Pregnant, Alicja had flown from London to Kracow to consult her dead father. An intense man, he’d been a Polish fighter pilot in the famous Kosciusko 303 squadron. After years in exile, the iron curtain had lifted, and he’d died in his beloved Kracow. Thoroughly English, Alicja was a stranger here. Yet, despite longing to be plain “Alice”, she still held onto the Polish spelling.
Strolling through Main Square, she didn’t see the oncoming tram. However, an invisible force shoved her to safety.
Somehow, she would stay.
Yet, could she?
Four years ago, I met Roland in our local bookshop. His father was a Polish bomber plot in WWII, and he came from near Kracow which somehow managed to survive the war without being bombed to smithereens. I have been helping Roland research his father’s story and being in distant Australia, I decided to visit Kracow via Google Earth the other night. It was exquisite. Have you been there? It’s definitely on my bucket list. an interesting aspect to this research is that my Great Great grandmother was born in what went on to become Poland and she was till alive when my mum was a child. I looked up the village she came from some time ago, and didn’t relate to it at all. Meanwhile, I am hoping to find a bakery which makes Makowiec (Poppy Seed Roll). Or, I might have to try baking it myself. Soon, I’ll have to start calling myself Rowski!
Meanwhile, I have recently started a second blog, where I’m exploring English-Australian novelist Ethel Turner, who wrote the classic “Seven Little Australians”. However, so far I’ve been showcasing some of her other writing. Here’s the link:
I don’t know whether I should be shouting: “Hip Hip Hooray” today, or in mourning. Today, Great Sydney finally came out of its extensive 106 day lockdown now that we’ve reached a vaccination rate of 70%. After a peak of 1603 on September 10, we were down to 496 cases today. That’s not a perfect world, and not yet a safe space for vulnerable people like myself to enter yet. I was about to say it offers hope, but it could also demonstrate reckless abandon after being careful for so long. It’s interesting too to see where people head as soon as they break out? Is is to see friends and family they’re been shut away from for so long? I can’t blame people for possibly wanting to get to the hairdresser first. I was planning to have at least a friend over to christen the new table today, but of course, it rained and being an outdoor table, that’s not much fun unless you’re a woolly Border Collie with thick, protective coat. For those of you who still remember Bilbo, he was a great one for standing out in the rain and getting soaking wet.
Well, I know there’s been a lot of table talk going on around here, but this week I’m proud to announce that the table has been sanded back, restored and in situ. I have well and really rung the brass bell over that, as it would’ve been easier to move heaven and earth. I’m sure those of you with real homes can testify to that as well. That a seemingly easy decision to put a table out the front can require so much work, negotiation, acceptance and maybe even grief! Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to leave alone and just be able todo what I want, when I want and not have to consult ANYBODY – or have someone else scuttle my plans, especially due to a lack of planning on their part. (Speaking of which I’ve had two pairs of ballet pointe shoes and a sewing basket left beside my chair. One of the downsides about coming out of lockdown, is that the pointe shoes needed to be replaced. However, one pair is heading back to the ballerina to do herself. BTW She’s very excited because she managed to get a Billie Eilish ticket today).
Tis week, I slowed down over at my new blog: “Tea With Ethel Turner” this week with only adding one post. However, it was a post that meant a lot to me. I was reading her somewhat autobiographical novel, Three Little Maids, when almost at the end I found what I’ve dubbed: “A Writer’s Prayer”. Through this prayer, Dolly (who is said to represent Ethel Turner) tells her sister how she prayed to get a book published and that her calling might be to write books that “do some good”. As a writer with the same heart-felt desire in mind, it meant the world to me and perhaps you would love it too: https://teawithethelturner.com/2021/10/07/a-writers-prayer-ethel-turner/
By the way, I had quite a few technical issues with the new blog, and ended up changing format to sort them out. So, I apologise if you had any difficulties last week.
The other thing I’ve been working on lately, is the story of my friend’s father who was a Polish Bomber Pilot serving in the UK during WWII. It’s been my friend’s quest to write a book about his father’s experiences of escaping Poland and into Romania where he was interred, and smuggled out into France where he served before arriving in England. Roland’s father never taught his children Polish, and unfortunately the Polish pilot’s records in England are all in Polish. So it’s been a beast to sort anything out. Google translate has helped with clarifying online resources, but otherwise its a slow and laborious process. I had a bit of a breakthrough this week, when I found a pdf in Polish online. It was written by one of his Dad’s friends an was a story of the “Three Muskateers”. It even ad a few pages just about Roland’s dad. It was wonderful, except it was all in Polish. So, I tried a little experiment. I typed up the Polish and pasted it into Google translate. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. Well, it was like magic. There really was a story behind all those words which made absolutely no sense to me. Indeed, I thought the start of the story was very touching. There is this old Polish man with all the photos taken in his entire lifetime contained in a biscuit tin his cousin brought back from England. It was incredibly poignant but also pretty heart wrenching to all the photos of a lifetime can fit into one biscuit tin. It’s nothing for me to take 200 photos in a day. However, it would do me good to put the most precious ones in a tin so I can see the the trees. By having so many photos, we might as well have none in a way.
Anyway, who would’ve thought I’d be typing up Polish like that? In some ways my life feels incredibly random, and yet my insatiable curiosity won’t just let me settle with a fragment of such a good story even when I’m immersed in so many other gripping stories pursuing Ethel Turner and my WWI stories. I’m not going to be very good at interacting with people about the mundane realities of daily life if I ever make it fully out of isolation!
So, how are are things for you? Have you had a good week? I sure hope so!
Tonight, I’ve been reading through Ethel Turner’s diary. You could say I’ve become totally obsessed by this incredible author of Seven Little Australians, and around 39 other novels written for children and young adults. Ethel Turner also had a passion for educating and mentoring young Australians through children’s pages in a number of publications. I don’t believe this is a quote, but if you want to be like Rome, you have to act like Rome. That’s another reason why I’m ploughing the depths I’ve never aspired to write a novel. Poetry, flash fiction and possibly the short story are more my forte. I also have fits and starts at writing a diary. However, I don’t just write a few lines – a bare skeleton of what’s happened. Rather, my entries are far more voluminous and I’m pouring my heart out onto the page. It also means I don’t necessarily write that often in my diary. I don’t have the time, and a simple notebook hardly has the space. I could fill one book in a sitting some days.
Anyway, aside from her success as a published author and journalist, I also appreciate Ethel Turner’s perceptive insight into people, the human condition and the ups and downs of life. Even more than a hundred s later, her insights and observations are just as true to life now as they were then.
So, if I want to write and be published like Ethel Turner, I need to do what she did. Although she didn’t have a formal university education, it seems she developed her own educational program which not only included extensive reading, she also actively worked to maintain her maths to the matriculation levels she’d achieved. Indeed, after her beloved friend Annie Christian passed away, she seemed to find comfort in doing quadratic equations. I’m not going to go that far to keep up with her, but I am going to chase up the list of poems she memorised.
So, in sharing this poem with you, I’m not sharing her words, but some of the fuel which nurtured her incredible mind. This poem by Matthew Arnold certainly speaks to me. My serious health issues have all but scuttled my career. Yet, I haven’t given up on finding some form of meaningful paid work. During the week, I finally pressed send on my short story for the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition. Could this be the vehicle for getting myself established? I am down on knees and praying this comes through, although goodness knows what it will means if my dreams actually start to unfold.
Anyway, without any further ado, here’s the poem:
Self-Dependence – Mathew Arnold
Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards, o’er the starlit sea.
And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
“Ye who from my childhood up have calm’d me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!
“Ah, once more,” I cried, “ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”
From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
“Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.
“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.
“And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silver’d roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.
“Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.”
O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
“Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
Who finds himself, loses his misery!”
I’d be interested to hear if this poem touches you in any way.
This week, I’m contemplating how I’d visually depict an empty space.
How about this?
I don’t know how this fits in with the “Glass half-empty, Glass Half Full Theory”. If your week was empty, what are you supposed to say about it? Or, perhaps you shouldn’t post. After all, our role as bloggers is to entertain, inform, connect – not to put our readers to sleep. So, that leaves me with the question, if nothing’s going on for us, should we just stay quiet and stay home. Or, should we send an SOS out to the world, seeking fulfillment?
Obviously, you can see I’ve been in lockdown for way too long. It’s now been over 2 months, and I’ve been making things worse for myself by not going out for my daily walk. I know I should and that exercise is good for the soul and all that. However, I feel like a dog at the end Gladys’s leash whose telling me to get out the door: “Walkies, Rowena”. Trust me ! I’m nowhere near as enthusiastic as the dogs. For me, it’s much more a case of :”Groan, do I have to?” However, of course, I love it when I get out there and see the beach, stunning cliff views extending over islands, rivers and beyond to the land of dreams requiring a passport and an end to Covid 19. (By the way, for those of you who don’t know who Gladys is, she’s the NSW State Premier and the one responsible for keeping us all locked up.)
Now, to be honest instead of getting swept away on the winds of writer’s fancy, I wasn’t doing nothing last week. In fact, in terms of my writing, I’ve actually been quite productive. I’ve finished my entry for the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition (an Australian TV Station) and I’m working on an article about Australian author Ethel Turner. She edited a children’s column in the Sun newspaper which was spawned almost 100 years ago, and also saw the birth of the comic strip “Ginger Meggs”. So, in spite of doing stuff for my kids and being interrupted, I have managed to get something done, even if that doesn’t include going on any walks.
The other thing I’ve been doing is eating chocolate.
I probably shouldn’t be admitting to that, but this post has become more of a confessional and since I’ve already admitted to avoiding walks, that I should confess to turning to chocolate for comfort. In some ways, this has become what some would describe as a “winning formula”, although I’m sure plenty would also say I’m heading down a downward spiral.
Well, don’t worry. I’ll go on a walk this afternoon. I won’t say tomorrow, because you and I both know what that means.
So, how has your week been? Buzzing with excitement? Or, do you relate to the empty box? Or, perhaps, you box would be painted block or even a fiery red or have furious waves thrashing around inside? Or, even the fresh tranquility of a butterfly fluttering around in the sun? The possibilities are endless. However, we shouldn’t have to paint our faces, especially around here. You can be yourself with me.
Anyway, I’m rapidly running out of time to upload. Moreover, I have a full house here and as soon as I sat down to get this out before deadline, everyone popped out of the woodwork. Could you please come back at 2.00pm? Their doors were closed last night when yours truly wanted to chat…
These photos of Geoff and I kayaking in lockdown are living proof of just how deceptive a photo can be. There we were floating on a magical, diamond carpet as the radiant Spring sunshine cast its magic over the water. It’s absolutely beautiful, and would make for a perfect postcard. There’s the bright blue sky dotted with a couple of woolly white clouds. There’s also the radiant Spring sunshine which isn’t hot enough to burn , but warm enough to defrost the Winter inertia. Indeed, Spring is something you feel right throughout your mind, soul and spirit; and you just feel invigorated. You don’t need flowers in the frame to know it’s the season of rebirth.
What the photo doesn’t say, is how hard it was for us to get there, or how long it’s been since Geoff and I went kayaking together. To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember. That’s despite having the kayaks sitting in our backyard, and it’s something we both love doing. I last went kayaking with friends back in January, but Geoff was at work and he went out with one of the same friends on a night kayak run without me. Meanwhile, our friend kayaks several times a week, especially during lockdown. Indeed, pre-lockdown, he used to kayak across Broken Bay to Palm Beach using a head torch to guide his path. Of course, I’ve told him he’s mad. His mother has told him to phone a friend and report in. Yet, at the same time, he’s like an age-old adventurer, and good on him. Yet, at the same time, I cry out from my chair in the loungeroom…”Me too!”
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for us to just grab the kayaks and run. For some reason, we need to paint the house first. Research and write a series of books. That’s on top of the usual stuff like going to work, looking after the kids and throwing the ball endlessly for the dogs. For us, getting the kayaks on top of the car and down to the wharf is like packing up for our annual holiday and what with paddles, life jackets, water shoes etc we almost need to pack as much gear too.
On top of this, there is also my health and physical disability issues. When you struggle to walk and it doesn’t take much to have a stumbling fall, it doesn’t seem logical that paddling might actually be easier than walking. I don’t feel very competent at paddling because I’m a novice and my husband used to do white water kayaking in the Tasmanian rapids and also played canoe polo competitively. Our friend has also competed in the Hawkesbury Classic. The two of them could well and truly paddle off into the sunset at quite an enthusiastic pace together, while my kayak might drift round in a circle, and I might just enjoy floating for a bit. In other words, I’m not even trying to keep up unless it’s for conversation, which case they need to go at my pace which they do quite happily without complaint.
While I absolutely loved our paddle today and found the exercise and sunshine exhilarating and loved just drifting along like a cloud on the water, there were quite a few reflective moments.
The last time I was kayaking there, I was at a picnic with a group of friends. We had such a wonderful time out on the water, and as I said, unfortunately Geoff had to work. My friend Lisa was there with her son and I went out on the kayak with him. He’s ten years old and loved diving off the side and was full of such energy. Lisa was much more serene. She was like a beautiful swan gliding across the water as she paddled and her smile lit up the sky. It’s the truth. No exaggeration. Anyway, she passed away a few months ago after a long battle with breast cancer. I’ve mentioned that before. As much as you can try to convince yourself you’re okay and that you’re back on your feet again, I really missed her. Missed her deep inside my bones type missing her. I also miss being able to hang out with our friends in person as well. That hurts at a really deep level as well.
Then, there were also memories of going out kayaking as a family when my parents had a beach house at Palm Beach. It was a short season, but they had a jetty and a boat shed and it was so easy to get the kayaks in the water as long as it was high tide. The kids were much younger then, and Bilbo our beloved Border Collie (who some of you may remember), was there along with Lady and we’d paddle with the kids, paddle with the dogs. Paddle alone. I even went paddling when I was going through chemo to deal with a flare of my auto-immune disease. I loved kayaking that much, and yet now I rarely go.
Why is it so?
Well, Geoff was grateful I talked him into going today, and decided that the kayaks are going to stay on top of the car. That’s a statement, isn’t it?! It’s like having your sword drawn, and being ready for action.
That’s particularly important during lockdown. Somehow we need to find things we can do within the scope of the restrictions, while acknowledging but not dwelling on all the things we can’t. We are very lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world and be surrounded by beautiful beaches, and still waterways. It was also a choice.
Do you enjoy kayaking and have any stories to share? I’d love to hear from you.
How are you? I hope you’ve had a good couple of weeks, and I apologise for my intermittent appearances. I’ve been out of synch for awhile, which isn’t going to change any time soon. In case you’re not aware, I live in Greater Sydney and we’ve been in a covid lockdown since the 26th June and as of Saturday 6.00pm, the rest of the state joined us as well. This is life living alongside the Delta variant.
Of course, no one’s happy with this extended lockdown and those of you who have experienced far worse, might well be thinking we had this reality check coming. However, the numbers are still comparatively low, and this is largely precautionary. However, perhaps the worst thing about this statewide lockdown, is that it at least seems to be the result of the selfish actions of just a couple of people. With contacts being traced nd DNA tracking of the virus, it’s difficult to hide, and these individuals must be mighty pleased they’re no living in the Middle Ages when mob rule would’ve exacted its own justice.
It is strange being in lockdown, and yet it’s been a fairly universal experience at least at some point. For us, there are quite a few positives, as well as some not insignificant losses. My husband’s been able to work from home for almost the last 18 months. He’s a Senior IT Network Engineer at Macquarie University in Sydney and it’s usually a very hands on role. However, again thanks to technology, he can do most of his work remotely, and he’s been able to use the three hours travel time to renovate the house. We should probably be doing more together making most of this time, but we’re both busy. I’ve made huge progress on my research project writing short bios of WWI soldiers incorporating family and personal history. Our son has been the hardest hit and hovers in limb, while our old daughter is avoiding school via zoom and has converted our home into a dance studio.
Another interesting aspect to lock down where we live, is that we live in a beautiful location walking distance to the beach and a short drive away from so much stunning scenery. While we’ve been told in no uncertain terms to stay home, we are allowed to exercise outdoors with our household, or with one other friend. So, if you’re fit and healthy, can work from home, and are a true introvert, you could well be having the time of your life. If you don’t like shaking strangers’ hands and have a thing for hand sanitizer, it could well be a boon for you too. While I am incredibly grateful to be locked down in a scenic paradise, I am a true blue extrovert and I really miss seeing my friends collectively in person and seeing all of them and not just their head on a screen. That is a heartfelt ache too, not just a “would be nice”. I have a few good groups of friends and I miss doing like with them collectively and being part of a loving, intimate, touchy-feely herd. What’s more I think that needs to be said. Acknowledged and possibly shouted from the rooftops, because this current situation is anything but normal and I don’t want us to stop striving for what we in Sydney had pretty much regained. This is not the reality we want to have.
Anyway, I have enjoyed a few walks, including a walk along the waterfront at nearby Woy Woy. Perhaps, some of you have heard of Woy Woy before. British comedian Spike Milligan put Woy Woy on the map with the Goon Show, and his mother used to live there. These days with everyone in lockdown, it looks like the pelicans have taken over. The local Vinnies with it’s large glass windows, has become something of a mausoleum with a family frozen in time decked out in their Winter woolens. There was also a tea cup poised on apile of books on a coffee table beautifully decked out with a tablecloth. I admire how much love and attention to detail has goes into preparing the window displays, even in second hand shops. It seems to speak of such optimism and hope. That you’re not on your last legs just because you need to buy second hand.
Meanwhile, I’ve finished reading Ethel Turner’s 1894 novel: Seven Little Australians. It’s the story of widower, Captain Woolcot and six six children who has remarried a much younger woman and at this point in the story is 20 years old and has a baby. The story is told in the first person and it feels like Ethel Turner is talking to you herself, giving the book a very intimate and personal feel. She tells you right from the outset that this book is about naughty children, and isn’t a moral tale. This is entertainment and it makes you laugh, but there’s also more than just a reflective undertone and there’s definitely some character improvement along the way. Ethel Turner was only 23 when she wrote the book and it jettisoned her to international success attracting praise from the likes of Mark Twain. Anyway, I’d encourage you to read it. It’s usually classed as a children’s book, but it’s more what we now call young adult fiction, and I loved reading it myself. So I’d say age is no boundary, and I’ve also read praise from troops reading it on the Western Front in WWI. So, it’s appeal seems rather universal. If you’d like to read it, it’s available via Project Gutenberg here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4731/4731-h/4731-h.htm
So often when we reflect on Gallipoli, we hear of the men who sacrificed their lives. However, there’s another side to the story. That is the children of the dead and wounded men, also also paid an enormous, and mostly silent, price. Fortunately, the children’s columns in the newspapers provided a space where children would occasionally provide a glimpse, into this world.
On Sunday 30th July, 1922 a letter by Miss Brenda Taylor, aged 9, of Greenock, Piper-street, Leichhardt was published in Sunbeams, the children’s page in the Sun Herald. Sunbeams was edited by Ethel Turner, author of the Australian children’s classic: Seven Little Australians. A regular feature on the page was called “When I Grow Up”, and children wrote in gorgeous letters talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Brenda wanted to be a nurse:
“When I grow up I would like to be a nurse, so that I could look after poor sick people. If there happened to be another war I would go and look after the wounded soldiers. My daddy died of wounds at Gallipoli, where there were not enough nurses to look after the soldiers. I would love to wear the nice clean uniform of a nurse, and be in the children’s hospital amongst the little sick babies, as I love babies, and I don’t like to hear them crying. When I see the returned nurses with their badges I feel sure I am going to be one. I hope little girls will want to be the same so that there will be enough nurses for the poor soldiers if any more wars begin.
— Souvenir Prize and Blue “Sun” Card to Brenda Taylor (9), Greenock, Piper-street, Leichhardt — a little girl gallant enough, after her loss, to want to continue in the footsteps of her heroic father.”
Just to place young Brenda’s letter in context, there was also a letter from an ambitious crime-fighting detective:
TO MAKE CRIMINALS SHIVER
When I grow up I am going to be a detective, and gain fame, I will unravel mysteries that have baffled the greatest detectives of the world. If It is necessary for me to disguise while working on any case, my disguise shall be so complete that even my closest friends will not recognise me. First I will start In Australia, and when I’ve cleaned that of Its criminals, I will then proceed to London, and in disguise I will visit the slums of that city and learn what I can about different criminals, then gain their confidence, and arrest them in the act of pulling-off some of their greatest robberies. I will always play a lone hand, as you cannot rely on the police, who are generally blunderers. If any criminal defies me, I shall engage him In a battle of wits, and in the end I think I shall succeed in handing him over to the law to receive his punishment. Never shall I quit a case without unraveling it satisfactorily. Many people shall thank me for the services I have rendered them, and for me this will be sufficient reward. My name will spread throughout the world, and every criminal and wrong-doer will shiver at the mention of it.
There was also “Wanderer” from Bondi who’d decided to become a novelist rather than a pirate:
“NOVELIST RATHER THAN PIRATE
In the earlier stages of my life I entertained wild hopes of becoming a pirate; imagining myself, with a three-cornered hat tilted precariously on one side of my head, ordering men to get strung up the yard-arm, or to walk the plank. Lately, I have realised the utter insignificance of that career, as I will not be able to find a suitable crew, and if I did I would soon be hunted down. My present scheme for the future is to become a composer of prose and verse. I will live in a creeper-covered cottage in a quiet country town, there to pursue my work (perhaps I might marry by then, but that will not make any difference— only that the “star” boarder will have to seek a new residence). So as to have some varieties about the place, I will keep a few cows and a small stock of poultry. In the woodland dales I will compose my stories, and. now and then poetry. I hope to become gradually famous as a novelist. Then— and then only, will the zenith of my ambitions be attained— Blue “sun” Card to “Wanderer” (13), Bondi.”
Exploring Brenda Taylor’s Letter Further
Of course, young Brenda’s letter is heartbreaking. It was one thing for young, single men to sacrifice their lives for the Empire. It was quite another for family men with responsibilities and dependents to sacrifice theirs. Young children were left without fathers, wives without husbands, and were left to bring up the children alone. To put it in very simple terms, Daddy was never coming home.
Naturally, I wanted to find something out about her father’s war service, such as which unit he was in, and what happened to him. This is easy enough if you have a name. However, her father wasn’t named in the letter, and I couldn’t just search the service records for: “Brenda’s Dad”- no matter how powerful Google might be.
At the same, identifying a soldier with minimal information isn’t an impossible quest, especially now that so much information is available online. Indeed, these days, the difficulty is knowing when and where to stop. After all, we now have the whole wide world right at our finger tips and sometimes, as in trying to nut out Brenda’s letter, we need to draw on all of that. Even then, there comes a point when you realize, that you have to walk away without the answer. Indeed, that’s where I’m at with Brenda’s story. I still can’t be sure of who Brenda Taylor was, and don’t know her father’s name either. Yet, I haven’t given up. Storytelling is a collective process and hopefully these efforts will just be the beginning.
Yet, on the other hand, part of me wishes I could turn back the clock, and just appreciate Brenda Taylor’s letter at face value. Left well enough alone, and not asked who her father was, and tried to find his service records. After all, it’s such a heart-touching story. Here’s a little girl who lost her beloved Dad at Gallipoli when she was roughly two years old. That’s a serious loss, and I don’t feel comfortable questioning whether her story was true, and doubting the sincerity of a child. Of course, I want to be a believer. Hug this little girl who has lost her dad wholeheartedly without any of these lingering doubts.
However, any researcher worth their salt knows not to accept anything at face value. We have to ask the questions, accept the answers, and then somehow determine what we weave together into our version of the story.
So, despite a day of going backwards and forwards along time tunnels back into the past, I still don’t know the name of Brenda Taylor’s father, and can’t be entirely sure he died of wounds at Gallipoli or back at home.
A False Alarm
Initially, my efforts to identify Brenda Taylor were going quite well. NSW Births deaths and Marriages had a Brenda Beatrice Taylor born in 1915 in Mudgee to parents John G. Taylor and Beatrice Brownlow. They were married on the 17th February, 1910 at St. Paul’s Manse, Mudgee. This “G” might’ve been a “George”, and at a stretch, Brenda’s father might’ve been John George Taylor Service Number 7050. He was born at Newcastle-On-Tyne England, and was living at 2 Bay Street, Balmain, which isn’t too far from Leichhardt. However, he wasn’t a great fit. He’d enlisted on the 1st November, 1916 and clearly didn’t serve at Gallipoli. His next of kin was his sister, Mrs M. Foster, not a wife. There was also no mention of daughter, Brenda, either. However, marriages go awry, and he wouldn’t have been the only family man to have fled the home front for the front line without leaving a paper trail.
However, then I found the wedding notice for John G. Taylor and Beatrice Brownlow. Brenda’s father was actually a John Gavin Taylor, not a John George. So, that knocked John George Taylor 7050 out of the picture. Further research was required.
There was no other Brenda Taylor on the horizon, although the age of this Brenda Taylor didn’t quite match up. To be 9 years old on the 30th July, 1922, she needed to be born around 1911-1912. However, I couldn’t find an alternative born in NSW or Victoria. So, I persisted and found some good background stories.
Brenda’s mother, Beatrice Brownlow, had been born in 1889 to Samuel Brownlow and Agnes E. Bridge in Coonamble, New South Wales. Samuel was known as a “first-class horse trainer”, which sounded rather exciting:
A Veteran Trainer.
Sam Brownlow Re-appears on the Scene.
To the majority of Mudgee racegoers the name of the above well-known trainer will be quite familiar. The older sportsmen in particular will re member those grand old days when the then champions of the turf, such as King of the West, Eros, Myrtle, Reprieve, Prism, Contessa, &c. , met in battle array on the old course, and memories of Brownlow come back to them fresh and green. And now once more, after a fairly long absonce from the actual scene of turf warfare, Sam has come forth, like a giant refreshed, to renew his former occupation. The old spirit asserted itself — it was too strong for him to resist, and it is a strange coincidence that he will have under his care a horse which he trained a few years ago — I refer to Mr. J. C. Gunnell’s Nimrod. Sam has trained many good horses, notably King of the West, Myrtle, Eros, and Contessa, all of whom won races for the late J. D. Little at Randwick and Hawkesbury. When King of the West won the County Purse (now called the Rowley Mile) at Hawkesbury he was ridden by Tom Donoghue, who is now training in Mudgee. Brownlow once had private training stables on Bombira Hill years ago, where a good string of horses were located. He also went to Queensland with that great horse, Beadsman, with whom he won a great number of races there. Space will not permit of a lengthy description of our old friend’s many succeses as a trainer. We will simply say that he is a first class trainer, and has commenced with Mr. Gunnell’s horses, Nimrod and Grand Stuart, who are being prepared for the Mudgee meeting.
By now, the story was building nicely – layer up on layer up on layer. Yet, there were still some nagging doubts. These Taylors were based in Mudgee, and as yet I hadn’t found a link to Leichhardt, Sydney. Moreover, something else was glaringly missing. Aside from Brenda’s letter, there were no memorials in the newspapers honouring her father’s sacrifice on the battlefield, and this was unusual. Of course, there were families that kept it quiet, but they were few and far between. That also made me nervous.
Then, came the clincher. I came across the obituary for Brenda’s mother, Beatrice. She died on the 25th December, 1943 in Mudgee and it clearly mentioned that she was the “wife of Mr. J. G. Taylor, of Windeyer”, and also referred to her “bereaved husband”. Brenda’s father, John Gavin Taylor, was still alive.
Either Brenda Taylor’s letter wasn’t true. Or, there was another Brenda Taylor.
Brenda Taylor 2.0
I had one last search in the online newspapers at Trove. This time, I came across a wedding photo for a Brenda Taylor who married John Richard Keeffe at St John’s Church, Parramatta in 1938:
“Mrs. J.. Keeffe, formerly Miss Brenda Taylor, of Harris Park, who was married at St. John’s Church, Parramatta, on February 5. Misses Violet Keeffe, Ivy Taylor and Emily Keeffe are the bridesmaids, and Valmna Sweeney the flower girl. Photo. by McEnnally Studio”
I cross-referenced this with NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, and found her listed as “Evelyn Brenda Taylor”. Would this finally be the clue which unraveled the mystery? Could I finally construct a solid trail from nine year old Brenda Taylor of Piper Street, Leichhardt to her father who really did die of wounds sustained in those early days at Gallipoli?
The closest I’ve come to finding an Evelyn Brenda Taylor is a Brenda Evelyn Taylor, who was listed in the 1911UK Census. She was 2 years old and was born and living in Rawreth, a village and civil parish in the District of Rochford, Essex, England, located between Wickford and Rayleigh. She was living there with her father, Edward Taylor, aged 23 born in Leatherhead, Surrey and was a Farm Labourer; and her mother, Alice May Taylor, was 21 from Chipstead, Surrey.
Could this be the right family? Did they migrate to Australia, and this is the very same Brenda Taylor who wrote into the Sun Herald on the 30th July, 1922?
I still don’t know, but I’m hoping that someone out there can help me set the record straight. I’d really love to know Brenda’s story – the whole story.
If anybody could shed any light on this, I’d really appreciate your help. I don’t have access to Ancestry which would most likely help.
Lastly, I should mention that this is fall of a broader project where I’m researching WWI through the letters of WWI soldiers, and exploring their family history nad lives before they went to the front.
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Friday 4 August 1899, page 18
 Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Thursday 30 December 1943, page 5
 Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Thursday 10 March 1938, page 9
How are you all and how was your week? I hope it’s been good overall, and that you’ve been able to savour some of the zest of life.
My week has been quite a rollercoaster ride, which is quite an apt description after we visited Sydney’s Luna Park after midnight when it was well and truly shut and the rollercoaster was fast asleep.
Last night, we went on a Sydney Harbour Cruise to celebrate a friend’s 50th Birthday. I was really looking forward to it because I’ve never actually been on a Sydney Harbour cruise before. I know that sounds like quite a travesty for a Sydney person, but I’ve certainly been on ferry rides around the harbour and they’ve been absolutely magnificent. Anyway, our ferry ride began at Darling Harbour at 6.00pm after sunset, and went for four hours and then we drove across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Kirribilli to absorb the magnificent imposing grandeur of the Bridge just overhead, the inky black water and the view across to the Sydney Opera House in the background.
It was a fancy dress party, and some of our friends had really gone to town and that really added to the festivity. As you can see from the photo above, some of my friends went all out, and really looked spectacular. I’d had such a crazy week, all I managed was a pair of rainbow socks. I also wanted to keep warm and went for long pants and my trench coat. I looked rather like Inspector Gadget if I had to put a name to my get up.
Above: I’m dancing to “YMCA” a party classic.
While I naturally enjoyed the people, party and full but floating immersion into Sydney Harbour after dark, what I probably valued most was the opportunity to get to know my friend and his family better. I really appreciated the significance of that after being a part of my friend, Lisa’s funeral two weeks ago and getting to know her much better after she’d passed away. It wasn’t too late, but it certainly meant lost opportunities. We really need to get to know and appreciate each other in all our technicolour glory now.
Anyway, so the Harbour Cruise party clearly represents the what went well this week. On the other hand, our daughter ended up in hospital to expedite some medical tests. When she was about ten, she was diagnosed with a digestive condition called gastroparesis, which involves delayed gastric emptying. She has been a lot better. However, over the last couple of weeks, it flared up again and I took her to the doctor on Wednesday morning, and by the afternoon, she was fed up and asked to go to hospital. Oh joy! Gastroparesis is a complicated condition and I wasn’t expecting a lot of answers or understanding at Emergency. Indeed, all I expected was a wasted night and being sent home after midnight exhausted with making any progress. However, they were actually very supportive and decided to admit her to expedite the tests and give her some medication before she could get an appointment with the gastroenterologist. So, it actually turned out to be a brilliant plan and she had an ultrasound, barium swallow, blood tests and left with a script for Domperidone, which speeds up peristalsis. She’s looking so much better today. So, fingers crossed we’re on the right track. It’s so hard seeing your kids unwell, or being around other sick kids. I take my hat off to anyone who works in paediatrics and helps our sick little people.
I am still feeling the loss of my friend, Lisa.
What more can I say?
The last song for the night on the Harbour Cruise was: “Hey Jude”, and the lines: “take a sad song, and make it better” hit me in a new way. I got pretty emotional during that song, but it is so true. It’s telling me to take my grief, and make something positive out of it. Help Lisa to leave a positive legacy. I also really believe it’s important to acknowledge our sadness, disappointment, hurt and losses and not just paint a glossy veneer over the top. That it’s not healthy to hold it all in and rather, that it can be self-destructive.
Not unsurprisingly, my research went on the back burner this week. However, I did manage to read C.J. Dennis’s: “Old Digger Smith” and am currently reading “The Adventures of Ginger Mick”. These books are part of a series of books featuring the Sentimental Bloke, which is the title of the first book in the series and it’s been made into a movie. It’s an Australian literary classic, and written in the Australian vernacular of the WWI era, it not far off trying to unravel Chaucer. However, I find when I speak it out in my head, it mostly makes sense. By the way, the “Sentimental Bloke” was a best seller and a popular read for WWI soldiers and a special pocket-sized edition was made which fitted into their coat pocket. (I wonder how many sentimental blokes are around these days and how many are reading books? We had the New Age Sensitive Guy when I was younger and I wonder if he’s still around? Or, if all of us have had to harden up? Keep calm and carry on?!!)
Well, I’m still sentimental, and my friend shed a few tears in his speech last night. So, we’re not gone yet.
Anyway, it’s the long weekend here in Australia. One benefit of still being part of the Commonwealth, is getting a day off to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday. With a long weekend, families are catching up and I finally managed to meet up with my friend’s daughter and grandchildren and met up with them at the beach. Silly me, forgetting it’s Winter, I went barefoot and my feet were absolutely freezing. They hurt.
Anyway, that pretty much covers my week, and stay tuned for some photos from the Harbour cruise. The Weekend Coffee Share is Hotsted by Natalie the Explorer and here;s the link:
I’m hoping I’ve made the deadline this week. It’s actually Monday night here in Sydney, which might not sound like much of a weekend coffee share, but when you’re busy over the weekend, Monday can be a good time to decamp.
So, how are you? How has your week been?
Mine has been wet, with intermittent sunshine. I’m not sure whether you’ve heard about the flooding through NSW on Australia’s East Coast? We’re right where we are. However, reports show that in the last week, the entire NSW coast has been drowned by at least 200 millimetres, and in some places, more than 400mm of rain. To put that in context, Sydney averages 132mm of rain for the whole month of March. Flooding stretches 600 kilometres from Sydney to the Northern Rivers. The other difficulty, is that some of the areas experiencing the worst flooding, were also hard hit by the bush fires and the drought before that. That a pretty brutal trifecta that the Little Aussie Battler might laugh off in public, but it’s “hard yakka” and the farmers need every bit of help they can get. That is along with the animals. I heard a heart-breaking story of a Taree farmer losing 200 head of cows and has had a few of them turn up all over the place, including the beach. The cows are apparently having a rough time. Having their hoofs submerged in the flood waters has water-logged their hoofs and it’s hurting them to walk. I saw where they’re been laying down carpet in the paddocks to help them. Extraordinary, isn’ t it?!! Here’s a clip: https://www.manningrivertimes.com.au/story/7179146/carpet-needed-for-cows-at-oxley-island-video/
However, it hasn’t been all rain.
There’s been a dazzling fusion of sun, rain and incredible clouds, which is the perfect prescription for photography. I was actually quite lucky to get these photos, because if I hadn’t been babysitting my friend’s son and had promised to take him to the park, I probably would’ve been shut away inside at home doing my research without any conscious awareness of what was going on outside and I would’ve missed all this incredibly majestic beauty. It was one of the best sunsets we’ve had in a long time. Of course, the trouble with exceptionally magnificent skies like this, is dangerous storms, exceptionally heavy rain and even hail. I’ve been caught in all of the above before so I know all about it. The only trouble was this time I had my friend’s son in tow. So, he was told he had about 15 minutes at the park, and we might have to leave very quickly and make a run for it. One half of the sky was a very deep purple, and a series of huge, double-decker cumulous clouds had invaded the other half. Then, I spotted the rainbow arching over a mountain of cloud rising over the beach. Magic. I didn’t have my SLR with me, but the photos from my phone were still incredible.
We have just gone into the last week of the school term. So, it’s been Open Week at my daughter’s dance school. She recently turning 15 and she’s pretty serious about it. So, she’s getting to the pointy end of things. So, it’s been amazing to watch her and her classmates dance. She also had an audition where we were able to watch her perform, and that was a treat as well. We’re also very grateful that she’s been able to return to dancing in public and almost “back to normal”. I still don’t take it for granted, even though we’re having an amazing run.
Speaking of Covid, Geoff and myself along with our 17 year old son are getting vaccinated with the Astra Zeneca vaccine tomorrow. I was feeling very excited. Then, our daughter said her friend’s mum has been feeling really sick afterwards. So, now I’m feeling like I should double-check. Oh, no I shouldn’t. “She’ll be right, mate”. What choice do I have? Being immuno-suppressed and having lung fibrosis, I can’t risk catching Covid. Then, it could well be all over red rover.
I am making good progress on my WWI research and writing project. I now have the foundations of an introduction and a reasonably detailed plan. I also have a lot of gaps. However, at this stage I’m just wanting to get enough together to apply for a research grant. This first stage of the production line, is looking at the Australian Home Front from the announcement of war to the final return of the troops in 1919.
Anyway, that’s enough from me. As I said before, I hope you’re having a good week and don’t find yourself in lock down wherever you are.
Tonight, I’d like to invite you over for a good old fashioned lamb roast along with roast potato, carrot, peas and gravy. It was all rather scrumptious, but I know the fat content isn’t going to do my heartburn any favours. I know I’ll pay for it, but it’s a rare treat. We had Creamed Rice for dessert with plump, fresh raspberries. So, if it wasn’t for the steady, heavy rain and floods throughout NSW, I’d invite you over for dinner. As it stands, I think you’d be better off on bread and dripping where you are.
Has has your week been? Or, the last couple of weeks to be honest? I hope you’re well, and somehow miraculously liberated from Covid, even in your dreams.
We’ve had a busy time here. We celebrated our son’s 17th birthday recently, which was followed by party at our place with about 15-20 friends. The rain came down in the middle of that while I was outside chatting under the shade sail and I got drenched and needed to get changed. All good. I spent much of the night in the kitchen sorting out the food and keeping the party going. I could’ve flown the feminist flag and said I was too good to do the dishes and he could do it himself, but he needed me to do what was needed, and be thinking of him, and not where my own life is heading – or not. (Yet, at the same time, I do feel my kids have reached a “certain age” where they can step up to the plate and pull heir weight, and I’m not spending the rest of my life wiping their backsides. It’s just that his birthday wasn’t the time for that conversation. That said, I’m still waiting…)
Anyway, the party went really well. of course, there was no alcohol, and it was so encouraging to see them all laughing, and making their own entertainment. Our son played some of his old Scouting Gang Show DVDs on the TV. It sounds a bit daggy and rather unconventional, but the songs were excellent and it creative a fun, festive atmosphere while our son strutted around being the Greatest Showman as he acted as MC. Meanwhile, the dogs turned out to be the unexpected stars of the show and I’ sure they thought it was their party. Someone threw Zac a balloon and he bumped it with his nose and that went on for at least 15 minutes with them all standing round him in a circle. Being a bordr collie x kelpie, he has no off-switch and he was just delighted to be the star (especially as his sister Rosie usually shows him up on the ball fetching front).
Meanwhile, I might’ve mentioned that I recently won some recording studio equipment for our son and some studio time with a recording studio professional. Well, the equipment arrived last week. So, that was pretty exciting for him. He’ll be doing the mentorship session after Easter, which is seemingly just around the corner.
My research into Australia’s involvement in WWI continues. I’ve been beavering away trying to get a draft together so I can try to get some grant funding, and get what is turning out to be a series of books together. The trouble is that I keep finding an endless supply of gold nuggets, and the stories and the storytellers just keep on coming. However, I’ve only been hard at it for about 18 months now. So, I can’t expect to cover such a big area and get myself up to speed in the blink of an eyelid.
Since I’ve been doing this research, I’ve also been quite overwhelmed by what I didn’t know, especially as I thought I had a reasonable understanding. However, ignorance is like that. It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that’s going to bite you. So, I’m frollicking in all these stories like a pig in mud, but I am drawing up plans and trying to get some scaffolding in place. Get the show on the road.
I guess this all brings me to our pet subject… covid. Being in Australia, you’re probably wondering what I’ve go to be worried about. There’s barely been a case of community transmission in a very long time. However, the reason our transmission has been so low is that we’re vigilant, and we’re not as vigilant as we were, and most of us don’t need to be. However, I do, and it’s much harder when restrictions are tight and we’re all (well, most of us) are doing the right thing. Now, I’m having to excuse myself. I’ve stopped going to physical Church because they’re back to singing against government restrictions and have lodged a complaint about discriminating against Churches with singing restrictions. So, as you can see life gets complicated.
The covid vaccine rollout started here in NSW on the 22nd February for frontline staff and employees of nursing homes and disabled facilities. Today, it was extended to group 1b which is elderly people over 70 along with younger people with chronic health or disabilities. This includes me. The only trouble is finding out where and how I’m going to access it, and this really started to stress me out. We Australians went into battle over toilet paper this time last year, and I dread what it’s like trying to get the vaccine. I was going to try to fight my way through today. However, I was getting so stressed, that I’ve decided to put it off. My GP isn’t currently part of the rollout, which I feel leaves me high and dry. However, local production of the Astra Zeneca vaccine is launching this week and that will push things along a lot I hope. I, no doubt like most of us, just want my life back, and even though I know the vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s better than nothing, and since we’ve had few cases here, we have herd vulnerability.