Melbourne - History Bite - 1912
AN AUSTRALIAN OCTOGENARIAN
By A J.W.O.
This text and portrait sketch of Mr Ross appeared in The Leader, 20th January, ,1912 (Trove (nla.gov.au)
It was in the home of the Little sisters of the Poor that I found him, working amongst his beloved flowers. Two of his old comrades were mowing a triangular patch and the heavy hay crop was being turned up to the sun by some others, rolling into ricks that were already dry. The air was sweet with the scent of flowers and new mown hay and musical whish of the schythe and the sharpening of blades,while the piping of a blackbird in a hawthorn tree gave an old world touch to the peaceful scene.
How happy is he who crowns, In shades like these,
a youth of labour with an age of ease.
"My name is James Ross and I was born in Launceston, Tasmania, in 1830. My father came out from Scotland about the year 1827. In the year 1835 he came over to Victoria with Batman, who employed him as carpenter. I remember well the house where Batman lived; it was a fine place in those days, and was situated on Batman's Hill. There was a large garden full of fruit trees, and it was his custom to fill casks with apples - and leave them outside his gate so that the boys wouldn't break his trees. My brother John and I went to school, which was held in a little hut. Although I don't remember the master's name, I know lie was very good. John became a jockey, and was employed by the late G. Watson, and many's the winner he rode. He married and took a farm at Brighton; he had a large family,but they are all dead. He himself died from the bite of a rat— and went mad.
"When I was old enough I took to bullock driving, carting provisions up to the diggings. Rum was the drink in those days. We carried two gallons on each dray; it was 18/- a gallon and we drank it all at one meeting. It took us three weeks to go to Bendigo with the drays, perhaps a few days over. The roads were little more than bush tracks and very bad.
“ It was about this-time that I carted palings with Gilbert Marshall, of Whittlesea. I saw his picture and read about him in "The Leader."Many's the yarn he used to tell about the three years he spent in the blacks' camp when he was a youngster and got lost in the bush, and now 'they -tell me he's dead. He must have been just about the same age as myself. J ohnnie Fawkner- was his god father.
"I have seen as many as 300 -500 blacks on the Merri Creek. They were the Melbourne tribe, and quite friendly. My father took on a big contract to put houses at Heidelberg. He had to pay his carpenters £1 per day. Ilis employer went smash and my father, lost every penny. At that time he (my father) owned a fine place at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets. He was a fine looking, big Scotch High lander, wore kilts, and was a good performer on the bagpipes. He died when he was 56. He took to drink to drown his sorrows and disappointments. My mother was an Irish woman. She was the firstwhite woman who died and was buried in Mebourne. I was the wildest one of the family, and vet here I am and all the others are dead long ago. I used to break in horses and ride bush races, mostly at Whittlesea, Mount Gambier and Heidelberg. I have been farming for over fify years. I changed about from one farm to another, but always kept in the Western district. It is more than thirty years since I've been in Melbourne.
“I came into this home six years ago and I never want to leave it. My wife, who is a few years younger than me, works in the laundry. We are very happy and content. We can get out once, every fortnight, but we never go. I ask you, what could you wish for better than this? I work in the garden, not because I have to but because I like it. Lots of them here never do a hand's turn. The wonder to me is how they can do so much for us here. The good mother and the sisters are so kind and patient. We get the best of food and clothing, and often have beer for dinner, and the men who smoke get' an allowance of tobacco twice a week.
"Am I a Catholic? Well, now I am; but I was brought up a Scotch Presbyterian.They don't talk religion to us or ask us to change, but somehow I got to love the place and the peaceful life, and then I thought I'd like to know what makes, these good women. many of them brought up in homes of luxury and ease and work so hard and deny themselves so much for a lot of poor, old, irritable men and women, for that's what the best of us are, and from many of them never a word of thanks Well, I took to going into the church that's in the centre of the building and all I know now is. that it makes me feel better and happier, and when a man comes to my time of life that's all he wants.
I have one daughter and she comes to see her mother and me every week. .We don't need any money, there'd be nothing for us to spend it on. We live here free. Anyone that likes to work can, but no one is compelled to do anything... Lots try, to get in, but when they hear that they have to give up their old age pensions they don't like that.This climate has changed tremendously. When I went to the diggings it was too hot in the middle of the day to. work. We used to knock off for two or three hours, and the real summer weather began in September and laste until April. Now the summer doesn't rightly start till after Christmas. Although 1 am not a teetotaller, I have a great down on it because it was a curse in in my family, my father having lost all through it. I had only one son, and he was drowned in the Yarra. He was farming with me at Heidelberg at the time, and one day went over to an island to round up some horses. When coming back, his horse got into a hole, and both horse and rider were lost. It was some weeks before my son's body was found. It was a great blow to us. He was only 21 years of age.
I don't read much, though my ' sight's as good as ever it was. I’ve kept my eyesight and I’ve kept my hair.
That's the tea bell, so if you'll kindly excuse me I must go. It's nice to have a talk over the days that are gone.