Foreword

     Half a lifetime ago, I packed my four year old, my three year old and my two year old into the back seat of our Holden sedan and set out on a sentimental journey to visit my hometown of Inverell. I had not lived in Inverell since I was twelve years old, but the place holds a fascination for me, for it was to here that my forefathers moved in the early days of 
Australia.
     My husband had agreed to look after himself for a week, so that I could make this trip, and he did not envy me as I drove out on the highway with the children excitedly wrestling and vying for the best spot on the seat. After two days of being trapped in a moving vehicle with my energetic youngsters, I was very much relieved when all three dropped off to sleep for the last leg of the journey between Glen Innes and Inverell (about an hour's drive). The greatest gift that God can give to the mother of young children is an hour's peace and quiet.
     As I drove closer to the place where I was born, I drank in the fresh spring air and my heart rejoiced at the sight of new-born lambs frolicking on the new green growth in the paddocks. The wheat was just poking its tips above the soil and I remembered that this cycle of new birth and growth had gone on here for many generations. My thoughts ran on to my mother's mother, who had been dead for more than a decade. She had been born here, lived her life here, and it was here that she was buried. What was it like for her when she was a little girl? Her mother had many babies.... some lived, some died... They lived in a one-roomed shanty with a dirt floor. I thought of my dishwasher and automatic washing machine. I found it difficult enough to have my children and rear them with all the help of medical science and all mod cons at my fingertips.... how had they managed four, five or six generations ago.
     History has recorded something of the lives of these women...but it is usually glossed over with more detail given to the lives of their menfolk. Little is said of the heartbreak, the struggle against dirt and disease, the fear of giving birth unattended, the constant labour of keeping food on the table and clothes on their backs. To these women, Australia owes a great debt. This story tells how some of these women may have lived.
     This is not a true story, and any likeness to any character living or dead is purely coincidental, but I spent a great deal of time researching in museums, documents etc...to make it realistic. Stefan Zeiger did not exist, but someone like him may have.
     My thanks go to the Miles Museum and the Pioneer Village at Inverell. Thanks also go to my friend Frank Turvey, whose thesis on early architecture provided me with much useful information about the structure of houses Stefan Zeiger may have built. The stove in the story (a black "Croyden") was also found by Frank and featured in his thesis.
     My husband also deserves a special thank you for his patience with me during the three years and eight months it took to write this volume. He inspired me considerably and gave me material for several parts of the story....for example, when Emily was frantic because she had no idea where her overdue husband could be, my husband was long overdue home from his work on the tractor and I was imagining him dead in a ditch just as Emily was doing. The story of every birth in this story happened to someone I have met during my life. The tiny premature son who died was the son of the nurse who sat with me during one of by own labours. The character of the little prem baby that Billy manages to rear is a combination of two tiny babies (about one kilogram) reared by a dear old lady I met in Maryborough. She kept them in her nightgown to keep them warm for about eight weeks.. She really fed them drop- by -drop by squeezing her breast milk into each tiny mouth. My own first -born was also a very tiny prem who is now a healthy grown man, but in his early years his lack of certain minerals caused him to continuously eat dirt, fowl droppings and juicy insects.
     Breast- feeding features strongly in this story because it was difficult to rear a child by any other means. I was encouraged to breast feed my children by studying information put out by the Nursing Mothers Association. Women frequently relate their own experiences but none inspired me more than an old lady I met, who told me about feeding her first baby until he was eleven months old. At this point his twin brothers were born. To prevent jealousy, she went right on feeding all three who thrived for the next year. At the same time she also milked over a hundred cows twice a day as well as performing all the other tasks required of a homemaker.
     The character of Billie has grown from the stories of women like these, whose inner strength is the power behind the growth of this Nation of Australia. My own great grandmotherís maiden name was Wilhelmina and they called her Billy, so I borrowed her name and applied it to the character. Today's liberated woman thinks she is as good as any man, but I think yesterday's woman, had more courage than any man then or now. I hope the reader enjoys the story as much as I enjoyed creating it.

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