“It is a good thing sometimes to go back among the ghosts of the past if only to restore our sense of proportion. There is so much that is senseless and ephemeral in modern life that contemplation of the simplicity, the loyalty, the courage, the earnestness and high purpose of our forefathers, gives us a better sense of human values and helps us to sort the meretricious from the wise and good.
There was a greatness in that settlement of Portland and the Wannon valley that surpasses most modern things. Still, we are what we are, and if we cannot do those big things today from lack of opportunity, we can still perhaps, do some little things in a great way and not be lacking. “
These timeless words are those of Mr E.M. Webb a writer for The Herald, Melbourne in an article which appeared in the Portland Guardian on 19 April 1938. Mr Webb had driven through the Western District en route to Portland. A spur of the moment decision saw him visit the town of Merino and in turn, he was taken back to the time of Major Thomas Mitchell and the Henty family, both significant in the exploration and settlement of the area.
Webb recounts a lovely story of an unexpected meeting of John and Francis Henty and Major Mitchell at Portland. Each party thought they were alone in the area and were surprised to come across each other. Major Mitchell told of land worthy of grazing in the Wannon valley and the Henty’s heeded is advice which saw them settling in the Merino area. He compared his trip from Merino to Portland to that of the Hentys by bullock wagon which he suggests would have taken four hours, twice as long as his driving time. Today it would take about one hour. He also gives acknowledgment to the pioneer women such as Mary Ann Henty, who faced the hardships head-on with their husbands.
I’m sure we can take something from Mr Webb when we research our family histories. Understanding more about the history of the places they lived and the challenges they faced as pioneers help us to create a vision of our ancestors’ lives. It is then that we can fully appreciate how we came to be where we are today.