The Lady of the Swamp

clement

The Bookgrrl/MrBG marriage is a mixed one. I barrack for Geelong, he doesn’t barrack for anyone, he was a John fan to my Paul, and we’re from opposites side of the state, which makes for a long Christmas road trip.

Mr BG is a Gippsland boy and grew up on dairy farms in South Gippsland and later, in his teens he lived in Leongatha when his parents retired from farming.

As a girl who had lived most of her life in Western Victoria and Geelong, I had only visited Gippsland once in my life and my scant knowledge about this region when I first met  him was two things

1. Traralgon smelt funny.

2. I’d read a book in my teens about a lady who had lived in a swamp in Gippsland and who mysteriously disappeared.

To my surprise, Mr BG declared that not only did he know about the Lady of the Swamp, but that it was nearby to where he had lived in Tarwin Lower- in fact about less than 10 km from where his parents farmed.

The Lady of the swamp was Margaret Clement, a woman who had bought with her sister Jeanie a property called Tullaree, from the trust established by their father. However, due to little experience at running a cattle station and employing a series of managers who were either inept or greedy, the property fell into disrepair. The land, which was largely reclaimed swamp, returned to its orginal state when the irrigation channels began to silt up. Margaret came to the attention of the public when her sister Jeanie died, and she was befriended by a couple. Then she disappeared…

I had read the Lady of the Swamp by Richard Shears in my voracious “I’ll read anything including the side of a cereal packet phase”- a phase I am yet to move out of. I re-read it 10 years ago, a fragile, well-read copy from the State Library of Victoria,  and it was still a great read. Given that I now knew many of the places mentioned, it had a greater resonance. Thankfully, Richard Shears published an updated version of the original and I finally got a copy of my own.

Called “Swamp: who murdered Margaret Clement?” it expands upon the original, published in 1981 and hints at the most likely scenario. No one was ever charged with her murder, if she was indeed murdered, and for the people of Gippsland, it remains as a local mystery.

There are also newspaper reports of the case available on Trove (see http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18503278 and http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/23228847 ) and when one of the main protagonists in the story passed away, a local paper made mention of her connection to the mystery

http://www.curtisisland.com.au/curtis-island-articles/1993/10/9/wife-takes-swamp-lady-secret-to-grave/

The homestead where Margaret Clement lived is called Tullaree and situated between Tarwin Lower and Buffalo. It’s a private property but it hosted an once-only open day in 2009 to fund a local secondary school. It was said the place was packed with curious locals and avid readers of the book!

I think the next time we’re down that way, we’ll be taking the book and going exploring :).

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