Tag Archives: fire brigade

Sunset Through the Wires…the Aussie Fires.

Last night, I took a series of photos of the sunset through the overhead wires from our driveway. We don’t have any local fires blazing and yet the smoke is very thick and ominous.

Naturally, I was annoyed these wires were in the way. Wanted a clear view of the blazing sun glowing like melting cheese just above the horizon. However, as I peered through the lens, I thought the wires told a suburban story. I also remember how my childhood piano teacher who went on to get her PhD in Creative Writing told me how she used to see the five parallel wires of the overhead wires resembling the musical staff and the birds were the notes and she used to try and work out what tune they were playing.

So, there you have it. My blazing sun seemingly shooting across the musical staff playing a tune of its own.

Sunset Through the Wires 3

Meanwhile, I am contained in the lounge room with the air-conditioning on which is filtering the air. I went out into the kitchen and made a couple of pancakes and was almost a hospital job. Our son arrived home from school and said the smoke was so bad that you couldn’t smell people smoking outside. That’s a pretty good indication of how bad it is.

DSC_7085.JPG

A broader perspective of the sunset  through the wires and over the roof top. 

Please keep us in your prayers. We have the television updates running and it’s just terrible hearing about the destruction and loss of bush land and homes. I am equally conscious that the burning of our bush is killing animals and their habitat and not something to be glossed over either.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Fire North Sydney… Grandma & the Mosman Bombing.

Recently, I’ve posted a few stories I’ve come across while researching my family history. This story concerns my third Great Grandmother Maria Bridget Johnston who was living in

On the 12th January, 1907 vagrant Charles McCallum set fire to the home of my third Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Johnston, while they were asleep. This serious crime was said to be inspired by the recent Mosman Bombing Case, and was taken rather seriously by Police. Moreover, it also appeared in newspapers at the time providing all sorts of details not only about the case, but also a snapshot of her life at the time. Naturally, my interest was sparked, and I had to follow the story through from its fledgling beginnings, right through to its combustible finale.

Willoughby Fire Station

Of course, you’d expect such a dramatic story to have been passed down through the family. However, the first I heard of it, was more than one hundred years later, while trawling through old newspapers online. So, now I’m now finding myself reassembling the pieces of what was, dare I say, an explosive story.

Maria Bridget Johnston

Maria Bridget Johnston (Docherty?) was my third Great Great Grandmother, and she was living in The Boulevard, North Sydney near the Cammeray Suspension Bridge at the time. Theoretically, she was born around 1841 in County Clare, Ireland and arrived in Victoria around 1858 where she allegedly married Quintin Flanagan, who passed away. Next, she turns up in Invercargill on New Zealand’s South Island, where she married John Johnston a Publican originally from Islay in the Hebrides, the son of a Whiskey Distiller. The Johnstons and their five children moved to Australia around 1879, and turned up next in Queanbeyan where John Johnston was the Publican of the Union Hotel while his brother, Alexander built the Goulburn to Queanbeyan Railway Station. John, along with numerous other relatives, also had a hand in that. Alexander Johnston then went on to become the Contractor for the construction of the Cammeray Suspension Bridge, which is colloquially known as “Northbridge”. However, by the time the bridge was completed in 1892, the North Shore Land and Investment Company which had hired Alexander, went bust, leaving him unpaid and in possession of the bridge to nowhere. Northbridge was hardly populated at the time.

1910 circa Suspension Bridge German postcard

The Cammeray Suspension Bridge in the early days.

By the way, the Suspension Bridge is a story in its own right. However, as beautiful and as riveting she might be, she’s only getting a fleeting mention here. Family stories have it that John Johnston was also involved in constructing the bridge, and the Sands Directory shows that he did go on to be a Contractor in his own right, although I haven’t come across any of his works.

As I mentioned, Alexander Johnston wasn’t paid for the Bridge, and to recoup some of the costs, they charged a toll for people to walk across it. While it can be difficult to pull apart the difference between family myth and what really happened, there has been talk that Maria collected the toll to walk across the bridge. There’s also been talk, that my Great Grandmother, Ruby McNamara used to collect the toll during the school holidays. There are also others who have been acknowledged in this role. So, it is hard to peel back fact from fiction.

Atlas Suburbs of Sydney 1893-94

Map of North Sydney taken from the Atlas of Sydney Suburbs Published 1893-94. The Suspension Bridge is marked on the map with a red dotted line which is just under the H of Willoughby. Maria Bridget Johnston lived in The Boulevard, just to the right of the bridge. You can also see that the land on the other side of the bridge was completely undeveloped at the time. 

Before we go too much further into the details of the case itself, we need to jump into our time machine and wind the clock back to 1907, when Sydney was a very different place. While at the time of the 2016 census, the suburb of Northbridge recorded a population of 6,347, back in 1907 it was still largely bush. Indeed, at the start of 1913, it only had 25 houses and 112 residents[1]. So, we really are talking about a very small, isolated settlement which was barely a village, let alone a town. Moreover, this Northbridge was far removed from the omnipresent snarls of traffic snaking their way through the modern, urban landscape.

Charles McCallum Sets Fire to Maria Johnston’s Dwelling House.

On the 12th January, 1907 Charles McCallum (77) set fire to the dwelling house of Maria Johnston at Boulevard Street, North Sydney. McCallum, who came from Glasgow, had been living in a nearby camp for about 11 years and worked for several local residents as a gardener. He also used to visit locals, reading the paper to them and discussing current affairs. While he was described as living in a cave, he is also described as living in a tent where he had a table where four kerosene tins were used to make the legs, and also provided storage. The kerosene tins were important in the case, as McCallum pleaded not guilty and Police had to build their case, which was reported in detail in the paper.

While trying to set fire to a house with three people sleeping inside was a serious offence in itself, the gravity of the situation was intensified by a recent bombing in nearby Mosman and there were initial concerns that something sinister was afoot.

The evidence against McCallum went that Police went to Mrs Johnston’s house near the Suspension Bridge:

“The building was a wooden one, and under the floor of the front part of it he found a piece of bagging, a piece of wood, pieces of a pyjama coat, portion of a white shirt, and some handkerchiefs, oil partly burnt, and saturated with kerosene. The weatherboards and lining-boards near the window were burnt, also the blind and curtain. He examined the articles found, and on the piece of white shirt, he saw the name “H. Irving-near the neck. Witness then went to M’Callum’s camp, which was under a rock about 266ds. from the house. He saw accused in bed, and asked him if H. Irving was camped there. He said, “No: he never camped here. He used to live at Redfern, and has been dead four or five mouths.” Witness said, “Did he ever give you any clothing?” and accused replied, “All he ever gave me was two white shirts.” Witness asked accused how did he know the shirts were Irving’s. Accused said, “They had his name on them.” Accused also said that the shirts had been worn out and destroyed long ago. Witness picked up a billy-can and a bag in the camp, and both smelt of kerosene. Accused said they were his, but did not understand how the kerosene got on them, as he never used it. Witness also found a white shirt with “H. Irving” marked on the neck of it, and a handkerchief, both corresponding with the articles found under the house. He picked up a pair of pyjama trousers in a corner, which accused said were his, and had been given to him by Mr. Ricardi. He said the coat had been worn out and destroyed. The pattern and material of these were the same as in the coat. When charged at the police station, accused said he knew nothing at all about the matter, and it was a mystery to him. When witness got to the camp there was another man there, named Henry Rowley. Accused answered ail questions freely. Maria Johnston deposed that she had known accused for nine or 10 years. He had been in the habit of coming to her house every evening, unless it was wet. One night, they had been talking about the bomb sensation at Mosman, and accused said, “There are three or four I would like to do the same to!” He was at her house on the night of the fire, and left about twenty minutes to 10. Since the election he had been talking queerly. Witness went to bed on the night of the fire at 11 o’clock. She woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning, and noticed a lot of smoke. Her daughter pulled her out of bed, and witness saw the fire going up the front window. Afterwards she saw the articles produced lying under the house. She did not see them there before. Witness had trouble with accused about eight years ago. Accused reserved his defence, and was committed for trial[2].”

Ultimately, McCallum was found not guilty and released.

This brings me to the Mosman Bombing Case.

The Mosman Bombing Case.

On January 3, 1907 William Bingham placed explosives under the house belonging to Mrs Mary Rich. Bingham had packed the explosives in a paint tin, which he’d left it in a bag under their house. He had been working for the Rich’s for about five years, but had been fired just before Christmas for misbehaviour. It was noted during his trial, that his actions had led to a similar case in North Sydney (the fire at Maria Johnston’s house). Consequently, he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with hard labor, in Goulburn Gaol.

A report in the Daily Telegraph dated Friday 15 March, 1907, provides additional details:

“Mr. Pollock, Crown Prosecutor, in opening the case to the Jury, said the charge against Bingham was that he placed explosives in a dwelling-house, with intent to injure the occupants. If the tin containing them had been knocked there would have been a terrific explosion. Certainly great destruction of property would have resulted, if not loss of life. Bingham had worked for Mr. Rich, of Mosman Bay, for a number of years, but five weeks before Christmas he was discharged for misbehaviour. Previously he had been abusive to Mrs. Rich, who was threatened by him, and she complained to the Police. On January 4 last Mr. Rich, on leaving his premises, saw a bag under the house. He took no further notice of it, but on returning at night his daughter drew his attention to the bag again, and he found it contained a paint tin, which contained several detonators. He removed the tin from the bag to a safe distance from the house, and then with a pair of pincers removed the lid. The tin contained a pound of blasting powder, some sticks of dynamite, and a quantity of gelignite. On January 9, the police arrested Bingham at Neutral Bay, where he was working. Bingham wanted to go into his room, and made a rush to get there. He was forcibly prevented from doing so, and an examination of the room disclosed a revolver, some cartridges, and a length of fuse. Bingham denied all knowledge of the fuse. He complained that Mrs. Rich had threatened to shoot him, and was a dead shot with the rifle. When dismissed, Bingham told an acquaintance that Mrs. Rich had behaved shamefully, and he would do for her. In his defence, Bingham made a statement. He said that he had been persecuted by the police, he admitted that he had been abusive to Mrs. Rich, because he had been drinking. He apologised, and with regard to a threat be only said. “This is my last appeal.” He did not place the dynamite under the house. He had an enemy somewhere. He would like to know who he was. He knew that he made noises when drunk, but he did not put that thing under the house. He was not made of that kind of stuff. The jury, after a retirement of some hours, found Bingham guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy on the ground that at the time of the offence he was not responsible for his action. Asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon him. Bingham said, “I’m innocent. I never put it there. I never saw a stick of dynamite in my life.” Only one offence, a minor one, under the Vagrancy Act, was recorded against the prisoner. His Honor said the crime was a stupid one. The term of imprisonment might be a very long one, and he would have imposed it if the prisoner’s character had not been such as it was, and if he had not been assisted by the jury’s recommendation. In the circumstances, he would not pass a heavy sentence, but be hoped the one he would impose would prevent him from attempting to revenge himself for some fancied wrong. He hoped, too, it would act as deterrent to others. After the outrage someone had attempted a somewhat similar one at North Sydney by setting fire to a house. Bingham was then sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with hard labor, in Goulburn Gaol. The prisoner, as he was removed, said, “You have sentenced an innocent man.[3]

…..

Reflecting on these happenings just over 110 years into the future, I’m very grateful, indeed, ecstatic to find these details about my Grandmother’s Great Grandmother. They were an absolute surprise, and in so many ways a gift and yet also a reward for many, many years of searching, without knowing what I might find at the end of the proverbial rainbow.  While I don’t believe I have a photo of her and have no idea what she looked like, finding these snippets in the paper has, at least, composed something of a sketch of the world around her, and taken me back to where she lived. Still, I only know where she was at a particular moment in time, and little more. The rest I’ve teased out from the whereabouts of her husband and the births of her children. However, in this scene, she stands alone. After all, it is her house. She owns it. It is a beautiful thing, at least for me, to be able to paint a kind of story portrait of an unknown, almost anonymous woman one hundred and eleven years into the future, and almost give her the breath of life.  It is something that I will cherish, not only as an echo from the past, but also because she is a part of me, and my children will be taking her journey forward. She is in us.

 

[1] http://www.willoughbydhs.org.au/History/Suburbs/Suburbs-Northbridge.html

2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1923), Tuesday 22 January 1907, page 10

[3] Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1923), Friday 15 March 1907, page 10

An Australian Christmas, Pearl Beach, New South Wales.

An Australian Christmas, Pearl Beach, New South Wales 2006.

Bush fires are as much a part of Australian summers as going to the beach. With the local bush fire brigade being so critical and an integral part of the community, you often see Santa attending his pre-Christmas engagements on  the local fire truck. Santa used to turn up on this gorgeous vintage fire truck at the Pearl Beach Playgroup every year until is was very sadly sold. Santa has had to update his transport.

Wishing you and yours a loving and peace-filled Christmas and may that continue through the New Year!

Love & God Bless,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo and Lady xxoo

 

The Niceometer.

It’s time we bring back the niceometer and value niceness, instead of celebrating the very worst of human behaviour!

For some reason, being “nice” is now perceived as some kind of put down. Used to refer to someone who boring, bland or insipid, it’s used as a derogatory term – instead of something to be revered.

I say we need to bring back “nice”. Resurrect it from the dead and all nice people should sport their niceness with pride.

Nice needs to come out of the closet and strut its stuff.

I know being nice probably sounds very Brady Bunch but what’s so wrong with caring about your fellow human being and developing a bit of character? Shouldn’t we be encouraging giving instead of taking? Building community?

I was reminded again about the importance of supposedly old-fashioned niceness on Friday when we attended the finale of Fill the Boot, a fundraiser run by the Fire Brigade to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. We were there because my auto-immune disease is a neuro-muscular condition and I am a member of Muscular Dystrophy NSW. To read all about Fill the Boot, you can read my previous post and click here for the official web site: http://www.filltheboot.com.au/

We had such a fabulous day and experienced the very best of human nice and kindness that I had to share it. Here are a few vignettes from our Fill the Boot Day, which might just restore your faith in human kindness. I’ve listed them in chronological order as the day unfolded.

Some firies at the North Sydney Olympic Pool

Firstly, there was the fundraising by the firies. Firies are wonderful people who put their lives on the line everyday to save others. Yet, they found the time and energy to get out there and raise money for us and I really appreciate it! They managed to raise $100,000.00 for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. Yippee! That’s a lot of chocolate… oops! I mean research!

The kids with Luke.

Secondly, we not only met Luke Jacobz, Host of the x Factor, he actually spent time with us – real time. I have to laugh because when I first met him, he was wearing an Olympic gold medal around his neck and I thought he was one the athletes. Go Ro! I have watched the x Factor but I don’t watch a lot of TV and I’m certainly no celebrity chaser. I honestly didn’t recognise him.

Luke was genuinely very, very nice and one of those rare people who are very attentive and really listen to you. Mister and Luke had some very long discussions about something although none of us can quite remember what they talked about. I do remember Miss talking to him about her tooth falling out and how she’d found fairy dust on her hands the next morning along with a $5.00 note from the tooth fairy. As I said, Luke was very attentive and asked her questions and took a real, genuine interest. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder for someone more interesting to chat with. The kids really appreciated this. Not because he is the host of the X Factor but because he helped them feel special, loved and treasured. They were glowing. It really touched me to see them so happy. We have had some very tough times and it meant the world for me to see them smile and have so many deep belly laughs.

Kags & Mister

Kags from MDNSW also did a pretty good job at making the kids laugh and feel special too. I’ve been asked when they’re going to see Kags again.

Kags & Miss at the lunch.

The kids with Kate, Luke and the gold medal.

Thirdly, Cate Campbell shared her precious Olympic Gold Medal (or “mettal” as Miss called it) with us. It was only when I arrived home and was talking to my husband, Geoff, that the enormity of that hit me. The kids were able to wear the medal round their necks. When I was a kid, I wasn’t even allowed to touch Dad’s good crystal wine glasses. They were very, very precious. Yet, Cate trusted my kids, complete strangers, with her very precious, irreplaceable Olympic gold medal. This wasn’t just some plastic replica you find at the $2.00 shop. It was the real thing. That was very, very nice!

Miss with the gold medal.

Cate also spent time with us and I must say I enjoyed watching her swim. She took freestyle to a whole new level and had something like the grace of a swan. Needless to say, it was quite a different experience to what I’m used to at swimming lessons!

Fourthly, a fireman drove my car across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and into the Sydney Fire Station. I always feel a bit silly about my nervous driving even though I am spatially challenged. However, I was able to voice my concerns to MDNSW who sent Kags along as navigator. But then a fireman offered his services so how could I resist?  I decided that driving home across the Harbour Bridge would be a better time to extend my driving prowess. As it was, because the fireman was driving, we ended up at the tail end of the street parade featuring the beautiful historic fire engine. It was quite exciting being part of the action.

The Kids with Blazer.

Fifthly, the firies gave the kids caps and toys. This might not sound like much but it meant the world to the kids. Mister was given a cap from the Sydney Fire Station, which is almost glued on his head. He loves it!! He even took it to bed with him. He was also given a patch from the Northern Territory. Miss was given a cap from the Tasmanian Fire Service, which was very special because Geoff comes from Tasmania. A firey from  Brisbane’s Roma Street Fire Station gave each of the kids a fire fighting koala bear called Blazer. They love him. We have also been invited into the Roma Street Fire Station when we’re in Brisbane next and hope to get there in January. There were other gifts, I’m sure. The kids were spoilt!

I always appreciate that whenever I go to functions organised by Muscular Dystrophy, that I feel so loved, valued and accepted. I always feel like I’m floating along in a wonderful love bubble. This isn’t because people feel sorry for me or pity me but they do acknowledge what we are going through. I have found everybody I meet there truly inspirational and so encouraging. Pretty much most of us are living life to the max…our max anyway. I often find that when people are challenged by adversity they can actually achieve the most amazing things. People find strength seemingly out of nowhere and it’s just amazing and seemingly quite illogical

It’s now Monday night and that fire brigade cap is still glued to Mister’s head..

This morning when I dropped the kids at school, one of them piped up in the car and said: “we are the luckiest kids in the whole wide world.” That’s what being nice does. It builds people up. Helps them feel good and makes the world a better place.

In a world where being known as a “hater” in some circles is cool, I’d much rather be “nice”.

Wouldn’t you?!!

If you enjoyed this post, I recommend reading my previous post The Love of A Stranger.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Fill the Boot- Fire Brigade Raises Funds for Muscular Dystrophy

If you asked me how things are going, I would reply “unbelievably good”. After such a fabulous day, my feet have barely touched the ground. It was so fantastic on so many fronts that I’m almost stuttering trying to get everything out.

On Friday, the kids and I went to the finale of Fill the Boot, a national fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy run by the fire brigade.  My auto-immune disease is a neuro-muscular condition and we receive support and much encouragement from Muscular Dystrophy NSW.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the big boot.

The kids and I headed off to North Sydney Olympic Pool. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. I was mainly interested in the next part of the day… having lunch and a tour of the Sydney Fire Station, Australia’s oldest fire station. I have loved fire engines ever since I was a kid when my brother and I wandered out of our grandparents’ home to visit the local fire station around the block.

However, the action at the pool exceeded my expectations. You see, the event was hosted by Luke Jacobz, Host of the x Factor. Now, I’m not one of these celebrity worshipping types so going somewhere just because someone famous is turning up, isn’t my scene. However, Luke turned out to be really lovely. We met Luke by the pool and it was all very casual and low key. He was wearing a gold Olympic medal round his neck and me being me, mistook him for an Olympic athlete. Good one Ro!

Miss wins gold!

The gold medal or “mettal” according to Miss, belonged to swimmer Cate Campbell who was a member of the team who won gold in the  4 x 4 100 Metre Women’s Freestyle Relay at the London Olympics. We had the opportunity to meet Cate and the kids were each allowed to wear the medal around their necks, which was such an amazing privilege. The enormity of that only sunk in once we met up with Geoff. Most of us don’t get the chance to even see a real Olympic gold medal let alone touch one. Moreover, when you’re a kid, you’re constantly being told not to touch just about everything, so it was very special they could touch something so precious!! Thank you Cate!

I of course was too busy photographing the medal to wear it myself but it was amazing.

The kids had a ball!  Kags from Muscular Dystrophy NSW was playing with them giving them piggybacks and spinning them around and they also spent quite a lot of time with Luke Jacobz who heard all about Miss’s tooth falling out and about how she’d even found fairy dust on her fingers. Luke was fabulous with the kids and so genuinely kind and very attentive. He is just one of those fabulous people you enjoy being around. I couldn’t resist getting my photo taken with him when he had his shirt off. This is what Mum does when she goes to Sydney!

I have the x Factor!

The relay was fun. The firies, Luke and Cate raced in the pool with the boot on a surfboard. You know, Luke almost kept up with Cate but something tells me that she might have been taking things a little slower than usual.

The boot.

Cate also did a demonstration swim. That was pretty amazing. I’m not into swimming but her stroke was quite beautiful!

The kids were pretty good but Miss literally had to test the waters. It was a really hot, sunny day and I shouldn’t have been surprised that she ended up in the pool but did she have to immerse herself fully dressed? One minute, she was as pretty as a picture wearing  the beautiful pink dress Grandma had bought her and the next she was literally dripping wet right when we were about to leave for the lunch. I was gobsmacked. I could just see the Fire Commissioner being thrilled about puddles on the floor of his historic Sydney Fire Station. Drip! Drip! Drip!

Fortunately, the dress somehow managed to dry off by the time we arrived.

Speaking of getting to the lunch, I did have grand plans of driving us over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Anyone who has been following my blog, will know that driving isn’t my thing and anyone who knows Sydney, knows that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the great divide. I’m not the only one who avoids driving over the Bridge.

As it turned out, one of the firemen drove my car in for me. I felt very relieved and the car even ended up at the tail end of the Fill the Boot street parade heading up Bathurst Street. That was awesome. There was the historic fire engine up the front with Luke and Cate on board  followed I think by a few fire engines, a Police car and then us in our blue Pulsar with the fire man at the wheel. It was a hoot!!

Mister wearing his cap.

The kids were given the royal treatment. They were each given fire caps. Mister’s came from the Sydney Fire Station crew and he was given a shoulder patch from the Northern Territory and Miss’s cap came from Tasmania. They were each given a soft toy fire fighting Koala called Blazer from the Roma Street Fire Station in Brisbane. They loved all their gifts! Mister has barely taken the cap off and even took it to bed. It’s almost become grafted to his head.

The kids driving the historic fire engine.

They also spent considerable time “driving” the historic fire engine which was parked out the front at the lunch. They had a ball. A fire engine is always hard to beat.

As the event drew to a close, we were given a personal tour of the fire station and we were even taken upstairs and shown the basketball courts and the gym. The kids wanted to see where the fire man slept but he said his room was a mess.

Lunch over, it was time for my next big driving challenge…taking on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Of course, it was easier driving home and it is a trip I’d done a lot many years ago when I lived in the city. Still, it has been more than ten years since I’ve driven over the Harbour Bridge so I was pretty chuffed.  The kids congratulated me as well!

It was a most perfect day!

Thank you from the very bottom of my heart!

xx Rowena

PS When I was dropping the kids at school today with their fire hats and photos for news, they said “we are the luckiest children in the whole world!” Isn’t that awesome!