A Conversation with Meg Pherson from Jo-Anne Berthelsen’s Novel Down by the Water

Welcome! Now you grew up in a place many may never have heard of. Can you tell us about it?

Yes, my name was Margaret Porter back then, but I’ve been Meg McPherson for many years now. Before marrying Richard in 1910, I lived in the small, country town of Helidon in the Lockyer Valley area of south-east Queensland, Australia. I loved painting down by the creek, where the trees overhung the water and where I could hear and see lots of native birds. We lived in an old, wooden house high off the ground, with a wide veranda all round. I had a happy childhood there, although my mother always wanted me to help out more with household jobs. Thankfully, Isobel came to work for us and saved me so many times from getting into trouble. 

What did you want to be when you left school?

At first, I had no idea. My parents wanted me to be a nurse or a teacher, but in the end, they let me stay home and I continued painting and learning the piano, as well as helping my mother with my baby brother, Jimbo. They also tried to get me to learn more about things like cooking and sewing—my father was certain some local boy would soon want to marry me. However, I wanted to keep painting and having fun—and eventually, my parents let me go to Brisbane to study art. It was all so exciting, but everything changed when Jimbo died.

It’s so hard when tragedy strikes in a family. How did you cope with this?

I was home on holidays when it happened. I loved Jimbo and would never, ever have let him get hurt, but my mother blamed me for it—and I guess I blamed myself too for being so selfish and wanting to go off and paint. I gave up my art course and vowed I would never paint again. Then when Richard proposed a second time, I decided to accept him. I admired him a lot and saw this as an opportunity to leave home and start afresh somewhere.

I understand you’ve had good friends who helped you in your faith journey. Can you tell us about them?

Isobel was such a loyal friend and was always patient and gentle with me, even when I was so angry with God. And when she came to stay with us after my miscarriage, she was such a help. Reverend Fisher, our local minister in Brisbane, was wonderful too and managed to get me to start painting again. Then once we moved to Harrisville, God provided me with Hettie, a lovely friend who was like a mother to me. Later, Emma came along—and I loved spending time with her too.

How has pursuing your interest in art helped you on your journey?

It’s been so life-giving and fulfilling to be able to paint whenever I get a spare moment. I love being by myself painting, particularly down near a river or creek somewhere—that’s where I feel God’s presence the most. And I love blessing others with my paintings too.

Tell us a little about your family.

My husband Richard still works long hours and does so much in the community as well, including at our church. We have five children—Alice, Robert, Elizabeth, Jane and, last but by no means least, our youngest, Stephen. I’m so proud of them all.

What sort of future do you envisage for yourself and your family?

I would love it if Richard were not so busy with everything, but he likes it that way. For the children, above all, I want them to love God wholeheartedly and to be happy and fulfilled in life, whether they marry or remain single. As for me, I hope to continue spending time with God as I paint and ministering to my family and others for a long while yet. 

Thanks so much, Meg, for allowing us to get know you a little more.

Jo-Anne Berthelsen is an Australian author of seven published novels and two non-fiction works, Soul Friend and Becoming Me. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked in teaching, editing and local church ministry. Jo-Anne loves encouraging others through both the written and spoken word and is a keen blogger. To read more about Jo-Anne or to purchase her books, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com. Jo-Anne’s latest novel is also available in print and e-book format on Amazon (US) and Amazon Australia.