Sally O’Wheel, Tasmania Regional Meeting

Sally O’Wheel (left), handing over her 3x great grandfather’s notebook to Wendy Rimon at the Quaker Collection at the University of Tasmania. Above them is the photo of the 1927 Yearly Meeting.


 There are two panels so far representing the Tasmanian Quaker story: Francis Cotton and The Friends’ School. I wanted to consult with Tasmanian Friends about other possible stories we need to tell. As I don’t live in Hobart and didn’t join until 1993 I wanted to meet with older Hobart Friends and come home with a list of possible panel themes.


 The week before the lunch I went through the list of members and attenders with the membership secretary. We made two lists: people with knowledge of history, and artists. I personally invited, by telephone, anyone who had been a member for a long time or knew about Tasmanian Quaker History. I wasn’t able to reach a number of Friends and of those who I did reach, only a few of them were able to come or were interested. But I did learn quite a lot from doing that and there are people who I will contact again and arrange to meet with them personally to have a conversation in person.

I re-read Bill Oat’s book: A Question of Survival, and in particular the chapter about Tasmania. This was a very useful preparation.

The Trip down: A Tasmanian journey

 It is a four-hour drive to Hobart from my place. I left early so as to have time to show my face at the Knitting Nannas: (“Free the Children, Bring them Here”), in the Hobart Mall and bring greetings from our Devonport Knitting Nannas group.

There are two things to note about the trip down. First road works. There are always road works in Tasmania. The Midlands Highway is a death trap and is lined with crosses and flowers marking the places where people have died. At the last state election the Liberals said it was ‘nothing but a goat track’ and promised to spend millions of dollars up-grading it. No one suggested putting in fast, cheap and user-friendly public transport, so really the only way for me to get to Hobart is to drive. It would be cheaper to fly to Melbourne than to catch a bus.

The other specifically Tasmanian note about the trip down was the smoke. There was smoke almost all the way: almost the whole state covered in pollution. This is caused by “regeneration burns”. Old growth mixed aged forests, some of them having never seen fire before, have been cleared and the residue set alight in hot fires to create an ash bed in which to grow new eucalyptus forests. These forests, all the trees the same age and the same species, will become fire traps during bush fires in the future. The hot regeneration fires turn carbon sinks into carbon emissions, and create polluted air which is very bad for children, the aged and anyone like me who suffers from asthma. These are the kinds of fires that pollute Indonesia and Malaysia on a regular basis. I became increasingly angry as I drove south through the haze.

 The Meeting  

Who was there?

A brainstorm

We were 11 women Friends, including me. How much is the Narrative Embroidery a Women’s project? Why? Can it ever include men and what would that take? I had telephoned quite a few men because this event wasn’t about stitching, perhaps seen by some as a female skill, but about history and stories. I was sorry that there weren’t any men there, but I will go after them!

Bill Oats – (he would have been there!) – said that the early Hobart Friends meeting was composed of three groups: the Convicted, the Convinced and the Disowned. Our lunch time meeting in Hobart represented those groups. Pat Mavromatis is a direct descendent of the convict Quaker, Henry Propsting. Backhouse and Walker met him in Macquarie Harbour and he became a convinced convicted. He went on to have 28 children –  so one would assume that half of Tasmania is related to him! Veronica Mather married into the Mather family who were one of the first Quaker families in Hobart, converted from the Wesleyans to Quakerism by Backhouse and Walker. There has never been a time when there wasn’t a Mather at friends school. Veronica though doesn’t identify as a Quaker. I represent the disowned because my first Australian Quaker settler ancestor was, like many hundreds of other Australian Quaker men, disowned for marrying out. Henry Popstring was disowned for marrying out but he appealed and won.

What we did

 We went around the group, introducing ourselves and giving a potted personal Quaker history and a few words about any previous involvement with the embroidery. There were three birthright friends – two of them English migrants (Barbara, Ruth and Pat) and they mentioned the ambiguities that come with that territory. Four of us are “Convinced” Friends (Felicity, Sally McG, Rosemary and me) and all roughly from the same vintage. There were two are newish attenders, (Karen and Ali), keen and interested.

After introductions we started to brainstorm ideas. We ended up with a list on the white board. Now these ideas have to be somehow clumped together into themes.

After the Meeting

 One of the topics on our list of panels is the “Quaker Collection”. This collection is held at the University of Tasmania, on the 5th floor of the library. I had a personal reason for going there, but I also wanted to check out the collection with the idea in my mind of doing a panel.

I had in my possession a small booklet entitled Recollections of Early Life by John Godlee. This memoir was written down by the daughter of John Godlee (1762-1841) in his 76th year and a copy was made by his son, my 2nd great grandfather (1815-1891) who migrated to Australia in 1838. This copy was made for the Australian family in 1888 and has been passed down to me. I wanted to donate it to the Quaker collection as it tells the story of an eighteenth century Quaker mariner. The women at the Collection were delighted to receive it. We had a photo taken of the hand over under the picture of the first Australian Yearly Meeting, 1927.

I was shown the shelves of minute books and other Quaker memorabilia and was overwhelmed. They said they had just received the Bill Oats archive. Apparently a lot of material is available in digital form and so it is an invaluable resource for Quaker historians everywhere and to embroidery panel designers in particular. The catalogue can be found here : library/research/special-and-rare-collections


 I drove home through the smoke, going over in my mind what I would write in my report, trying to link ideas from our brain storm into panels, and creating lists of more people to contact to build our Tasmanian section of the Australian Quaker Narrative Embroidery. I will now continue to try to contact people on my list and talk to them about the project, try to inspire them and see if more ideas come forward. Watch this space.




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