Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Getting to know Grandma

Evelyn Maude Dewar 1907

This is my beautiful grandmother, Evelyn Maud Pilkington (nee Dewar).  I never met her or knew her because she died just seven months before I was born.  I was given her name as my second name, an honour which was completely lost on me as a child.  Evelyn was not a name in popular usage during the 1960’s & 70’s, and I tried everything to disown it.  Why, oh why couldn’t I have been given a perfectly normal second name like Anne or Elizabeth, the second names of my sisters? 

My father’s family consisted of a large, extended network of 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins with whom we maintain close ties to this day.  But I don’t recall my father speaking of his parents very much – and I, thoughtless child that I was, never thought to ask about them while I had the opportunity. 

Eve was born in Rye, Victoria in 1874.  She was the youngest of eight children of James and Margaret Dewar.  The family had moved from Geelong in about 1871, with James working as a lime-burner in the kilns at Rye. Sometime after Eve was born, likely around 1877, James was appointed the manager of a new lime venture along the southern coast at Waratah Bay.  So the family moved to the remote location where the little township of Waratah (now Walkerville) sprang up in response to the demand for lime. 

This was where Eve grew up, among the bush and beside the sea.  The settlement was only accessible by sea, and the community relied on the coastal steamers which plied the Victorian coast for all their requirements. Occasionally, Eve would travel on the steamer on its voyage east, being dropped home again on the return journey. 

Somehow, she acquired a small butterfly tattoo on her ankle, something which she apparently took great care to hide in her later years. 

As a young woman, Eve spent 4 years in Western Australia, where she went to housekeep for her brother Ted.  When she returned to Waratah after Ted’s marriage, she met my grandfather Charles Osburne Pilkington, who had recently arrived from Ireland to join his brothers in a farming venture at nearby Sandy Point.  They married in 1907.

When I was about nineteen, my father retired and my parents moved house.  Among the boxes which accompanied them was one containing a pile of old notebooks – my grandmother’s diaries!  I remember my mother saying dismissively, “Oh those old things – there’s nothing in there of any interest, all she talks about is the weather and what they ate for dinner.”  So the box of diaries was relegated to the back of a cupboard where they remained for the next 30 years, only being rediscovered when we cleared out Mum’s house after she passed away.

I took the box home with me, thinking I should have a look before just tossing them out.  And then I spent the next few weeks getting to know my grandma!  Yes, she started each days entry with the weather, and yes, she often commented on what they ate, but along with that was a wonderful treasure trove of her thoughts and feelings, friendships, family occasions and much more.

Through her diaries I learned of her anguish at losing her beautiful little baby – see A Little Bush Grave.  I read of her hopes and worries for her other children, my father and his two sisters, her heartache when  her beloved Carl, my grandfather, died in 1947.  I discovered a family rift I’d never heard about and how much that upset her, her joy when her children married, and when the first grandchildren came along.  Then her struggle to maintain the house and garden on her own as she aged, the inevitable decision to leave the home my grandfather had built for her, and her reliance on the kindness and generosity of family friends.  Throughout it all, her strong faith was evident, and her belief that the good and bad were all part of God’s plan must have helped sustain her through the difficult times.  Her last diary entry was just a few days before she died.

I now have a connection with my grandma that goes beyond sharing her name, and I know I would have loved her.

Eve & Charlie Pilkington

Eve stood in the doorway for the last time. She’d first come here as a bride 45 years ago. Built by her beloved Carl, it was a simple country house, weatherboard walls and corrugated iron roof containing a lifetime of memories. A widow now for five years, she knew it was time to go, but oh! the leaving was hard.
She wandered through the rooms, pausing here and there as memories arose. There was the old range, which had cooked so many meals for family and friends. There the cosy fireplace, around which cold winter evenings were spent. She remembered the musical evenings shared with the other families, and church services, held when the visiting minister made his rounds. Over here, the little room which had been classroom for the children before the men had built the school.
Standing on the verandah, scene of many summer gatherings, she looked out over her garden. It had become too much for her to manage on her own. The yard was sheltered by big cypress trees, planted by the children on a long ago Arbour Day as protection from the fierce easterly winds.
Her eyes were drawn to the path leading into the bush. Never again would she visit the little wooden cross marking the burial place of her darling baby.
Eve knew she would never return to this house. If she came back, it would be as a guest of neighbouring relatives. Resolutely, she picked up her bag and walked out the gate to the waiting car. No more was this home.
© Katrina Vincent 2016. Written for “Writing Family History” unit, University of Tasmania.
"Ennisvale", Sandy Point.


  1. Written beautifully, with love and understanding... I carry my maternal grandmother's name as my second name. She died when my mother was but a girl, just 11, yet I feel honoured to share her name and hope that the strong pull to Ireland I feel is courtesy of Bridget. So glad you have your grandma's diaries. No matter how insignificant they seem to others, those who truly seek will always find treasure.

    1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS on Friday Fossicking at


      Thank you, Chris

  2. A post brimming over with love.