Tag Archives: children

Becoming An Instant “Grandmother”…

Yesterday, we welcomed home the new baby. Well, baby doll to be precise. She’s not real which is fairly evident from the photos. However, at the same time, she’s not your standard doll either. She’s what’s known as a baby simulation doll and she is manufactured by RealCare Baby. My daughter is studying Child Studies at school and the “babies” were sent home for two days as an assignment. The dolls come with a pseudo bottle, two nappies and the student wears a wristband to log on every time they care for the baby. The doll also also has computer technology onboard which reports back to base how the baby was treated, especially if the baby was dropped or shaken and the baby will emit loud cries if the head isn’t supported properly. A friend of mine told me she accidentally dropped her daughter’s baby doll a few years ago, and her daughter failed. So, evidently, the are a few pitfalls and I don’t want to be the weakest link.

Naturally, I was fairly curious. I was also rather excited about the whole project, but was also wondering whether this thing was going to keep us awake all night. After all, newborns are synonymous with sleepless nights. I remember them well. I’ve also seen these dolls on TV before, as they’ve been used fairly extensively in sex education classes to prevent teenage pregnancies. The theory goes that if the teens know how difficult a baby can be, they’ll be more careful. However, research suggests that the students who had the dolls were actually more likely to experience a teen pregnancy.

Our elderly neighbours gave us two of these sheepskin bears when our son was born – two in case we lost one or needed to put it through the wash. Their grandchildren had really loved them.

Although the baby would only be staying for a few days, she still needed a name. Miss decided to call her McKinley. I thought she’d told me the doll was Indigenous American and decided to give her a name of my own…Tallulah, which comes from the Choctaw people and means leaping water. My cousins also have a restaurant in Newcastle called Tallulah. However, as it turned out, Tallulah was African-American. However, I only found that out after she’d gone.

Anyway, enough about names. Let’s get on with the doll. Whoops! I mean, baby.

The thing that’s struck me most personally, is how she latches onto your heartstrings. She feels so incredibly real, and yet not (if that makes any sense). Unlike a standard doll made of hollow plastic, Tallulah is weighted and feels surprisingly heavy. Indeed, she weighs around 3 kilos or 6.5 – 7 pounds, which is about the average weight of a new born baby. So, there was a lot of familiarity, and I really felt something rekindle within, which surprised me.

While I’m not going to comment on how Miss went with her assignment, I did get the opportunity to see how a few others responded to Tallulah, and see that she also elicited an emotional response from them both at the local shops with me and also when she made a guest appearance during my Zoom Bible study group.

Starting with the local shops, I had to take Tallulah down to the dance studio to pick up Miss. This was a bit of an exercise and normally, a baby would travel in a capsule, but Tallulah didn’t come with one. So, I just strapped her into the car seat and hoped she didn’t attract attention. To compound matters, I couldn’t get a park out the front and I couldn’t leave Tallulah in the car in case she woke up and needed attention. Consequently, as a 50 something woman, I was left walking down the street carrying a baby doll.

It was very interesting to see how people responded to Tallulah. I could see drivers being extra careful when when I was walking across the pedestrian crossing. They definitely registered “baby” and altered their demeanor. After all, they wouldn’t be expecting me to be carrying a doll around.

I loved the way she put her little arm up like this just like our kids had done.

Then, I had a further opportunity to gauge the reactions of others during my zoom Bible study tonight. The doll was supposed to be turned off while Miss was at dance. However, Tallulah woke up screaming with 15 minutes to go. I abandoned Zoom and ditched my headphones racing to Miss’s room as though Tallulah’s life depended upon me. I managed to find everything I needed to settle her down again except the logging on device. So, I returned to my zoom with a screaming baby the group knew nothing about. The instant they saw her, there was an immediate emotional response, and I even sensed a touch of joy. They didn’t know what was going on at the time, and Tallulah looked real enough, and they wouldn’t have been expecting a fake baby who was my daughter’s homework. They were just humans reacting to what they thought was a real baby.

Even Rosie took an interest in Tallulah, but not without close supervision!!

So, it seems I wasn’t the only one who had an emotional response to Tallulah, and it’s interesting to consider that this baby simulator can stimulate these very emotional (and probably innate) responses when it’s just a piece of plastic. I don’t consider myself particularly into babies and young children and tend to prefer older children. So, the fact this doll (let’s call her by her name – Tallulah) drew me in, says a lot although I wouldn’t say that I love Tallulah. Also, as far as babies go, she was pretty easy going.

This raises an interesting point. If these dolls establish an emotional connection with their carers, are they really an effective deterrent when it comes to teen pregnancies? Could they in fact be encouraging them to want their own real baby instead? On the other hand, they do get a feel for how time consuming a baby can be and unlike Tallulah, they can’t just be switched off while they’re at school or in a dance class.

Anyway, I had a bit of fun being grandma and taking a few photos. While most of our kids’ toys are stored away in our roof, I did manage to find a sheepskin teddy bear which our elderly neighbours gave her. I also found a sheepskin a school friend had given me. She’d used it for her daughters and we used it when Mister was born. Indeed, I’m going to check whether my friend’s daughter has had a baby yet. She might be wanting it back.

While I’ve mainly focused on the upside of having the doll here, I have a few concerns. Firstly, I’m not supportive of the one student having sole responsibility for the doll/baby and there should be capacity for family members to help. After all, we keep saying it takes a village to raise a child, but then putting all responsibility back onto the mother and there are also some quarters who also complain about the declining birth rate. In many ways, it’s good experience for all of us to have experience of a screaming doll-baby who won’t stop crying before we have our own so we have realistic expectations of parenthood. I don’t know whether there is a debriefing process in place when students return the dolls/babies. However, failing could hit a some people fairly hard and while they might be wanting to prevent teen pregnancies, the aim is not to turn young people off having children altogether. It would have been hard for probably all of us as new parents to have been scrutinised like these students caring for our own children We all made mistakes. All had times we struggled to cope. Yet, an important aspect of this program which goes a bit more under the radar is the importance of not shaking your baby and it does raise awareness of these dangers to young people. So, these dolls are not just about sex education, but also give some insights into how to care well for your baby and what will be involved.

Have you or your family had any experience of baby simulation dolls? I’d be interested to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 9th March, 2022.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Don’t know whether it’s Mother’s Day in your neck of the woods, but it has been here and I have a large bunch of flowers on the kitchen bench, and we had various delicious snacks, German Bee Sting Cake and white chocolate rocky road. We had a low key Mother’s Day, because I slept through half of it, and my parents are keeping a low profile still avoiding covid, although we did have some lengthy conversations on the phone. Of course, it’s not the same, but hopefully we’ll get down there soon.

I had a bit of a Mother’s Day tribute in my previous post.

Well, I have to tell you it’s getting chilly around here now. The weather isn’t always the best judge of the seasons around here, but the end of daylight savings is usually the death knell to Summer. Just to put you in the picture, the weather is expected to range from 11-18 degrees Celsius today. That’s cold. Anything below ten is FREEZING!!

This weekend, Geoff and I drove over to Hardys Bay to watch the sunset. As you can see, it’s a truly magnificent spot. While we love and appreciate our own beach, it’s always good to mix it us and this little patch is emerging as a really special place for us. It is so incredibly tranquil there. I don’t know whether that’s a function of it being on still water rather than the surf, but I can easily lose track of hours sitting there watching and photographing the sunset talking with Geoff. Indeed, it felt totally timeless. Indeed, I’d have to say we’d finally managed to relax into human beings instead of human doings (or in my case it’s often a “gunna do”.) We went over there yesterday and went on quite a long walk (at least for me), and we went back today to drive further round to Pretty Beach but we loved Hardys Bay so much we headed back and parked ourselves at the end of the jetty feasting on spiced nuts. The sunset seemed to last forever and more and more colour somehow managed to leak out. I was a very happy snapper.

Sunset Hardys Bay

I’ve been thinking a lot about my future lately. It’s a future I didn’t think I’d have a few years ago, and I didn’t really give a lot of thought to going back to work because time was short and my family mattered most, and my writing and research interests were intellectually stimulating and probably even more so than most jobs. My kids have also needed me around, but that didn’t prevent me from working part-time. However, then covid hit and my health situation has meant I’ve spent much of the last 2.5 years in isolation and trying to stay alive on that front has been very draining too. It’s been a war zone for vulnerable people like myself, especially when you’re living with family who are out and about and could bring it home. However, the extra income would be good and I’m think work might give me a bit more grounding and direction. I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately. Then again, there have been so many changes, it’s not surprising. Our daughter s now halfway through her second last year at school, and I’m also wondering if I should just wait until she’s done. She’s got her school work, heavy dance commitments and working at McDonalds. I could continue on with my WWI research and get that polished off in the meantime. I’m going to pray about it. That’s not another way of saying I’m going to sit on the fence, procrastinate or do nothing. I don’t really have strong views either way. Have you had to go through this process and how did you go about it?

Well, I think I might head off.

How has your week been? I hope you’ve had a good one.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Natalie the Explorer: https://fresh.inlinkz.com/party/d195f0f14edb4d419024884d730b8c75

Best wishes,

Rowena

Happy Mother’s Day 2022

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Jackie Kennedy

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”

Honore de Balzac

“Having kids — the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings — is the biggest job anyone can embark on.”

Maria Shriver

“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

Abraham Lincoln

“We are born of love; Love is our mother.”

Rumi

“When you look into your mother’s eyes, you know that is the purest love you can find.”

Mitch Album


“Women, who struggle and suffer pain to ensure the continuation of the human race, make much tougher and more courageous soldiers than all those big-mouthed freedom-fighting heroes put together.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Just wanted to honour Mother’s Day today with some photos of me with my Mum, my grandmothers and with our kids. Relationships tend to be much more complex than Hallmark sentiments, and our relationships with our mother’s are often fraught and go through the wringer….as do our relationships with our children. A mother gives birth to us, but this may not be the person who raises us and we know to be mother. There are also so many mothers who have lost their babies, and today brings an unfathomable and often very private grief. Many have lost their mums, and many way too soon before they had a chance to grow up. I’m sorry. I had friends who passed away last year, and left their kids behind, which goes against every instinct you’ve got as a mum. However, they had no say in that. It is what it is. Isn’t that the phrase we apply to unfathomable, inexplicable pain?!!

For me, I’ll be grateful for the good today. I thank my mother for being my Mum, and I’m sorry and regret I didn’t always know or understand how much she loved me, or that she understood me better than I ever gave her credit for. However, I am lucky that it’s not too late, and I can’t help wondering whether there is even that opportunity to make amends, and that they might just hear us from heaven. We don’t know.

Lastly, let Holocaust survivor, Eddie Jaku, have the last words. I read his book: The Happiest Man On Earth last week:

“I try to teach this to every young person I meet. Your mother does everything for you. Let you know you appreciate her, let her know that you love her. Why argue with the people you love? Go out on the street, stop a person littering and argue with them. There are a million better people to argue with than your mum.”

Sending you love this Mother’s Day!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Book Launch of “Murdering Stepmothers” & the Case of the Rambunctious Child.

“Never work with animals or children.”

-W. C. Fields

There are times when every parent, and maybe even doting grandparent, wants to disassociate with naughty or over-exuberant children, and pretend they’ve never seen them before. Whether we admit to that in public or not, is another matter. However, we all know it’s true.

Things were doubly complicated with my two, because from the time our daughter was born and our eldest was only two, I developed a debilitating muscle wasting disease called dermatomyositis, and I couldn’t keep up. Hence, my parents had a much more active role with the kids and often had to step up and into my shoes. Well, that’s my justification for why my father was in charge of our rather unruly four year old daughter better known as Miss who could do no wrong.

My dad with a very unruly Miss Four while her mother hides behind the camera. Or, perhaps that was Geoff but this photo looks more like my handiwork.

This wasn’t the only sign of misbehaviour either, and to be perfectly honest I’m sure someone gave her red cordial, orange Fanta or something else along those lines` that night. Our kids were strictly “no artificial colours or preservatives”. However, strict adherence doesn’t mean the system was foolproof.

Anyway, my aunt was having an official book launch at Gleebooks in Sydney by Julianne Schulz from the Griffith Review. This won’t mean much to many of you who are overseas, (or in Australia beyond academic circles for that matter). However, my aunt is a professor and an award-winning author and she’s spoken at numerous writer’s festivals, including the Sydney Writers’ Festival ( which gave yours truly access to the Writers’ Greenroom. I was in heaven!!)

So, in other words, this was no backyard launch, and quite a serious affair. One of those events where parents always give their kids a talking to before you all arrive about being on their VERY BEST BEHAVIOUR!! They are to be seen and not heard. Of course, “not seen and not heard” is capital letter TROUBLE in these situations, and to be avoided at all costs.

However, 12 years down the track from said book launch, the behavior of Miss Four, (and indeed it was only Miss Four who was playing up) appears rather funny. She was pure mischief that night, and her brother and their friend were pretty good. Indeed, when I look at the photos, I think the friend is wondering what she’s on. Mind you, both the boys were already at Big School so they had an unfair advantage.

Legitimately drawing on the wall in the boardroom at Concordia College, Toowoomba while my grandfather’s portrait watches second from the left.

While we’re on the subject of taking unruly kids into adult situations, I also found a photo of the kids when we were visiting Concordia College in Toowoomba. My grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, was the first Acting Principal there back around 1948, and we were given a lovely tour of the school by the Communications Manager. She was such a kind soul and as we’re in the very prestigious boardroom which has my grandfather’s portrait in the very stately line-up, she gave them whiteboard markers and allowed them to write on the whiteboard. She was someone who really understood young kids and parents. At the same time, it does look funny and out of place.

They really look like they’re plotting and planning future mischief over dinner here.

As for the title of my aunt’s book, it’s full title is Murdering Stepmothers: the Execution of Martha Rendell. Martha Rendell as the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia, after being found guilty of poisoning her three stepchildren with medicine. It’s a great read but might be hard to get hold of.

Not the best photo of the kids with my aunt. I’m on the look out for a better one.

Of course, my aunt adores my kids, and still believes they can do no wrong, despite this eventful night.

Do you have any stories of your kids having a moment? Of course, you do. Even parents of cats and dogs have stories of pure mischief.

Well, my two are about to turn eighteen and sixteen and let’s just say the perimeters have changed, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Our Sound of Music on New Year’s Day!

I couldn’t resist. When I saw that The Sound of Music was going to be on tonight, I knew that no matter how hard I might try to resist, I was going to watch it. Not just because it was on, and I had nowhere else to be, but because I wanted to watch it. That I had to go through the whole Sound of Music experience all over again. Immerse myself fully.

Miss outside the Brent Street Studios where the auditions were held.

Besides, Sound of Music brings back some very special memories of of my own. When my daughter was about nine, she came home from a dance class with a torn out strip of paper in her hand. On it were written the details to audition for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of the Sound of Music in Sydney. A scrap of paper wasn’t an auspicious beginning, and I must admit I was rather unenthused. My grandmother had been a child prodigy concert pianist, and I’d had expectations thrust on me at an early age. However, the desire was coming from her, not from me. Moreover, she’s very hard to say no to. Before I knew it, I was filling out the application form and sending off a photo. It was only then that I bought a copy of the movie, and saw how much our daughter looked like the original Marta, and wasn’t surprised when she scored an audition. The first thing she had to do was pass the height test. Then came the singing audition, and then onto dance.

These days, Miss doesn’t do a lot of singing. However, back then she’d performed in quite a few large choral performances at school, including School Spectacular. However, she’d also been diagnosed with vocal nodules and was struggling to speak let alone sing, and had been seeing a speech therapist. However, why let a small thing like that get in the way of your dream? Moreover, if you know us even just a little bit, you know we don’t give up that easily.

Persevering with the keyboard while on the nebuliser. I only need it a few times a day so not a big deal.

Just to complicate matters further, I ended up with a major chest infection, asthma and needing to go on the nebuliser in the week leading up to her audition. I wasn’t about to let that stand in my way either. Anything short of a near death experience, and I was getting her to that audition myself. Call us daft in hindsight, but once the juggernaut is in motion, it takes a hell of a lot to make it stop.

Miss playing the keyboard.

So, there we were a fine pair in the week before the audition. Miss with vocal nodules and me on the nebuliser. Yet, we prepared and practiced the songs. It had been years since I’d touched a keyboard, but I pulled out this gizmo I’d bought out at a market for the kids…a rollout electronic keyboard which could go on the kitchen table and it didn’t matter if we wrote the notes on it. It was hardly my mother’s precious Steinway grand. I also wrote the songs out with the corresponding letters because she coulddn’t read music. However, while learning the songs on the keyboard was sparing her voice, she couldn’t see the point of it all, and when the horse resisted, I pulled back. In hindsight, it was all probably a bit too much, but I meant well.

Converting the musical score into “Miss-Speak”. I really worked hard to help.

By the way, there was a rather comical twist to her audition. The night beforehand, we were able to stay with a friend in the city to make things easier. As it turns out, my friend was a Major in the Army Reserve and just happened to be in uniform when he dropped us off at Brent Studios. So, as you can see, she had a proper military escort to her audition.

Miss with the Major

We were kind of grateful when she didn’t make it through to the callbacks. I don’t know how parents magically “make it happen”, but we’d have been bending over backwards and inside out to pull it off. Yet, we would’ve done it.

Miss is now 15 going on 16. So tonight as I rewatched the Sound of Music, she was now almost the same as Liesl, the eldest of the Von Trapp children, but fifteen going on sixteen instead. Of course, this isn’t all smooth sailing, and she was the only one of us who was out and about last night.

If you would like to find out more about the original Von Trapp family, this is a good quick read: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/winter/von-trapps-html

In the meantime, with covid at large and management in NSW in complete disarray, it might be an opportune time to catch up with a few other movie classics. The Blues Brothers was on NYE along with Can’t Stop The Music with the Village People. I’ve watched that after midnight for probably the last five years but it was on before midnight this year and I missed it. I’m also trying to start reading Amanda Lowrey’s book: The Labyrinth (along with getting through a massive book pile). Gee, along with wanting to enjoy the outdoors and sort out the house, top of my wish list for 2022 is nine lives.

Best wishes,

Rowena

My daughter and I a few months ago after getting our post lockdown haircuts.

Christmas 1921 with Ethel Turner and the Sunbeamers

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

After providing a brief sketch of the state of play during Christmas 1921 in my previous post, we’re now going to spend Christmas 1921 with famous English-Australian author, Ethel Turner, whose first novel: Seven Little Australians placed her up on the international literary stage. However, she also wrote 39 other novels, and of more relevance to us, she edited a string of children’s pages in various publications, and it’s here where we’ll be touching down.

Born on the 24th January, 1870, Ethel Turner was 51 years old in 1921, and a year younger than I am now. She was married to Judge Herbert Curlewis and they were living at their home in Avenel, Mosman, Sydney although they spent Christmas 1921 at Palm Beach. Daughter, Jean,  was twenty-three, and son Adrian was twenty and studying Law at Sydney University. By Christmas 1921, Ethel Turner had had 22 of her handwritten  novels published, and King Anne was her offering for the year. She was famous.

However, for Ethel Turner it wasn’t the empty fame of celebrity. Rather, there was a strong sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference, and do good. While I can be dangerous to interpret Three Little Maids as being purely biographical, there is also much truth and Dolly (who is said to be Ethel) made this statement about becoming an author: “One night…I felt I must do something. I felt I couldn’t just go on doing little things always,-staying at home and helping, and going to dances, and playing tennis. I used to think I should like to go as a missionary, – not to China, of course, only somewhere here where people were very poor and miserable. But that night I didn’t seem to want anything but to write books that people would love to read, and that might do them some good.[1]

This aspect of Ethel Turner is often lost….the visionary, the world-changer, the woman who had experienced financial hardship as a child and relocated across the world for a better life, worked hard and overcome. She’s simply viewed through the lens of Seven Little Australians as though she were a one book wonder. However, it appears that the massive difference she made to the lives of children through the series of children’s pages she edited has been forgotten, along with how she nurtured the artistic and literary abilities of younger generations through these pages. She was such an inspiration!

The trouble is that it’s very hard to condense an inspiration into a few lines or words to satisfy those who don’t want to immerse themselves more fully into the longer story. However, in this instance, can I caution you to sit down. Make yourself a cup of tea, and in the words of the great Molly Meldrum: “Do yourselves a favour!”

We’re going to pick up with Ethel Turner on the 20th November 1921.  Sunbeams had only been launched on the 9th October, 1921, and just over a month old, and still in the nest. Yet, that didn’t stop Ethel Turner from launching an ambitious plan to make a difference that Christmas:

“FROM A CHAIR IN THE SUN

ABOUT SUN FAIRIES

Dear Young People, — One of the many tastes we have in common, you and I, Is our love for conjuring tricks. Here is one I particularly want you to try. Take a child with the corners of its mouth right down and its eyes running over with tears (there are any amount of them in the hospitals and crowded back streets, alas). Go up close to it, and with a quick sleight-of-hand slip into its fingers a tiny doll as pretty as a fairy. In less than half a minute the eyes will dry and the mouth corners go up. This trick has never been known to fail. So now then, let us do it together. Your part is to buy a tiny celluloid doll or kewpie, dross it in something very fairylike — gay and pretty, or comical as an elf — put it in a, tiny box, and post or hand it in to “Sunbeams.” My part will be to find the children in the hospitals and back streets about Christmas time. I shall also examine the dolls carefully — we will call them Sun Fairies— and give three prizes of half-a-crown each to the three most attractive ones, and six “Sun” honor cards. You need send no coupon with this competition, as the doll will cost you anything from twopence to sixpence. Send December 1st.

Yours ever,

Ethel Turner[2]

Ethel Turner received an enthusiastic and touching response to her call for contributions. On the 11th December, 1921, she wrote:

“THE SUN FAIRIES

ROOMFUL OF WONDERFUL DOLLS DAME MARGARET DAVIDSON’S WINNERS

The response to the “Sun” fairies competition was splendid and many little “Sunbeams” will be cheered by the really wonderful little dolls sent in… It was a lovely spirit which prompted the competitors to send in the dolls — they were not concerned with winning prizes, but with doing something with their own hands which would give pleasure to children, to whom dainty dolls are a rare and precious luxury. Many of the children marked their entries: “Not sent in for a prize,” and pinned to almost every doll was a pretty little greeting to the recipient. They sat about all over the floor and the chairs and tables rather impatient in their boxes, just as trapped butterflies might be; they were eager to be gone upon their task of carrying sunshine. They were dressed in silk and spangles, in little frilly skirts of lace, in bridal gowns; in elf costumes; there were little mother fairies with tiny children around them, father fairies, fussy and important, fairies with opera cloaks on, and carrying bags; baby fairies, red riding hood fairies; one or two arrived with their beds and bedding, a few with suit-cases for the week-end and complete wardrobes. Wendy came, together with John and Michael, and Peter Pan. And wands! There were enough wands to have enchanted all Sydney and turned it to happy ways had they been held up. And no one, not any one, had forgotten the pretty little card with “From one Sunbeam to another” and other affectionate greetings. Dorothy Makin’s box of dolls, which won first prize, lacked only the bride groom to make the wedding party complete. But then it is so difficult to make a fairy-like creature of a man who should be dressed strictly in black. It was a rainbow wedding, and the bride chose ivory satin for her gown. She also had an overskirt of lace, and trimmed her whole frock with pearls. She wore the usual wreath and veil, and carried a bouquet of white blossoms and a fan. Her maids were frocked in rose, mauve, coral and eau-de-nil silk net, and wore quaint filets round their heads. Just by way of being different, they all carried fans instead of bouquets. Five little fairies, in five little boxes with five little Christmas cards, were sent by Betty Blake, who was second prize-winner. Betty dressed her fairies in white lace, showing beribboned petticoats. Glinting beads of gold and silver shone like spangles on the little dolls which will gladden the hearts of sick children on Christmas Day. Betty Grimm’s Sunbeamer was dressed in her party frock of rose-colored silk net, and she carried a lovely curling white feather fan. (But even fairies cannot live in party frocks all the time, so Betty sent along a box full of neatly made clothes for everyday wear, and did not forgot even a tiny tin of powder to powder her nose.[3]

Of course, this touching story of generosity and human kindness is not complete without hearing about the sun fairies final destinations:

THE SUN FAIRIES: How The Kiddies Loved Them”

I know that all of you who made a “Sun” Fairy will be delighted to hear how much joy they gave to the children who received them. Here are two letters which tell you all about them:–A.I.F. Wives and Children’s Holiday Association.

Furlough House, Narrabeen. Dear Sunbeams, — The dear little sun fairies arrived quite safely, and as fresh as when’ they left the designers’ hands. I am sure if the little donors could have seen the pleasure they afforded when received on Christmas Day they would be delighted to know they were indeed sun fairies in so much as they made radiance shine from each receiver’s face. With all good wishes to the Sunbeams from all the soldiers’ children at “Furlough House,” Yours sincerely, Ruby Fowle, Matron The second letter comes from Mrs Lyster Ormsby, who in the crowded streets of the city has for years sought to bring joy and sunlight into the lives of the little children there. Soup Kitchen for Little Children, 40 Burton-street, Darlinghurst. Dear Little Sunbeams,— I want to thank you for the dainty little ladies, fairies and babies the came to the Soup Kitchen during Christmas week. They came all neatly tucked away in a box, and was told they were to be given to some of the poor little’ girlies that I know as presents from “one Sunbeam to another. Well it happened that some of my little pals were hanging round when I unpacked your box and if you could have heard the “O-o-ohs” and “A-a-ahs” of admiration that came from them as I drew each dolly out of the box, you would have felt that you had sent a real sunbeam along. I gave your dollies away in many different quarters, and I feel sure you will be glad to know that each and every one received a warm and loving welcome from the new mistress. Among my little Soup Kitchen Girlies was one who has just left school and so felt too big for a doll. She always has a real live baby in mind-but still I could tell by the look in her face that she was just envying all the smaller girls; so I picked out a tiny kewpie doll that had been so prettily dressed in baby frills and I said: “I know you’re fourteen, Alice, and too big for dolls — (she thinks she is, you know) – but this is a Kewpie for luck and it goes on the rail of your bedstead. Would you like it?” She just loved it, and rushed off home to put it on her bed right away, “Good-bye, little Sunbeams, and a happy new year to you all from Inys Ormsby.[4]

And now we’ll back peddle just a little, and read Ethel Turner’s Christmas Day letter to her Sunbeamers:

A VERY MERRY XMAS FROM A CHAIR IN THE SUN

Christmas Day

Dear Young People,—

Do you know Anna? What Anna? Merry Christmas anna happy New Year. Yes, I know this is the seventh time you have been asked this same joke, but that is the best about Christmas Day, isn’t it, there is such a rosy, kindly light everywhere, that you are ready to smile seven times at anything and everything. I hope that you are, every one of you, as happy as larks to-day: the boy with the sixpenny humming top, as well as the one with the expensive aeroplane. Happiness, real lark-like happiness, isn’t a thing to be bought with money; it is a thing right inside you. There is really an amazing amount of it lying about free in a sunshiny land like this; believe me it is not shut up in those expensive toyshops, pleasant though those places are. Happiness is just a little light, bubbling thing that you make for yourself, just as the lark makes its song. Good-bye till next week. Do you know Anna?

The Sunbeamer[5]

I hope you have been each to absorb each of these letters word by word, and truly absorb an Ethel Turner who might appear idealistic, utopian and off with the very fairies she was passing on. However, aim low has never had much of a ring to it, has it?!! I personally found her sentiments so heart-warming and encouraging, and way too good to be lost for eternity in a bunch of newsprint.

So, I hope you and yours are managing to find some of that lark-like happiness this Christmas and carry it into the New Year as well.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin


[1] Ethel Turner, `Three Little Maids, pp 302-303.

[2] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 20 November 1921, page 2

[3] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 11 December 1921, page 2

[4] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 15 January 1922, page 2

[5] (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 25 December 1921, page 22

Responding To Tasmania’s Jumping Castle Tragedy.

Many of you would have heard about the freakish, tragic accident in Devonport, Tasmania where so far six children died when a jumping castle was swept 10 metres into the air by a fierce, rogue gust of wind.

Map of Tasmania. Devonport is on the North Coast roughly in the middle.

Although we live on the Australian “mainland” (as Tasmanians call it), for us it’s still quite personal. My husband is Tasmanian, and in particular, from Northern Tasmania. While Geoff was born and raised in Scottsdale on the North-East, his dad came from Penguin which is just over 30 kilometres away from Devonport and Geoff has families spread right throughout these parts. Indeed, numerous branches of his family arrived in Tasmania in the 1830s, and let’s just say there was no TV back then. Many of his ancestors had massive familes, and there was one guy in particular who really clocked the numbers up. He had 24 kids with two wives. So, you can appreciate how his family tree has been very prolific and spread something like a weed. I stir him about being related to anyone with old time family ties in Northern Tasmania, and I’m yet to be proven wrong, although it’s only been a small sample size.

Our two rogue children on our son’s last day in Year 6. The photos went downhill from here.

So, like everyone else we were shocked and heartbroken by this freakish tragedy, but we had the added concern of whether we had family involved and it took awhile for them to release the names of the children. So, while we were one of the families pulling up at the school not knowing whether our child was affected or not, we were connected. Indeed, so many people are. Moreover, quite a number of my friends have kids making the transition from year 6 which is the end of our primary school system here, and into year 7 next year, which is the start of high school. So they’re really feeling it too.

At the end of their last day at school, the school children form a tunnel through the playground and the Year six’s run through, and I took this close-up of their hands.

For awhile there, we didn’t know the names of the children who had passed away. So, far they’re not familiar. However, but one grandfather looked familiar and would’ve fitted in well at Geoff’s sister’s place for Christmas. Moreover, there’s definitely a sense of Geoff and his family genetically belonging to this community. There’s a noticeable “look”. Being an island, Tassie is a close-knit community, but it’s also had its internal divides too. There’s traditionally been a very strong divide between North and South, and to a lesser extent the West Coast as well. Like most island communities, Tasmania is isolated and they refer to the refer of Australia as “the mainland”. One of Tasmania’s other claims to fame is that it often gets left off the map, although during covid having a moat was rather advantageous and I think some politician down there talked about having a moat and a drawbridge, and not being afraid to use it back in the early days of covid.

So, for this to happen in a place like Devonport, it’s monumental. With an estimated population of 25,747 in the 2020, it’s not a village. However, with a web of established families and networks, it’s a particularly close community – especially now.

Sharing a bit about Devonport with you isn’t going to help any of these families, but it helps me feel closer. It helps us feel closer to a community where we have indeterminate connections. A close friend of ours, who is married to Geoff’s best man, is a school counsellor at a nearby school, and was at Hillcrest School on Friday providing counselling for families and children – such a tough job but she’s put years into her training and really strives to develop strategies for connecting with children, and in particular children who are doing it tough for a whole swag of reasons. I’m not her mum, but I am proud of her and so grateful she was there. However, as we move into school holidays and Christmas, there needs to be a changing of the guard as school staff go on holidays. They will need support for the long haul.

This was awhile ago now, but it’s one of my favourite dance photos of her.

Meanwhile, tonight we did what we do at the close of every year. We went to my daughter’s end of year dance concert. With all the stunning and thought-provoking dancing, it always makes me reflective, and when I see the younger ones dance, I also remember our daughter’s progression through all the grades to where she is now about to embark into the senior teens. I wasn’t being morbid. I wasn’t teary or sad. However, it certainly hammered home what it would mean if it happened here, and a sense of what the families at Hillcrest School are going through, and the students. Six of their precious friends are gone and for some it’s going to be very lonely going back to school next year. You hope they were all someone’s bestie, and know there are now six huge, and very painful holes in the playground, as well as at home. Holes they will never be filled, but I pray there will be some kind of healing. That maybe being in this together, they can help each other muddle through, and as the Beatles said “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

They are in my prayers.

Rest in peace dear sweethearts,

Love,

Rowena

WWI – Gallipoli: When Daddy Didn’t Come Home. Brenda Taylor’s Story…

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.

Landing At Gallipoli- Charles Dixon

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:

Sister Pratt

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[1].”

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[2].

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[3].”

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[4].

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[5].

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[6]

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?

Not yet.

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.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References


[1] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2

[2] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2

[3] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2

[4] Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Friday 4 August 1899, page 18

[5] Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Thursday 30 December 1943, page 5

[6] Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Thursday 10 March 1938, page 9

Tram Reflections in Melbourne – 2017.

Today, I came across this photo, while beavering away on my travel series in between phone calls and various conversations (dare I say interruptions) from family members and ball-chasing dogs. Life has become even more chaotic at our place with four humans and three dogs all in lock-down at home, especially now the kids are on school holidays without going anywhere. However, I just thank my lucky stars the “kids” are now teenagers, and it’s usually me flagging them down for a chat(and if I’d really lucky) a hug!!

Anyway, this photo was taken back in January, 2017 on board a Melbourne tram. At the time, we were only staying in Melbourne overnight before heading off in the morning to Tasmania. So, we were trying to squeeze in as much of the city as we could, and it was all after dark.

Catching trams is also a real novelty for us. Sydney ripped up its trams years ago, and  Melbourne’s extensive tram network has given the city a distinct feel. Indeed, it’s become “Melbourne”.  So catching a tram for us, particularly the kids, was a real novelty, and just to add to the excitement, it was also their first visit to the heart of Melbourne.

While I’ve always loved photographing reflections and capturing their twisting, mutating forms, what struck me about this particular photo was our daughter’s face staring up through those reflections in the bottom right of the shot. I see a child’s face staring up through eyes of awe and wonder at the incredible  kaleidoscope of newness around her and trying to take it all in.

That image particularly touches me at this point in time, when we’re all looking up from the strange, unprecedented places we’re finding ourselves in as the coronavirus, unemployment, and toilet paper shortages spread across the globe. Now, it’s us looking up  wondering what it all means, where we’re all heading and even if we, at a personal level, will even be here when the clouds lift.

Don’t we all wish we could turn back time!

Sometimes, I also wish my kids would be little again for awhile. However, it doesn’t last long. I have always been one to prefer them exactly as they are.

Anyway, that’s at least my interpretation of the photo. I’d be interested to know your thoughts, and please be brutally honest if it does nothing for you. That’s what feedback’s for – not just a pat on the back.

I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Chicken #FridayFictioneers

“Jump the fence, Tom. Come on. I dare you.”

“Dunno Miranda. Can’t you read the sign? No trespassing. They’ll shoot us.”

“Chicken!” Miranda goaded, all bluff. She’d never do it. The new neighbours were weird, possibly even aliens.

“Am not, chicken” Tom replied, jumping into the never-ending abyss.

“Tom!” Miranda screamed. “TOM!!”

Silence.

He’d vanished.

Miranda freaked. Home alone, she’d have to jump the fence, wrestle with whatever it was to get her brother back. She didn’t know if she could do it.

Meanwhile, Tom snuck back over the fence and hid.

This was his best prank yet.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Randy Mazie.

98 words

This prompt brought back memories of my brother who had a friend who lived over our back fence. This little girl with long blond curls would climb up a tree on her side and down a tree on ours to visit. I’m not sure how many kids do that now. However, back then  fences between our houses were just a few planks to mark the boundary and we wandered freely in between each others’ houses. Within this friendly, embracing neighbourhood, I could see someone with a No Trespass sign really standing out.

By the way, I celebrated by Big 50 last week. Have been catching up with a whole lot of friends in small groups to make the most of it. It’s still Winter here and so I’m waiting for it to warm up before I organize a big party. I’m looking forward to it.

Best wishes,

Rowena