A regional Christmas miracle

At the tender age of 14, Ethelwyn Fletcher was writing to her local newspaper in Wagga Wagga. She won a number of prizes for her writing, often listed in the Daily Advertiser in her town and The Land newspaper.


Ethelwyn Fletcher. Courtesy: Ancestry


One such piece written by Ethelwyn was entitled 'A Christmas Miracle', published in 1912 in The Land and I couldn't think of a better story to share with readers of Tales from the Grave to end the year.


Ethel married Mr Hugh Craig in 1919 and moved to Melbourne. Her life ended in 1940 when she died at the age of 54 at her home in Gen Iris, Victoria. She was cremated at Springvale Crematorium and her ashes scattered.


I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy Safe New Year. Tales will be taking a break and will be back with more stories from 'down under' in 2022.


A Christmas Miracle

First published in The Land, 1912

By Ethelwyn Fletcher,

Walteela, Wagga


It was the second year of what is still called the big drought and men's hearts were heavy and their tempers on edge. Donald Cameron was reading for the fifth time, a curt note from the bank manager. He had feared and expected the ultimatum for some time, nevertheless it gave him a shock when he saw it in writing.


It was at this unfortunate time that young Jock came again with his complaint: "Why don't you pay me wages for the graft I put in on the old farm? I've a jolly good mind to chuck the whole thing and go to some place where I can do some good for myself."


At that, Donald blazed forth with temper and words Jock had never dreamed him capable of and the lad found himself homeless.


He said a defiant goodbye to his mother and went across to Maclean's farm to tell his sweetheart of the morning's happenings.


"Never mind Jess," he said. "I'm going to earn something decent and buy a place of my own and then you will marry me, won't you?" But nothing could cheer Jess and Jock left rather soberly.


He tried at many places in his own district to get work but farmers were paying off old hands, not putting new ones on and eventually he drifted out of the state.


On a station near Deniliquin he got a job of carting straw and molasses to starving sheep. At the end of the month he wrote to his mother and Jess but receiving no answer from either of them, he then wrote to one of his old companions. In reply to his questions he was told that both Camerons and Macleans had left the district and that "by this time Jessie Mac has gone off with another fellow, you may be quite sure and I don't blame her either, seeing the way you left her."


So that was the end! His father and mother away from the old home and Jess caring so little for him that within twelve months she could 'go with another fellow'.


"Nothing matters now," he said to himself. He became a ringleader among the rough and rowdy gang on the station and more than once returned after a Saturday night spree in Deniliquin hopelessly drunk.


When a horse was killed and a dray smashed through gross carelessness, the manager dismissed him and once more he was humping his bluey - a gay, careless, daring young reprobate who laughed and sang, gambled and drank with anybody who would do the same.


So for the next seven years things went on, from bad to worse. No man was ever allowed to guess the longing for Jess and her love which lay beneath his reckless exterior.


During 1910 he was working in the Wagga district on a farm near Millwood and the hay harvest being ended, several of the men were paid off on Saturday night - Christmas Eve.


Jock had half promised to meet an old comrade in Wagga so set off early on Christmas morning for his seventeen mile tramp.


About noon he came to a little brick church close to the road with a smaller wooden building beside it, the latter surrounded by cool-looking pepper trees. The shade and the sight of an iron tank beside the church decided him to have his dinner there; though otherwise he reflected idly, "churches weren't in his line!"


After dinner and a smoke he stretched himself under the trees and fell asleep but was awakened by the sound of children's voices singing the Christmas hymns. He lay dreamily listening and thinking less bitterly than usual of the old days when he was roused by a small girl asking if he would come to church "because it's Christmas." He was about to refuse roughly, but the bonny little face made him change his mind and feeling rather ashamed, he slipped into a back seat.


The preacher spoke with a deadly earnestness of the "peace and goodwill" which should exist but which so often does not, through selfishness or shame or pride. Almost unconsciously a desire formed in Jock's heart to go back to Victoria and find his parents if they were still alive.


After the service an English immigrant with whom he had worked the year before came up to him, visibly surprised but asking him to go home with him and have Christmas tea. So Jock went.


And there on the verandah sat Donald and Mrs Cameron. The mother recognised even in this big brown man the lad who had left home years ago and the father, with tears in his eyes, welcomed the son he loved.


The greatest surprise was yet to come, for Jess Maclean who had never 'gone off with another fellow", but who loved Jock all the years and lived in the hope of meeting him some day, was spending Christmas with the Camerons.


Oh the joy of the reunion and what talk on both sides of how the years had been spent till this Christmas miracle had happened. Son on that night Jock Cameron found his parents, his love and his knowledge of what "peace on earth, goodwill to men," could mean to him.


References

  • 'Ethelwyn Hannah Mary Fletcher', William Holloway Family Tree - public access, ancestry.com.au, accessed online 17th December, 2021

  • 'A Christmas Miracle', The Land, Friday 27 December 1912, Page 13



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