Backward Glance – Bettie Clark’s Diary, A Mother’s Love
  • Thursday 09 May 2019

It’s a very humbling insight to the past when the voices of our pioneers are brought to life through their own words in a diary. 

Bettie Clark’s diary takes us on a journey into her world through her writings of love, hope, hardship, grief and despair.

In 1888, Bettie and Charles Clark decided to take advantage of a Queensland Government agricultural settlement project at Gneering.

In her diary, Bettie wrote about attending the Land Court on December 4, 1888, where she and Charles were granted portion 51v Village (of Gneering), Parish of Maroochie, subject to the approval of the Land Board.

Over the next year, Bettie, Charles and their three children, Sarah Bettie, Rebecca Sophia, and Lydia Rose, planned to travel from their farm in Enoggera to their new life in Gneering at North Arm. 

They hired a horse and wagon to transport the family, their farm tools and household belongings to Pettigrew’s wharf where they embarked the “Tarshaw” for their sea journey from Brisbane to Maroochydore.

On January 2, 1889 Bettie noted in her diary that although the journey on a calm sea only took 8 hours, the constant rocking caused them all to be seasick, except for baby Lydia.

The next stage of their journey entailed traveling up the Maroochy River and then overland to their selection at North Arm. 

They boarded Pettigrew’s “Tadorna Radjah”, a stern wheel paddle steamer. Bettie was thankful the river was calm and no-one was afflicted with seasickness. 

The thick scrub and rainforest with the jungle-like vegetation encroaching over the river, must have been both an awe-inspiring and worrisome sight.

By January 13, 1889, the family were safely on their farm. 

Charles immediately set to work clearing the scrub, felling trees and building a house with slabs for the walls and heavy bark for the roof. 

Bettie wrote, “We had to put the house up the best we could.”

However, Charles was forced to stop work at one stage due to a painful infected finger.

“It kept Charles awake night and day until it broke, it turned out to be a whitlow, it was a long time getting well. Some man down in Yandina saw the finger and he told Charles to get a lemon and put his finger right through into the juice and it soon healed and got better,” Bettie wrote.

Bettie and Charles loved their farm and looked forward to becoming self-sufficient.

With their savings they purchased poultry, a milking cow and a plough horse that could haul a cart. 

Bettie worked the garden and planted pumpkins, potatoes and cabbages, planting by the phases of the moon.

Bettie established a large poultry farm, each week she delivered dozens of eggs to the Yandina general stores of Daniel McNab and Benjamin Lawton and to the boarding house operated by Mrs Murray.

The children did not attend school as Bettie sincerely believed she could teach them all they needed to know at home. 

Besides, the children were needed to work on the farm. But, Bettie did not neglect their education, while she was sewing by lamplight every night the children had to complete their lessons.

The children also attended Sunday School every week with their father. 

Bettie wrote that was the only time she had to herself to have a proper rest. 

An excerpt from Bettie’s dairy reads, “Friday: Sarah ironing, washed butter, baking bread and cake, got feed up, milked, had tea, then got wood and did some chipping, got children washed and got to bed. Saturday: milked, had breakfast, gave calf a drink of milk, got house work done, afternoon, I killed a hen for Sunday. Afternoon, getting some wood, had tea and milked. I killed a nice fat hen to eat. Sarah picked the feathers off and I cleaned her, had a good dinner. Children got some raspberries, I made a raspberry pie, skimmed and got feed up, children had a swim in the creek, had tea, milked, then chipping, then came in and gave Essie a wash in tub, then got to bed. Sunday: Charles and children went to Sunday School, afternoon resting.”

Entries in Bettie’s diary touch your heart as she writes about the tragic death of her third child, Charles Benjamin (Bennie) who was only two years old in 1888.

“Little Bennie has a sore mouth and I rubbed it with borax and honey, he is getting a little better, he has his eye teeth and one peg tooth though. His teething seemed to be the cause of his fever and weakness.”  

Bettie prepared his favourite food, a young rooster, and a neighbour brought cooking pears and grapes. Finally a doctor was called, he offered some medicine but indicated that he could do no more. 

Charles and Bettie stayed with him all night. Bennie could not swallow, Bettie tried to wet his lips with brandy and water.

“The little bird had flown, so peaceful and quiet to the Lord who loved the little lamb, my poor little Bennie. We shall meet by and by round that throne in Heaven where there will be no parting or pain to come,” Bettie wrote.

Esther May Clark was born on March 31, 1891 in North Arm but interestingly, the pages relating to her birth are missing from Bettie’s diary. 

Bettie’s sixth child, James, was born on July 19, 1893 but survived for only a week. 

Bettie wrote about her and Charles’s anguish in trying to save James’s life, “We were all watching him, his little hands and feet getting cold, near 9 o’clock he stopped breathing again. His spirit had gone to the Heavenly Father, he went so quiet, the dear little son, James.”

Walter John Clark was born on September 6, 1894. Bettie and Charles, proud parents travelled to Brisbane by train with Walter especially to have a photograph taken to send to his grandparents in England.

For the birth of her eighth child, Bettie intended to engage midwife Mrs Tucker from Nambour. 

Charles fetched Mrs Tucker when the baby was due and for three days Mrs Tucker and Bettie, bottling peaches as they waited.

After three days Mrs Tucker had to leave to go back to Nambour. 

Bettie wrote, “Eventually Charles got the cart ready and took Mrs Tucker to the Yandina Railway Station to catch the train back to Nambour. She was paid seven shillings and took some bacon as payment. The following night, Sunday, I did not feel very well and I got out of bed and when I got in again the labour pains started. On Monday Charles wrote a letter to Mrs Tucker telling her to come at once. Charles went down to Yandina and posted it.”

Luckily it caught the next train and the letter was delivered promptly to Mrs Tucker who arrived back on the very next train in time to deliver Ruth Mary Mima on November 23, 1896.

The last entry in Bettie’s diary was dated January 19, 1898 when the family decided to leave North Arm for England.

The original diary is held in the John Oxley Library in Brisbane.

Mrs Audienne Blyth has also just released a book, “Bettie Clark’s Diary and Early North Arm” which is based on transcriptions from Bettie’s diary.

Thanks to the Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.


Image details 

Hero: Tadorna Radjah' on the Maroochy River, 1880s

Image 1: Paddle-steamer 'Tadorna Radjah' unloading supplies in upper Maroochy River, ca 1890

Image 2: Henry Tucker's slab hut, one of first residences erected at Petrie Creek

Image 3: Railway Station, Yandina, 1911

Image 4: John McNab's General Store, Farrell Street, Yandina, ca 1900

Image 5: E. & H. Law's boarding house, corner of Farrell Street and Stevens Street, Yandina, 1920s. The building was originally Murray’s Boarding House, built ca 1891

Image 6: Sunday school picnic in the Yandina district, ca 1905