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  • Kylie Sprott

There's something about Mary

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

My grandmother Mary didn't smile very much. She spoke with a distinctive Scottish accent and lived a modest life. I never knew her husband, the charismatic and successful George Clarkson, as he died well before I was even a thought. For the entire twenty odd years that I had a relationship with my Gran, she always seemed very old.

I have many happy memories of time spent with her at her home in Toowoomba. I loved staying with her and I remember lots of little things that always made it very special. As soon as we arrived, she would give my brothers and I a "few bob" to go the corner shop for lollies. She always played the ABC news in her kichen in the morning. And I remember drinking tea with her and eating toast that was ever so slightly burnt on the old wood stove.

My most treasured memories of Gran include my other grandmother, Betty Sprott, taking the three of us out for picnics. Mary and Betty were great friends and that friendship only strenghtened over time, even though my parents divorced. I love that we have so many memories of the two of them together.

Gran didn't spoil us, but she made us feel very welcome in her home. She indulged us not with material possessions, but in a way that made us feel safe and loved. We had the freedom to cut off her bird of paradise flowers to make pretend horses, and eat only the icing on her little patty cakes. She bought me my first bike (second hand from a neighbour in Toowoomba) and she used to sleep in my bedroom in Brisbane when she came to visit. She didn't speak to excess and praise was rare - so I sought it out eagerly.

But of course, well before she was a mother and a grandmother, she had a life. It is a life that seems full of mystery and intrigue - and from all indications, a life that she talked very little about. No doubt she never expected her grand daughter to be quite so interested and curious about her origins.

In my mum's home, there is a magnificent photo portrait of my Gran. I have always loved it, because she not only looks beautiful, but she looks genuinely happy. It is how I like to think of her.

As I continue to work with Isabel, the Bute genealogist, more interesting details about Mary Jane Morris have begun to slowly present themselves. Although Isabel's research has helped to solve a few long standing mysteries, it has also raised more questions. Now I am becoming increasingly curious about my Gran's parents and how their families lived in Scotland.

There has been a long standing rumour in our family that Mary was born in a castle in Lochgair. This seemed almost too far fetched to be true. However, it turns out that not all castles are created equal.

One night, my mum (Marie Margaret) was at my house and we were studying the birth record for Mary that Isabel had uncovered. It confirmed that she was born in Lochgair. As we searched for Lochgair on the internet, we uncovered the blog authored by Lynne Black entitled "Starry Blackness". To our delight, there was a section on Lynne's ancestors from Argyll - McCalman, McVicar, Dewar.

In the update entitled "#32 Sandy McVicar, fishing off the shores of Loch Fyne", she wrote about Niven (Sandy) McVicar and his wife Jane. After conferring with Isabel, the Bute genealogist, it was confirmed that these were our relatives.

Sandy's father, Archibald McVicar (a fisherman), lived nearby in the castle at the Point of Lochgair. This is the castle that the family has often spoken about, and the birth place of Mary. The Castle at the Point of Lochgair was not as grand as it sounds - only two rooms had windows.

Sandy (also a fisherman) and Jane had nine children - the second child was called Margaret. Margaret was my great grandmother, and eventually she would become the mother of Mary. More on her story later!

As we continue to uncover more about Mary's life in Scotland, and in Rothesay in particular, I am often struck at how different she must have found Australia. She was not living by the sea - instead she found herself on a farm in rural Queensland, an often dry, hot and unforgiving environment. How must that have felt for her?

This week, my mum shared some photos of Gran from when she was younger. I have studied them hard, looking for clues to indicate how she might have felt about her life and new home in Australia.

This photo was taken in Horrane in QLD, where she moved to with her mother Margaret and half brother Archie. It truly could not be more different to Bute in Scotland:

When Mary married George (after 15 years of courtship!), they moved first to nearby Milmerran and then onto a larger property in Bowenville. The photos of Mary with her two children, Marie (my Mum) and Peter, from the time at Milmerran give a glimpse into her life at that time.

I suspect that we may need to make a journey to these parts of Australia as well at some point!

I was also feeling quite nostalgic to look at photos of my Gran, proudly holding me as a baby. As my younger brother and I can both testify, my Gran absolutely adored our older brother Sheldon. They had a very special bond that only strengthened over time and you can see a little of that in this photo. She is smiling.

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