Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lady of the Swamp

Lady of the Swamp was one of my favourite books. I have read it a few times. The author, Richard Shears, was on tv last night and I suddenly connected the name. While not a literary masterpiece, it was a great read.

It mentioned areas in South Gippsland that I know well from my teen years, a flat in Alma Road St Kilda, walking up St Kilda Road to Flinders Street Station carrying a hurricane lamp to catch a train to Tarwin Lower.

There is some info about the book here, but I will flesh it out a bit more.

The land their property was on had been a swamp. It depended on channels to drain the land and once these were no longer maintained, they silted up and the land became boggy and unusable. The house was on a high part of land and was still there in the early eighties when we stayed at a holiday house at Sandy Beach. We went for a drive on a wet day and checked and we were fairly sure which one it was.

The caveat put on the house in the early twenties was not discharged until toward the end of Margaret's life. For thirty years they did battle with legal people and tried to push the Public Prosecutor to take up their case. For early years they relied on food parcels from relatives. Later years they survived on canned food from the Tarwin Lower store. They had no idea how to cook anyway, let alone clean or maintain a house. In the winter they had to wade through the swamp to the store. The sister Jeannie died sometime before Margaret's suspicious death.

Stanley and Esme Livingstone are well dead now and last lived on an island off the Queensland coast. Although they were very kind to her for some years before her death and were half way to building her a house, my suspicions fall on him.

Here are a couple of photos from the book. Click on them to enlarge them. No idea who to credit them to, but the book's publisher was Thomas Nelson Australia and it was published in 1981. If you want to read the book, happy hunting.


  1. I loved this post, thanks for sharing a story that is close to your heart.
    Tarwin Lower, well, I'll be darned, I went there many a time with my best friend, who, until 3 years ago, lived in Leongatha. We went out for dinner in Tarwin Lower once, I think it was Italian Cuisine from memory...I was about 19 years old and well, I was a nursing student and I liked my wine :) We went to see a band at the local aswell, a friend of ours had a great group going and she could sing so well, covered the song "Black Velvet" like it was her own :)
    Back to your story, it is sad the old ladie's death is under scrutiny, there is just something I cannot put my finger on..it is in the eyes of Esme's Husband in that image where she is pouring him some tea.

  2. I did not notice that about his eyes until you mentioned it. I see what you mean.

    So there is a township of Tarwin Lower. Damn R's fixed holidays in either too hot and peak season summer or the middle of winter. So many local places I would like to go.

  3. This was the first of the three mysteries that have had me intrigued.

    I remember as a primary school kid poring over the reports of this, and that photo of her with the dingo comes back to me as if it were yesterday - like some smells (boiled cabbage ... errrgh, puke ... always does it to me) that drag you back to almost forgotten memories.

    Also remember the story gave me nightmares as frightening as the ones I had after watching the tornado scene in "The Wizard of (Don't call me Frances Judy Shirley Gumm!!!) Oz".

    The other two are the disappearance of the Beaumont kids and the Bogle-Chandler deaths.

    Right up there in "I'd give my right arm to know what happened" territory.

  4. We have heard a bit about both the lattter cases of late. Lady of the Swamp is less well known, but to me more fascinating. They will all crop up again. Did you hear the Bogle Chandler deaths tv piece won an award.

  5. its great to see others taking an interest in this story aswell.im about a year too late to comment on this thread but oh well...........

    tullaree is still standing today,from the road u can see a corner of the iron roof and a couple of the chimneys,but unless u knew where to look u wouldnt even know there was a house there. up untill a year ago i lived about 10-15 mins from tullaree,there is a signpost with tullaree on it but no signage on the property gate.i think the original book is quite rare now,and what a wonderfull book it is,i love antiques and old houses and the story of "the lady of the swamp" is so fascinating.i have the original book and also the most recent release by richard shears "swamp-who killed margaret clement" this book has a lot more pictures and some of them are great shots of the home then and now.my distant relatives knew margaret and lived close by on a neighbouring farm,i remember the story from when i was younger.it is one of the most interesting stories ive read,u lay there at night reading the book and i can picture that old house and how it must have been in them days.............
    thanks for the blog andrew :)

  6. Thanks Lilrichy. Very interesting. I will re-mention the post and that there is a new comment. Was there a row of cypress trees along the driveway leading to the house?

  7. This story has fascinated me for years, particularly as I have a house at Walhalla, where Margaret's father made his fortune as a transport operator and mining director. With only two real suspects, I think that Livingstone was the culprit. Apart from the sinister photo taking tea with Esme, the book points out that having legally secured the property, he wouldn't have wanted Margaret to remain in the house and lost his temper at some point. Finally, at the 1980 coronial inquest, the Coroner stated the Livingstones were not honest witnesses. The cops must have been furious!

  8. Obviously fascinates me too. You know about Walhalla Rob? Can I ask you about something? ripppon at yahoo.com

  9. Anonymous9:25 pm

    I sent a response to you re Walhalla a few weeks back - did you get it?


  10. No, sorry I didn't Rob. Sometimes genuine emails are labelled as spam, so I always check the spam box. S'pose I could have missed it. Would you mind trying again, perhaps via the email link in my blog profile.

  11. Take two Rob. Sorry, my fault entirely. I have got it. I will reply tomorrow.

  12. I hope LilRichey above is still reading you as it sounds like he would go to the open day.

    the name CLEMENT jumped at me:
    the mother of your Grandfather's grandmother was Clement, so I had to wonder if this Margaret is a descendant of the same one.
    Life is a lot of overlapping circles.

  13. Think it was just a one off read Ann.

  14. hello, i was just wondering, ive read and i own the lady from the swamp book. But is the new book by richard shears the same like story but more pictures, or is it totally different?

  15. Hi James. It is quite some time since I bought the new edition but from memory, there wasn't a lot extra in it. More photos, yes. Funny, why isn't my copy on a bookshelf. Hmmm.

  16. http://www.castironbalcony.com/2013/09/04/more-gippsland-gothic-the-play/


    Googling ("margaret clement"swamp) results in a fascinating collection of stuff for a long read. The cops lost the body is my favourite part.

  17. Here is a proper link to Helen of the Blogger On A Cast Iron Balcony (and incidentally Hal Porter whose title that is was a Bairnsy identity and there is a HP museum there).

    1. Thanks Em Stacks. I hadn't read Helen's posts. Very interesting.