Recently Ian and I visited Kirsten, Nick, Ashar and Trevor at the wonderful Milkwood property outside of Mudgee. We were all having a cup of tea after touring the farm, and chatting about P.A. Yeomans and the wider Yeomans clan. All of the sons (Neville, Ken, Allan) have gone on to do interesting things with their lives. Each of the sons contributed to P.A.’s book The City Forest (which I explored here): Ken wrote a back-cover-blurb entitled “For Youth”; Neville wrote the Foreword; and Allan the Afterword.
But, as Kirsten asks in her email,:
What was the story with P.A.’s wife? I was thinking about the sons this evening and realised I had no idea about her, or where she intersected with Yeoman’s work, the sons’ take on things, etc…
Good question Kirsten!
Well, when I opened up a copy of the book The Challenge of Landscape, 1958, I discovered that the foreword was in fact written by Rita Yeomans. She begins:
This book of my husband’s is the natural outcome of the results of “The Keyline Plan”, published in 1954.
So there you go! Yeomans’ wife WAS heavily involved in what was going on in the “family business”. This is evidenced by the rest of the foreword. (You can read the whole thing here. Check out the handsome book cover, here).
It’s clear that Rita had a really clear understanding of the importance of the Keyline principles of landscape design:
The interest shown in [P.A.’s] efforts over the last four years has been outstanding, and visitors from all over the world have continued to visit our places.
His Keyline Plan has been admired, condemned, criticised, accepted in part and even pirated in part. Many have tried out sections of his plan on various types of properties and farms, and where faithfully carried out, has yielded results that have been more than satisfactory.
It also seems that Rita had a significant “public relations” role (as we would call it these days). She received visitors to the various Yeomans farms and showed them around, explaining the transformation of run-down, neglected or abused landscapes to good green pastures and water-filled dams. Her interactions with female visitors are particularly insightful:
My experiences […] have been interesting, sometimes exasperating, and often amusing. There was the woman who arrogantly demanded to be shown through the “Nevallan” home and became quite indignant when politely told it was a private property. A charming old lady in her eighties tramped around the paddocks and her interest and enthusiasm were infectious. Another, a woman doctor, became so keen during a visit that she vowed on her return to the country practice her land-owning patients should receive large doses of Keyline with her course of treatment whenever she visited them. Others arrive for a quick inspection, checking their watches on arrival and allotting perhaps a fifteen minute “stay”. These people usually are on their way from the city to their inland properties and the visit to our place is to be “just a passing look”. They generally remain for hours. One couple had four young children and a long journey ahead of them. They arrived about lunch time, but it was dark before the husband finally agreed to leave. His wife had my sympathy that day.
In her Foreword, a portrait emerges of Rita as – how should I put it? pragmatically loyal – to her man:
On first inspecting Kencarley” [at Orange] as prospective buyers the weather was hot, the country dry, and the area altogether extremely discouraging and uninviting. I looked at its rundown, neglected appearance, heavily covered with scrub and trees, the barren soil, and broken fences – even the house was uninhabitable. My husband said to me, “Well, what do you think of it?” and my answer was, “If it wasn’t for Keyline and tractors I wouldn’t want to touch it.”
Over here, in a book by Allan Yeomans, I found another trace of Rita. She was, it seems, a trustee of The Keyline Research Foundation. Here’s a picture of her (at far left) in August 1955. I’ve copied Allan’s full caption for the photo beneath, as it describes many of the things Rita did, and shows the illustrious Keyline team, in which she was an accepted full member:
The Ten Trustees of the Keyline Research Foundation taken at the second meeting of Trustees, August 1955.
From left to right: Mrs. Rita Yeomans (my mother), who entertained, advised and catered for often up to one hundred unexpected visitors at the Nevallan farm – almost every week. In addition she was involved with the Flying Doctor Service, the English Speaking Union and the Country Women’s Association. She also managed the Brahman stud operation on the farm. Mrs. Anthony Horden, Jnr., managed her own Southdown stud at Culcain (N.S.W.) Anthony Hordern Jnr, President of the N.S.W. Sheepbreeders’ Association. A grazier running Merino and Romney Mash stud sheep, and also a beef cattle breeder. Professor J.R A McMillian, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. C.R. McKerehan, President of the Rural Bank of New South Wales. P.A. Yeomans (my father), President of the Keyline Foundation, Grazier, Mining Engineer, Originator of Keyline Plan, author of several books on agriculture. Professor Sir C. Stanton Hicks, Professor of Human Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Adelaide, Scienti?c Food Consultant to the Australian Army and founded the Australian Army Catering Corps during World War II. David R McCaughey, (Sir) Chairman N.S.W. Elder Smith Goldsborough Mort, grazier of Borambola Park Beef Shorthorn stud, Wagga (N.S.W.). John Darling, Chairman and Managing Director of Darling and Co.Ltd (?our milling and stock-food ?rm). He was also director of various companies including British Petroleum Co. of Australia, Alcoa of Australia, Perpetual Trustees Australia, Consolidated Metals, and Commonwealth Mining Investments. Harold N. Sarina, Organizing Secretary Keyline Research Foundation. (former long term secretary of the Sydney Royal Agricultural Society, (R.A.S.) where he was Executive Of?cer and Registrar from 1933 to 1955. He was also an agriculture and livestock consultant. And G.B.S. Falkiner (not shown), of Haddon Rig Merino Stud, Warren (N.S.W.), Vice President of N.S.W. Sheepbreeder’s Association, chairman of the Industrial Committee of the Nuclear Foundation and a member of the Council of the N.S.W. Bush Nursing Association.
Here she is, blown up a bit:
There is a less cheerful ending to this story, I’m afraid. According to this account, Allan Yeomans says that after writing the Foreword to The Challenge of Landscape, his mother lived for only another six years:
Rita Yeomans died 1964 and the two original Keyline properties at North Richmond N.S.W. were sold to pay death duties.*
… and later on, Yeomans had another family:
P. A. Yeomans married Jane Radek in 1966 and they had two daughters, Julie and Wendy.
I’ve not seen mention of Jane, Julie and Wendy elsewhere (which doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there – I’m no expert and haven’t seen all of Yeomans’ books yet…)
Anyway, at least this meagre piece of research goes a little way to answering Kirsten’s question about Yeomans’ wife/wives. It’s an important question to have asked, because this farming business can seem to be very much dominated by male forces (especially when big handsome pieces of earth-shaping machinery are in question).
I hope more on Rita and Jane comes to light for us, while we continue to explore the world of Yeomans.
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*[I have to say, I don’t know enough about taxation law to properly understand this. Two pieces of land had to be sold, just because Rita died?? That seems a bit unfair. There’s what looks like a good essay here about death duties (and their 1978 abolition) here, for anyone who might make better sense of them than I…]