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 don’t know whether I should be apologizing for taking an extended blogging break, or whether you’ve all been grateful for a reprieve. Only so many hours in a day and all that. I get it. Truly, I do. Indeed, that’s why I’ve been missing in action for awhile and have been blogging much more intermittently this year. Real life has overtaken me, and I’m also striving towards what must be a writer’s Holy Grail…finishing a book and getting it published (or indeed, self-publishing).
My contribution to the the great libraries of the world, book shops, op shops, and no doubt recycling bins; is a compilation of short biographies of Australian soldiers who served in WWI and fusing family background, battle details, letters home and diaries where available with a focus on the psychological aspects of war and the inner man. How did they survive physically and mentally? Of course, so many didn’t make it and instead “went West” as the saying went. So, death and dying is also a significant aspect. I’ve been working on this for about 18 months now, especially since the horrendous Australian bushfires and their choking smoke forced me underground, only for Covid to send me back into my bunker not much later. Indeed, I’ve been calling this my “Covid Project.
Meanwhile, there’s been a lot going on.
On Monday, I attended my dear friend, Lisa’s funeral. We’ve only been friends for just over six months, and yet we connected very deeply and neither of us thought our friendship was going to be that short. Lisa’s been fighting a very aggressive form of breast cancer for eight years. She’d had three brain surgeries, and after the cancer started eating through her spine, there was more surgery and she had a rod put in her spine. She was married with three boys, and the youngest was only two when she was diagnosed and he’s now eleven. Sometimes, people turn to survivors like Lisa, and be inspired by their strength. After all, they’re a personification of the miraculous. They can also became what my mother calls “a case” where they suddenly become the pet project and helping them out seems to become more about people gaining Kudos that actually helping the person themselves. You can also feel sorry for them. However, when we first met Lisa, she looked relatively well and she had the most beautiful smile. We went on picnics, kayaked, saw in the New Year, the visual overrode the intellectual knowledge that she was already on borrowed time, although I was somewhat prepared to lose her. I made a conscious decision to love her, be close without holding back, even though I knew it was going to hurt like hell. However, we both needed each other and I’m glad I was there to help lift up the last six months and help her feel loved. Indeed, when a friend went to see her, she said she felt “overwhelmed by love”. A friend and I spoke at her funeral, and although we didn’t know her for long, we knew her well. At least, the Lisa she was then which is after marriage, kids, cancer…quite a lot of life.
Have you found that it’s hard to know quite what to do and where to turn after the funeral is over? That’s what I felt last week. There was a part of me which thought going back in time to before we met would be the answer. However, you can’t do that and I don’t want to wipe out our friendship or forget her. I’ve put her photo in a frame. That’s a start. I wrote a song, a poem. I think about her much of the time, and I baked her boys a cake. I can’t change the world, and as Benjamin Franklin and other before him in various variations wrote: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.
Anyway, dealing with my grief took me to my usual haunt…the op shops. Never knock a bit of retail therapy. As long as it doesn’t take you too far into debt, it can work miracles and if you’re going round the second-hand charity stores like me, you can save a small fortune (not that you’d be able to afford all of this stuff new.) I am particularly thrilled with my new to me fleecy-lined, purple jacket. I also managed to get my mum a beautiful designer top for her birthday.
By the way, I almost forgot to mention that we had to buy our son his first suit to wear to the funeral. I had hope to buy him something smart from the op shop. However, he insisted on something new, and who doesn’t feel fabulous in something special that’s new? He looked incredibly handsome, and I was so proud of him, especially because he’s spent his whole life with his own serious ill mother, and the parallels to our situation were obvious. Why not me? I wouldn’t say I have survivor’s guilt. It’s more a case of survivor’s question marks.
Yesterday, Geoff and I went for a walk. Naturally, I needed to lighten my mood and walking is a true-blue healer. Moreover, we went for a bushwalk where there are some absolutely breath-taking coastal views. So, we were immersed in nature. The sun was shining, although being Winter here, it was a little chilly, but we certainly weren’t rugged up. Indeed, I think it was about 16-18 degrees Celsius. Not bad for Winter, hey?!! One of the highlights was finding a flannel flower, and it looks like there’ll be a carpet of them in about a month’s time. So, I’ll have to keep an eye out. While you’d think I’d be back at this spot at least once a week given it’s alluring beauty, I usually only get here a few times a year. As usual, life gets in the way.
I should mention that I have two dogs up on my lap- Lady and Zac. Nothing like a drop in temperature to attract the dogs to a warm lap, and having my keyboard perched on their backs doesn’t seem to bother them – or the constant clicking. They’re also keepin me toasty warm.
How have you been? I hope you’ve been well. I look forward to hearing from you and catching up.
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.
I wonder how many people have taken on a project throughout Covid… Something to give them an enhanced sense of purpose and hope when everything around us is at best weird and completely unrecognizable (even your nearest and dearest behind the cursed mask), or for those who are losing precious loved ones one after another, there’s tragedy and grief.
I’d got stuck into my project before covid. That’s because I was already in iso at home literally struggling to breathe during the Australian bushfire crisis. I have 50% lung capacity and was confined to our loungeroom or bed with the air-conditioning on. On bad days, I couldn’t leave these rooms. It was absolutely terrifying, and seriously life-threatening. Yet, at the same time, I was quite safe in my hidey-hole.
This is when doing some background research on family members who’d served in France during WWI really took off, turning into multiple projects of epic proportions. It is only a short jump from WWI to the 1919 Spanish Flu Epidemic. Indeed, tonight while I was researching some Australian war artists, I came across a rather impassioned letter to the editor of Smith’s Weekly talking about all the trials and tribulations they’d been through what with the drought, followed by the war and then the Spanish Flu. They go on to describe living conditions and restrictions at the time, and I thought it made for pretty good reading, and decided to share it with you.
By the way, before you read it, it might help you to understand the Australian context by reading a verse of Dorothea MacKellar’s famous poem, My Country, which eulogizes the trails and tribulations of living in Australia, and provides a background to the letter:
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains”
-Dorothea MacKeller, My Country.
Australia is a land of troubles! First, a thrice-barrelled drought squats down on our Sunny Land and burns her up like cinder. Then, Noah-like floods of varying horse-power and dampness smites your essential industries, pastoral, agricultural, etc,, one where they feel it. Then we have the war and its toll of precious life. Then, for a change, we are visited by the Spanish visitation. People walk around gagged and masked as if they belonged to the Secret Council of Ten or the Clutching Hand Gang. The Tax Collector then takes it into his head to camp on our front doorsteps. To escape him, we jump on a passing tram and go into town. “Please don’t sneeze!” “Please don’t cough!” “Please don’t spit!” “Please don’t cross your legs!” “Please don’t blow your nose in the car; do it outside!” “Please don’t spread yourself out. You don’t own the tram. Squeeze up and make room for others!”
These are a few of the “Please don’t” “By orders” we encounter. In despair, we seek the theatre. Alas! “Closed till further notice on account of influenza epidemic!” stares at us with baleful eyes. Then, horror of horrors, we have the politician! Our last trouble as usual, is the worst of all! What Australia has done to be inflicted with the political pests and poltroons that infest our fair land. Heaven alone knows! O.B.U. and Bolshevik orators, bulb-eyed editors, clerical hum-bugs, business profiteers, wobbly poetic Post-misses, and catch-as-catch-can Premiers and State Governors form a formidable list enough to drive a man into the bush for the rest of his days. Truly, Australia is a land of trials and troubles. Anybody any remedy for all these ills?
You have to have a bit of sympathy for poor H. these days now, don’t you?! Mind you, from where I sit, H. was living it up by getting out and about. I haven’t caught a train since February last year when I caught up with a friend in Sydney, and we went out for dinner. I’m so pleased we did. That meal’s now starting to look like the Last Supper!
Not that I feel like I’m missing out most of the time. That’s the good thing about being into history. You know it goes round in cycles like the lands at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. The landscape keeps changing, and you just need to wait for something else, and hopefully better, to come along.
Meanwhile, climate change is starting to make it back on the news. I would tend to call this unprecedented, but I am not even a speck of dust when it comes to the length of breadth of history which spans infinity. I really don’t know.
Anyway, were you almost shocked like me that it’s now November and another year has almost gone up in smoke? I know this year is 2020, and it’s a year we’d all like to accelerate through, destroy, blow up, delete or all of the above. However, a year is still a year, and good things have happened in 2020. My cousin and his wife had a baby last week and friends got married and we’ve even been to a few parties lately. Of course, we’re rather shielded from the full impact of the virus and also extensive lockdowns here, but I’ve also been researching WWI intensively this year and that puts 2020 into perspective.
Last week was a bit clunky around here. There’s been the ongoing saga of our son’s subject choices for his last year at school and trying to keep him there for another year when he doesn’t need it to go into sound engineering. I’ve been doing my research which is very slow and I must admit I’ve been doing a lot of avoidance. I find it all confusing, and since I went down the university path and that was over 30 years ago, a lot has changed and I’m starting to feel like I’m from the era of the horse and cart (or is that actually his impression of me?) Not much has been said for a few days and he was home sick today. I can’t help wondering if I lie low and don’t say anything, he’ll accidentally get through Year 12 and he’ll at least have that under his belt before he heads off to TAFE to get a trade certificate to get into the sound engineering course he wants to do. However, this is probably too much to hope for and more stress is just around the corner.
Meanwhile, my research is progressing well. I’m still beavering away on my WWI research. I posted yesterday a South Australian farmer I’m researching, Herbert A Stewart who found close to 200 messages in bottles washed up on the beach near his home in Rendelsham , South Australia. He forwarded the letters onto their intended destinations with a cover letter, and there was one day where he found 47 bottles. So, at times he was really under the pump and while this would seem a unconventional way of supporting the war effort, it would’ve made such a difference to the families and friends of these men. I was also surprised to find that some of the messages in bottles thrown overboard in the Great Australian Bight were found in New Zealand. That’s extraordinary. I’ve also found it rather calming and reassuring to think about the ocean currents circulating around the world regardless of everything else that’s going on just like the sunrise and the sunset. There’s that continuity. At least, there was before cllimate change.
This afternoon, I went for a quick walk along the beach. Even though it’s almost Summer here, a cold wind was blowing and so I just did my walk and didn’t hang about. Not unsurprisingly, I almost expecting to find piles of bottles scattered across the beach after doing all my research. However, there wasn’t much to see on our beach today….just a jellyfish.
Meanwhile, it’s getting quite late. So, I’m going to head off.
So, what’s been going on for you? I hope you’re okay and keeping safe.
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m not sure whether you can help me, but I’m hopeful.
After all, one of the things I appreciate about blogging, is how you can write and share your ideas before you’ve fully nutted them out. You can test the waters, and even hook up with others interested in the same area and collaborate in a more low-key environment. This is particularly good, too, when your nearest and dearest in terms of love, relationships and DNA, doesn’t share your research interest. Indeed, many of us would be better off talking to the dog, or trading in the cat.
However, by heading online too soon, you risk making mistakes, and there’s a definite safety in holding back until you’ve dotted the i’s crossed the t’s. Possible wisdom in staying offline perfecting your manuscript and seeing it published in print, even if your scribblings might be set in stone.
Of course, operating within the university context can provide the ideal nursery environment to safely nurture your research project and receive much needed mentoring support. However, there’s still that sense that you need to have your “shit” together before you put it out there, even as a concept. Indeed, embarking into the realms of professional research is very daunting. After all, “thou shalt not make a mistake” is its first commandment, but we’re only human. Even if it’s only a comma out of place, it’s still a mistake, and at the very least, you have to live with your own censure.
My personal journey along the serious research path is even lonelier than most. While research has been part and parcel of my writing and I have an honours degree in history, my current interests have been fuelled by the events of late 1999 and 2020. Firstly, I was forced inside by thick, suffocating bushfire smoke when I simply couldn’t breathe for weeks at a time, and I depended on our air-conditioner. After a brief intermission, I was back inside self-isolating from the coronavirus, which turned into lockdown, back to self-isolation. All I can say about that, is thank goodness for my research. It’s been a lifeline this year.
So, after keeping virtually all this research offline, I’ve decided to cast a line out into the world wide web. Moreover, just like anybody going fishing, I’m optimistic my efforts won’t return with an empty hook, and I’ll find a great big fish dangling at the end of the line,
The blog has come through for me before, and I’m hoping it will deliver once again, even if this approach does seem equally random as the very messages I’m chasing. They were written by Australian and New Zealand troops and sealed inside bottles and often thrown overboard as they crossed the Great Australian Bight with a hope they’d eventually find their intended destination.
However, my primary focus isn’t on the troops themselves, but on a South Australian farmer who found almost 200 messages in bottles near Rivoli Bay on the Limestone Coast. Not only that, Herbert A Stewart of “Bleakfield”, Rendelsham forwarded the messages to their intended destinations with a cover letter, and he even went to the trouble of forwarding letters written by NZ troops on to New Zealand.
While you would think that forwarding messages in bottles doesn’t make much of a difference to the war effort, when you look at it on this scale, it takes on a different slant. Indeed, I’m incredibly inspired by Herbert’s dedication, hard work, love and compassion for the soldiers and their families. Indeed, I’d love to be more like him.
By the way, it’s worth putting Herbert’s efforts into some kind of context. While it wasn’t unusual for soldiers to throw messages in bottles overboard in transit, so far I haven’t come across anyone else finding the sheer number of messages Herbert found. As far as I can tell, he found at least 180 bottles, and on the 31st August, 1916, he found a record 47 messages. The closest I’ve come across is Harbour Master, Ned Carrison, of Port McDonnell, South Australia who found 10 bottles on the 16th July, 1916 not far from Herbert’s stomping ground.
At the moment, I’ve only been able to identify 22 of the messages found by Herbert Stewart, and this is clearly only the tip of the iceberg. It looks like Herbert kept a record of all the messages he’d found, and I’m hoping that’s somehow been preserved. I’d also imagine that there are families out there who still know the story of how an ancestor or loved one’s message was forwarded to them by Herbert A Stewart of Bleakfield, Rendelsheim, South Australia. I would love to hear from you.
I’m also interested in the WWI messages in bottles in general. So, I’d love to hear from you if that’s of interest.
While researching messages in bottles might seem quirky and eccentric, the reality is that each bottle is a time capsule preserving a fragment of a much larger journey of a soldier, or group of soldiers heading across the ocean to the front. Moreover, they also tell a story about the person who finds the bottle. Who were they, and what were they do on the beach? They often had to work hard to salvage the scrap of paper which had been floating adrift at the mercy of the sea. I’ve read about bottles turning up covered in seaweed and barnacles. Messages which are wet and barely legible but the finder is just able to pick out an address, a name, a detail and the message has been printed in a newspaper. There was a message written by an Australian soldier which was found by a Maori man on the beach in New Zealand, Herbert Stewart also found a letter by a Maori man from the 1st Maori Continent which was found near Rivoli Bay, South Australia. Indeed, there’s something rather touching about the currents carrying these bottles across boarders and boundaries, especially when I’ve been conducting my research during Covid where we have boundaries on boundaries on boundaries, and we can’t even hug a friend. The ocean, on the other hand, knows no boundaries and these messages in bottles rose from the deep, and went where they went until they were found, retrieved and passed on. Sadly, some of these messages took years to research their destination and by that time, some of their scribes had inevitably died…killed in action, died of wounds, casualties of a foreign war.
Anyway, if you have any information to share or would like to pick my brains, please leave a message. I’d love to hear from you.
Grace was longing for a crystal ball. Desperate for clarity, she’d finally decided to see a psychic, even if it was the Devil’s work. After all, it had to be better than pouring the last remnants of hope down the pokies, especially now her winning streak was gone.
She handed over her last $50.00 note to Madame Sahara Rose. Fingers crossed.
“You’re going to fly the trapeze and find romance.”
Grace snatched her money back. That was enough bullshit to bury her alive.
Instead, she accepted the job on board the Ruby Princess. How could a cruise go wrong?
99 words Photo thanks to J Hardy Carroll.
For the last year, I’ve been researching WWI and especially the bios of individual soldiers in detail. I’m repeatedly struck by the mix of random chance, good and bad luck and also how our own choices influence our fate in both good and bad ways. I’m also interested in how we can often shoot ourselves in both feet and make matters worse, instead of improving our lot. Over the last period of time, I’ve also notice people say: “It is what it is”, as though there was nothing they or anyone or even God or science could do to improve things. Our fate isn’t etched in stone. We can make better or worse choices and unfortunately this character whose life was already down the toilet, ended up on the cruise ship which spread Covid 19 around Australia. Hopefully, this will be her turning point.
This has bee a contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. https://rochellewisoff.com/ Please forgive my clumsy links here. I’ve been forced over to the new block editor and am lost in the undergrowth.