About 60 miles north of Melbourne, in land part-cultivated and part rain forest, my father bought some 1000 acres, which was named ‘Bennak’. I remember this property, high above the surrounding country, he built a great house with fischponds, flower gardens, croquet lawn and vegetable garden. The property was surround by a 20-foot high holly hedge. To reach Beenak, a train from Melbourne stopped at Yarra Junction. There one transferred to a narrow gauge railway, which chugged up the valley to Williamstown. This train used to bring down the cut timber from the rain forest. In his Chevrolet van over muddy roads my father managed to drive us the three miles to the property.
In 1919 the house itself was destroyed by fire. Thereafter, when anyone from the family visited, they lodged with the farmer in a house lower down the land. (The actual land was not sold until 1960’s, having been bequeathed to his widow)
Beenak was some 1700 feet above sea level, surrounded by a state forest of enormous eucalyptus trees. Initially my father rode there on horseback from Melbourne, stopping at Box Hill on the way. Later, he bought an open car (probably about 1917) and travelled more comfortably. My mother, however, refused to travel to beenak, once the car was abandoned for the railway.
‘Merriyula’ was the name of the house on top of this mountain. There was no electricity, no gas, no water services nor other utilities of modern life. Water was pumped up from a dam about a mile away, by a four-cylinder hydraulic ram. With produce from the vegetable garden and the farm the house was self-supporting. Lighting was by kerosene lamps. I suspect the fire which destroyed the house (the family was in residence) started in the lamp room. My father would light the lamps every evening. Nothing remained of the house except the brick chimney and the large iron stove.
At the entrance to the house property were two giant sentinel trees. I am amazed at the work, which must have been involved in establishing this property. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to spend holidays there.
My father, Frederick Emil, is not recorded in Baptismal files (as far as we know). This is because my grandfather, Julius Emil, lived with a ‘common-law’ wife, Mary Noble, née Piper. This stable relationship produced several children. The reason for the, at the time, unconventional arrangement, seems to be that Mary Noble (my grandmother) was actually married to Mr Noble (untraced) and a woman could not obtain a legal divorce in the manner familiar to us today. Their union appears to have been a happy one, notwithstanding, and in his will, Emil speaks with affection of the woman who has shared his life, and bore his children. My grandfather returned to Germany, perhaps on business, in 1874, and died prematurely at the age of 49 years. He thus lies in the land whence he came. He is the forefather (with his English common-law wife) of all the Thonemanns in Australia and Great Britain. There were nine children of the union (possibly a few step children) but only four survived into the twentieth century.
My father married twice. His first wife was Margaret née Service. She bore him 3 children. Emil Howard, born 1891, fell in France, in the First World War, and his name is recorded at the famous monument near Arras by Sir Edward Lutjens. The other two sons enlisted also, but survived.
My father married for the second time in 1913, having travelled to Britain, and met a young Scottish lass from Glasgow. How they met, I do not know, but it was a very propitious match for a respectable, but not particularly grand, middle-class Scottish family, with the name of Fyfe.
At 18 years of age, my mother left her native land for the other side of the world, never to return, except for brief holidays. Herr husband was considerably older than herself.
Mabel Jessie Thonemann bore 4 children, three sons and one daughter. The four in order of birth were Frederick Fyfe (1914), Peter Clive (1917), Gwenda Hope, and Ronald Howard. The eldest (my brother Frederick) is dead, and this makes the writer the oldest surviving son of the Australian branch. All four children have families.
Frederick Emil spend his life in Melbourne, Australia, except for brief visits to Great Britain. With his second wife, he lived in a suburb of Melbourne called Kew. My brother Frederick, and I attended Melbourne Grammar School, as our father had done, and by this time the family lived at 33 Burke Road.
My father retired in 1930, living until 1939 (long enough to see his two sons graduate from Melbourne University). It is of interest that our family learnt nothing of our ancestry, nor ever met my father’s sister, Minna, (although she lived in Melbourne). This can be explained by the fact that war broke out, in 1914 with Germany, my stepbrothers serving on the Allied side.