Stephen’s Eulogy for his father Lewis Walmsley
Lewis Walmsley was born on 22 June 1918 at his aunt Ruth’s private hospital in North Yass. He was the youngest of 8. His father married twice, his first wife, Charlotte Armstrong, dying after three children were born and when the eldest was 3. His second wife, Lewis’ mother, was Catherine Eliot of Gundaroo. Therefore, Lewis had three half-brothers from his father’s first marriage and three brothers and a sister from his second. One of his brothers, Ted, was killed in the Second World War in New Guinea. The other members of the family lived between 76 and 90 years. Lewis was 84.
He was raised at “Milford”, on the Yass River. He attended local primary schools. The NSW Education Department provided a teacher to be shared with several of his local schools. Thus, he attended school for three days one week and two the next. He finished primary school but there was no secondary school available. So he enrolled in the correspondence school and was for a time supervised by the local primary school teacher. But that teacher was not paid for the supervision. The arrangement soon came to an end. So he left school and went to work on his father’s farm.
He farmed for 10 years, then joined the AIF, serving in WA and New Guinea. While on leave from New Guinea he met Marion. They corresponded while he was back in New Guinea. They married on 14 April 1945. They were married for 57 years. They had three children. I was born in 1946, Faye in 1949 and Mark in 1958. Sadly, Faye died far too young, of a long illness, in 1980, when she was 30.
Though Lewis had little formal education, he was keenly interested in history, geography and world affairs. Like so many of his generation he was a veracious reader of books about the second world war, especially biographic of those prominent in that war. Even in the last few months I have given him several such books which he read.
He was a most successful grazier, winning prizes for breeding of fine Merino wool and for farming techniques.
He was always a keen sportsman, playing cricket in his youth (he tried to interest me in this but that was a waste of time). He later played tennis at competition level for many years at the Yass Methodist tennis club. Then he turned to lawn bowls. He had a keen eye for ball sports. He was not to be trifled with at the table tennis table. We had a table tennis table in the home on the farm for many years, He was rarely beaten at that sport and it was always a matter for some celebration when someone did beat him.
Lewis and Marion moved from the farm to Canberra in 1870 when Mark was about to start High School. In 1972 he sold most of Milford and for the next 15 years worked in Canberra in his own business and for City Parks. Though he retired formally at 65 he still ran sheep till he was over 70.
The sale of the farm made possible overseas travel, which he and Marion greatly enjoyed. They travelled to Europe twice, and took several other trips to Asia.
In his latter years Lewis took up jewellery making and won many prizes at the Canberra Show and elsewhere, Some may see that as surprising after farming but I see a certain symmetry. After all, as a farmer he spent a lot of time at the blacksmith’s forge hammering together links for a chain he used to pull objects from behind a tractor. The jewellery he made included chains made of silver and gold and have exquisite charm and simplicity. The design is not so different from the chains forged for the tractor.
He was also interested in local history and joined the Canberra Historical Society. As I have noted, he lacked much formal education. Yet he wrote for publication in that society’s journal a most moving account of his brother Ted’s escape from the Middle East where he was wounded and then in a hospital tent which was bombed, then removed by ship at the dead of night when the moon was small and later sent to New guinea where ironically after such an escape, he was killed by the bullet of a Japanese sniper.
He was a shy and remote man and a perfectionist. The latter was a maddening one for him to have if you were his son. Mark has inherited that trait but not me I think. Notwithstanding those qualities he was a good teacher of farming skills. And taught me such skills as carpentry, mechanics, drainage and electrics (we had a home power plant in the early years and this skill was necessary then). He introduced me to making radios, which was a great interest of mine when I was young, and to photography, another of his interests. He taught me how to milk a cow and to crutch a sheep.
His perfectionist nature sometimes was overpowering by a fairly fiery temper. On one occasion when I was a child I came upon him wrestling with the Victa mower. I noticed the carburetter was broken I an unusual way and he later confessed that in a fit of temper he had attacked it with a hammer.
He was not able to persuade me or Mark to become graziers. Watching what he had to do had the opposite effect on us. We could see how hard physically he had to work. He had immense physical strength. When he was in his seventies I was asked to help him catch wethers. After up ending a few I was exhausted but he kept going till he’d upended and crutched the lot.
He was a great provider and ensured all of us had private school educations and paid for me to attend university. He had a view I think (and I tend to agree0 that the education was wasted on Mark, who later had, but gave up, a perfectly good and safe job in the public service to embark on the uncertain career of musician. Perhaps the uncertainty from farming was what attracted him.
Lewis was the last of the eight. In his last few months he lived at the Sir Leslie Morshead Home in Lyneham. Those months were a strain for him and for Marion. But he knew that he was better off there. He died on Sunday, early in the morning, peacefully, and in keeping with the way he had lived, quietly and without fanfare.
Mark’s Eulogy for his father Lewis Walmsley
My grandfather’s name was John, James, Hay, Norman, Theodoras Walmsley. By the time he had named 7 other children, he left it to his second wife, Kate who named Dad Lewis. Unfortunately, my grandfather…Norman for short (!) hated her choice and called Dad Bill, much to Mum’s confusion when she first met the family!
The hard times of the Great depression shaped Dad’s early life. As Stephen mentioned, he had to leave school early but continued reading widely. Norman couldn’t afford to pay Dad or his brother Ted, to whom he was close and they relied on trapping rabbits and foxes for any extras during that time.
One Saturday after a hard week, there was a dance in Yass which Dad and Ted badly wanted to attend. Trouble was… no money! Fortunately, Ted remembered a ripe smelly cow carcass lying in a creek some distance from the farmhouse. Once skinned, they rode into Yass on Ted’s Indian Motor Bike and the proceeds enabled them to get to the dance!
Dad, like Stephen but sadly not myself, had a phenomenal memory. Recently he gave me a very nice small bookcase, which he proudly told me had been his first ever item of furniture, He was able to tell me the date he bought it in the 1930’s, the name of the man who built some glass doors for it and how much he paid for it!
Dad often seemed preoccupied by his work but every now and then would surprise us by some generous and thoughtful act. He really had a great love for Stephen, Faye and I… later Joshua, Claudia and Oscar as well.
I was about 10 and making a very poor attempt at making a billy cart. After a while, Dad noticed and in no time had the electric welder out and I was soon flying down the hill behind the farmhouse. He later decided that a concrete floor on the verandah was unsuitable for dancing and several weeks of hard work later he’d installed a timber floor just in time for Stephen’s 21st birthday party.
Unlike me, Dad was also very particular about his possessions. He maintained things well, kept them tidy and very clean. As a 3 year old, I was ‘helping’ him at the back paddocks of the farm. After being left in the cabin of the ute for what seemed a VERY long time, I decided to see what he was up to. Unable to master the door handle, I picked up a ball pane hammer and smashed the driver’s side window to get out. I couldn’t understand why Dad seemed so upset!
Mum and Dad always seemed to be a very strong team. Every day started with an early cup of tea and a discussion of the day’s events. Dad was always a strong supporter of Mum’s many activities whether they be singing, putting on a musical, helping with various charities and especially her eldership in this church.
Even though he kept asking me for ten years when I was going to get a REAL job, he nonetheless supported me in many ways in my unconventional career choice.
Dad made a great job and a life’s work from farming, something he never intended or particularly wanted to do. Anything he pursued had to turn a profit and be done well. As recently as last year, he had a successful stall of his jewellery work at the Canberra show. He took delight in explaining his work at length to Oscar, Joshua or anyone who would listen in his elaborate workshop.
I know Dad would have been happy with the good ’turnout’ as he would have called it, and I want to thank you all very much for sharing this sad and special day with us.