The Loss of a Son

The Mother, as she was known by her extended family, sat in the candlelight and reflected on what had brought her to this point.  She could see the stars shining between the slabs of their rough bush home.  She prayed silently.

She was not likely to sleep this night; her six-year-old son lay on the rough bedding, struggling to breathe.

She thought back over what had been an incredibly hard life. Her husband, Patrick, had first immigrated to this harsh new land to escape the hardships and persecution of their Irish home.  She had followed two years later, with her two oldest children, little more than babies.  It was a long and uncomfortable voyage.  She vividly remembered looking up at the sails waiting for the wind to blow.  The ship had been becalmed for several weeks, leaving her thinking she and the children would never make it to Australia.

But make it they did, and they joined her husband on the McIvor goldfields.  The Irish miners were a rough and ready lot and she knew the camp was no place for children.  The miners drank excessively and became riotous.  Law and order was sadly lacking as the police dared not venture into the camp.

Most of the alluvial gold had run out by the time they arrived so the mining was now mostly underground.  The shafts were going ever deeper and the danger was increasing.  The men had certainly not made their fortune gold mining and had had to supplement their income by carting goods.

So when land became available for selection she beseeched her husband to take the opportunity and after 8 long years in the mining camp they were finally able to move onto their selection.

As she sat quietly listening to her son’s labored breathing, the tears rolled down her cheeks.  She wondered whether they were in any better position.  It had been such a struggle just to meet the government requirements to be able to keep their land.  They had commenced clearing the land, spending many hours grubbing out stumps and saplings from the virgin bush.  They built their house from larger trees that were harvested in the clearing of the land.  Huge straight gums had to be split to make slabs and the bark was stripped from the trunks for roofing.  They also built fences from the timber slabs.  Her husband and older sons worked all through the daylight hours.  They rarely had enough money to meet the rental payments for their land and to put food on the table for their children.

But despite all the hardships she understood that she was luckier than some.  As a young girl she had lived through the potato famine and the years of extreme poverty that followed.  Those years had resulted in millions of people dying.  And she had managed to rear seven children who all bought her immense pride and joy.  She knew of so many other young mothers who had lost more than one of their babies. She was indeed fortunate to have her children around her.  Until now….

Now here she sat, nursing her critically ill son. Doctor Robinson had ridden out to their selection that day to tend to the child.  But he had not been able to offer much hope.

“A membrane has developed in his throat and it is very swollen which is making it terribly difficult for him to breathe,” the Doctor explained.  “I am afraid he has Diphtheric Croup.”

She got through the long night vigil, but by morning the boy was much worse.  “John, you must fetch the priest,” she implored her oldest son.  John would have a ten-mile horseback ride into town but the family were staunch Catholics. The Mother knew that her son must have the last rights administered in order to ensure his safe passage to heaven.

A grief stricken moan escaped the mother as her son took his last breath.  But she had to stay strong for the rest of her family.  There was no turning back and she knew they all had to keep fighting in order to make a go of it in this harsh new land.


  1. Wow what a compelling story of sorrow through the eyes of The Mother!
    A great read Pauline! So much of this woman’s anguish can be related to other families, and the health struggles in other times!
    Now I want to know more about The Mother and how she carried her grief into another phase of her life!


  2. Pauline you are very lucky (really lucky) to have this knowledge of your family – some of us have had very little history passed down. Your story could relate to many – so keep going x


  3. A great story Pauline. A wonderful mix of fact and poetic licence. These stories will be a wonderful gift to the next and subsequent generations.


  4. You certainly have a gift for story-telling Pauline. I was engrossed from the beginning. But I desperately want to know what happened!


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