Tag Archives: Eunice Gardiner

Fighting War on A Different Front…Army Dentists WWII.

While it was all very well for our Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies to follow Britain’s lead and declare war on Germany on the 3rd September, 1939, the reality was that our troops were far from ready to go.

Indeed, it appears that our young men had stuck their tooth brushes where the sun don’t shine, and their teeth were just as black. Just to give you some idea of the full scale of the problem, in September 1939 in regional Victoria of 2,477 men examined, only 301 were classed as dentally fit and many of those had upper and lower dentures.That’s not a lot of pearly whites!

With the army struggling to treat almost universal dental annihilation, the NSW branch of the Australian Dental Association set up a clinic at the showgrounds where a team of 80 volunteer dentists worked in relays of twelve. These volunteers included my grandfather, Bob Curtin, who had a dental practice in Macquarie Street and you can see him hard at work in the photo above.

By the time the clinic closed in September 1941, 66,991 teeth had pulled out along with giving 97,763 fillings and supplying 19,318 dentures. I can’t help wondering what happened to all those teeth and whether they’ve all been stashed somewhere in one of these construction holes you see in the ground. I’ve never thought of teeth as landfill before but given those numbers, disposing of all those teeth must’ve been a consideration. Or, perhaps the tooth fairy took off with the lot. In that case, leaving a penny under all those bottles of beer, must’ve cost her a pretty penny.

Army dentists cartoon 1940

Not unsurprisingly, the soldiers themselves were less than enthusiastic about fronting up to the dentist. Indeed, one soldier we’ll just call “Jack” spilled the beans on what was known as the “Dental Clinic Racket”. This was not only a way of avoiding the dentist. It had the added bonus of getting them out of all sorts of duties so they could head off to their “bung-hole” (bed) instead:

“To secure, immunity from distasteful tasks by this means a soldier would first make an appointment with the clinic. He would show the appointment slip to the sergeant and be sent away from the kitchen, or some other fatigue to keep the appointment. At the clinic he would plead some excuse for delay, and the dentists, always willing to oblige, almost invariably agreed, to make an appointment for another day, The soldier was then free to go to his”bung-hole” and rest. But we have a checking system from today which will kill that dodge. Of course, in a day or so, the boys will think up a new one.”

Jack then goes on to say that the dental clinic made a raid on his unit that morning:

“All the boys were examined for dental defects, and if extractions were required, hustled straight over to get the works. I’ve seen some of those boys rush up a hill with fixed bayonets, yelling like madmen. The enemy was only imaginary, but I know that they would, and-will, do tho same when shot and shell are flying. But when these men were told to face the Dental Corps they paled, and almost had to be driven to the clinic. If the Dental Corps, had the same effect on an enemy, they would make ideal front line troops.”

Eunice & Robert Wedding

The marriage of Eunice Gardiner & Robert Vincent Curtin at St Mary’s Cathedral 1940.

As it turned out, 1940 was a busy year for my grandfather. That photo appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 2nd July, 1940. While my grandfather was flat out trying to maintain his dental practice while volunteering out at the showground, a young concert pianist had returned from London to tour Australia with the ABC under famous English conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham. While I’m not exactly sure of when they arrived in Australia it would appear they arrived in March, 1940. At some point along the way, my grandmother was in Sydney and had a toothache. Her brother Les had gone through school with my grandfather and I’m not too sure if that’s how she ended up there with that toothache. However, that was the beginning of a new chapter in our history. They were engaged n the 23rd August, 1940 and married in December.

Well, wrapping this up has been a bit of a rush job as I’m off to a concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music tonight and I want to potter around for a bit while I’m down there.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 26th August, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you and how’s your weekend shaping up, if you still have any of it left? It’s now Sunday night here, and I’m opting to share the weekend that was meant to be instead of the weekend that was.

Conservatorium Sign.jpg

A sign outside the Conservatorium advertising my grandmother’s upcoming concert . 

Yesterday, I was planning to attend Open Day at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music  where my grandmother taught and performed as a concert pianist and my mother attended as a pupil…her pupil. I wanted to try to find my grandmother’s old studio which I can really only remember as a young child being taken for a visit…stairs and long corridoors. Dad tells me her room overlooked the Botanic Gardens. That mystery will have to be unfold on another day.

Conservatium of Music (1)

The Conservatorium of Music, Sydney.

When you look at this grandiose apparition, it’s hard to believe that the Conservatorium  was originally built as the government stables. They must’ve had special horses. Or, Governor Macquarie was trying to transform a rugged convict outpost into a cultivated society.  Nothing like a few grandiose buildings to give a place a bit of  a step up. The Conservatorium was designed by former convict architect, Frances Greenway, and constructed 1817-1820. It is the only example of a Gothic building designed by Greenway still standing. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Macquarie was recalled to Britain. I wonder why.

That was yesterday’s plan.

Today, I’d planned to go to the annual Irish Famine Memorial Annual Gathering at the Hyde Park Barracks, which is coincidentally located just down the road from The Con and was also design by Frances Greenway. The gathering primarily commemorates over 2000 Irish Famine Orphan Girls who were sent to Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme. These orphans included my 4th Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan. I didn’t know anything about that growing up, and only found out about five years ago through a random Google search. I don’t know why this connection means so much to me, but she’s more than just a part of me. Bridget came from Midleton Workhouse, County Cork and I’ve also been researching the other girls she came out with. I was surprised to see they led quite disparate lives and seemingly didn’t huddle together. Getting to the gathering could well have advanced my research, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Family photo

A Family Portrait.

Well, as much as this was the weekend that wasn’t, thank goodness we made it to my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary on Thursday night. I don’t know where the numbers finished up, but there were something like 80-100 guests. Rather than focusing on them, Dad wanted it to be more of an opportunity to catch up with family and friends who’ve both individually and collectively have meant the world to them. While I’d expected catching up with so many people all at once, was going to be like speed dating barely able to sustain a conversation, I actually managed to have quite a meaningful night and have rekindled a few connections and made some new ones as well. I had a fabulous time.

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Our puppy Zac was keen to join us for the party.

My apologies for going backwards through the week, but the build up to the big party was bigger than Ben Hur. While I had very little to do with the actual planning and I wasn’t even required to bake or make a speech, getting myself and the family ready for the big night was a job and a half. I had my hair cut for the first time in two years a few weeks ago. People kept asking me how I felt about getting it all lopped off as though it was a monumental decision, not neglect. I also ordered new contact lenses, not that you’d know that I wear glasses. They always come off for photos. It’s a family tradition. I was quite chuffed and amazed by the time we pulled up. Our son in a suit. The dry cleaner had resurrected my daughter’s dress and we’d paired it up with a white trench and even high heels. Her friend had braided her hair at school…one of the benefits of an education. After 17 years of marriage, my husband still fitted into his wedding suit and almost looked as dashing as ever. As for me, I barely knew myself. I seemed to “scrub up alright”.

DSC_0521

Government House, Parramatta.

Lastly, I participated in Thursday Doors for the second time this week. This blogshare is hosted by Norm 2.0 at Thursday Doors and I really recommend you check this out. There were doors featured from all over the world, and I loved revisiting my backpacking trip around Europe in many of the posts. I took it easy this week and posted a recent photo I’d taken at  Government House, Parramatta.

So, how has your week been? Hope you’ve had a good one.

This has been another contribution for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop over and join us for a “cuppa”.

Best wishes,

Rowena

An Almighty Juggling Act…Concert Pianist & Mother, Eunice Gardiner.

If you’ve been following Beyond the Flow for any length of time at all, you’ll know that I’m totally obsessed and absorbed in research. Indeed, I wrap myself up in all these stories like a thick fleecy blanket feeling so snug and cosy.

Yet, there’s also that frustration. The compulsion to keep on searching even though you know what you’re looking for isn’t out there, and you’re needing to go offline.

That’s where I was tonight.  I’m actually in the throws of researching my grandfather’s second cousin, Asher Hart, who was a champion swimmer who was struck down by polio in his teens, but went on to become a surf champion and saved four lives on Black Sunday 1938 when a mini tsunami hit a crowded Bondi Beach in Sydney. Given my own struggles with disability and muscle wastage, he’s been such an inspiration to me in recent years, even though I only stumbled across him five years ago while I was recovering from chemo.

Anyway, it was getting late by now and I was winding down while my last cup of tea was cooling down, and entered my grandfather’s name into the search engine for these old newspapers. You can tag the articles so I can easily spot the ones I’ve read and the ones I’ve missed. New newspapers are being uploaded so it can be very productive to revisit what really might seem like the end of the road. Indeed, my motto is: Never Give Up, which could be a bit of a problem when research isn’t supposed to be the centre of my universe. Or, as is often the case, it can easily become my universe. I can become incredibly focused.

So, here I am tinkering away with these old newspapers around midnight, when I strike gold. Indeed, tinkering right before bed can be quite a bad thing because that seems to be when I stumble across something I can’t put down. That I must explore immediately and there endeth a good night’s sleep.

Eunice with Bon in Backpack

Tonight, I stumbled across an article and photo of my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner carrying my uncle in a back pack. I have never even seen this photo before, and I’m absolutely stoked. There she is not only photographed with him in the backpack, but she’s also talking about going shopping with the toddler on her back, the baby on the front while my grandfather was away with the army. Yet, not one to be conquered like us other mere mortals, she was also giving a Beethoven Concert at the   Sydney Conservatorium. Moreover, she discusses all of this as though everybody was doing it and there’s no talk at all about taking one small step for woman and an enormous leap for womenkind”. She was simply her own person. Mind you, that was also a bit of a luxury enabled by her mother, Mrs Ruby Gardiner, who steeped in and looked after the kids a long with household help. There was actually a migrant hostel at nearby with a source of willing labour. That’s not to belittle her extraordinary achievements, but I share this to console those of us battling to stay afloat in the real world. My two are just under two years apart, and I haven’t forgotten the difficulties of trying to get out the door with two little ones in tow. I also had backpacks, front packs but for getting to the shops, I had this extraordinary double pram contraption I’d picked up from the op shop with a toddler seat on the front. It was the size of a bus and really didn’t encourage going out. By the way, we also had a huge English Sheepdog who was tied to the pram on these walks. In hindsight, I don’t know how we survived. Rufus could well have bolted to the beach after a seagull despite the cumbersome attachments. He was that type of dog…a pure maniac.

Eunice 1948 USA

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948. She had three children all back in Australia when this photo was taken, including my Dad. So hard to comprehend on so many, many levels.

Despite my grandmother having seven children, I never thought of her being loaded up to the hilt with kids like myself. While my youngest uncles are only ten and eleven years older than me, I still just think of her as MY GRANDMOTHER and given that I often went round and saw her on my own, that makes a lot of sense. Each of us has multiple roles and relationships to different people and we’re not as pigeon-holed as we often try to make out. Indeed, she was much more complex than her title: “Melba of the Piano” implied. She was a modern, Renaissance Woman.

I was so happy to find this article, that I decided to post it here where it’s easily accessible to the family and I can share it with you as well. It’s not like showing it on TV. My blog has more of an “intimate” audience.

I hope you enjoy reading it and might even feel a tad inspired, even if it is only to take yourself off for a walk.

Best wishes,

Rowena

I remember reading a story about your grandmother. I think it was about her trip to New York, if I’m not mistaken. She was quite the character, traveling alone to follow her passion.

Thanks for the comment, Rowena. Have a nice day. 🙂

Liked by you

  1. Thank you, Varad. My grandmother has been this incredible mystery all my life and having all these old newspapers go online, has both illuminated and confused me. One of the things that really blew me away, was finding out there was a miniature grand piano on top of my grandparents’ wedding cake. My husband and I have both thought it was an acknowledgement that my grandfather was marrying her the piano and all that went with it. I’ve never seen a photo of the cake and would dearly love to and I only found out about it from the newspapers. It is very strange finding out such personal details about your own grandmother through old newspapers online. The other thing that I’ve come to realize is that her genes have been passed onto us. In the past, that was simply seen as whether or not we’d inherited her musical talent, and perhaps in the more specific context of the piano. Could we play? It’s taken me some time and a few more generations to join the mix, to see that we have inherited a smattering of things from her, including an absolutely dogged determination and focus, which was just as important to her success as her musical talent. A jack of all trades isn’t going to cut the mustard.
    You’ve inspired got a story there, Varad and I’m going to paste it to the end of my post. Your comment really got me thinking this morning as I’m back at my desk with a cup of tea, porridge and my go pills.
    Hope you have a lovely weekend!
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

 

Pianist in New York 1948…Friday Fictioneers.

The photo could’ve been taken yesterday. It hadn’t faded at all. Standing at the very top of the Empire State Building on the eve of her New York debut, she was a wife, mother of three little boys liberated from her domestic chains through her prodigious talent. Perched all 102 floors above the ground, what was she thinking? Was she feeling alone and thinking of home? Or, had New York waved its magic wand, cast her under its spell? I don’t know.  I came along much too late in the conversation, and have only been left with the photograph.

……..

Eunice Empire State Building 1948

Eunice Gardiner at the Empire State Building 1948.

In 1948, my grandmother Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner made her debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. She spent something like a year touring USA and Canada leaving her husband, mother  and three young boys back in Australia. The two older boys went to boarding school and my Dad, aged 3, stayed at home with Gran, my grandfather and a housekeeper. Before I had my own kids, I didn’t understand how she could go to New York by herself like that and leave them behind. I have had a few moments in my parenting journey where a solo trip to New York would’ve been blessed relief, but I couldn’t have gone for a year…even to pursue a writing career.

While I don’t know a lot about my grandmother’s time in New York, there are a few newspaper articles and I thought I’d include this funny story:


‘Burglar’ Was A Pianist

NEW YORK, Mon. (O.S.R.). — While Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner, was practising in a friend’s home, a snow-covered policeman rushed in with re revolver drawn. The policeman, who was even more surprised than the pianist explained that neighbors had put an emergency call into the’ police station that a burglar was in the house. “They said that the window was open and the radio playing,’ he added apologetically. Eunice Gardiner said that blizzard or no blizzard, she had to have fresh air occasionally.

Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Tuesday 20 January 1948, page 2

Eunice 1948 USA

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948. I’ll have to go looking for the photo on the Empire State Building.

This is another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields This week’s photo prompt PHOTO PROMPT ©Jill Wisoff

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought you might also be interested in seeing  Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York Series, which I touched on recently during the A-Z Challenge.

Weekend Coffee Share 26th March, 2027.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

You’ve struck it lucky this week. After weeks and weeks of torrential rain, today I can finally offer you a cup of sunshine, which, when you’d been deprived of sun for so long, is pure gold and way better than a measly tea or coffee.

The sun is shining. So, why on earth am I sitting inside on my laptop when I should be outside seizing the rays?

It’s okay. I’m working on it. I’m still waking up and trying to psyche myself up for my “twenty minute walk”. Now that the rain’s stopped, I’ve run out of excuses for the physio. So, I’ve gotta: “Move it! Move it! Move it!” I almost feel like praying for rain. And for all of you motivation types, I know I’ll enjoy it once I get started and that it’s about time I went and checked out the beach before Winter sets in, but the power of the couch is very alluring.

I am finally starting to get a bit of direction and focus at last.

About a month ago, I received a rather generous assistance package through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This included a physio, Occupational Therapy and psychology combo as well as a personal mentor, 9 hours of cleaning and a budget to really Spring clean the house and get it back in order. Ten years of chronic illness have truly swamped the place!! So, at the moment we’re getting started. Friday, I began the dreaded process of sorting through about 5 in trays, hoping that by now, all that paperwork was well and truly redundant and headed straight for the WPB (waste paper bin AKA recycling).

Woy Woy March 20

Taken on one of my recent “ten minute walks”.

The other advantage of getting rid of this excess paperwork, is that it distracts the mentor from culling my collections. After all, if anything is well into that endangered category of “not being used for the last 6 months and collecting dust”, it’s my collection of antique and vintage tea cups. Moreover, even I have to admit there’s considerable “excess”. However, before I do the hard yards sorting through my beloved “old ladies”, I’d much rather throw out the old school notes.

1936 Eunice in London

Meanwhile, I’ve been head down tail up transposing newspaper articles about my grandmother’s career as an international concert pianist. These started going online the week of her funeral, which was rather freaky at the time when articles from 1935 suddenly started rising to the surface. I am viewing her career through a much broader social context, which is much more time consuming but has created a much more interesting story line. For example, there was a review of a London performance which she’d kept as a clipping in her scrapbook. However, when I found it online this week, I read the full article which mentioned the arrival of Sudeten Jews in London in 1938 and how Jewish children were being adopted by English families. It’s fascinating reading history forward instead of reverse, which, of course, is how it was experienced.

One thing which has been quite interesting about researching my grandmother’s journey, is that I am reading all these facts, stories etc as her grand-daughter, a writer-storyteller and researcher and NOT primarily as a musician. I read the list of her performance pieces like a shopping list, yet without the  recognition. I’ve been ploughing through the articles and trying to get through them all and so stopping to listen to the music itself hasn’t been a priority. However, I finally Googled Beethoven’s Waldstein and a few others, and they were as familiar to me as breathing. They were such a part of my childhood and I remember falling to sleep to them on my parents’ laps. It’s so precious to relive these moments, even if it is through the exceptionally humble speakers on my laptop. So, I am inspired to listen to these more and to get the stereo operational. That is, if that thing is still called a stereo!

Meanwhile, real life realities always beckon me back from the joys of research and discovery. I’m finalising my daughter’s application for the local high school, while we wait on the results of the selective schools’ test. This involves an academic test for selective class and three auditions for the CAPA or performing arts stream. These auditions are filling me with dread. STRESS x 3 is not something to look forward to and I am becoming quite an adept motivational coach as she does various auditions. It’s just lucky that I’m a natural performer. It’s just an ironic twist that I don’t have an act, unless you include stand-up comedy after my latest trip.

dancer box

Just as well I have my own creative and stress outlet. Tomorrow night, I have my last contemporary/jazz dance class for this term. I am truly going to miss these classes. We have so much fun. Not only with the dancing, but with the hilarious commentary, my pink satin ballet shoes with ribbons attached and the way so many of us seemingly “breathe out” during these classes. I know this sounds like a paradox, because learning dance as an adult sounds very intense and it’s such a perfectionist thing, but we’re not trying be prima donnas. We’re wanting to stretch ourselves physically, psychologically and philosophically and laugh from head to toe. It’s magic…even if my dancing has a way to go!

I have cut back on writing on my blog this year. However, I am still enjoying writing my weekly flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers. You can read this week’s effort here.

So, how has your week been? I hope it’s been great and that the week ahead goes well for you too!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Nerd In the Brain. You can join in the  Linky.

Xx Rowena

Our Son. the Organist and the Funeral.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

WH Auden: Funeral Blues

Revisiting the old photos of the kids playing the piano, reminded me of a hilarious anecdote from my grandmother’s funeral when my 5 year old son spoke with the organist.

“I remember I laughed so hard I cried. But my response was half appropriate, because I was at a funeral.”
― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title

Funerals are funny things because, although there’s the obvious grief and solemnity but they also end up becoming something of a party. After all, you only ever seem to catch up with this veritable melange of family, friends and the outer layers of the onion on mass at weddings and funerals. So, there’s usually not only the opportunity to reflect on old memories, anecdotes and photographs but also create new ones. Something to recount at the next wedding, funeral or even over Christmas.

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948.

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948.

My grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, was an Internationally recognised concert pianist. So when it came to her funeral, my uncle arranged for Bernard Kirkpatrick, who had played the organ for the Pope’s Sydney visit in 2008 to play at the funeral. Although the funeral was only held at our family’s Parish Church, the organ had multiple layers of keys and really looked and sounded very impressive. This grandeur all culminated with the recessional, which was Bach’s Great Fugue in A minor. My grandmother had played its piano transcription at her London Debut at Wigmore Hall in 1937. Although the Parish organ wasn’t the Sydney Town Hall’s, the music truly was incredible, even ethereal.

Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.
Rabindranath Tagore

Not unsurprisingly, 5 year old Mister was captivated by the organ and was just the sort of kid, funeral or no funeral, who would start tinkering on the keys. Afterwards, seeing his interest, the organist casually started talking to him, asking him whether he plays the piano. Given my grandmother’s career and reputation, I’m sure this was more along the lines of learning the piano. Mister, who couldn’t sit still and hadn’t had any formal lessons replies: “Yes”.

After all, at this point of time, he could do a fabulous imitation of someone playing the piano. He’d stick the music up and move his hands around the keyboard with almost professional skill without playing any notes. Sure, he might have showed a strong Liberace influence but he really did do an exceptional job.

However, contrary to his great ideas, that’s not actually “playing the piano”.

Anyway, his conversation with the organist is deepening and I was starting to feel just a little concerned.

“Would you like to play?” asks the organist.

Now, his father and I start choking, almost dying on the spot thinking about Mister letting loose on the mighty organ. As a 5 year old boy who made wild horses look restrained, anything could happen. I could just imagine all the mourners leaping out of their skin as the mighty organ let out some kind of almighty scream as it reacted to his touch.

Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all if my dear grandmother had  leaped out of her coffin and whacked him over the knuckles with both walking sticks. Not that she’d actually do something like that but I do remember her feeling justifiably “concerned” when we were taking the obligatory Christmas photos  and the kids were rather rambunctious.

This photo was taken at Christmas Day 2006 right next to my poor Gran. You can see the edge of her skirt but she valued her privacy.

This photo was taken at Christmas Day 2006 right next to my poor Gran. You can see the edge of her skirt but I’ve respected her privacy.

However, in what was possibly the greatest surprise of his early years, Mister mysteriously declined the offer. It seemed that somewhere, deep inside our young man there was some discernment. This was the very same little boy who usually bolted in where angels (and the much more tentative Miss) feared to tread.

Phew!

Perhaps, my grandmother did tap him on the shoulder after all.

You just never know.

Mister took my grandmother's obituary into class for news. Whiteboards in classrooms were quite a novelty at the time and it was so exciting that we could beam her obituary onto the screen.

Mister took my grandmother’s obituary into class for news. Whiteboards in classrooms were quite a novelty at the time and it was so exciting that we could beam her obituary onto the screen.

Here’s a link to her obituary: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html

I must say I find the title rather sexist and offensive. Made her sound like a washer-woman….humph!

Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is
a mystery and today is a gift,
which is why it is called the present.
What the caterpillar perceives is the end;
to the butterfly is just the beginning.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending.
Make your peace with that and all will be well
Buddhist Saying

xx Rowena

Sydney Town Hall…Family Concerts to Remember

Sunday night before last, our 8 year old daughter “Miss” sang in a multi-school choir at the Sydney Town Hall. Celebration Sing Out was a concert supporting the Music Therapy Unit at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney.

Celebration Sing Out, Sydney Town Hall.

Celebration Sing Out, Sydney Town Hall.

As much as we might have believed in the cause, let’s be honest. All the parents, grandparents and the rest of the royal entourage were there with only one thing in mind…to see their little darling up on stage at the Sydney Town Hall. Our brilliant, shining little stars had us all transfixed in their orbit. It might not have been the Opera House but singing at the Sydney Town Hall is still a big deal and a very imposing, impressive venue with the huge pipe organ towering overhead. When the organ was completed in 1890, it was the biggest pipe organ in the world. That’s not bad for a former convict town.

How have to admit this gig was pretty impressive and the children sang like angels as well!

How have to admit this gig was pretty impressive and the children sang like angels as well!

While our little darlings might have been just one of hundreds all not-quite perfectly cloned in plain white shirts and black pants, we didn’t care. We zoomed in and picked out little star out of the multitude and stared at them transfixed with love and pride.

Christmas came early...the kids checking out the Christmas lights in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building on the way to dinner.

Christmas came early…the kids checking out the Christmas lights in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building on the way to dinner.

A key component of this parental pride was getting a good seat so we could not only spot our darling among the multitude but also to get a good vantage point to take photos. Unlike many public events where you are not allowed to use cameras let alone photograph or film children, this event was a paparazzi free-for-all.

While the kids and I went to check out the David Jones Christmas Windows and have dinner in Hyde Park, Geoff sat in the queue to get our seats. He had left for work at 4.30am and was happy to mind the seats. You get my drift.

Before the concert began, I was down the front and after scanning the crowd several times, eventually I spotted Miss in the jungle. Many of the kids were waving out to the crowd and getting rather excited. However, Miss didn’t respond to me at all. I was pretty hard to miss. What started out as something like a dignified, royal wave became more frenetic as she absolutely failed to respond. She didn’t smile or even blink in my direction. Not one to be ignored, I’m waving both arms by now and doing everything but screaming “cooee” above the hubbub. I decided I wasn’t going anywhere until she responded. She might have been up towards the back but I was standing right in front of her waving my arms, taking photos with the standout Nikon SLR camera (something with a real lens not one of these Mickey Mouse phone cameras). I mean… I really stood out. It was almost like I was standing there with two heads and still she refused to acknowledge my existence. Eventually, finally, at a point no doubt verging on terminal embarrassment, she waved back. Relief! She later told me that she’s not supposed to wave. You see, at 8 years of age, she’s already the consummate stage professional!

Naturally, I wasn’t the only paparazzi in sight. As I scanned around the audience, there was an array of camera phones sticking up above the audience like the sort of TV antennas you see in regional towns desperately trying to pick up the city stations.

The singing was absolutely beautiful and a real tribute to everyone involved. The children sang beautifully in unison and sat still for considerable periods on stage during other performances. The concert began at 7.00PM concluding at 9.30 which is well past many of their bedtimes and yet they were the consummate performers…real little professionals.

While this performance was mostly about our daughter, there was also a ghost in the room…my grandmother.

Hard to believe my grandmother was ever a 15 year old schoolgirl. She, on the other hand, didn't recognise the old lady staring back at her in the mirror. I now understand what she meant!

Hard to believe my grandmother was ever a 15 year old schoolgirl. She, on the other hand, didn’t recognise the old lady staring back at her in the mirror. I now understand what she meant!

A review of my grandmother's Concert at the Sydney Town Hall SMH April 10 1935

My grandmother’s Performance at the Sydney Town Hall 6th April, 1935 SMH April 10 1935

My grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, was an internationally successful concert pianist, music critic and piano teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium. Eunice was taking up a 2 year scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London. A fundraising committee had been formed to raise funds towards her living expenses in London. As part of these fundraising efforts, Eunice gave a concert at the Sydney Town Hall on the 6th June, 1935.

This is a story I grew up with and I remember my grandmother showing me her precious newspaper clippings in her seemingly ancient scrapbook. This wasn’t something we looked at often…only once or twice in my life time and indeed while working on her memoirs, she even let me take it home for awhile to scan. Talk about precious cargo. This was back in the days before the old newspapers had been uploaded onto the Internet and you couldn’t just summon up someone’s entire life history with an instant and exceptionally gratifying Google search. Of course, you could look at the old newspapers on reels at the State Library but you needed to do your research first. It was a tedious, laborious process. So these press clippings and particularly her scrap book, were incredibly precious!!

Anyway, as we arrived at Town Hall, I was no longer viewing my grandmother’s concert as an ancient black & white newspaper clipping but as a living, breathing experience. I was walking up Town Hall Steps with her parents and brother, Les. I could feel their pride bursting through my heart and saw it reflected back to me as our daughter sang up on stage, enjoying the whole experience. This was not necessarily going to be a given. Singing in front of 1000 can be daunting if not terrifying but it seems that being part of a crowd can be a good thing.

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I’d had my own piano performance. However, it was hardly at the Sydney Town Hall but in a hall hired by my piano teacher in Wahroonga, a Sydney suburb quite a long way from the Sydney Town Hall both in terms of kilometres and kudos. While it was a big thing for me to be performing at the concert and I had practiced pretty hard and knew my piece from memory, the fact that my grandmother was attending the concert was a big deal. I distinctly remember getting in the car and Mum asking me if I had my music. I told her that I didn’t need it…that I knew my piece from memory. I was a confident little kid and not easily intimidated. I didn’t need my music and I was going to do it my way despite my mother’s concerns.

Well, of course, I got up on stage my legs dangling from the piano seat and of course I lost my place. I remember this terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Mum had seen it coming and I’d botched it. Plus, my grandmother was watching. I’d been to see her perform at the Sydney Opera House wearing my very best dress which she’d brought back from me from Norfolk Island and where I couldn’t cough, sneeze, go to the toilet and if you sat very, very still, you were actually permitted to breathe. My grandmother wasn’t one of those grannies who give you Freddo Frogs (https://www.cadbury.com.au/Products/Pre-teens-Confectionery/Freddo.aspx) either . She was in some sort of inter-stellar zone us mortals could only watch from the outside. I can almost feel myself stop breathing yet I persevere and tinkered with the keys until I found my place and kept going…my pride wounded but undefeated. I am so proud of that little girl who didn’t just burst into tears and exit stage left..It might not have been a perfect performance but I persevered and I conquered.

You can read my grandmother’s obituary here: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html

Actually, perhaps the last word on that concert should go to my grandmother. When she reflected on this concert in later life, she mentioned nothing about the epic stumble during my performance. Rather, she tell me that she’d got in trouble with my Dad for disciplining my brother during the concert. That’s right. She’d got in trouble. You know I’m smiling!

Meanwhile, as the end of the year approaches, our daughter’s ballet and jazz concerts lie ahead and I’m practicing for my violin concert. Well, like our daughter I’m part of a group and there will be no solo performance. This is certainly one time I don’t want to stand out and for once in my life, just be one of the crowd.

And I’ll be taking my music!

xx Rowena

PS This is a Freddo Frog:

Introducing Australia's very own Freddo Frog.

Introducing Australia’s very own Freddo Frog.