Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, May 01, 2009

Vale Mrs Crowe, a remarkable woman.

Yesterday I was fortunate to join with the Crowe family, and friends to farewell Mrs Isobel Crowe, late of Berrima.
I first met Mr and Mrs Crowe, when, as a child, my family would call in to visit them at their Berrrima Bridge Nursery, down the end of a funny little road beyond the main Park in Berrima. At least that is how it always seemed to me, then.

My father was a plants man, and he and Claude Crowe were two of a kind. They both spoke "plant". Mrs Crowe was always the gentle and gracious hostess, on our visits, offering us cups of tea, with scones and jam. I remember the seasonal jams, especially the Blackberry Jam, Crabapple Jelly and my particular favourite, Fig Jam.

Many years later, after I moved to Robertson, I decided to call in on Mrs Crowe, one day when over near Berrima. I found the house, and knocked apprehensively on the door, not even knowing if Mr or Mrs Crowe were still alive, or living there. A little old lady came to the door, and I introduced myself - by name only. Straight away she opened the door, asked me in, and said "And how are Steve and Nonie?" (my parents). I was staggered. Here was I, an adult who had met this lady last when I was but a teenager, being welcomed as a long lost friend.

We talked about her family - Mr Crowe had died a few years before - and then we talked about my family, and plants and birds, and my child, Zoe, and my dog. We talked about where I was going to build my new house, in Robertson, and she advised me about the soil, and types of plants which would do well there. What a lovely welcome to the Southern Highlands!

We also did discussed rare Native Plants, for, over the years, she had collected many specimens of rare plants especially from East Berrima, and had sent them to the Herbarium in Sydney for identification, and to add to the Herbarium collection.

It was during such discussions I learnt that Mrs Crowe had been one of the first females to be trained as a Horticulturalist. Indeed while Mr Crowe had had great knowledge of plants, and particularly plant propagation, it was Mrs Crowe who had the formal training, and could identify plants from keys in the Botanical reference books, etc. She was proud to have been a ground-breaker, back in those days.

We talked of my interest in Tree Peonies, and she showed me some of these plants which Mr Crowe had collected and grown. Unfortunately, they were very old and weak plants now, growing in near total shade, under the enormous Cypress trees which had been planted so long ago as wind breaks, but which were now totally over-growing the house and garden. Still, it was great fun to potter around the yard, and ask about the plants. For example, the old varieties of Camellias which they grew are seldom available now, such as the old "Red Waratah" Camellia variety (Camellia japonica "Speciosissima"), which Mr Crowe had collected from the original Macarthur family's plants at Camden Park. A living piece of botanical history.

Every Autumn I would get a few phone calls from Mrs Crowe, asking me: "Are the Honeyeaters moving through yet?" It was in her capacity as an observer of birds that I mostly dealt with Mrs Crowe, in recent years.

Last week I received a call from Elizabeth Compston, from Canberra saying that she was coming up to visit Mrs Crowe, and then she would like to come over and meet me. We have exchanged many emails over the years, about Honeyeater migrations, as members of the Canberra Ornithologists Group. Anyway, arrangements were made for Elizabeth to visit Mrs Crowe in the morning and come over to Robertson at lunch time. She had known Mrs Crowe was not well, but then she heard that Mrs Crowe had been admitted to hospital. I got a call from Elizabeth at 10:00am that morning to say that Mrs Crowe had died during the night. She was distraught that she had missed out on seeing her friend, Mrs Crowe, by just a few hours. The family said yesterday that Mrs Crowe had been noting Honeyeater movements in her diary, right to the end, even over the Easter Weekend.

Noel Crowe, her son, gave the Eulogy at the service which was held in Leppington yesterday. I asked why it was being held there, despite Mrs Crowe having devotedly served as Verger and Warden at Holy Trinity Church, Berrima for half a lifetime. I learnt to my sadness, that the Holy Trinity Church had been closed in recent years, apparently against the wishes of the local community. This had apparently occurred since the appointment of a new Minister to the Parish. Archbishop Jensen had imposed his will on the parish, and appointed someone who the local community had previously rejected when considering candidates. The new Minister then went ahead and closed this historic church, thus alienating the local parish community.

Is this yet another success story for Archbishop Jensen's rule of the Sydney Diocese? I will let you decide.

I stress that the query is based upon my own understanding of the event. There may well be another perspective on these event. But I do know that the Berrima community has been damaged by these events.

***** ***** ***** *****

Anyway - let's move to happier thoughts. Noel's Eulogy included various other stories about Mrs Crowe, which are illustrated in the collage of images, below.
I especially liked the story of Mrs Crowe sitting at the wheel of the 1936 Singer"Bantam", drophead. It seems one of Mrs Crowe's first jobs was with a car company. She posed for the photo, but yet she never drove a car in her life. In discussions later in the day, it emerged later in the day that she was a very good driving "instructor", or at least a great source of advice to other persons doing the driving.

Isobel Florence Crowe (nee Tacon) as born at Cobram, Victoria. She was the daughter of a Minister, the Rev. Russell Tacon and Florence. The family moved around, eventually coming to NSW at Picton, where Isobel went to Picton High School. The family moved to Botany and then Bondi junction, and Isobel completed her schooling at Sydney Girls High School. She then went to the Metropolitan Business College.

Isobel was then accepted for training in horticulture at the "Sydney Tech", as one of the first women students. After graduating Isobel started work at Anderson Seeds Pty. Ltd., Summer Hill, N.S.W. It was there that she met a young technician working with that company, Claude Crowe.

During World War II the Crowes worked on strategic seed collection and storage - the "Mother Seeds" collection, which were important food crop seeds to be safely stored in event of possible invasion of Australia. It sounds a long way removed from the world of 2009, but it was obviously great training for a young couple who went on to run the pre-eminent Nursery in the Southern Highlands. Claude Crowe worked with the local resident and prominent businessman Sir Cecil Hoskins, who was responsible for granting the land along the old Hume Highway near Berrima which Claude Crowe planted as Memorial Driveway plantations. To this day, these Memorial plantations contain a superb collection of interesting trees, notably large fruited forms of Rowans and Crab Apples, and many unusual conifers. A Google Search under the name of Claude Crowe reveals many historic gardens in the Southern Highlands, the Monaro and the Blue Mountains planted by Mr Crowe. His name is well recorded by the Australian Garden History Society and the Historic Houses Trust.

One other photograph of note (in the collage set above) is the one of Mrs Crowe ringing the bell at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Berrima. Note the hat, (which the Reverend Ian Vickery, a former minister at Holy Trinity) - who performed the Service - referred to as her "signature hat". This reinforces the contribution which Mrs Crowe made to the local Church community.

She was also remembered as a contributor to the Boy Scouts Association, and Red Cross, and the Berrima District Historical Society.


fred said...

A touching tribute to my Aunt, one of many received about her life from those who knew her well and loved her. Our family is devastated by her loss as it was sudden and unexpected—none more so than Isobel’s sister –my mother – Brenda Walton. They spoke on the phone every other day and had done so for the past fifteen years as Mums health faded and it became impossible for her to travel-particularly at her now age of 98 years . It was with some surprise we learned of Isobel’s illness, only because I suggested Mum phone Is as we hadn’t heard from her for some days .Noel answered saying she was in hospital with pneumonia, but was expected to recover and be home in a day or so. It was with dreadful shock we received a call from Noel at 8 am on the 22nd to say Is had passed away in her sleep. We kept the news from Mum until the following morning as we wanted her to enjoy a previously planned dinner out, and after some subterfuge finally told her the following day midmorning. Both my sister Anne, her husband Glen Robertson and myself flew down from Brisbane to attend the service and were heartened by Noel and Jens generosity under the most difficult of circumstances and were gratified at the attendances of friends and family some of whom we had not seen for many years .The tributes expanded on a Christian life well lived. We will miss those famous treats, the warmth and kindness we received whenever we visited Nick and Is during our holidays in that beautiful place they called home for 60 years .Berrima Bridge Nurseries now passes into history, recorded in local folklore .Few will ever understand the people whose lifetime of work beautified their local areas and that leaves a lasting memorial. They stepped lightly on the Earth , loving all things created, honoring God’s work..
Isobel and Brenda are the last of the Tacon family.Geoffrey, Ivor , Bernard, Isobel , and now Brenda at Gods will. All spent a lifetime of service to community. They come from a generation where family, loyalty, honesty, service and goodwill were their hallmarks. With their passing we will never see their like again.

Denis Wilson said...

Thank you Fred for adding the family's perspective to my comments regarding Mrs Crowe.
I noted the contingent of family members who had travelled from Brisbane to honour Mrs Crowe's memory. Very touching indeed. Obviously the Tacon clan have very strong family ties. It is lovely to see.
Denis Wilson