Brisbane Botanic Gardens Zoo – any memories?

Last week on my rambles through blog-land I read a “new” blog: Adventure before Dementia (a very catchy title for those of a certain age).  One of the posts was about a walk through the Brisbane Botanical Gardens in the City and along the river: a part of Brisbane affected by the January floods.

For some reason this post brought to mind an early childhood memory of seeing monkeys and birds in cages in these Gardens. I assume my mother, and possibly grandmother or great aunt, went for an outing to see the animals. This memory in turn set me to googling to find a timeline for the zoo. The Picture Queensland site says that the zoo was open for the first half of the twentieth century and closed in 1952. Their ancient Galapagos Island tortoise went to Australia Zoo and only died in 2006, aged >170 years (Thanks for picking up my mistake with this, John -I obviously misread the story). This timeline for the zoo’s closure didn’t gel with me, despite the authority of the site, as I’d have only been weeks old when it closed (well yes, that is a fib, LOL).

So back to my good friend Trove and Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper. On 8 October 1953 the paper reported discussions within the Brisbane City Council and one alderman urged that the animals and birds be moved from the Botanic Gardens to a zoo site as soon as possible. It seems incontrovertible that the animals were still being kept in the Gardens at that time (the Gardens were licenced as an authorised zoo[i]). Another article on 9 October did a vox pop and found that the zoo was a “big city lack” and “Brisbane has only those animals down in the Gardens”. And so it seems that the “zoo” and the animals were still in the Gardens at least a year later than the official record suggests.  A copyrighted Brisbane City Council image on Picture Australia dates from 1958 and shows the cages.

I wonder if any other readers can remember the monkeys and birds in cages in the Gardens? I’d certainly be interested to hear their recollections.

Do readers have special memories of these Gardens? Our own family’s is taking our youngest daughter there to her first Christmas Carols when she was a few weeks old – the guns and fireworks to the 1812 overture frightened her no end.


[i] The Courier-Mail 22 July 1949, page 3.

Trawling Trove – Peter McSherry –house sale and property auction

I guess there are not many Australian family historians who haven’t discovered the joys of Trove, which get better with each expansion of the program (currently at 5 million pages!).

Even so I was ecstatic at what I discovered through Trove yesterday. My McSherry families were historically concentrated in Queensland especially Townsville and Rockhampton so the online availability of the Townsville Daily Bulletin and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin has been great for my research (microfilms not available here). I’ve picked up a whole range of snippets about my family, of which more in another post later.

The auction notice for Peter McSherry's estate in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin 10 February 1951 page 9.

Trawling through Trove yesterday I picked up an advertisement in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin which was probably better than finding my great-grandfather’s will. There in an auction notice was a full description of his home and belongings….a bit like hanging your world out for inspection by others. His daughter, Mary Ellen Quinn, was obviously executor of her father’s estate and she had put everything up for auction. Without having yet sighted the will it seems evident that Peter McSherry had left the property to his wife for her use until her death (1950) and then to be sold and the income to be shared between their nine surviving children.

What the advertisement tells me is that they had a good quality home in a traditional Queensland vernacular style made of timber, highset and with verandahs on three sides, battens around the base of the house and a dedicated space downstairs for a laundry. What was a bit unusual was the scale of the house as with four bedrooms this made it above average, especially as they only moved into it with their adult children in their later years. Not surprisingly it was stated to be very close to the railway workshops and railway station in Rockhampton. Ironically it’s only now occurred to me that we went so close to their old property on the Sunlander train heading north several times. Dad would jump off at Rockhampton station just before the train stopped (another railwayman!) and cross the road to buy the world’s best fish and chips. Whether my mother knew where her grandparents had lived I don’t know –I don’t believe she ever mentioned it and she had only very rarely seen her grandparents as they lived in different places.

Peter McSherry had joined Queensland Rail immediately on his arrival from Gorey, Wexford, Ireland with his wife (Mary nee Callaghan) and two small children, one of them my grandfather, James. Peter had probably worked for the railway in Ireland as his father also did. Over the years the family moved around Queensland from Longreach to Townsville, Hughenden and Rockhampton. He worked with the railway for nearly 60 years, right up to the absolute maximum age limit before retiring. (His son James similarly worked until old age). By the end of his career Peter was a Chief Inspector of Railways being responsible for the upkeep and general maintenance of a particular area of the railway lines.

Railways run in the blood lines of many Australians and Queenslanders, perhaps in particular because of the extensiveness of the lines, and the correlation of railway construction with the commencement of the colony of Queensland. My generation is the first of five generations (on both sides of my family) in which no family member works in the railway, though other branches of the family have done so into the fifth generation.

But all this is a diversion. As well as a full description of the house in this advertisement, an earlier one had detailed the property’s allotment number as re-subdivision 2, subdivisions 1 to 3, allotment 5, section 77, City of Rockhampton. Plainly this will need further investigation when next I visit Queensland. However I do know it was on the corner of Alma and South Streets with an address of 32 South Street. Thanks to a Google Earth search and street view, I now know that the house was obviously demolished at some stage and is now occupied by a battery business.  The location is in close proximity to the heritage Railway Roundhouse with its distinctive shape as seen on Google Earth.

Location of the McSherry family home on Google Earth.

In the mostly Queensland wills I’ve found, I’ve very rarely located a very detailed inventory of belongings, though even the “overview” inventory can still be helpful. However where detailed inventories exist they provide such a great insight into the style and standard of living. I have not yet found Peter McSherry’s will –another on my “to do” research list for Queensland visits – but this advertisement is likely to exceed what I’ll find in the will packet, if available.

The comprehensive list of furniture and household belongings being auctioned tells of a solid, working class living standard probably above that of the average worker. The house was kitted out with silky oak furniture, very typical of the times. Although not luxurious the extent of the furnishings tell their own story of a family who had done reasonably well since they’d arrived in Australia 65 years earlier. The items range from the comfortable to the mundane: Bookcase, squatters’ chair, seagrass tables and lounges, ice chest, copper boiler, commode and garden tools. The item on the list which saddened me was the sewing machine because it was regarded as a way of earning an income and therefore generally reserved from being recovered in cases of bankruptcy yet here it was being sold after the death of its owner, Mary McSherry nee Callaghan, about a year after her husband’s death. And what of the zinc lined piano case –had there once been a piano as well?

So this Trove discovery has opened up new research paths and provided me with insights into the family’s living standards. All very exciting!

UPDATE: At a recent (June 2011) visit to the Queensland State Archives, I found his name does not appear in the indices of wills or intestacies for the relevant period. So this Trove find really was a treasure.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 20: Fame

The topic for Week 20 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Fame”: Tell us about any local brushes with fame. Were you ever in the newspaper? Why? You may also describe any press mentions of your family members.

Fame is a fickle food – Upon a shifting plate:  Emily Dickinson.

This topic gave me pause when I first read it –I’ve already posted about my solitary excursion onto the front page of the paper, under the 52 weeks topic of “Disasters”, so that topic was used up. My daughter, who used to be a TV journalist, used to say something to the effect of “if something’s going to happen to you, you may as well wind up on the front page” but overall that’s something I can happily avoid given how often bad news is what makes the front page.

While not quite front page news, a number of my ancestors’ exploits have wound up in the newspapers, especially in the early days of Queensland, so Trove has been absolutely wonderful in fleshing out the personal elements of their history in a way which would have been virtually impossible, or only serendipitous, by the old microfilm-turning method.

But from a personal perspective …what to say on the topic of Fame in Week 20?

Some months ago I posted about missing images from the Australian Women’s Weekly digitised on Trove (Australia’s online newspaper digitisation program).

This brought to mind the “fame” that surrounded our wedding photo in the pages of the (Brisbane edition) of the Australian Women’s Weekly. To this day we have no idea how it came to pass that our photo wound up on the social pages, hardly being social butterflies, though we suspect Mr Cassmob’s maternal grandmother had written in and his vaguely exotic background gave us enough journalistic interest to make the cut.

The missing wedding photo from the Australian Women's Weekly, Brisbane edition.

Not only were we surprised by our feature, but it caused something of a minor sensation in the tiny town of Alotau in Milne Bay where he and his parents lived in Papua New Guinea. Being in the Education Department this in turn generated great gossip among the school children in the local primary and secondary schools, with some having the picture cut out on their lockers…go figure.

Mr Cassmob had been away at university, and his parents not being great chatterboxes, had told the town gossip of our upcoming wedding, and expected the usual flurry of the bush telegraph to kick in (you’d usually know whose car had been parked outside someone else’s house overnight before they had time to breakfast). For some strange reason the gossip circuit dropped out (a lot like the radio telephones we had to use) so our marriage was something of a surprise to many people, as was my arrival in town.

Back in those days an unknown, unexpected wedding meant that people assumed it was a shotgun wedding so my waistline was carefully monitored for some months, tempting me to blow my tummy out or suck it in, just to tangle with their minds. How times change! By the time our first child arrived >12 months later they’d become resoundingly bored by it all.

Hardly great excitement in terms of fame, but amusing enough as a family anecdote.

Chilling out in Darwin

This pink frangipani is growing in my courtyard garden. Beautiful against the blue morning sky.

For those who think it never gets chilly in Darwin, this morning was a breezy 16C. Yes I can hear all you non-tropical people laughing like mad but when the normal range is 25 to 32 daily you get a bit spoiled. So when it drops to temps in the teens everyone is in shock, even those of us who love it…count me in the latter group. Out

Desert rose in my garden...currently flowering hot pink.

on the acreage blocks about 25kms south of Darwin it even drops <10 sometimes.

You can be confident that there will be any number of people out and about in Darwin wearing jumpers/cardigans and boots or even Ugg boots, and my grandson will have his jeans on. Serious business!

This morning the Navy patrol boats were out on the water. It’s all “go” for Defence in Darwin as we regularly have international manoeuvres here during the Dry and the Fly Boys are up having fun in their fighter jets. Darwin is after all on Australia’s northern boundary and a front-line defence position so it’s not unknown to encounter an Army APC (aka tank) driving down the road with everyone on their gun positions. A bit freaky the first time you encounter it I must say. (Friday update -the RAAF jet-jockeys were up in their FA-18s this afternoon, doing U’ies over our roof so we got the sonic boom as they took off on the next leg of their circuits….shades of Top Gun without Tom Cruise).

Meanwhile it’s been a lovely clear blue sky kind of day and the tropical flowers are gorgeous. The burn-off has started and the smell of smoke from the fires is in the air daily. Up by the waterfront the exquisite crimson finches were dashing and “peeping” everywhere….their call is a distinctive “peep, peep”. Unfortunately they’re much too fast and flighty for me to capture on camera.

Here are some photos I took today of our beautiful tropical flowers.

I think this is my favourite frangipani but not in my garden, sadly.

A recent acquisition - not sure if I'll be successful with it.

This vivid orange Ritzi hibiscus didn't go with my garden's colour scheme but I had to have it anyway, and it does look gorgeously sunny and sparks up the garden.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: week 19: Bedroom

The topic for Week 19 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Bedroom: Describe your childhood bedroom. What furniture did it contain? Were there curtains, wallpaper or paint? Was it messy or clean? Did you share a room with your siblings?

I realise sometimes how much I took my life for granted as a child and didn’t preserve the common-place in my memory. My bedroom was largely my own domain though my mother also kept her sewing patterns and fabrics in there. I only had to share once, for about a year, when a “cousin” came to stay with us while getting medical treatment. It had a single bed and in winter it had heavy woollen blankets rather than modern-day doonas/duvets/eiderdowns. Of course sheets in those days were always white, to be washed, “blued”, and hung in the sun to stay sparkling clean and whiter than white.

A kookaburra on my bedroom window sill.

Purple was always my decorating colour of choice so when I got a new wardrobe, which took up one wall, it was painted a shade of pale lilac and I had a lilac vanity (brush) set and floral lilac and lemon curtains though my jewellery box was pink. Doilies were big in those days and I had those on my lemon-laminex dressing table. Beside my bed was a bedside cupboard with my books (not a lot) and some prayerbooks and religious pictures and statues. My desk had a matching, yellow with sparkles, laminex top. The walls were painted not wall-papered though my mother did wall-paper them after I left home. The floors were polished timber and I had a mat beside my bed. I suppose the room was quite light and airy with two windows, one which faced next door but towards the creek and the bush, and the other which overlooked the back yard.

When I was young there were no fly screens so we had mosquito nets over the beds. While they are now seen to be somewhat “romantic” they could be a real pain when you had to get out of bed during the night and then ensure you were mosquito-proofed when you returned. When I was maybe 10 or a bit younger we got flyscreens and I wasn’t sad to see the end of the mossie nets. The downside is that the kookaburras could no longer fly onto my bedroom window sill (if I could only find the photo I’d post it here).

My cat was my constant companion as a child, including sleeping with me at night. It didn’t matter to me at all that the consequence was sometimes that I’d sneeze for hours when I woke up. Cat cuddles are much more important than sneezes!

When I was in my early teens my cousin left a full leather-bound collection of Charles Dickens’ books in my bedroom so that summer I made it my mission to read every single one. I think my objective was far more about completion than remembering or absorbing the content, but it did take care of six weeks holiday 🙂 Almost by definition there really were never enough books in my life – now there are never enough bookcases…..

My room was pretty much always tidy and methodical (hmm, would my mother have agreed?!). One amusing event occurred: I had found a “thing” in the bush with no idea really of what is was. It became quite clear one morning though when my bedroom was suddenly alive with baby praying mantises….it had been an egg case and was now hatching. Have a look at this Youtube video and you’ll get the drift….it was all a bit lively in the bedroom for a bit until we got it sorted.

All in all my childhood bedroom as it was then really hasn’t left vivid memories in my mind.

Honouring female McCorkindale and Sim ancestors

This photograph includes two of my direct female ancestors: Catherine (Kit) McCorkindale is the young girl on the left and her mother is Annie Sim McCorkindale. The photo will have been taken in Glasgow circa 1895. Annie Sim came from the parish of Bothkennar in Stirlingshire where her family had lived for centuries. She died in Brisbane, Australia.

Annie Sim McCorkindale and daughters

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 18 Weather

The topic for Week 18 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is”Weather”: Do you have any memorable weather memories from your childhood? How did your family cope and pass the time with adverse weather? When faced with bad weather in the present day, what do you do when you’re stuck at home?

For me this topic overlapped with those on seasons and also disasters, so I had to think about short term weather patterns.

When I think of bad weather I tend to think of being caught in tents while camping and having to re-peg the tent as the wind howled around. As a family we would then either read or play board games until the weather returned to normal.

If there was bad weather (usually heavy rain) when we were at home my mother would often bake cakes or sew and Dad and I would read. Sometimes as an adult I’d do some sewing on those wet and dreary days. But overall, bad weather = good reading times. For the kids it would be about board games or reading.

Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park thunders in a big Wet Season but can only be seen from the air.

Heavy rain in Darwin is the norm for about four months of the year, plus a few more months on occasions. It is often accompanied by tremendous thunder and lightning, making it difficult to hear yourself think. On the flip side we have months when we can pretty well guarantee no rain and clear blue skies accompanied by breezes. Delightful!

Brisbane is also rather prone to hail storms, something mercifully missing in Darwin. When the sky turned green it was common for people to dash to their cars and get them under cover, or “run” for home if it was near the end of the working day. Some hail would be the size of golf balls making a severe dent in your car’s paint work. We had some spectacular hailstorms and this picture shows a house in our suburb with a snow-like layer of hail on the ground.

Hail storm in Brisbane

As a child I was staying with my parents in a very basic holiday accommodation on Magnetic Island off Townsville  when a cyclone passed over. It was a biggish one and did some damage so the island was isolated without groceries for a few days as the seas ran high. Ultimately we were all evacuated by the Army on amphibious “ducks”. An adventure but I’ve no recollection of what we did while we waited for the “cavalry”. My mother has not-so-fond memories of the subsequent trip to another island some days later  when the sea was so rough and  the boat pitched from side to side so much that virtually everyone on board was sick, including the captain.

When I was a child, if it was hot I would make a tent under the steps and “chill out” there. It was also common to put a sprinkler on a hose and splash through that to cool down. No backyard swimming pools then. Of course, the many years of water restrictions in Brisbane have curtailed both pools and sprinklers including times for watering plants. Typical of Australia, and rather ironically, these years of drought and fears for diminishing water reserves,  have been closely followed by floods and full dams. Darwin on the other hand has been largely immune from these concerns, partly because of its Wet Season rainfall and partly because of its smaller population.

Another random “weather” memory or two: when we lived in Alotau we had my first earthquake (guria). I had no idea what had happened at first and thought a truck had run into the house so I rushed to get my infant daughter and the kittens and cat. When we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands District I became more accustomed to earthquakes and we have amusing memories of our friends in relation to them: he would rush to save his precious stereo and his wife would save the baby!

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.


[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.