History explored

A passion for his family’s history was revealed by Wattle Range Council chief executive Ben Gower when the Millicent-based South East Family History Group recently emerged from a near year-long recess and resumed monthly meetings.

He was due to address the SEFHG a year ago but COVID protocols scuttled the usual program of guest speakers, Mr Gower lived for a while in Scotland and his talk focussed on historic Duffus Castle at Elgin. The area is associated with the Sutherland clan which is a branch of his family.

Three Sutherland brothers emigrated to the Millicent district in colonial times and prospered on the land and in business. Andrew, William and Peter were all born in Elgin in the 1840s and all were prominent in public life in their adopted homeland.

Between 1906 and 1922, Sutherland clan members were directors of The South Eastern Times newspaper. Mary was their younger sister and she eventually joined them in South Australia. She married into the local Bell family and her great, great grandson is Mr Gower.

The 53-year-old was formerly a Squadron Leader in the RAAF and spent time on secondment to the Royal Canadian Air Force. A significant portion of his 14 year career in the armed forces was as a navigator on Orion aircraft. From the Royal Air Force Lossiemouth base near Duffus Castle, Squadron Leader Gower joined the Canadians as they “hunted” for Russian submarines in the Arctic Circle.

“Duffus Castle was occupied by the Earls of Sutherland from 1140 until 1720 and it is now a ruin, “ Mr Gower said. “A number of people took the name of the boss although they were not related to the earls. “The Lossie River runs through Elgin in Scotland. “After we bought our small rural property near Millicent, we saw that Lossie Road is nearby.”

Mr Gower praised the work of the SEFHG. “This grass roots knowledge of family history is important to who we are.” Mr Gower has another association with the Wattle Range Council area dating back 80 years.

His paternal grandfather was responsible for building much of Nangwarry in the 1940s as he won the State Government contract to construct the sawmill and houses. Meanwhile, the SEFHG will next meet on March 25 for its yearly forum.

There will not be a guest speaker but SEFHG members are asked to take an item of Australian memorabilia to share.

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