AN ENGLISHWOMAN who appeared in Skippy in the 1960s has written an extraordinary book on the tale of her ancestor Mary Pitt.
Migrating to a country on the other side of the world which was proclaimed as almost uninhabitable by Europeans, this widow in her early 50s took her chances in a penal colony, bringing her five children here only 13 years after the colony began.
Historic bodice-ripper novels have nothing on this real-life tale. It was Mary’s good fortune to have a cousin married to Horatio Nelson which heavily influenced her fate, and allowed her, according to family legend, to be put up by the Governor of NSW, Philip Gidley King at Parramatta on her arrival and for a while thereafter.
Author Patsy Trench (see picture bottom right) has researched her book meticulously which is written as part novel, part historical record. Her depth of research and transparency about where she’s taking an educated guess will keep Hawkesbury historians satisfied, and she keeps the story cracking along for everyone else by dramatising critical scenes as in a novel. These are delicately and excellently done, and there is no jolt at the transitions.
Patsy takes the reader along with her on her hunt for details of her ancestor’s life in the early Sydney colony. Her style is chatty while still rigorous with facts, so though it is loaded with historical detail, it is fascinating from the start.
For anyone with far-reaching antecedents in the Hawkesbury, this book will be a tour de force as due to the few settlers here back then, your ancestors may well be mentioned in it!
It will be particularly gratifying for Hawkesbury readers as we also know all the places mentioned, both in the tale of the past and when it’s in the present, such as when Patsy visits a farm in Agnes Banks, seeking the site of Mary’s early land grant. Mary was one of the first women to be granted land in her own right, on the Hawkesbury River.
Patsy shares her recent family history as well so you know who the Australian descendants of Mary were. Famous historic figures crop up in brushes with Patsy’s family. Her aunty Lorraine acted in “Strike me Lucky” with Mo (Roy Rene) and Patsy’s Australian mother was a good friend of Charles Kingsford Smith, (though the historic family connection to Horatio Nelson trumps them all).
“It’s a story about migration,” Patsy said. “It’s not just about Mary but about my mother, an actress who left Sydney to live in London in the 1920s, and about me. I migrated from London to Sydney as a 10 pound Pom in 1968.
“It’s intended to appeal to anyone who is interested in Australia’s colonial history, so it ended up a mix of fact, fiction and personal observations of a country and its people that I’ve known and loved for half a century.”
The Royal Australian Historical Society liked the book so much it has given her a grant to do further research into the Pitt family history.
- To win one of two copies of The Worst Country in the World, tell us why you have a particular interest in it. Email justine.doherty@fairfaxmedia. com.au or text 0427 285 756. Include your name and address if you would like it posted to you. Otherwise it can be picked up at the Richmond Gazette office.
For more go to her Facebook page PatsyTrench or website www.patsytrench.com.