M is mulling over Milne Bay Islands, Murphys Creek and Mull (via Lismore)

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today we travel to different locations on the far side of the world from each other. 

M is for MULL (with a detour to the Isle of Lismore) (Scotland)

BTW I’m trialling a slideshow below for Mull because there’s a number of photos I want to show you. My husband’s Argyll ancestry is drawn from the islands of Lismore and Mull so it was important for us to schedule the two islands on our latest Scottish excursion. The family story went that his Donald Black (2x great grandfather) used to row across the strait between the two islands to woo his future bride, Mary McIntyre. It is possible that the story is true given you can easily see Mull from Achinduin on Mull…they were probably well used to the sea, but you’d have wanted the tide and weather with you.  On the other hand, when the weather is fierce you really know what you’re up against. I’m sure we didn’t see the worst weather by any means when we walked down to the ruins of Achinduin Castle, but even so we were struggling to stay upright in the wind.

Lismore is just gorgeous though its population is small due to the massive emigration and evictions during the 19th century. The island now has a new Heritage Centre with displays and genealogical information, so if you have Lismore ancestry it’s definitely worth getting in touch. Caledonian McBrayne took us over the sea to Mull, with our goal of learning more about the McIntyres. If the weather was blowy on Lismore it was truly hideous on Mull that day, wet, blustery and cold. We were ever so pleased to place ourselves in the hands of our hospitable B&B owner, Helen, hours earlier than planned. With a nice hot coffee and a piece of homemade cake we could look out over Tobermory harbour from the warmth of our room. Delicious!

But of course these diversions do not make for good family history so on a much sunnier day we took ourselves back to the Cal-Mac port at Craignure and the information centre, where the ladies did their very best to assist us. With their help and an internet map from the Mull Genealogy site, we managed to locate the area of Ardchoirk (my aide memoir is to call it Artichoke). As always, still more research to be done, but at least we saw the area where they lived. The Mull Historical Society site offers some historical background for interested readers. While on Mull we made the drive to Iona, a small island off the coast easily reached by ferry. Iona is the site of St Columba’s ancient monastery and almost as soon as you arrive the peace of the place seeps into your spirit. We loved everything about it: the ancient carvings, the simplicity of the church, the ancient chapel, the amazing carved gravestones, the scenery…. We drove back to Tobermory via the west coast road which would have been more relaxing if we hadn’t been racing the fading daylight, but we did have an interesting encounter with a Highland cow and calf. And probably my favourite quote attributed to St Columba: Angel nor saint have I seen, but I have heard the roar of the western sea, and the isle of my heart lies in its midst. And on a pragmatic note, I’m trialling the slideshow facility because I had a number of photos I wanted to share with you.

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M is for MILNE BAY ISLANDS (Papua New Guinea)

I’ve talked a bit about Milne Bay under my A for Alotau post but I just wanted to add some comments on its islands. Milne Bay Province, or District as it was known then, is a now-peaceful coastal area of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The people lack the aggressive attitude sometimes found in other parts of PNG, perhaps a reflection of their surroundings. My husband’s family lived in this district for many years and it was to Milne Bay that he returned from boarding school a couple of times a year for the holidays. In those days the district headquarters was on the small island of Samarai, off the southern tip of PNG.

Apart from the government offices, the churches and two sort-of-general stores (BPs and Steamships) and some trade stores, there really wasn’t a lot there. By the time I visited you went there by government trawler on a 3-4 hour trip, breathing in diesel fumes from the engine and trying to rest. A visit to the Steamships Trading Co store caused much interest to those who’d worked with my husband during the school holidays, and knew his parents well. Mr Cassmob has many fond memories of Samarai: their house on the waterfront with the little crabs scurrying on the flats; the Catalinas taking off and landing; evenings at the Club. These two blogs provide stories about Samarai here and here.

Yam huts, Trobriand Islands, taken by Les Cass in the 1960s. © L Cass 1962.

Margaret Mead and Malinowski, both famous anthropologists, are known for their research in the Trobriand Islands. Less well known is that these islands are part of Milne Bay. As a young and fairly naïve woman I visited Losuia on a charter flight not long after I got to PNG. It was quite an introduction as the Trobriand Islanders are known for their minimal dress, explicit dancing, and amazing, and sometimes graphic, carvings.

These old photos were taken by my father-in-law in the early 1960s on the Trobriand Islands © L Cass 1962.

Selling carvings and artefacts on the Trobriand Islands © Les Cass 1964.

On another charter Losuia became our refuge. We’d visited Guasopa on the Woodlark Islands earlier that day, when I’d been in raptures to see surf and sand again, but on the return flight in the six seater, 4 passenger, aircraft the weather closed in.

Despite the fact that the area is generally flat as a tack, there was a minor sticking point: the 100 ft hill en route to the Trobs, which couldn’t be seen because of the cloud cover (these were the days of visual flying). Luckily the cloud lifted at the last minute and we landed with minimal fuel in the tank, so we had an enforced overnight stay at Losuia and were very grateful for it. We have always regarded that day as a lucky-flight day and I’ll bet the pilot did too! Papua New Guinea certainly made for interesting life experiences.

M is for MURPHYS CREEK (Queensland)

How on earth I omitted this initially I don’t know as it was on my writing list, probably talking too much about Mull and Milne Bay. Murphys Creek is a pivotal place on my family tree as this is the nearest village to where my Kunkel ancestors lived at the Fifteen Mile. It’s highly likely they also lived there during the construction of the railway line and I’ve wondered whether the newspaper quote which refers to them “even having their own pork butcher”, might relate to George Kunkel whose occupation that was.

After they’d returned to the area in 1874, and settled at the Fifteen Mile(see F is for..), George worked for the railway as a labourer to earn cash for the family’s support. Oral history suggests that his wife Mary also lived there “in a humpy” (a shack) where she looked after him during the week. Whether this is true or not I have no way of knowing. There was also a string of young children to care for back on the farm so perhaps this was after they’d grown up.

Murphys Creek is also where they worshipped at the little timber Catholic church, which they no doubt contributed to financially and possibly in labour. The Kunkel children would have attended the Murphys Creek school but unfortunately the admission records don’t survive back to that time. One of the Kunkel sons was also on the school board later on. In short, the Kunkel lives were woven into this community.

The newly restored gravestone for the Kunkel family in the Murphys Creek cemetery, Queensland. © P Cass 2012.

Murphys Creek is also where George and Mary Kunkel were buried, together with their son George Michael and daughter Mary Ellen, who had predeceased them. Their gravestone stands isolated at one side of the small cemetery and I suspect they are in the Catholic area. Over the recent decades their gravestone had taken on a nasty lean with the impact of drought and a few bits had snapped off.

In the terrible floods of January 2011 I feared it had been swept down-river to Moreton Bay, a small potential loss compared to what others suffered on that shocking day. Fortunately for our own family’s heritage this wasn’t so and our plans to restore their memorial took effect soon afterwards. We’d collected funds at our second reunion in 2007 to celebrate George and Mary’s 150th anniversary but these things take time. I visited recently and the newly-levelled and restored stone is standing proud with a bronze plaque which repeats the information carved into the stone but which is slowly deteriorating and far too expensive to restore.