Elsie Costello is the fourth daughter of Elsie and Harry Mercer who drew a Soldier Settlement block at Ubobo in 1920. She has written this story of her family’s life during the early days of the settlement. It paints a clear picture of the hardships faced by those who arrived with a dream of owning their own land and celebrates the determination and courage of her parents as they battled to raise a family in the Boyne Valley in the years between 1920 and 1950.
This is Elsie’s story.
The Story of Harry and Elsie Mercer
By their daughter Elaine (Bunny) Costello
This is the story of Henry John Mercer (known as Harry) and Elsie Ruth Mercer, the first of my family to come to Australia. From now on I’ll call them Harry and Elsie because I think Elsie’s mother’s name was Ruth. I’ll be talking about her too, so this will save confusion.
Harry and Elsie had four girls:
Molly Clarise – who died young;
Olive Betty – who died age 12;
Fay Elaine – always called Bunny.
Harry came to Australia firstly as a late teenager. He went with another boy to a huge cattle company named Goldsborough Mort which operated west of Brisbane, Queensland. I’m not sure either of his age or the date, but he was probably 15 or 16. As far as I read – it was a reasonable life there. As the young ones, the older men gave them ‘tough love’ and they taught him a great many skills.
Then the First World War came and the two boys enlisted (1914). Harry served everywhere – Gallipoli (the Middle East), France and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He was in his prime, so he was very fit. Sometime during this his was re-united with his older brother. They booth got leave from France to England and of course went home and Dad met brother Charlie’s wife. Charlie’s wife was a friend of Elsie and they met and fell in love. They were married October 1918.
She was born in MAIDSTONE, KENT. Her father had a farm – there must have been lots of hops because she talked of hop-pickers coming down from London in season. There were cherry trees too because she said she ate as many as she picked. Her Dad died when she was eight so the marriage wasn’t very long was it. She, as an only child, pegged along happily with her Mum. (There was an Aunt Lizzy too).
Ruth, her Mum was very organized. Earning from produce from the farm were carefully set aside for expenses such as – if a calf was born to the cow it was sold and this paid the council rates for a year.She met Dad. The war finished soon after they were married and they lived with her mother until a ship was available to come to Australia. This must have been heart rending: they never saw each other again. Even when she sat down to write to Ruth it was the hardest thing because everything she said emphasized the separation.
By the time she left England Elsie was pregnant with Joan. I am trying to remember how long it took and I keep thinking six weeks, but not sure if this is right, I thing more like 6 months.
Elsie, who was pregnant, was seasick the whole time except for the two days the ship berthed at Durban, South Africa. I feel sure she told me the men’s and women’s quarters were separate, so Durban was a pleasant interlude.
I don’t know anything of the day that they landed in Australia but they took up residence in WYNNUM (where my husband’s family all live). This is Moreton Bay just off Brisbane. Mum has a friendship with an older woman, a Mrs Hamilton, in Brisbane. Mum always said, “Hamilton’s, the tent people”. I’m puzzled about how a young English migrant woman became so close to this lady, (she became Joan’s godmother). Was there an organization that supported the new migrants? (Brides)? It is possible being the wife of what was apparently a thriving business, Mrs Hamilton, could have been in a group such as this. After all Mum was at Wynnum, there weren’t cars available then to go here and there and all over the place. Elsie spoke very fondly of her.
Dad probably had a bit of cash, pay after the war, and they bought a wood yard. In those days people used the wood for ovens at Bakeries and so on. I suppose a regular and reliable supply was essential. Elsie was really happy, her baby Joan had arrived and was healthy. After those weeks of seasickness the baby weighed between 2 and 3 pounds. Elsie herself was 7 stone. A man in hospital was so fascinated with this tiny mite that he sent all sorts of tidbits to the young Mum.
When she got home she paraded with the pram up and down the seafront. She thought she was in heaven because the fruiter used to come along saying “Pineapples – 5 a shilling”. She loved fruit of any kind and these would be a special thing in England and expensive.