Pat Caskie writes in the Cootamundra Herald, October 24, 2012:
Subtitled ‘Loves and Lives of Three Women in Colonial Australia’, ‘The Kurrajong Tree’ is an historical novel based on three British women—from disparate backgrounds—who met in the fledgling township of Cootamundra in 1874.
The three left all that was familiar and dear to them in Britain, and travelled to the other side of the globe to the terrifyingly unknown colony of New South Wales.
Elizabeth, 38 years old, left her home above a shop in the rough and tumble of a poor area of London, with her merchant husband, John Barnes, and their three young boys.
The tortuous journey by ship, Sydney Town in 1841 and business ventures are chronicled, then the Barnes family moved to Murrumburrah.
John Barnes was shot and killed by bushranger John O’Meally in 1863 and Elizabeth joined two of her adult sons in Cootamundra. Her son John Frederick Barnes was a leading citizen of the town, its first mayor and later, Member for Gundagai (encompassing Cootamundra).
Susannah Gordon, aged 21, left England and sailed to join her betrothed—Edward Barnes—in Australia. Edward, known as Ted, was a son of John and Elizabeth Barnes.
He and his brother John Frederick ran the Barnes store in Cootanmundra’s main street, next door to the Albion Hotel. Ted was on a visit to England in 1870 and fell in love with the young Susannah. They married in 1873, when the township of Cootamundra was only 11 years old.
Eighteen-year-old Rebecca Nixon—perhaps the bravest of the three—sailed into the unknown from Plymouth as an assisted Irish migrant. The ambition of the young Rebecca was to own a farm in New South Wales and her dream came to fruition after she met and married John Miller.
With their large family, they came to Jindalee after years at Berrima and the Goulburn district. A teacher at North Goulburn School, John had been appointed to establish a Church of England parish and build a church at Cootamundra. John Miller founded the ‘Littledale’ property in the early 1870s.
Early Cootamundra was an eye-opener for the three women, whose paths crossed in 1874, after the arrival of Rebecca and John Miller. The narrative flows into the following generation of the Millers and Barnes and recounts the growth of the little town in which they lived.
Canadian author Elinor Martin is a descendant of the Barnes and Miller families. She had access to many old documents, letters and the journal of Nellie Barnes, from which she gleaned information on the activities of the three pioneer women: the births and deaths, successes and failures, tragedies and triumphs.
The early Cootamundra Shows, church life, the dust and flies, illness, results of elections, visits of VIPS like Lord Carrington are woven into the fabric of the growing township. ‘The Kurrajong Tree’ is liberally sprinkled with names from the town’s past: Jim Roberts, the Hurley family, the Mackays, tradesmen and business owners, with well-researched details of population, amenities and the expansion of industry.
Elinor visited Australia in 1996 and traced the paths of the three families—her forebears—ending in Cootamundra, where much information was discovered and rich pickings were found in the ‘Cootamundra Heralds’ of the day.
Miller and Barnes connections are thin on the ground in this area today, but there are many descendants living in Canada.
JJ Miller, son of Rebecca and John, married Susannah (the widow of Ted Barnes) and moved from Cootamundra in 1902. Then came a scandal of massive import (for that era) and the JJ Millers—with Susannah’s large family—left Australia for Canada. Other members of the Miller family also sailed to Canada and several members of the Barnes and Miller families further cemented their close ties by intermarrying.
‘The Kurrajong Tree’ is illustrated with photographs and sketches, has a full bibliography, family trees and a comprehensive glossary.