An enormous, if not altogether flattering, portrait of a matronly dame of Ballarat holds pride of place in Jan Rehfisch's Newington home, on what she calls the wall of her 'gallery of rogues'.
After reading The Courier's story about the history of Ballarat East last week, and the loss of its impressive Town Hall, she felt it was time to tell the tale of the conspicuously-named John Nankiville Dunn and his wife Mary Jane, nee Steer.
Now 80, Mrs Rehfisch is herself connected to two of the famous names of Ballarat, as the oldest family of gunsmiths and sellers still going in the town, and the well-known firm of carters, Kennedy-Murray, whose offices were based at the Ballarat railway yards and whose extensive stables still exist in buildings on Creswick Road.
She's also a fabulously entertaining storyteller, as the tale of the portrait of Mary Jane Dunn, nee Steer, demonstrates.
"Just after we were married, we bought this little house in Ajax Street," Mrs Rehfisch says.
"My mother-in-law lived over in Grove Street. Ron, my late husband, came home from there one day with this thumping great big oil painting, and he said, 'Mum says to have a look at this,' - and this is in the days you were allowed to have incinerators in the backyard - 'have a laugh, and then burn it."
Anyway I said 'You can't do that, that's one of your ancestors!'Jan Rehfisch
"Well I looked at it, and it was filthy. It had a thumping great big tear in the corner of it. Anyway I said, 'You can't do that, that's one of your ancestors!'
"So I left it in the garden shed for I don't know how many years, and then I decided - there was a chap who took over in the Art Gallery and was doing restorations, I couldn't tell you his name, and he was restoring it for us in the back of the old Exchange garage which is now whatever it is on Lydiard Street.
"So I took her down there and got it all done, we just about got divorced over it, it cost me about $750 back in those days. I came back, hung her up on the wall, and she looks magnificent.
"Time goes by and my husband comes home from the store - Rehfisch's was in Mair Street at the time - and he's cackling away, and I said 'What's up your nose?'
"He said, 'I had this big bloke come into the store this morning,' and I said, 'Yeah, you have a lot of big blokes come into the store,' and my husband said, 'All he says to me is 'You've got the female, and I've got the male.'
"And it turns out he lives up in Sydney and he wanted...'
IN THE NEWS:
At this point we have to stop, because The Courier agreed with Mrs Rehfisch that her nickname for Mrs Dunn in the portrait wasn't entirely flattering. We'll just suggest it may have connotations of a rendered animal product. We continue:
"Anyway Ron said to him, 'You're more than welcome to go up and get it, but I don't think you'll get out of the place alive. Jan will kill you.'
"So he went off in a real rot. And I found out it was painted by Stanton from a photo that we've got too."
Mrs Rehfisch is referring to Thomas Stanton Bowman, a very well-respected society portrait painter who moved to Ballarat in 1893 and was a prolific recorder of local dignitaries and councillors.
"I knew the portraits were of the Dunns, and he was the mayor of Ballarat East. And she sits on my wall in the house and she looks gorgeous. But I NEVER knew her first name! Anyway they're sadly separated now, Mr Dunn is somewhere up in Sydney, and she's here."
Mary Jane Dunn had three daughters and three sons with John Nankiville Dunn, who was indeed mayor of Ballarat East four times between 1891 and 1913, in a period when mayors were exclusively male and did not hold office for more than a term consecutively. He was also an MLA in the Victorian Parliament for five years, and lived to the great age of 91, dying in 1930; Nankiville was his mother's maiden name.
"So her name is Mary Jane Steer?" Mrs Rehfisch asks as we work through the Dunns' proud history.
"Well that seems fair; I'd reckon she'd move a wool wagon quite well."
History, it seems, is never fair, and rarely kind.
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