Kiora Kith and Kin is the story of European settlement of the Kiora, Wamban and Mungerarie areas near Moruya on the south coast of NSW, Australia, and the pioneer families who lived there.
Shirley is a member of our society and it was with great pleasure that I asked her the following question. Shirley’s detailed answers demonstrate her not only her passion for the history of this beautiful area but also the collaborative nature of the writing process.
This book is on sale through the museum for the extremely reasonable price of $20. For details of the book’s contents click here.
BH: Before we discuss your book Kiora Kith and Kin, what does the district Kiora mean to you?
SJ: Kiora has always been a special place for me. My father’s family were not pioneer settlers but have had a close association with the place since the 1860s when my great grandfather Joseph Louttit started taking his boat up the river to collect the farmers’ produce to take to the Sydney markets. Early in the 1900s my grandfather Sid Louttit farmed there on one of the Collett farms. Later my Uncle Jack Louttit bought the original Collett homestead and had a market garden there. Other relatives also farmed at Kiora. My father, his brothers and one of his sisters attended the Kiora school. When I was a small child we often went for Sunday drives to visit my uncle, aunt and cousin.
BH: What inspired you to write your book Kiora Kith and Kin?
SJ: At the wake after my father’s funeral in 1972 I was given a copy of a Kiora school photo. In the photo were my father Roly Louttit and his brothers Jack and Vic. The names of all the children were on the back. A few years ago I looked at this photo again and began to wonder who these children were. I began to try to trace them. Who were their parents? What became of these children? Who did they marry? Did they stay in the Moruya/Kiora area or move on to perceived greener pastures? With the help of the Moruya and District Pioneer Registers, put out by the MDHS, and the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriage records, I was able to find that all of these children, except for the teacher’s family, were born in the area as had their parents and even some of their grandparents. They were all from long term Moruya/Kiora families. Some stayed, some moved on, some married locally born people. My interest in the families and area grew. I mentioned to Wendy Simes that I wouldn’t mind putting something together on Kiora for the MDHS. She seemed to think it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
BH: Where were you able to find your fascinating source material?
SJ: I began by going through as many books on the Moruya area as I could and extracting any mention of Kiora. I found out what I could about John Hawdon, first settler, the establishment of the Kiora Estate and Kiora House, the convicts, other settlers, the trials of floods, droughts, bushfires, tragedies. Wendy fed me information held by the MDHS including lists of convicts, people who had lived there, burials in the Kiora cemetery, photos, Phyllis Stiskin’s notes on the Kiora school. She arranged a meeting for me with Huw Owen-Jones, the present owner of Kiora House.
I combed through the Pioneer Directories for any reference to people living at Kiora. I knew several people who lived or had lived, at Kiora. I contacted everyone I could think of. They were all helpful. John Clarke wrote me a piece on his memories of who lived where in the 1940s-50s and provided some photos. Brian Clarke provided information and photos of the property “Jilambra”, originally part of the Hawdon Estate. Huw Owen-Jones allowed me to take photos of Kiora House and showed me paintings of Agnes Josephine Hawdon who died aged 4 in 1864. and of Kiora House when it was derelict. He showed me where Annie Hawdon had scratched her name and the date into a window pane with her diamond engagement ring, on the occasion of her 21st birthday and engagement party in 1865. It is still quite clearly visible.
I contacted Sue Knight nee Collett to ask if she had any early Collett photos. She didn’t but referred me to Linda Robertson nee Collett. Surprise! She lived only about 20 minutes from me. I went to visit her and she was most helpful with information, photos and a photocopy of Caroline Collett’s 1916 Diary. My cousin Jennie Burgess nee Louttit, now in her 80s had lived as a child at Mungerarie House, the old Collett home built in the late 1850s. She was able to give me a description of the house and rooms. One memory she is not fond of was the 30 feet long hallway up the middle of the house which her house-proud mother insisted she polish every week on her hands and knees when she was only about 12.
John Tranter whose father started the Moruya Cordial factory in the old cheese factory shared some memories. Jenny Pollock nee Evans, a Hawdon descendant, shared some photos. At the MDHS one day I met by accident Damien Rodgers whose parents had done some of the restoration work on Kiora House. He told of a drawing done by convicts of the ship on which they came to Australia. It had accidently been painted over when renovations were being done. He spoke of seeing a ghost at the end of his bed one night. Presents owners have not seen any ghosts!
Bruce Coppin spoke of being one of the first on the scene of an accident in 1966. Eileen Irwin was driving across the Kiora Bridge when she lost control of the car. It hit the side and plunged into the water. The rescuers were able to pull her from the car but her daughter Karen aged 4 was not so lucky. It was the time before compulsory seatbelts. When the car turned over the small child was thrown under the dashboard where she became jammed. She was not found until it was too late and she drowned.
Debbie Bruen provided a photo of her 1990 wedding at Kiora House. It was fitting that she married there as she was descended from the Jeffery family who were early settlers to the area, Kathy Smith provided a photo of the original Kiora school and of her ancestor Daniel Green who was headmaster there. At first it seemed doubtful that Kiora had had such a school but in Phyllis Stiskin’s notes on the KIora school were the plans of just such a building. I found information on the internet about assisted immigrants.
The 100 year booklets put out by the MDHS provided newspaper reports of happenings to do with Kiora and I found other bits and pieces in old newspapers including my parents’ paper “The Moruya Advertiser”. Dawn Daken was an absolute treasure. She drove my sister-in-law Ruth and me around Kiora, showing us where everything was or had been. She showed us through the old church now converted into a cottage but with signs of the old church still visible, including an arched window and the interior churchlike ceiling. I had another accidental meeting of interest.
A couple of years ago I was returning from Moruya. I usually catch the bus to Sydney, spend a few hours there and catch the bus north to Port Macquarie. I was sitting in the waiting room and got chatting to the lady beside me. I mentioned that I was returning from Moruya. She said her mother grew up in Moruya. I asked the name and she said “Dulcie Shumack”. I immediately said “As in Kiora school teacher?” She was amazed that I knew the name as the family had been gone from the area by 1930. We exchanged bits of information.
BH: Do you have special or personal memories of an earlier Kiora?
SJ: My personal memories include visiting relatives and stories told by my father. As children we sometimes rode our bicycles out to the bridge. We even had some school swimming lessons there in the days before Moruya had a pool. Kiora House was derelict at that time and there were stories of it being haunted by convicts rattling chains! The Kiora school was closed and moved into Moruya. It was still there when I attended school there so I spent a couple of years of my schooling in the same room where my father had gone to school.
Another favourite anecdote would have to be the one about Annie Hawdon and her scratching her name and date into the window pane f Kiora House, and it is still there 150 years later! Picture the scene, very much like the attached parlour scene picture of the same year. The previous year would have been a sad one for the family with little Agnes Josephine, daughter of Annie’s brother William, dying at the age of 4 from diphtheria. Now was a chance to celebrate new happiness.
BH: You talk of many of the early settlers of the Kiora district. Did you have any favourite anecdotes about any of the early characters/settlers of the area?
SJ: One thing that really saddened me was reading about the early deaths of so many small children.
A favourite anecdote would have to be the one about Annie Hawdon and her scratching her name and date into the window pane, and it is still there 150 years later! The previous year would have been a sad one for the family with little Agnes Josephine, daughter of Annie’s brother William, dying at the age of 4 from diphtheria. Now was a chance to celebrate new happiness.
I was impressed by the restoration of “Jilambra” by Brian and Marylyn Clarke and the work done by various people to restore Kiora House.
BH: When doing your research did you discover any surprising facts about Kiora – the place or its people?
SJ: I knew Kiora had been much more closely populated than it is today but I was really surprised that at the time Moruya was declared a town in the 1850s Kiora was competing with Moruya in its rate of progress and expansion.
BH: Your book goes into detail about some of the surprising buildings businesses that were part of the thriving Kiora community. Do you have a favourite building out of the remaining structures?
SJ: Kiora House and Jilambra would have to be my favourite buildings. Their faithful restorations are wonderful to see and a credit to the people who did them.
BH What was the hardest part of putting your research into its current format?
SJ: I was continually writing, rewriting, adding, subtracting, refining and polishing as I went along. Just when I thought I had finished something else interesting would turn up. Eventually I thought I had put together enough. I sent it off to Wendy. She did a great job of editing, rearranging and regrouping items with a common theme and providing an index.
BH: Why did you choose to give your book the title Kiora Kith and Kin?
SJ: I wanted the book to be something more than an account of historical facts, more like a family history with anecdotes about families, how they came to the area and what they did. “Kith and Kin’’’ seemed to fit in with that idea and of course the “Ks” fitted in with Kiora! I am always looking for quirky titles to things I write!
BH Kiora has had a fascinating past. What do you think that the future has in store for Kiora?
SJ: I doubt that Kiora will ever see anything like its past. It is today a beautiful rural area with smaller holdings, a pleasant place to live, with lovely views and I hope it will always stay that way.
BH: Finally, what will be the topic of your next book or article?
SJ: I have written books on my mother’s and my father’s families. I enjoy researching my children-in-law’s families (they have some fascinating ancestors!). I have written several articles for the MDHS Journal and am at present working on one on Thalia Parbery whose husband drowned in the Moruya River in 1855. I would love to do anything on Moruya but I doubt that I could find anything as interesting as Kiora or with such a lot of information available.