It’s 1876, and a travelling photographer has set up his equipment at Wallumbilla Station homestead.
The house is a rough dwelling of wide, unpainted wooden boards. Untreated tree trunks support the verandah roof. For this important occasion the best carpet has been brought outside, and three chairs – two for the parents and a child’s chair for the second youngest child, Charles, aged two. The youngest, a baby, is lying on her mother’s lap. That’s Maude Isabella, known as Isabel: my great-grandmother. (See my story “Isabel’s Death”.)
I’ve seen many photographs of my ancestors, going back five generations, but this photo, of David and Janet Turbayne is the most interesting. There’s so much to see.
The parents are holding feather dusters discreetly by their sides. That’s to whisk away the small, sticky, annoying western flies that will be bound to settle on faces during the long process of posing and keeping still for the photograph. People in these old photos always look solemn, because it’s hard to keep a smile in place for the twenty seconds or longer the camera shutter needs to be open.
Isabel’s face is blurry. No one can keep a baby still. Little Charles is blurry, too. Wilfred, aged five, has his head on a cheeky angle. Ellen is seven, and she’s mastered the art of standing straight and still. The eldest child, Jessica, has her hand on her mother’s shoulder. All her life, Jessie will be the responsible one helping raise her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, and their children too.
Look at David, forty-two years old and dapper, with fine whiskers, and holding his prized rifle. The following year, he was to begin one of Queensland’s earliest rifle clubs, the Maranoa Rifle Club.
Janet is eight years younger than David, thirty-four when this photo was taken. She has already given birth to five children and will have four more by the time she is forty. Her expression, as far as we can see it, is enigmatic. She is dressed nicely in a skirt and jacket with a pleated flounce.
Standing behind the family are an Aboriginal man and young girl, the girl dressed as a domestic servant and the man in outdoor clothing. I hope that including the servants in the photo is an indication that, in spite of the all-pervasive racism among white people in this time and place, there is affection here, or at least respect. David Turbayne was interested enough in local Indigenous matters to make a collection of words in the local Bigambul language, which has now largely disappeared. That list is now housed in Canberra, as part of the collection of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
Several years ago, my cousin Nadine Schofield, also a descendant of Janet and David and their daughter Isabel, created a Turbayne Family Facebook page (now closed). It was through this page that another Isabelle made contact.
This Isabelle is descended from a William (Billy) Turbane, born in Wallumbilla around 1871. Billy’s mother, Nellie, was Aboriginal, and his death certificate states that his father was Dick Tobane (Bank Manager).
David Turbayne later became a bank manager.
Was my great-great-grandfather David having relations with a local woman, who gave birth to a son? Or was Billy given the name of the station manager, a common practice at the time?
Isabelle, Nadine and I have all had DNA tests to follow up this interesting, typically Queensland story, and the results have proved that we’re not related. I’m disappointed. Many more of us Queenslanders, of all backgrounds, are linked by blood than we’ll ever know.
Janet and David Turbayne were both born in Scotland, a long way from Wallumbilla Station, forty-five kilometres east of Roma. They lived in many parts of Queensland, from Cardwell in the north to Sandgate in the south. David succumbed to cancer aged just fifty-six, but Janet lived to a grand age, dying in 1929. Perhaps all her life she missed the mists and snows and romantic highlands of Scotland; but she was buried in the flat, hard, dry soil of Roma.
Nadine, a great sleuth of family history, discovered through her research that Janet’s grave had no headstone. Why she, mother of nine, was buried in an unmarked grave we’ll never know. But it is unmarked no longer.
In 2019, ninety years after Janet’s death, Nadine arranged for a headstone to be installed on our great-great-grandmother’s grave. We went out to Roma, a small group of her descendants, to that barren, drought-stricken cemetery, to honour her there with a quiet family ceremony, and flowers.