4 May 2023

Yass Valley loses one of its true countrywomen

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with giant marrow

Always at home in the country, particularly at agricultural shows, a young Enid Brooker at the Royal Easter Show in the 1950s. She loved to attend with her grandfather, a market gardener. Photo: Supplied.

Enid Valerie Lawton was one of those quintessentially productive countrywomen.

When your grandfather and father are both market gardeners, you learn quickly what grows and what doesn’t – and what it means to be productive. You also learn what it feels like, firsthand, when something you grow, finds itself decorated with blue ribbon or a highly commended certificate adorning it at the place where such things matter – like the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

Mrs Lawton, born Enid Brooker in Bowral on 8 June, 1934, was the fourth child of Walter Lyall Brooker and Elsie Brooker. One of six children, the first five were born two years apart and the last child 13 years later.

Paying tribute to her mother, who died on January 5 this year, her daughter Cheryl, of Gunning, spoke of her mother’s early happy childhood, growing up at Robertson in the NSW Southern Highlands.

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“Her family lived opposite the Robertson cheese factory, in a house that’s still there today,” Cheryl said.

“One of her memories was of going to Robertson Primary School and then Bowral High School and of when World War II started and all these children from Sydney came to live in the area. She told us all about practising drills in case of bombings. They would have to run outside into the trenches that were always full of water … luckily they were never used.”

Cheryl said another of her mother’s favourite stories, about growing up in the picturesque Southern Highlands, was how she used to cart the chooks round in the children’s dinky, treating them as her personal pets.

“They would also climb up onto the shed roof and then slide down the roof – only the gutters stopped them from falling off. Obviously there were no occupational health and safety officers in those days,” she joked.

Enid was only just a teenager when the family moved to Yass, mainly for better employment opportunities for the brothers – Don and Neil, both deceased now, and Brian and Graeme Brooker, along with older sister Lynece Joan Miller.

Picture of old woman

One of the last pictures of family matriarch Enid Brooker, taken at Christmas 2022. Photo: Supplied.

“Mum had to leave school at 13 when they moved to Yass,” Cheryl said, “when her younger brother Graeme was born, as her mother needed help. She had aspirations of becoming a hairdresser, but that never happened.”

Although Cheryl said, her mother would cut her children’s hair when they were young – and then that of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. One thing you could always be sure of, she said “you always ended up with a fringe”.

A keen sportswoman too, Cheryl said her mother loved playing hockey, tennis and netball, winning two trophies with the netball team in 1957 and 1958. “There is a photo of her with a black eye accepting the trophy. Must have been a rough game.”

The family’s first home in Yass was in Lead Street and it was here, in 1948, that they were to experience the sweet smell of business success – when the family bought its first cordial factory. It became known as Brooker’s Cordial – a familar name still to long-term residents of Yass today. The factory was in Meehan Street and business was good, with, in 1961, the family building a new cordial factory in nearby Church Street. Cheryl said family stories told of how the factory could produce up to 100 dozen drinks an hour – an average of around 450,000 bottles a year, not bad for a small family business in regional NSW at the time.

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In the 1950s, Enid regularly travelled to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney to help make the display out of local produce from the Robertson area of preserves, fruit and vegetables for the Southern Highlands exhibits stand.

In 1958, she met Wilford Edwin Lawton at a local dance in the Gunning Shire Hall and they were married the next year in Yass. They started their married life at “Leyton” on the Dalton Road at Gunning, where they lived until the last months of their lives at Horton House, Yass. Theirs was a great love story, according to Cheryl, “they were together until Dad passed away eight months prior to Mum’s death”.

Cheryl said her mother was proud of many things in her life – not least her convict history, which included connections to Mary Wade, a young convict girl who was sent out to Australia on the Second Fleet in 1790, the convoy of ships carrying settlers, convicts and supplies to Sydney Cove, notorious for its ill-treatment of convicts and harsh conditions aboard.

Mrs Lawton died at Yass District Hospital on 5 January, 2023 with family and friends attending her funeral service on 13 January at Craigs Hill Chapel, Goulburn.

She was the widow of Wilford (Ed, deceased), mother of Cheryl, Maree (deceased) and Dianne, grandmother of Amy and Nathan, and great grandmother of Tristian, Aurora, Jason and Arya.

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