Chasing Ancestry in Rural Victoria

A road trip to Melbourne ended with chasing my ancestry in Nhill and meeting distant cousins I didn’t know existed!

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My 95-year-old grandmother Betty speaks fondly of her childhood, spent on a farm near Nhill, in regional Victoria. A one pub farming town, famous for a talking horse statue.

Having planned a road-trip from Sydney to Melbourne to visit friends, I thought Nhill might make an interesting spot to break the return journey as it was only four hours from Melbourne. 

I expected to spend a night in a cheap motel, take photos of the main street and pick up a souvenir, but when I mentioned to my grandmother I might visit Nhill, she piped up and said, “there might be relatives there, still alive.”

Several phone calls later and two distant cousins were indeed alive in still living in Nhill; Ewan and Maureen. They were both Cameron’s from my grandmother’s lineage.

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My great-great-grandfather Allan Paul Cameron shipped out to Australia from the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, seeking a better life and ended up in Nhill where he married a young barmaid, Mary Redden.

My middle name is Cameron, though I knew little of its origins, but the moment I walked into Ewan’s house he at once said “yep, he’s a Cameron.”

A casual comment that brought me to tears. I’d never met my father; he doesn’t even know I exist, and so grappled with what influence his genes may have had on my identity. Yet here was a stranger who recognised me as his family.

Ewan had hours of stories to share and hundreds of photos including images of my mother, out on the family farm. Amongst his collection was a postcard from my great grandfather who had fought in World War One. On it, he wrote of life in the trenches and the constant barrage of mortar shells, and sent to my great-aunt, Catherine.

Ewan’s father, ironically also named Ewan Cameron was an avid collector of family history and had taken notes from stories passed down from his father. I knew little about that side of the family except that my grandmother went by the nickname, ‘Lizzie’.

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Her maiden name is Cameron, which is where my middle name stems from, but her married name was Lemaro. I always imaged with a name like ‘Lizzie Lemaro’ she should have been a bank-robber. She may have been feisty, but certainly no criminal. 

Ewan told me about my great-great-grandfather, Allan who was a geographer, an avid writer and who didn’t drink. A rarity in the late 1800’s but these little known facts, captivated me.

I wanted to know more because I topped my school in geography three years running, love to write and no longer drink alcohol. I know genetics can’t contribute to choices made generations down the line, but also writing and the desire to travel, is more of a compulsion rather than a deliberate choice, so perhaps there are factors in my genes leading my path in life. 

Ewan took me to the farm, the house my grandmother grew up in was partially standing but with timber planks strewed across the grass. Amongst the rubble was a tiny green leather shoe (which apparently belonged to my great-aunt Catherine), a broken piece of porcelain—once a roasting dish, and empty medicine bottles. Junk to most people, but this all belonged to my family; it was my history.

Weeping Yellow Gum Tree, Nhill, Victoria, Australia. Image ©️ Jade Jackson
Weeping Yellow Gum Tree just outside of Nhill in rural Victoria. The only known tree of it’s kind in existence. Image by Jade Jackson.

On the far edge of what was the family farm, stood a weeping yellow gum tree with drooping leaves like dangling fingers. It’s a crossbreed, and the only known specimen in Australia. Stories abound on how it came into existence but no one knows for certain. I remember my grandmother telling me about it, but the story didn’t mean much, until saw it up close, touched it’s leaves, smelled it’s crisp eucalyptus scent. I stood in the shadows of a tree that has been growing on my family’s property for over 200 years. 

Ewan’s own kids had grown weary of his stories years ago. However the most poignant one involved his partner, Misako who Ewan had met teaching English in Japan (which I also did).

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Whilst on holiday in Niagara Falls, Canada, Misako bought a ceramic teacup as a souvenir and wrapped it in newspaper for protection. Once back in Japan she jokingly tossed Ewan the newspaper saying “you might like to read this, it’s in English.”

On the front cover was a story of a young violinist named Allan Paul Cameron, the nephew of Allan Paul Cameron who had left Scotland for Australia.

Nhill Ancestry, Finding ancestry heritage in Nhill, Australia, Scottish ancestors, Cameron Clan in Australia, image by Jade Jackson
The Cameron Clan in Nhill originated from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Ewan (left), Jade (Centre), Maureen (right).

It’s confusing everyone having the same name but my great-great-grandfather’s brother, left for America, then they lost contact. The article showed a clan of Cameron’s living in Nova Scotia, Canada—distant relatives previously unknown.

Later that afternoon I wandered the Main Street of Nhill to take photos of the shops, and stumbled upon Amber’s Sweet Bliss, famous for their incredible home-made cheesecakes. The kind of place where conversations were had across tables, between strangers.

That night I had dinner in the only pub in town. At the table next to me a group of friendly locals insisted I eat with them. Curious about my adventures in Nhill, they laughed when I mentioned I was a Cameron. One of them had been engaged to my cousin, Ewan’s brother, Richard.

A town so small that even random strangers in a pub, could have been distant relatives.

I expected little from a small country town, but I found part of my identity, incredible cheesecake, and a unique tree in Australia’s history proving there’s something unique to find in every town, regardless of its size. I also learnt that chasing down ancestry can reveal far more about your identity than I had ever anticipated.

If you need accommodation in Nhill, with no single supplement and free breakfast, check out the Nhill Oasis Motel on Agoda.

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Travel always, don’t forget to send me a postcard, cheers Jade Jackson
Send me a postcard from your travels!

Have you chased down your ancestors? What did you find? 

Suggested reading:

Want more? Check out my post, nine things to do in Nhill and my podcast episode about Nhill and Hanging Rock, Victoria.


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