Women are mainly postscripts in history. That’s why I looked around for a woman. Margaret Goulding was a stand-out on the Kandos pages of the Mudgee Guardian, and I was confident I could shape her into a narrative and post her in a blog. But as I explored those pages, questions kept tapping on my brain. What was she really like? Where did she come from? What was her back story?
I first met Meg Goulding, metaphorically speaking, at my parents’ wedding breakfast in 1941, held on the upstairs balcony of the Kandos Hotel, where, according to my mother everyone enjoyed a “sumptuous” breakfast provided by Mrs Goulding. I got the impression of a popular venue and a successful businesswoman and that was confirmed as I tramped through Trove.
If you have used Trove to search family history you will have discovered that the people who got space in early local newspapers were most often middle class. They were the ones who had time, money, energy and inclination to contribute to a community – to raise money, organise events and agitate for change. Most others were exhausted and dispirited just securing food, clothes and shelter, especially in the 1930s. Their moment of fame was likely to be about accident, illness, death or a court appearance.
Meg Goulding seemed to be in everything. Committee member and later president of Kandos Golf Club Associates. President of the ladies’ committee for Kandos Rugby League (she organised fund-raising events and was later patron). She was elected president of the Backyarders Cricket Club “in appreciation of her splendid services to Kandos sport in general”. The Goulding brand was on cups, trophies and shields.
That wasn’t all. She organised functions to raise money for the Good Samaritan sisters and donated regularly to Rylstone Hospital. During the war she was president of Kandos Ladies’ Comfort Fund to support diggers, returned and abroad. For four years she was president of Kandos CWA. For several years she hosted the annual Anzac dinner and in 1944, in appreciation of her support, was the first woman invited to a local RSL function. She hosted visiting sportsmen for free and I have no doubt that behind the scenes she was helping locals on the breadline as well as the odd swaggie. When she was leaving Kandos in 1949 after 22 years, the headline read “Kandos is Losing One of its Finest Citizens”.
I ruminated. How do I sum her up? Modern day saint? Extraordinary woman? Was she compensating loss? Craving recognition?
In discovering Meg Goulding at Kandos I had also discovered her husband Pat. Mr P T Goulding (Patrick Thomas) took over the lease of the Kandos Hotel in 1927. He made his name as a supporter of local league and cricket and “by his unassuming nature and kindliness” made numerous friends. That tribute appeared in 1931 with the announcement of his death after complicated treatment in Randwick Hospital for a war wound.
Before I leave Kandos I should also mention son Evan. The first time he appeared in the Mudgee Guardian was December 1928. He spent some primary years at St Stanislaus’ Bathurst and spent most of his high school at Kandos. He was a promising pianist and an enthusiastic cricketer and footballer. He did the Intermediate and Leaving Certificates, and at the age of 22 became licensee of the Globe Hotel at Rylstone. He learnt to fly at Newcastle Aero Club, became a flying instructor in England during the war and returned as Warrant Officer. A son to be proud of; and Meg was.
I dug further and discovered Pat in Bellingen, where I also discovered their marriage in July 1919. “Last Friday night at the residence of Mrs. Goulding, Senr., the Rev. Father Fitzpatrick joined in holy wedlock Mr. P. T. Goulding and Miss Margaret Evans (late Matron of the Raleigh District Hospital)”.
Now I had found Meg before she met Pat. Raleigh District Hospital in Bellingen was established in 1903. When Matron Evans was appointed in July 1917 on an annual wage of one hundred pounds, the hospital had a daily average of five or six patients, a nursing staff of five, a cook, housemaid, laundress and wards man. It was supported by the local community and run by a local board, with a small subsidy from the government. The board was very happy with “capable” Matron Evans. She ran the hospital “efficiently and harmoniously”. She resigned in March 1919 and married four months later.
Research involves detecting leads, collecting and comparing snippets, making assumptions (and often discarding them) and serendipity.
Men are in records. Pat was easy to uncover. He was born in Bellingen in 1887 and raised in a large Irish Catholic farming family. Parents Richard and Catherine migrated twice, first to the Shoalhaven and then to the Bellinger. Struggling, hardworking, immigrant parents produce aspirational children. Pat became a teacher, went to war, married Meg and bought a series of businesses in Bellingen, Wardell and Coraki before moving to Kandos.
Meg was much harder to uncover. A number of clues led to Victoria where I again tramped through Trove and became knee-deep in the Victorian BDMs (a website to avoid). She was born at Coongulmerang in 1889, one of six girls and a boy, her father David, a miner and sheep farmer who died young, her mother Emily, a nurse who married again, to Joseph L’Estrange. That still left me with questions. Why did Meg apply for the job of matron in northern NSW? And what was she doing in that four months before her marriage?
Naturally I had to find Evan but he was nowhere in NSWBDMs. His war records gave the answer. He was born on 19 February 1917 at Korumburra Victoria. It was the town where Meg’s sister Ruth lived with her husband Antonio D’Astoli, running a confectionary business. In August 1917 they moved one hundred kilometres away, to Yarrum where they bought another confectionary and fruit business.
Meg’s story-line was beginning to form. After becoming a nurse, with the encouragement of her mother, Meg got herself in the pudding club. Her mother was mid-wife, her sister a support. Meg looked after her son for five months and then got the job at Bellingen. Ruth cared for Evan at Yarrum. I don’t know when Evan joined Margaret and Pat. By 1928 he was at school in Bathurst.
That was Meg’s secret, like many women at that time. Keeping it secret enabled her to gain employment and a husband. I suppose Meg bonded with Evan through letters and visits to Victoria. She made at least two trips to Melbourne on her own, one around the time of her mother’s marriage. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Ruth D’Astoli spent two years at the Kandos pub with Meg and Evan while Ruth’s husband was fighting in WW2.
But there is more. Mrs Margaret Goulding gave up the hotel license and married Mr Thomas Lloyd, in 1944, “one of the oldest and most highly respected citizens of Kandos”. He died after a short illness three years later. Two years after that, Meg, draped in accolades, left for Victoria. But accolades soon turned to grief when she learnt in 1950 of Evan’s sudden death from a heart seizure at his work in Wollongong. He was 33. Meg died seven years later aged 67, at her home in East Bentleigh, also from an instant heart attack. Her death certificate reads: first marriage – issue, not any; second marriage – issue, not any.
An exceptional woman? Yes. She surmounted the challenges of a patriarchal world.