Updated: Sep 27, 2018
In smaller communities there is often one character who has been there long enough to be considered a local and, therefore, has touched many lives around them. In Stanthorpe and the greater Granite Belt region, Jean Harslett falls into this category. Time and again people tell me I must speak to her; she will have all the answers to my questions. Jean was born in Stanthorpe and, in 1951, married Rob Harslett and moved to a farm at Amiens. This is the original resettlement farm Rob’s father received after the war.
This farm is on Harslett Road, Amiens.
Jean had an enormous interest in the history of the Stanthorpe District, which led to her co-authoring the book They Came to a Plateau and other history booklets of local schools and organisations.
Walking out in a sprightly manner for someone staring down 90 years old, she is dressed in trousers and a long-sleeved shirt tucked in with a practical belt. Flat lace-up shoes complete the ensemble that gives the impression she is ready to go roaming anywhere on the property at a moment’s notice, and often does. A wide smile welcomes me into her home.
Entering the house, Jean’s passions are clearly on display.
She eagerly reaches for glass containers of alarming-looking bugs and other creatures. I admit I have no knowledge of, nor particular fondness for, insects, but this does not deter her from a detailed explanation of various bugs stuck on pins. I hear from others that this is a usual welcome into her home – her lifelong passion for insects, butterflies and beetles since she was aged 12.
Her enthusiasm and natural charm are welcoming as I sit down for a ‘cuppa’ tea and a chat.
‘They came to this selected block after the war,’ Jean says. ‘The soldier-settlers took up all these settlement farms. From the family I hear we got the pick of the blocks because we had quite a choice of the land and we could grow apples and we could grow stone fruit, and we even had a few grapes and vegetables. I think they were proud of the farm.’
Jean says there is a great deal of interest from the community about the story of the soldier-settlers.
‘I have a large map of all the resettlement farms, and there are a lot people interested in seeing where all the farms are in Amiens and around,’ she says. ‘If they have family involved, they are all very interested.
‘I didn’t know Rob’s (my husband’s) mother or father. But I know he thought Mrs Harslett was a very remarkable lady. She came from England. I never met her, and I was always sorry I hadn’t because the family sort of worshipped her as a very special person.’
Sadly, Jean passed quite soon after our chat, aged 90.
She had involved herself in many organisations in the Stanthorpe district, including a strong dedication to the development of the Stanthorpe Museum that today houses the ‘Jean Harslett Research Room’.
Museum curator Lorene Long smiles fondly, eager to reminisce about her friend and mentor. She explains they had been invited to bring Jean’s research books, documents and other paraphernalia to the museum.
‘We have archived all this,’ she says, waving an arm at an impressive array of neatly arranged boxes of documents. ‘We still have all this to do.’ (The arm waves at another rather daunting pile.)
Jean was a very busy woman, I suggest. Lorene nods enthusiastically and says that Jean was a wonderful woman.
‘We had a commemorative event at Jean’s garden,’ Lorene says. ‘So many people in the community wanted to pay their respects. Oh, there must have been a few hundred came through during the day.’
Jean had certainly etched her name into the annals of the Stanthorpe district and its people through her passionate pursuits and voluntary work for her community.
I suspected there were others like Jean over in Europe doing their part to retain the history of this time.
I needed to dig them out.