☼ Gray Lads ☼

I’m seventh generation Australian … or so my old Nan said
She told me all about it as I perched upon her bed
’Twas in the days of sailing ships and chains that convicts wore
My old Nan didn’t realise it started long before
She told me all that she knew of this clan she’d wed into
Recognized in me the look that history I’d ensue

My great granddad’s great granddad was the first born on this isle
his father was the Earl’s black sheep; a scoundrel with such style
Until the red coats caught him on Erin’s green green shore
and shipped him to Australia to cite rebellion no more
Here we lost old Charlie Gray though once I looked him up
he’s listed in the first fleet mob Nan couldn’t have made that up

She went on another time to tell me of other Grays
The next one down left Sydney town to work upon the drays
His two sons started thinking as they watched the mountains blue
And after Cox and his lot broke the passage through
The two Gray boys took a herd and mustered it on down
to settle them near Wangaratta, strange name for a town

Now Ned he found a little lass but Georgie was the lad
Not one girl could tie him down though he wasn’t quite a cad
A year or two went blissfully by until a drought began
with their stock dropping off like flies, the boys looked up again
to the not so distant mountain slopes where others had taken cattle
and fattened them up, a real right treat, so their bones didn’t rattle

So good old Ned and Georgie lad took up their bestest beasts
expecting to find only slopes and rugged mountain peaks
they went straight over Dargo Plains and wandered down the other
stopping when their ears did pop on the banks of Cobungra River
George was happy to stop there and set them up a shack
but Ned didn’t like the bitter cold so he took his wife on back

Don’t tell the greenies of now days ‘twas my great great granddad’s lot
To help open up the alpine graze and destroy the mountain top
My brother would disown them, blame them for the ruination
such unique flora of this land by European invasion
The eldest son of the eldest son, not concerned by who came before
a gardener like our grandad, and like them, always wanting more

In later years I read a book in which the locals said
that old Ned Gray only had three girls and Georgie never wed
But Nan told me about them when I was but a lad … (?)
So one must have had some kind of son to be my great grandad
Could it be from the native lass that one took a fancy to?
Now wouldn’t that be dandy to learn I was so true blue

There was talk a Gray once worked the paddles on the mighty Murray
But the boat’s demise aimed accusing eyes and my great grandad did scurry
Or do I believe the other talk that he’d joined up with a band
of marauding thieving bushrangers that rode the central land?
How else could a lad like him procure such a glorious grand fortune?
Mind you it was just hearsay and at birth my mouth held no spoon

He did pop up in later years a hero of Kyneton town
With spade and pick he did a bit to make a botanic picnic ground
And in the evenings with great relish encouraged music for his conducting
Then he took his kids, travelling the digs, bringing joy to those prospecting
They entertained with such sweet sounds and a few of them did sing
My grandad Harry sang “Danny Boy” for a nugget to make a ring

A lad not twenty Harry boy did travel to Tobruk
And fighting there for England fair his lungs got mighty crook
But he came home to wed my Nan the nugget in his pocket
He got a mate to make it up; there weren’t enough to make a locket
My Nan held out her finger to show the gleaming band with pride
She said it would be mine some day to offer to my bride … (?)

The doctors said that it was best Harry worked out in fresh air
So a gardener the lad became and made dear Melbourne fair
They’d settled down in Footscray town and had three sons as well
My Dad was first Dear Lexy boy a strapping lad so swell
But Lex grew tired of schooling ways so became a fitter and turner
He never drove those dangerous cars but he’d fix his brothers’ learner

Now Lexy boy excelled with voice so the opera company took him
There he met my darling Mum; … by geeze did she annoy him!
A dancer sweet upon her toes charming and smart too
She held the curtain many a time, … occasion led what she’d to do
How on earth did they pair up? No wonder I’m a mess
They had five kids; I’m the middle one, the rest you’ll have to guess

But Dad took to me especially, ’though a father shouldn’t favour
We shared red hair and twinkling eyes, wanderlust and labour
I’d stay with Nan while he worked in town or whacked a ball around
With cricket bat or hockey stick on all the weekend grounds
We were the Sunshine musketeers nestled ’tween the country tracks
My memories are happiest there I wish that they’d come back

Each time we visited old Nan we’d take a rattler red
But the chaos the trip created would fill me full of dread
I’d pick a garden posy, wrap the stems in rainbow paper
It occupied my fearful mind throughout my mother’s caper
My Nan would smile and smell its blooms ’though no fragrance daisies had
But she’d ’can’t them in her special vase and keep it by her bed

When Nan got sick it was my Mum to down tools and nurse her right
And left us kids to live alone, because Dad took off one night
When Nan slid the ring to pass to me; Mum read the inscription it bore
Nan cried; she’d never taken it off; never knew the love she wore
Then Nan died and I too young, my sister bore my wreath
Of violets lavender and rosemary and daisies from the street …

My sister got the old upright how well it held its tune
And other cousins scrambled for the auctioneer came soon
But she’d promised me the Gray Lad’s ring and all the family knew
Except it went to Dad’s next wife and caused a hullabaloo
My Nan would be spinning in her grave to think that woman wore
The ring that held the Gray lad’s love and promised to me by lore

Still the same, throughout my teens I led a double life
Adventurous with Dad and Mum; placated with his wife
And every time I saw it strangling that fat and painted finger
I’d point to it and say to her that’s my family’s ring … dear
One day she suddenly held it out and said that it was mine
And funny how, now it was off, her finger sure felt fine

It sits upon my finger now, not likely my wedding band
Never will I slip it down the finger of a dainty hand
My old Nan’s eyes must have failed her and her memory suffer too
How she never twigged, I’m no grand*son*, no one ever knew
She thought me the one to follow on the great Gray lad tradition
But I have to say since I grew up I noticed something missin’

So please kind sir don’t think me wed even though I wear this band
Ask me nice and I just might, have you slide it on my other hand

☼ Gray Lads ☼


Frankston, Australia

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

This was the story my Nanna told me when I was a girl. mind you I was a girl and I could not prove anything! but there was a few rather scary co-incidences I discovered more than 20 years after the darling woman’s death. perhaps I got things wrong but where else would I know the stories from?

Now I have to say since I wrote this my cousin came up with the real family tree and I have posted the excerpt of my great great grandfather’s arrival So yes my Great grandfather and my grandfather were curators of note in Kyneton and Footscray but sadly it means I couldn’t be related to the Charles Gray from the first fleet nor the two Gray lads who opened up the High Plains [my brother will be happy about that!] yet how did Nanna know these things?

But most of my conscious life I have lived with these stories as my family lore and so I still hold them dear to my heart and soul as I feel them a part of who I am.

Anyway this still sounds like a fun rollicking yarn, true or not
I hope you enjoy it anyway! ♥

• The bit about my ring is real at least and Mick can’t wait to slip it onto the correct finger! lol

• My parents were in the National Theatre Company in Melbourne during the 1950’s – Dad a tenor “Alexander Gray” & Mum the ballerina “Lorna Smart”

• Edward Gray was the inaugural Curator of the Kyneton Botanical Gardens and his son Harold worked as his successor while also being the curator of the Sunshine Gardens – which also worked in conjunction with the City of Melbourne vegetating the parks and land around – funny how 80 years later my brother now works to revegetate what our grandfather planted and he hisses about the damage the introduced species have done to the land as he tries to return it to indigenous natives lol

• Edward Gray also brought music to Kyneton with the Kyneton Music Society and many a night my grandfather and his siblings slept to the raucous of practicing brass bands in the front room!

Music is very much a part of my soul and that of my siblings and my children, although the green thumb completely eluded me! I can kill the unkillable! lol ☼

Artwork Comments

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