This weekend I have the absolute privilege to share something incredibly precious and rare with you…sunshine. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s but a rare intermission in between our months and months of rain, but that makes it all the more special and I guess I should’ve been out there today to make the most of it.
However, I went for a magnificent bushwalk yesterday to my favourite little spot overlooking Pearl Beach and across to Palm Beach and all of Pittwater. While, it’s not Sydney Harbour, the views are almost as breathtakingly beautiful and from my vantage point, I feel like I had to all to myself. I didn’t need to compete with all of Sydney for a vantage point…only the birds!
How was your week?
Mine was good, but fairly busy juggling family commitments, while getting stuck back into reading two novels by Australian literary giant, Ethel Turner, which are set in World War I and so also crossed over with my research there. I managed to finish: The Cub, which was published in 1915 and sees seventeen year old John leave for Gallipoli after his older brother who enlisted in England, was killed in action fighting in France. However, this forms only a fraction of the story, and the thread is picked up in the second novel in the series: Captain Cub. However, the books focus more on the home front than the war itself and the sagas of two families.
The reason I was binge reading Ethel Turner last week, was that I’d booked into an Open Day at her former home Woodlands in Killara, and I was trying to wake up my dormant brain cells so I could sound at least somewhat knowledgeable when I introduced myself to the speakers there, which included two of her Great Grandsons. However, it didn’t really work because all that happened was that I had all this Ethel Turner stuff in my head in a jumbled fog, and nothing was coming out in neatly defined packages, and especially not the whole grail where you can sum her prolific and profound writing output up in a single word and be the ultimate unrivalised genius on the subject. Or, at least that’s what distilling facts into a single word is supposed to do. Personally, I don’t feel it would do her justice, but when you’re trying to enter the realms of the academic elite, you need to play by their rules not your own.
Anyway, in the end I decided not to go. It was going to be at least a one hour drive, and they were expecting huge crowds, terrible parking and I couldn’t help conclude that I could well pick up covid. After two years of caution, it seemed stupid to throw caution to the wind. Moreover, I saw the doctor on Friday and in what sounded like a prophetic warning, she told me that more people have died from covid in the last six months in Australia than the previous two years. So, while the politicians might be telling us we’ve switched the clock back and returned to an almost normal, the stats and medical folk are telling a different story.
Meantime, while I had my nose stuck in The Cub from 1915, our daughter, “Miss”, posted a clip on Tik Tok and unlike any of my posts here on WordPress, her clip went viral and as far as I know has now had 2.5 million views.
Well, you might ask what attracted such a response, and fool like me, you might actually believe that her video was especially meaningful and required many hours of careful planning, creativity and construction. However, you’d be mistaken. It was a very spontaneous and erroneous piece which she’d put together during her Nursing TAFE course. The school has a small quasi hospital set up and she filmed the patient dummy in bed, and then turned to film her friend swinging in the swing chair. It lasts all of a minute, and while funny and quirky, doesn’t justify that many views, especially when my philosophical musings which really might improve someone else’s life, barely attract enough traffic to fill a lane let alone a super highway. I have been wondering lately what it means to live in a society where people can read, but choose not to. This could sadly be the result.
Two years ago, our son was booked to go on a European history tour with his school, which included visiting the battlefields of WWI, and spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneaux. Wanting him to know what our family members had gone through, I started researching my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealey, and my husband’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was Killed in Action at the Battle of Mont St Quentin.
It was all supposed to be fairly quick, and nothing more than an overview. However, it was me doing the research, and after covid hit and his trip was cancelled, unravelling and understanding their WWI experiences dramatically expanded to become “My Covid Project”, especially as lockdowns and self-isolation continue. Once again, my passionate curiosity had led me astray.
As it turned out, there were some interesting twists to their stories. Uncle Jack’s parents were Irish, and the “Bill” Uncle Ralph mentioned in his diary might’ve been born in Tasmania, but his parents and siblings were German-born. While the Irish initially supported the Empire and got behind the war effort, the 1916 Uprising and the brutal English response, reignited longstanding animosity and called for independence. I’m Australian and we weren’t taught any Irish history at school or university and I just grew up with some scant reference to the potato famine. I had no idea parts of the family had come out more recently, and what had gone on. Ireland was simply the land of green grass and Guinness. Clearly, I’ve been on a steep upward curve trying to make sense of it all, and it’s no wonder I’ve ended up in an Irish mist so much of the time.
Anyway, this brings me to this short story I wanted to share with you. Of course, it will mean a lot more to people with Irish heritage, but I really enjoyed it as a story and was also intrigued by the grandmother who can’t see, but has incredible vision- very much like a close friend of mine.
My Grandmother And Myself
By Mary Synon
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOARDMAN ROBINSON
My grandmother was at the basement window, peering into the street as if she were watching for someone, when I came home from school. “Is that you, John?” she asked me as I stood in the hall stamping the snow from my boots. “Sure,” I called to her. “Who’d you think I was? A spirit?”
She laughed a little as I went into the room and flung down my books. My grandmother hasn’t seen any one in ten years, though she sits day after day looking out on the street as if a parade were passing; but she knows the thump of my books on the table as well as she knows the turning of my father’s key in the lock of the door. “‘Tis a lively spirit you’d make, Shauneen,” she said with that chuckle she saves for me. “No, ’twas your father I thought was coming.”
“What’d he be doing home at this time?”
“These are queer days,” she said, “and there are queer doings in them.”
“There’s nothing queer that I can see,” I told her.
“I’m an old, blind woman,” she said, “but sometimes I see more than do they who have the sight of their two eyes.”
She said it so solemnly, folding her hands one over the other as she drew herself up in her chair, that I felt a little thrill creeping up my spine. ”What do you mean?” I asked her.
“Time’ll tell you,” she said.
My mother came in from the kitchen then. “Norah forgot to order bacon for the morning,” she said. “Will you go to the market, John, before you do anything else?”
“Oh, I’m going skating,” I protested.
“It won’t take you five minutes,” said my mother. She seemed tired and worried. The look in her eyes made me feel that there was trouble hanging over the house. My mother isn’t like my grandmother. When things go wrong, my grandmother stands up straight, and throws back her shoulders, and fronts ahead as if she were a general giving orders for attack; but my mother wilts like a hurt flower. She was drooping then while she stood in the room, so I said: “All right, I’ll go,” though I’d promised the fellows to come to the park before four o’clock.
“And look in at the shop as you go by,” my grandmother said, “and see if your father’s there now.”
“Why shouldn’t he be?” my mother asked.
There was a queer sound in her voice that urged me around past my father’s shop. My father was there in the little office, going over blue-prints with Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and a big man I’d never seen before. I told my grandmother when I went home. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. And I dreamed last night of my cousin Michael who died trying to escape from Van Diemen’s Land.”
“You knew what?” I asked her, for again that strange way of hers sent shivery cold over me.
“Go to your skating,” she bade me.
There wasn’t much skating at Tompkins Square, though, when I found the crowd. The sun had come out strong in the afternoon and the ice was melting. “Ground-hog must have seen his shadow last week,” Bennie Curtis said. All the fellows—Joe Carey and Jim Dean and Frank Belden and Joe Krebs and Mattie Kleiner and Fred Wendell and the rest of them—had taken off their skates and were starting a tug of war in the slush. Mattie Kleiner was the captain on one side and Frank Belden the captain on the other. Mattie had chosen Joe Krebs and Jim Dean and Joe Carey on his side. Just as I came along he shouted that he chose me. Frank Belden yelled that it was his choice and that he’d take me.
“He don’t want to be on your side!” Mattie cried. “He’s with the Germans!”
“Well, I guess not,” I said, “any more than I’m with the English. I’m an American.”
“You can’t be just an American in this battle,” Frank Belden said.
“Then I’ll stay out of it,” I told him.
They all started to yell ” Neutral!” and “‘Fraid cat!” and “Oh, you dove of peace!” at me. I got tired of it after a while, and I went after Mattie hard. When I’d finished with him he bawled at me: “Wait till your father knows, he’ll fix you!”
“What for?” I jeered.
“For going against his principles, that’s what,” Mattie Kleiner roared.
“I’d like to know what you know about my father’s principles,” I laughed at him.
“Well, I ought to know,” he cried. “I heard him take the oath.”
“What oath?” we all demanded, but Mattie went off in surly silence. Joe Krebs and Joe Carey trailed after him. I stayed with the other fellows until it was dark. Then I started for home.
Joe Carey was waiting for me at the corner. “Do you believe him, John?” he asked me. “Do you believe Mattie about the oath?”
“How’s that?” I parried. I seemed to remember having heard a man who’d been at the house a fortnight before whispering something about an oath, and I knew that I’d heard my mother say to my grandmother: “I pray to God he’ll get in no trouble with any oaths or promises.” I kept wondering if Mattie Kleiner’s father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and the big man with the blue-prints who’d been in my father’s shop had anything to do with it.
“Oh, Mattie’s talking in his sleep,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” said Joe Carey; “but he wasn’t sleeping the night they had the meeting in his house. He was on the stairs going up to the top floor, and he kept the door open a little way and he heard everything they said, and nobody at all knew he was there.”
Joe Carey’s eyes were almost popping out of his head, and so I knew that Mattie had been telling him a long story.
“I guess he didn’t hear very much,” I said.
“You bet he did,” Joe declared. “He heard them reading the letters telling people not to go on the ships because they were going to be sunk, and he heard them talking about bombs and munition factories. He says that he heard your father say that he’d gladly lay down his life for the sake of Ireland.”
“But Ireland’s not in this war!”
“Sure it is! Mattie says the Germans are going to free Ireland if they beat England. That’s why the Irish ought to be with the Germans. Mattie says your father’ll be awful ashamed that you wouldn’t go on his side. Mattie says your father…”
“I don’t give a whoop what Mattie says about my father,” I told him. “I guess I can take my own part.”
“I guess you’ll have to,” said Joe.
As I went up the street toward our house I had that queer feeling that comes sometimes after I’ve been away for a while, a fear that something terrible has happened while I’ve been gone and that I’ll be blamed for it. It was dark on the street, for people hadn’t lighted the lamps in the basement dining-rooms, and I was hurrying along when suddenly a man’s voice came over my shoulder. I hadn’t heard his step behind me at all, and I jumped when he spoke.
“Where does Mr. John Sutton live?” he asked me.
“Right there.” I pointed to our house.
“Do you know him?” he asked. Through the dark I could see that he was a tall man with sharp eyes. I knew that I had never seen him before, and that he didn’t look like any of the men who came to my father’s machine-shop. “Don’t you know Mr. Sutton?” he repeated.
“Know him well, sonny?”
“He’s my father.”
He whistled softly, then laughed, turned on his heel, and strode down the street. I watched him to see if he’d take the turn toward the shop, but he turned the other way at the corner. I thought that I’d tell my grandmother about him, but my mother was with her in the dark when I went in. They were talking very low, as if someone were dead in the house, but I heard my mother say, “If I only knew how far he’s gone in this!” and my grandmother mutter: “Sure, the farther he goes in, the farther back he’ll have to come.” I stumbled over a chair as I went into the room with them, and they both stopped talking.
I could hear the little hissing whisper my grandmother always makes while she says the rosary, but I could hear no sound from my mother at all until she rose with a sigh and lighted the gas-lamp. She looked at me as if she hadn’t known I’d been there. “Have you any homework to do to-night, John?” she asked me.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “It’s Friday.”
“Then I want you to come to church with me after your dinner,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t want to go to church,” I’d said before my grandmother spoke.
“‘Twill be a queer thing to me as long as I live,” she said, “that those who have don’t want what they have and that those who haven’t keep wanting.”
The telephone bell rang just then up in the room that my father uses for an office, and I raced up to answer it. A man’s voice, younger than that of the man who’d spoken to me, came over the wire. “Say, is this John Sutton’s residence?” it asked. “And is he home? And, if he isn’t, who are you?”
“What do you want?” I called.
“Information. This is The World. We hear that there’s to be a meeting of the clans to-night, and we want to know where it’s to be held.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Can you find out?”
“No,” I lied. “There’s nobody home.”
“Won’t your father be home for dinner?”
Even then I could hear his key turning in the lock, could hear him passing on his way up to his bedroom, but a queer kind of caution was being born in me. “No, sir,” I said. (pg227)
“Who was that?” my grandmother asked me when I went down.
I told her of the call, told her, too, of the man who had stopped me on the street. Her rosary slipped through her fingers. “I feared it,” she said. Then the whisper of her praying began again.
At dinner my father was strangely silent. Usually he talks a great deal, all about politics, and the newspapers, and the trouble with the schools, and woman-suffrage, and war. But he said nothing at all except to ask me if the skating were good. My mother was just as quiet as he, and I would have been afraid to open my mouth if my grandmother hadn’t started in to tell about New York in the days she’d come here, more than sixty-five years ago. She talked and talked about how different everything had been then, with no tall buildings and no big bridges and no subways and no elevateds. “Faith, you can be proud of your native town, John,” she said to my father.
“I wish I’d been born in Ireland,” he said.
She laughed. “And if I’d stayed in Ireland, I’d have starved,” she said, “and little chance you’d have had of being born anywhere.”
“It might have been just as well,” he said bitterly.
“Oh, no,” she said; “there’s Shauneen.”
He rose from the table, flinging down his napkin. “I won’t be home till very late,” he said to my mother.
She stood up beside him. “Do you have to go, John?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh, John,” she said, “I’m afraid.”
“Of what may happen you.”
“Nothing’ll happen me,” he said.
I wanted to tell him of the strange man who had halted me on the street, and of the telephone call, but my father’s anger was rising and I feared to fan it to flame. My grandmother said nothing until after my father had gone. Then she spoke to my mother.
“Don’t you know better,” she asked her, “and you eighteen years married to him, than to ask John not to do something you don’t want him to do?”
My mother began to cry as we heard the banging of the outer door after my father. “Well, if you can do nothing else,” my grandmother said, “you’d better be off to church. Keep your eyes open, Shauneen,” she warned me, while my mother was getting her hat and coat.
It was a grand night, with the evening star low in the sky, like a lamp, and the big yellow moon just rising in the east. The wind blew sharp and salt off the water, but there was a promise of spring in the air, saying that it must be almost baseball time. We went over to the Jesuit church, walking slowly all the way. There we knelt in the dark until I was stiff. As we came out my mother stopped at the holy-water font. “John,” she said, “will you promise me that if you ever marry you’ll never set any cause but God’s above your wife?”
“No, ma’am, I won’t,” I said, vaguely understanding that my father had hurt my mother by his refusal to stay at home, and wondering what cause he had set above her. As we walked toward the car line I remembered what Joe Carey had told me of Mattie Kleiner’s speech about my father. “Do you have to go to Ireland to die for Ireland?” I asked her. She clutched my hand. “My grandfather died for Ireland,” she said, “and he wasn’t the first of his line to die for her. But I pray God that he may have been the last.” She said no more till we came into our own house.
My grandmother was still at the window of the dining-room. There was no light, and my mother did not make one. “There was another telephone call,” my grandmother said. “Norah answered it. ‘Twas the newspaper calling again for John to ask about the meeting. She said she knew nothing about it and that no one was here to answer.”
“Do you suppose,” I said, “it was detectives?”
They said nothing, and I could feel a big lump coming up my throat. I thought they might not have heard me until my grandmother said: “Do you know, Kate, where the meeting is?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” my mother cried. She turned to me sharply. “Go to bed, John,” she said.
“I know where the meetings are,” (pg 228) I blurted out, eager enough for any excuse to put off the hateful order. “They’re at Mattie Kleiner’s house, because he hides on the stairs when they come, and he heard them take the oath.”
“Is that Matthew Kleiner’s boy?” my grandmother asked, so quietly that I thought she had not realized the importance of my news.
“Go to bed, Shauneen.” She repeated my mother’s order.
I went up-stairs, leaving the two of them silent in the dark. I whistled while I undressed, but I shivered after I had turned out the light and jumped between the sheets. I was going to lie awake waiting for my father’s return, but I must have dozed, for I thought that it was in the middle of the night that something woke me. I knew, as soon as I woke, that someone was in my room. I could feel him groping. I tried to speak, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Then I heard a faint whisper. “Shauneen,” it said.
So far away it seemed that I thought it might be a ghost until my grandmother spoke again. “Your mother’s in bed now,” she said. “Put on your clothes as quick as you can.”
“What is it?” I whispered.
“We’re going to Matthew Kleiner’s, you and I,” she said. “I’d go alone if I could see.”
“What time is it?”
“Between ten and eleven.”
I pulled my clothes on as fast as I could. Then stealthily as thieves we crept out from my room and down the stairs. I held my grandmother’s hand and wondered at its steadiness. When we had come outside the basement-door she halted me. “Look down the street for the tall man,” she bade me. There was no one in sight, however, and we walked along sturdily, turning corners until we came to Kleiner’s.
It was a red-brick house in a row, not a basement house like ours, but with a cellar below and an attic above its two main floors. There was no light on the first floor, but I thought that I saw a stream behind the drawn curtains upstairs. I found the bell and pushed on it hard. No one came for a long time. I rang again. I could see shadows back of the shades before Mattie Kleiner’s mother came.
“What is it?” she demanded before she opened the door.
“Tell her that your mother’s sick, and that you’ve come for your father,” my grandmother ordered me.
I repeated what she’d said.
Mrs. Kleiner opened the door. “Oh,” she cried, “it is Mrs. Sutton and little John. Oh, you did frighten me. Is the mother very sick? I shall call the father.”
“Let me go to him,” my grandmother said. We were inside the hall then, and I put her hand on the railing of the stairway. She had started up before Mrs. Kleiner tried to stop her. “I’ve a message for him,” said my grandmother. Mrs. Kleiner and I followed her. At the top of the stairs I turned her toward the front room, for I could hear the murmur of voices. I passed a door and wondered if Mattie Kleiner were hiding behind it. “Oh, we must not go in,” Mrs. Kleiner pleaded. “The men will not want us to go in.” She tried to stop us, but my grandmother turned, looking at her as if she could see her. “I’ve always followed my own conscience, ma’am,” she said, “not my husband’s, nor my son’s, nor any other man’s.”
From within the front room came the sound of the voices, growing louder and louder as we stood there, my grandmother alert, Mrs. Kleiner appalled, I myself a thrill. I could hear my father’s voice, short, sharp. “It’s our great opportunity,” he was saying. “We have only to strike the blow at England’s empire, and the empire itself will arise to aid us. Twenty thousand men flung into Canada will turn the trick. French Quebec is disaffected. What if soldiers are there? We can fight them! We may die, but what if we do? We will have started the avalanche that will destroy Carthage!”
There were cries of “Right!” to him. Then a man began to talk in German. His voice rang out harshly. From the murmurs that came out to us we knew that the men were applauding his words, but we had no idea of what the words were. Mrs. Kleiner stood wringing her hands. “Who’s in there?” my grandmother asked her.
“I do not know,” she insisted.
“Joe Krebs’s uncle is there,” I said. “I know his cough. And Mr. Winngart who keeps the delicatessen shop. And Frank Benner’s father; and that’s Mr. Carey’s voice.”
“They just meet for fun,” groaned Mrs. Kleiner.
“Sure, I saw that kind of fun before,” said my grandmother, “when the Fenians went after the Queen’s Own.”
My father’s voice rose again. “We are ready to fire the torch? We are ready to send out the word tonight for the mobilization of our sympathizers? We are ready to stand together to the bitter end?”
“We are ready!” came the shout. Then my grandmother opened the door.
Through the haze of their tobacco smoke they looked up, the dozen men crowded into the Kleiners’ front bedroom, to see my grandmother standing before them, a bent old woman in her black dress and shawl, her little jet bonnet nodding valiantly from its perch on her thin white hair. She looked around as if she could see every one of them. My father had sprung forward at her coming, and, as if to hold him off, she put up one hand.
“Is it yourself, John Sutton, who’s talking here of plots, and plans, and war?” she said. Her voice went up to a sharp edge. She flung back her head as if she defied them to answer her. All of them, my father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and Mr. Carey and Mr. Winngart and the big man who’d had the blue-prints in the shop, and the others, stared at her as if she were a ghost. No one of them moved as she spoke.
“‘Tis a fine lot you are to be sitting here thinking ways to bring trouble on yourselves, and your wives, and your children, and your country. Who are there here of you? Is it yourself, Benedict Krebs, who’s going out to fight for Germany when your own father came to this very street to get away from Prussia? Is it you, Matthew Kleiner, who gives roof to them who plot against America, you, who came here to earn a living that you couldn’t earn at home? Is it you, Michael Carey, who’s helping them hurt the land that’s making you a rich man? Shame on you; shame on you all!”
“Why shouldn’t we fight England?” Joe Carey’s father said with a growl. “You’d be the last one, Mrs. Sutton, that I’d think’d set yourself against that.”
“‘Tis not England,” said my grandmother, “that you fight with your plots. ‘Tis America you strike when you strike here. And, as long as you stay here, be Americans and not traitors!”
They began to murmur at that, and my father said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother. You’d better take John home. This is no place for either of you.”
“No more than it’s a place for you,” she said. “Will you be coming home with me now?”
“I will not,” my father said.
“Faith, and you’ll all be wishing you had,” she told them, “when the jails’ll be holding you in the morning.”
“The jails!” The big man who had held the blue-prints came closer to us. “What is it you say of jails? You have told the police, then?”
“I didn’t need to,” my grandmother said. “The government men have been watching this long time. ‘Twill be at midnight that they’ll come here. But ’tis not myself they’ll be finding.”
I saw the men’s glances flash around the room through the smoky haze before she called: “Come, Shauneen.”
I took her hand again and led her out of the room. Just before the door closed after us I saw that my father’s face had grown very white and that Mattie Kleiner’s father had dropped his pipe on the floor.
Outside the house I spoke to my grandmother tremblingly. “Do the police really know?” I asked her.
She gave her dry little chuckle. “If they don’t, they should,” she answered; “but I was born an O’Brien, and I’ve never known one of them yet that ever told the police anything. No, Shauneen,” she laughed, “’twas the high hill I shot at, but I’m thinking that the shot struck. We’ll watch.”
We crossed the street and waited in the shadow of the house at the corner. For a little while all was quiet at Kleiner’s. Then I saw the tall man come out with Joe Krebs’s uncle. After a time my father came out with Mr. Winngart and Mr. Carey. They walked to the other (Pg 230) corner and stood there a moment before they separated.
“Shall we go home now?” I asked my grandmother after I had told her what I had seen.
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ve one more errand to do this night.”
I thought it might have something to do with the tall man who’d spoken to me or with the telephone call, and I wondered when she sighed. “I’m a very old woman,” she seemed to be saying to herself. “I’ll be ninety-one years come Michaelmas Day. Some of the world I’ve seen, and much of life. Out of it all I’ve brought but a few things. I’d thought to give these to my son. But—” She paused. “How old are you, Shauneen?” she asked me.
“Fourteen,” I said.
“Old enough,” she nodded. She turned her head as if she were looking for something or someone. Then: “Do you know your way to the Battery?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I told her. “Are you going there?”
It had been quiet enough in our part of town. It was quieter yet when we came to Bowling Green and walked across to the Battery. Down there, past the high buildings and the warehouses, we seemed to have come into the heart of a hush. To the north of us the sky was afire with the golden glow from the uptown lights. In front of us ran the East River and the North River. Out on Bedloe’s Island I could see the shining of the Goddess of Liberty’s torch. Every little while a ferry-boat, all yellow with lights, would shoot out on the water. A sailing-vessel moved slowly after its puffing tug. The little oyster-boats were coming in from the bay. A steamer glided along past it as I walked with my grandmother out toward the old Castle Garden.
On the Saturday before Joe Carey and I had come down to the piers, prowling all afternoon on the docks, watching the men bringing in the queer crates and boxes and bags while we told each other of the places from where the fruits and spices and coffee and wines had come. There were thousands and thousands of ships out there in the dark, I knew, and I began to tell my grandmother what some of the sailors had told us of how the trade of the world was crowding into New York, with the ships all pressing the docks for room.
“If you could only see it!” I said to her.
“I can see more than that,” she said. Then: “Take me to the edge of the waters,” she bade me.
Wondering and a little frightened, obeyed her, trying to solve the while the mystery of her whim to bring me to the deserted park in the middle of the night.
“Is Castle Garden over there?” she pointed. “Then, I’ve my bearings now.”
She stood alone, a little way off from me, staring seaward as if she counted the shadowy ships. The wind blew her thin white hair from under her bonnet and raised the folds of her shawl. There in the lateness of the night, alone at the edge of the Battery, she didn’t seem to be my grandmother at all, but some stranger. I remembered the story I’d read somewhere of an old woman who’d brought a pile of books to a King of Rome, books that she threw away, one by one, as he refused them, until there was but one book left. When he’d bought that one from her he’d found that it was the book of the future of the empire and that he’d lost all the rest through his folly. As I looked at my grandmother I thought she must be like the old woman of the story. Even her voice sounded strange and deep when she turned to me.
“It was sixty-five years ago the seventh of November that I first stood on this soil,” she said. “‘Tis a long lifetime, and, thank God, a useful one I’ve had. Burdens I’ve had, but never did I lack the strength to bear them. Looking back, I’m sorry for many a word and many a deed, but I’ve never sorrowed that I came here.”
I would have thought that she had forgotten me if she hadn’t touched my arm. “You’ve heard tell of the famine, Shauneen,” she went on, “the great famine that fell on Ireland, blighting even the potatoes in the ground? We’d a little place in Connaught then, a bit of land my father was tilling. We hadn’t much, even for the place, but we were happy enough, God knows, with our singing and dancing and the fairs and the patterns. Then, little by little, we grew poorer and poorer. I was the oldest of the seven of us. My (pg 231) Mother and myself’d be planning and scraping to find food for the rest of them. Everyday we’d see them growing thinner and thinner. Oh, mavrone, the pity of it! And they looking at us betimes as if we were cheating them of their bit of a sup! Sometimes now in the dark I see them come to my bed, with their soft eyes begging for bread, and we having naught to give them. Brigid—she was the youngest of them all—died. Then my father went.
“I used to go down to the sea and hunt the wrack for bits of food. There by the shore I would look over here to America and pray, day after day, that the Lord would send to us some help before my mother should go. You don’t know what it is to pray, Shauneen. Your father cannot teach you and your mother hopes you’ll never learn. For prayer is born in agony, avick (my son), and grief and loss and sorrow. But because you are the son of my soul I pray for you that life may teach you prayer. For when you come to the end of the road, Shauneen, you’ll know that ’tis not the smoothness of the way, but the height of it and the depth of it, that measures your travelling. Far, far down in the depths I went when I prayed over there on the bleak coast of Connaught.
“God answered my prayer. There came from America food to us. There came, too, the chance for me to come here with the promise of work to do. ‘Twas a drear day when I left home. How I cursed England as I looked back on the hills of Cork harbor, all green and smiling as if never a blight had cast its shadow behind them!
“‘Twas a long, dreary sailing. Nine weeks we were in the crossing. A lifetime I thought it was between the day I looked on the western sea from the Connaught mountains and the day when I stood here looking back toward home. Sure life is full of lifetimes like those.”
She paused a moment, but I felt as if I were under a spell that I must not break by word of mine. A cloud came over the moon and all around us grew shadowy. The big throb that the city always beats at night kept sounding like the thrumming of an orchestra waiting for the violin solo to start.
“I’d plenty of them before many years.” My grandmother’s voice came like the sound for which the thrumming had waited. “Did you ever think what it means to the poor souls who come here alone for their living? When you’ve a house of your own, Shauneen, with men servants and maid servants, don’t forget that your father’s mother worked out for someone. They were kind people, too, who took me to their homes. Don’t forget that either. For ’tis my first memory of America. Kind they were, and just. They helped me save what I earned and they showed me ways of helping my folks at home. I’d brought out Danny and James and Ellen and Mary before the war. I met each one of them right here at Castle Garden. That’s why I always think of this place as the gateway through which the Irish have come to America. Sure Ellis Island’s been for the Italians and the Jews and the Greeks. We didn’t wait outside the door. We came straight in,” she chuckled.
“My mother wouldn’t come from the old place. Long I grieved over her there in the little house where my father and Brigid had died, but after a while I knew she was happier so. Sometimes, Shauneen, I think of Ireland as an old woman, like my mother, sitting home alone in the old places, grieving, mourning, with her children out over the world, living the dreams of her nights by the fire. ‘Twas here we found the freedom the Irish had been fighting for. ‘Twas here, away from landlords and landholding, away from famine and persecution, that we found that life need not be a thing of sorrow. ‘Twas here I met your grandfather.
“I’d nothing of my own, and your grandfather had but a trifle more when we married. I suppose ’tis brave that people would call us now. We didn’t think that we were. We were young and strong and we loved each other. And we were getting along fairly well—we’d started the payments on a bit of a house of our own after your father was born— when the war came down on us.
“Your grandfather went with the brigade. Not twice did we think whether or not he should go. We knew that he owed his first duty to the country that (pg 232)had called him, and sheltered him, and given him work and hope and freedom. For he was a boy from home as I was a girl from home. I stood on the curbstone the day he marched by, with your father in my arms, and I cheered for the flag. ‘Sure he’ll be walking to meet you when you come back!’ I called, lifting up the child. Your grandfather never came back. He fell at Marye’s Heights.”
When she spoke again her voice had changed more to her every-day tone. “Well, I raised your father,” she said, “and I thought I was raising him well. My arms were strong. I worked at the wash-tub morning, noon, and night. It wasn’t long till I had a laundry of my own. I thought to give my son all that I’d ever wanted for myself. Perhaps that was where I made my mistake. I thought too much of the things that money can buy in those years when money was so hard to earn. Perhaps ’twas myself and no other who taught your father the cold, hard things of life, though, God knows, I’d no thought to do it. He’s a good man in many ways, but he’s not the man I want you to be. He’s a good hater but he’s not a good lover. And, faith, what’s there in life but love?”
I moved a little then, and my grandmother swung me around, with her two hands on my shoulders, and, blind as she is, stared at me as if she were looking right down into my heart. “Shauneen,” she said, “I have prayed, day and night, that your father might be to America the good citizen his father was. I have prayed that if America should ever need him he would stand ready for her call. I have prayed that he’d love America as I have loved America. I love Ireland, mavrone. Always in my heart do I see her hills as they looked on the morning I looked back on them from the sea. But I love America, too, and I wanted my son to love her even more than I do. I’ve wanted him to love this land as my fathers and their fathers loved Ireland. ‘Twas not that I wanted him to forget my land; when he was a lad like you, I’d tell him tales of Ireland’s glory and of Ireland’s woe. How was I to know that all it would do for him was to rouse the black hate for England? I taught him love for Ireland, but never did I teach him to set my land above his own.
“For ’twas America gave us our chance, Shauneen, when we’d no other place on earth to seek. Hard days we’ve known here, too, days when even the children jeered at us, but we’ve never felt the hand of the oppressor upon us since we touched our feet on these shores. We’ve been free and we’ve prospered. Fine houses we have and fine clothes; and ’tis a long day since I knew the pinch of hunger. This is our debt. Tell me again, Shauneen, what you see out there?”
I told her of the shining lights, of the funnels of the steamers, of the piled piers, of the little oyster-boats, of the great liners waiting the word for their sailing.
“‘Twould be a fine sight,” she sighed. “Do you think me a madwoman to bring you here?” she went on, as if she had read my thought. “Perhaps I am that. Perhaps I’m not. For you’ll remember this night when you’ve forgotten many another time, just as I remember the day when my mother took me to the shrine at Knock. For this is the shrine of your country, Shauneen, this old Castle Garden, where your people set foot in the land that’s given them liberty. Here it was that I told my brothers and my sisters of the future before them. Here it is that I’m telling you that your country will be the greatest nation of all the world if only you lads stay true to her. That’s why I’ve brought you here to-night, Shauneen. I’m an old, old woman. I’ve not long for this earth. But I’ve this message for you; it’s yours; this duty that your father shirks when he plots with black traitors who’d drag us into wars that are not of our choosing. Raise your hand, Shauneen. Say after me: ‘As long as I live, God helping me, I shall keep my country first in my heart and, after God, first in my soul!”
Through the misty moonlight there came to me the memory of my mother’s plea at the door of the church, my mother’s cry: “Promise me that you’ll set no cause but God’s before your wife!” Some battle of spirit struggled within me. For an instant I was silent. Then, suddenly, as if the moon had ridden above the cloud, I saw the right. “Since all (pg 233) true causes come from God, it is right to set my own country above anything else that may ever come. I said the words after my grandmother. She took my face between her hands and kissed me. “God keep you, Shauneen, for the woman who’ll love you, and the children you’ll teach, come.” Then through a sleeping city my grandmother and I went home.
There’s a lot to absorb and process in this story, but I wanted to share it with you first.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you and get a bit of discussion going.
As many of you will be aware, I’ve been researching WWI rather intensively for the last two years in what has emerged as a series of research projects. Those of you who also research in a more intuitive fashion and allow yourselves the luxury of pursuing all those twists and turns others might dismiss as “distractions”, “rabbit warrens”, will be familiar with the joy of discovering new worlds and perspectives you never knew existed, rather than simply proving your own point. It was this seemingly random fossicking, which led me to Australian author, Ethel Turner from an entirely different angle finding a message of hope, human kindness and generosity we sorely need today.
To do this story justice, I’m going to straddle the story of Christmas 1921 across both my blogs here at Beyond the Flow, and over at Tea With Ethel Turner. Here I’ll provide more of the social and political background and context to Christmas 1921 and why it was special while over at Tea With Ethel Turner, I’ll share how she made a difference to Christmas 1921 with her band of Sunbeamers.
While the 1920s is often portrayed as a time of unrestrained celebration after the horrors of WWI, the reality was much more complex and certainly Christmas 1921 was a time of very mixed fortunes. Sure, the war was over. The Spanish Flu was also officially over as well. On the 6th December, 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed seeing independence for Southern Ireland and ending the Anglo-Irish War. The Washington Conference was also promising peace in the Pacific. Yet, following his speech on the 20th December, 1921 Mr Stanley Bruce (the 8th Prime Minister from 1923 to 1929) who was representing Australia at the League of Nations, was described as “a supreme pessimist: sees nothing but trouble” after these dire warnings :
“SYDNEY, Tuesday.—Mr. S. M. Bruce, speaking at a National Club luncheon, remarked: “When one comes, back to Australia one is a little horrified to see what is going on. The whole of Europe to-day is struggling in a morass and it is doubtful whether it will ever get out. It is recognised if nothing is done to restore the economic stability of the world a wave of Bolshevism may spread all over the earth. We in Australia have a land where everything is good. Our country is the soundest of any in the world, but it is going to be faced, with the same troubles as the rest. We do not seem to have recognised this. We are only squabbling amongst ourselves.1.”
Gee, does this sound strangely familiar?
Anyway, here’s “Christmas 1921” which was published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve, 1921:
For many thousands of people throughout the world this must be a “black” Christmas. Almost every country is suffering from the effects of those five years of war, during which production was stopped and the savings of decades were scattered. Thousands of families to-day will be clouded with anxiety because there is no longer a market for the goods the production of which has furnished them with a means of living and their breadwinners with employment. To other families Christmas brings back memories which, though they are colored with pride, arc memories of sadness. It seems impossible that in the lifetime of this generation Christmas shall ever be a season of unmixed rejoicing, except for the children, whose festival it is. Yet throughout the world it will be recognised that the Christmas of 1921 is more in accord with those universal ideals which it connotes than any that we have known for many years past. To-morrow men can take part in a festival of peace and hope without any reflection on the vanity of human effort or the insincerity of all professions of faith. The year has been one in which a genuine and fruitful attempt has been made to banish the dangers of war. For the first time for a hundred years the statesmen of the world have given a practical demonstration of their faith that peace should be the goal of their policy and is the greatest .of human blessings. The delegates to Washington have set aside personal ambition and national avarice in their work for the good of mankind. The delegates from Great Britain and Ireland have agreed that each nation may have failed to appreciate the point of view of the other, and that each must make sacrifices of its own beliefs for the sake of peace. And when these public achievements are noticed men will be driven back to remember the many private acts of beneficence that have been carried out during the past three years. “There is a budding to-morrow in midnight.” It may pass unnoticed while men are oppressed by the surrounding darkness, but it should be acknowledged when we have at last arrived at the dawning of an era of peace and goodwill. In almost every epoch there are lamentations at the incurable selfishness of mankind or at the degeneration of the human species, and invariably they are answered by convincing examples. Before the war we were told that the age of self sacrifice had passed, that men had degenerated physically and morally, that the virtue of patriotism would be practised only by barbarians. The last months of 1914 answered, that reproach. Never was there a clearer response to the appeal of idealism, never did men come forward more spontaneously to avenge and to rescue the oppressed. Every day of the blackest period of human history was illuminated by some act of devotion, when men sacrificed themselves for one another or for their cause, when the motive of self interest, conspicuous though it was, was less frequently exemplified than any other. Since attention has been concentrated on the struggle for the spoils of victory the nobility of hundreds of thousands of obscure lives has been forgotten, but to-day it can be remembered and can be acknowledged as of the same quality as the self-sacrifice which has been placed at the service of the famine-stricken peoples of Europe. To-day we may rejoice in the efforts made by statesmen to establish peace among nations. But while these same states men were manoeuvring other work more urgently and immediately needed was being carried on with even less regard for international boundaries. In Austria and Ger many citizens of the victorious countries have given their money and their services for the sake Of their former enemies. The war, though it has founded much hatred and bitterness, has produced the clearest practical recognition of the brotherhood of man. The period In which lamentations at the folly and avarice of men have be on most frequent, and apparently most abundantly justified, has again seen them answered by the most indisputable examples. “Man, what is this? And why are thou despairing? God shall forgive thee all but thy despair?” The same question might have been asked, and the same comment made at any time during the period which is now coming to an end. At no time has there been so much self-sacrifice; at no time have individual citizens been so ready to spend their lives in the service of their fellowmen, and, if necessary, to ignore the boundaries ‘between one nation and another. Was there ever a more heroic instance of such devotion than that given by Sir Arthur Pearson, who “turned his necessity to glorious gain,” and set himself to brighten-the lives of others stricken with the same infirmity as himself? In this last period the work of the individual has been -in contrast with that of the statesmen; but we cannot afford to forget it now that the statesmen are giving themselves to the furtherance of peace and concord. Rather the inference should be that the impulse towards peace and brotherhood is never dead, but moves forward continually until statesmen are compelled to reduce into the form of a. public document’ the desire of hundreds of thousands of their constituents. We cannot say to-day that these efforts towards pacification have been completely successful. Both at Washington – and In Ireland there are elements so blinded by tradition that they cannot obey the force of reason. But all the ‘omens for peace are good. Not since the reign of – Caesar Augustus have there been so many signs of unity among the nations that make up the civilised world, and not since the Great War ended has there been so good a prospect that the men who fought there will reap the fruit of their sacrifices In the elimination of one of the chief causes of future wars.”2.
I can’t help looking back at these precious people of Christmas 1921 with their varying degrees of pessimism and hope, but still probably largely believing something could be done. That the Wall Street Crash, The Depression along and WWII weren’t just around the corner, although the writing was already on the wall.
Those babies born at Christmas 1921 would be 19 years old in 1939. It is unthinkable that so many of them went on to fight on the very same battlefields as their fathers, and that Australia’s sons would also find themselves fighting the Japanese and defending home soil. Our women weren’t immune either.
Yikes, sometimes time travel isn’t much fun after all, is it?!!
Meanwhile, while I’m tapping away here about Christmas 1921, we’re watching the movie: Don’t Look Up. A comet is threatening to collide with the Earth and the response of Americans is let’s just say “a concern”. I know that while we’re focusing on covid, climate change is our big threat and most of us don’t see it coming either. I hope this movie isn’t too prophetic!
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Hauled up at home on a wet and overcast day with covid spreading like wildfire all around us, I feel like I’m talking to myself. However, I know you’re out there and I’d love to hear from you!
Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), Wednesday 21 December 1921, page 13
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.