Characters of the Kimberley
Written and Published on-line April 25th 2011
Peggy Lawrence was a pioneering woman, an Icon of the Kimberley. She was married to a drover who was away a lot. Peggy was an avid gardener and always had a real green thumb.
Some 80 years ago in the 1930's, Peggy and her husband acquired a block out at a little place called “Coconut Wells,” way out of Broome along rugged dirt roads. After purchasing this block, there became a desire to do something with it and so Peggy went off to the bank and gained a loan to enable her to start a banana plantation.
Peggy was the first woman I know of in the Kimberley to obtain a bank loan. Being the incredible woman she was, after securing this historic loan, Peggy toiled away planting rows and rows of banana plants. With her green thumb and the suitable climate, she had them coming on beautifully, and in her effort to succeed, she really looked after each and every plant in that plantation.
With Peggy’s new venture progressing under her careful guidance - the banana plants grew into heavily fruiting trees with the coming harvest offering future prospects of a paid off bank loan along with a lucrative business future. Peggy was able to smell her success.
But then..swirling in from Arafura sea came a devastating cyclone which completely destroyed the entire plantation, before any of her crop was harvested.
It took Peggy years to get her plantation up and running again in order to pay off her loan to the bank, but she did and things turned out alright in the long run. With Peggy being the avid gardener that she was - she could make almost anything grow almost anywhere.
As the years forced her to toil away at her plantation, Peggy brought into the world a daughter "Bobby". Bobby ironically, grew up and married one of the nephews of Charlie Telford (pictured below) – Charlie being the man of the Kimberley who built the original homestead here at Mt Hart, back in the 1960's...
Bobby and her husband still live in Broome - they too had a daughter "Fleur". So it is somewhat again ironic that years later, when Peter and Ann Murray had procured Mt Hart Station as part of WA cattle company, Peggy herself spent 3 years out here care-taking Mt Hart. She was living out here all on her own – there are already some stories on the website that touch on Peggy’s life at the Station.
Hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town, Peggy was out here at Mt Hart alone for those 3 years... well not quite, her loyal companion, good old blue heeler dog "Missy" was her partner at Mt Hart.
Peggy tended and planted a lot of the smaller plants around the original homestead and had portulacas everywhere. One night she was in her room and she could hear this munching coming from outside. Whoa! A big scrub bull was in the garden eating her portulaca. Well, you have never seen a woman get so mad in your life - tearing outside in the dark half dressed with a broom, she laid into this big scrub bull, driving him off her portulaca patch. Such was her love of gardening... few would confront a wild eyed scrub-bull with a rifle in their hands let alone a broom stick in the dark.
This small and frail, but as hard as nails character of a lady never ever wore shoes in her life. There was no need..for the soles of her feet were as hard as any leather. Almost right up until the day Peggy passed on, she drove a yellow Toyota hilux.
By the time CALM (now DEC) took over the ownership of Mt Hart station, and they put me on as manager, Peggy had moved to live in a house in the middle of Broome by "Seaview Shopping Center" - it was a large block, which developers have since subdivided. Peggy with her insatiable desire to grow things, turned this whole block into a miniature Mt Hart - a tropical rainforest - there wasn't an inch of ground that didn't have a plant on it.
Visiting Peggy at her Broome retreat was always a pleasure. Peggy's garden in Broome was a botanical heaven which surrounded and practically engulfed her old Pearler style house on the block that was always cool as cool. In many ways, one was able to believe they were walking through a place just like Mt Hart...isolated from everywhere, even though Peggy's tropical oasis was in the middle of Broome.
Peggy used to come out to Mt Hart and visit in the early days when I first started managing Mt Hart. Just to make sure all was okay.
When she came this elderly green fingers would have her battered yellow Hilux-ute loaded up with plants. Whenever she bought them out I was obliged for fear of her wrath to dig the holes for her new plants, which was no easy feat because this country is all rock. Peggy would say where the plants had to go and so I'd be there with her for a couple of days, planting her ute load of new flora. Each time she came out there would be another load with her. She always looked like a travelling mobile botanical garden whenever she came here to see me and Mt Hart.
In the very latter years, her daughter and son convinced her to sell her block in Broome and move into a unit with them, because her block in Broome was just getting too much for her. Knowing this was the right move for her, she acceded to the request, but in no way did she give up her green fingers and immediately set to creating a garden around the unit she was living in.
When dear Peggy passed on, everyone who knew her said, it was the perfect way for her to go - Peggy had been out in her beloved garden all morning toiling away as she did, then she came back inside at midday to have her little siesta, she poured herself a glass of white wine as her work’s reward, drank half the glass, lay down for her nap and slipped into a slumbering sleep from which she never awoke.
The Passing of Peggy Lawrence was the perfect epitome of dying contentedly....God’s reward for Peggy having spent a lifetime of doing what she loved most – gardening, growing, passing on her knowledge and stoic skills, and yes, enjoying a glass of wine.
This lady was revered wherever she went for being such a kind, generous woman and to this day there are many who silently pay her respect in their minds and forever remember her as one of the greats of the Kimberley caste. God certainly rested her soul.