Tag Archives: Australian History

Exploring Bathurst, Australia…A Trip Back In Time.

Absence is the sign of a great, well-enjoyed holiday – absolutely no posts until well after you’ve arrived home. That’s because you’re not only seizing every single moment you’re away. You’re also so exhausted from your holiday, that you also need to recover.

That describes our trip to Bathurst well.

On the 18th August (just over a week ago now), Geoff and I left on a four day escape to Bathurst without the kids. After two years of intermittent covid lockdowns and isolations along with just over 18 years of parenting, this represented a tremendous achievement. Indeed, it could well be argued that it would be easier to climb Mt Everest, except you’d probably accuse me of hyperbole or that old favourite….being a drama queen! Anyway, the only reason we could get away now was because Miss was off to the Gold Coast for four days competing in Nationals for cheerleading.

However, just like Cinderella, we had restrictions in place. Firstly, we had to drop her off at the station at the unholy hour of 5.30am necessitating a 4.30am wake up for this die hard night owl. Then, we had to pick her up from the local train station at 4.00 pm Sunday afternoon. Of course, we didn’t want our beloved red Alfa 959 to get turned into a pumpkin if we ran late. If you’re the parent of a teenager or if you’ve ever been, you’ll know the teenager should not be upset, inconvenienced or forgotten. Being turned into a pumpkin could be an optimistic outcome!

Well, you might ask why we would go to Bathurst when we could almost go anywhere on the planet for our special extended weekend away. Well, given the time restraints, not quite anywhere but there was still quite a smorgasbord of choice available. Firstly, since we live at the beach, we wanted to go to the country to experience something different. We are both pretty interested in history and photography and we thought we’d check out old mining towns in the area as well as the race track at Mt Panorama.

Bathurst was traditionally owned by the Wiradjuri People, or “the people of the
three rivers”, being the Wambuul (Macquarie), Kalari (Lachlan) and the
Murrumbidjeri (Murrumbidgee).
Meanwhile, the city of Bathurst was founded
in 1815, and is the oldest settlement west of the Great Dividing Range. It is located on the Macquarie River about 200 kms West-Northwest of Sydney. Following the discovery of the first payable gold at nearby Ophir, on 12 February 1851; all roads led to Bathurst. Indeed, on the 17th May, 1851 the Bathurst Free Press reported: “A complete mental madness appears to have seized almost every member of the community. There has been a universal rush to the diggings.” The goldrush has left it’s imprint on Bathurst and the surrounding regions architecturally, which was one of the reasons we were heading
up there- photography! Bathurst’s other great claim to fame is the Bathurst
1000 Supercars Race
, which goes around the legendary Mt Panorama Circuit.
Car racing is more Geoff’s thing, but I was also looking forward to driving
round the track for the first time.

So, let’s get cracking…

Day One- Umina Beach to Bathurst.

After dropping MIss off, we headed to Bathurst via the Bell’s Line Road, which is an alternate route across the Blue Mountains to the more conventional Great Western Highway via Katoomba. When asked why we went this way, Geoff tells me “it is a much more fun road with better scenery and you’re not stuck in traffic all the way. Why would you want to be stuck in traffic all the way?” Makes sense to me.

Now, I’m going to pick up our journey from Bell’s Line Road, which took us through the
Blue Mountains National Park. In 2019, four horrific bushfires swept through the
region decimating bushland on an unimaginable scale. We drove through vast
expanses of burned out vegetation at times stretching as far as the eye could see. It’s
starting to regrow, but the loss was catastrophic. You can get an impression of
the scale of these fires on the map here. Yet, we also stopped to enjoy spectacular views of soaring cliffs, and also saw a few wildflowers.

Bilpin

We arrived in Bilpin around 8.00am and were delighted to find the Grumpy Baker. We shared one of their epic sausage rolls, while I also indulged in the most luxuriously
delicious cinnamon scroll I’ve ever had, and Geoff ordered an apple turnover.
With eyes much bigger than our stomach’s, we also ordered a cheese stick for in
the car. I almost forgot to mention my coffee. I usually don’t drink coffee due
to my heartburn. However, feeling like a veritable zombie after around 4 hours
sleep, it was a must, and I couldn’t believe the difference it made. I could
well understand how coffee keeps the masses alive.

Before we left Bilpin, I had a rather “interesting” experience. The public
toilets were a short drive down the road. Although this should
have been a very straightforward experience, I actually got locked in the
toilet and couldn’t get out. The lock was a bit complicated and I’m turning it
this way and that and pushing and then Geoff realized I was stuck and started
pushing from the outside without any luck while I kept fiddling with the lock.
By this stage, a mixture of dread, panic and potential embarrassment was
setting in as I was starting to think we would be needing to call the police to
let me out. OMG!!! That happened to a friend at a restaurant once and he was
just lucky he’d taken his mobile phone with him and called us at the table to
let him out. You could just imagine the laughter. We were such a sympathetic
bunch. So, while you might say this was karma 30 years later, I didn’t see it
that way. Anyway, I looked up and saw a second rather serious looking lock and
hey presto, I was out. The toilets had just been cleaned and it looks like they
hadn’t latched back the lock. Phew!

Bathurst

You can see how cold it was in this photo. I was very rugged up!

We arrived in Bathurst around 10.00am (can you believe we’d travelled 248 kilometres before 10.00am? I doubt it!!). Our first stop was the Visitors’ Centre where we came across one of three restored Cobb and Co. coaches in existence. Now, we really knew we were travelling back in time. We left with a swag of tourist brochures, heading for the town centre.

Almost…Geoff being Geoff, headed straight for Mt Panorama and the Bathurst 1000 track before we’d had much of a look around town. It was interesting, even a bit exhilarating, to drive round the actual track in person after watching the race on TV. It certainly gave me a much better appreciation of what the drivers go through at
speeds of up to 300 kph, even though we had to stick to the speed limit of 60 KPH which dropped down to 40KPH in a few treacherous spots. I was too tired to even think about having a go myself.

We headed back into town. After doing a quick drive around the streets where I was literally salivating over all the historic architecture, we parked at Machattie Park on William and Keppel Streets and set out on foot armed with our cameras. Machattie Park is a wonderland all by itself. Moreover, it was surrounded by an incredible array of striking historic buildings. To be honest, I didn’t know quite where to point my camera, and was very grateful for digital technology where I could snap away to my heart’s content.

After sunset, we made it to our hotel, Rydges at Mt Panoroma, which is located right on the race track on Conrod Straight. Of course, it would be incredible on race day, but entirely out of our league. We have no idea how much it would cost, but it’s booked out for the next three years. When Geoff, Mister and their crew went to Bathurst, they were slumming it in tents, although being out in the paddocks had a culture all of its own.

We didn’t see much beyond sunset and crashed for the night. The early morning start had well and truly caught up with us.

Day Two – Carcoar and Milthorpe 

The second day of our trip was a reminder that there’s only 24 hours in a day and brings to mind that old question about whether life is about the journey or the destination.

It began with breakfast at Nicky’s Cafe in Bathurst after we slept through
breakfast at the hotel. I wandered across the road dazzled by architecture and
a laser display and then wandered down an alleyway being lead by my camera and
not by the clock. We were heading for Carcoar to see an old school friend of mine and Geoff mentioned getting there before she closed but I had all day. This steady stop-start meandering continued all the way to Carcoar, and you guessed it, she was closed by the time we got there, and she’d had to shoot off to Orange. Another note to self about prioritising.

We scooted around Carcoar which was absolutely stunning. We drove back to Bathurst via Millthorpe.

Day Three- Driving Around the Bathurst Track, Sofala and Hill End

By day three, we were well and truly into holiday mode, which in our case, had nothing to do with relaxing and was all about trying to squeeze as much as we could into one day.

Rowena Conquers the Mountain at Bathurst.

Before we headed off to Sofala, yours truly finally had the chance to drive around the racetrack at Mt Panorama in our Alfa 159. While neither a Ford nor a Holden, Alfas have also had their day out at Bathurst. I was really proud of myself for “conquering the mountain” because I’ve generally been quite an anxious driver and I wasn’t nervous at all despite some very sharp bends. I’d gone round the track again with Geoff taking note of the trouble spots and thought it doesn’t matter if I take those serious bends like a snail, as long as I made to the end. After all, I wasn’t trying to be Peter Brock, the undisputed King of the Mountain! Hurray! I did it!!

After going round Bathurst i.e. the track, we were off to the former gold mining town of Sofala, followed by Hill End. Artist Russell Drysdale immortalised Sofala with his award-winning landscape (pictured above). I have a feeling my parents had a print of Sofala at home growing up as it feels very familiar. Another artist, Donald Friend, was with Drysdale at the time and did his own version which isn’t as well known. For some time, I’ve been wanting to get out to Sofala and and photograph my own version. I was most annoyed that a telegraph pole was put right in the way along with all the parked cars, but otherwise the scene looked pretty much the same. However, being Winter it didn’t have the omnipresent sense of blazing heat of Drysdale’s work.

Next stop Hill End. By now, we were hungry and I remembered reading about Hill End Pies at the Hill End Estate found at 3664 Hill End Road, Hill End. Thanks to plumber turned pastry chef, Steve Rattray, we were in for a treat, especially with the Danish pastries we had for dessert. Oh golly! I’d get in the car and go there now if it weren’t for the 319 kms drive!

This kangaroo and her joey have seemingly taken up residence at the “Hill End Hilton”.

Day Four – Abercrombie House, Bathurst.

Abercrombie House, Bathurst

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Day Four, we were living on borrowed time and needed to be back home by 4.00pm to pick up miss from the station. Their team came a very close second at Nationals and we were looking forward to seeing her, while also not real thrilled about going back on the leash and the time pressures involved. Yet, in our usual carpe diem style, we headed out to historic Abercrombie House. We couldn’t leave Bathurst without experiencing this magical castle.

Built in the 1870s by Bathurst pioneers the Stewart family, Rex and Mary Morgan bought the house in 1969 it’s been the home of the Morgan family since then. They’ve fully restored the house, outbuildings and grounds and share it with the community. As it turns out, Rex Morgan also founded a successful private school on Sydney’s Northern
Beaches, Pittwater House. My best friend used to go to Pittwater House and they
used to stay in dormitories at Abercrombie House for a week, which included
dinner at the main house one night. It sounds like quite the experience, especially with
plenty of ghost stories thrown in.

While we were wandering through the gardens at Abercrombie House, a message came through from Miss saying they were arriving back at the station early. Being 4.5 hours drive away, we weren’t going to make it back in time, and we could relax a little. My friend was driving her home. Returning home after only four days away felt rather brutal. However, we’d had a wonderful time and now needed a rest.

Have you ever been to Bathurst? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…15th May, 2022.

Welcome To Another Weekend Coffee Share!

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!

Looking towards Umina Beach. We live in between the beach and the white sphere about a third of the way in from the right.

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.

The Lockheed Hudson A16-112 built 1939 and received ex-USA on 5th December, 1941. Photo: Geoff Newton.

So, meanwhile Geoff headed North to Newcastle to attend the Central Coast Air Show. Here’s some footage from Seven News: https://www.facebook.com/7NEWSsydney/videos/371368371635055

Lastly, I thought you might appreciate checking out last week’s contribution to Friday Fictioneers. Our photo prompt this week was a single long-stemmed rose, inspiring various interpretations of love, marriage, relationships. I found them very thought provoking. Here’s a link to my story: Musings Of A Rose, and it will take you through to the rest: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/05/12/musings-of-a-rose-friday-fictioneers-12th-may-2022/

This is another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Natalie the Explorer at: https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Bollard People of Geelong, Australia.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to meet their bollard people in person. Geoff and our son made their acquaintance while they were in Geelong last weekend. They’re so creative, and would be most suitable guests for a Mad Hatter’s tea party if only you would wave a magic wand and bring them all to life. Indeed, that would be rather interesting, and I can’t help wondering what would happen to unsuspecting Geelong if that were to come about. Would they be forces of good or evil? I don’t know. There are over 100 bollards, which were all designed by artist Jan Mitchell who was commissioned by the City of Greater Geelong in 1995 to transform reclaimed timber pier pylons into these remarkable works of art.

26 Steam Captain
Captain of the steamship S.S. Edina, in operation from 1888 to 1938.
23. Scallop Fishermen and Woman (3)
From the early 1800’s, fish and crustaceans from Geelong were marketed and sold locally, as well as in Melbourne.
Above: 20. Established in 1854, the Geelong Volunteer Fire Brigade is represented by this figure reflecting the burning of the “Lightning” in 1869.
25. Sailor and Woman (2)
A 2nd World War couple representing the Sailors’ Rest institution building, corner Moorabool Street and Eastern Beach Road (now a restaurant).
18.Mrs de Carteret
This is a portrait of the proprietor of “La Cabine”, located on the corner of Yarra and Brougham Streets and once famous for its lemon squash.
19. Yacht Club Lady
Geelong’s Yacht Club was formed in 1859. The lady is holding the trophy won by “The Paddy” after racing in the first Geelong Regatta.
Not sure who this lot is.
17. Early Geelong Footballer
A nearby field, which became Transvaal Square, was used for football practice.

Well, now I feel like jumping on a plane and trying to find and identify all 48 bollards. They have this wonderful fusion of history, humour and really help to give Geelong a sense of place and character. Indeed, I’d love to see something like this in our local area. What can we do to give us character, individuality and artistic flair? Traditionally here in Australia, that has involved building something big such as Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana, the Big Prawn in Ballina, the Big Pineapple on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the Big Orange in Mildura, the Big Merino and the Big Cow at Nambour also on the Sunshine Coast. I don’t know whether it’s an achievement or a point of shame that I’ve been to all of these throughout my lifetime. Geoff resisted revisiting the Big Merina driving home from Geelong through the week.

Have you ever seen the Bollard People of Geelong? Or, perhaps you have something similar in your local area you’d like to share? I’d love to check it out.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Caught In The Never-Ending O’Sullivan Maze

Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself caught in the ultimate avoidance device -the Never-ending O’Sullivan Maze.

Well, you might ask where and what on earth this is. If you’re looking for a physical address, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Hang on. There are actually physical addresses after all, but what this maze is referring to is nutting out my O’Sullivan family history and entering all these people into an online community at Wikitree. This is a free online database, which allows me to document and share my research and connect up with cousins without feeding the Ancestry machine. I am a great fan of the “free economy”.

Before I get stuck into the whys of the O’Sullivan Maze, I thought I’d launch off with the whats (or is it the whos?) Actually, it is a who. Who were the O’Sullivans? Next question: why do they matter?

Some would argue that they’re rather random and remote ancestors of mine. Although I don’t mention it very often on the blog, my surname is Curtin, although I’m actually known more by my married name, although I’ve only half-changed the legal documentation after 20 years of marriage. To reach the O’Sullivans, we need to go via the Curtins.

James Curtin, son of John Curtin and Bridget O’Sullivan with his wife, Charlotte Merritt

The story begins with John Curtin, who was my first Curtin ancestor to arrive in Australia. He was baptized on the 1st July, 1831 in the Parish of St Finbarr’s, City of Cork County Cork, the fourth child of Thomas Curtin a stevedore on Cork Harbour and Mary Scannell. On the 5th December, 1853 he sailed out of Liverpool as an Able Seaman on board The Scotia, and arrived in Sydney on the 2nd April, 1854.

On 5th September, 1855 John Curtin married Bridget O’Sullivan at the more humble, original St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney . John was aged 22 and Bridget was around 19 years old.

Bridget O’Sullivan was born around January, 1834 in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland to Daniel O’Sullivan and Mary Egan. They were living at Jones Lane, Mallow when she was baptised on the 20th January, 1834 by Father DM Collins who went on to become part of a delegation of Irish priests to lobby the English government for support during An Gorta Mor or the Great Hunger. Her sponsors were Edward Foley and Johanna Leary. Bridget had two younger sisters, Catherine and Mary Ann. The O’Sullivans sailed out of Plymouth on the 6th July, 1851 arriving in Sydney  on the 8th October, 1851. Shipping records state Daniel O’Sullivan’s occupation as Farmer’s Labourer and Mary Ann was a dairywoman. Bridget was 15 years old. She could read and write and worked as a General Servant.

The O’Sullivans didn’t just come out to Australia because they had nothing better to do. Rather, there were probably two forces at work. Firstly, there was the An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger or “Irish Famine”) 1845-1852, and the discovery of gold at Bathurst, NSW on the 12th February, 1851. When you put those two forces together, it was a no brainer. Moreover, Daniel’s brother David O’Sullivan, and Mary’s brother, Denis Egan, were already out here, and had paved the way.

Irish Signs at the Porterhouse Pub, Surry Hills.

That was how the O’Sullivan maze through Sydney’s Surry Hills and Paddington began. Around 1890, Daniel O’Sullivan’s brother, Denis and his wife Hanorah Cahill arrived in Sydney with their four children and youngest son, John Paul, was born in Sydney after they’d arrived. Their daughter Catherine Agatha married Thomas Edward Augustine Plasto on the 24th May, 1879 Sacred Heart Church, Randwick. They had six children before she died on the 25th November, 1891 and her husband went on to have an additional eleven children with his second wife. Fortunately, however, they’re not part of this maze, and the Plasto children were just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, before Denis and his family arrived on the scene, we had Bridget who had married John Curtin, and they had nine children. Before you start thinking they bred like rabbits populating Surry Hills, Paddington and beyond; three of their children died as infants.

Meanwhile, Bridget had her two sisters living nearby and I guess this is where I’m heading with this story…a story of three Irish sisters arriving in Surry Hills and the various ups and downs they and their descendants experienced. However, before I can really delve too much into the story, there’s the scaffolding of the actual family history and how these Irish families in Surry Hills and Paddington intermingled both genetically in families and as community. That’s what mathematicians refer to as the “working out”. You always need to be able to show your working out (if even if it’s as tedious and boring as those genealogical passages in the Bible.) You can’t just go from A to Z without being able to show how you got there.

Bridget Curtin’s sister, Catherine Murphy and husband Thomas had a grocery store at 410 Crown Street, Surry Hills. She did in 1895 and this photo was taken a block away on the corner of Fitzroy and Bourke Streets in the 1930’s. However, I thought it made a good parallel and I’m sure this woman, like Catherine Murphy, would’ve had her finger on the pulse and known what’s what in the community.

I have no sisters. I don’t have any idea of what it is to have a sister, and I’m barely in touch with my brother. I don’t want to idealise these relationships or create a closeness that wasn’t there. After all, perhaps these sisters had some intractable falling out and while they almost lived on opposite street corners, perhaps the emotional distance was an impenetrable void.

Charlotte Curtin and sons outside their grocery store on Cleveland Street.

That’s the trouble with writing non-fiction especially using real people with real names. Ideally, you somehow manage to walk in their shoes rather than turning them into a reproduction of yourself. Placing your stamp on their forehead. That is something I take rather seriously, and to be honest my efforts to reach the truth more often than not prevents me from writing anything at all.

My grandfather “Robbie”” and brother “Eddie”. Their mother’s handwriting was on the back of the photo.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m doing now. I’m transferring my who begat whom into this Wiki genealogy thing online. I don’t know why I started doing this. Well, I sort of do. I was talking to a friend and discovered a mutual connection via the Spora family and I was trying to nut it out. Bridget O’Sullivan’s niece, Johanna Maria Murphy, had married Gaetana “Frank” Spora and they’d had eight children. Three of their sons headed out to Rylstone near Orange taking the family out West. It’s interesting to see where all these various branches of our family tree headed of to.

Bert Curtin (left), and son Bob (my grandfather)

As it turns out, our family also sounds like a roll call of Irish Australia: Curtin, O’Sullivan, McNamara, Murphy, Donovan, Maguire, Quealy, O’Neil. They lived on Crown, Fitzroy, Albion, Arthur, Campbell and Ann Streets Surry Hills and also in Paddington and Woollahra. My grandparents made the radical move of crossing over the Sydney Habour Bridge after they got married in 1940. They starting out in Mosman, and settled in Lindfield, a suburb which came to represent their house within the family. My father and most of his siblings married outside the Irish-Catholic fraternity, which could well be a good thing. I married Geoff from Tasmania, and even then my kids managed to gain an additional O’Sullivan to add to two from me. I am yet to find out if mine are related. However, the Great Great Grandfather from West Maitland was actually born in Albion Street Surry Hills and his mother was Mary Sullivan, daughter of John Sullivan and Mary Bourke also of Cork. Small world…!

Anyway, I blame the mad lunatic in me who is in self-imposed lockdown trying to avoid the covid menace for all of this. The official stats clocked up to a massive 45,098 cases today and the graph just keeps soaring straight up. It’s covid soup out there and our family is madly trying to prepare for the likelihood that someone is going to bring Covid home, and how we’re going to manage that seeming inevitability. I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon trying to access RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests). There’s been no mention ANYWHERE about making them available for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Trust me. I’ve looked. It’s like we don’t exist. Physically I can’t queue for half an hour let alone 4-5 hours, and if I don’t have it, I don’t want to catch it while I’m waiting either. We can’t take our kids to be tested either. Indeed, that is even more of a no-no. Perhaps, they’ll have to walk. Who knows? I could be reading books, going for walks, baking, playing my violin and yet for some mad reason, I started working on this. The only explanation I can come up with is escape. Pure escape. No one would ever think to find me here – corona virus included.

Do you have Irish heritage? Or perhaps you’re Irish yourself? Maybe you have no Irish blood whatsoever, but you’d still like to have a chat. You’re all welcome. The cricket is on the TV but I’m ignoring that, and I can offer you a cup of tea, some leftover gingerbread house, but it’s a bit more difficult to offer you a seat on the couch.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Positive Thinking Be Damned – An Aussie Voice From the Spanish Flu Pandemic 1919.

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.

Three out of the four of us trying on glasses at Specsavers last week when part of Sydney was under lockdown and we were playing it safe.

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’S TROBLES

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?

— H.

Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), Saturday 26 April 1919, page 9

You have to have a bit of sympathy for poor H. these days now, don’t you?! Mind you, from where I sit, H. was living it up by getting out and about. I haven’t caught a train since February last year when I caught up with a friend in Sydney, and we went out for dinner. I’m so pleased we did. That meal’s now starting to look like the Last Supper!

Not that I feel like I’m missing out most of the time. That’s the good thing about being into history. You know it goes round in cycles like the lands at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. The landscape keeps changing, and you just need to wait for something else, and hopefully better, to come along.

Meanwhile, climate change is starting to make it back on the news. I would tend to call this unprecedented, but I am not even a speck of dust when it comes to the length of breadth of history which spans infinity. I really don’t know.

Anyway, its good food for thought. Any comments?

I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS You can read more about the impact of the Spanish Flu Epidemic on Sydney here: https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/ah-chew-sniffle-sniffle-the-pneumonic-influenza-pandemic-of-1919/

U – Umina Beach, Australia…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for this year’s Blogging From A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’re off to Umina Beach, which isn’t very far away for me at all. It’s actually only 700 metres down the road.

Indeed, Umina Beach is home. Geoff and I moved up here almost 20 years ago to buy our first home. Despite what we thought would be a quick renovate and flip, we’re still here. In fact, we haven’t finished those renovations, and what we did manage to get done back at the beginning, needs to be re-done. After all, fixing up a fixer-upper is a lot like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge. By the time you finally reach the finish, you need to  start painting at the beginning again.

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Zac at the beach a few weeks ago.

Geoff and I didn’t plan to leave Sydney, or even buy a place in Umina Beach. We’d started looking around real estate in Sydney, but came up to Umina Beach to visit our niece and this place was for sale two streets away. This massive decision was all very spontaneous, although you could also say it was meant to be. However, as we’ve found out, this decision was a lot more far-reaching than deciding where to camp for the night. Although Sydney’s only an hour down the road and Geoff commutes there for work, it’s not the same as actually living there.  It’s taken me quite a long time to call Umina Beach home, and I still consider myself a Sydney person. This region is considered part of Greater Sydney. However, when I was alone at home with the new baby and Geoff was commuting to Sydney and away most of the day, I really felt that distance. However, through getting involved in Church, playgroups and community action groups, that started to change. By the time the kids started school and I was also working part-time for a local IT company, I felt a lot more settled. Through living there, we’ve managed our mortgage on one income, without being enslaved to the mighty mortgage which is the norm in Sydney. It’s naturally a lot more relaxing around here with the beach at one end of the street and flat, inland water suitable for sailing and kayaking down another. Can’t complain about that!

 

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, NSW.

So, after that rather lengthy introduction, you must be wondering if we’re ever going to make it to the beach. My apologies. I can take all of this a bit for granted what with living here all the time. However, before we hit the beach, I need to make a quick distinction between the name of the place and the names of the beaches around here. The place is called Umina Beach, but the beach itself is divided into Ocean Beach, which is just down from our place, and Umina Beach to the West. However, it’s all one expanse of golden sand and a fabulous place to go for a walk. There’s even a designated dog beach.

Nippers Running

Our son racing at Nippers, a junior form of life saving. 

In so many ways, the beach is our cultural hub and a true blue melting pot where lifesavers, swimmers, walkers, dogs, kids and seagulls all congregate, exercise and relax. We’ve taken the kids down to the beach from the time they were born, and held them into the frolicking waves, until they were old enough to hold their hands and eventually join Nippers, along with many of the other local kids on a Sunday morning. Now, our daughter goes down to the beach with her friends and Geoff and our son prefer sailing. I have done some swimming, but am better known as walker and dog walker, although there can also be a bit of talk with that as well.

The set of photos above were taken in November 2007 celebrating Geoff’s Birthday.

Our beach has had some rough times over the years. Rough storms have removed tonnes of sand, ripped out rows of native trees and extensive remediation works have been undertaken to halt the damage. The road around the beach front was even closed off for awhile there, as there were concerns it too could fall in the drink. I don’t think this situation has really stabilised but it might’ve improved.

Geoff & Rowena

Just off Umina Beach, there’s the Umina Precinct Park, which as a dream come true for the local action group I belonged to when the kids were small. Back then, even getting a local park with a fence seemed like an impossible pipe dream. However, council came onboard and the project snowballed into a regional park and tourist attraction. This was well beyond our wildest dreams, and I should remember this when a situation seems hopeless. Never give up!

Flamin Ron the World’s Hottest Chilli Pie on TV

However,  every town has to have its personality. It’s claim to fame. For Umina Beach, this comes in the form of pastry chef, Ron Bruns from the Bremen Patisserie and his infamous pie… the Flamin Ron, the world’s hottest chilli pie. While I know Ron quite well and love his almond croissants and bee sting cake, I’ve never even considered dipping my little finger into one of these pies, let alone tried to eat one. In case you’re wondering whether this pie is as ruthlessly hot as it claims, you actually need to sign a legal waiver beforehand. So, that’s warning enough for me. However, despite local horror stories, there are still mighty warriors willing to take on the Flamin Ron challenge blow the consequences. This includes Richard, who tells a wonderful  tale

Woy Woy Air Strip

Woy Woy Air Strip extending down to Umina Beach with Lion Island right in front of the runway. 

While I was putting together this post, I did some historical research, hoping to find some historical detail of interest. After all, if you’ve been following me throughout this series, you’ll know how much I love jumping into my time machine, travelling back in time beyond the present day. It’s somewhat well-known around here that there used to be an air strip through town. I couldn’t have told you exactly where it was. However, that’s what Google’s for and the old newspapers.

This brings us to the Woy Woy Airstrip, which was built during WWII along with an aerodrome. The runway extended from Woy Woy down in a straight line along what’s now Trafalgar Avenue into Umina Beach, ending about a street away from our place. During WWII, the air strip was even used by US bombers. You can read more about it here  at All Things Woy. 

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Imagine this crashing into your roof. Luckily, no one was home when a Tiger Moth crashed into a Umina home in 1950. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

However, our street wasn’t always a street away from trouble. On the 4th November, 1950 long a few life times before we moved in, a Tiger Moth plane crash landed into a house at the end of the street. Of course, 70 years down the track, having a Tiger Moth crash land in your street sounds particularly exciting (especially after being in lock down for at least 6 weeks!!), although I should also point out that the pilot was injured. The plane crashed into the roof, and as the pilot wandered out in a dazed state, he fell 15ft  off the roof. Fortunately, residents Mr and Mrs Henson were away visiting their daughter in Sydney at the time. The plane crashed right on dinner time, and it’s almost certain they would have been killed. So, there’s something more I learned on my travels during the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Couple Ocean Beach best

Sunset at the beach

Well, it’s now time to leave Umina Beach behind and get a bit of shut eye before our adventures start up again in the morning. Indeed, I might need to stay home for awhile after all this travel is over. What I would give to sleep in my own bed again, instead of tramping along the road from hotel to hotel.

Oh, that’s right. I haven’t been anywhere at all. It’s just me, myself and I stuck inside these same four walls along with Geoff, two teenagers and three dogs.

Humph! We’re definitely in need of a holiday!!

How are you holding up in isolation? Where would you like to go? My list is just getting longer and longer. However, due to my health, my movements are particularly restricted. So, right now even being able to walk into a local shop to buy some chocolate has become an impossible dream. That said, I’m certainly not going without. Hoarding chocolate hasn’t become a crime.

Take care & stay safe!

Best wishes,

Rowena

T- Toowoomba, Queensland…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my travel series for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z April Challenge where we’re taking a virtual tour of Places I’ve Been.

In case it hasn’t already come to your attention, this list of places seems extremely random and looks like something plucked out of a lucky dip. However, trying to allocate a place to every letter has been challenging, and I’ve also tried to give a broad smattering overview of where I’ve been within these constrains. However, I’ve still managed to leave out two entire countries…China and Hong Kong. That does seem a little unfair. However, they had some stiff competition. Well, perhaps I should’ve written about China, instead of Canberra. However, that would also have meant going looking for photos from 1989, and I wouldn’t know where to start.

Today, we’re leaving Sydney behind and travelling up North via the M1 Motorway and veering off at Hexham onto the New England Highway, which is generally known as “the inland route”. Toowoomba is is only 864 km up the road. So, we’ll be there in around 10 hours give or take. However, since you’re travelling with the likes of me, it could take a hell of a lot longer, and they could well be sending out a search party long before we arrive. I’m well-known for stops, which encompasses everything from: “Hey, look there’s a Kookaburra” to multiple toilet stops. I always end up regretting that cup of tea before we hit the road.

So, out of all the cities starting with T, why did I bring you to Toowoomba?

Great Grandparents Haebich mama and kids toowoomba

Toowoomba looking out towards Table Top Mountain in 1948. My mother is pictured front left with her mother, Ruth Haebich (Gordon). The older couple are her parents in-law, Clara and Ed Haebich, from Hahndorf, South Australia. Due to war time restrictions on travel, they’d been unable to get to Queensland for my grandparents and I think this was the first time they actually met my grandmother and the kids.

Well, I could’ve taken you to Terrigal, one of our local beaches. However, we went to Sydney yesterday, and I’m going local tomorrow. Besides, we really liked Toowoomba with it’s panoramic views, crisp mountain air and old-world, country charm. While it’s known as the “Garden City”, it could well be known as Queensland’s “Mountain City”. That said, at a mere 800 metres above sea level, that’s more like a hill by international standards. However, when you live in a country that’s almost as flat as a pancake, you’ve got to be thankful for whatever altitude you’ve got and it doesn’t take much for a mole hill to be reclassified.

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We timed our visit to Toowoomba well and caught some stunning Autumn leaves.

Although we’re approaching Toowoomba from the South, it’s also located 125 km west of Brisbane by road. The estimated urban population of Toowoomba as of June 2015 was 114,622. There’s a university and it also hosts the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers each September and there are more than 150 public parks and gardens in Toowoomba. Considered the capital of the Darling Downs, it’s also developed into a regional centre for business and government services.

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Although I’ve been through Toowoomba onboard the McCafferty’s bus to visit my late grandparents in Ipswich more than I’ve actually stopped off, I’ve actually been to Toowoomba a couple of times and really liked it, the views and the crisp mountain air. I had a friend who lived in Toowoomba who I actually met on one of these McCaffertys bus trips. Finding out we were both writers, we had a lot to talk about. Indeed, I think we talked all night along with the two we palled up with in the seat in front. Anyway, I ended up getting a bit of a tour and really liked the place.

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The Office Building, Concordia College, Towoomba.

I also have family connections to Toowoomba and the surrounding region. My Mum’s two younger sister were both born in Toowoomba while my grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, was Acting Principal of Concordia College in Toowoomba. It was a Lutheran co-ed boarding school , which does seem rather progressive for the times but it was strict. One of my grandfather’s many stories was about how he’d tell the students:  “girls you can be friends with boys, and boys you can be friends with girls, but if we see you pair up, you’ll soon find one of us alongside you.” We’ve always felt this was a very sensible, enlightened approach, especially for the 1940s.

6-Big house or school

A photo of the rear of school taken by my grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, back in 1948 before the world went colour.

Anyway, all of this brings me to a family day trip we had to Toowoomba back in 2010. Back then, our son was six years old and our daughter was four and let’s just say Geoff and I were also a bit younger. We were staying with friends just outside Ipswich and having fond memories of my first visit to Toowoomba and loving the mountains, I thought we’d head up for a day trip. As usual, our trip wasn’t planned and was rather spontaneous. However, I did want to see Concordia College. I’d seen the photos of my mum and her older brother standing in front of the school gate when they were roughly the same age my kids were at the time. There were rows of Bunya trees and it was just a very quintessentially Queensland scene and my mother was part of it.

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My grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, centre stage.

However, when we approached the school office, I never expected we’d be given a tour of the school grounds, and I actually saw my grandfather’s portrait hanging on the wall alongside the other past principles. I was pretty chuffed about that. However, I should also point out that I had Master 6 and Miss 4 in tow,  and while you’d expect a school to be somewhat understanding of young kids, we were there representing my mother’s family. You know the old-style hat and gloves brigade. My grandmother always used to sit perfectly still perfectly still with her hands carefully folded on her lap,  as though she she was sitting on a stage all the time. After all, especially back then, that’s what it was like for a minister’s family. They lived under the microscope 24/7, especially in smaller communities. You either had to be good, or you had to develop a very good veneer.

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Photos of previous headmasters on display in the boardroom. My grandfather’s photo is second from the left. Thank goodness the kids were give the freedom to draw on the white board. Could you just imagine the horror of them drawing on these beautiful and rather stately walls?!!!

However, my kids didn’t know much at all about that, or sitting still. Instead, the college grounds probably seemed like one big playground to them and somewhere to run around. Indeed, to really put you in the picture, when we’d had lunch in a park in town, our son found a dead bat and thought it was absolutely fascinating. Just beautiful!

Above: My mother and her brother at the college in 1948 and our kids in 2020.

However, our tour of the school went really well, and I must commend their Public Relations Officer for being understanding and empathetic with the kids. She was beautiful!!

Jonathon & Amelia Toowoomba

The kids stepped back in time at the Cobb & Co. Museum.

Another great place we went was the Cobb & Co. Museum. If you haven’t noticed by now, we’re rather fond of museums. Moreover, when the kids were small, we were particularly found of museums which knew how to educate and occupy the kids and make learning fun.

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I just had to sneak in this very cute photo of our son with a galah puppet at the Cobb & Co. Museum.

Geoff and I are also serious history buffs and what with my  local German cultural heritage, I was particularly interested to find out more about the early days of settlement. Back then, I didn’t really think too much about how my ancestors might’ve displaced the Aboriginal people or even been a part of frontier conflict. It’s amazing how you can store your knowledge in separate files, and it can take awhile for the information to jump across.

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Our son climbs aboard a kid-sized Cobb & Co Coach in the play area. The kids had so much fun here.

Lastly, I just want to mention a great place we went to on the way up to Toowoomba, the Spring Bluff Railway Station and the Spring Bluff Cafe.It’s really worth a visit and the cafe had incredible old world charm and real artistic flair.

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Just a few stairs up to the very quaint Spring Bluff Cafe, which is housed in the former Stationmaster’s house.

 

Well, I hope you enjoyed our brief trip to Toowoomba.

The A-Z Challenge is now starting to come to an end. I must admit it’s been a wonderful diversion during social isolation, and I’ve loved revisiting all these incredible places I’ve been. It’s also allowed me to collate a lot of personal and collective family memories and has been very productive from that point of view. I’m often so focused on trying to dig up stories from the past, that I can forget to jot down and organize our stories from the present, which probably meant a lot more to the living, that those of the dead.

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Thought you might be needing a hot chocolate for the road from the Spring Bluff Cafe  before we leave.

How are you going with the A-Z Challenge? I’m sorry that I haven’t visited very much. Geoff and I have both found ourselves much busier than usual in lock down and it’s been hard to juggle all the balls in the air.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Canberra- Day 3 Blogging A-Z Challenge.

“The hardest thing about living in Canberra is that almost everyone who doesn’t live here asks: ‘Why on earth would you live in Canberra?’ Loudly, and in a way they would never use to discuss anywhere else. And they never listen to the answer.”

Judy Horacek, Cartoonist

Welcome to Day 3 of the Blogging A to Z Challenge.

Today, we’re leaving Europe behind and leap frogging across the globe to Australia’s capital city, Canberra, which started out as a city in the sheep paddocks and has evolved into a dynamic cultural centre despite, or perhaps because of the politicians. Indeed,  “Canberra” is often used to refer to all things political going on down there, becoming an entity beyond place.

Parliament House, Canberra

However, before Canberra became “Canberra”, the indigenous Ngunnawal and Ngambri people had been living in the area for thousands of years and the name ‘Canberra’ is said to be derived from an indigenous word meaning ‘meeting place’.

Canberra only rose to fame after Australia’s six states and two territories federated to form Australia. As there was intense rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne  to become the nation’s capital, it was my understanding that it was decided to locate the capital   half-way in between in Canberra. However, it turns out that at a premiers’ conference in Melbourne in January 1899, NSW Premier George Reid won support for the capital to be located within his state. However, as a trade-off, section 125 of the new federal Constitution specifically stated that the capital  could be no less than 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Sydney. In the meantime, Melbourne would act as the interim capital. The first Commonwealth Parliament met in Melbourne on 9 May 1901. However, Federal Parliament didn’t move to Canberrra until 1927.

Don’t you just love politics!

However, when we’ve gone to Canberra, it’s had nothing to do with politics. Rather, we’ve always been driving back from the snow, and were more interested in its museums.

Being the nation’s capital, it’s home to the National Gallery (art), Questacon (Science), and the Australian War Memorial, which I’d place on an equal footing. However, I doubt the rest of the family would concur and no doubt our teenagers would want to see more than galleries these days.  I also wanted to mention that both our kids went on what’s known as “The Canberra Trip” when they were in primary school. It’s a right of passage (at least around here) and it’s a big excitement for them to head off in the coach with their friends, and an emotional time for their parents as the coach leaves.

Obviously, all three of these museums are currently closed due to the Coronavirus. However, perhaps this will inspire you to visit later. Alternately, these brief stop overs might satisfy your museum urge while you’re in social isolation and I’ve actually been able to provide links to online exhibitions. So, I’m pretty chuffed, and am not such a bad tour guide after all!

Last Post Ceremony

The daily Last Post Ceremony, which is held at the Pool of Reflection. Geoff and the kids presented a wreath in honour of Geoff’s Great Uncle, Pte Robert Ralph French who was killed in action in France. 

The Australian War Memorial

“Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we

guard the record which they themselves made.”

– Charles Bean, 1948

For anyone with a passion for history, I strongly recommend visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, especially if you have a family member who served in any of our armed conflicts, or even if you simply want to know how war has impacted our people on and off the battlefield. It’s absolutely riveting. Indeed, I believe we’ve been there three times as a family, and each time we’ve stayed much longer than intended and had to tear ourselves away. Moreover, now that my research into Australians serving on the Western Front during WWI has taken off, I could probably spend the rest of my life in this place and not blink an eye. Indeed, if I snuck down while the place is in lock down, nobody would even know I was there…!

Over the years, the Australian War Memorial has moved from being a physical, concrete entity and added an online counterpart, which is an invaluable resource. I am particularly grateful for this, as it’s not that easy for me to get down to Canberra and it’s so much easier to click on links online than combing through boxes of files.

If you’d like to read more about the history of the museum itself, please click Here.

Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre.

Questacon is like a huge playcentre for science and engineering nerds. Yet, I also managed to find my own niche as a photographer by capturing the freaky lighting effects on film. That was a lot of fun and really extended my powers of perception (see above).

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Of course, that wasn’t why it was there. Besides, I love science anyway.  It’s just that some of it can get beyond my pay grade, or is in areas I’m not interested in and that’s okay. We don’t have to love everything.

lever

By the way, I should also mention there’s a great shop at Questacon. If you’re getting a bit sick of wearing Pyjamas everyday, perhaps you’d like to splurge on a Questacon lab coat?

Questacon Lab Coat

 The National Art Gallery

The National Art Gallery has made my job a lot easier, and is currently holding a couple of online exhibitions. So, I’d love you to join me for:

Matisse & Picasso

Australian Artist Hugh Ramsay

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Hugh Ramsay: The Sisters, Art Gallery of NSW

In case you’re unfamiliar with Hugh Ramsay’s work, here’s a brief intro posted by the gallery: “Hugh Ramsay (1877–1906) was an accomplished Australian artist whose portrait paintings achieved success here and in France before his untimely death at the age of 28. This retrospective, the first to focus on Ramsay in more than a quarter of a century, brings together paintings, drawings, sketchbooks and letters from collections around the country to celebrate his achievements.”

In terms of their regular exhibits, my favourite is Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series:

Ned Kelly Nolan

Well, that concludes our very brief gallery tour of Canberra, but I’ve left you with plenty of places to wonder off to online if you follow through to the links.

Have you ever been to Canberra? What were your favourites? Please leave your thoughts and any links in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

George A. Aldworth…A Poem Written on The Way to War.

War is the very antithesis of poetry, and yet it is often in our darkest and most torturous moments that our thoughts turn inward and flow out through the pen. Indeed, I don’t even need Google. Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier immediately comes to mind:

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England…

 

There’s also Hugh McCrae’s: In Flander’s Field:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below…

George Aldworth, a young English Private serving with the AIF, wrote a poem as he embarked onboard HMAT A26 Suevic, the very same ship as Maud Butler, which departed Sydney on the 22nd December, 1915 bound for Egypt. It’s quite possible that he wrote these lines as they sailed through Sydney Harbour at sunset, as he pictured a little yacht silhouetted by the setting sun. Naturally, it’s hard for me to picture this very different Sydney Harbour without the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. It was such a different place.

Clip Showing Troops Embarking 1915

At Sunset was published in the Suevic’s onboard newspaper The Sports Company’s Gazette.and reprinted in The Sun newspaper on the 22nd March, 1916 three months later.

Margaret Preston

Margaret Preston, Sydney Heads, Art Gallery of NSW 1925

Along with a brief introduction, it reads:

“A pretty picture Is suggested In the lines:  At Sunset, by George A. Aldworth, of the 20th Battalion. These were the verses:—

Far down the bay

A barque with sails of white

Fades at the close of day

Into the far away

Beyond the light.

The sunset glow

Spreads out across the deep

To the isles a long ago

Where the evening zephyrs blow —

Where seabirds sleep.

Oh! barque so free

Sailing Into the west.

Would I could follow thee,

Lull’d by the moaning sea

To share thy rest![1]

George Alexander Aldworth was born around 1883 in the village of East Hanney, near Wantage, Oxfordshire (then Berkshire). He was one of six known children born to Alfred Aldworth, a carpenter and joiner and Mary Ann. He arrived in Australia in 1911 and settled in Rockdale. George was a keen soccer player and finding it wasn’t a popular sport in Australia, founded the first local club at Rockdale, the St John Soccer Club, and was their  first captain. He was also a popular member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Kogarah and was a great favourite of the children and choir –boys and had composed a children’s hymn.

I did a Google search to find out if George had sent any more letters home. Or, fingers crossed, even more poems. However, my joy at finding this extremely well-written and moving account of travelling through France to the front, was very short-lived when I found out that George was Killed in Action in France before it had even gone to print. Unfortunately, as it seems, while we writers staunchly believe the pen is mightier than the sword, it is no match for a bullet.

Tyne-Cot-Cemetery-in-Flanders-Fields-Belgium

This doesn’t get any easier. I know in my head that so many of these beautiful young men didn’t make it home. Moreover, this isn’t the only letter I’ve read where I’ve been drawn so deeply into the writer’s orbit, only to have my hopes dashed. He didn’t make it home. It’s so easy to forget they’re mortal.

Naturally, it is my intention to get to know these men as individuals and not only absorb their stories, but also to slip inside their skin and disappear.  See what they see through their eyes, their minds, their hearts while working to remove any sense of myself at all. After all, this is the ultimate goal of the writer, the actor who doesn’t just play a character, but all but becomes one with them. I might have as much chance as Maud Butler of being able to pull it off, but I still have to try.

That said, it’s obviously not the safest ground psychologically speaking and at times I do find myself shuddering as conditions get tough. I’ve also been a bit “emotional” and I do wonder if I can handle it. Should I be so immersed in the horrors of this war, which wasn’t to end all wars? Wouldn’t I be better writing about rainbows, unicorns and fairies in castles? Isn’t there enough darkness and despair all around me, without needing to go back to the past and take onboard some of the very worst of it? My grandmother who did admire my writing, was concerned about my pull towards the darkside and suggested more than once I should take up floral arranging, very much in the same vein as Keats who advised us to “glut our sorrows on a morning rose.”

These concerns are justified. However, for me there is no doubt that I’m meant to be doing this. That someone has to keep these young men alive in the only way we can…through the pen. Moreover, through capturing and retelling their stories, I’m also acknowledging my gratitude too. I might not understand why they went to fight, but I appreciate their sacrifice and their belief in something ultimately good which was worth fighting for. That despite absolute horrors on all fronts, they believed there was something worth fighting for. Had a  faith in a better world. Moreover, I came to admire and be quite touched by their capacity to notice something incredibly beautiful in the midst of it all…such as a bird singing in the middle of no man’s land. This is such an important lesson for us too.

Anyway, as usual, I’ve digressed.

I wanted to share with you this letter George sent home about his trip through France on the way to the front. It appeared in the St George Call Saturday 16 September 1916:

FROM THE FRONT.

Private George A. Aldworth, of the 56th Battalion in journeying through France on his way to the front, gives the following description of the delightful country. We regret to announce that since sending this letter for publication, Pte. Aldworth has been killed in action, and is now at rest in the country of which he so favourably writes : —

“Thy cornfields green, and sunny vines. O pleasant land of France.[2]” We repeated the lines automatically and often, in the old schoolroom, in the old days. They meant nothing to us then. It is otherwise now. We have had many experiences, and have seen much since the day we left the sunny home shores to aid the mother land. After a day’s wait outside we entered the harbour and soon the work of disembarkation began. We entrained immediately and moved off without visiting the city. Very soon the train was plunging through a series of tunnels, which lead through the rocky hills to the country beyond. Looking back, as we occasionally emerged from the pitchy black underground, we got wonderful pictures of the city, the Mediterranean, and the fine rugged coast scenery. A slight haze softened the outlines of the mountains behind the town, and the boys were loud in praise of the glorious view. Again the deafening roar of the train in the darkness and when we again saw the sun Marseilles had passed from view. For about eight hours we made good progress, stopping for tea at a place which strangely enough was called Orange. The train had taken us through the most fertile, picturesque country we had ever seen. A country indeed worth fighting for— either to possess or, to retain. So far as the eye could reach, the vineyards and wheat fields spread. Hardly a yard of ground which was not under cultivation. The entire land was, like a vast garden, so thorough, are the French peasants in their work. And the love of the beautiful which is natural to our Ally, finds expression in the way they lay out their fields and road ways. The vines, and the corn, the carefully tended vegetable gardens, mingle beautifully with the long avenues of poplar and lime trees, which shade the white neatly trimmed roads. Scores of villages and small towns were passed, so dainty looking were the little red and white homes which, like newly born chicks, cluster closely round the grey old churches. What a warm reception from the inhabitants too, as we continued our journey. Scarcely a man, woman or child but waved a hand or if the train stopped, came with haste to wish us good luck. Many women were in black and there was a wistful look and a tear occasionally, mingled with the good wish. One old lady of very great age, we saw, who was feebly shaking one hand to us while she supported it with the other. The men generally were in uniform— they had probably been sent from the firing line to aid the harvesters,— the reaping season having just commenced. A very delightful time could be spent visiting the many churches we saw. Some were very fine edifices — others interesting because of their quaintness. Especially so, in the latter sense, was the Church of Arles, where also is a railway works. The town of Farascon possesses a couple of very fine castles, one of which might almost be a .replica of the famous Bastille. The women seem to have taken up their tasks splendidly, which are, for a time, left them, to perform. We saw them everywhere, in the fields, even using the scythe, also riding upon the horse rake and reaping machine. We passed Lyons in the early dawn of’ the next day, obtaining a confused picture of fog on a river, a couple of imposing bridges, and some fine streets. The, second day was like the first, mile after mile of vineyards, more villages, more “bon voyage” from the people, pretty winding lanes, leafy fairy lands, busy scenes in the fields. Here a sturdy blooming lass, deftly using a hoe, thinking no doubt of her Denis away up north. There a sad-eyed dame, pushing to market a heavy load of cherries, strawberries, currants, carrots, and cauliflowers, together with the choicest roses and dahlias, etc. She paused awhile near us, to have a ‘ blow,’ brush back a few strands of grey hair, and to wave her hand to the “Howstraityong!” Then on again with her load of produce and perhaps her load of sorrow. Unfortunately, we did not see Paris, having left it on one side in the early hours of next morning. The vineyards also had not been able to keep up with us, and we now looked out upon country almost entirely ‘devoted to agriculture and dairy farming. Naturally enough, we now looked out for signs of warfare. Slowing down into the station of Criel, we stopped alongside a hospital train which had just come in from the firing line. We gave a very hearty cheer for the plucky Frenchmen and those who could, thanked us, either in mixed language, or by eloquent looks and shoulder shrugs. We also struck against a train load of men bound for the front, and they greeted us like brothers. After our great experience of the beauteous country, it was with emotions of pride and brotherliness that we responded, showering upon them all our cigarettes, matches, etc., things we had eagerly rushed to procure an hour previously. Upon this day we saw many families on the way to Church, the cows were idly lying in the meadows. There was the song of the lark, the blackbird, and the thrush. The swallow skimmed the mirror-like surface of the river, while here and there in the shade of the willows, sat ancient disciples. Very little, after all, to point to the fact, that away behind the river, the willows and the meadows, Earth’s sublimest tragedy was being enacted. Towards evening of the second day we once more came in sight of the ocean. We had passed one or two camps, where troops were resting. Like the people to whom we had spoken en route, we found the soldiers cheerful and, confident of ultimate success. Just before dawn on the following day we arrived at our journey’s end. Sixty two hours in the train.

The behaviour of the men was first class; everybody, especially the women folk, being treated with a courtesy that was good to see. We are now scattered through a very quaint old village — in nearly every respect like an English one— living in the barns attaching to tumble-down farm houses. I write this in an old stable. It is wonderfully peaceful. From the meadows comes the not unmusical rattle of the reaping machine. There is a cackle of hens outside. A pair of swallows comes in with fluttering wings and chirpings, ‘ to work upon a mud nest on a beam two feet above my head. Only now and then away eastward, there is the long dull roll of artillery, the roar of a heavy gun, and the sound of tramping men as they make their way through the leafy winding lanes. Above all, and better than all, are the outpourings of a lark. From out the blue sky comes the song to break in golden rain upon the earth. Foolishly, perhaps, I allow myself to dream. A dream of warfare ended—of a humanity made regenerate through war— gone forever the hypocrasy, the lust, the selfishness. Only a desire, lark like, to soar high in thankfulness to the Benign Influence which gives to all the chance to live in peace and good will in a paradise of which beautiful France is only a part. A foolish dream ? Perhaps ! “Fall in, with gas helmets on!” rings out the order, and so I go away to be “gassed.” The lark sings to deaf ears now, and the swallows have the stables to themselves[3].

….

George’s death is a tragedy. There are no other words for it. No redemption, until we consider what would have been if one good man many times over, didn’t stand up to fight  against tyranny. Germany, after all, had invaded neutral Belgium and Britain had signed a treaty to defend her neutrality. Were we as nations going to be shirkers, or would we stand up a fight to defend the innocent? I don’t believe in war, but we do need to defend our turf and help our friends. These are values most of us hold dear as individuals, and it’s only natural that they would apply to us collectively as nations.

After leaving Australia, 16th February, 1916 George was transferred to the 56th Battalion of the 5th Division, which had just been formed following the reorganisation and expansion of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Egypt following the Gallipoli campaign. The 56th Battalion arrived in Marseilles 20th June and was immediately entrained to northern France, a journey which took 62 hours. Within a fortnight, they fought in the Battle of Fromelles 19–20 July 1916, where the 5th Division undertook a disastrous attack that was later described as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history”.[6]

It appears George survived the Battle of Fromelles. However, he was killed in action on the 26th July only a month later. He was buried by Rev W.M. Holliday from the 56th Infantry Battalion at Cemetery Suilly-au la Lys 5 miles South-West of Armentieres.

A memorial service was held  at St. Paul’s Church of England, Kogarah on Sunday 8th October, 1916 in honor of George and two other men who’d been “killed at the front in France in the Empire’s cause”. At the service, it was explained George was working as a stretcher bearer and met his death from a high explosive shell while in a dug out. One shell had wounded a couple of soldiers, and George and some others, had immediately rushed to their assistance, when another shell burst over the same spot, killing them all. It seems a cruel twist of fate that George died helping someone else. However, being a stretcher bearer was dangerous, and many lost their lives.

On the other side of the world in Swindon, Wiltshire, George’s family was also grieving. George had only been living in Australia for five years when he left for the front, yet he was very much loved and part of the community here. However, for George there was also “an over there”. His father was listed as his Next of Kin living at 72 Graham Street, Swindon, Wiltshire. That was where his effects were sent home…a balaclava cap, two kit bag handles and a lock (broken).

Lastly, on 10th December, 1916 a memorial tablet was unveiled at St Paul’s Anglican Church in honor of the memory of the late Private George Alexander Aldworth. The Rector, Rev. H. R. A. Wilson officiated. The tablet was placed in the north portion of the chancel, the position for tenors belonging to the choir, and exactly at the spot where our departed hero could be seen at almost any service on the Sunday. The memorial was subscribed by the choir alone, and bears the inscription ‘ Peace, perfect peace.’ A large congregation was present[4].

Peace, perfect peace…was that what George was fighting for?

I guess we’ll never know.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

[1] George’s poem At Sunset appeared in the Suevic’s onboard newspaper, The Sports Company’s Gazette, which was reprinted in The Sun newspaper Thursday 2 March 1916, page 10

[2] Quoted from Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Battle of Ivry.

[3] St George Call (Kogarah, NSW : 1904 – 1957), Saturday 16 September 1916, page 8

[4][4][4] St George Call (Kogarah, NSW : 1904 – 1957), Saturday 16 December 1916, page 6

 

WWI…Maud Butler & the Troopship Suevic (Continued)

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, the saga of Maud Butler continues.

It’s hardly surprising that the discovery of Maud Butler, a young woman masquerading as a soldier on board the troopship Suevic, attracted a lot of attention. As soon as the troops on board got wind of it, she was snapped by the likes of 500 cameras and also they passed around the hat raising £600 as a “dowry” to get her home. She was mentioned in soldiers’ diaries and a couple even messages in bottles, which were hoisted overboard before they left Australian waters. Newspapers all round the country shared her story and also used her determination to get to the front, to rally men to enlist. Shame those wretched shirkers into enlisting and doing their bit. Not unsurprisingly, Maud Butler’s appearance in a man’s uniform, also raised questions about the role of women and affronted conventions of the time. However, while her actions were unconventional, to many Maud became a sort of hero.

As I said, Maud’s presence on board the Suevic attracted additional media attention to that particular voyage and details about conditions on board were captured, which (from what I can glean) often went unreported. These everyday details don’t matter much when you have thousands of men to tell the story. However, over 100 years later, their voices have fallen silent. Perhaps, it’s particularly important for those of us who had family who served to know their journey from start to finish, and to not just read the headlines. Know about the battlefield. I, for one, needed to have some understanding of what they went through. After all, I’ve always taken this quote from Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird  to heart, adapting it to my own sense of walking in someone’s shoes:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Harper Lee.

As it turns out, the troops on board the Suevic produced their own on board newspaper called The Sports Company’s Gazette. It was edited by Lieutenant Webbe, a Hansard Reporter and  Lieutenant Wells and Private Tom Dawson were associate-editors. The Art Editor was Private C. V. Walters, who’d worked as a process engraver for The Sun newspaper before going into camp[1].

According to Elise Edmonds, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery at the Mitchell Library, such newspapers weren’t uncommon.:

“Articles published highlight the day to day cares and routines of the ordinary serviceman. There is much poetry – sentimental verse, along with examples of black humour, prose, photographs and drawings. Soldier illustrations often consisted of caricatures of military culture, enemy forces, or the political situation. All the articles and artwork were created whilst in trenches, at military bases and on the troopships – either heading to war, or on the way home in 1918 and 1919. Writing, illustrating and editing these publications was a good way to reduce boredom or the tension of military life.[2]

Of course, Maud Butler rated more than a passing mention in The Sports Company’s Gazette. It reads:

‘Knowing what we do, we should all be proud that Australia can breed girls heroic enough to brave the dangers of a troopship, and the terrors of war for their country’s weal. There should still be plenty of men, however, and Miss ___ goes back to Sydney with our best wishes. May she marry a man worthy of her. We give her the following as our dowry: —

A plucky young lady named Maud.

Who wished to go fighting abroad:

One day sailed away In Khaki array

And said ‘Who will think me a fraud ?’

An eagle-eyed captain we had

Who soon made poor Maudie feel sad.

He made her blush red

When next day he said

‘I think you’re a lady, me lad.’

And Maudie’s adventure was o’er;

She’s way back in Sydney once more;

She shed a few tears;

We gave her three cheers.

And wished her good things in galore[3].

The following appeared in The Sun:

GIRL ON THE TRANSPORT HUMOR AND GOOD VERSE

The newspaper Industry flourishes at sea these days. Every troopship that rides the waves produces a sheet which contains more or less newsy stuff, and it is extraordinary how the man with the touch of humor is discovered. The last paper to see the light has just come to hand. It was well edited, and handled a variety of copy capably. It recorded in quite a dignified manner the disappearance of Private H. H. Brown, of the 18th Battalion, who, it was supposed had fallen overboard at night….

The humorist showed up in a report of a concert at which he said the absence of ladies in the audience was greatly deplored, the only lady passenger having found it necessary to disembark before they said good-bye to Australia. The reference, of course, was to the adventure of Maud Butler, the little Kurri Kurri girl. How Maud was discovered is thus expressed:— A muster parade had been called, and the adjutant was gently floating round the ship looking for shirkers. Presently his eagle eye glared on a young private, and he asked, “Well, my lad, why aren’t you parading with your unit?” The lad stammered, and replied, “Sir, I cannot find my unit.” “Probably not,” said the adjutant, whose searching glare had disclosed the fact that the offender’s trilbies were not encased in service boots, while the jacket was minus battalion numbers. After a back view he said in his dry and official manner, “You are a stowaway, and it will be necessary for you to be examined by the medical officer.” Exit soldier and adjutant. It was afterwards announced that the soldier was a dear little girl. The wireless got to work, and Maud was sent by to Melbourne. She was still dressed in khaki, but carried in addition a cash belt containing £23, generously sub scribed by all on board, so that on her arrival in Melbourne she could secure the necessary raiment to enable her to resume her proper station in life. What everyone wants to know, the story concludes, Is why the adjutant objects to that delightful song entitled Come Into the Garden, Maud. The theme Is then taken up by the Limerick man, who under the title Maud of the Mercantile Marine writes: —

A certain young lady named Maud

Secreted herself on ship board.

The dear little duck

Had plenty of pluck,

But the venture turned but quite a fraud.

She climbed up a rope in the dark,

The adventurous, giddy, young spark;

But the adjutant wise

Had piercing brown eyes,

And so put an end to her lark.

When discovered she

Shed a small tear,

Which proves she’s a woman, the dear!

Then the ____came

Her person to claim,

So exit sweet Boadicea.

The sheet had its sporting page conducted by “Bill” Corbett’s understudy, and it also dealt with the ceremony associated with crossing the line, as well as getting off a great many good-natured hits at the expense of officers and men alike. The sheet was edited by Lieutenant Webbe. Lieutenant Wells and Private Tom Dawson were associate-editors, and Private C. V. Walters, who before he went into camp was a member of the Sun process engraving staff was the art editor. ‘

A touching poem  At Sunset by George A. Aldworth, of the 20th Battalion. Also appeared in the Suevic’s  Sports Company’s Gazette. However, I felt George warranted his own post so stay tuned.

Do you have any connection to Maud Butler or someone who served onboard the Suevic? Or, perhaps your loved one also served in WWI? If so, please leave details and links in the comments below.  

If you are interested in Maud Butler’s story, here’s a couple of posts of interest.

There’s  Maud Butler: Teenage Stowaway – Victoria Haskins a history professor at the University of Newcastle.

Message In A Bottle Hunter- Maud Butler

A children’s book https://www.cessnockadvertiser.com.au/story/5014176/book-pays-tribute-to-mauds-fighting-spirit/ has also been written and I’m about to place my order. Hunter historians John Gillam and Yvonne Fletcher and illustrator Paul Durell have brought Maud’s extraordinary story to life in the new book “You Can’t Fight, You’re a Girl!”

As I mentioned in my previous post, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France, but my husband Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French was Killed in Action in France. We also have quite a few other family members who have served. Our son will be visiting the battlefields of France as part of a history tour with his school next year and will be spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneux and I wanted him to have some idea of what happened before he left.

After all, we talk about “Lest we forget”, but a hundred years later, we don’t remember. We don’t know. Of course, we can’t know everything about the past, but for me it’s not only important from a point of respect and gratitude. It’s also helpful to know what these people went through and how they handled this dreadful period in history provides valuable life lessons, which are just as relevant and needed today.

I also needed to know what it was really like for them to be there. Not from us imposing our own interpretations over the top. Rather, I needed to hear their stories directly through their own voices. Despite studying Australian History at Honours level at university and being gripped by Australian and family history most of my life, what they told me was quite different and much more complex than I expected. They needed to be heard.

Stay tuned.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

[1] Arrow (Sydney, NSW : 1916 – 1933), Saturday 22 July 1916, page 1

 

[2] https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/blogs/first-world-war-troopship-and-unit-newspapers

[3] Arrow (Sydney, NSW : 1916 – 1933), Saturday 22 July 1916, page 1