Mary Emma Johnson's grave.
Mary Emma Johnson's grave. Austcemindex

Young couple start married life under harsh conditions

AT 17 YEARS of age, Mary Emma Baker came to the Richmond River in 1865 to keep house for her brother Henry who had taken a selection of land at Kilgin, near Woodburn.

John Thomas Johnson was a cedar-getter at Terania Creek and met Mary through Henry while shipping logs to Sydney.

The young couple married in 1875 and started out their married life under much harsher conditions in the virgin landscape than couples of today.

They were one of the first white settlers in 1886 when they took up their land in the Bangalow-Binna Burra area, known as the Big Scrub tract.

John would regularly have to walk a 20 mile bushland track to Ballina to pick up provisions.

When they were able to grow enough grass, they pastured a horse which they could then ride between their property and Ballina, making it a quicker trip.

Mary's first kitchen was set up in a tree where she did all her cooking.

Their first house was built by John, from the timber on their selection of land which was pit sawn and treated there too.

In 1936 when Mary died, the house was still standing on the property with its original iron roof.

John and Mary would have had to clear their heavily timbered selection, then plant their buffalo grass using only a hoe to complete the work.

They were paid for the butter and eggs they delivered to Ballina and later pigs that were herded on foot through the scrub to be shipped to Sydney.

What little money they earnt was supplemented by turkey, wild pigeon and paddymelons which were in plentiful supply in the bush which hemmed in the selection on every side.

Life became easier for the couple and their family as more settlers moved to the area and after living a short while at a property in Brunswick, they finally moved to Byron Bay where they lived out their last days.

John predeceased Mary by seven years and at the time of Mary's death they had left behind a huge family legacy of nine children, 53 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

They are both buried in Byron Bay cemetery.

REFERENCES: Obituary - Mrs Mary Emma Johnson, The Northern Star, December 7, 1936; Death of a Pioneer, The Sydney Morning Herald, December 14, 1936; Pioneer Passes, Mullumbimby Star and Byron Bay-Bangalow Advocate, December 8, 1936; austcemindex.com



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