Horsham Indigenous family violence service celebrates, with $9 million in state budget for refuge


Hugs and tears greeted news today that more than $9 million has been allocated in next week’s state budget for a family violence refuge dedicated to Indigenous people in Horsham.

The centre will house up to six families at a time so they can recover from abusive relationships and access administrative support on-site.

This removes the need for families to travel beyond the region for crisis accommodation, which is currently the only option.

Wotjobaluk elder and Aunty Pam Branson works in family services at Horsham’s Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-Operative.

She often leaves her door open well after closing time so that Indigenous women can talk safely about their domestic struggles.

Aunty Pam hopes the new service will help the next generation stay out of the justice system and out-of-home care.

“We also have over 400 children across the Grampians, Warrnambool and Mildura areas in out-of-home care, (as a result of) family violence or mental health.

“What does that say about what the parents are going through without much support?”

A young Indigenous woman, who can’t be named, had been with her partner for 10 years.

By the time she came to see Wotjobaluk woman Jo Clark, her partner was using physical, financial and mental abuse against her.

Ms Clark, who is Grampians co-chair of the statewide Dhelk Dja Aboriginal Family Violence Service, knew she had to get the woman and her children out of the Wimmera to help her.

She wished she didn’t, but there was no other way.

It meant the young woman had to leave her family network and connection to country to start a new life.

“We sent her to Melbourne, and she had never been in the city before,” Ms Clark said. 

“She struggled being away from family, and she refused to see any services because she didn’t know them — there was no trust.

“Her children had a stable life (in Melbourne), but she had to uproot them from school to get them there.”

Today’s announcement means that eventually there will be another way.

While it is too late for the accommodation to help the young mother, Ms Clark said she was now “kicking goals” and back in the region.

“She was away for three months and was too scared of staying and she and her children losing their cultural identity and sense of belonging,” she said.

Ms Clark said the woman took it upon herself — with the help of the family violence service and another agency — to start coming back to the community.

“She’s got her self-wellbeing back on track and got connection back to her people. Her kids are doing well at school.”

Victoria’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams said the location for the site had not yet been decided. 

However Goolum Goolum chief executive Tony Clark said he hoped the building would be completed in 12 to 18 months.

Crisis accommodation is not the only service Indigenous residents must travel for hours to access. So what is next on Mr Clark’s wish list?

“How long have you got?” he said.

“For us it’s one of the first major announcements of this type in our community, so there is a lot of things that could come off the back of this.”

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Cycling popularity surging, yet some local clubs struggling for members


There is a global shortage of bikes, yet in western Victoria cycling clubs are struggling for numbers.

The once-strong Stawell-Great Western Cycling is now down to just a few members and has largely stopped running events.

“Every second car you see go past has got a bike rack,” club president Dean Hayward said.

 “There are lot of bikes out there and there was a shortage of bikes available in bike shops during COVID but that’s not necessarily a reflection of interest in racing or riding long distances.

“Numbers are probably at an all-time low, especially participation of children … although there are recreational cyclists, they don’t tend to be hovering towards bike racing.”

Mr Hayward said the trend started long before the pandemic.

“It’s been a gradual decline … one of the contributing factors would be kids’ interest with indoor activities — a lot more time spent on the computer, playing computer games, all of that type of thing,” he said.

Horsham Cycling Club is in the process of a ‘relaunch’, attempting to reach out to eager riders in the area.

Club secretary Jesse Satchell said the fact that cyclists now only need to pay one fee for one permit, instead of one permit for each code under a previous system, was helping, but there was still a lot of bureaucracy required before clubs could put on a race.

“I can understand the need for it but the process is long and drawn out … you have to be planning three months in advance once you get into public land.

“You need a council permit and a VicRoads permit; there’s a lot of duplication.

Victoria brought in new laws on April 26 that require drivers to leave at least 1 metre of space when passing a cyclist in speed zones 60km/h or lower, and 1.5 metres when passing at speed limits over 60km/h.

Mr Hayward said while that was a positive step, it was a shame such a rule had to be mandated.

“I definitely think it’s a good thing, really at the speeds that cars drive at, you would have hoped that most people would have already been achieving that metre or metre and a half just out of courtesy anyway, but there are plenty that don’t,” he said.

“There’s always someone who wants to try to either squeeze past or even when there’s not a reason to squeeze past, there’s plenty of road and no oncoming traffic, they’re wanting to brush past your hip at 100 km/h just to try and give you a scare or throw a bottle or can out of the car at you as they go past.

“It’s not a really healthy attitude for anyone to have.

Mr Hayward said safety was such a concern that many local riders rode with their flashing taillights on during the day to give cars more warning, and have taken to using back roads.

The president of the Grampians Masters Cycling Club, which caters to more experienced racers aged over 30, Peter Wemyss, said that in some cases people were reluctant to ride on the road because of the danger.

The club closures come as the region prepares to host the Great Vic Bike Ride — the state’s largest cycling event.

It was scheduled to be held in 2020 but has been postponed, with the same route, to November this year.

Local racing clubs are hoping some interest will come from the event.

The Grampians Masters Cycling Club has offered to give $1,000 to Stawell Secondary College, to be put towards their participation in the Great Vic Bike Ride.

“The idea there is we want to get more kids out on bikes, but also from a selfish perspective, we’re hoping that some of those kids’ parents might get out on the bike with the kids … and maybe get the bug and maybe some of them [will] end up riding with us and maybe end up racing with us,” Mr Wemyss said.

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Deadly abalone disease AVG re-emerges off Victoria’s south-west coast


Abalone fishers in south-west Victoria say the detection of a disease described as having the potential to “spell the end” of the industry is “devastating news”.

Abalone viral ganglioneuritis (AVG) affects the nervous system of the molluscs, resulting in the curling of the foot and swelling of the mouth.

About 90 per cent of affected abalone die.

A 2006 outbreak wiped out up to 80 per cent of the wild population in the Western Zone Abalone Fishery.

Western Abalone Divers Association executive officer Harry Peeters said that disaster was still fresh in the minds of those in the industry.

“It’s devastating news for us,” he said.

“Our industry was decimated back in 2006 by the outbreak of the AVG virus and over the past 15 years we’ve gradually rebuilt, so this is a real kick in the guts for us.”

Mr Peeters said quotas were still far below where they were before the outbreak and feared what may be to come.

“At that stage we were harvesting in excess of 250 tonnes of abalone per year,” he said.

“No-one expected this.

“I guess it was always in the back of our mind that it could happen, but things have been looking good and the abalone reefs have been looking healthy.”

Agriculture Victoria has declared a control area off Portland that extends from Bridgewater Bay in the west to beyond Narrawong in the east.

Fishing is prohibited and boats cannot be anchored in the control area, although vessels can move through the area.

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer Graeme Cooke said the disease did not affect humans but had a very high mortality rate among abalone.

“It’s a disease which affects the nervous system of abalone … and essentially causes the abalone to die through an inability to attach properly to surfaces,” he said.

Dr Cooke said only one wild cluster had been identified and there were no signs of the disease on farms.

“We’ve put the control area in because we need to understand the extent of the spread, if indeed there has been any, and those requirements will stay in place until we better understand that situation,” he said.

“If you see dead abalone, please report it immediately to the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.”

Mr Peeters hoped the control area would stop the spread of the disease by people, but said it would not stop it spreading through water.

“The reality is this disease is in water that moves up and down the coast,” he said.

“The sick abalone exude a mucus substance which can be carried in the water and we’re unsure as to how far that can be taken.

“We are hopeful the abalone have developed some sort of resistance to the disease and the outbreak may not be as severe as it was the first time round.”

Mr Peeters said the enforcement of the control area would affect others, including rock lobster fishers.

“We’re dealing with nature and we just don’t know how aggressive the virus outbreak will be this time,” he said.

He said the industry would be ask for financial support.

“We will be seeking assistance from the federal government, because in other industries you have a drought, you get drought assistance, you have bushfires, you get bushfire assistance,” he said.

“Last time around, we received not one penny of assistance from anyone, so this time we will be seeking assistance.

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Hundreds of sheep dead after truck rollover outside Horsham in western Victoria


Police say around 250 sheep are dead, with some euthanased on the side of the road, after a multideck truck carrying around 600 head overturned this morning south-west of Horsham.

WARNING: This article contains images that readers may find upsetting

The truck, which was travelling north along Noradjuha-Horsham Road, lost control and overturned while travelling through an S-bend south of Three Bridges Road.

“Some of [the sheep] were thrown from the truck and at the moment we are in the process of releasing the rest of them,” Horsham Police Highway Patrol Acting Sergeant Mick Ryan said.

“Investigations are still ongoing, we’re going to be here for quite some time.

“We won’t know until we’ve had a further chat with the driver … and establish what he’s said happened.

“The first priority is to rescue the sheep that are alive and get rid of the ones that are deceased.”

Department of Primary Industry staff and rangers from Horsham Rural City Council were assisting to euthanase the sheep.

The 31-year-old truck driver from Echuca sustained minor injuries and was conveyed to Horsham Hospital where he will be kept overnight for observation and is expected to be released tomorrow. 

The Noradjuha-Horsham Road has reopened after being closed in both directions for most of the day.

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Bride gets in the mud to deliver stuck calf on her wedding night


Imagine it’s your wedding day. You’ve got the dress, the rings, gathered family and friends and the day is going off without a hitch.

Until, just after the speeches, the bride runs off to deliver a calf.

That’s the wedding story of Portland dairy farmer Jessa Laws who married her husband Ben at the weekend.

Forced to reschedule their wedding due to COVID-19 lockdown laws in October, the couple hesitantly rebooked for April, despite knowing their cows would be calving. 

One cow named Fleyas Jacot Drama was overdue on the wedding day, and the couple had dairy farmer friends checking on it throughout the day.

But when the bride heard Drama was having some drama delivering her calf, she had to intervene. 

“About 10:30pm we went down to the dairy and we pulled this calf out. No thoughts of my white dress, shoes. It was just straight in,” Ms Laws told the Victorian Country Hour.

“Those that know me are definitely not surprised.

The calf was named Olivine Rager Destiny and both mother and baby are healthy. 

“The little heifer has been named Destiny because it was destiny that he was born on our wedding night and destiny that Ben and I met,” Ms Laws said. 

Jessa and Ben met three years ago and bonded over their love of cows. 

“We spoke about cows the first night we met at a pub and we haven’t looked back,” she said. 

“Not many people can say that their relationship was founded on cows.

“In his wedding vows, Ben said he’d always let me buy another cow if I wanted to. So it was meant to be.” 

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Commuters furious over Bendigo’s V/Line timetable changes


Commuters have expressed anger at the latest timetable changes to Bendigo’s V/Line services, saying the first train into the city leaves too late and is unreliable and overcrowded.

Long-time Castlemaine commuter Rowan Wightman told ABC Central Victoria that it had always been too crowded.

“You can’t sit down, there’s no room for the bike to go on there,” he said.

On January 31, V/Line implemented a new timetable that delayed the arrival of the first train into Bendigo by a few minutes.

The first train from Southern Cross arrives at 8:20am, but commuters say that’s not good enough.

“I know people who can’t catch the train because you can’t get into work on time,” listener Bronwyn Feary told the Breakfast program. 

Ballarat has three services that arrive before 8.30am, while Geelong has six.

Castlemaine commuter Mary Thorpe said she had been campaigning to change the timetable for years.

“I’ve seen people from all sectors catch this train and just about everybody over that time has said, ‘I’ve written to the Transport Minister, or the local member, or V/Line’ and it just never, ever changes.

“With the latest timetable change, it’s just too late.”

Acting V/Line chief executive Gary Liddle told the ABC he had not personally received any feedback on the issue.

“We’ve heard the feedback we got yesterday [on the ABC] and we look forward to more timetable changes in the future and those things will all be taken into consideration,” Mr Liddle said.

Mr Liddle said V/Line could not add an extra train in the morning immediately.

“It is getting the train out of Melbourne and then the combination of regional and metropolitan trains in Melbourne, but then we’ve had some issues with late trains with faults,” he said.

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Horsham footballers acting as their own boundary umpires


In country football, running the boundary for the reserves is a task usually entrusted to a fit club volunteer, or a junior footballer keen to earn a canteen voucher for their afternoon’s work.

But faced with a lack of eligible umpires, a western Victorian football netball league has introduced a controversial new rule.

Reserves are acting as their own boundary umpires in the Horsham District Football Netball League, with the players throwing the ball back into play for themselves.

League chairman Fred Mellington said the new rule was introduced because of a severe shortage of volunteers.

“It’s been for two seasons now that clubs have brought up the struggle to find volunteers and not playing last year has exacerbated that,” he said.

“We took directions on board from clubs and decided to have a trial to not have boundary umpires for the home and away season.

“The rule is still a working progress — it’s a bit different … we’ve had some different interpretations, but we’ve made the rules fairly clear to our clubs and it should fall into place in no time.”

Under the new rules a player from the attacking team throws the ball back into play and the main field umpire deems whether it is a fair throw-in.

Rupanyup reserves player and co-coach Cameron Taylor was concerned it could be exploited.

“I can see if you’re in a tight contest, and there’s a bad throw-in – maybe even if it’s unintentional, but it suits a certain club – it could be a point of contention,” he said.

“But I haven’t seen anyone throw it intentionally to their side so far, which is a good thing.

“It’s taken a bit of adjustment and a bit of organisation on the ground … but we’re just trying to adjust to it, I guess.”

Edenhope-Apsley Football Netball Club president Carolyn Middleton said after an initially hostile response players were adapting to the change.

“Some older players don’t like it because it can be manipulated to advantage one side,” she said.

“But I think it’s a great way to manage things, because we have no volunteers for boundary umpires.

While the rule may be a point of contention, the reason for its introduction is not up for debate.

The lack of volunteers has been a concern for dozens of amateur sporting clubs across Victoria this year, with clubs reeling from the impact of COVID-19 and the cancellation of community sport last year.

Mr Mellington said the inability to find two extra volunteers on a Saturday to run the boundary was a concerning sign of things to come.

“I don’t know what the future is going to bring — it’s frightening,” he said.

“Clearly across the state there is a volunteer issue.

“There are junior issues at clubs and they are our future boundary umpires, so that’s where the problem lies.

“Life has changed.

“In my youth, it wasn’t an option — you just went to the football.

“Everybody went.

“Now it’s just so many more options in life, especially for kids, and it’s just hard to get people involved.

“We’re still maintaining clubs, but it is a struggle.”

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Chinese-Australians of WWII Exhibition honours Casterton’s Kim brothers for extraordinary actions


When World War II broke out, the Kim family from Casterton, Victoria, watched three of their boys go off to war — miraculously they all eventually returned.

But fate did not favour their civilian brother, James, who was working in Hong Kong.

Unbeknownst to the family, their eldest boy had become embroiled in clandestine activities aiding British prisoners of war, right under the noses of the Japanese occupiers.

This heroic but dangerous work led to his eventual execution at the hands of the enemy.

Stories of the four Kim brothers are being honoured in a temporary exhibition at the Chinese Museum in Melbourne called Stories of Chinese ANZACs and Chinese-Australians of World War II.

The brothers are also remembered fondly by their niece, Katrina Kim-Worely, who has done extensive research on her large Australian-Chinese family.

The Kims are all descendants of Gin Meng Kim and Ethel Kim (nee Tong), who came to Australia in the late 1800s and found their home in Casterton, Victoria.

The family is remembered locally for their market garden and grocery store in Casterton.

These Australian farm boys were just like their army mates in every way, except for appearance — and that played on the mind of one brother, who feared he could be accidentally shot.

Arthur Kim, known as Parkie’, joined the war efforts and ended up in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Japan.

His niece, Katrina Kim-Worley, said that she remembered her uncle most often relaying how scared he was of being shot, mistaken for the Japanese enemy because of his Asian appearance.

“It was quite terrifying for him as a young man,” she said.

Arthur Kim survived the war but returned to Casterton a changed man, suffering nervousness, anxiety and stomach issues due to his service.

“Parkie wasn’t one to talk much about it because he was on the Kokoda trail and I think he had quite a horrendous story to tell, and he suffered from war nerves afterward,” Ms Kim-Worely said.

“He did talk about the long and arduous trek in Borneo from Balikpapan to Sandakan, and how hard the terrain and jungle was,” she said.

Cyril (Loon Yaun Ming Kim), served as Lance Corporal on the road trains in Central Australia, building infrastructure and shifting supplies from Alice Springs to Darwin. 

“Cyril, or Yaun, was the uncle closest to my heart,” Ms Kim-Worley said.

“He was fondly known as ‘Doc’ with his army mates, due to his care for them when they were sick or hungover,” she said.

Katrina Kim-Worley remembers one particularly extraordinary story that her Uncle Cyril would tell about his service on the home front — how one day in 1942, he had a gut feeling that saved the entire troop. 

“I remember him telling us — he was travelling with his convoy, they were marching on to Darwin,” Ms Kim-Worley said.

“The night before they were to arrive, he had a gut feeling not to go any further, so he stopped his troops.”

“Unfortunately, the next morning, Darwin was bombed and if he hadn’t have stopped, his whole troop would have been on the wharf that morning,” she said.

The Kim’s ninth child, Raymond (Loon Jong Ming Kim) enlisted when he was 18 and ended up with the RAAF flying twin-engine bombers in Canada. He trained hard but the war ended before he saw action.

It was actually his civilian brother James Kim,  who ended up at the centre of action in Hong Kong.

“James was involved with the underground British army group, aiding British prisoners of war,” said Ms Kim-Worley.

Born in Casterton, James ended up working on the Harbour Board in Hong Kong where he and his wife Annie had settled with their five young children.

They were in Hong Kong when it fell to the Japanese.

James Kim joined the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), where he engaged in clandestine activities to assist British POWs and other allies trapped inside Japanese-occupied-China.

This critical but dangerous work had gruesome consequences for James, who was captured by the Japanese, tortured and imprisoned. 

He was executed by the Japanese in Hong Kong in October 1943.

While locked inside Stanley Prison, front of mind for the condemned man was his surviving wife and their five children.

So it was that he carved his last Will and Testament into his prison wall, leaving them his final words of affection.

The inscription on the wall read:

Knowing he would not see them before he was shot, James Kim carved a kiss into the wall for each of his five children, and one for his wife.

“GOOD BYE DADDY JIM XXXXXX” he wrote.

Some of his carved message was removed by Japanese officers, who censored his last words.

“It was a very tragic story,” his niece, Katrina Kim-Worley said. 

Despite the tragedy and lasting impacts of the war on the Kims, the family was proud of their service and honoured by the recognition from the Chinese Museum.

“We’re just all so proud of their legacy that they’ve left us,” Ms Kim-Worley said. 

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World War I revelation changes how ABC reporter Alexander Darling sees Anzac Day


I have never commemorated Anzac Day in any significant way.

As a child, I always looked forward to seeing Essendon and Collingwood at the MCG and I absorbed with awe the spectacle of 100,000 people standing silently.

But until this year I never fully appreciated why we get up early and stand so introspectively in the middle of our towns and cities.

I knew my great-grandfather Frederick Brooke Darling – Fred, as he was known — had been a captain during World War I and had his leg blown off by a shell, but that was about it. 

I wasn’t much interested in knowing more: I never knew him – he died 11 years before my father was born – and the war that claimed his limb ended 76 years before I was born. 

An email two weeks ago from my first cousin, once removed, changed that.

The “rabbit hole” was the Virtual War Memorial Australia (VWMA) website, a page full of testimonies and historical records that aims to piece together the lives and personalities of the men and women who served in Australia’s armed conflicts.

My great-grandfather’s saviour was Wilfred John Mann Hughes, a man from Glenelg serving in the second Division Medium and Heavy Trench Mortar Batteries in Belgium in 1918 when German forces began an attack.

War records show he was shot dead at the age of 22, trying to get Fred to safety. 

What I read next made me feel the closest I have ever felt to an ancestor: a letter to Wilfred’s father written by Captain Darling while recovering from his injuries in a London hospital, four weeks later.

My family and I were overwhelmed by Wilfred’s sacrifice – it is possible we are all alive today because of what he did — but also by our relative’s grace and sympathy for a bereaved father. 

It is a great solace to know the kind of man Fred was.

I felt compelled to reach out and thank the Virtual War Memorial as a result of this experience.

The centre is based in Adelaide and has been around for seven years. It was launched to coincide with the centenary of Anzac Day and more specifically the Battle of Amiens.

Chief executive Sharyn Roberts told me there were now 655,000 profiles of servicemen and women on the site, and that revelations like the one my family had experienced in recent weeks was the website’s raison d’etre.

“We’ve got a big project underway at the moment to complete the person database: names and service details on the individuals that served, from the Boer War right through to Afghanistan and peacemaking missions,” she said.

“We are hoping by the middle of the year we will move from 655,000 tribute profiles through to about 1.6 million. 

“Last year we did an oral history on Laurie McEwen, a World War II veteran in Wallaroo, South Australia,” she said. 

“He had turned 100 in October and never spoke about his war experiences. In the last couple of minutes in that interview, he indicated how important it had been to talk about it, so it became a peacemaking thing for him.

Ms Roberts said the VWMA now had five employees, 15 volunteers and thousands of citizen researchers contributing.

“A lot of the commemorative focus has been on those who didn’t return, justifiably so, but as we’ve worked with veteran communities, a lot of the sadness has been around stories not being captured,” she said.

“If we look at that shift to 1.6 million tribute profiles, that’s about 1.6 million stories to be told. This is about elevating those stories that would otherwise be unknown.”

More than 8,000 Australian soldiers died at Gallipoli, and twice as many were injured across months of fighting by the Allies to try to force the Ottoman Empire out of World War I.

After my family’s discovery of Wilfred Hughes, in addition to feeling solemn on April 25, I will now also feel grateful.

Grateful to Wilfred, grateful to Fred for honouring the man who saved him, grateful that I live in a country barely touched by conflict compared to the rest of the world, and grateful to the dedicated people who dig up these stories.

Ms Roberts thinks the memorial’s work will become more important as the world wars of the 20th century grow more distant. 

“When you look at facets of history like conflict that have such a significant impact on societal values and economies, all of those things are well documented. What isn’t told as much is the stories of the participants, the people that enlisted,” she said.

“We cannot remember them if we don’t know them.”

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Letitia Leake used $40m inheritance to help 50,000 wounded Anzacs during WWI


When World War I began, a squatter’s daughter from South Australia was living in a stately British home.

She was worth the equivalent of more than $40 million and had ties with the royal family, but rather than keep the horrors of war at a distance, she opened her doors and cared for 50,000 wounded Anzac soldiers on her estate during the conflict.

The story of Letitia Billyard-Leake (born Letitia Leake) involves family tragedy, a vicious court case and philanthropic gestures beyond anyone’s expectations.

The Harefield village that became Letitia’s home remains one of three places in the United Kingdom that still commemorates Anzac Day.

It also became her final resting place when she was buried alongside the Anzacs who died under her care. 

Researchers Carol Grbich and John Berger were so captivated by Letitia’s story that they left semi-retirement to write a book about her fascinating life.

Initially tasked with writing a pamphlet about South Australia’s historic Glencoe Woolshed, they quickly began to focus on Letitia, who grew up on the sheep station during South Australia’s pioneering pastoralists era.

Ms Grbich trawled through hundreds of official records, letters and diary entries to uncover the Leake family’s deep, rather elusive, history.

Letitia’s father, Edward Leake, arrived in SA with his brother and 1,000 Saxon merino sheep as the state was first opening up in the early 19th century.

He went on to settle in the south-eastern corner of the state, where he built Glencoe Station in 1844, and set about accumulating a fortune. 

When her father died in 1867, Letitia, who was just seven years old, was sent to boarding school in Melbourne.

“Immediately her guardian, her uncle [Arthur Leake] came over to try and sort out the property,” Ms Grbich said.

“And he also seemed to have gotten rid of her mother and a younger son who Edward said was not his.

After boarding school, Letitia lived with her wealthy Uncle Arthur in Ross, in Tasmania.

He died in 1890 and left his property and a hefty fortune to the 30-year-old Letitia.

A year later, she married Charles Billyard, a solicitor from Sydney, and together they adopted the surname Billyard-Leake.

It was at this time that Letitia discovered her inheritance had been mishandled by her Uncle Arthur and her bank.

“He [Charles] started having a look at her uncle’s will which was then just going through probate,” Ms Grbich said.

“[He] realised there had been some mismanagement of Letitia’s fortune.

Charles started a court case and some of Letitia’s relatives fought back.

“[And prove] that he’d been involved in her mother’s husband’s disappearance — perhaps he was a murderer.

“[Or] that her mother was a loose woman and probably her father was not Edward after all.”

Without enough evidence, the case was eventually settled out of court in 1895 and Letitia received a further 140,000 English pounds.

Soon after, Letitia, Charles and their four children left Australia for good, with Letitia worth about 300,000 English pounds — the equivalent of almost $50 million today.

Letitia and her family settled on a 100-hectare estate in the village of Harefield, on the north-western fringes of Greater London.

When World War I broke out, her two sons signed up to fight.

The family donated their property, Harefield Park, to the Australian Government for use as an Australian-run hospital — under the expectation it would house a few hundred soldiers.

Ms Grbich said that quickly proved unrealistic as the number of injured soldiers flooded the estate.

Australian War Memorial historian Meleah Hampton said the Harefield estate was the last stop for many wounded men.

“There were a lot of young men, many of whom [were] devastatingly wounded — missing limbs or seriously ill,” Dr Hampton said.

“And also give them plenty to do so they were not sitting around thinking about what had happened.”

Dr Hampton said many of the soldiers found the care they were given on the estate a “pleasant surprise”.

“The soldiers who reached Harefield were really grateful to find Australian orderlies and Australian sisters taking care of them,” she said.

The family moved off the property and lived nearby to help run the hospital.

Letitia and her daughter, also named Letitia, ran the canteen while Charles Billyard organised activities and was a hospital board member.

“Charles was really very sporty and so he organised lots of stuff on the lake, swimming in summer, skating in winter,” Ms Grbich said.

“He loved cricket and he had a one-legged cricket team.

There was a reading room, billiards, weekly theatre performances, royal visits and other touches from home.

“I don’t know where they got them from, but they had a kangaroo and a wallaby and a cockatoo — so the men could feel something from home.”

Local Harefield historian Robert Goodchild said the hospital, while run predominantly by Australian staff, was of great benefit to the whole village.

“[The soldiers] did get out into the community,” he said.

“It was probably quite boring sitting in a hospital ward all the time.

Dr Hampton said the Billyard-Leake family was very involved in the local community.

“They built a public reference library and rooms for the local community, they held garden fetes in their grounds,” she said.

The soldiers were popular with the local villagers, many of whom missed their own brothers or sons who were away serving in the war.

“They liked to take them out in motor cars and give them days out and trips, invite them to their homes,” Dr Hampton said.

Those who did not make it home to Australia had heartfelt farewells in the town.

“In Harefield, when someone died they were taken from hospital in a procession for a full military-honours funeral at the local church,” Dr Hampton said.

There is a village burial plot dedicated to servicemen, particularly Anzacs, which holds about 120 graves today.

Dr Hampton found that despite being a particularly affluent family, the Billyard-Leakes remained quiet socially.

“They didn’t have prominent positions in parliament or in [the] governance of Australia,” Dr Hampton said.

“They just got on with their business.

The Harefield community first commemorated Anzac Day in 1922, a tradition that continues today.

“It’s remembered by everybody in the village because the junior school, the lower school, the scout groups attend every year,” Mr Goodchild said.

“They put flowers on all the graves.

Even on Anzac Day last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, locals came out to pay their respects.

“It was a weekend so we were able to walk down to the cemetery and lay some flowers,” Mr Goodchild said.

“We were astonished at how many people had got there before us. 

After the war, the Billyard-Leakes sold Harefield Hospital to the British Government for it to be used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.

It is now a National Health Service hospital renowned for its cardiology department and performing the world’s first heart-and-lung transplant.

“Now it’s a state-of-the-art hospital.”

As for Letitia Billyard-Leake, she died not long after the war in 1923, aged 63. She is buried with her family and the Anzac soldiers in Harefield. Both of her sons made it home from the war.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landine at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on ABC iview.

Thank you for dropping in to My Local Pages and reading this news article about “News & What’s On in the Wimmera Region titled “Letitia Leake used $40m inheritance to help 50,000 wounded Anzacs during WWI”. This news release was presented by My Local Pages Australia as part of our local and national events & what’s on news services.

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