Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge to honour my father: The Trains by Judith Wright

Geniaus has brought to my attention, the Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge initiated by Bill West. Bill has challenged genealogists world-wide to source a poem or music which is relevant to their family’s history as follows:

1. Find a poem by a local poet, famous or obscure, from the region one of your ancestors lived in. It can be about an historical event, a legend, a person, or even about some place (like a river)or a local animal. It can even be a poem you or one of your ancestors have written! Or if you prefer, post the lyrics of a song or a link to a video of someone performing the song.

2. Post the poem or song to your blog (remembering to cite the source where you found it.)

3. Tell us how the subject of the poem or song relates to your ancestor’s home or life.

My immediate thought was how much the song Danny Boy, my father’s favourite, bridged my Scottish and Irish ancestry. But I really wanted to find something more unusual so I turned to the bookshelves and my collection of high school poetry books. I found several that tempted me and related to various aspects of family history such as Old House or Bullocky by Judith Wright or The Teams by Henry Lawson (for my Gavin ancestor who drove bullock teams). Men in Green by David Campbell has meaning for me in relation to the history of war in Papua New Guinea, where I once lived, but was too recent.  I laughed out loud once more at On the Queensland Railway Lines evoking memories of my Melvin, McSherry and Kunkel families.

Negative number: 73715 State Library of Queensland, copyright expired. Trainee soldiers at Roma Street Station Brisbane waiting to embark on a train to Caloundra Camp during World War II 1940

But then I was stopped in my tracks by Judith Wright’s poem The Trains which relates to the railway bringing guns to northern Australia during the War in the Pacific. Throughout World War II, my father was a number-taker with Queensland Railways, a protected occupation as men with railway expertise were required on the home front to ensure the efficient movement of men, armoury and supplies. My father was one of the unsung, unacknowledged men who ensured this was achieved. He worked in the goods yard at Roma Street station nearly all his life and his war service became simply part of his duties. His day-to-day responsibilities were to ensure the goods wagons were loaded in the correct order in terms of offloading and delivery and to ensure the safe distribution of freight across the wagons. With heavy armament, guns and weaponry, the importance of this is evident. All this while working long hours in a goods yard with trains all around: highly dangerous day-to-day. He also told me a few years before he died that he had supervised Italian internees loading freight at one of Brisbane’s other shunting yards during the War: the Italians liked to take the early shift, work like navvies and get the job done before the heat of the day. The reference to orchards is also, for me, a nod to his German-born great-grandfather, George Kunkel with his fruit orchards at Murphys Creek.

This poem is for my father, to recognise the service to his country that he, and no doubt his colleagues, never received.

The Trains by Judith Wright (from my Year 11 poetry book The Poet’s World published by Heinemann, 1964)

Tunnelling through the night, the trains pass

in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder

shaking the orchards, waking

the young from a dream, scattering like glass

the old men’s sleep; laying

a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards.

The trains go north with guns.
Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet

hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave

recalls the forgotten tiger,

and leaps awake in its old panic riot;

and how shall mind be sober,

since blood’s red thread binds us fast in history?

Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,

Troubling the children’s sleep; laying

A reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.

Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,

and over the white acres of our orchards

hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry…

the trains go north with guns.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 3 Cars

 

Family outing at Kelvin Grove c1950

As hard as it is to believe these days, when (and where) I was growing up, very few people actually owned cars and those who did were generous with their availability. Dad’s family had owned a car for quite a while when he was young but I don’t know why they sold it. My own family didn’t own a car until I was 20 and throughout the years my father rode his old un-geared pushbike to work in rain, hail or shine. Our family excursions were either bike rides or bus or train trips around the area. Dad worked for the railway so our family holidays didn’t really require a car as we got an annual train pass. On a day-to-day basis, we got around on “shank’s pony” ie we walked and as we lived in a hilly part of Brisbane, that was very good exercise!

Me and the neighbour's car at Kelvin Grove

Throughout my childhood, my experience with cars was through two sets of neighbours. One family, across the road, got one I think when I was about 10 and they used to regularly drive their daughters and I to Girl Guides, tennis or the library. This is a picture of me standing in front of it…talk about “legs eleven” as in the Bingo call. I’m guessing this must have been about the time that they got the car though I don’t honestly know.

The neighbours down the back used to take us occasionally on longer drives in the countryside. We would have singalongs in the car as we went. One thing that always mystified me (and still does!) is something they’d say every time we crossed a railway line: “rip up the railway line & sack all the men!” Now, why, when they were all railway workers would they sing something like that –sarcasm or wishful thinking, a bit like “when I win the Lotto.” I don’t know why I never asked Dad but it has certainly stuck in my mind across the years.

When we’d go on Guide camps we’d travel in the tray back of a large truck with all the gear, tents etc and again have a sing-along. In retrospect it’s astonishing to think we were allowed to travel like that but I suppose there were a lot fewer cars on the roads.

Our first car, Goroka, PNG -typical car-sales strategy!

We got our own first car after we’d been married a year. It was a little Datsun 1200 station wagon which enabled us to take day-trips in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea –not that there were many roads. On one drive up to Daulo Pass we encountered a group of warriors with spears and arrows off for a payback encounter (ie fight with another clan over some real or perceived injury). You might imagine we did not look right or left as we drove past, but were very delighted and relieved when they jogged past us chanting and didn’t look at us!