Myrtle Rose White

Myrtle Rose White

Myrtle Rose White, nee Kennewell, was born in a tent at Acacia Vale, near Broken Hill, during a blinding dust storm on 30 August 1888. It nearly killed her and her mother as well. Fortunately they both survived the ordeal and Myrtle would have another nine brothers and sisters in due course. All were raised in the Barossa Valley and Myrtle later attended a private school at Williamstown. She was soon assisting her mother in bringing up the large number of younger siblings. Myrtle would later write a book about it Led by new Stars, which was based on the lives of a pioneering family settling in the Barossa Valley.

In 1904 the Kennewell family moved to Williamstown and Myrtle was sent to Queensland to help out at her aunt's Packsaddle Hotel, north of the Darling. While working at the hotel she met Cornelius White and after a long courtship they married on 19 October 1910 at Broken Hill. At the age of 22 Myrtle and Con, as he was called, began their married life in the mining town of Broken Hill. Frome.

Lake Elder Station was acquired by Sidney Kidman and Edward Peter Tapp on 29 December 1916 and he appointed Con White as manager. It was almost desert country with temperatures often above 40 degrees for days on end. Average rainfall was often less than ten centimetres a year. They were to stay at Lake Elder for six years before leaving for Mordon in New South Wales and later Wonnaminta. It was also the start of more than 30 years in the outback most of it in lonely sand hill country.

Their first child, a daughter whom they named Doris, was born at Lake Elder. Doris grew up on the station and became a good horse rider and often accompanied the station workers on their round of the sheep and cattle yards. Doris did some of her schooling at home, helped by her mother and in 1927 went to Woodlands boarding school. She later married Jim Chambers, a descendent of the early Chambers Family who had arrived in 1837. Much later Doris would organise most of her mother's writing for publishing.

Her time at the station and her experiences in the lonely outback were immortalised in her first book No Roads Go By, in which Elder Station is renamed Noonameena. Mary Gilmore in her Foreword wrote in March 1932, 'There is nothing in this book that is not true, I knew similar country years ago on the Barrier, and there have been times, in reading the manuscript when the tears have pricked my eyes in a sudden sting of recollections of things half forgotten'. Gilmore had started her teaching career in 1887 at Silverton, near Broken Hill.

Jill Bowen in her book Sidney Kidman, the forgotten King, wrote that the book was about the hardship Myrtle faced during the years she spent on the station. It was hardship she faced not happily but with an increasingly resentful heart. The drought, the dust storms, the ever encroaching sand hills, the extreme desolation and isolation and the way the lot combined to mock hard working efforts and gnaw at the spirit until only bitterness remained.

Myrtle soon realised that being a manager's wife in the outback also meant being a mother, gardener, cook for the station workers, teacher, nurse, doctor and midwife. She also placed the bulk orders with stock and station agents and hired or fired the staff. Two more children, boys Alan and Garry, were born at Elder Station. However as both had some early health problems, Myrtle and her children lived in Broken Hill for a while. After six years the White family decided to leave for a better place and prospects. Their long term vision and ultimate goal was to one day own their own station.

This time they moved to another Kidman property in New South Wales. Unfortunately their hopes for better financial rewards for her husband's efforts, as promised by Kidman, were never realised. When Kidman retired, Con was present at his party on 19 March 1927. During the 1930s depression Myrtly had finished her first book, which provided at least a small income, although it did not offset the 50 per cent cut in Con's salary. Even after the Depression it was not increased.

During the depression years, Myrtle and her children lived in the Adelaide Hills at Eastella, between Aldgate and Heathfield. Here she rented a property from W.H. Williams and, with the help of her daughter Doris, conducted a boarding house. After the start of WWII, both Alan and Garry enlisted. Shortly after Con, who had been in poor health, and was asked by the Kidman Company to resign, died in 1941. This put a definite end to their dreams of owning their own property. When Doris married in 1948 and moved to New South Wales, Myrtly ran the boarding house by herself and still managed to write a number of books.

With her unlimited energy and courage she wrote, From That Day To This, For Those That Love, Beyond the Western Rivers and Come With Me. From That Day To This was published in 1961 and dedicated to her family who were still on the land following in their father's footsteps. It was also dedicated to her grand sons who had never seen their grandfather in the hope that they would grow into men as fine as him.

Two months after it's release, while visiting her son Alan in Western Australia, Gary had died during the war, she died in her sleep on 11 July, aged 73. Tributes soon flowed in. According to the Advertiser of 13 July 1961 she had won her way to success with stories of her own and her family's life in the outback. A born raconteur, it said, this cheerful writer was a typical Australian.

As Alan's property was in the far northwest near Port Hedland he had to make an 1800 kilometre trip to Perth in his utility with the body of his mother in a coffin in the back. After 39 hours driving and 73 hours without sleep he arrived at the Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth for her remains to be cremated. In her will Myrtle Rose White had asked that half of her ashes be interred with her husband in Adelaide and the other half be returned to the outback were they had spent such a large part of their lives.

More detailed information is available from the book by Susanna De Vries and also from White's books

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