Mary (Sis) Brown 1891-1970

Mary (Sis) Brown 1891-1970

Mary married Alex Thomson in 1914.


Alex Thomson came to the Jennaberring district North of Quairading from Yea in Victoria in 1908 and took up land in the area. His father Jim and elder brother Will joined him in this venture soon after when his mother had sadly passed away.

Both sets of grandparents had migrated from Scotland in 1838 to South Australia two years after the colony
was founded and took up farming, so farming was in his blood. Alex called his farm “Blair Athol”. The property was situated an equal distance (18 miles) from the wheat belt towns of Tammin and Quairading. The property was about three or four thousand acres and the virgin land had to be cleared of timber before any crops could be planted. Timber on the land was salmon gum, white gum, jam, York, mallee and gimlet.

The gimlet trees grew in first class soil and grew to about 5 – 6 metres and were used mainly for stock yards, roof rails and bush sheds. Salmon gums got their name being similar in colour to the salmon fish. A beautiful tree with a massive foliage and the soil it grew in very good for growing wheat. White gum soil was down in quality but they grew quite high and were ideal for shed uprights and fence strainer posts. The jam tree was grown on a more gravely type soil and was ideal for fence posts that endured for years. Other jam trees were on a poorer quality soil and were used for fence posts. Malley was very common in the area but our farm didn’t have a lot. York gums were named after the historic town of York where they grow in abundance. A very wiry tree that would have taxed the axemen’s skill when felling them.

Alex built a home with mud bricks which he made himself with a mould. A bungalow style it consisted of a large family dining room, two bedrooms and verandahs all round. The kitchen laundry bathroom were
separate buildings off the back verandah. The toilet (dunny) was some distance from the house and had a pan which had to be emptied when full. A not too pleasant job I am sure.
In 1914 Alex married Mary Brown (known as Sis) who had migrated from Scotland with her family in 1908 and had settled in the district. The Brown and Loudon families eventually settled in Quairading and were a very close knit family. Mary’s two youngest brothers Andy and Archie lived with grandma Brown and had very mischievous natures. Gran was a strict tee-teetotaller and was most upset when the Quairading Club was built and given an alcohol licence. She said she would like to see it burned to the ground “brick by brick”.

Archie and Andy enjoyed a drink. One Christmas they purchased half a dozen big brown bottles of beer and hid them behind the dunny which of course was way up the back yard. Imagine their consternation when they went to collect them Christmas day only to find a note from the “night-man” (the guy that emptied the used pans and replaced them with clean ones) thanking them for the Christmas cheer!!! For the benefit of the younger generation reading this in the olden days it was the custom to reward the folk that delivered a service during the year with a small Christmas gift. These included the iceman, baker, milkman and postie. Their wares were delivered to the house and the money just put in a jar for payment. IMAGINE!!

Alex and Mary produced a large family consisting of 9 children, ranging in age from 20 years down. There were 5 boys and four girls. John, Grace, Alexander (Alex), Jean, Elizabeth (Betty), Rowland (Rowly),Donald (Don), Bruce and Margaret.

Mary and Alex on wheat bags: Grace, Alex, John, Rowly, Don, Jean, Betty and Bruce
Mary and Alex with Ford V8: Rowly, Don, Bruce and Margaret

Times were hard in the early days and conditions very primitive. Water was always a problem. Alex dug a well himself which was 80 foot deep. It was initially used for stock but unfortunately eventually went brackish. Rain water tanks were established and these were topped up with water from the Kalgoorlie pipeline and had to be carted and paid for. A small soak some distance from the homestead produced enough water for a vegetable garden which was a boon. Luckily Alex was an excellent gardener. The crops grown were wheat, oats and barley. Animals raised were sheep, pigs and a few cattle. The cows were mainly for domestic use and provided milk and cream which had to be separated, churned and then made into butter. Chickens and turkeys were raised and provided eggs and special occasion meals.

Carting hay
Carting wool

The Presbyterian minister visited the district once a month and the service was held in our home or those of
our neighbours, Usually at McRae’s or the Wilsons. As the family grew the house was modified and a side verandah was enclosed to become a dormitory for
the boys. Owing to a big age difference the family rarely lived together in the farm house at the same time.

Sport played an important part in the children’s upbringing. Alex himself was a good athlete winning
trophies at local events and was a noteworthy footballer. Both Mary and Alex were good lawn bowlers and
enjoyed the game in their retirement to Tammin. They were avid supporters of the East Perth football club.
Even their Major Mitchell cockatoo “Cockalorum” used to barrack for the royals. “Come on East Perth pull
your socks up” he’d shout with a broad Scottish accent.

The dining room table was actually a billiard table with slats of wood to convert it to a table. Two long stools went up the sides of the table and two chairs each end supplied the seating arrangements. A dart board hung on a door and provided some heated contests. The piano was in the front room which was virtuallyout of bounds to the kids except for piano practice. That is where the oldies entertained. Mainly afternoon tea parties and cards. But we did gather there for sing-songs.

Thomson and Brown kids eating ice creams at Aunty Mary Wilson’s shop in Yoting
Alex, Betty, Grace nursing Rowly, Jean, John

The farm had it’s own cricket pitch and everyone had a go. They also had a tennis court which was popular
with neighbouring families as well as our own family. The base was made of crushed anthills and the tennis
net believe it or not was KNITTED by Mary and then dipped in tar. The family would sit around the crackly radio and listen to the Australian cricket team taking on the poms well into the night, all sitting around the mallee root fire. The antenna for the radio was two gimlet polls about 30ft. high and a wire to pick up the signal.

Shopping was done at the Quairading Co-op but sport was played in Tammin. Dances and social events were enjoyed in both towns. Shopping day was usually Friday and the grocery order would be rung through on a wind up telephone situated on a wall in the passage. A box of groceries would be ready to be picked up when the town was finally reached. If the shop was closed by then the box of stores was just put outside the shop front along with many other boxes belonging to other customers. No one would have thought of stealing anyone else’s provisions. The lass taking the order would often mistake what Mary wanted as she had difficulty with the Scottish brogue. We got some weird and wonderful grocery items at times. Goods were usually sold in bulk. Flour and sugar sold in large hessian or calico bags, and tea sold in 10lb tins. One
time during the war Mary ordered a tin of Bushell’s tea and somehow or other got TEN tins of tea. This proved to be a bonus as tea became rationed the very next week. A similar thing happened when she ordered a tin of tan boot polish. She got ten tins of brown and ten tins of black polish. That too went on ration as was needed for the soldiers The Thomson family was able to supply the whole district in tea and boot polish for the duration of the war.

Every Tuesday the mail man arrived in his truck and delivered the post. He also brought back copies of papers like the Sunday Times, Broadcaster and West Australian. He would take the outgoing mail and post itoff the next day.

Grace, Jean and Betty were excellent tennis and hockey players. Margaret also enjoyed sport and played basketball, tennis and hockey but was not as talented as her sisters. What she lacked in talent however she made up for in enthusiasm. John and Alex were good tennis, cricket and footballers and in later life played lawn bowls. Don enjoyed tennis and bowls. Bruce and Rowly both played football and lawn bowls. Rowly
was exceptionally athletic and good at gymnastics as well.

Susie and Uncle Rowly with triplets

Bruce was the only family member who stayed on the farm permanently.He married Bev Webber, a lovely nurse from NSW and they became parents to Susie and Gerald. Bruce was a talented musician and could play any tune on the piano by ear. He also played the drums and was often in demand to relieve the band when they went for a break at the local dances. The family piano has been restored and Susie now has it in her keeping.

Susie and Gerald and their partners have made very successful lives and Bev and Bruce are justifiably proud of them. They have four lovely grand children and so far two great grandees.

I don’t think Bruce ever wanted to be anything other than a farmer. He was very inventive and could adapt any machinery to suit his needs. Any repairs of farm equipment was done by him. He was a very astute farmer and could turn his hand to anything. Bev and Bruce enjoyed many years of caravan holidays and are now enjoying a well earned retirement in Quairading . Bev belongs to a sewing group and does beautiful craft and embroidery.

John Deere tractor

Bruce has restored the old John Deere farm tractor and is a member of the Quairading vintage club where they restore other old farm implements. They are strong supporters of the community and are well liked.

Betty and Don went to Perth for higher education. Grace had wanted to be a teacher and won a scholarship to Northam High School but sadly after a short time had to return home because of the great depression, the family could not afford her board. She got a job in Tammin in Lardi Bros department store and although not fulfilling her dreams was happy there.

Rowly wanted to be a farmer like his dad and was sent to Narrogin Agricultural School. Bruce had to remain at South Tammin school until he was sixteen in a valiant effort to keep enough pupils at the school for it to remain open. He then gladly left and was at last able to help his Dad and Rowly on the farm.
When Margaret was nine years of age the local school was moved to another area because of lack of students and she had to go to boarding school. For the next seven years she attended South Perth and Kellerberrin Convents. A bit of a shock to the system for a fifth generation Presbyterian. The nuns of St. Joseph were remarkable women though and very fair and kind and not discriminating in any way. (In fact she was a bit of a pet!)

This iconic photo is taken of the Thomson “boys” out for a spin with their mate and neighbour Bobby Marks. From left to right: Bob Marks, Watty Thomson, Don (Spike} Thomson, Alex Thomson (snr), John Thomson and Alex Thomson (jnr)
John, Grace and Alex
Jean, Betty and Rowly
Don, Bruce and Margaret

When the war broke out John and Alex joined the forces to do their bit for King and Country. Towards the end of the war Don also joined up. John joined the Air force in 1940 and served in New Guinea. In 1945 Corporal Thomson’s character on discharge was classed as exemplary which was a very high honour. When in Sydney John met a pretty lass called Frieda Junk and they married, raised Carol and Deryk and lived the rest of their lives in Sans Souci, NSW .

Carol’s Wedding: Don, Betty, Rowly, Jean, Alex, Grace, Carol, John, Marg, Bruce
Carol’s Wedding (in laws): Clarrie, Lesley, Ilma, Carol, Frieda, Bev, Marg T and Bob
John, Bruce, Rowly, Don and Alex – 1979

John never returned to the farm. For a lad that had left school at 14 with very limited education he did exceptionally well. He worked for TAA and then Ansett. On retirement he was in charge of the maintenance staff at Ansett which was responsible for the safety and upkeep of their fleet.

Alex jnr, Alex snr, John
Alex, Jean, Betty, Grace, John Alex and Mary Don, Bruce, Margaret and Rowly

Frieda was a very supportive wife of John and they shared lots of travel and activities. John was a scoutmaster when the kids were young and Frieda his “secretary.” Deryk loved the farm and most Christmas holidays he would fly from Sydney to spend at “Blair Athol” with his WA kin. As an adult he used to ride across on motor bike. He still lives in Sydney with his lovely Scottish wife Linda.

Alex junior was from all accounts a wholly terror as a child and the bane of his mother’s life. He was also his dad’s favourite and was called “Sonny”. Sonny was very quick witted and had a very mischievous streak. He was ambidextrous and would swing a tennis racket from one hand to the other.

When he tried it at lawn bowls as a senior it was not an acceptable manoeuvre! Alex joined the Army in 1941 and saw service in New Guinea and Morotai and was discharged in 1945. When he first joined up a neighbour who had served in World War 1 and now held rank of Captain was on the interviewing panel to decide what category the new recruits were to serve. He gave Alex a big wrap to his fellow panellists, “This lad was the son of respected citizens and well known to him etc.” On wondering how ambitious Alex was, the colonel in charge asked Alex what he wanted to be when he returned home from the war. Alex replied, “A returned soldier sir.”

Grace, John and Jean

He promptly got designated to the INFANTRY. He eventually was in the motor bike squad and became a reconnaissance rider. I don’t know if there was any connection, but this is when he gained the nick name WRECKER and it stuck with him till the day he died. (He probably wrecked the motor bikes he was entrusted to ride!) One time, Alex and his cousin Wattie Thomson almost caused an international incident. They had acquired a mountain devil as a pet (a small dragon like native lizard with spikes). The American servicemen were fascinated with this little creature. Our boys then lined matchboxes with cotton wool and inserted six double-gees (a very noxious prickle) in each box. They then sold them to the Yanks as MOUNTAIN DEVIL EGGS and charged 6/- a box. They advised the Yanks to keep the “eggs” in the refrigerator on the ship home to prevent them from hatching before they got to the U.S.A.

Carol became a teacher and she too migrated to the West. She eventually married and settled here and had two sons Paul and Tim. They have both married and they and their partners and Tim’s four littlies keep Carol happily on her toes.

House on farm 1950s
Betty with friends ?? Grace 2 mates from munitions in Adelaide and Jean

When the war was over Alex returned home but even though the family had purchased another farm adjoining “Blair Athol” he declined. Instead he and his newly wed bride opted to share farm at Kellerberrin. He married Lesley Durack daughter of one of the Durack family of North West renown. Les and Alex had two daughters Gwen and Kerry and they were an integral part of the Thomson clan. Eventually the family moved to a farm in Gidgeganup and finally to Perth where Alex worked as an escort driver for the trucks carrying mining equipment. His area was from the SA border to the North West. If anyone wanted to know how far it was to a certain destination he would quote “so and so many cans”! He was extremely popular and old acquaintances were always happy to catch up.

Gwen and Kerry both married and carved out well paid careers. Gwen has retired and lives in Queensland and is in constant touch with family. Our beautiful Kerry has sadly passed away. She had one daughter Kylie.

For their war effort Jean and Grace went to work in SA in the munition factories. Dad had a lot of relatives living there and they were able to spend time with them. Grace met her future husband John Quinn and they married and had a son Robert who unfortunately was born with severe cerebral palsy. Eventually the family re-located to Perth. Robbie passed away aged 30. Grace was a good cook and competent dressmaker. She also did beautiful craft work and won many prizes for her efforts. She took a lot of interest in the family and was the glue that held us together at times. She loved children and was the adoring aunt to her myriad of nieces and nephews and the children of her many relatives and friends. Everyone loved Aunty Grace.

Jean’s Wedding: Jean, Gwen and Marg

Jean returned home to the farm and was a great help to Mum in the homestead and the men in the paddocks. She loved the outdoor work. She remained on the farm until she married Clarrie Tremlett and went to live in Northam where she resided for 50 years. They had three beautiful sons Keith, Kim and Stuart. Tragedy struck and both Keith and Stuart died in infancy. This was a terrible blow to them and the rest of the Thomson clan. No one really recovered from the loss. After Clarry passed away Jean went to live in Rockingham where she could be nearer her family. Jean did a lot of charity work and won many awards. She loved cooking did beautiful craft work and always kept busy. She loved children and like Aunty Grace was a magnet to her sibling’s kids.

Clarry and Kim were both outstanding sportsmen. Kim unfortunately lost his left arm in a traffic accident but it did not stop him from thrashing all and sundry at any sport he undertook to play. He and Pam are enjoying their retirement and travelling the country in their beautiful motor home and are adoring grand ma and pop to the grandees.

Betty was employed in Perth in secretarial work. She was a very clever lass, a proficient worker. She also loved socialising and dancing. She married Alex Stewart who played football for East Perth. Betty and Alex had three children, Gail, Mark and Bruce. (Mark eventually played footy for East Perth too.) The family also belonged to the Mounts Bay Yacht club where Alex was commodore. The kids loved the farm and spent quality time there when they got a chance and also with Aunty Jean in Northam and Aunty Grace. Betty was very proud of Gail Mark and Bruce and loved their partners and was very supportive of any undertakings they took on. Betty loved the fact they were all good at sport and clever with their hands. When the grandchildren came along she became an adoring granny. They were her life. Betty was a good cook and did beautiful craft and art work. Gail also is an artist.

Rowly remained on the farm and married Margaret, a very attractive widow of his mate Eddy Wells. Margaret had two little boys Graham and Rodney and they eventually had two daughters of their own. Janette and Noelene. Margaret was a competent horsewoman and both the girls excelled in equestrian events. Janette still has her horses. She is involved in the Light Horse and has ridden her horse Bonnie for a ceremony down St Georges Terrace and at Subiaco Oval for an Anzac “Dockers” footy match amongst many other occasions. Sadly, Noelene has passed away. We still miss her.

On leaving Blair Athol, Rowly and Margaret took up a small holding in Armadale where they had a few animals. It was a beautiful spot and the girls had their horses. Bob and my two sons loved to visit and the girls always very generously took the boys for rides. They absolutely loved Uncle Rowly who was like the pied piper where children were concerned. He died in 1979 at the age of 55. Way too young.

Tammin house
CWA Tammin, 1962: Don, Bruce, Rowly, John, Alex, Grace, Marg, Betty, Jean, Alex and Mary
CWA Tammin, 1962: Margaret T, Rowly, Clarry, Alex T, Les, Alex S, Don, Bruce, Graeme, Carol, Frieda, Deryk, John, Jean, Betty, Ilma,Margaret, Grace, Alex nursing Stuart, Mary nursing Janette, Robbie in wheelchair, Rodney, Brucie, Mark, Kim, Neil, Jenny, Gail Absent – Gwen and Kerry

Not long after leaving school Margaret took on housekeeping duties on the farm for Bruce and Rowly, Alex and Mary having retired to their new home in Tammin. This was a very enjoyable period for Margaret. She enjoyed life on the farm raising chooks and turkeys and keeping house which was a bit hit and miss at times. Social life was great. Margaret belonged to both Quairading and Tammin tennis clubs and played goalie in the Tammin basketball team. She loved sport and though not an outstanding player always got a game. She followed the local footy team which consisted of quite a few Thomson’s as our cousins also played. Margaret loved cooking and sewing and fashion. She belonged to the Tammin Junior Farmers Club and took great interest in all the activities and achievement days which were like mini fairs and held in the surrounding towns. She was in the debating team which did quite well and won quite a few awards. A new home was built on the farm and they had a really great house-warming party which the whole district attended.

Bruce, Marg, Rowly

When Rowly got married, Margaret moved into Tammin to live with her folks and worked in the Tammin Co-op for a year and really enjoyed it. There were dances and balls to attend and lots of friends to keep company with. However, the world was beckoning and new horizons were calling. So she joined the Navy to see the world! Well actually, it was just the Eastern States those days. Not like now when the girls actually go to sea! What a joy it was though. The four years spent as a Wran were very memorable and the friendships that were made have stood the test of time. Having risen to the rank of Petty Officer, life was good. But the loss of her father and a touch of homesickness saw her head back West. The next four years were spent working as a civilian at HMAS LEEUWIN in East Fremantle doing pretty much the same office work as she had in the Navy.

Marg’s Wedding, 1968: Alex, Rowly, John, Don, Bruce, Grace, Betty, Mary, Marg, Bob, Jean
Wedding of Bob and Marg

More great friendships were made and that is when she met and married Bob Patterson. Bob grew up in the Fremantle area, his father’s family having migrated there from England in 1912. His mother’s family were originally from Scotland but she and her sisters were born in Northam. Bob and his brother Harry both became tradesmen and Bob worked for bulk handling as a fitter. He grew up with a deep love of the ocean and enjoyed swimming, fishing and sailing. He was an active member of the sea scouts and passed on much of this knowledge to his sons when growing up.

Alan and Ian completed the family. The boys were a delight to Bob and Margaret and both loved the outdoors. School holidays were often spent at the farm where they were always made welcome by the Thomson clan at Blair Athol. Other holidays were spent in the camper van at various beach destinations around the state. One memorable holiday the family travelled to the Port Pirie in SA by train with the station wagon on board. They then drove around the Eastern States finishing up in Sydney, then returning via the Nullarbor. What a wonderful fulfilling time catching up with all the relatives and even went skiing at Mt. Buller.

The boys joined the scouts where Bob was a scoutmaster. Other interests were soccer and football but their main love was the sea, They were both strong swimmers and enjoyed all activities like fishing, boating and surfing. Ian’s strong love of surf has remained with him and he and his wife Linney live in Margaret River and both enjoy that activity today. Even their overseas holidays usually incorporate this.

Alan and Ian attended South Coogee School where they made many friends of ethnic heritage. Glen Jacovich of Aussie Rules fame was in Ian’s class and many of the children have remained friends and their mum’s close friends of Margaret. Margaret helped out in the school as a parent help and also ran a small stationery and school uniform shop for the convenience of the pupils. When the boys went to High School she took on a job at the South Coogee Pre school and had many happy years there and enjoyed being part of the children’s lives. Bob finished up a maintenance supervisor for bulk handling at Kwinana. A few years before retirement he was a maintenance officer for the silos throughout the wheat belt and loved the job.

On retirement Margaret and Bob bought a trusted “troopy” and comfortable caravan and travelled the length and breadth of Australia for many years. This was a very enjoyable period for them both, seeing the wonders of this great country and catching up with relatives and friends. In more recent time they usually go down south in the summer or up north to Exmouth where they spend the winter months with mates of like interests.

Alan has never married and lives in the metropolitan area. He has always had a love of the bush and the ocean and enjoys working with computers.
Ian and his wife Linney live in Margaret River. Ian is a painter and decorator and Linney works for the Shire. They both enjoy entertaining their many friends, enjoy travel and both have a deep love of surf and are both accomplished surfers. Linney was born in Vietnam and adopted by a loving Australian family as a baby and brought up in Armadale NSW. Strangely enough this family were also named Thomson but we don’t think any relation to us. The family consisted of Mum and Dad and four strapping Aussie brothers. They were a very civic minded family and excelled in sport. Qualities they have passed on to Linney in spades. When Linney got married her four brothers carried her to the ceremony with her sitting on a chair on a raised platform like the Queen of Sheba.

Margaret has kept up her Navy connections and is a member of the ExWRANS association and attends many social events and re-unions all over Australia. She always marched through Perth on ANZAC day but in recent time attends the service in Quairading with extended family members.

When the Eagles joined the AFL Bruce and Bev became inaugural members but because they lived in the country could not always attend matches. They very generously offered the tickets to Margaret when not in use by them. A highlight of Margaret and Bruce’s lives was going to the 1992 Grand Final win in Melbourne which was attended with Betty and her son Mark. When the Dockers joined the AFL Bob being a Freo boy insisted we follow them. He bought Margaret a season ticket and for many years she went to all the matches right up until they started travelling. Margaret still loves the Eagles and is proud of their success but is a passionate Fremantle fan and her dearest wish is to see them win a premiership before she departs this life. In fact, the ultimate dream would be for both teams to face off in a Grand Final at the PERTH stadium and of course the results to be a DRAW!

Family has always played an important part of the Thomson/Brown clan and it is wonderful that the baton is being handed down to the younger generations to carry on via the computer. I have done my best to give you a glimpse of what life was for me and my branch of family and it is up to you to embellish my story and add your own.
Margaret Patterson (nee Thomson)

Nine little Thomson kids
raised on “Blair Athol” farm
parents Sis and Alex
ensured they met no harm
John Grace Alex Jean and Betty
Rowly Don Bruce and Margy
made up the Thomson family
and they grew up strong and hardy
Their home was built by Alex
with bricks made out of mud
the farm dished out much hardship though
and they battled drought and flood
A fine Christian upbringing
out there in the bush
they were taught good manners
and not to shove and push
The school four miles from the homestead
was reached by horse and cart
the one roomed one teacher classroom
was all they had for a start
Times back then were really tough
Fine luxuries really short
but the family got through it day by day
with good health fun and sport
The Thomson clan worked extremely hard
and happily survived
surrounded by enduring love
until dear Sis and Alex died