52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 28: Summer Down Under

The topic for Week 28 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Summer. What was summer like where and when you grew up? Describe not only the climate, but how the season influenced your activities, food choices, etc.

Heading for New Zealand again? Boogie boarding in summer.

How ironic that this blog topic arrived just as we left Charleville in western Queensland on a bitterly cold morning, but then that’s the hazards of living in the Land Down Under.

I suspect somehow that summer has quite different connotations for Australians than for those overseas. I remember reading a column, years ago, by former Brisbane mayor, Sallyanne Atkinson, then a journalist for The Courier Mail. She was bemoaning the multiple responsibilities and deadlines at the end of the year, especially for the mothers in a household. Not for us two separate event schedules: summer holidays in August with leisurely times and sunshine, after completing the school year; then Christmas arriving in the cool/cold weather
and an event entirely on its own (except perhaps for Thanksgiving).

You see summer in Australia runs from December to March and so coincides with the end of the school year, school graduations and concerts, Christmas shopping in the hottest time of the year and then the long (six weeks) school holidays, New Year, Australia Day, the commencement of the next school year….all in a period of about eight weeks! Great for kids, less great for parents, making a family holiday at the beach a well-earned rest.

Christmas Holiday camping at Hastings Point in northern NSW

Of course lots of people went camping at the beach in summer but our family didn’t go away at this time of the year, and preferred off-season holidays, a habit we follow even today. Nevertheless the iconic photo image of an Aussie summer is kids at the beach in their swimsuits (aka togs, swimmers, bathers, cozzies) hopefully with zinc cream on the noses. Unfortunately many of us of a certain age, also spent too much of our time at the beach lathered with coconut oil, slow roasting our skin with resultant skin cancers as adults. I remember as a teenager getting my first bikini and going to the beach with a friend blessed with non-Celtic skin. She got a lovely tan but I ended up with major sunburn which needed treating with a mix of metho and Friar’s Balsam dabbed all over the burnt area, lots of water to drink, and a good rest…. a lesson well learned!

So did summer affect what we ate? Well not at Christmas certainly, as we dutifully followed northern hemisphere traditions of roast chicken/turkey/pork and roast vegetables in the midday heat, followed by a traditional Christmas pudding….delicious, but hardly consistent with the weather. These days many people have adapted their Christmas celebrations to
take into account the 30C+ temperatures, and more often involve seafood and salads.

At home during summer I would retreat to a cool spot under the house and eat mashed-up homemade coconut milk ice blocks from a glass. Yummy! While the traditional Queensland architecture was meant to be ideal for the hot sub-tropical summers with wide verandahs and lattice, and squatters chairs for relaxing in with a cold drink, people seemed to be too busy with chores to be just chilling out and doing nothing much. As kids in those pre-swimming-pool days we’d turn the sprinkler on in the backyard and run shrieking and squealing through its cooling jets!

A rather more tranquil Hastings Point and creek, off season

On a grander scale, summer is also cricket season with the Boxing Day test match being a “must watch” event as is the Sydney to Hobart yacht race through the treacherous waters of Bass Strait. Hence another iconic image of an Aussie summer: people glued to the TV enjoying these events.

PS Images scanned with my new Flip Pal –couldn’t be simpler!

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 27: Vacations on Maggie

The topic for Week 27 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Vacations. Where did your family go on vacation? Did you have a favorite place? Is it still there? If not, how has the area changed?

Beautiful Arthur Bay on Magnetic Island, not Rocky Bay as I mistakenly thought.

My family’s favourite place for holidays was Magnetic Island off Townsville in North Queensland. Magnetic Island, or Maggie as it’s known to its fans, was named and “discovered” by Captain Cook when his compass headings were apparently distorted by the island’s geology.

My father got a railway pass annually due to his railway employment so we would travel by train to Townsville on the Sunlander, though it would always be an off-season holiday. Ironically I’ve just read that “the Sunlander was introduced with great fanfare in June 1953….built by Commonwealth-Engineering (Com-eng)”[i]. After my grandfather retired as a carpenter-foreman from building carriages for Queensland Government Railways (QGR) he went on to work for Com-Eng. I wonder if he supervised the building of any of the Sunlanders we travelled on?

It seems unlikely now, yet I still feel sure that the first time when we went up there, it was on a steam train as I recall the grit, open windows, etc…more research required on that. Perhaps we travelled on the Sunlander’s precursor, the Sunshine Express, but I don’t think my early memories are that good. I guess the distance from Brisbane to Townsville to be about 1000kms (actually over 1300kms) but it took nearly two days to get there. We left from Roma Street Station in the early evening of one day, arrived at Bundaberg for breakfast the next morning. We would pull into Rockhampton for lunch on that day and Dad would dash over the road to a superb fish and chip place –one of those childhood memories where nothing else ever seems as good, especially those potato scallops! I talked briefly about this on another post.

Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island with Townsville in the distance in 2008.

The afternoon train trip would be boring in the extreme as we travelled through the St Lawrence area and what I would call open scrub with nothing to alleviate the tedium. Sometimes along the way we’d see the railway workers’ tents where they were working on the line and it was a ritual to throw out the most recent paper so they’d have something to keep them going. With a family full of railway workers this was an important contribution to ensuring these isolated workers were kept in touch with what was happening in the world.
Then towards the end of the day we would pass through the cane fields at Sarina, near Mackay, and depending on the season would see the cane fields being burnt off with the red glow in the sky and the distinctive, not very pleasant smell of molasses and sugar cane by-products.[ii] At the time I had no idea that there was one branch of the Kunkel family living
in the area and closely involved with the sugar industry. I’m not sure my father knew either.

Our train compartment was neat and compact with a basin and three bunk beds: during the day the bottom two would be converted into a regular train seat but in the evening the guard (?) would come and set the room up. The toilet was at the end of the carriage and I was quickly taught the protocol that one must never, ever, use the toilet while in a station no matter
how desperate the situation! I remember too being aware that Dad was among colleagues while on the train. While we usually took some food with us, each train stop brought people flooding into the railway refreshment rooms on the station – another family link as my mother’s family had been involved in this business in the late 19th century.

A nice overview image of Picnic Bay with the new jetty, the old enclosure and with the wreck in Cockle Bay visible. Image 0009650 from Townsviille City Libraries.

On the second morning we’d pull into Townsville station with that typical motion sickness, body-continuing-to-move experience typical of long distance travel. Almost always there’d be friends there to meet us and they would take us to the Hayles ferry terminal where we’d catch the ferry to Picnic Bay, which is where we always stayed. Life was simple then and the
holiday accommodation was basic and usually built of fibro. My mother’s first objective was to ensure everything was pristine and clean and then we’d settle in for a relaxing holiday. There were no theme parks, rides etc etc to be had, just lots of fun in the sun.

My parents climbing up from Rocky Bay

Dad and I would often go fishing either off the ferry jetty or row out in a dinghy where we’d catch magnificent reef fish even though we weren’t that far out. We’d all go for long bush walks to different isolated bays which were inaccessible by road: Geoffrey Bay, Radical Bay and our favourite, nearby Rocky Bay. We’d sing bush songs as we went along and quite
regularly encountered a snake or two along the track. Magnetic Island is renowned for its koala population even today and it was common to see them up in the gum trees along the tracks –though they weren’t all that easy to spot. Other times we’d go on the bus to Horseshoe Bay and collect cowrie and olive shells (makes me cringe to think now, from an ecological point of view). You also had to be very careful of stonefish and cone shells both of which could be very deadly so I learned to keep my eyes peeled and watch where I put my feet. This became the basis of my teenage fascination with shells.

The swimming enclosure at Picnic Bay with the Hayles ferry arriving at the jetty. Image 0009635 from Townsville City Libraries available for public coping.

The most popular bays for accommodation had swimming areas with shark proof enclosures and now stinger-proof nets), though I don’t recall  hat as an issue when I was a child. These enclosures were quite large, and so were like a very large swimming pool. As I got older and could swim better I could swim out to the timber enclosure and walk along the perimeter before jumping back in and swimming back to the beach. One of the nice things about Magnetic Island is that it has casuarina trees and other shade (including an ancient fig tree) along the beach front so that you could sit in the shade without getting burnt, rather helpful with my Celtic colouring.  Sometimes we walked over to one of the bays where Mum’s relations, the Melvins were said to have had a guest house. Mum had also holidayed at Magnetic Island as a child so it was a family tradition really. Friends would come over to the island for a couple of days and visit and we kids would all build sand castles etc…simple pleasures.

The Barron Falls in 2008 but as I remember them as a child.

Life wasn’t always an idyllic escape on the island. On one trip when I was still quite young there was a reasonably severe cyclone (I’m pretty sure it was Cyclone Agnes, a category 3) and we had to stay in our accommodation while it blew over. I remember being very scared and seeing the palm trees “touching their toes”, bending over and dancing in the wind. We were cut off for a few days after that but eventually they sent in Army amphibious ducks to take people off the island because the ferries couldn’t get across. On that particular trip the north had masses of rain and I remember the Barron Falls in full flood when we visited my aunt in Cairns just after the cyclone. Then on the train home, with the Burdekin River also in flood, I have a distinct memory of the river lapping at the railway sleepers while the Sunlander crept its way across…some years ago I came across a photo of this crossing: the driver must
have had nerves of steel.

Maggie is still there of course and while parts of it seem lost in time, other parts have become very glossy and upmarket. Nelly Bay which in the earlier 20th century was a resort area, then in my time a rather unimpressive mangrove-y bay, is now the ferry catamaran terminal with high-class resort apartments right on the water overlooking the terminal. A sad reminder of the hazards of early Queensland immigration, the gravestone of little James Dryden on Magnetic Island.The open-air bathroom design means you need to make sure that you time your shower when the ferry’s not due or you’ll frighten the tourists! Some of the formerly deserted and isolated bays have been opened up, not really a good thing as the construction work has savaged the landscape. However the island is heavily treed and there are still many koalas and birds. Picnic Bay, once a hub of activity for the island, has become a sleepy backwater since it lost the ferry.

The island remains incredibly popular with Townsville people for weekends and holidays and is even within commuting distance. It also has an active backpacker presence. Are the changes for the best? I don’t really know, but those childhood memories are precious reminders of how things were once upon a simpler time.

This gravestone reminds us though, that times were not simple in the early days of Queensland’s immigration. James was the son of Andrew Dryden and Elizabeth Lilico. They had another seven children born in Queensland (Brisbane and country) including another child called James McVane Dryden who was born in 1890. Jim Fleming has published his great-great grandfather’s diary from this voyage – it certainly seems to have been an exceptional and dramatic journey, including a reference to little James’s death and tales of near-mutiny and quarantine. One’s heart goes out to these poor immigrants on such an horrendous start to their new life in Australia.


[ii] Graeme Connors has a great song, Let the Canefields Burn, on the difficult life on the cane fields relevant to family history as well. This YouTube video has images of the burn-off.

On the road again: Territory colours

This week we were driving the nearly 4000kms to get back to Darwin from Canberra. Yesterday as we drove through 1000kms of Territory bush I was moved by the many colours and images. I’m no poet but here are my thoughts in vaguely poetry form rather than prose.

Territory Colours

Dawn breaks deep red against the lightening sky

The horizon so vast in an encompassing ocean of green

White-trunked gums with leaves of lime

In a sea of shrubs fringed with red grevillea

And trimmed with a bright blue sky

Buttes of ochre-red dot-painted with grey-green spinifex

A parade of turkey bush fresh-flowered in purple

Laced with yellow from grevillea, kapok and wattle

Cycads waving their new-grown umbrellas and

New grass tufts vivid-green against the fire-burnt ground

Contrast the shimmering purple seed heads of older grass

Lime, shamrock, white, purple, blue, red, green and yellow

Home again to the colours of the Territory bush.

Shamrock in the Bush 2011: a grand event to be sure!

 

Arriving at St Clements for Shamrock in the Bush 2009

Shamrock in the Bush 2011 has once again come and gone. This was the 19th Shamrock but while I have only been to three, the entire weekend has been as exciting and stimulating as in other years.

One of the things I like most about Shamrock is the atmosphere of collegiality among all the participants and speakers. As a residential weekend we spend so much time together and learn about each other’s interests and very quickly strangers become friends.

The other highlight of the weekend is always the diversity of the topics. I’ve learned that even when the topic doesn’t have any direct relevance or interest to you, the enthusiasm and knowledge of the speakers quickly engages you and stimulates your interest.

I think this year’s Keynote Speaker, Claire Dunne, would almost certainly be on everyone’s list of favourite presentations. For about an hour she held the whole room in thrall, fully engaged with her story. And what a story it was! She has led an amazing life which is only superficially covered in a recitation of her curriculum vitae. Every listener will have taken away their own special points from it with perhaps the sheer emotion of the emigrant’s sense of loss of home and place being perhaps the common point we’d all list. Claire’s emotive and emotional telling of her return to Ireland and engagement with the land had a very indigenous overtone which was incredibly powerful. Not surprising then, that she had experienced such identification with Australia’s own Indigenous people. Coming from the Northern Territory I found that aspect of her talk very fascinating.

Ned Ryan's slice of Tipperary in Australia: Galong, NSW

Her own unplanned, evolutionary path through life, shows the power of the mysterious and requires responding to spirit…as well as a surfeit of courage. She talked of the need for spiritual sustenance for her life which she found in her return visits to Ireland where she drew from engagement with the land. These periods represented to me a form of spiritual “retreat” though she nevertheless connected with many people during these times. What they did was feed her spirit and give her strength. Without them she said she would be like a tree whose leaves and branches look in fine condition but whose roots are slowly dying. Very powerful stuff!

Her path was also sometimes revolutionary, as with establishing ethnic radio broadcasting. She told the emotional story of a Turkish man driving down Parramatta Road in Sydney in 1965 who suddenly stopped in the middle of the traffic, got out and started to dance. ‘That’s my language, that’s my music,’ he shouted.

The overall theme of the conference presentations linked to the Not Just Ned exhibition and provided a background depth to the objects and images on display. The skill and commitment shown by the conservators who worked behind the scenes to present the objects in optimal condition became very clear from the talk given by David Hallam who focused on the story behind getting the anchor from the Nashwauk, shipwrecked with Irish female immigrants on board, and the Kelly armour exhibition-ready. David’s talk was absolutely riveting including the complex science involved in confirming the armour was consistent with being made from plough-shares, and rough-made over a bush fire and not prepared by an expert blacksmith over a forge. The bullet mark in the centre of one of the suits was not, as might be thought, from the siege at Glenrowan but a 20th century addition! The restoration of the Nashwauk’s anchor after 160 years of depredation by salt water and salt air was equally impressive.

Bridget Kilfoyle's gravestone in the Galong cemetery. This Clare emigrant's husband was related closely to the Duracks.

Perry McIntyre’s talk on the early male students at St John’s College, University of Sydney left me brainstorming potential research strategies. Perry’s book  Free Passage: The Reunion of Irish Convicts and Their Families in Australia, 1788-1852 was also available for sale & I’m looking forward to an in-depth reading of it.

Dr Richard Reid’s book Farewell my Children: Irish Assisted Emigration to Australia 1848-1870 was also available. This book is heavily based on Richard’s thesis and will provide wonderful background for anyone with Irish ancestors. I have a particular interest in it because of my research with East Clare immigrants/emigrants but there’s also a wonderful chapter on the Donegal Relief Fund and those immigrants. If buying a copy for your personal library is not possible, then you can always request it on inter-library loan from the (NLA) National Library of Australia (assuming you’re in Oz).

Two other talks I especially enjoyed were those by the National Library’s Oral History staff. Rob Willis spoke about childhood taunts of Catholic vs Protestant pre-1970 which brought back a number of personal memories. The Unit’s Curator, Kevin Bradley, highlighted the value of the NLA’s oral history collection with a sample of Irish music recordings as well as interviews with a range of Irish Australians. Some of their collection is online now so it’s well worth a look. A few years ago I found bush poetry, bush ballads and political satire by Tom and Michael Widdup, descendants of my great- great-grandmother’s sister. The highlight of Kevin’s talk was listening to Mary Durack talking of her father’s emotional reaction to seeing emigrants leaving from Sligo and farewelled by family and friends. It was clear to Mary Durack that her father’s reaction came from the brief time-distance of 46 years which separated the Durack family’s departure from Ireland and these strangers’ emigration from Sligo. The Duracks came from the far north-east of Clare they are part of my East Clare database and of particular interest to me for this reason.

This view of St Clements shows a little of Ned Ryan's turreted castle.

A feature I particularly enjoy about Shamrock is that each talk is introduced by a poem, reading or song, often by Shamrock minstrel John Dengate. It adds a richness to this event that’s just not found with other conferences.  On top of the talks we also had a trip to Canberra to visit the Not Just Ned exhibition and the Irish Embassy….how much fun was all that!

Combine all this with a wonderful Shamrock Christmas-in-July dinner in Ned Ryan’s little slice of Tipperary (Galong House), throw in great camaraderie and enthusiastic conference attendees and it was a recipe for another superb weekend. Thanks to the organisers, speakers, and the volunteers who provide us all with such a great time.

But don’t let these sunny photos from an earlier Shamrock fool you….Sunday at Galong this year was FREEZING especially for a Top Ender.

A true story of the Irish in Australia aka Not Just Ned

The foyer of The National Museum of Australia.

This week I have been lucky enough to have two visits to the Not Just Ned exhibition in the National Museum of Australia, one on my own and one with Shamrock in the Bush.

The supplementary title of the exhibition is A true story of the Irish in Australia and it is a reasonable claim: a wide diversity of objects and images are included which represent much about Irish life and culture in Australia as well as the influence of the Irish on Australia’s development and culture across all the states and territories.

While each of us will have our own favourites, the items which form my Top 10 (no, my Top 11) were varied:

  1. The sea chest belonging to orphan girl Mary Hurley who arrived on the Thomas Arbuthnot from Gort Workhouse in Galway in 1849.
  2. The chest plate given to the Yandruwandha people “for the humanity shown to the explorers Burke, Wills and King in 1861”. Lost in the desert (rather like the explorers), this wonderful cross-cultural item was only found by chance as recently as 2001. Quite an amazing story!
  3. The St Vincent de Paul Poor Registers for St Patrick’s parish in The Rocks with its sad reference that owing to her destitute circumstances “3/- (was) to go Mrs Whalan so she could go to the Newington Asylum”. Or that the members could not (would not?) visit Mrs Little at 95 Gloucester St “as it (the street or area?) appears to be of bad repute”.
  4. The tragedy of Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross winner, Martin O’Meara, who was awarded the medal for his valour in the battle of Mouquet Farm, only to return to Australia in 1918 and spend the rest of his life in a mental asylum.
  5. Listening to extracts of letters read from the wonderful book Oceans of Consolation in the sound chairs on iPads in the story circle. This is one of my favourite books so I thought this was wonderful: technology combined with research literature to bring the immigrants’ experience to life.
  6. The amazing depth of knowledge, skill and commitment shown by the different orders of nuns who contributed to the education, health and welfare of many Australians, not only those of Irish descent or those of the Catholic faith.
  7. The South Australian “equal voting rights” petition with 11,600 signatures instituted by Mary Lee from County Monaghan.
  8. The beautiful “Currachs” art work by Kiera O’Toole.
  9. The astonishing survival of the jaunting car which escaped the Victorian bushfires.
  10. The laundry table found on Murndal station: a mundane household object but on closer inspection the underside of the boards retained the address for Pratt Winter, care of Portland Bay. It had been made from his shipping containers/packing boxes.
  11. How, oh how, did I forget the wonderful Rajah quilt done by the women on the voyage to Australia in 1841…so much more interesting and inspiring than those annoying Kellys!

An example of an Hibernian sash.

At a personal level there were a number of items with direct relevance to my own life experience and personal history:

  1. The mannequin with the Children of Mary cloak and veil reminded me of my teenage years when I was a member of this society and would go up to the church in full regalia. What the non-Catholics in the neighbourhood thought of our strange customs remains a mystery. It also brought back memories of Corpus Christi processions at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds when the Catholics of Brisbane would fill the oval in an overt and semi-defiant declaration of their faith.
  2. At the Corpus Christi processions there were also large contingents of men from the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (HACBS) wearing their sashes. My grandfather was always among them, as he had held many positions within the North Qld regional executive. A similar sash, for the society’s National President, is presented in the exhibition alongside the leadlight doors from the Queensland Irish Association.
  3. In the same area of the exhibition is a display on Archbishop Duhig with a focus on the proposed Holy Name Cathedral in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane, an ultimately doomed plan with the site now taken over by inner city apartments. Duhig’s centenary ring is on display and my husband and I reminisced on how, after the Archbishop’s death, we both went with our respective schools to pay our respects during his public lying-in-state in the Cathedral prior to the funeral. We had to process past the open coffin and kiss his ring, a rather freaky experience I must say but perhaps not as much as for me as for my husband whose school went in the evening with all the candles flickering. The photo of the Archbishop visiting my high school in 1959 also brought back memories of his regular visits during my time there.

At Shamrock in the Bush. Dr Val Noone challenged us to reflect on the exhibition, its significance to an understanding of the Irish impact on Australia and what might be included in future displays of this sort.  As with regular family history research, those of us with working class Irish ancestors need to seek the traces of their history in the objects and stories but their contribution lies overtly or covertly in so many of the stories. The National Museum is to be commended for its contribution to our social history through this exhibition which has been of such great interest to so many of us. Richard Reid, senior curator, the team of other curators and conservators, and many other collaborating researchers, are to be congratulated and thanked for their assiduous work in tracking down the diverse array of objects and presenting them so effectively for our enjoyment and learning.