Nessie's veil a true legend

The Lockhart family wedding veil is far more than traditional headwear.

Myfanwy Macfarlane with the photo of her mother, Margaret Connick wearing the veil. Picture: CAITLIN McARTHUR

Myfanwy Macfarlane with the photo of her mother, Margaret Connick wearing the veil. Picture: CAITLIN McARTHUR

Also known as Nessie's veil, the headpiece has been worn by a total of 27 brides, the vast majority of whom called the Mallee home.

More than an heirloom, the veil tells the tale not only of a growing family, but of a time in the region when the community had to band together to survive.

The 3.5 metre long Honiton lace veil was first purchased by Agnes 'Nessie' Lockhart from a Melbourne store in 1928 after she became engaged.

Ms Lockhart wore the veil when she married Norman Hackett in 1929 in a tiny weatherboard Presbyterian Church, just outside of Piangil, in the middle of a Mallee dust storm.

According to the National Library of Australia archives, the minister who married the pair, Reverend J.Eric Owen, also officiated the weddings of several of the brides wearing Nessie's veil. 

Almost 90 years on, the veil, made fragile by age, is now kept in temperature controlled conditions in the National Library of Australia (NLA) in Canberra, along with a collection of photos of the brides who wore it.

The photographic history depicts 26 of the 27 brides who were married in the veil during the course of 66 years.

The veil was donated to the NLA in 2005 by Jennifer Hadlow and her sister Rosemary where it has remained ever since.

Ms Hadlow said the NLA "seemed the best place for it".

"We donated it because quite frankly it was so old it just couldn't be worn again after my niece Jane wore it; it was just so fragile and couldn't be used again as a bridal veil," Ms Hadlow said.

"I had become the sort of guardian of the veil after my mother's death in 1975 and I also had all the photos in my keeping."

Having volunteered at the NLA for "around 19 to 20 years", Ms Hadlow said the veil seemed like something that would fit right in with the other 9 million items the library stores.

"They were thrilled to bits. I doubt they would have accepted it if it was just the veil, but with all the historic photos that went with it they thought it was really something special," she said.

Ms Hadlow said five of Nessie's sisters wore the veil, along with four sisters-inlaw, a few extended family members and a number of people around the district.

Nessie was a valued member of the community beyond her generosity with the veil.

"She also nursed most of the district just because she was the only person who was trained to do it," Ms Hadlow said.

Passed down through the family, Nessie's veil tells the story of a life in the Mallee region at a tough time.

Swan Hill's Myfanwy Macfarlane is the great-granddaughter of Nessie and said her mother Margaret 'Peggy' Lockhart was one of several generations of brides to wear the veil.

"My mother is a sister of Nessie, there were 11 of them, six girls and five boys in the family," Ms Macfarlane said.

Farmers by trade, the Lockhart family were based in Goodnight, a small town with just over 200 residents today, which sits on the NSW side of the Murray River.

"As you can imagine with 11 kids they were the centre of the Goodnight population, with them being very musical and that," she said.

The veil was passed between immediate family members and those who married in.

"All of the sisters and all of the sisters-in-law wore it, plus a few others around," she said, adding it was tradition for the women of the family to wear the piece on their big day.

"It was taken for granted that they would all wear it, I have pictures of most of the sisters wearing it," she said.

While the family wore the veil in the name of tradition Nessie also lent the veil out to many other women around the region.

Ms Macfarlane said it was common practice at the time for veils, dresses and "whatever else" to be shared between families with many in the area facing economic hardship.

"Certainly during the war years people used to borrow dresses and all that sort of thing. I have my mother's wedding dress here, it was made for her but a lot of times they were shared among people," Ms Macfarlane said.

Ms Hadlow said a picture was the one thing Nessie required when she lent out her veil, requesting one photo of the bride wearing the item on her big day.

Women from Swan Hill, Piangil, Robinvale, Castlemaine and beyond walked down the aisle with Nessie's veil flowing behind them.

Ms Hadlow was the 24th, marrying her husband Robert Hackett in Swan Hill in 1963.

Jane Hyde (now Jane Merchant), Nessie and Norman's granddaughter was the last bride to wear the veil when she wedded Mark Merchant in Orange, NSW in 1995.

Nessie's veil clearly holds a special place in Ms Macfarlane's heart, despite never having worn it herself. 

"The veil is just exquisite, I had never seen it in person until my parents' 60th wedding anniversary," Ms Macfarlane said.

While she had seen the photos of the many brides wearing the piece Ms Macfarlane was curious to see the famous veil in person and asked her cousin, Jennifer Hadlow, to bring it with her when she attended the celebration.

"She brought it down from Canberra and it was just incredible, I'd love to see it again of course," Ms Macfarlane said, adding she might make a trip to the NLA in the future to see it "one more time".

The veil's story also inspired Ms Macfarlane to carry on the legacy in her own way.

"I made a veil and embroidered it for my daughter's wedding.

She has only got sons but I feel it will be an heirloom, I'm very proud of it," she said, adding she was hoping it would be passed down through the family just as Nessie's had before it.

BRIDES OF THE VEIL (26 of 27 recorded in the NLA):

1. Agnes 'Nessie' Lockhart married Norman Hackett at Piangil in 1929.

2. Margaret White married Malcolm Lockhart in Melbourne in 1929

3. Alice Lockhart married Jack Hackett at Piangil in 1930

4. Dorothy Burt married James 'Jim' Hackett in Melbourne in 1930

5. Quiller Williams married Leonard Lloyd in Mildura in 1932

6. Marion Old married Norman Sweeney in Swan Hill in 1933

7. Irene Keen married Leath 'Jim' Wilson at Piangil in 1933

8. Dorothy Lockhart married Carlyle McCelland in Melbourne in 1937

9. Olive Hackett married George Elford in Melbourne in 1937

10. Jessie Lockhart married Thomas Connick at Piangil in 1938

11. Margaret 'Peggy' Connick married William 'Bill' Connick at Piangil in 1940

12. Iris Best married Kenneth 'Ken' Carpenter in Swan Hill in 1940

13. Alison Thomson married Thomas Lockhart in Robinvale in 1940

14. Alice Shannon married Joseph Lockhart in Swan Hill in 1941

15. Mary 'Molly' Lockhart married Ambrose Egryn Owen at Piangil in 1941

16. Hazel Boland married Francis Best in Swan Hill in 1943

17. Nancy Weame married Herbert Best in Gardiner in 1944

18. Eileen Little married Ernest Lockhart in Swan Hill 1947

19. Olive Williams married Malcolm Best in Castlemaine in 1949

20. June Darke married John Best in South Yarra in 1950

21. Frances Mensforth married John 'Jack' Gill in Swan Hill in 1951

22. Audrey Batty married Robin Hackett in Swan Hill in 1953

23. Jennifer Hackett married Ronald Hadlow in Swan Hill in 1961

24. Rosemary Hackett married Robert Hyde in Swan Hill in 1963

25. Meredith Hadlow married Duncan Perryman in 1989 in Canberra, ACT

26. Jane Hyde married Mark Merchant in Orange, NSW in 1995

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