Family history seminar Darwin 25 February 2012

Yesterday I talked about the history seminars that had been held in Darwin over the past 10 days or so. Thanks to Unlock the Past and the War comes to Darwin tour, we were also fortunate to have an all-day family history seminar co-hosted by the Northern Territory Library and the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory. The guest speakers at Saturday’s seminar were Shauna Hicks and Rosemary Kopittke both well-known in family history circles.  Thanks to family links here Shauna has been a regular visitor and speaker in Darwin over the past few years.

Over forty people (my rough head-count) attended and were fortunate to learn from speakers with extensive and diverse experience. Shauna’s first talk was about state and national archives online and with her experience in both types of repositories she’s well qualified to talk on this topic and I imagine people got a lot from these talks. I would have liked to have seen some reference to the Board Immigrant Lists (which aren’t online) when referring to the NSW immigration records which have been digitised as the former provide far more information where they’re available. Shauna emphasised the need to “read the manual” ie check the background detail to see what’s included in the indexes you’re searching –an important tip. Another great tip was to use the Victorian outward migration indexes for your people as Port Philip was often a transit point for ships coming along the south coast or to/from Tasmania. I’ve used these regularly for my Germans and other families to great effect. The three different options cover different date ranges and the information included often differs slightly from what you find on the NSW immigration records so well worth a look. I also use the Victorian unassisted passenger lists as if they were sponsored by NSW they were still unassisted within the Victorian context.  This has been very useful for my German research.

Rosemary then spoke about the different branches of Findmypast (UK, Ireland and Australia) with a passing reference to the recently commenced American branch. Ultimately the plan is that all these will be combined in a layered subscription site but there is no timeline for this as yet. I was excited when Rosemary mentioned that Hertfordshire Archives and Library Services would be coming online this year with Findmypast. Having been behind with my blog reading I hadn’t then seen the references to this. It will be a great boon for my family history even though I’ve already read many of the microfilms I need through the Family History Centre. Still I’m hoping this will bring other records online. Exciting! Rosemary also highlighted other additions to the findmypast suite: the merchant seamen records from the 19th century, the Irish Petty Sessions (but beware, they’re not all there yet), Irish landed estate court rentals, prison records etc. One of my favourites on FMP is the Outward Shipping from the UK. If you don’t use FMP regularly you are missing out on something. I personally find their transcriptions much more accurate than some.

Shauna’s next was “it’s not all online” and I could hear so many echoes of what I’ve already said, and have on my 52 week plan, to say in my Beyond the Internet series. Her first point was that there seemed to be two groups involved with genealogy: the name gatherers who are mostly content to acquire names and dates for an expanding range of ancestors; and the family historians who want to learn as much as possible about their ancestors’ lives and experiences. I fall firmly into the second category so there was no need to convert me on this topic! Shauna’s talk provided many examples of the vast array of sources available beyond the internet through libraries and archives in particular. I smiled when she highlighted the importance of certificates and how at least one researcher had claimed a brick wall when a certificate promptly broke down the wall. You can read what I had to say about certificates here.

Convict ancestry was covered well by Shauna and I found the topic interesting even though I have no direct lines of “Australian royalty” as Jack Thompson called his convict. I do research one Irish exile who arrived in Queensland in 1849 who unfortunately isn’t as well documented as some of the earlier convicts. Quite a lot of people put up their hands when Shauna asked who had convicts in their tree and I notice she was surrounded by enquirers after this talk. I made notes for when my husband pursues his convicts in the future.

Shauna also made mention of the Genealogists for Families group which supports micro-loans to people around the world who are trying to improve their family’s economic security. If you haven’t heard of it, and the good work that is being done, do pop over and have a look. Since the group was established by Judy Webster back in October or so last year, nearly $10,000 worth of loans have been made by the 148 (mostly) genealogists who joined the group.

Rosemary gave two talks which might be broadly discussed together: government and police gazettes, and almanacs and directories. I really enjoyed these talks too and hopefully they convinced people of how much is contained within them…far beyond the mundane matters of business you might expect. I was particularly taken with the education gazettes which I haven’t used previously and will look at to learn more about Murphys Creek in Queensland and its education history.  All the snippets you can learn about your family in these documents where your family may be mentioned in terms of a licence they required, as a victim or witness to a crime, or indeed the perpetrator, etc.  Rosemary highlighted how an ancestor’s business may have an advertisement within the directories (not so far in my family’s case). You can also use the street indexes within the post office directories to pinpoint which side of the street and between which cross streets your family may have lived.  So much grist for the mill.

Both speakers will have their talks online: Shauna through her website and Rosemary through her profile page on Unlock the Past.

All in all an enjoyable and informative day…I’m sure people went home much better informed although a little mentally over-loaded. Rosemary and Shauna also merit our thanks for such interesting presentations at the end of a heavy week or so of touring. I reckon they’d have been pretty pleased to be on the plane home. Thanks!

The Reader Geneameme

Geniaus has been at it again and has set us a challenge to honour the National Year of Reading.

The list should be annotated in the following manner:

Things you have already done or found: bold face type
Things you would like to do or find: italicize (colour optional) (I’ve italicised the names so need the colour to set my wish-list apart)
Things you haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type
You are encouraged to add extra comments in brackets after each item.

Which of these apply to you? 

  1. Have you written any books? My family history: Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family published in 2003. Have another up my sleeve.
  2. Have you published any books? Yes I self-published the above book.
  3. Can you recommend an inspiring biography? Robert Dunne, Archbishop of Brisbane by Neil J Byrne was interesting to me because of its relevance to my family history. Life Class, the education of a biographer by Brenda Nial was very engaging. I’ve been going to read the biography of Sir William Deane but haven’t got to it yet.
  4. Do you keep a reading log? If yes, in what format? Sort, of. I have a list of my books on LibraryThing and also on Collectorz. I can also check my borrowing list from the Palmerston Library any time I want. But this is all recent….we’ve disposed of many books so I’d struggle to remember. Perhaps something I’d like to keep up with in the future.
  5. Are you a buyer or a borrower of books? I’ve always been a buyer of far more books than I should but I also borrow a lot either from the Council library or on inter-library loan from the National Library of Australia –depends what it is.
  6. Where do you get reading recommendations? Bibliographies, blog comments, newspaper reviews, personal recommendations.
  7. What is the ONE genealogy reference book you can’t do without? Just one??? I look at my shelves and I don’t think I can pick just one…it depends what research I’m doing. Okay, my huge German dictionary may have to be my “just one”.
  8. Do you hoard books or do you discard them when you have finished? Both! I’ve been a hoarder of books all my life – used to envy anyone with full bookcases. With run-of-the mill stuff we discard them after they’ve done the rounds of family and friends and we’ve re-read them.
  9. How many books are in your genealogy library? LOTS – Three full bookcases.
  10. What’s your favourite genealogy magazine or journal? I find I don’t read magazines much anymore. I don’t have one specific favourite journal. My blog reading has taken over.
  11. Where are the bookshelves in your house? Everywhere.
  12. Do you read e-books? How? Yes, I read them either on the Kindle or ipad.
  13. How many library cards do you have? NT x 3, SLQ, NSW, NLA plus society library cards and overseas cards for travelling.
  14. What was the last genealogy title you read? Part way through Behind the plough: agrarian society in 19th century Hertfordshire.
  15. What is your favourite bookshop? Living in Darwin I have to say Amazon or Booktopia.
  16. Do you have a traditional printed encyclopaedia in your house?  No, never have had..our refrain was always “look it up in the dictionary” –or the relevant book.
  17. Who are the authors in your family tree and what have they written? There are a couple of PhDs in my family tree, one who is well-published in the field of Japanese-Australian economics. I haven’t come across any distant ancestors who were authors which is a great shame.
  18. Who is your favourite author? I have runs of favourites and read them until I tire of them. I love Bill Bryson’s take on travel with amusing descriptions of Darwin. Geraldine Brooks would probably also feature though I still have some of hers to read. Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Rd.
  19. Where do you buy books? Mostly online these days.
  20. Can you nominate a must-read fiction title? Far too many fact or faction. Perhaps The House by the Thames by Gillian Tindall (excellent though very much fact/ion), Walter Macken’s The Silent People which was a fictional account of the Famine; Geraldine Brooks People of the Book.
  21. How many books are in your personal library? Collectorz tells me I’ve now got over 800 in my library. Many others sold off or donated over the years.
  22. What is your dictionary of choice? Oxford.
  23. Where do you read? Indoors/outdoors/bed/lounge/anywhere.
  24. What was your favourite childhood book? Heidi
  25. Do you have anything else to say about books and reading? Do it as much as possible and start kids young! Our two-year old grandson already insists on a book to take to afternoon nap time.

Never rains but it pours: Historical talks in Darwin

It’s not just the weather in Darwin where it never rains but it pours. Over the past week we’ve had a flurry of diverse historical and genealogical talks. Today I’ll focus on the historical talks.

On Saturday 18th February the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory, with support from The Northern Territory Archives, hosted a talk by local identity Pearl Ogden on “The impact of the war years on Darwin” though Pearl extended it down to Katherine.  A couple of snippets that particularly caught my attention were that the prisoners were released from the Fannie Bay Gaol so it could be used to house servicemen, the number of army farms growing a wide variety of vegetables, there were Catalinas anchored at Doctor’s Gully (now fish-feeding tourism), the Vic Hotel was favoured by the Americans, and that indigenous women workers were treated and paid the same as men. There were obviously large communities of Army activity around Adelaide River and Katherine. Pearl also talked a little about the the bombings further down the Highway. I’ve now been in Darwin quite a while so as she mentioned innumerable places and streets I mostly knew where she was talking about. A big omission from the talk was any maps or photographs to illustrate the talks. It would have been greatly enhanced if these had been used – and no doubt the interstate visitors would have gained far more from what was a fascinating talk. And I still don’t know where the Victualling Yards are in Stuart Park –need to suss out a Darwin “old timer” and ask.

Monday evening 20th February a large number of people lined up for another session hosted by the Northern Territory Library and attended by many from the combined Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan BattlefieldWar comes to Australia” Tour. The first speaker was Dr Tom Lewis, former naval officer and Director of the Darwin Military Museum and the wonderful new Defence of Darwin experience. (Previous to last week I hadn’t known there was a anti-submarine boom net across from what we call East Point but technically is Pt Dudley ). Tom’s talk had lots of fascinating detail which addressed some of the misconceptions and myths surrounding the bombing.  In particular he emphasised that some of the statistics bandied around were misleading, for example comparison with Pearl Harbor did not match up because the bomb capacity was lower even though more bombs fell. The torpedo bombs used on Pearl Harbor were far more damaging.  Dr Lewis made a very valid point which was that Nagasaki had only one (atomic) bomb and by a pure comparison of numbers, Pearl Harbor and Darwin would both be more important than that which would indeed be plainly ridiculous. He cited that 2000 civilians died at Pearl Harbour, which did not concur with the 40 listed on the Pearl Harbor website I’d already looked at, and wondered whether some were civilians employed on military bases. Certainly the Bombing of Darwin wasn’t the biggest disaster in Australia’s history and he cited Cyclone Tracy and the sinking of HMAS Sydney. He did not agree that Prime Minister Curtin had covered up the bombing deaths and also denied that we had insufficient  defences with 18 anti-aircraft batteries around town, which were red-hot after the battle. However he did agree that the men had not had much practice prior to the event. My own view was that the talk was fascinating and full of detail and that Tom’s personal experience  of the “fog of war”, as he called it, added to his understanding of the history of the event, but there were times throughout the talk when I wondered if it didn’t blinker him to some of the other views put forward. Shauna Hicks has also posted her views of the talk. What became very clear is that anyone with a serious interest in this historic event would need to read widely and critique what they read before reaching their own conclusions.

The second speaker was Brad Manera who is the Executive Manager of the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney. Brad spoke more widely about the experience of Australians in war right back to our early white settlement. He also gave a good summary of the different Australian Brigades as they entered World War I. His explanation of the Gallipoli battles was clear and concise. It would be fascinating to be on a battlefield tour in situ to really understand more about this Australian-coming-of-age battle.  His discussion of Australians on the Western Front was informative and no matter how many times you hear the numbers, they remain sobering. Again it’s emphasised for me that a Western Front battlefield tour is one I’d really like to take so an expert can fully explain the mechanics of the battles on the ground. We visited Villers-Bretonneux , Amiens and Fleurbaix back in 1992 as these are “family sites” and they were tremendously moving but to learn more from an expert would add a greater dimension. Another item for the bucket list!

A number of my relatives were in the Light Horse so I was interested to learn that it was the Queensland Light Horse who started the tradition of the emu feather in their slouch hats and that it dated from the 1891 shearers’ strike in which they helped to break the strike –not so keen on that bit. The New South Welshmen apparently wore a black cockatoo feather while unsurprisingly the West Australians chose a black swan feather.

Brad also explained that the ubiquitous presence of war memorials around Australia post-WWI was partly because the families of those who died would never have a burial and were unlikely to ever see their relative’s grave because it was so far away (not to mention that some soldiers’ bodies were never found as evidenced by the huge wall at Villers-Bretonneux) .  Almost every family was affected and every community so they needed to have some symbol of their patriotism and tremendous losses.

Shauna Hicks was the last speaker at this seminar and spoke clearly about how to locate information on your military ancestors. Although I don’t have anyone in the Boer War, I was interested to learn that some of those records remain with the state libraries or other repositories. She also highlighted the Mapping Our Anzacs website, reminding me that adding scrapbook notes to my relatives’ entries is another item on my “to do” list that remains outstanding.  The other helpful site is the ADFA site which has had various incarnations over the years. As usual, Shauna will post her talk on her webpage making it easier to revisit the details.

Beyond the Internet: Week 8 – Certificates (or a huff and a puff might blow your tree down)

This is Week 8 in my Beyond the Internet series of topics in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your own posts on this week’s topic which is Certificates. Please join in with your blog posts on this topic, and if possible provide the link on this page.

You don’t need to know what you’re looking for, right? Would you build a house without knowing what foundations you require, what best serves the type of house you’re planning, or how big  a footprint you need?

To my mind, doing family history without certificates is akin to doing exactly this…how do you KNOW you’re tracing the correct family? Unless you’re very lucky, sooner or later your house (sorry, family tree) is likely to end up like the little pigs with the houses of straw and sticks on a bed of sand –  it just won’t withstand a critical wind.

Traditional family history teaches us that we work backwards through what we know to what we don’t know. Certificates are the building blocks that we use to do this. Sure, birth, death, and marriage indexes/indices will provide signposts so you have a good idea which is the likeliest certificate to order. Yes, I know everyone’s budget is tight these days but really most activities one pursues passionately involve expense.  How much do you spend on your subscription sites, for example? I started my family history when my children were young and we had a lot of expenses, so I solved the finance problem by nominating a particular certificate or two as my birthday/Mother’s Day/ Christmas present.  The kids may have rolled their eyes but it worked for me.

Civil registration mostly commences around the early to mid 19th century. Before that we are reliant on church records of different sorts. For privacy reasons the various registrars generally limit how far forward we can search. Similarly we are often limited to which certificates we can order for both privacy/confidentiality and security reason (partly to prevent identify theft).  There are offline strategies for bringing your research closer to the current day, and I’ll be talking about some of these in coming weeks.

In each case might I suggest that you order directly from the Registry Office as that is generally cheaper than the options provided through the subscription sites. You might also be able to save a little money by using a transcription agent where they are permitted to do this (eg NSW). However I would caution against asking someone to transcribe what might be a tricky ethnic certificate. I don’t in any way want to infer the agents are inadequate or careless, rather that you are likelier to know the places and names better than they do, and so make a better judgement on what’s been written.

It’s important to remember that the indexes that are available online may cover a narrower timeframe than what may be available on CD-ROM or microfiche from your local family history society or reference library. Cora Num provides a wonderful guide  for Australia on her site here.

Do have a look as you might be missing out on some additional clues offline.  You also need to know where the registrations take place eg in Australia they are done by state, whereas in the UK they’re done by country. You can download an international death certificate comparison by clicking on this hot link.

Different locations have completely different information on their certificates. Every time I order an English certificate I am so frustrated by the absence of information. Thank heavens for the Scots whose certificates are almost as rich in detail as the Aussie ones.  But how I wish they mentioned where someone was buried.   Australian certificates generally provide a wealth of family detail. Of course just because there is a box for including certain information does not mean it’s always included, nor does it mean it’s always accurate, but a variety of certificates will help to rationalise the process.  In all these cases we are dependent on the knowledge, and to some extent the literacy, of the person providing the information and the clerk writing it down.

Some indexes provide the opportunity for wildcard searching which can be invaluable especially with foreign names. When I did a lot of my searching in NSW BDMs for Dorfprozelten people it allowed for wildcards while now they don’t , whereas the situation has been reversed in Queensland. This is another reason to consider using those CD-ROMs as it will let you search with wildcards to bring up names that may have been written down vaguely phonetically…it’s less of a guessing game.

I urge you to consider purchasing certificates so you can be sure you are building a stable and secure house family tree rather than one that will blow down in the first huff and puff of analysis and critique.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 7 – Historical documents

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 7 – Historical Documents: Which historical document in your possession are you happy to have? How did you acquire this item? What does it reveal about your ancestors?

I have few actual historical documents though my family archive holds many copies of historic documents from archives or registry offices. My grandmother’s Scotch (sic) education book and my grandfather’s original, oversized and much stuck-together, birth certificate are valued originals but they are not the pivotal historic documents on which my family history turns.

There are two historic documents (of which I hold copies only), which broke through “brick walls” and enabled me to pinpoint my ancestors’ home place. Without them I’d never have been able to trace “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” or George Kunkel from Bavaria.

Their marriage occurred at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich, Queensland in 1857. The church’s marriage register is the only place where I’ve ever found George Kunkel’s place of birth documented: the details are not on the official civil registration. Without that church document I’d never have known where George was born and never been involved in researching his fellow emigrants from Dorfprozelten. I wrote about this document discovery in the 2011 Australia Day meme hosted by Shelley from Twigs of Yore.

You might imagine that finding “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” would have been nigh on impossible without some substantive clue. She doesn’t appear in any shipping record I’ve searched (and believe me I’ve searched a lot, the old-fashioned way as well as the new). Oral history gave me her sister’s name and married surname. I then ordered Bridget Widdup’s death certificate which gave me her place of birth and confirmed Mary and Bridget as siblings. It was then possible to search the Kilseily parish registers, Broadford, Co Clare, in person and on microfilm. This confirmed the links by virtue of the rich oral history I’d been given. I wrote more about finding Mary O’Brien here.

So these two documents, one a church register entry and the other a civil death registration, have been documents critical to my overseas family history. It really doesn’t matter at all that what I hold are copies, not originals, as I’ve personally sighted both.

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: the heirloom that got away

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 6’s topic is Family Heirlooms. For which family heirloom are you most thankful? How did you acquire this treasure and what does it mean to you and your family? 

As a child I lived next door to my paternal grandparents so it was rather like having two homes. I knew where “everything” was and largely had free rein. Through all those years my grandmother kept one drawer in her kitchen dresser for her family news clippings. Into it went all the notices for births, deaths and marriages that occurred in her family, and probably her friendship circle, though I must admit I never knew her to have a friend other than family. Of course she was quite elderly when I was growing up (hmm thinking on it, when I was a child she was probably a similar age to me right now). She’d also emigrated with her mother and siblings when she was in her twenties so I guess that made them even more tight-knit.

I’ve spoken to different members of my grandmother’s family over the years and we all hold the memory of her BDM drawer. As a teenager I could so easily have talked to my grandmother about the family stories represented in that drawer and built a family tree from them, but I was a typically self-obsessed teenager, focused on school and uni. My love then was science not history so this great opportunity for family knowledge was wasted on me.

So what happened to this family heirloom collection?

My grandmother died near Christmas one year when I was down from Papua New Guinea on holidays but her effects weren’t sorted for some time. My best guess is that in the cleaning-up process this “scrap” paper went into the bin. A couple were salvaged, including those relating to her brother’s violent death in a road accident, but most have long gone. It would be nice to think that if I’d been around I might have boxed all those clippings up, but if I’m honest I may well have taken no interest – in those days I was preoccupied with our young baby. I’d also have lost the opportunity to understand their significance as my father was never big on family stories. I do have other heirlooms that have family significance though none has any financial value. I also have furniture from my grandparents’ house. I treasure them and will hand them down to my children and grandchildren but somehow the “one that got away” is the one that haunts my “might-have-beens”.

Commemoration ceremony 19 February 2012

A huge crowd turned out this morning for the commemoration ceremonies at the Darwin Cenotaph while the families of the wharfies and merchant seamen held a separate ceremony down at the wharf (their usual tradition). The USS Peary commemorations were held earlier in the morning but although we hoped to get there in time, we didn’t make it. The powers-that-be were expecting 5000 people to attend the main event but the crowd was apparently closer to 7000.

As I waited to get a photo of the Governor General (GG) walking down the carpet to the official dais, I was chatting to an American soldier who was somewhat bemused that the Prime Minister had just wandered down without any great security detail (so low key that we didn’t even see her). We may mutter and insult our pollies but we don’t usually shoot at them, though the Territory’s high-security-trained police were in evidence, and her bodyguards reminded us of the Danish TV series The Protectors. The US soldier also wanted to know why the GG took precedence over the Prime Minister so I had to explain that she represented the Queen who is our Head of State.

For me the highlight of the day was the re-enactment with machine guns blazing and heavy anti-aircraft guns firing loudly while throughout an air raid siren sounded and heavy red smoke billowed. Quite honestly the hairs on my arms stood on end…it was sobering and only the tiniest indication of the mayhem the Darwin servicemen and civilians lived through for those torrid 45 minutes on the day. I really admired the courage of the old veterans who were willing to endure that kind of reminder purely to honour their mates who didn’t survive. It took them 50 years to be awarded campaign medals from the War and they seem universally pleased that 19 February has been marked as a national day of commemoration.

The Governor General gave a balanced speech which addressed the need to be vigilant in the defence of our country while reconciling with former enemies to ensure peace. There was the merest allusion to the recently signed deal with Japanese company Inpex for a gas pipeline etc. The politicians mostly could not contain their need to score points for their parties, in terms of gaining credit for finally recognising the national significance of the Bombing of Darwin. The speech by Mrs Ada Mumford was both interesting and emotional especially as she recounted her father sending the wireless message to RAAF Parap telling them of the incoming planes.

The Ode of Remembrance was read by Shelly Bryant from Darwin High School. Interestingly the Darwin and Palmerston branches of the Returned and Services League (RSL) had agreed some years ago that this should be read by a student. A way of passing the historical baton on to the younger generation.

From all the various quotes from old veterans I especially liked the one reported in The NT News. Prime Minister Curtin in 1942 told the nation that the enemy would not  give any satisfaction at all to the enemy. Former Chief Petty Officer Tom Minto’s view was that “.. the enemy must have been very hard to please.”  It’s this mix of cynicism and laconic humour that endears these men to me.

I’ll be posting photos on my Tropical Territory blog and also on my Flickr site for anyone who wants to see them. You can find both of these in the side-bar on the right of my blog.

The Bombing of Darwin: an Awkward Truth

Last night we were in the audience for the world premiere screening of the documentary, The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth. The Darwin Entertainment Centre was filled close to capacity with old servicemen and their families, Darwinites old and new, and visitors.  We were rewarded with a very engaging and educational documentary based on a book of the same name by Peter Grose. Recurring comments are that people had known next to nothing about the bombing. You too can see it if you have cable TV as it shows on the History Channel on Sunday night in Australia and can also be bought from the Australian War Memorial after this week. I don’t have the film-reviewer skills to phrase these comments effectively but let’s see if I can give you the flavour.

Pros

  • Great archival film footage from the National Film and Sound Archives and the Australia War Memorial though little is from the day of the bombing.
  • An effective merger of the archive footage with staged reproductions – filmed in sepia or black and white ensured they blended well together.
  • The interviews with the now-aged servicemen interspersed through the doco were extremely effective: dry, and often amusing, and revealing of the poor level of preparation for a war on Australia’s soil. Their memories of the fear were clear to see.
  • The men’s youth was shown subtly with images of them in uniform occasionally shadowed behind them as they spoke – they were so young and it was interesting to see how similar they were to their youthful photos irrespective of ageing.
  • The recounting of facts like burying bodies or finding men with their skin boiled off by the burning oil, simply told.
  • It revealed the ensuing chaos, lack of leadership, and the real fear and expectation that the Japanese would now stage an invasion on Australian soil. After all “impregnable” Singapore had fallen only days before.
  • The sheer good fortune of those who survived despite the odds, including the post office worker who didn’t hide in the PO’s secure trench –which took a direct hit.
  • The “warts and all” approach of honesty in regard to looting and the ambiguity of military directions.
  • Includes references to the Indigenous people and their experiences.
  • The film will be shown to history teachers at the National History teachers upcoming conference and included in the teaching curriculum.

Cons/Questions (some of these arose from the Q&A session at the end)

  • The map which showed the spread of Japanese control to include Papua New Guinea though this never fell to the Japanese and was heavily contested in fighting with Kokoda and the Battle of Milne Bay key defensive successes. (We lived in PNG so knew the back-story to this).
  • Discussion over how much looting took place and whether it was for profit or much-needed supplies.
  • Discussion over whether some units were left in Darwin.
  • Dispute over the “Adelaide River stakes”: the mass departure of civilians from Darwin after the bombing: a wise strategy if you think you’re about to be invaded.

There were a large number of servicemen in the audience who had survived the bombing and it was impressive to see their general level of fitness and mental clarity as they were all very elderly.

The documentary is certainly well worth watching if you get a chance. There’s a short trailer for it here.

The Bombing of Darwin 19 February 1942: the 70th anniversary

Darwin is in a flurry of activity this week as the city commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Although it’s said that the event was little known in Australia’s history perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was a good example of war-time “spin”…perhaps understandably in the sense of keeping up morale.

In the beginning the numbers of fatalities and injuries quoted were sadly underestimated and to this date, the figures remain contested by some people. The prevailing view is that “more than 243” were killed and between 300 and 400 injured.

Similarly the number of Japanese planes in the assault was also underestimated at the time: 70+ or so compared with an actual 188. Much appears to have been made of the fact that 4 enemy planes had been brought down during the two raids which occurred an hour apart, although one of the planes actually crash-landed on Bathurst Island.The USS Peary was among the naval casualties in the harbour that day, ironically having only returned the day before to refuel.

The Prime Minister of the day, John Curtin, responded to the attacks with the following comments published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 February 1942:

”Damage to property was considerable,” he said, “but reports so far to hand do not give precise particulars about the loss of life. The Government regards the attacks as most grave, and makes it quite clear that a severe blow has been struck on Australian soil”.

Darwin had actually had some warning that the planes were coming when Father John McGrath of Bathurst Island Catholic mission at Nguiu radioed to warn Darwin. This message was transmitted to the RAAF base. Unfortunately the message was largely ignored as they thought it was some returning American aircraft. Since that time the Tiwi people have their own commemoration of the event, with their bombing dance featuring swooping plane movements and shooting. We were lucky to see the dance for ourselves when we visited Nguiu in 1995, as it was our daughter’s first teaching post. A Tiwi Islander, Matthias Ulungura, captured the 1st Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil, Sergeant Hajimi Toyoshima whose Zero fighter crashed near Snake Bay.

The Bombing of Darwin occurred about 10 weeks after Pearl Harbour and was masterminded by the same Japanese commander, Mitsuo Fuchida with the same squadrons and pilots taking part. It’s interesting to compare the two events, one very well known and one almost unknown. Astonishingly Darwin had 683 bombs dropped on it during that first morning compared with Pearl Harbour’s 271 though without doubt the magnitude of the bombs was smaller. At Pearl Harbour torpedo bombs were used which have a much greater impact. Based on the bombing pattern, it seems the Japanese intent was plainly not just to decimate the shipping and aircraft but to take out the infrastructure so there was no northern base from which Australia, and its Pacific ally America, could mount an offence against Japanese bases in Asia. The indicative number of civilian deaths in Darwin was around 60.

Pearl Harbour

Darwin

Japanese aircraft

353

188

Japanese aircraft carriers

6

4

Aircraft destroyed (US/Aus)

188

20

Killed (US/Aus)

2402

243+

Wounded

1282

300-400

Ships sunk

10

8

Date

7-Dec-41

19-Feb-42

Throughout the battle, the 18 anti-aircraft guns were fired constantly until their barrels were red hot. So hot in fact that when the cleaning cloths were used, they burst into flames. Famously one bloke came running from the showers in his hat and boots -with a towel   wrapped around him, that soon dropped off. Artists’ representations show him naked manning the guns.

Many of the women, children and elderly of Darwin had been evacuated to friends and family around Australia in the preceding month or so, and after the bombing most of those remaining went/were sent south. This left the men, civilian and military, and the indigenous people on the Frontline. The list of evacuees is extensive but can be seen here on the National Archives of Australia webpage (click on view digital copy on the right). Some of the evacuees were to become refugees in their own country a second time in 1974, when 33,000 people had to leave the city after it was nearly destroyed by Cyclone Tracy.

The effect of the war in Darwin is easy to ignore, yet visible everywhere. There are military installations scattered around the cliffs and parks, main streets were runways, and down the Track (the Stuart Highway) there are regular signposts to former airstrips, supply depots and the like.

The new Defence of Darwin Experience at the revamped Military Museum, which will be opened this weekend, will no doubt do much to make this part of Australia’s history far more well-known. (Update: we visited this on Saturday 18 February just after it opened, and it really is an excellent insight into the bombing. I’m pleased we’ll be able to visit it on a regular basis so there’s less risk of information overload).

Over the next few days I’ll be posting some photos that relate to Darwin’s role in World War II and to the Bombing. You can find them on my Tropical Territory blog.

And if you are in Australia and have cable TV, the history channel will be screening “The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth” on Sunday night. It premiered in Darwin tonight and was extremely interesting.

Beyond the Internet: Week 7 and the days of the old school yard.

This is Week 7 in my Beyond the Internet series of topics in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your own posts on this week’s topic which is school histories, albums and newsletters. I’d particularly like to hear how people in other states and countries use these records so we can all learn from each other. If you do decide to take up this topic would you please leave a note in the comments or on Google+ as the Google alert is just not cooperating.

School histories

School histories can be a valuable source of background information including admissions and old class photos.

In Australia it’s fairly common for schools of all shapes and sizes to publish histories on a school anniversary eg centenaries. I don’t honestly know how prevalent this practice is overseas. These histories run the gamut from informal unstructured publications to books with high quality research. Some in the pre-computer era are rather basic productions while others are glossy bound books. Either way it’s likely you’ll find something that’s useful if your relative attended that school…there’s almost always some little anecdote that will let you flesh out your relative’s school story “back in the day”.  Many that I have seen include a list of early student admissions and some have very early photos of teachers, students and the school. For example in the first Murphys Creek school history there’s a picture of Maggie Kunkel among the students, even though the admission rolls no longer exist.

School albums or annuals

School albums can be a rich source of photos.

Have you been wondering what your great-aunt or uncle looked like? Or perhaps what a relative or ancestor’s hobbies or skills were? School albums might just provide these clues…after all it works for Sue Grafton’s detective extraordinaire Kinsey Milhone, who’s sleuthing in the 1980s. Remember all those class photos that you had taken? Well they’ve been a tradition for a very long time and if your relative’s school still exists, perhaps the school library retains copies of the annuals which you can trawl for clues and photos. You might find out they were superb singers, on the debating team, an excellent swimmer or football player – all those tiny details that add richness to the lives we’re trying to recover from the past.

School newsletters

School newsletters are more likely to give you the gossipy stories.

I think most large schools probably had school newsletters which again may be in the school library or perhaps a local heritage centre. This is where you’ll get the more informal take on your ancestor if they make an appearance. A word of warning though, journalistic integrity may not be high and there may be outright fibs told for the sake of a good story. What you will get is the flavour of school life in the time period of the newsletter – all grist for the writing mill.

Admittedly I went to a large school in Brisbane and it has been around for a long time in Australian terms, so in years to come my descendants will find traces of my school life throughout these sources….but sadly they won’t find a trace of singing or sporting excellence. I have a confession to make, though, as I have yet to visit the libraries to get my own parents’ school photos and background. It’s about time I took my own advice!

What about your family’s school stories? Have you found anything interesting, exciting or just fun in their school’s publications? What games and events were capturing people’s imaginations? Their generation’s version of Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest?