeroona, the second opposite the Fire Station.
We now come to a point that clearly affected their future. Had they not put other people before their own needs by being so kind and generous, they would no doubt have been very wealthy people.
Alan C. Long takes up the story: “Their wealth, however, can be measured more by their great character than by monetary means.
“The economic depression period affected everyone. Some to the extent that many people were unable to feed or clothe their families.
“Allan and Althea were distressed to see their friends and customers so affected. “Their own well-being was set aside for the sake of others, and it was arranged by them both to make up bundles of food, and for Jim and Girlie to place these bundles of food on their friends’ doorsteps and hurry away so that these people would not know where they came from.
“As this sacrifice of goods went on from some time, they had to pay for which they not getting any return, and it became a reality they were soon deep in debt. Dad, being a person without reproach, was emotionally upset by this situation and his health was affected.
“On medical advice he was ordered to get away from the situation and start afresh.”
Their move to 21 Florence St, Moreland, was in 1938.
To help pay debts incurred in Bendigo, Allan became a commercial traveller for a grocery firm, and in his spare time made snowballs for a Moreland grocer.
He used a hand beater for this manufacturing operation which would have been exhausting.
Later, they purchased a shop and dwelling at 151 Sydney Rd, Moreland, and although warned by several business people that they were on the wrong side of the road to attract business, they went ahead and opened a confectionery and milk bar.
Half the shop was partitioned, so that Allan and Althea could manufacture marshmallows and toffees, toffee apples, barley sugar, butterscotch and boiled lollies. The hours were demanding; starting manufacture early in the morning, opening the shop at 9am, and closing around 11pm.
They soon attracted customers and there was a great demand from wholesalers for their well-known snowballs and ‘biffs’ (coloured snowballs).
Another product was ‘Rocky Road’, made from marshmallow, peanuts and chocolate.
Customers came from far afield over the weekends to buy novelties such as chocolate-coated animal shaped marshmallows.
During World War II, their elder son Jim became old enough to volunteer for War service and joined the Army.
His brother Alan said: “It was a sad time for us all when he was sent to the Middle East for 18 months.”
At this time Allan applied for the position of Manager of a Tarax Bar in Swanston St, Melbourne.
The Managing Director, Mr Pethard, from Bendigo, interviewed Allan.
Mr Pethard said he regarded Allan’s experience as a grocer made him the most qualified for the position.
The job involved the management of meals for customers, the soft drink and milk bars.
Apart from this position at night into the early hours of the morning, he still found time to manufacture.
The family’s Tarax Bar was at 151 Sydney Rd, Moreland (Coburg).
Tarax was then an exclusive soft drink, and Tarax bars were by appointment. Up to this stage, Althea and daughter ‘Girlie’ were managing the shop, with assistance from Alan when he came home from school.
There was a large passage at the side of the shop and Allan made large bins to hold many dozens of bottles, into which he would chip blocks of ice. This was apart from two large shop refrigerators.
At this time, Tarax brewed non-alcoholic drinks called Tarax Stout, and Bitter.
There was never a short supply of chilled drinks, and it was not unusual during hot spells to see customers queued outside the shop, waiting to be served after the customers inside the shop had quenched their thirst.
After Jim’s return from service in the Middle East as a Sergeant, he was promoted to the post of Warrant Officer II at the Bandiana Workshops, near Albury.
It was here that Jim met his future wife, Marjory Lawrence.
Jim and Marjory married at Croxton Park Methodist Church on February 24, 1945.
After their marriage, and Army discharge, they lived with Allan and Althea until buying their first home at 42 Rene St, East Preston.
(They had earlier planned a home at Madeleine St, East Preston, but the land was bought by the Housing Commission.)
Allan and Jim decided to go into partnership with the confectionery, and a factory was built at the rear of the Sydney Rd shop.
The business was named ‘Golden Ray Sweets’.
The business was quickly expanding and Alan recalled: “It was decided to move to a larger factory, and at the same time another house had to be bought, which was at 62 Glenard Drive, Heidelberg.
“In 1949, a larger factory was available nearer home in Banksia St, Bulleen, and it became a real family business with us all working there.
“After a short time through national events, supplies were hard to come by, unless you were willing to pay double the price through other channels.
“Dad did not believe in this type of business, and it was mutually agreed that the business should disband due these circumstances.”
“For some time, Dad and Jim used the factory equipment for making outside furniture and flywire screens. “This equipment was the timber used for the frames of trays in which flour was used for moulding snowballs.”
Allan was appointed a Canteen Manager for the Australian Paper Manufacturers at Fairfield.
At a later stage when Jim was an executive for Standard Motors at Port Melbourne, the position of Canteen Manager became available, and Allan was appointed.
His ideas for efficiency were well received by the Standard company, and staff and management were most upset when he decided to retire.
He was very compassionate and any essential operation that was oppressing would find Allan rotating staff, and he would take a turn himself.
Allan was always active in his retirement with the maintenance of his home, garden and repairs to any objects of the family.
About September 1972, Althea became ill and was sent to hospital for treatment.
It was realised that her condition would not improve, but her determination and devotion to be with her family was very strong, and she was allowed to come home.
After some time, her condition worsened, but she so dearly wanted to be with the whole family on Christmas Day.
After Christmas she was getting weaker, and after some deliberation she agreed to go to a private hospital. Her determination to love astounded medical authorities. She died peacefully in her sleep on January 8, 1973.
Althea’s passing was a deeply sad moment for all her family, but there are many happy memories which will last a lifetime. Allan was very brave after the family’s loss, but it was evident that he was fretting over the loss of his mate of over 50 years.
Like her mother, Girlie was so devoting to her father over this period, and without her he would not have been able to bring himself to being interested in his hobbies.
Like Althea, he was proud of his heritage, and delighted family members by relating many tales regarding members of the preceding families.
In March, 1975, Allan had an operation. It was the first time in his life that he had been a patient in a hospital.
His operation was successful, but his general condition after a few weeks was getting weaker, and he was re-admitted. After a week he came home. When July 4 came – Althea’s birthday – his loving memoires were apparent. His interests were not as they had been before.
On August 6, 1975, he was admitted to Austin Hospital, where he passed away peacefully his sleep the next day. Allan and Althea were re-united on August 8, 1975.
The question of Althea’s Aboriginality has been the subject of extensive research by my sister, Denise Meikle.
In 2018, as a matter of respect to our mutual heritage and our elders, Denise successfully applied to the Australian Government to be officially regarded as an Australian Aboriginal person.
In 2019, Denise and I are each in contact with the Elders of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation at Heywood (near Portland), to further advance our desire to record our heritage.
It is worthwhile to examine the life of Althea’s father, Charles Clay.
My mother, Marjory, recalls meeting him at Portland after her marriage to Jim in February 1945.
Charles Clay lived to the age of 90, and an obituary was published in the Portland Guardian (Oct. 9, 1947):
“The passing of Mr. Charles Clay at the age of 90 years, has removed from our midst one of the remaining links with the pioneers of our district.
“Born at Buninyong, Mr. Clay spent the early years of his life in that and the Cobden areas, and it was among these forests that he developed that love for the Australian bush which was such a feature of his life.
“In 1874, the family removed to Portland and settled on land at Gorae often spoken of as the “Old Station,” being part of one of Henty’s cattle runs.
“It is interestlng to know that this part of the country was then comparatively open, and fine grazing land whereon large herds of cattle were fattened.
“On this property, Mr. Clay followed farming pursuits and also planted one of the first orchards of the district and justly claimed to be one of the first exporters of apples.
“Later, Mr. Clay acquired land opposite the Gorae railway crossing, which, during the following years, he converted from virgin bush into a well established orchard and home stead known as ‘Latimer’.
“Mr. Clay was a very active and strongly built man, and many tales are told of his prowess in sport and feats of strength rarely seen, even in the days of the hardy pioneers.
“As a young man he joined the local militia garrison, the ranks of which are now fast diminishing; he was also a member of the Portland Rifle Club.
“He was a great reader and possessed a very retentive memory, so much so that a conversation with him became a delight to his many friends.
“As a very keen student of the Bible with a deep knowledge and understanding of its pages, nothing pleased him more than a discourse on its truths with the similarly minded.
“He was an active member of the Methodist Church from boyhood, a lay preacher, and in turn a teacher in the North Portland, Gorae, and Bolwarra Sunday Schools.
“Mr. Clay was widely known throughout the district, particularly in Gorae, where he reared his family and was active in all the community life.
“Mrs. Clay was not of the same robust constitution, having pre-deceased her husband nineteen years.
“It was not till he was well in the eighties that Mr. Clay felt a hard day’s work was getting beyond his powers, and he decided to dispose of his property and retire from active life.
“A home was built in Portland, where he spent his remaining years.
“During the last twelve months it was evident that he was quietly but surely losing his strength, but only last week was there an indication that the end was near.
“We are pleased to read that the passing was a very peaceful one, and the long life just ebbed out as if in sleep.
“The funeral which took place last Thursday, was preceded by a service held in Wesley Church at which the Rev. E. W. Barren paid high tribute to the deceased and the respect in which he was held.
“This was evidenced by the many beautiful floral tributes and the large following to the Cemetery.
“Pall bearers were Messrs. G. and A. Clay, A. Pitts, R. Robins, A. Long and W. Cock. The mortuary arrangements were in the hands of Mr. T. C. Jarrett.”
In his latter years, Charles Clay had lived at Hanlon Parade, Portland.
His father, also named Charles Clay, had lived in the Portland area, although he had a stint as a miner on the Kalgoorlie fields.
The first home in the Portland area was ‘Sunnyside’.
In the 1880s, whilst the Clays cut timber in the area, the local Aboriginal people hid and hunted in the Gorae forest area.
Most local records from the time have disappeared.
An April 22, 1876 clipping from the Portland Guardian records that a ‘Charles Clay’ fronted Court for cutting and removing timber without being duly licensed.
Gorae and Gorae West are rural localities about 15 km north-west of Portland. It is thought that the name derives from an Aboriginal word for kangaroo.
VictorianPlaces.com.au says: “The localities were originally forested, partly cleared for grazing. The Portland township used the forest for building and fence timber, and there was a mill settlement by the late 1880s.”