…Donald Macmillan has been described as ‘a dancer, singer and bard’ of ‘an easy-going disposition’. He is also remembered for giving commands to his sheep dogs in Gaelic…
Donald Macmillan (1799-1891) arrived at Port Phillip on the immigrant ship ‘Indus’ in December 1849. Donald, who originally came from the Ardnamurchan area on the west coast of Scotland, was a shepherd and Gaelic speaker on Breakachy farm in the Parish of Laggan, Invernesshire. A widower of age 50 years, he was accompanied by his family of seven children. His wife Catherine (nee Macpherson) had died the previous year.
Members of the Macpherson family travelling as cabin passengers in the same ship included his brother-in-law Captain Aeneas Macpherson. Captain Macpherson became a tenant and agent for Thomas Walker who held land along the Plenty at Yan Yean. Donald worked as a shepherd for Captain McPherson ‘until he paid off his passage money’ (97 pounds). In April 1854, Donald married Margaret Kerr and together they raised a second family of five children. Except for the eldest daughter Catherine, the children of the first family resettled in New Zealand. Donald has been described as ‘a dancer, singer and bard’ of ‘an easy-going disposition’. He is also remembered for giving commands to his sheep dogs in Gaelic.
In about 1866, Donald selected ‘lot 35a of 19 acres or thereabouts’ on the eastern side of the Arthurs Creek, adjoining the selection of his highland Scots neighbour, John McDonald. He also selected the adjoining lot 34 M2 of some 22 acres, where the old ‘Waitui’ homestead now stands, and later selected lot 17 of some 50 acres, to the east of the original selections. The original dwelling was built on the creek side of the road. This was replaced by a more substantial weatherboard homestead on the high side of the road, which has been added to over the years.
Some 298 acres of surrounding land on the downstream side of the Macmillan selections was selected by J. and D. Shawcross and sold to Charles Draper on 1 April 1875. The creek flats were developed as an extension of the Charnwood orchards. At this time the orchards were managed by Charles Draper and his sons (Bill) William Plenty and (Jim) James Draper.
In July 1889, Bill Draper married (Bel) Elinor Isabel Prout Williams, daughter of the head teacher at the local Arthurs Creek School. The couple moved into a new home known as ‘Dishleigh’, overlooking the creek flats on the downstream side of the Macmillan’s homestead. Here they raised their two children, (Julie) Julia Catherine (born July 1891) and (Charlie) Charles (born May 1893).
Bel was related to Louisa Heatley (nee Williams), mother of Helena Ruth Heatley. Helena (1873-1954) came from New Zealand to stay with her aunt (Marie) Elizabeth Maree, who ran a girls’ school in East Melbourne. Following the death of Marie’s husband James Lynar in 1891, Helena moved to Dishleigh at Arthurs Creek, where she helped care for the young Bill Draper’s family.
On the death of Donald Macmillan in 1891 at the age of 92, the working farm was left to his youngest son Hugh (1860-1955). Hugh, born at Yan Yean in 1860, ‘was his father’s main help and companion’. Hugh attended the Hazel Glen school in Chapel Lane, worked on the Wallaby Creek aqueduct, carried mail from South Yan Yean (Mernda) to Arthurs Creek and served as Superintendent of the Arthurs Creek Methodist Sunday School for over 50 years.
In March 1897, Helena Heatley married Hugh and moved next door into the Macmillan family homestead, which she named ‘Waitui’ (waterbird in her native NZ). Helena was ‘public spirited’ and ‘a good house manager’. In 1913 she commenced a comprehensive diary ‘of interesting events in the Macmillan family’. The diary, kept by Helena over 37 years, is currently being edited for publication.
The farm was operated as a family enterprise by Hugh’s three sons Kenneth Donald, Colin Montgomery and Hugh Campbell ‘who stayed on the farm to the end of their lives’. Helena Ruth Macmillan died on 9 November 1954 aged 81 years. Hugh died on 19 April 1955 aged 94 years.
Ken Macmillan (1899-1976) the eldest son of Helena and Hugh married Mabel Smale in April 1931. The couple moved into the Dishleigh home which was renamed ‘Braeside’. Later the family moved into the Waitui homestead. Ken was known for his work in pasture improvement. He served a term as an Eltham Shire Councillor from 1948 to 1951.
The property continued to grow under the careful management of Ken and his brothers Colin (ex AIF) and Cam and was extended with the purchase of land in Hildebrand Road, Eagles Nest Road and Chapel Lane. In the early 1980s land along Mine Road was subdivided into 20 acre lots and sold to satisfy the beneficiaries of three separate wills. Ken and Mabel had three children – Ian, Malcolm and Ross, who still live and farm on the property.
Today the Waitui homestead is a well-kept local landmark in a tranquil setting overlooking the Arthurs Creek flats. The weatherboard house and drop slab stable are a reminder of the pioneering spirit which made Donald Macmillan’s dream of owning his own farm come true.