Tag Archives: history

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

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

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

Zac at the beach

Zac at the beach a few weeks ago.

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

 

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, NSW.

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

Nippers Running

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

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

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

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

Geoff & Rowena

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

Flamin Ron the World’s Hottest Chilli Pie on TV

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

Woy Woy Air Strip

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

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

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

Tiger_Moth

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

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

Couple Ocean Beach best

Sunset at the beach

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

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

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

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

Take care & stay safe!

Best wishes,

Rowena

K – Köln (Cologne), Germany…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to what I surely hope is Day 11, of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, where we’ll be touching down in Köln (Cologne) on the River Rhine. I was in Köln back in May, 1992 with my best friend Lisa, and it was our second port of call on our great European backpacking adventure. I didn’t know much about about Köln before the trip. However, my grandmother used to wear 4711 Eau de Cologne when I was a little girl, and while it was mesmerising then, it was more of a “granny fragrance” and most definitely not something I’d wear myself. However, you’re welcome to visit the Farina Fragrance Museum near the Town Hall.

4711

When I think back to our time in Köln, the first thing that comes to mind is hunger. The second is food envy. By this stage, our initial stash of bread rolls from our first free night’s accommodation in the KLM Hotel in Amsterdam, had well and truly run out. Ever conserving our pennies, we thought very carefully before lashing out on a punnet of strawberries to share for dinner, which tragically turned out to be sour. So, it take much imagination to put yourself in that picture. Just to rub salt in the wound, we were staying at the Youth Hostel, and a group of German high school students was also staying there and while we were starving, they were all being dished up huge, delectable bowls full of spaghetti. While we were drooling, crippled with growling hunger and covertous food envy; these spoiled brats, didn’t finish their meals. Indeed, the dining room was filled with half-empty bowls and if we didn’t have any self-dignity (or perhaps if we’d been travelling alone and didn’t have an eye witness) we could’ve polished off their leftovers, and even licked the bowls. The irony is, of course, that we were still flush with funds at this point, and I actually arrived home with enough money to buy a return ticket to Europe. However, it was that uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead, which reigned our spending in (something we know all too well in these particularly uncertain times).

Aside from the hunger,  magnificent Köln Cathedral was absolutely sensational, particularly since this was the first cathedral we’d ever visited in Europe and it was so far beyond anything we have back in Australia , that it blew me away. . Apparently, the cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark. Construction began back in 1248 but was halted in 1473, unfinished and work did not restart until the 1840s, when the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. It’s hard to imagine something being unfinished for so long, and it makes me feel so much better about all my own unfinished projects. 

DSC_9050

There was another aspect to our visit to Köln Cathedral. As it turned out, we were in Köln during the 50th Anniversary of “Operation Millenium” where Britain almost bombed Köln out of existence in retaliation for German attacks on London and Warsaw. Indeed, on the evening of 30 May 1942, over 1,000 bombers took off for Cologne under the Command of Bomber Harris. Köln was decimated. All but flattened, except for the magnificent Cathedral which miraculously survived peering imperiously over the carnage. I’m not going to make any apologies for not liking war or its after effects. This wasn’t some virtual experience in a video game. You can find out more about it here HERE. I’m yet to finish watching this documentary but it seems rather balanced and definitely has some incredible and very sobering footage.

National-Archives-Mass_bomber_raid_on_Cologne_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqRW1mvIVYlV4JG0MIT8wtjBRjid0pkpSoel9MG7q99NA

As part of the anniversary commemorations, there was a small protest outside Köln Cathedral called the “Cologne Complaining Wall for Peace”. I was fascinated by this at the time, particular as an Australian who’d only been in Europe for a week and it really opened my eyes. It’s always good to hear more than one side of any story, and I usually prefer multiple angles to really shake things up. So, now I’m going to peer at these photos from 28 years ago hoping my dodgy eyesight can glean something from all those years ago.

Here goes:

A Monument for “Bomber Harris”.

May 31, 1992 is the 50th Anniversary of the 1,000 bomber attack on Cologne. British Airfield Marshal Arthur Harris ordered the attack. The destruction of Dresden on February 1, 1945 was his work, too.

In May

The British Government plans to dedicate a monument to him in Central London with funds from the veterans’ organization.

“Bomber Command Harris”

KILL ONE,

and you’re a murderer.

Kill 100,000

and you are a hero.

To keep matters straight- Harris’s carpet bombing attacks “to demoralise the civilian population” were a reaction to the raids which Nazi Germany committed against cities like:

Guernica (1937)

Warsaw (1939)

Rotterdam (1940)

Coventry (1940)

Belgrade (     )

Cologne-and-Cathedral-1944

Köln in 1944. 

The display also included photos of Köln after the bombings, showing the monumental devastation. Look at it now, and on first impressions, you’d never know until you  take a deeper look and discern the new from the old.

While I acknowledge bringing up controversial and rather grim details of WWII is rather hard hitting, I do believe we need to know about this things. That we can’t just fill our head with happy thoughts, and hope to acquire wisdom. That as much as we campaign and long for peace, that war inevitably seems to comes in one form or another and we not only need to be prepared, we need to know how to fight and defend ourselves against the enemy. As it stands at the moment, that enemy is a virus but the principles remain, especially if you don’t want to be a sitting duck for attack.

DSC_9052

However, before I move on from its beautiful Churches and cathedrals, I thought we might check out Groß St Martin’s Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque Catholic church and its foundations (circa 960 AD) rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine. The church was later transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The current buildings, including a soaring crossing tower that is a landmark of Cologne’s Old Town, were erected between 1150-1250.

St Martins 1946

The church was badly damaged during World War II, and there was a question of whether the church should be restored, and how it should be restored, was the subject of debate. Should the church be left as a ruined memorial to the war? Or should it be fully restored? And if so, which period in the history of Great Saint Martin represents the “original” church? A series of public lectures were held in 1946/47, under the theme “What happens to the Cologne Churches?”. These lectures involved artists, politicians, architects and restorers, and mirrored public debates on the issue. In spite of some public scepticism, restoration work began in 1948, and the church was opened to worshippers when the interior restorations were completed in 1985, after a long wait of forty years. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Höffner, who installed holy relics of Brigitta von Schweden, Sebastianus and Engelbert of Cologne, in its sepulchre. So, it hadn’t been open long before I was there.

Cologne Hot Chocolate

Lastly, after rousing your sympathy for this little Aussie Battler starving away over in Germany, I do have a confession to make. I did manage to find one indulgence. This was a hot chocolate with whipped cream. I’d never had one before, but a pact was made. It was divine. I absolutely loved its pure indulgence. Loved it enough to endure the disapproval of the skim brigade. After all, everybody needs a little bit of naughtiness.

On that note, it’s time for us to leave Köln behind. Back in 1992, Köln marked a fork in the road. With Germany in the grip of a train and garbage strike with trains difficult to catch and rubbish piling in the streets, Lisa decided to leave Germany and I can’t remember whether she went back to Amsterdam, or headed onto Prague and Budapest. Meanwhile, I continued further South bound for Heidelberg, accidentally leaving my passport behind in Köln just to complicate matters a little more after having my wallet stolen in Amsterdam only days before. However, as we head along to L in the Blogging A to Z Challenge, we’ll be heading somewhere else but you can visit Heidelberg HERE.

Have you ever been to Köln? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Maitland Thomas Butler WWI – The Brother Who Missed The Boat.

The research road continues today as we meet up with Maitland Thomas Butler, Maud Butler’s older brother. I introduced you to Maud Butler in a previous post: Jack and Maud.

As you may recall, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France during WWI and a few months ago I set out to gain a better understanding of what he went through. A sense of moderate urgency was given to the project, because our son will be visiting Europe in a few months’ time on a school history excursion. They’ll be spending ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneau and I wanted him to be fully informed about our family members who’d served. There were quite a few, especially Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was killed in action and he is also part of this project.

Jack Quealy WWI

Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy

My attention initially honed onto an entry in GG Uncle Jack’s service records, which showed he was wounded in action in France on the 28th August, 1916. No further details were given and naturally I wanted to know where he was. This seemed relatively simple at the time with all the resources of the World Wide Web at my fingertips.

However, working this out was a lot harder than I’d expected. The information captured in service records is very scant, and doesn’t include the more detailed information a researcher like myself desperately craves. I wanted to know exactly where he was. Find that X marks the spot imprinted the very spot where it happened. To my way of thinking, I also assumed he had to be injured in a battle, and I wanted to know more about that too, along with who he was with and finding tales from or about his mates. The old adage “somewhere in France” simply wasn’t enough. I had to know more. Not getting terribly far, I widened my search and soon found myself swimming well out to sea without a paddle. However, finally, all this research is starting to develop some perimeters, and is taking shape.

Maud Butler AWM Robert Fletcher

Maud Butler in uniform on board the Suevic 1915.

It was this wider search which introduced me to an entire cast of fascinating characters,  including  ship stowaway, Maud Butler, who I’ve already explored in previous posts. On 22nd December, 1915 she stowed away on board HMAT A26 Suevic dressed as a soldier as a desperate effort to get to  the front and serve as a nurse.  I’d hoped GG Uncle Jack had caught the same ship. However, as I’ve already explained, he’d already left on board the Aeneas two days before…another detail which wasn’t easy to come by via the route I used. Much to my disappointment, Maud and Jack weren’t even two ships passing in the night.

While Maud Butler’s story is gripping and also has a complexity which draws me in, I was going to put her to one side and continue my research into the troops themselves. However, not wanting to leave a stone unturned, I wanted to check out her brother’s service records. You never know. I thought he could also have a story to tell.

Indeed, when you read accounts of Maud’s “adventure”, her brother is almost pivotal to the story. Private Les Spriggs mentioned them both in a letter dated 25th January, 1916 from the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was published on Wednesday 22 March 1916 in the Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette :

“…The first day out at sea there was a girl discovered on board dressed in a uniform. She was trying to get to Egypt to see her brother who was wounded in a hospital. She was put off on to a passing steamer[1].

Maud’s brother was also mentioned in a message in a bottle, which was thrown overboard from the Suevic on the way to the front. The following message was written by Mr. Ted Blakey, of Manly, to his mother and found off the Victorian coast.

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli, Oh, well, good-bye for the present.—I am, your loving son, Ted.[2]

Maud openly denied she was simply going to the front to see her brother. Rather, she spoke about her plans to serve as a nurse after her valiant attempts to sign up with the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks failed due to inexperience. However, she mentions that her brother is at the front:

“It is not correct that I joined the ship just in sport, to see my brother who is at the front,” said Miss Maud Butler. “My object was to do what I could to help. I wanted to join the Red Cross, and I tried very hard to get accepted. When I failed I bought a khaki suit and stowed away…In fact, it was before my brother went away at all,” continued Miss Butler, who was seen yesterday at the rooms of the Young Women’s Christian Association, “that I wanted to go. He has been at the front for six months.[3]

However, as it turns out, Maud Butler’s brother, Maitland Thomas Butler, was nowhere near the front in December, 1915. While I can’t be sure of his exact whereabouts, I suspect he was living at home with Mum and Dad in Cessnock and working as a miner locally. Born 10th June, 1897 at Coen, Far North Queensland, he was only 18 years old at the time and underage. The legal enlistment age was 21 and men needed to be 19 years of age to go overseas. However, they could get parental consent.

Fast-forwarding to 11th April, 1917, Maitland Thomas Butler enlisted, putting up his age to 21 years one month and also incorrectly stated that “Weston NSW” was his place of birth. However, on 12th April he was “discharged underage” from the Sydney Showgrounds. The stated cause was “letter written by mother”. It looks like his mother had hotfooted it down to Sydney and submitted a statutory declaration stating that “my son Maitland Butler is only 18 years of age. He will be 19 years of age on the 10th June 1917.” It seems a bit rough that a letter from Mum could end the dreams of  a grown man. However, having had her young daughter try to flee overseas to the front, Mrs Rose Butler was clearly putting her foot down. Getting her own troops back in order. As a parent of teenagers myself, I have a great deal of empathy for Rose and Thomas Butler and I can’t help sensing the same iron will and determination in the mother, which was found in the kids.

However, just like sister Maud who didn’t give up on her first attempt and boarded a second troopship in uniform, Maitland Butler didn’t give up on his dream of getting to the front either. On 19th September, 1917 he enlisted again. This time he was more inventive and signed up as “Frank Emerson” at West Maitland. On 19th December, 1917 he embarked for the front onboard A38 Ulysses from Sydney and disembarked on the 13th February, 1918 at Southampton, England.  On 7th July, 1918 he was taken on strength in France by the 2nd Battalion from the 26th reinforcements.

During his time with the 2nd Battalion, Maitland participated in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”. In Mid-September they fought around Menin Road, Belgium which formed part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres. Maitland Butler was later gassed on the 25th September, 1918 rejoining his company on 1st October, 1918. I will expand on his war service at a later date.

Up until this point, you could probably say that Maitland Butler’s service record, while not without its moments, fell inside what you could call the range of “normal soldier behaviour” (a variation on what the kids’ high school refers to as “normal teenage behaviour”). However, not unlike his famous sister and her voyage leaving Australia, Maitland Butler landed in hot water coming home.

ss_euripides_lsOn 6th September, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked for Sydney onboard the Euripides. All went well until he went on shore leave in Durban,  South Africa and failed to return at the end of shore leave on the 1st October. A day later, he was reported AWOL when his ship sailed for Australia at 1318. Almost two weeks later, on 13th October, 1919 he reported to the AIF Office and was charged with:

Charge 1. Neglected to obey troopship orders in that he was not on board HT Euripides at 1318 2.10.19 when she sailed for Australia.

2.AWL from 2200 1.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19

He was awarded 168 hours detention & forfeit 28 days pay AA.46.2d by Lt Beveridge in Durban. However, he escaped from escort while being taken to civil gaol for safe custody 1200 and was captured a day later and charged with gambling by the civil police. 12th November, 1919 he embarked in Arrest on S.S. “Chepatow Castle” for Cape Town and four days later he disembaked ex CHEPSTOW CASTLE CAPETOWN & reported to the AIF Depot. Finally, on 20th November, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked onboard HT Nestor for continuation of voyage to Australia & demobilisation.

He was home at last.

After touching base with Maud and Maitland Butler to some extent while out on Research Road, I couldn’t help but parallel their contrasting experiences of travelling to and from the front. Maud went to very great lengths to stowaway on board HMAT 26 Suevic masquerading as a man in soldier’s uniform. Then, there’s her older brother, Maitland Butler, going to equally great lengths to avoid getting onto his ship in Durban and coming home. Either way, the two of them no doubt gave their parents some hefty headaches and they could’ve used a Bex and a good lie down. Or, at the very least, a very strong cup of tea.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

[1] Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 2

[2] Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[3] Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), Wednesday 29 December 1915, page 5

Services records Maitland Thomas Butler.

Wikipaedia.

The Story Jack & Maud…the Rollercoaster Ride of Writing Historical Fiction.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon.

Writers of historical fiction will appreciate the gruelling roller-coaster ride I’m on. Indeed, as I pursue this exceptionally gripping story, I’ve become a crazed addict. I’m hooked. I might be parked in the lounge room on my laptop, but the adrenalin’s pumping. It’s so exhilarating, and I have to remind myself I’m running a marathon, not a sprint. While there’s a huge whopper of a fish on the end of my line, I still need to reel it in. Catch the darn thing. So, it’s very important that I don’t get ahead of myself. I need to get my facts straight, even though the bright lights are all but blinding me.

However, although these seemingly random pieces were starting to come together, there was still this awful, niggling feeling that Jack and Maud weren’t on the same ship after all. That the dates which were ever so close, weren’t quite lining up and I couldn’t quite make them fit. Had I been a writing fiction, of course, it wouldn’t matter. I could’ve bent or even manufactured the truth and kept my story alive. However, the historian in me couldn’t do that. She insisted on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. According to her, there’s nothing worse than red pen in the margin which isn’t your own.

Yet, while it was starting to look like Jack and Maud were on separate ships which didn’t even pass during the night, I didn’t know for sure and wasn’t quite willing to give up on the story yet.

 

Above: Left photo of Maud Butler on board the Suevic taken by Robert Fletcher owned by the Australian War Memorial. Right photo of Private Jack Quealy, my Great Great Uncle.

The story of Jack and Maud isn’t one of romance. Rather, it’s one of war. On 9th August, 1915 my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealy, enlisted in the Australian Infantry Force (AIF) at Holsworthy and joined the 13th Reinforcements of the 13th Battalion. At the time, he was 27 years old. He was working as a Letterpress Printer for Cunningham & Co in Pitt Street Sydney and was married to Maggie known as “Scotty”. They had two young children… Jack Jnr three and Eddie two. His service records state that he embarked on the 20th December, 1915 although the name of the ship was conspicuously absent. If it wasn’t for Maud, the exact name of the ship wouldn’t have mattered quite so much, but now it did and I dearly wanted Jack to be on the Suevic. However, it was looking like the Suevic didn’t leave until the 22nd. So near, and yet so far.

Yet, why does Maud matter? Who on earth was she and what, if anything, did she have to do with our Jack? Why all the excitement?

Perhaps, the best place to start is via a message in a bottle which was found washed up on a beach at Portland Bay, Victoria on New Year’s Day, 1916. It read:

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli. Oh, well, good-bye for the present.

—I am, your loving son, Ted.” 1.

That girl was Maud Butler, the 17 year old daughter of a Cessnock coal miner who’d disguised herself as a soldier to get away to the front to serve as a nurse. However, she’d applied both at the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks and was knocked back due to age and inexperience. Not easily deterred, Maud hatched a plan which is best expressed in her own words…

“I wanted to help at the war, and I still want to do something. It is not true that I stowed away on a troopship just to see my soldier brother in Egypt. I would have gone just the same, because I really do want to be a Red Cross nurse and help the wounded boys.’ This is the response Miss Butler made when questioned by the women of the Y.W.C.A. in Melbourne, in whose care she was placed until she could be clothed in feminine attire and returned to her people in Kurri Kurri, N.S.W…. ‘Soon after the war started,’ the girl continued, ‘I had a terrible desire to help in some way, but I was only a girl, and I soon found that there were difficulties to overcome. I knew it was no use to stay at Kurri Kurri, because I could never learn to be a nurse there. My brother had gone to the war, and I decided to do something for myself. I took a situation in Pyrmont, as a waitress, and while there put in my time off trying to get in as a nurse. I went to the Red Cross in George-street, and then to Victoria Barracks, but there was no luck at either place. I was only seventeen and I was without training. I could see that I looked too young to enlist as a boy, so I decided to get on board a transport as an ordinary soldier and try my luck that way. I bought uniform bit by bit, all except the regulation tan boots. Then I went to a barber and had my hair cut oft, pretending that I had a fever. He said ‘You don’t look it,’ but he did what I asked him. Climbed a Hawser. ‘I walked from Pyrmont to the city and through the Domain to where a transport was lying at No. 1 wharf. I saw a sentry there, so knew it was no good trying to get past him. ‘Well,’ I said to myself. ‘here goes for up the line.’ It was a hand-over-hand job, and I didn’t think the boats were so tall. I got up after a struggle and crawled to a life boat. The only provisions I had brought with me were some lollies, and I had not had anything to eat from that Wednesday night until Friday, when I was ‘howled out.’ On Thursday, when soldiers were about the deck, I got out of my hiding place and walked round with them. Some asked me for a cigarette, others offered them to me, but no one seemed to suspect me. At sea everything went well except that I was hungry. That night I got back to my hiding-place, and next morning about 10.30 an officer came up to me on deck and asked me what I belonged to. I said, ‘The seventh of the nineteenth.” I went on watching the boys play cards, and gave them advice. Then the officer came back and said, ‘Show me your identification medal. That was the finish of me. I had forgotten that, he said he was going to get a doctor to examine me, so I knew it was all over and I then told him I was a girl. If I had been a boy it would have been all right. I could have gone on. They took me to the captain, and he was very nice —in fact, they all were. The captain gave me a good breakfast, and it was great, but the news was all over the ship in three minutes, and 500 of them had snapped me with cameras. The captain said that he was going to tranship me. Then I cried for the first time; it was hard luck, wasn’t it. now?. The captain was a jolly fellow. He asked me why I didn’t get tan boots, and that made me cry more. ‘Miss Butler asserts that if she had been a boy she would have been in the firing line before this. She is convinced that there is something she can do, and intends to try the Red Cross again.[2]

It would’ve made a great story if Jack and Maud had been on the same ship and something to share with the family. Moreover, thanks to Maud, the Suevic’s journey to the front attracted more media attention and provides some valuable insights into life on board.

As it turned out, Jack Quealy embarked on the Aeneas and so far, I’ve unearthed nothing about that voyage at all. Anyway, it’s quite probably that these details about the Suevic provide some insight into Jack’s trip to the front as well. I’ll elaborate on these in my next post.

Stay tuned!

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

  1. Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[2] Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW : 1906 – 1955), Friday 31 December 1915, page 8

Retracing the Footsteps of Our Cycling Champion.

On Thursday, I caught the train to Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner West to retrace the footsteps (or should I say wheels tracks) of world cycling champion Cecil Walker, who was my grandfather-in-law’s first cousin. Although I’ve read countless newspaper articles about his career, I also wanted to walk the streets where he walked and cycled to get a sense of the man in his own environment when he was still a fish in his own pond before he leaped into the  big pond of American cycling at the Newark Velodrome.

While reading about his wins was exciting, I’m much more interested in finding out about his early, formative years and what it took to reach the top. How did he do it? Was it just hard work or was he superhuman in some way? I was curious, and this is the sort of insight which could be very helpful to our kids. After all, it’s one thing for a random stranger to be your hero. It’s quite another when someone inspirational shares at least some of your DNA. I thought it could be a mighty encouragement.

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Herbert William Brooker, Geoff’s Grandfather with his bike in Tasmania. He seems to look quite a lot like like his cousin, Cecil Walker. 

This is the Cecil Walker I particularly wanted to share with my teenage kids, so they understand that success doesn’t arrive on a silver platter. That it takes hours and hours of grueling hard work, talent, strategy, a solid dose of rat cunning and the X factor to boot whatever that might be. That’s not to overwhelm and discourage them, but its easy for kids to look at adults and not realize what it took to get there. They might not become world champion cyclists but hopefully they won’t end up face down in the mud unable to face another defeat either (Me too!!).

William Joseph Cecil Walker was born in 1898 in Marrickville to parents Catherine O’Maley and Joseph Elezer Walker. His father had a grocery store on the corner of Victoria and Sydenham Roads, Marrickville. Cecil was working in his father’s store and went from making deliveries on his bike to joining the the Marrickville Cycling Club. After a shaky start, success followed success and while he was expected to compete in the 1920 Paris Olympics, he turned professional and left for USA in 1920.

Cecil Walker Maddison Square Gardens

In an interview in 1939, he reflected:

“WHILE I was as keen as a new razor to get a break in the bike racing game in America, I must confess that the main reason for my deciding on a trip to the land of skyscrapers was to escape becoming a “hand” in my dad’s grocery store at Marrickville, Sydney. It was a big gamble. With such mighty Aussies as Alf Goullet, Reg McNamara, Alf Grenda and Frank Corry already holding high places in America, and a brilliant collection of home and European anklers on hand to meet the demands of the cycling fans there, the market of peddling wares seemed very much glutted. However, I figured that if I was eventually to go back to go back to weighing up sugar and butter I would have the satisfaction of knowing that at least I made a valiant attempt to escape such a fate.1.”

Marrickville Station

By the time the train pulled into Marrickville Station, it was early afternoon. As you may be aware, I love going on random walking tours with my camera where I aim for a general direction and follow the lens where it leads. Today, I was aiming to find the location of the grocery store, even though it’s been knocked down. However, I wanted to walk around the block and when I checked out the map, I noticed there was a park across the road. I also wanted to walk along the Cook’s River. Lastly, I’d left a message for a school friend hoping we could shift our friendship out of Facebook and back into the real world. So, even though my trip was rather unstructured, surely something would pan out!!

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More wisdom on the walls of Marrickville than from the mouths of our politicians.

However, as I exited Marrickville Station, the street didn’t look right. I’ve driven through Marrickville before and I’d expected a busy road with loads of multicultural eateries. This wasn’t it. I figured that if I went left I’d end up at the river and if I went right, I’d find the grocery store. However, I didn’t factor in my inimitable capacity for getting lost. Well, not exactly being lost, but not being where I intended to be either. Indeed, I’d got right off the grid.

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These gorgeous pooches from Australia Street Stained Glass eventually posed for the camera.

So, as much as walking around on foot is the best way to explore a place, I was mighty grateful when my friend responded and rescued me from my misguided wanderings in her 4WD. Then, as we’re heading for a cafe, I finally see a familiar site. It’s spot where the grocery store once stood. I recognized it from Google Earth. 

Above: The Henson, Marrickville.

After we stopped off at a cafe for a late lunch, we picked up my friend’s dog and headed off to Beaman Park, which runs alongside the Cook’s River and is actually in the adjacent suburb of Earlwood.

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By this stage, I had no idea where I was. You know how it is when you’re sitting in the passenger seat nodding your head. However, my friend was doing a superb job of taking care of Paddington Bear and showing me around pointing out how these seemingly disparate bits of Marrickville fitted together.

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That was how I found myself deposited at Sydenham Station to make my way home. By this stage it was dark and a large, all but full moon was rising above the tracks and into the night sky.

It had been a wonderful day, even if it went to prove one of my favourite quotes:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

John Lennon & Allen Saunders 

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

  1. Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), Saturday 21 January 1939, page 8

Bangalow Doors…Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Thursday Doors!

Today, we’re off on an exciting doorscursion through village of Bangalow. Self-described as “a bit above Byron”, Bangalow is a historic rural town located 13 km west of Byron Bay, 758 km north of Sydney and 165 km south of Brisbane. Moreover, just in case you have absolutely no sense of direction or geography whatsoever, we’re in Australia. I try never to take that for granted. Just because I know where I am, it doesn’t mean you’re in the know. I was here exploring Bangalow while my husband and I were staying at nearby Newrybar with his sister while the kids were away at the Australian Scouting Jamboree in Adelaide.

Our Walk is starting at Bangalow Museum on the corner of Ashton and Deacon Street on the left just as you drive into town. While every old building hasa past, this house has more of a past than most and indeed, wasn’t built at its current location. Rather this traditional Queenslander-style home, was built in 1920 at Brunswick Heads and in its last incarnation, was a brothel. Indeed, just inside what now the front entrqance, there’s a pegboard with hooks for the brothel workers room keys, which their names still attached…Cuddles, Shiela (spent wrong), Rosey and Zoey. This allowed the brother manager to quickly ascertain who’s in and who’s out. I’ve been told that many blokes who join their wives on the museum tour doesn’t seem that interested, but when they hear it was a brothel, it’s like the “walls had ears” and I* dare say, eyes as well!

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Heritage House, Bangalow.

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Verandah, and front door Bangalow Museum.

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Residence on the main road, which is currently under renovation in preparation for going on the market.

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Abracadabra…a view through the window.

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This art gallery, which has been here as long as I remember has closed it’s doors, and it’s former occupants have sought greener pastures in Tasmania.

 

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I’d love to know the story behind these doors. Where did they come from?

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Above: Island Luxe – 62 Byron Street, Bangalow. THese doors also intrigue me. They’re magnificent.

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Bangalow Hotel

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Pink Flamingo Pool Toy in a ute parked outside the Bangalow Hotel.

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Wax Jambu

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The Julian Edwards Gallery, Bangalow.

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Bangalow Pharmacy and on the right hand side, you can see the remnants of an old Kodak advertisement.

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Above: The Country Women’s Association (CWA) Store.

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Loved the Sign for Town Cafe Restaurant.

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Town Cafe Restaurant. I loved the tile patterns out the front too.

Above: Polish Bangalow at the Masonic Hall, 14 Station Street, Bangalow, just off the main road.

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A motor bike parked outside Bangalow Presbyterian Church in Market Street.

Although I have tried to keep these doors somewhat in sequence walking up and back down the main road, I had to save the best til last…The Red Phone Box.

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By the way, if you’d like to read more about Bangalow and its history, you can read  Walking Through Bangalow’s Past.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…12th November, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, I have to warn you upfront that last week wasn’t the best and was actually rather difficult. However, it improved as it went on and I was filled with an over-riding sense of gratitude. An appreciation of the love and support that people have given us. I’m also quite conscious of how different things might’ve been, which suddenly made everything look rosy especially after the general anaethesetic.

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It’s funny how just putting on the hospital whites makes me look like I’m on death’s door.

Last Thursday, I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. The results were fine and I didn’t expect anything nasty. Yet, I guess there’s always that caution when they send the camera where the sun don’t shine. By the way, I’d like to encourage anyone who has been putting off have either of these procedures to face the music. I’d heard horror stories about taking the stuff and let’s face it, most of us are rather private about our privates. However, I was knocked out for the procedure and it was worth it for the peace of mind.

However, the lead up to the colonoscopy was quite stressful. I was freaking out about stuffing up the preparations. In hindsight, they’re not that complicated but I was quite worried I’d forget and eat something I shouldn’t. However, I was on my best behaviour and a good little Vegemite after all. No dramas.

Unfortunately, one of my kids became quite stressed about the whole thing and let’s just say “needed to have a chat”. This resulted in a day waiting for him to be assessed by which point, he was fine and had perked up. Meanwhile, I couldn’t find a parking spot at the hospital and was driving round and round the multi-storey carpark. Not finding anything, I was heading back down and hit a concrete divider on the exit ramp. Talk about things going from bad to worse. I’d cracked the radiator and my kid tells me that the engine’s on fire and smoke’s rising out of the bonnet. By this point, I was totally paralyzed, numb and couldn’t even consider where the hazard lights or the button for the bonnet were located. Fortunately, child stepped in and went for help. Don’t laugh but the tow truck was already there! Problem solved. Car parked.

 

I felt absolutely shell-shocked after all of that and am still in recovery mode. We went to a friend’s place for a birthday Friday night and that was fantastic and yesterday I was on duty at the sailing club.Well, somewhat on duty. I ended up sitting upstairs in the restaurant venting my spleen in ink. I also managed to get some photos of Geoff on his sailing course. I really wished I could’ve been out there sailing as well but these small boats are too much for me physically and I need more of a champagne yachting experience.

While I was at the hospital, I managed to finish a fantastic book by investigative journalist, Leigh Sales, called: Any Ordinary Day. It looks at how people respond to extreme trauma and also looks at the interaction between chance and destiny. It really got up close and personal to a series of truly shocking tragedies and unravelled at least some of the threads. I highly recommend it!

 

In terms of blogging last week, for Thursday Doors I walked up Bridge Street, Sydney up to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a route my mother followed for many years as a music student at the Con: Bridge Street Sydney- Thursday Doors.As I was walking up the hill, I particularly noticed the imposing clock tower peering over the Department of Lands building and thought of my mother and other students racing up the hill and being taunted by the clock: “You’re late! Late for an important date!” I also participated in Friday fictioneers with Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Well, I feel myself running out of steam now so I’ll head off. How was your week? I hope you have a good one.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Bridge Street, Sydney…Thursday Doors.

Welcome back to to Another Thursday Doors.

Before we touch down in the Sydney CBD, I thought I’d better give you a map and help you get your bearings.

Map of The Rocks NSW 2000

You might recall that last week I attended concert pianist Gerard Willems Twilight Recital at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with my parents. On the way, I went on a detour (or “Doorscursion”) via The Rocks and then walked up Bridge Street to the “Con”. Last week, I shared The Rocks leg of the journey and this week, I’m taking you from George Street to the Conservatorium via Bridge Street.

Bridge Street isn’t one of Sydney’s most famous streets. Yet, although in this instance it was getting me from A to B, I was also retracing my mother’s footsteps on this journey. As a student back in the 60s, she used to walk up Bridge Street on her way to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I could picture her almost running up Bridge Street possibly even running a bit late, especially when I spotted the imposing clock face peering down in judgement from the Public Lands Building. So, it was special to walk up Bridge Street and feel her with me, particularly as Mum and Dad were both meeting up with me at the concert. It was much more enjoyable to be able to do this walk while she’s still living than as a memorial.

So, I was just lucky that Bridge Street had such a plethora of stunning sandstone colonial buildings and some pretty photogenic doors. That said, there was also much to distract me. Bridge Street is full of history and so much phenomenal architecture.

Only 500metres long, Bridge Street is one of Sydney’s earliest streets, and started out as a path from the Governor’s house (then in what became Bridge Street) to the Military Barracks in Wynyard. It was named after the first bridge built over Tank Stream. By the way, for those of you not familiar with the Tank Stream, when Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Harbour in January 1788, searching for a new settlement site, one of his main requirements was a reliable fresh water supply. As he sailed around Bennelong Point, now the site of the Sydney Opera House, he saw a wide-mouthed stream running into Sydney Harbour. At high tide, the water was deep enough for schooners to go as far as present-day Bridge Street. Here Phillip established the new colony, the new city and the beginnings of European Australia. Unfortunately, the Tank Stream has long been a storm water drain (Source: Sydney Water

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The Metropolitan Hotel, 1 Bridge Street.

Our Journey begins at No. 1 Bridge Street…the Metropolitan Hotel, which unfortunately has a McDonald’s downstairs so no great door photographing opportunities here.

 

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Burns Philp Building  7 Bridge Street, Sydney. Built 1901.

While the Burns Philp building is incredibly grand and held my attention, my roving eye was soon drawn away by the magnificent clock tower across the road, which is perched so graciously above the Department of Lands Building at 22-33 Bridge Street.

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The Department of Lands Building

Large public clocks like these always intrigue me and too often loom over me as a bad omen: “I’m late! I’m late! Late for an important date.” Or worse still I remember waiting on Town Hall Steps on a Saturday night in my youth waiting to meet a date and there’s always that fear that they’re not going to show up and that preoccupation with the clock. I also think of how these clocks have withstood time and so many people must’ve walked up and down Bridge Street under the shadow of this clock and while they have passed on, it is still here.

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However, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted. I’m supposed to be focusing on doors instead of clocks. So, let me just close the door on that meandering train of thought and we’ll keep walking.

Well, it looks like I haven’t found a door at the Department of Lands yet. So, you’ll just have to hold onto that thought for a bit longer.

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Here it is. Front Door, Department of Lands Building, Bridge Street, Sydney.

Across the road from the Department of Lands Building, we come to Macquarie Place. Again, I apologize for a conspicuous absence of doors here. However, as many of you will agree, it seems a bit rude not to include door-free landmarks we stumble across along the way. Indeed, I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit rude saying something along the lines of:  “Sorry, I can’t mention you because you’re not a door.”

Anyway, getting back to Macquarie Place… It’s a small triangle of land which was formalised as an open space with the erection of an obelisk in 1818 by Governor Macquarie to mark the place from which public roads in the colony were measured. A sandstone Doric fountain was also erected the following year. A sandstone dwarf wall and iron palisade fence were built around the site, and although the railings were removed between 1905 and 1910, part of the wall remains. While this area was rather spacious back in the day, it now looks small, overcrowded and when you see the obelisk, you can’t help wondering what on earth it’s doing there.

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The Obelisk, Macquarie Place, in 1926.

As I’m walking up Bridge Street, it was pretty hard not to notice The Gallipoli Club which is under construction and fenced off by some rather bright and colourful murals, which are rather out of keeping with the more traditional, surrounding architecture.  Positioned alongside grand sandstone buildings, these murals stand out and look fantastic as a temporary thing. As much as blending the old and the new can be quite effective, I also think it’s good to preserve the character of a place, especially in Sydney where we don’t have a lot of historic buildings of this calibre.

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The Gallipoli Club, Loftus Street, Sydney just off Bridge Street.

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Construction Entrance, The Gallipoli Club.

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I have always loved these quaint terrace houses located at 39-47 Phillip Street, on the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets. Built in 1867-9, they look like something time forgot surrounded by soaring skyscapers and even pre-date the imposing sandstone buildings nearby.

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The Industrial Relations Commission

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Southern Cross University at 117 Macquarie Street.

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Hotel Intercontinental, 117 Macquarie Street and on the corner of Bridge Street. The InterContinental Sydney rests within the Treasury Building of 1851 – the first purpose-built government office in Sydney.

From the Intercontinental, it’s just a short walk across the road to arrive at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

I hope you enjoyed this doorscursion along Bridge Street to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, even if my definition of door was rather broad this week. I certainly enjoyed my photographic walk. However, as I was putting this together, I realized just how rushed and incomplete it was. That said, I’ve put a lot of work into this chunk of the story. Of course, you could write a book about all the magnificent buildings in Bridge Street and their stories, but I’ll leave that for someone else.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

I’m now off to make myself a cup of decaf tea and head to bed.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Featured image: The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

Back to “The Con”…the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago I went back to Sydney University for the first time in decades. Well, last Wednesday night, I  found myself back at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music doing the time warp again. This time, I was attending concert pianist, Gerard Willems’ Twilight Recital, which marked his retirement from full-time teaching at the Con.

While it only seems like yesterday, I haven’t been back to the Con since my grandmother’s Twilight Recital around 30 years ago. At the time, I was in the throws of leaving school, but now I’m married with two kids and our eldest isn’t terribly far off leaving school himself. So, clearly a lot of water’s flowed under the bridge, and even much of the landscape has been swept away by the tide. Yet, I still felt remarkably at home.

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Gerard Willems and his former teacher, Nada Brissenden.

By the way, I wasn’t just attending this concert out of interest. Gerard is almost an extended member of the family via one of my mother’s “secret societies”. Mum and Gerard both attended Wollongong Selective High School and learned the piano from  Nada Brissenden who, along with her husband Harold, introduced Suzuki Music to Australia. Mum was a year ahead of Gerard, and their paths have crossed over the years, which included studying piano at the Con. There was also a rather significant-to-me soiree which my grandmother Eunice Gardiner put on to give Gerard further performance experience. Not that Gerard was one of her pupils. Rather, he was studying under Gordon Watson. This soiree was also interesting because Australian authors Ruth Park and her husband D’Arcy Niland were there. Knowing Mum knew Gerard and possibly also because she had some single sons, my grandmother also invited my mother to the soiree. So, it was actually Gerard who first introduced my parents at Lindfield Station for the very first time on Sunday 26th March, 1967. That’s a connection you never forget and was brought up again recently at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.  There’s still is a group of Mrs Brissenden’s former students who get together, forming an extended musical family of sorts. After all, you have your genetic family but as a musician you also have your musical family.

However, I also had an ulterior motive for going back to the Con. I wanted to revisit my grandmother’s old studio. See if I could find my way through the old rabbit warren and back to her door. I remember going in there as a young child after visiting my grandfather who had a dental practice in nearby Macquarie Street. The Con itself was stark white back then and I remember some weird story about how they cleaned it using Coca Cola. I remember going up some stairs and along a longish corridoor and there was a grand piano in the room. Dad told me that it overlooked the Botanical Gardens. So, that narrowed things down quite a lot. So, I planned to arrive quite early for the concert to ensure no regrets.

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A Sign Promoting one of my grandmother’s concerts at the Con around 1960.

By the way, the Conservatorium building is famous in its own right. In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie commissioned ex-convict Francis Greenway to design the government stables. Macquarie had a grand architectural vision for the fledgling colony and what emerged was more of a “Palace for Horses”  in the Old Colonial Gothick style. Indeed, it reminds me of  Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s architectural extravagance. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Governor Macquarie was recalled to England. In 1916, the building was extensively renovated and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music was established under directorship of Belgian conductor and violinist, Henri Verbrugghen, with the aim of ‘providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums’.

As I said, it’s been 30 years since I was last at the Con. For better or worse, a massive extension has been built and the original building has had an extensive facelift. Of course, it’s been tastefully done and if I didn’t have an intense personal attachment to the original, I’d only be impressed.

However, as much as I know we couldn’t let the old girl fall apart and that the building itself is representing Australian classical music on the world stage, a facelift is still a facelift. I miss the white paint. The cracks, wrinkles and crooked appearance. Indeed, I’d love to wipe all the beige away and bring her back out of her glamorous shell…even if only long enough to take a photo and then send her back to sleep.

The ticket office is in the new part of the Con and I noticed a sign saying “No Public Admittance” where I’m needing to access my grandmother’s studio. However, as soon as I explained the situation, I was granted access and off I hopped with my camera. I was so excited, even though I was warned that it had changed and the “rabbit’s warren was gone”. Dad had also told me that her studio looked out onto the Botanic Gardens, which narrowed things down quite a lot. I climbed up the stairs and slowly walked along the corridoor. I could hear piano music on my right and saw a grand piano through the window. Her room was further along from memory but very soon I was distracted by the sound of a violin tuning up downstairs. I found it rather strange than when I, the closet violinist come back retracing my grandmother’s footsteps, a violinist was playing. (As it turned out this was  Evgeny Sorkin who played Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Major Op. 12 No. 1. with Gerard during the concert.

Yet, the main reason I was at the Con was to attend this concert. So, we’d better head upstairs into the gallery where I had an absolutely fabulous seat with a bird’s eye view. Verbruggen Hall seats around 550 people and as far as I could tell, everyone there loved Gerard, not just as a pianist but as a person. He exudes such warmth and embraces the audience. Gerard introduced each piece himself, usually with an extensive preamble and I was hanging onto each and every word. Indeed, I was voraciously taking notes up in my seat. Among so many other things, Gerard is a teacher and I felt like this concert was also his last hurrah in that department as well trying to share as much of his knowledge and somehow try to encourage the spirit of music which lives in each of us to soar.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, here are a few snapshots.

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Gerard Willems.

Firstly, I was struck by how Gerard would play that solitary, perfect note in a way that transcended our earthly realm and entered the heavens. Indeed, I was reminded of when you look up into the night sky and see the planet Venus twinkling almost like a star yet in its solitude. One of my great frustrations as a beginner violinist, was the difficulty of even being able to play one perfect note. I kept practicing and practicing and I’d play two strings instead of one. My bow would glide diagonally across the strings and screech like a flock of cockatoos. It was so incredibly frustrating and yet I was determined to succeed. Gerard made me appreciate the enormity of playing that one perfect note. That it’s nowhere near as easy as you think.

Secondly, I was completely blown away by his unbelievable physicality playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor Op. 20. Remember the man is retiring and this piece of music, is very physically demanding. Incredible.

However, while the other pieces were far more complex, I couldn’t go past Moonlight Sonata, which was followed by the Brahm’s Lullaby. He played these because these are the pieces he played for his baby daughter, Clara, and grandchildren. Indeed, as he played the Brahms, his wife appeared on stage hold Clara’s hands and helping her to walk across the stage to her Dad. She is only one year old and beyond cute. I noticed when I later looked at the photos that she was wearing a black jacket which looked a bit like a conductor’s jacket. As I said, she was extraordinarily cute and it was so touching to see how much Gerard loves his wife and baby girl. That was another time when you could feel all the stars twinkling in the sky and a sense of magic.

After the concert, I stayed the night at my parents’ place and had been so overstimulated by the concert, that I couldn’t sleep for hours. All my matches had been lit at once and I was firing on too many cylinders I suspect.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Conservatorium_of_Music

 

 

 

 

The Rocks, Sydney…Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors!

This week, you’d better back a hat, water bottle and a decent pair of walking shoes because we’re on a doorcursion  to Sydney’s Historic Rocks area, where European settlement began shortly after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.AS you can see from the photograph, The Rocks has some stunning views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and fronts onto Sydney Harbour.

The route we’re taking starts out at Wynyard Station and we’re turning left into George Street. This is quite a chaotic construction zone at the moment. However, I managed to battle my way through to The Rocks, which clearly has to be a fertile breeding ground for photogenic doors.

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Map Showing the location of The Rocks, Sydney.

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This mural pretty much marked where I pulled out my camera and marks the start of The Rocks. While no doors are features, I felt it helped set the scene taking you back in time when the residents of The Rocks were living on struggle street.

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Next we come across Sydney’s oldest pub, the Fortune Of War, which was established in 1828 and has come to include a couple of pubs under one roof.

 

Russell Hotel Anime

The Russell Hotel (Previously known as The Orient) was built in 1887 in the Queen-Anne Style and in recent times appeared in the Japanese anime show: Free! Eternal Sunshine.

 

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Inside the Fortune O War Pub.

By the way, I should warn you as we continue our tour, that we’ll be dropping in on quite a few pubs. While The Rocks is a popular spot for a pub crawl, I hope you’re not in desperate need for a beer because we’re not stopping. We’re only checking out the doors and moving onto the next one.

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You’ll notice a Halloween joke out the front today.

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This front door belongs to the Julian Ashton Art School, which continues to train and encourage upcoming Australian artists.

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The Observer Hotel

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A bit more of a Halloween theme at this cafe.

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The Mercantile Hotel, The Rocks.

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I’m a big concerned about this door in the footpath. Could swear I could hear intermittent banging sounds.

After visiting all these drinking holes, it was inevitable that our doorcursion was going to end up here:

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I wonder if the riff-raff are also forced to use the Gents? This sign clearly pre-dates uni-sex toilets.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our doorscursion to The Rocks. I had a wonderful time. By the way, my walk through The Rocks was a detour on my way to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music last night. I was off to attend Gerard Willems’ Twilight Recital. Gerard is not only a brilliantly talented International concert pianist, he is such a warm and loving person and such a character. He was a year behind Mum at school and they both learned from another generous and encouraging soul, Nada Brissenden before studying at the Con. Mum studied piano there under my Dad’s mother, Eunice Gardiner while Gerard was under Gordon Watson. One night, my grandmother held a soiree at her Lindfield home for Gerard to get more performance practice and invited mum along. My Dad picked Gerard and Mum up from the station and that was the beginning of a whole new book, a whole lot more than just a chapter.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena