An Australian Song Cycle

Words and Music: Lorraine Milne

Arranged for 3-part female choir
Copyright © 1997 / 2013

The lyrics

1. Listen to a story of courage and strength,
Of women in a distant and hostile land.
Sail the oceans, ever southward,
To anchor in crystal clear waters,
With a fringe of unspoilt sand.

2. Consider the achievements of Mary McConnel,
Coping with the death of two babes of her own.
Change conditions, she determined,
A hospital for children was her gift
To Brisbane town.

3. Looking to the south, there’s Mary Penfold,
Living at Magill in a cottage called Grange.
Planted vines and made the wine,
Yes, an industry born of this woman
Who was never given credit,
Oh no!
Don't you find that rather strange?

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The story

Quiet Courage deals with two extraordinary women who were among the first free settlers - Mary McConnel and Mary Penfold. Their stories are told in detail in Susanna De Vries book, Great Australian Women, Volume II: From pioneering days to the present.

Mary McConnell (1824 – 1910)

On the 1st of May, 1849, Mary McConnel arrived in Moreton Bay from Scotland with her husband David aboard the Chasely, an old, leaky, rat-infested vessel. David McConnel had established the first sheep station – Cressbrook - on the upper Brisbane River.

David and Mary McConnell
David and Mary McConnell

Mary reminisces:
"…We were some hours going up the river to Brisbane. What a dismal waterway it was! Neither sign of house nor man and mangroves the only vegetation visible...My husband bought acres of land at Bulimba, a few miles down the river on the south side, and set about clearing and building… While we were waiting for our new home to be ready we paid a visit to Cressbrook, my husband's station about 90 miles up the Brisbane River…The journey was a formidable one for a lady to take in those days … As there were neither made roads nor bridges, we had some rough experiences."

Mary McConnel had been brought up in a cultured, academic and sheltered world but at Cressbrook and at Bulimba House she coped with daily emergencies, hard physical work in subtropical surroundings, illness and isolation…

Due to the tragic death of her two babies and her own illness, Mary had long been interested in infant and child welfare … Lack of proper facilities certainly contributed to the appallingly high infant mortality rate in Queensland. Accidents were common, and when a child from the bush required medical treatment it meant a harrowing journey by bullock cart over rough tracks to Brisbane and many young patients died on the journey.

Mary McConnel was the first person to be deeply convinced of the urgent need for a children's hospital and she instigated much fundraising … On 11 March 1878 the new hospital was officially opened in a converted private house in Spring Hill…The little hospital rapidly outgrew its premises and moved to its current site in Bowen Hills, where it now forms part of the Royal Brisbane Hospital complex, the largest in the southern hemisphere. (1)

Mary Penfold (1820 – 1896)

The chapter on Mary Penfold opens with:

It seems unjust that Mary Penfold, co-founder of a great Australian winery, does not rate an entry under her own name in the Dictionary of Australian Biography. (1)

The Penfolds arrived in South Australia on 18 June 1844 with their 4-year old daughter Georgina and Mary’s help and companion Ellen Timbrell. Amongst their goods and chattels were precious vine cuttings from the Rhone area of France. Christopher purchased a property at the foot of the Mount Lofty Ranges and worked long hours setting up his practice. His surgery was in the dining room at Grange Cottage, and he made house calls on horseback while Mary supervised the running of the house, the garden and the farm.

Not long after settling in, Mary Penfold wrote three simple words in her day book: “Began making wine…” (2)

By the end of the 1860s, Penfolds Wines had become a flourishing concern. Because of her husband's heavy workload Mary continued to manage the business virtually single-handed, a fact that was not widely known. In colonial Australia a middle-class woman was not expected to be in charge of any business venture, but to occupy herself with home and children…(1)

(1) Copyright Susanna de Vries, Great Australian Women, Harper Collins Sydney, 2002;
used by kind permission of the author.
(2) From Australian Women’s History Forum; used by kind permission of the author, Pamela Harris.
(see: http://womenshistory.net.au)