Saturday, December 7, 2013

Letters - Part 1

It was always my intention, when I began Bessie at Burragan, to weave a little history into its stories. You see, Burragan is an entity of its own, with an intriguing and mysterious past - involving arson, a multi millionaire, and a murder plot! To me, Burragan is the star of the show. It writes the stories… I just retell them.

Burragan’s previous owner Elinor, who was always known as Lin, was an intensely private person. So much so that she actually used to have the mail box set up on the opposite side of the road from where the driveway was (and at one stage, even on the highway many miles away) so that people wouldn’t know how to find the house. Many neighbours had never visited the homestead, and the story goes that workers were also always directed straight to the wool shed (which is several kilometres from the house), and rarely, if ever, invited in for tea and cake.

After many years in a nursing home, with dementia, Lin died last year aged 79. And I’m sure she’d be mortified to know I’m broadcasting stories about Burragan to the entire world. Though I have been told by many locals that she always liked my in-laws – who were, of course, her family’s neighbours for many generations - so would be happy to know Burragan is in good hands with them… and that I too am in love with Burragan in my own way.

I won’t give the whole story away at the start, though really, given Lin’s discrete nature and secluded life at Burragan, I’m not sure anyone truly knows the whole story.

These simple facts I can tell you:

Born in August 1933, Lin was the only child of Des and Margaret (Madge) Fitzgerald. Des had owned parts of Burragan from as far back as 1903. He died in 1948, when Lin was 15, and she returned home from boarding school in Adelaide, to live and work at Burragan for the next 60 years. Much to her mother’s disapproval, Lin married Laurie, a station hand on the property, in 1964. They never had children. Madge passed away some years later, and Laurie died in 1998. In 2007 Lin was found collapsed, though still alive, at the Burragan homestead. She moved to a nursing home in Broken Hill, where she lived for another four years.

With absolutely no known family, the contents and collections of Lin’s life at Burragan were sold at auction before ST’s family bought the property, and so the house was nearly empty when ST and I arrived at the beginning of 2011.

But in an old, wooden box, in the loft of a machinery shed, we came across one small wad of letters dated 1957. Some are to Lin, others are to Madge, some are receipts for purchases, others are newspaper clippings. While they don't say much individually, to me they provide an fascinating patchwork of time, place, life and the story of Burragan.

Interestingly, in 1957 Lin would have been just a year younger than I am today.

I’d like to share these with you over the coming months - if I can decipher the ornate handwriting.

Here’s an easy one to start…

Postmarked: Cairns, Queensland, 1957.

To Miss Elinor Fitzgerald
Burragan Station

From M. Fitzgerald
Green Island
Pacific Ocean

Your Whacko Letter from Green Island.

Dear Pal,
My trip was Delightful
I’m having Good Fun
However I’m expecting A Dose of Sunburn
Because I Have Been Sightseeing
But I’ve acquired Lots of Weight
The weather is Delightful
I have been Kept Busy
And enjoying The Scenery
As well as Motoring, Eating and Boating
If you could only see How Well I Look
Just like a Rising Sun
But I’ll be back Next Month
My love to The Gang
Signed, So! Cheerio, All My Love, Your Pal
P.S. Don’t forget to Feed The Dog