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KEENAN FAMILY in Australia


Last updated 28/09/2016


1922 to 1952


Extracts from

“I Shook the Family Tree: The story of an adopted boy"

a book by the late Edward Keenan

 The book was written by the late Edward (Ray) Keenan in 2001 and is held at the National Library in Canberra [ISBN 1876760125]

 Extracts made by Peter J Keenan of Sandringham, Victoria, in December 2010


 The family tree referred to in Edward's book is that of his natural mother and father.  His mother was Ruby Carter; his father was Alwyn Parker.  Edward – who was also called Ray - was adopted by William Stewart and Eleanor Jane Keenan in October 1922 and reared at Cape Naturaliste, Western Australia.

 The parts of the book that I have chosen to reproduce concern Edward's early years as the adopted son of William Stewart Keenan and Eleanor Jane Curtis.  I have tried to focus on parts of the book which throw some light on the lives of Stewart and Isabella Keenan, who emigrated from Ireland in 1859 and settled in Western Australia, and the life of William Stewart Keenan, who Edward refers to throughout the book as “Dad”, and who named his farm “Glenone”, the same name as the farm of his family in Northern Ireland.





Page 9


Stewart and Isabella Keenan had emigrated from Ireland in 1859, and for some years leased “Reinscourt” from Mrs Vernon Bustle.  They called their newly acquired farm “Glenone”, in memory of Stewart's birthplace in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  In 1871, Isabella also purchased location 65 at Eagle Bay and during the succeeding years took up a number of blocks in the Cape Naturaliste area.  Among these was a parcel of land about a mile up the creek from “Glenone”, where a valuable swamp existed and where they eventually built another house.  They called this farm “Gingarmup”, in memory of an aboriginal legend.  It was said that the ghost of a dreamtime elder called “Jingy” was reputed to have frequented the area near a spring of water in the vicinity.  This Jingarmup was supposed to mean, “Where the ghost of Jingy camps by the spring”.  Later the “J” was changed to “G”….


The Keenans also established a cattle run and farm in the Margaret River district and as the family grew in number, farmed the Margaret River properties in conjunction which those at the Cape; the different members of the family swapping places as work required.  When my Dad, William Stewart Keenan, fourth and youngest son of Stewart and Isabella, married Eleanor Jane Curtis, the third daughter of William and Mary Curtis, the Glenone property was made over to him.  The land at Eagle Bay and Gingarmup remained under the control of the other family members.  In 1924, to increase his farming area, Dad bought Cape Farm and a 500 acre bush paddock from his brother-in-law, Nanty Curtis, who wanted to quit the property altogether.  So, in my tender years, we moved from Glenone to Cape Farm.....


Dad never worked very hard as I can remember, and was kind and considerate boss.  He never required from his workmen, more than he was prepared to do himself.... 


Page 10


My life at Cape Farm was the carefree times of a small boy.  I loved the sight, smell and sound of the sea, the scent of the peppermint trees and the walks along the beach with Mum; while picking up the seashells of many varieties, shapes and colours, and later making fences and stock yards with them while playing on the veranda.... 


Dad did not like living at Cape Farm, and hated the sound and sight of the sea....  Being of fixed habits and very unadaptable, he missed the daily contact of his old home, so it was decided that we return to Glenone.... 


Page 11


A winter creek that overflowed its banks and flooded the surrounds after a heavy downpour, flowed past the side of the house at Glenone, and the area often remained quite damp.  To rectify this, Dad dug a deeper drain on the uphill side of the original gully.  Unfortunately, in doing so, it was necessary to demolish the old stone oven in which the Keenans have done their cooking and baking before the advent of a more modern stove.  In front of the house, pear, peach and fig trees supplied us with summer fruit....  The old part of the homestead consisted of two main rooms built of slabs with wattle and daub on the interior.  The dressed jarrah ceiling followed the rake of the roof for some distance to give the room more height.  A front veranda faced north, while at the back, two smaller rooms were built under the slope of the roof, with one used as a store room, and the other, Reg’s bedroom.  When Dad and Mum married, two rooms were added at right angles to the original, with a breezeway between.  These rooms, of more modern construction, had windows with balance sashes and doors with coloured glass, top panels.  One was a bedroom and the other a “sitting room”, used only for special guests.  Most people were entertained in the kitchen, for the older part of the house was dark.  The single windows in the bedroom and kitchen did not let in much light and the roses that climbed to the edge of the veranda roof, although pleasing to the eye, had the effect of adding to the murkiness within.


From the kitchen ceiling, there usually hung a side of bacon from which breakfasts were sliced while the supply lasted.  Killing pigs for rations and living on salt pork and beef, appears to have been a tradition of the family from the dawn of her Australian history....


Page 12


In later years, when making a living was less difficult, Mum never relaxed her frugal ways.  Dad was satisfied as long as he had a plate full of boiled potatoes.  If meat became non-existent, he opened a tin of Globe Brand corned beef, usually referred to as “tinned dog”, and mix a quantity of the dry, uninteresting contents with his plate of “spuds”.  This he consumed with obvious relish, while I found difficulty in swallowing the dry mixture....


Page 13


Dad was content to milk the small number of towers and attend the dry stock that ran in the bush paddocks.  His energy and enthusiasm fell far short of a progressive farmer.  He loved his sleep on the veranda sofa in the afternoons and Mum often had to wake him to get on with the job in hand.  What he lacked in energy, though, he made up for in kindness and usefulness.  Whenever anyone called on him for assistance, he complied wholeheartedly, even to neglecting his own work to do so.  Soon after returning to Glenone, Dad sold Cape Farm but retained the 500 acre bush paddock, thus giving us a coastal frontage from Cape Farm boundary to Eagle Bay....


Fences had to be continually checked, as most were through bush country and often flattened by falling timbers or damaged by bushfires.  Dad was fussy about his fences and putting in a great deal of time maintaining them.  He seldom called on neighbours to assist with the division fences, preferring to repair them himself.... 


Page 14


Our dairying facilities were primitive, for the Keenans never got around to building a cow shed at Glenone, or even a shelter to keep off the rain and sun, and we milked in the open yard.  If it rained we wore oil skins or made do with a bag pinned over our shoulders; if it poured, we stood under a tree until the deluge was over.  In the summer, the flies annoyed that cows, and many a bucket of milk was spilt because a bad-tempered cow horned another while she was being milked.  The milk was stored in kerosene tins placed on the bench outside the yard until it was time for someone to put it through the hand-turned separator....


Dad's idea of dairy hygiene was to have the separator installed quite a distance from the cow yard so that the milk would not get contaminated.  So we had to carry the cans of fresh milk to the separator and returned return with the skimmed milk to feed the calves, which were usually penned in the vicinity of the cow yard.  Dad was never a man to observe a strict timetable, so the day started when he decided to get out of bed.  The sun was usually well up in the sky when the morning milking was in progress, for he never carried a watch, and his only recognition of time was when the sun was going down.  Getting the cows in for the evening milking was mostly delayed for many reasons, the chief one being that he didn't give hang about the time.  Thus, evening milking was usually carried out by the light of a flickering, “dirty faced” hurricane lantern placed on a tree stump in the yard, or carried from place to place as the milking, separating and calf feeding progressed.  The evening meal was often between 10 or 11 o'clock at night, or later, if there happened to be a sick animal to attend to.  Set in his ways through a lifetime of disorganisation and mismanagement, Dad never changed his lifestyle and made things difficult for those with whom he worked. ….


Page 15


...  I enjoyed the occasional romp with Dad when he could spare the time from his work or from his usual afternoon sleep.  I looked forward to that time on winter evenings when I sat on Dad's lap in front of the kitchen stove and listened to his stories and recitations, usually Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson.  One recitation he'd love to quote was called, “The Stockman's Evening Meal”.  I don't know if that was the correct title and have never seen it in print or know who wrote it, but I memorised it from the many times I heard it from bad.  The aroma of tobacco pipe takes me back to those wonderful moments in the old kitchen at Glenone.  ….


Page 16


….  I loved the times when I was allowed to go off with Dad and escape the confines of the house and Mum’s watchful eye.  Dad also enjoyed these times together and it was during our journeys into the bush on horseback that my life began to open up.  From him I learned the uses of the native plants and trees.  Where to dig for the edible tubers relished by the Aborigines.  How to suck honey from the “mungite” -- the flower of the big Banksia -- without getting off the horse and without breaking the flower off the tree.  Observing the bark of the jarrah tree to recognize whether the grain was tough or free.  Knowing the little plant that grew near granite outcrops and from which the old-timers brewed at beverage they called “Carpenters Bitters” that supposedly relieved rheumatism.  Whether or not it did, I am unable to say, but it certainly lived up to its name, for a more bitter beverage I have never known.  Dad also told me of a number of remedies given to the early settlers by the aboriginal people.... 


Page 19


The immediate surroundings of the old home were often waterlogged in winter, the house damp and cold.  I began to catch colds and experience breathing problems that persisted during the wet months, and this necessitated days in bed.... 


Page 21


In the meantime, the doctors had pronounced me an asthmatic and suggested to Dad that he move me to a dwelling out of reach of the winter dampness. 


Thus, the house on the hill came into being.  A very simple structure of two main rooms in the back and front veranda.  I hated it because it was square and ugly, no shady fruit trees close handy, and the friendly atmosphere of the old homestead was not there.  Mum continued to cook at the old place, although we ate and slept in the new house on the hill.  My health is during the winter months improved after we moved to sleep in the house on the hill, but I still had trouble wearing woollen garments.  In March 1928, Mum and I went for a holiday to her sisters, Aunts Cissie and Beatty, who lived at “Inlet Park”.


During the time we were away, the old house at Glenone and the hay shed were destroyed by fire.  Apparently sparks from a bushfire that had come in through an adjoining block, set the hay shed alight, and that in turn, started the fire at the house.  The old tinder dry roof shingles would have burnt like gun cotton, with the introduction of a single spark.  So when we returned, we were greeted by the sight of two chimneys standing stark against the sky, and a tangle of burnt roofing iron.  Walking past the ruins in the semi-darkness, I tried not to look at it, while making a brave attempt to suppress the sobs that threatened to choke me....


Page 24


Dad kept out of the learning process, and was no help at all.  Apart from signing his name, which for him was a long and laborious process, he never learned to read or write.  The Keenans had been a large family and had to work hard from a young age.  The oldest girl, Eliza, received her education from her mother, and Eliza in turn taught her sisters.  Not so, her brothers, who were usually out of doors attending to what had to be done. ….


Page 39


When the old house at Glenone was destroyed by fire, we had to make hurried arrangements about a kitchen at the house on the hill.  Peter Morates assisted Dad, and they sorted out the best of the burnt iron and coated with “Tayorite”, a substance similar to whitewash that arrested the rusting process, and gave it a white finish.  Timber was obtained from where we could get it, and the faithful “Westall” stove from the old house was repaired and built it into a rough fireplace.  The improvised kitchen was built end-on to the back veranda, with skillion roof and no ceiling. Rough though it was, and unacceptable in this day and age, it provided us with a place to cook and have our meals. ….


Page 42


During my early years, my only appearances at church were to attend weddings, funerals and an occasional baptism.  Dad and Mum both believed in God, but in the course of their simple farm existence were content to let it go at that.  Dad's philosophy was “The Golden Rule”, and he was often heard to quote those famous lines reputed to be the work of Adam Lindsay Gordon:


“Life is most mostly froth and bubble,

Two things stand like stone,

Kindness in another's trouble,

Courage in your own.”


These precepts he certainly lived to the full, always ready to assist anyone less fortunate than himself, kindness to a fault, and uncomplaining when things went adversely in his own life.  Dad always said that his mother never ceased to remind them that for any wrong they committed, they would certainly be called to account for it in the next world, even if they are escaped retribution in this one.  Although Mum taught me the Lord's Prayer and the simple supplications of a child, my early spiritual education never went any further.


Page 45


The philosophy of Mary Baker Eddy, began to make an impression on my thinking.  I believe that if I kept my thoughts positive and believed that God's will was for me to have a healthy body and that it was His power and purpose to honour His promise, then He would surely take from me the burden of my sickness.  As I began to voice my opinion and expressed my hopes, so Mum increased her opposition to my ideas and expressed opinions.


She told me that I should not get mixed up with some silly religion, because she and her family had always been Church of England, and because it had been good enough for her, it should be good enough for me as well. ….


Page 48


Apart from Uncle Harry Keenan, who lived at Gingarmup with his wife, Florrie, Dad's relatives, but one, lived in the Margaret River district.  Grandfather Keenan had established a farm on the banks of the Ellensbrook in the 1880s, which they called “Glenbourne”.  Dad's elder brother, Bob, and their sister, Mary Ellen (Minnie) ran the farm assisted by what casual labour they could afford.  Grandmother, Isabella Keenan, in her 90s when I remember her, lived with them.  In those days, and in most families, the older members were looked after by the younger ones.  Grandfather, Stewart Keenan, had died in 1921 at the age of 87 years.  Stewart and Isabella arrived from Ireland in 1859, and established farms at Cape Naturaliste and Margaret River.  Their oldest son, James, was accidentally shot in 1885.  The oldest daughter, Eliza, married James Armstrong, and died in tragic circumstances in 1900.


Minnie, although sought in marriage, was forbidden by her mother on the pretext that someone had to remain in the home to care for her bachelor brothers.  So powerful was the old lady's hold over her daughter that Minnie complied and remained faithful to her mother's wishes until Bob had died, and the place was sold.  The third daughter, Isabella, marry James Hennessy and went to live in the wheat area.  Annie married James Betts, and they farmed near the township of Margaret River.  Grace married Neil McLeod, who had a property a few miles out of town.  So three of the Keenan's sisters retained close contact with their mother.


My recollection of grandmother was of a very frail old lady, deaf and almost blind.  She usually had a knitted shawl around her shoulders and live between the confines of her tiny bedroom and a rocking chair by the fire.  She had been a very active woman and a wonderful organiser in her time and it was after she gave up the reins of management that the Keenan empire diminished.  In 1924, grandmother, assisted by her sons Bob and Harry, cut the ribbon to open the Boyanup/Flinders Bay railway, a project that grandfather Keenan had worked hard and long to bring to fruition.


Grandmother was reputed to be exceedingly strong-willed, and displayed a violent temper if aroused.  She died on June 18, 1929, at the age of 97 years, as the result of fall.  I loved visiting the relations at Glenbourne, although I was a bit scared of grandmother.  Aunt Minnie was very placid and understanding and the others were all easy to get along with.  The old house was dark, rough and inconvenient; the rooms small and mostly unceiled.  The place was darkened by the huge pear tree that dominated the front of the house and by the towering Adam fig trees at the back.  Built on a rocky hill overlooking the Ellensbrook, it was not an easy place to live in.  Water for the kitchen had to be carried from the tank at the back of the house.  Face and hand washing facilities were on the bench outside at the back of the kitchen, but in spite of its inconveniences it had charm and atmosphere that was all its own. …


Page 61


Dad was never particular about his dress.  For work he always wore a dark flannel shirt, a pair of cotton tweed pants and Bloucher boots, always unlaced.  How he never broke his neck was amazing, considering the loose laces that flapped around his feet.  If the weather was cold, he wore a dark woolly coat that, in those days, was called a Tasmanian Bluey.  He spurned the belt and always wore braces, which usually appeared to be in an advanced state of disrepair.  His manner of dress was a source of embarrassment to me, but there was nothing I could do about it.  At times, Mum would get exasperated and give vent to her feelings.  “Untidy damn man; it's a wonder you’re not ashamed of yourself.  Look at your brother, he always looks tidy”.  Harry Keenan and was certainly more particular about his appearance.  Mum’s comments were like water off a duck's back to Dad.  He seemed to delight in being unconventional.


Page 62


He hailed the advent of rubber knee boots (gumboots) as one of the best inventions yet.  They were waterproof, did not have laces to worry about and were quick and easy to put on.  Getting them off was a different matter, but he got over that problem by wedging his heel where the bottom of the kitchen door opened out over the step.  He didn't even take the trouble to stuff his trouser legs in the tops of his boots to observe some form of tidiness, but rather let the trouser legs flop over the boot tops and let gravity do the rest.  Once introduced to gumboots, Dad wore them almost continually, which was also another bone of contention.  In winter, the boots were always cold and damp, but in summer were hot and sweaty, with the result that his socks, when he wore them, were invariably soaked with sweat and the smell of feet and footwear was difficult to live with.


Page 63


Dad and Uncle Harry would on occasions, rob one of the many bush bee hives.  Wild bees make their hives in hollow trees, in logs and generally anywhere they can find a sheltered place....


Page 84


(Shortly after World War 2)


By this time, Dad was ageing considerably and his ability to do even the light of jobs was diminishing.  His hernia, which he flatly refused to have repaired, was giving him increasing trouble.  He was not interested in expanding the farm operations, rather being interested only in milking the cows and riding around the dry stock in the bush paddocks.  He flatly refused to cull the unprofitable cows or the bad-tempered ones that cause trouble in the milking herd.... 


Page 85


My increasing dissatisfaction and Dad’s rapidly advancing inability to cope had influenced her decision, and after talking to Dad, he agreed to put the farm up for sale.  He hated change, and the thought of leaving his old home must have been daunting, indeed.  We decided on the plan of the house for Dunsborough and I built a shared that we could use for temporary accommodation.  Materials for this were paid for with the wages I had earned at the lighthouse, Elders Smith handled the sale of the farm.


A short time later, a tall, well-spoken gentleman arrived at Glenone.  He said he was John D’Espeissis, and that he was interested in buying our farm.  We had never met Mr D’Espeissis (pronounced des-spesie), but had many years previously, known his father, Adrian D’Espeissis, who had held an important position with the Department of Agriculture and had owned land in the Yelverton district.  John bought our farm, and a short time later he purchased Gingarmup from Harry Keenan.  As time went on, he was to acquire much of the land at the Cape and a sizable lot towards Dunsborough, including Butterworth's “Rotten Swamp” ....


Page 86


....  Whether it was a long ride, or for some of the region, Dad's hernia began to give him trouble during the evening, and no lying on his back with his feet up the wall would induce any relief.  As the pressure increased, the pain became too severe for him to move and a trip to the doctor was out of the question.  We rang his old physician, Dr Yates, who agreed to visit right away and he tried unsuccessfully to get the hernia back, causing Dad to yell with the intense pain.  Dr Yates talked to him all the time encouraging and soothing; then, after what seemed to be half an hour of pummelling, manipulating and were obviously was an excruciating time for Dad, the hernia went back.  This unfortunate experience seem to be the turning point in Dad's life.  He became vague and forgetful, asking the same questions many times and talking incoherently about the wild bush horses that seemed to be the only things to which he could associate.


Page 87


Suddenly, the man who had brought me up, and who are looked on as my Dad had changed so dramatically and the change was a violent shock to us all.  The plans I had in mind for the quiet retirement of my parents, suddenly seemed to go haywire and left me wondering what terrible thing I have done to them.  His condition gradually worsened and I was now required to tend in increasingly.  My building activities came almost to a halt.  Mum thought that a change at his old home at Margaret River might improve his condition, so arranged to go out to Glenbourne and give me a chance to get the house under way.  Dad's older brother had died in 1946 and Aunt Minnie was carrying the farm on with the help of Bob Forrest, whom she and Bob Keenan had reared from a child.


The several weeks Mum and Dad lived with the folks at Glenbourne.  In his old home, surrounded by family and familiar things, he seemed more relaxed, but his general condition did not improve.  Mum was always eloquent in her praise for Bob Forrest, for his kindness and great patience patients in handling Dad, and for sitting with him for hours talking and doing all the good to sooth the disturbed mind....  After some weeks, Dad's condition deteriorated to the extent that was agreed he should be admitted to Margaret River Hospital.  We made the arrangements, and he was admitted at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.  He seemed unaware of the surroundings and was not speaking.  I came back to Dunsborough and was there only a few minutes when my neighbour, Roy Hilton, brought a message for me to return to the hospital.  Dr Barrett met me with the news that Dad had passed away at 7 p.m..  He had been in hospital only three hours.


{Year of death 1952}



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