Sometimes photos appear in the most unlikely places!

I’ve been in the country for Christmas. My mother lives in Orange and a lot of us converged on her house for a few days. She grew up in Blayney and her father and his parents and grandparents all lived in the area, so it was a good time to do some exploration.

My g-g-grandfather, Richard Eason, bought his first block of land on conditional purchase in 1871. He built his house on this block where his children grew up. He later bought the long thin block across the road and the square one diagonally behind the first one. He called the property “Fernside”.

"Fernside" near Blayney on Greghamstown Road
"Fernside" near Blayney on Greghamstown Road

These first blocks are recognisable on Google Maps to this day, so I thought it would be easy to find them, and it was. My cousin, Peter, was with us and he had been shown where the house was by our uncle, but he’d never been over the fence to have a look. We stood there and wondered whether there were any remains of the original house. We took pictures of the old gate posts and we were looking at the gate into the opposite block when a ute pulled up.

The current owners of the property were on their way home and had left the gate open so they were just coming around the long way to the house to close it. We ran over to let them know why we were lurking on their property, and told them our story about Richard Eason and his son, John, and grandson Richard, who had all owned the place at some point. The current owner (I will call him Frank) knew all these names – his father had bought the place from “Young Dick”. Frank himself had gone to school with my mother’s youngest brother, who had been killed when he was nearly 11 in a farm accident.

Frank gave us a lift in the back of the ute up to where the house used to be. Yes, there were still signs – the outline was still there in rocks, and a couple of cement slabs showed a possible site for the dairy. Then he told us to wait here, and drove off.

Where did he go? Would he come back? I was sure he would but I couldn’t imagine what he had gone to get. We explored the ruins of the house and took pictures.

When he returned he had a photo in his hand of a man dressed in a three-piece suit standing on his verandah with a couple of dogs. He had a watch-chain and was going bald. On the bag was written “Jack Eason on verandah at Fernside”. Jack Eason!!! Pop’s father!

Jack Eason on the verandah
Jack Eason on verandah at Fernside

We have no pictures of Jack Eason and one of his wife Lily that we are not entirely sure is her. No-one living had ever seen either of them. Jack died in 1933 and Lily in 1930, before my mother and most of her siblings were born. It was a miracle. Frank told us what he knew – it had been his mother’s photo, and it was her handwriting on the back. She came into the area after 1933, so Frank didn’t know why she had the photo.

We talked about the property. Frank said there was no dam and had always wondered where they got water from. There was an apple orchard; when Frank’s father got a letter from the council instructing him to either look after the trees or cut them down, he cut most of them down. The gate to the block across the road was originally directly across from the gate into the main block but his family moved it because it got too boggy in the rain.

The materials for the house were taken away by “Young Dick” to build the house in Blayney where his family, including my mother, grew up. The gate posts had been replaced – the original ones were square and these were round. There had been a lot of gum trees on the property but they’d all got “dieback” in the 1970s. I’d like to have seen it then.

A question we couldn’t answer was whether the verandah was on the front or the back of the house. It made no sense to build a verandah facing the hill “and the weather” on the back of the house, but there is no way to be sure.

Frank went to school with my Uncle Ritchie and I would have like to ask him about him, but I didn’t. No-one talks about Ritchie. The whole episode was so traumatic for Mum’s family that they sold up and moved to Dubbo, and changed religions.

Original front gate at "Fernside" with trees near the house
Original front gate at "Fernside" with trees near the site of the old house

We stood there for some time, talking about what the place must have been like. I talked about the probate and deceased estate (death duty) files I had seen that indicated that the property had been run down when Jack died. He’d sold everything off and was in Condobolin with his daughter when he died. I was working  up the courage to ask Frank whether he would trust me to take the photo away to have it scanned.

I did ask, and we discussed my mother’s scanner (no good, as it turned out) and whether there would be a photo place open on a Sunday (probably not was Frank’s opinion) so I could drop it back to him the next day on our way back to Sydney. We exchanged addresses and he gave me the photo. I will always be grateful for his kindness and trust in me.

If he hadn’t left the gate open, and if we hadn’t gone over to talk to him, I would never have found this treasure. Sometimes photos appear in the most unlikely places – even in the middle of a paddock!