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  • Writer's pictureKim M Horwood

The Junction

Curling around lush pastures and dividing country towns, the river is unaware of its power, breaking earth and man as it swells and diminishes with the seasons. It creeps alongside apple trees and dairies, never suspicious of our need to conquer it. Never knowing its quiet strength brings peace, we are fascinated by its tawny depths and spellbound by its calm. The river is never alone but its journey is lonely.

That is, until it reaches a place where currents converge and two muddied waters merge. Alone, the mighty river is revered, but when two rivers meet, it is the ultimate test of harmony, a compromise of nature. The unity of two great forces is to be admired. Their junction is a celebration.

For my ancestors, the junction became a sanctuary. They would follow their hearts to gather where the rivers joined. They came for hospitality and for song, and they came to repair and to grieve.

On the banks of the junction, where the Hunter River meets the Williams River, my family were the publicans of the Morris Hotel for over 50 years.

Established in 1836, George Morris became licensee in 1901, with his son, John, and John’s wife, Cissie, taking over in 1911.

In those pioneering days, the rivers and their junction were a hub, and the Morris Hotel became the perfect vantage point for boat races, beer, and wine from the Irrawang Vineyard, one of the first in the Hunter Valley and the first in Australia to export.

When paddle wheel steamboats began to replace rowboats on the river, Raymond Terrace was a favoured port, and the Morris Hotel, later the Morris Junction Inn, became popular with travellers. Sitting proudly near the intersection of the rivers, across the paddocks and fruit trees of Millers Forest, the Junction Inn is a Raymond Terrace icon, a place that grew in reputation for its homely rooms and hospitality. If home were miles away or if it were just around the corner, visitors and locals alike, would gather at this place that felt like home. They would enjoy an animated yarn with John; if Cissie were at the piano, they would let her music fill their ears and ease the worries of their day.

Cissie had an appreciation and deep love for the river. It was the lifeline that brought visitors and provided fish to feed them. A keen fisherwoman, Cissie not only had the river in her blood, but the region was in her DNA; her father was Dredge Master with the Harbours and Rivers Department, her uncle a shipbuilder, and her mother had been born at Duckhole Farm, on the fringes of Raymond Terrace.

Welcoming and gracious, John and Cissie Morris became icons. John was known for his genial humour and kindness, and Cissie for her charity, and the way she rolled up her sleeves to make the hotel one of the best conducted on the New South Wales coast. The Morris’s were community minded, attending social and church functions, and subscribing to the funds of most sporting bodies in the district. Cissie’s talents as a pianist were sought after for concerts, charity events, and parties.

Cissie and her sister, Aggie had both married Morris brothers. They came from large families, who knew hardship and tragedy, but supported each other, despite the distance and years between them. When Aggie’s husband and John’s brother, George Jnr died of pneumonia at only twenty-seven, Aggie was consumed by grief, and along with her three children, was taken in by Cissie and John. My grandfather was Aggie’s youngest child and was only four when his father, George died. He would call the Morris Junction Inn his home, into his adult years.

By the time my grandfather celebrated his eighteenth birthday, his Aunt Cissie was mourning his uncle’s death, but she would continue as licensee, without her beloved John. She had Aggie to help her cook meals, work the bar, and clean rooms, and her reputation was already widely known as a generous and sociable hostess with many guests returning regularly. The hotel was always full and loud, but there was nothing louder than the praise they had for Cissie.

Her service to the public was acknowledged in a lengthy obituary in the Dungog Chronicle in 1951. Even unwell, she worked until she could work no more. Just as the river was loved and revered, Cissie Morris died, loved and revered, following a short illness.

For our family, the spirit of the river surges through us, steadfast and strong. The junction provided my ancestors with a birthplace and a living. All that the river symbolises, are qualities that are borne into us – we are gracious and generous, proud and relentless, but bold and untamed.

Raised in the Morris Junction Inn, on the banks of the Hunter River, my grandfather, Jack Morris was a loud larrikin who could spin a yarn, just as his Uncle John had done before him. He served his community and then he served his country in WWII, by journeying great oceans to the Middle East and Papua New Guinea.

I never fully understood my grandfather’s journey and his relationship with the water, until long after he passed, but my brother, sisters, and I, have always had the utmost respect and pride for our family history. It was not until my brother passed recently, that I understood Sir Isaac Newton’s quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

My muse emerges from the shadows of the Junction Inn and dances with the ghosts of the Hunter River. But my true inspiration comes from standing on the shoulders of Morris giants.

(Photo of the Morris Hotel provided by Photo Time Tunnel.)

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