London-based author Patsy Trench is the first to admit the workings of Australia’s farming history were not a natural subject for her to spend years researching.
But her latest book A Country To Be Reckoned With, which she is launching at Glen Innes on November 18, tells the story of how a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ got to grips with our rural past through the experience of her influential ancestor, George Matcham Pitt.
“As a ‘townie’ living in London, the world of Australian 19th century agriculture was about as far outside my familiar sphere as it’s possible to get,” Trench said.
“I got to know my great-great-grandfather G.M. Pitt while I was writing my first book (The Worst Country in the World) about his grandmother, our pioneer migrant Mary Pitt.
“He was obviously a great character – larger than life, with a passion for rhetoric and a fondness for quoting from Shakespeare and Burns, which I understood was rare among farmers.”
Despite much hesitation, Trench said she started from the knowledge that the stock and station agency her ancestor founded — Pitt, Son & Badgery — was well known in country circles, even though the company was taken over decades ago.
“In the end I decided to turn my ignorance to advantage: like the ‘New Chums’ who arrived in New South Wales in the 19th century expecting to make their fortune on the land knowing not the first thing about farming.
“I came at the topic as an outsider and I make no bones about it.”
Trench made several trips to rural New South Wales with Australian family members during her research, which she describes as “mystery tours” that led to several revelations about her subject and family.
“I knew ‘GM’ had taken up land in the Gwydir district in the 1840s, but there was also evidence he visited the district ten years earlier, along with his de-facto stepfather William Scott,” she said.
“On our first visit to Moree we could find no trace of him in the 1830s, but further research revealed that Scott and he had acquired a licence for a property on the Gwydir River, which was taken from them after several years in complex circumstances.”
Trench also discovered a possible connection with an Aboriginal Pitt family.
“There was a Tom Pitt born in 1838, the year my great-great-grandfather arrived at the Gwydir in search of land,” she said.
“There are no signs of Aboriginal Pitts before that time, but there are now hundreds living in the area and I’ve been in touch with them and hope to meet up with them one day. It’s believed they got their name from GM, one way or another.”
The book launch for A Country To Be Reckoned With will be held at The Makers Shed, which is opening at 123 Grey Street.