Sharing memories: New Friends

OliveTree Genealogy is celebrating the 3rd year of Sharing Memories - A Genealogy Journey with the goal of writing our memoirs and childhood memories for our descendants. The topic for week 19 was New Friends.

My life as a young child was very socially homogenous in a way that was more traditional, and old-fashioned if you like, than today when it’s usual for children’s horizons to potentially be international. I, on the other hand, saw the same children in the neighbourhood, at church or at school. The only difference was that there were two streams of school: those who went to the Catholic school and those who went to the state (public) school. Girl Guides added a little leavening to the mix, but even many of those lived not too far away.

Penpals were the new friends who opened a window into the wider world: a couple in the States and one in the Netherlands. I often wonder what happened to Ria from Hilversum or Patsy from Arkansas or Carole from….. In turn this reminds me of a book by Geraldine Brooks called Foreign Correspondence, a double entendre on her occupation as a foreign correspondent when she sets out to trace what had happened to her penpals in the intervening 20 years.

The transition to high school, aged 14, was a significant turning point in my life. For me it was like throwing open the doors, largely through books and learning, but also through exposure to different people and classes of society. It was quite daunting to go to a new school of about 1000 students after my little primary school of under 200. Only two of my primary school colleagues went to the same school and neither was in my class and we had never been close friends anyway.

The order of nuns who ran my high school were also a different “brand” and had their own particular ways so it was a bit fraught learning all the new protocols: a curtsy as each nun passed, calling each one Sr Mary XXX rather than just Sr XXX.

View over All Hallows’ from nearby rental accommodation.

The school was also in Fortitude Valley, an offshoot of the Brisbane CBD, so I travelled by bus each day along with boys going to Church of England Grammar (Churchie), St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace, Grammar or St James in the Valley. Not that they were among the friends we were allowed to cultivate, since it was forbidden to speak to boys at all, even if they were relatives, so we had to settle for covertly eyeing them off (the Churchie boys were our favourites).

It suddenly occurs to me that I’ve made an assumption but readers won’t know that my high school was an all girls one.

In the first week of school, one of my classmates came up to me and to my surprise, announced we were cousins. She had recognised my surname as being her grandmother’s maiden name and gone home to verify we were related. We didn’t really become mates though we were friendly and swapped notes and cards as teenage girls do, and she was a link to a family history that at the time I knew nothing whatsoever about.

It didn’t take long before I made a few friends with whom I stayed best mates over the course of high school and on into university, or for a couple, through their nursing training. We had sleep-overs, went to the movies or occasional concerts, supported each other through early romances and generally did lots of girl talk.

Over the decades the friendships diluted as we married, got jobs or moved around.  A couple of us still keep up loose links and when in the same city, which is rare, we catch up. The long links of our experience make it easy to pick up the threads of our friendship and two of our daughters have become friends, despite distance.  But I still treasure the memory of my new teenage friendships with Maria, Sue L, Sue B and Margaret.

Miss Daisy Frances King: I wish I’d known you better

Some weeks ago, Lorine from Olive Tree Genealogy posed this topic as part of the Sharing Memories series: People I wish I’d known better. Of course the first thought is all those family members who I know only from documents and deductions, and if I’m lucky the odd photograph. However I guessed that wasn’t the real intent of the question, and my next thought was “Miss King”.

Three little mementoes sent to me by Miss King and treasured for decades.

When I was a young girl, there was an “elderly” spinster living in the house across the road. While I thought she was old, in reality she was perhaps not far past retirement when she came to live in our street. My memory tells me dimly that sometimes I would be invited over for a cold drink and I suppose a biscuit. I faintly recall lots of quality furniture in the house and the story went that she was well off. I suspect she possibly wasn’t all that well off as she had worked as a typist or secretary throughout her life.[i] Having been trawling through Trove I’m wondering if perhaps she is the “Miss Daisy King” who was secretary to the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce.

Daisy Frances King was born in early 1885 in country Queensland to parents Nathaniel Irvine King and his wife Emily Sloane[ii]. Daisy had three sisters and one brother. School records suggest they lived in Marburg c1894 before later moving to Brisbane.

The reason Miss King has a special place in my memories down all these years is because of her kindnesses to that young girl who lived across the street from her. Miss King travelled overseas a few times and each time she brought some small gift back to me which I’ve treasured to this day: a little Welsh dragon, a Japanese-print handkerchief and a miniature Chinese doll.

I never dreamt that one day I too would travel to Ireland.

In my memory box I also have a postcard which she wrote to me from Ireland. On the postcard she wrote: Dear Pauline, I am sending this from Ireland where a number of donkeys are used for carrying light loads. This dear little fellow is taking a rest in the field. Hope you are very well. From D F King.  The postcard was sent while she was overseas for an extended trip in 1958, and I’m guessing the Welsh dragon probably dates from that trip too. However the other two treasures may have been from a different trip.

In those days it was impossibly exotic for people to travel overseas. The only other people we knew who did so were my “rich” relations in Far North Queensland and that was partly business travel. My mother had always wanted to travel but perhaps it was Miss King who fanned the flame. If so, you’ve seen from my A to Z posts just how successfully the fire was set.

Another special memory I have of Miss King is that she took me to the ballet at Her Majesty’s Theatre when I was still quite young, perhaps 10 to 12 years old. I think it was Swan Lake that we saw but I’m not certain, I just remember the beauty of the costumes and the dance. No doubt I was on my absolutely best behaviour.

It astonishes me somehow that this lady, very similar in age to my grandmother (another of her neighbours), was so very kind and generous to me. The electoral rolls suggest Miss King lived in the street for about 15 years, but I don’t think this is correct. A young family with a child arrived when I was in my early teens or even a bit younger, so Miss King must have moved before then. My mother tells me Miss King went to a home and that after she died her nephew inherited the house. Miss King died in Brisbane in 1973, when I was living in Papua New Guinea, perhaps this partly explains how I didn’t know what had happened to her.

I feel quite shamed that I did not reciprocate her many kindnesses to me by staying in touch. Perhaps the happy memories I’ve had of her all these years go some way to redressing my omissions.

Thank you Miss King for your generous spirit. I wish I’d known you better.


[i] Electoral rolls 1913-1969.

[ii] Qld BDM indexes.

Week 2 of Sharing Memories 2012: First flight(s)

OliveTree Genealogy is celebrating the 3rd year of Sharing Memories - A Genealogy Journey with the goal of writing our memoirs and childhood memories for our descendants. The topic for Week 2 is “First flight”.

This seems like such a simple question doesn’t it, yet for me there were three flights that fitted this description. As this theme is intended as a memoir for my descendants I’m going to take some authorial licence and write about each of my first flights.

One of my first occurrences in the bureaucratic record as a married woman was my entry permit to the Territory of Papua New Guinea. This is the second one that was issued to me.

When I was at university a friend was in the Air Force cadets and as part of his training he’d been taught to fly. For some reason he invited me to take an early flight with him from Brisbane’s general-aircraft airport at Archerfield. This was the first time I’d ever flown and it was fabulous to be up in the air and see the world from above (Thanks Matt!). I don’t remember being scared at all as I’d always had a fascination with flying perhaps attributable to my mother’s enthusiasm – she’d been a volunteer aircraft spotter in Brisbane during the War.

A few years later I took my first “real” commercial flight. We had been married less than two weeks and were heading to the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea where my husband had lived for many years and was just starting work with the government. Leaving Brisbane where I’d grown up meant leaving behind my family and many close uni friends so there was lots to be sad about, as well as excited about the life ahead. I remember there were many tears on all sides at that departure as we knew it would be likely be two years before I’d see them again. When I think about my ancestors setting sail from Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany, never to see their families again, my paltry two year absence is quite miniscule and irrelevant. But it wasn’t for me or my family. To my parents’ great credit they did not place pressure on me at this very difficult time of separation even though I know how much it cost them.

My hubbie's baggage tag from our first flight to my new home in TPNG. We flew in a Patair Piaggio: six seater from memory.

In those pre-security days Brisbane airport was just fenced and farewelling friends could stand at the fences to wave goodbye as those departing walked across the tarmac. I recall one of our very good male friends standing at the fence with two of my closest girlfriends draped on his neck, having a really good cry. I was no better and shed more than a few tears. For my husband, this was like taking a bus trip across town as he’d been doing the same flight a couple of times a year for about 15 years. As we disembarked at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby my first impressions were the wall of tropical heat and the ground crew with dark faces and curly hair and dressed in lap-laps or sulus with the initials of TAA down the side. My life had irrevocably changed in a few short hours. I had left my familiar life and family behind to start a new life…perhaps a tiny glimpse of life as an immigrant. It’s not the thrill of flying that I remember from that first commercial flight but the all-encompassing emotional rollercoaster.

This little book is my student pilot's licence. Currently in my archives, I hope it survives into the future.

By the time I took my final “first flight”, I’d notched up many hours on commercial flights in an array of aircraft. I’d had an urge to learn to fly for some time and as I headed into my 30th year, my husband decided it was time for me to take the plunge. I remember in my first lesson being inundated with diverse technical information before taking to the air. Do you remember when you first learned to drive and you struggled to assimilate all the skills required of you? Learning to fly was like that…I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would manage the controls, radio the tower and watch the skies, let alone get that little Grumman Tiger (code-sign VH-SPG) into the air or down to earth again safely. I vividly remember watching from mid-flight as an early Qantas jumbo took off into Moresby’s skies with effortless ease like a pelican getting airborne.  Although I enjoyed learning the skills and feeling slowly more competent, I eventually reached the conclusion that I would never be a natural pilot and gave up my lessons when I was pregnant. I have no regrets about giving it away, I was pleased I’d given it a go, but I don’t think I ever felt sufficiently confident or competent to be a good pilot. The 3D world is an unforgiving space as Papua New Guinea’s flying history testifies.