In celebrating the International Women's Day 2021 theme, Choose to Challenge, we can reflect on the pioneer women of the Otways. One of the first women to settle in Beech Forest was Marie Rose Deppeler.
Born Marie Rose Le Feuvre in France in 1867 and arriving in Australia along with her brother and mother in 1878, Marie travelled to Beech Forest via Queensland, Bendigo and Geelong, with Godfried who she married at age 19.
Marie tells the story of her arrival, “with two young children we travelled by wagonette to Gellibrand then by bullock wagon through the unknown bush country over unmade roads to Ditchley Park where John Gardner had settled with his wife and family” Marie’s journey continued by horseback to the property that she lived on for the rest of her life.
Marie settled into her new life in a house built with the timber from one tree alone, which shows the enormity of the trees they cleared on their land. The family continued to grow and when her second baby was due, Marie rode by horseback to Colac up and down steep hills just before the baby was born returning the same way three weeks later, carrying the baby in her arms.
Providing the split palings for the new narrow gauge railway line in 1901 helped them with their livelihood, supplementing their farming income. The rail would have provided them with more opportunities and conveniences to their harsh daily life in Beech Forest.
Marie became a widow when Godfried died in an accident in 1909 leaving her with a three month old baby and ten other children to support on her own. With the help of family she struggled through only to lose her home to the 1919 bush fires.
Often the forgotten pioneers, history shows through photographs and archives that Australian women had great strength of character and perseverance setting up homes in remote locations such as the Otways often working outside the home as much as inside to provide for their families. Marie and other women pioneers in the Otways showed a special resilience living in the harsh conditions of their rainforest homes.