Monthly Archives: January 2020

A Short Victory…Friday Fictioneers.

All James ever wanted was to eat a bowl of ice cream. However, James was severely lactose intolerant and ice cream was forbidden. Now a teenager, he was sick of everyone asking why he he had to have soy milk. Why can’t you have ice cream? What’s wrong with you? To compound his troubles, his mother hovered over him like a hawk. However, she wasn’t going to be at camp, and James had forged her signature on the medical forms. Finally, James indulged in his very first bowl of ice cream. All good until he got stuck on the bus.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Snapshots of Australian Birds.

Perhaps, I should’ve tossed my research hat out the window, when we arrived in Byron Bay. That way, I could appreciate a pretty photo for what it is without having to research everything I see to the nth degree. Clearly, I ask too many questions and if I were a less complicated soul, I could’ve simply posted these bird photos without any explanation at all. Not even a name.

Consequently, what started out as brief snapshots of some of the birds we encountered around Byron Bay, has expanded into something much more complex and I must admit I’ve learned quite a lot myself along the way. After all, I take my role at Beyond the Flow as Australian tour guide seriously. I not only want you to see what I saw. I also wanted to share some local, lived insights which you won’t find in a more scientific account of my stunning feathered friends.   These photos were taken in my in-laws’ backyard and at the Macadamia Castle, which has a bird aviary. It’s not quite the same as seeing them in the wild, but it does make it easier to get a good photograph. Yet, as much as I love photography, I’d naturally prefer all birds to fly free.

So welcome to the cast:

Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo

Although this guy lives at the Macadamia Castle, sulfur-crested cockatoos are very common in the wild where we live on the NSW Central Coast and in Sydney. You can’t appreciate these crazy characters from a simple photograph. They’ll perch up in the trees or telegraph wires and swoop down kamikaze style across car windscreens and only narrowly escape being hit. They’re absolutely cheeky, and don’t let that gorgeous feathered-face deceive you. They’re very destructive and are renowned for chewing through wood-trim on your house, your balcony, and stripping fruit trees bare. Moreover, behind that beautiful smile, lies an ear-piercing screech. Yet, despite their shenanigans, they still want to be your best friend and crave attention. They seem to love posing for the camera with a huge cheeky grin and you might even get a “Hello”.

Jacko

Jacko with family cropped out.

When I was a young child about 8 years old, my Dad bought a baby sulfur-crested cockatoo, called Jacko. He initially lived in a cage in the laundry inside where he had the joy of listening to my father’s voice on an old tape recorder. Indeed, it was an old tape recorder then, although I think cassettes were somewhat new at the time. It was 1977. I still remember that old recording and will take it to my grave…”Hello Jacko! Hello Jacko!” Jacko made it outside into the aviary but didn’t stay with us for very long. We were moving house and there seemed to be some kind of “discussion” between my parents. Although we were moving onto five acres, it seems there was no room for Dad’s birds and Jacko went to live with friends. So, not unsurprisingly,  sulfur-crested cockatoos have a special place in my heart.

Rainbow Lorikeets

Rainbow Lorrikeet

Rainbow Lorikeets are the happiest little birds on earth and on sunset you can here them chirping away drunk on nectar in the trees if you’re lucky…or not depended on your perspective. My friend’s mum planted a red bottlebrush outside his bedroom window and he was woken up by a swarm of rainbow lorikeets at the crack of dawn whenever it was in flower. He was not amused.

Amelia Rainbow Lorrikeet

Our daughter feeding seed to the Rainbow Lorikeet  at the Macadamia Castle last week. 

The Rainbow Lorikeet isn’t as outgoing or interactive as the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo and seem reasonably gentle. Back in the day when we mere mortals weren’t as educated about looking after wildlife, we’d coat a slice of bread in honey and soak it in water on a plate and put it out in the backyard. The Australian museum refers to such backyard feeding as “artificial feeding stations”, but the birds didn’t mind. That bread and honey was a sure-fire magnet. They loved it.

The Galah

Galahs

Galahs feeding in the backyard.

These galahs were photographed in my in-laws’ backyard, where they had quite a large flock of galahs. Apparently, numbers there have increased lately due to the drought and possibly also the fires. The in-laws have planted bird-attracting plants, but given the drought, have also been putting seed and water out for the birds. It’s been interesting watching the changing cast of characters out at the seed bowl. The galah’s are at the top of the pecking order, and shoo away the doves who sit perched up on the wire above waiting for the galahs to buzz off. There are also some pretty red-breasted finches who have their own seed bowl in the thicket.

Galahs were originally located in arid, inland Australia, and only expanded into their present, vast range in the early- to mid-20th century. The galah’s scientific name is Eolophus roseicapilla. Its holotype was collected in Australia in 1801 by biologists on the Expedition led by France’s Nicolas Baudin and is held in the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, in Paris.

The word galah comes from Yuwaalaraay and related Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. In early records it is variously spelt as galargillargulah, etc. The word is first recorded in the 1850s. The bird referred to is the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo Eolophus roseicapillus, occurring in all parts of Australia except the extreme north-east and south-west. It is also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo.

The term “galah” has also entered the Australian vernacular, and is a derogatory term meaning a “loud-mouthed idiot”, “fool”, “clown” and is also use to describe gaudy dress. It  has also inspired a number of colloquial idioms: To be “mad as a gumtree full of galahs is to be completely crazy. “To make a proper galah of yourself” is to make a complete fool of yourself. A “pack of galahs” is a group of contemptibly idiotic people. If you’re a fan of that great Aussie TV export Home and Away, you might’ve heard Alf Stewart complain: “Ya flamin’ galah”, which means you’re a complete idiots.

The Laughing Kookaburra

kookaburra2

Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree. They might look cute and sound hilarious but they have the last laugh once they’ve snatched the snags off your BBQ!

Of course, even these brief snapshots of Australian birds, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the kookaburra, even though it didn’t feature central stage. Indeed, the photo I’ve included here was taken at Pearl Beach round the corner from home where they’re rather partial to stealing sausages (Or snags in the Aussie vernacular) straight off the BBQ without any concern about burning their beaks!! We spotted a few kookaburras while we were on holidays around Byron Bay, but what I remember most was hearing the kookaburras laugh while I was floating on my back at Brunswick Heads watching fluffy white clouds scud across the deep blue sky. There was absolutely no doubt I was in Australia. Indeed, over the years, the sound of kookaburras laughing has been used to create a sense of Australia in movies over the years.

Aunty Rose & Kookaburra

My Great Great Aunt Rose Bruhn with her pet kookaburra who appeared on Brisbane radio.

Australian King Parrot

Male King Parrot

Male Australian King Parrot

This parrot is living at the Macadamia Castle. Although I’ve occasionally seen them in the wild i.e. my backyard, they’re quite shy and not all that common. Indeed, it’s a real treat to spot one.

Male Australian King-Parrots are the only Australian parrots with a completely red head. Females are similar to males except that they have a completely green head and breast. Both sexes have a red belly and a green back, with green wings and a long green tail. King parrots are normally encountered in pairs or family groups.

The Emu

Emu

We also saw the emus at the Macadamia Castle. I had no idea how the emu originally got it’s name. However, it turns out that ’emu’ isn’t an Aboriginal word. Rather, it might have been derived from an Arabic word for large bird and later adopted by early Portuguese explorers and applied to cassowaries in eastern Indonesia. The term was then transferred to the Emu by early European explorers to Australia.

Emu2

Emus are a funny-looking flightless bird, which also makes quite a peculiar sound. Not that I’m being judgemental. I haven’t spent a lot of time with emus, although they used to have a few at the Australian Reptile Park up the road from home, and they were savage food thieves. In the wild, packs of emus have been known to decimate farms. I think my grandfather used emu oil to treat his arthritis.

Emu feet

Emu feet. 

My childhood memories of emus, include a show called: Marty and Emu. It took a bit of detective work to dig that one out of the memory bank. They appeared on a kids’ show called: The Super Flying Fun Show, which was hosted by “Miss Marilyn” Mayo. Of interest to Australians, Darryl Somers appeared later on in the history of the show, and you can see how Hey Hey It’s Saturday with Darryl and Ossie Ostrich evolved from there. It turns out that Rod Hull had appeared with emu on the show before my time  and a duplicate emu was made when Hull returned to the UK and continued his performances over there.

Marty & emu

Marty Morton & Emu (I was so excited to see them again!)

Of course, when we’re talking about cultural representations of the emu, you can’t go past John Williamson’s classic: Old Man Emu:

These are only some of the birds we saw on our travels. The ones we photographed or found most interesting. We also saw a large flock of black cockatoos on the drive North, which we had no chance of photographing, but they were good to see. There were also crows and magpies.
I’ll sign off with this photo of a duck in plastic kiddies wading pool at the Macadamia Castle. Usually, this pond is full. However, there’s been such low rainfall that the pond’s dried up for the first time in the 15 years we’ve been going there. These are clearly hard times for our wildlife (and domestic ducks).
duck
What is your favourite Australian bird? Please share in the comments below.
Best wishes,
Rowena

References

Driving North- Photographing the Aftermath of the Australian Bush Fires.

No doubt, you’ve also experienced that mixture of excitement and disappointment on a long drive, when you spot something spectacular out the window, but are having difficulties finding somewhere to pull over safely. If you’re as desperate as yours truly to seize the moment in 6 x 4, the fear of missing out (popularised as “FOMO”)  grips you body and soul. You’re a possessed maniac just like that person busting for the toilet in the middle of nowhere yet precariously still strapped into their seat. Don’t you know that desperation too? You’re about to explode. You have to get out. You can’t wait any longer. The cry goes out: “Pull over!!!”

Sunset After the Fire's Been Through

That’s what happened two weeks ago when we were driving North from Sydney to Byron Bay via the Pacific Highway and we spotted the sun setting through the burned out bush. The sun was enormous, glowing like a ball of fire through the charred eucalyptus or gum trees. It was strangely breathtaking. I had to seize the moment, which was rapidly disappearing with the fading light.

Fortunately, my husband who was driving at the time, was sympathetic to my plight and pulled over without complaint. The photos didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped, and actually tell quite a different story now I look at them back home. After all, they contain so many signs of life and nature fighting back against the devastating impact of the fires. Indeed, we saw vast expanses of trees exploding in a profusion of fresh green leaves seemingly as a form of post-traumatic growth. My goodness. These eucalyptus trees are tough. Bloody resilient. The bush wasn’t dead after all.

DSC_7292

The family in front of the lens with me behind it. 

By this stage, the bush fires had been extinguished up North, but were still blazing fiercely on the South Coast. Yet, we still weren’t sure what we were going to find. Independently, Geoff and I have been up and down this road all our lives and since we met 21 years ago, we’ve driven up here at least once a year to see his sisters and family. So, while this stretch of the Pacific Highway isn’t quite an extension of our driveway, we know it well. We care about it, too, and it sent a chill down our spines when we heard that a fascinating time capsule to early settlement, a museum called Little Italy, was at risk. I’m sure I screamed out: “NO!!!” to the TV. If I didn’t, I certainly wanted to. The devastation has been catastrophic.

However, we were relieved and almost surprised to see that the bush had endured, persevered and overcome. Indeed, we saw kilometres of bush where trees were sprouting fresh green leaves, an almost freakish, furry-green regrowth, as their will to survive went into overdrive. Indeed, I wondered if this was a variation of the post-traumatic growth we can also experience following a traumatic event. I’m not a scientist so I can’t know for sure. However, on a personal level, I found it very encouraging and it certainly lifted my sagging spirits. After being confined to the lounge room at home to escape the menacing smoke, I’d watched months of bush fire coverage on TV. Indeed, I was seriously starting to wonder how much of our precious Australian bush would be left when we ventured further afield. So, I found these shoots of green such a relief. A restoration of lost hope.

Horses after the fires

Horses running from humans rather than the flames. 

We’d pulled over to photograph the sun setting through the scarred, burned-out landscape. However, while we were there a couple of skittish horses ran passed not to escape the fires, but from us. I madly clicked away and sadly didn’t do the moment justice. However, the makings are there. It doesn’t take much imagination to see these horses running from the flames. Much better in the imagination than reality, and I certainly don’t want to be around to photograph that. Indeed, I’ll leave that to the movies. Far too many animals have been lost in these horrific fires. I’ve seen enough. I just hope there’s some way our wildlife can bounce back like these trees and am grateful for the rain and for the incredibly generous donations which are coming in from around the world. They’re much appreciated.

There has been such catastrophic suffering. I don’t even know where to begin. Possessions can be replaced, but there’s the horror for many of the engulfing flames and smoke and many have lost their lives. There’s a post traumatic anxiety pervading all our communities. At a very basic level, just watching the coverage on TV is enough, but our population is relatively small here in Australia. Our friends and families were at the heart of these catastrophic fires, even if we were well away and not impacted ourselves. What is perhaps most telling, is that the smoke from these fires reached as far away as South America. That’s the other side of the world and a reminder, that we’re a global community.

Driving back home, we stopped off at Taree, where the fires hit hard. We saw the writing melted on road signs on the turn off and places where the fire had jumped across the freeway, showing just how bad it was. There was a roundabout covered in the charred remains of grass trees and it looked pretty bleak until my husband pointed out that fresh shoots were springing from the devastation. A keen photographer himself, he said: “that’s your shot”. Unfortunately, this time there was nowhere to stop, and that one went through to the keeper.

Have you been affected by the Australian fires? I’m thinking of you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Santa’s Australian Post-Christmas Escape.

You couldn’t blame Santa for needing a bit of a break after supervising all his elves and dashing round the planet on his sleigh. After all, he must have the most stressful job on Earth.

So, here he is hiding out at Lennox Head, South of Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast catching some waves.

Of course, I had to join him. While I’m not much chop as a surfer, today must have been my lucky day because I not only managed to stand up, I also stayed dry. That’s quite an achievement.

By the way, I should mention that I’ve enjoyed feeling 21 again on this holiday. I’m not looking forward to returning to responsibility when the kids go back to school at the end of January. It’s been absolute bliss drifting along for a bit and not needing to be anywhere at a particular time. No lines etched in the sand. They’ve all been washed away.

Have you ever been surfing and do you have any stories to share?

Best wishes,

Rowena

At Home in Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast.

Ever since I first stepped foot in Byron Bay, it’s felt like home. Not that I’ve ever been able to live here in a physical, geographical postcode sense. Rather, I’m perpetually “just visiting”, and my sense of belonging is more metaphorical. More about finding my tribe here, rather than owning real estate. After all, I am beyond the flow and it’s perfectly normal to think outside the square here. To extend your horizons so far beyond the norm, that all your inhibitions melt and flow away. There’s no ridicule. No one’s laughing at you. It’s creativity personified and you can be whoever you are with that same liberating freedom, as diving off a bottomless cliff and finally learning to fly.

Kombi Byron Bay

In it’s heyday, Byron Bay was Kombi paradise with rows of Kombis parked beside the each with boards on top.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

Every time I come up here now, I see less and less of old Byron as the surviving remnants of her golden hippy era, are increasingly consumed by “progress”. Indeed, these days Byron is starting to look more and more like Sydney’s Double Bay and dare I use the word “posh”. I don’t mind posh and posh has its place. However, for those of us who actually remember old Byron (and even I came along fairly late in the piece), posh can go someplace else. Instead, I say bring back the Kombis all lined up along the beachfront with their surfboards perched on top…trophies celebrating freedom, sun, surf, sand and eternal Summers. The gateway to the inland hippy heaven of Nimbin, Byron was full of hippies, rainbows and a Mecca to the thriving counter-culture.

Byron Bay unicorn

That’s the Byron I first visited in around 1994. At the time, I’d sold out on my creative side and had gone fully corporate myself working as a marketing executive in the Sydney CBD and living nearby in a trendy, converted warehouse apartment in Sydney’s Broadway, a stone’s throw from Glebe. I’d graduated from Sydney University. Hung out in cafes writing and performing poetry while searching for the meaning of life. That’s before I headed off backpacking through Europe on what was meant to be the last hurrah before finally growing up and settling down to a real job, a career, a husband, mortgage, kids and a dog in the burbs. Implicit in all of this, was that I would personify the values of my parents, my school and the almighty North Shore. Of course, that had absolutely nothing to do with running away to Byron Bay and doing the happy dance barefoot on the beach.

That’s probably why I experienced such a jolt when I first came to Byron Bay. That despite having all the trappings of the corporate life, it wasn’t me. Or, at least, it wasn’t fully me. I was staying at Jay’s Hostel in Byron Bay and a group of us hung out together in the way that travellers do, almost bonding immediately in a way that’s impossible back home. I bought myself a hippy dress, hung out at the beach and in cafes philosophizing about life the universe and everything. No doubt, I also scribbled away in my journal, and wrote poetry. I felt so alive.

I don’t know what happened. However, it was like I’d been struck by lightning while I was in Byron Bay. When I arrived back in Sydney, my life there both at work and at home felt strangely unfamiliar. It was like I’d stepped into someone else’s life. It no longer made sense.

In hindsight, it’s no surprise. I was working long hours stuck in an office without any windows doing number crunching and database analysis of all things. How does a poet end up doing that? That is probably my greatest folly. The job description had changed, but I persevered trying to get some stability on my CV. They might as well have handed me a shovel, because I was rapidly digging my own grave. Coincidentally, it was while I was in this job, that the unchartered harbour in my head (known medically as hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain) was starting to make its presence felt. I was becoming seriously ill, although I wrote it off as stress at the time and moved to Western Australia.

I didn’t make it back to Byron Bay again until I came up here with my now husband, Geoff, in 1999. Geoff’s mother was living at nearby Nureybar with his sisters’ family and I was on my best behavior. It was very different going back to Byron Bay with him. He works in IT, and it’s not that he isn’t creative, but he didn’t connect with it in quite the same way I did.

Over the years since then, we’ve generally come up to stay with his sister at least once a year as a family and we’ve explored Byron Bay and the lighthouse with the kids. This has also been a very different experience…ice creams up at the lighthouse, stopping down at the Railway Park in town for the kids to enjoy our climbing tree…a fig tree which was damaged in a storm and fell over onto its side. By some miracle, it survived and grows along the ground, enabling even young kids to climb up into its branches and explore. The tree also has a special place in the local community. We’ve seen ribbons and scarves tied around its branches. A milk crate suspended upside down by a rope. A few times, a local woman known as “Mamma Dee” has done community art projects in the park. She had a heartfelt concern for young people and wanted to fill the park with love and connection and for young people to believe in themselves. Too many young people she knew had taken their own young lives, and she doing what she could to make a difference. Well, at least, she touched me. We’ve also met Christian groups giving away free food in the park and across the road, the Adventist Church runs a soup kitchen. All these things are acknowledgements of the darker remnants of old Byron…the many lost, broken and searching people who flee to Byron Bay in search of answers to life’s imponderable questions or to simply simply escape.

During these years when the kids were young, my sister-in-law would often mind them to give me a break and I’d disappear over the hill and into Byron. Once again, I’d found my wings and had that same sense of creative liberation, I’d experienced on my very first visit. Byron Bay was very much “my place”.

Fast-forwarding to 2020, we’re back at Nureybar again for a family holiday. It’s been three years since we’ve all be up here for an extended family holiday together. Geoff and the kids came up without me two years ago when I was sick and Geoff and I were child-free last year, when the kids were away at the Australian Scouting Jamboree in South Australia. So this means, the kids are three years older since we were here last, and the family dynamics have changed quite a lot. Indeed, the kids are no longer kids, and have evolved into teens. Indeed, our son is about to embark on his second last year of school.

So, instead of finding myself shooting off to Byron Bay solo, it’s been me and my girl…Miss 13. This has launched me into yet experiencing yet another perspective of Byron and I am a 13 year old girl buying bikinis and reporting everything back to my friends back home. Well, maybe not. I did turn 50 last year and I clearly can’t squeeze my feet back into a 13 year old’s shoes or even her bare feet. I would’ve loved to take her back to my Byron Bay, which was much more philosophical and reflective than commercial. She remembers some of it, such as the ladybird shop which used to pump clouds of bubbles down the main street. However, even the graffiti on toilet walls was good up here and it’s all but gone.

Yesterday’s trip to Byron Bay culminated in the Twilight Markets which are held in Railway Park around our climbing tree. We were wandering around and I bought a cards with prints by local artists. My daughter wanted to buy this candle thing where you poured scoops of wax beads into a glass container to make your own candle. I bought our son a kangaroo skin bracelet. We spotted Nutella donuts and they were an immediate must have just in case they sold out. Yum!!! They were divine. However, while we were soaking up the ambience and running back and forwards to the ATM across the road, the clouds were playing nasty tricks in the sky and it seems that all these national prayers for rain to extinguish the bush fires and ease the drought, were suddenly answered while the prayers of the market stall holders hoping to make a living, went unanswered. The heavens opened. Just a little at first and the stall holders valiantly persevered. The band moved back undercover and played on. The food vans stayed put. However, the rain had other plans and I just managed to buy some CDs from the band before they packed up and called it a day. The food vans were made of tougher stuff and we bought a plate of gado gado and by this stage, there was no hope of eating it under our tree. Rather, we hot-footed it back to the car as fast as we could with a plate of foot threatening to escape. While sitting in an almost generic white Subaru Forrester might seem rather ordinary, it was strangely atmospheric. We put on the new CD and as the rain fell all around up, we were making memories. It was so much fun and I felt 21 again.

Despite the rain, we headed back down there again today. Needed to stretch our wings.

More fun lay ahead, which started out trying on sunglasses and outfits at a vintage shop. How do you like our red sunnies? We didn’t buy them. I could hardly get multi-focals for the pair I tried on, but they were a lot of fun. We explored shop after shop and worked our way up to the beach. Still wet and overcast, we didn’t even consider swimming, but we did enjoy listening to the band at the Byron Bay Hotel who was playing Eagle Rock. We crossed the road and walked down onto the beach where we spotted something like 200 surfers hit the surf and formed a circle. Initially, I’d thought it was a surf school, but then I wondered if it was a funeral or memorial. There’s always something at Byron Bay you can’t quite explain and I just remembered that included a guy we spotted on the street corner known as “Cool” who was about 70 and swirling a hoola hoop while singing along and shaking maracas with a difference…one was a pineapple and the other was a banana.

Our holidays aren’t over yet. So, I’m interested to see what else Byron Bay and this incredible region have in store.

I’ll come back and add more photos once we’re back home. Our Internet connection is not the best here and is frustrating to say the least.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Heart Broken

News and smoke from our horrendous bush fires in Australia is spreading round the globe. I haven’t written about the fires myself, because I’ve been too lost for words and also overcome by smoke and struggling to breath at home well away from the fire fronts. However, a friend put me onto this very open story written by the wife of one of a heartbroken fire fighter who is now needing a bypass after three gruelling months fighting these fires. I wanted to send them our love, our heartfelt prayers and share his story a little further afield.
Love,
Rowena

SMARTER THAN CROWS

The last time I wrote about a photograph of my husband was December 10, 2019. I was worried about the impact of the fires and the smoke on his health and angry at Scott Morrison for saying that the volunteers wanted to be there. Here’s a link for those that missed it.

No Scott Morrison my husband does NOT want to be fighting fires

As a consequence of that post, Graham and I both ended up on The Project. Here’s the link to that:

The Project: In my own words – Meg McGowan

We said no to all the other media requests. We nearly said no to The Project but we had been overwhelmed by the messages of support, particularly from other fire fighters and their families. “You have put into words what we have been feeling!” they said, so we felt like we owed it to all of them…

View original post 1,656 more words

Maitland Thomas Butler WWI – The Brother Who Missed The Boat.

The research road continues today as we meet up with Maitland Thomas Butler, Maud Butler’s older brother. I introduced you to Maud Butler in a previous post: Jack and Maud.

As you may recall, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France during WWI and a few months ago I set out to gain a better understanding of what he went through. A sense of moderate urgency was given to the project, because our son will be visiting Europe in a few months’ time on a school history excursion. They’ll be spending ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneau and I wanted him to be fully informed about our family members who’d served. There were quite a few, especially Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was killed in action and he is also part of this project.

Jack Quealy WWI

Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy

My attention initially honed onto an entry in GG Uncle Jack’s service records, which showed he was wounded in action in France on the 28th August, 1916. No further details were given and naturally I wanted to know where he was. This seemed relatively simple at the time with all the resources of the World Wide Web at my fingertips.

However, working this out was a lot harder than I’d expected. The information captured in service records is very scant, and doesn’t include the more detailed information a researcher like myself desperately craves. I wanted to know exactly where he was. Find that X marks the spot imprinted the very spot where it happened. To my way of thinking, I also assumed he had to be injured in a battle, and I wanted to know more about that too, along with who he was with and finding tales from or about his mates. The old adage “somewhere in France” simply wasn’t enough. I had to know more. Not getting terribly far, I widened my search and soon found myself swimming well out to sea without a paddle. However, finally, all this research is starting to develop some perimeters, and is taking shape.

Maud Butler AWM Robert Fletcher

Maud Butler in uniform on board the Suevic 1915.

It was this wider search which introduced me to an entire cast of fascinating characters,  including  ship stowaway, Maud Butler, who I’ve already explored in previous posts. On 22nd December, 1915 she stowed away on board HMAT A26 Suevic dressed as a soldier as a desperate effort to get to  the front and serve as a nurse.  I’d hoped GG Uncle Jack had caught the same ship. However, as I’ve already explained, he’d already left on board the Aeneas two days before…another detail which wasn’t easy to come by via the route I used. Much to my disappointment, Maud and Jack weren’t even two ships passing in the night.

While Maud Butler’s story is gripping and also has a complexity which draws me in, I was going to put her to one side and continue my research into the troops themselves. However, not wanting to leave a stone unturned, I wanted to check out her brother’s service records. You never know. I thought he could also have a story to tell.

Indeed, when you read accounts of Maud’s “adventure”, her brother is almost pivotal to the story. Private Les Spriggs mentioned them both in a letter dated 25th January, 1916 from the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was published on Wednesday 22 March 1916 in the Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette :

“…The first day out at sea there was a girl discovered on board dressed in a uniform. She was trying to get to Egypt to see her brother who was wounded in a hospital. She was put off on to a passing steamer[1].

Maud’s brother was also mentioned in a message in a bottle, which was thrown overboard from the Suevic on the way to the front. The following message was written by Mr. Ted Blakey, of Manly, to his mother and found off the Victorian coast.

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli, Oh, well, good-bye for the present.—I am, your loving son, Ted.[2]

Maud openly denied she was simply going to the front to see her brother. Rather, she spoke about her plans to serve as a nurse after her valiant attempts to sign up with the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks failed due to inexperience. However, she mentions that her brother is at the front:

“It is not correct that I joined the ship just in sport, to see my brother who is at the front,” said Miss Maud Butler. “My object was to do what I could to help. I wanted to join the Red Cross, and I tried very hard to get accepted. When I failed I bought a khaki suit and stowed away…In fact, it was before my brother went away at all,” continued Miss Butler, who was seen yesterday at the rooms of the Young Women’s Christian Association, “that I wanted to go. He has been at the front for six months.[3]

However, as it turns out, Maud Butler’s brother, Maitland Thomas Butler, was nowhere near the front in December, 1915. While I can’t be sure of his exact whereabouts, I suspect he was living at home with Mum and Dad in Cessnock and working as a miner locally. Born 10th June, 1897 at Coen, Far North Queensland, he was only 18 years old at the time and underage. The legal enlistment age was 21 and men needed to be 19 years of age to go overseas. However, they could get parental consent.

Fast-forwarding to 11th April, 1917, Maitland Thomas Butler enlisted, putting up his age to 21 years one month and also incorrectly stated that “Weston NSW” was his place of birth. However, on 12th April he was “discharged underage” from the Sydney Showgrounds. The stated cause was “letter written by mother”. It looks like his mother had hotfooted it down to Sydney and submitted a statutory declaration stating that “my son Maitland Butler is only 18 years of age. He will be 19 years of age on the 10th June 1917.” It seems a bit rough that a letter from Mum could end the dreams of  a grown man. However, having had her young daughter try to flee overseas to the front, Mrs Rose Butler was clearly putting her foot down. Getting her own troops back in order. As a parent of teenagers myself, I have a great deal of empathy for Rose and Thomas Butler and I can’t help sensing the same iron will and determination in the mother, which was found in the kids.

However, just like sister Maud who didn’t give up on her first attempt and boarded a second troopship in uniform, Maitland Butler didn’t give up on his dream of getting to the front either. On 19th September, 1917 he enlisted again. This time he was more inventive and signed up as “Frank Emerson” at West Maitland. On 19th December, 1917 he embarked for the front onboard A38 Ulysses from Sydney and disembarked on the 13th February, 1918 at Southampton, England.  On 7th July, 1918 he was taken on strength in France by the 2nd Battalion from the 26th reinforcements.

During his time with the 2nd Battalion, Maitland participated in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”. In Mid-September they fought around Menin Road, Belgium which formed part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres. Maitland Butler was later gassed on the 25th September, 1918 rejoining his company on 1st October, 1918. I will expand on his war service at a later date.

Up until this point, you could probably say that Maitland Butler’s service record, while not without its moments, fell inside what you could call the range of “normal soldier behaviour” (a variation on what the kids’ high school refers to as “normal teenage behaviour”). However, not unlike his famous sister and her voyage leaving Australia, Maitland Butler landed in hot water coming home.

ss_euripides_lsOn 6th September, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked for Sydney onboard the Euripides. All went well until he went on shore leave in Durban,  South Africa and failed to return at the end of shore leave on the 1st October. A day later, he was reported AWOL when his ship sailed for Australia at 1318. Almost two weeks later, on 13th October, 1919 he reported to the AIF Office and was charged with:

Charge 1. Neglected to obey troopship orders in that he was not on board HT Euripides at 1318 2.10.19 when she sailed for Australia.

2.AWL from 2200 1.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19

He was awarded 168 hours detention & forfeit 28 days pay AA.46.2d by Lt Beveridge in Durban. However, he escaped from escort while being taken to civil gaol for safe custody 1200 and was captured a day later and charged with gambling by the civil police. 12th November, 1919 he embarked in Arrest on S.S. “Chepatow Castle” for Cape Town and four days later he disembaked ex CHEPSTOW CASTLE CAPETOWN & reported to the AIF Depot. Finally, on 20th November, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked onboard HT Nestor for continuation of voyage to Australia & demobilisation.

He was home at last.

After touching base with Maud and Maitland Butler to some extent while out on Research Road, I couldn’t help but parallel their contrasting experiences of travelling to and from the front. Maud went to very great lengths to stowaway on board HMAT 26 Suevic masquerading as a man in soldier’s uniform. Then, there’s her older brother, Maitland Butler, going to equally great lengths to avoid getting onto his ship in Durban and coming home. Either way, the two of them no doubt gave their parents some hefty headaches and they could’ve used a Bex and a good lie down. Or, at the very least, a very strong cup of tea.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

[1] Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 2

[2] Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[3] Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), Wednesday 29 December 1915, page 5

Services records Maitland Thomas Butler.

Wikipaedia.