Insights into Australia: a book list

An American genea-mate asked me for recommendations of fictional books set in Australia as a way of getting to know a bit more about Australia, and I guess her people. This is my list of possible options though of course one could go on adding books indefinitely. Also a lot depends on whether the focus is to be modern life, or a story in an historical setting, as well as personal style preferences.

Mary Durack: Kings in Grass Castles (An older story, largely fact, though not entirely accurate in places due to family bias. A good yarn telling the story of an Irish family in the 1850s+. They became a family dynasty in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.)

Bill Bryson: Down Under (may be called In a Sunburned Country , or possibly Walkabout, in the US). Hilarious essays on Australia. I could really relate to some of his comments on Darwin.

Alex Miller: Journey to the Stone Country or Landscape of Farewell (I particularly liked the latter of these two books.)

Kate Grenville: The Secret River (a fictional story, based on some historical fact, about life north of Sydney in the early days). Issues of convicts, colonisation, and relationships with Indigenous people.

Ruth Park: A Poor Man’s Orange and Harp in the South (oldies but goodies)

Sally Morgan: My Place  (an indigenous life story)

Sally Dingo: Dingo, the Story of our Mob (a biography of Ernie Dingo, a well-known Indigenous actor.

Tom (Thomas) Keneally: A River Town (long time since I’ve read this one but I enjoyed it enough to keep on my shelves. Set in New South Wales.)

Henry Lawson:  various short stories and poetry, about the old days in Australia

Hilary Lindsay: The Washerwoman’s Dream (set in Queensland late 1880s+)

Tim Winton: Dirt Music (a modern story set in Western Australia). Not one of my favourite books, didn’t like the ending, but I admired the fact that he started again from scratch with hundreds of pages written.

Neville Shute: A Town like Alice (includes WW2 theme and Northern Territory).

Addendum: David Forrest’s The Last Blue Sea (about the Australians’ war in Papua New Guinea, WWII)

David Malouf, Peter Carey, Thea Astley, Janette Turner Hospital (short stories) are all other authors who would provide a more modern insight into Australia today.

I have used LibraryThing to link these book titles to reviews which may help find out more about each book, and see which appeals. Everyone’s taste is quite different in books. I’m not sure how difficult these books will be to access from bookshops or libraries in the States, but at a quick glance many are available as Kindle e-books.

What recommendations would other Australian geneabloggers want to add to this list? Please do add suggestions in the comments. I’m looking forward to seeing some different perspectives and reminders of ones I’m bound to have forgotten.

T travels to Townsville, Toowoomba and Tullamore

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today is about two towns important to my family history in Australia.

The Townsville marina at dawn. © P Cass 2004

T is for Townsville (Queensland, Australia)

Townsville is the hub for Far North Queensland (FNQ) as well as one of my family’s hubs. It was a critical supply point of men and armaments during World War II and many Australian and American military personnel of the era would have been familiar with the town. Townsville also reminds me of Darwin because it is another place where you men in military uniforms form part of everyday life around town because, like Darwin, it is potentially Australia’s front line of defence. Like Darwin it too was bombed during World War II.

In peacetime it used to be one of Queensland’s quiet country towns, with the esplanade bordering the sea and looking across to Magnetic Island. I’d be surprised if anyone born or bred in Townsville never visited Maggie, as it’s known, for it was the local day-trip and holiday spot. These days Townsville is a bustling modern city, with a major university and medical school, and the esplanade has been revamped for outdoor living and dining out in the restaurants. I was very surprised to see the changes when I visited about 6 years ago. Dominating the city, then and now, is Castle Hill, guardian of the city.

Picnic Bay jetty, Magnetic Island. I spent a number of holidays at Picnic Bay and fished off the jetty, and in a dinghy, with my dad. © P Cass 2004

My grandfather was living in Townsville in 1913, before he was married, working as a railway carpenter. My family would continue to live in Townsville for nearly 30 years. My grandfather built the house they lived in at Baxter St, West End and he was, as always, heavily involved with St Mary’s Catholic Church West End and the Hibernian society, with which he held many roles.

In 1941, he decided to move to Brisbane so that his daughters would have more opportunities to get jobs. I’m sure that was the rationale he gave them, but I’ve always felt the real reasons may have been different. The war in the Pacific was gearing up and he may not have wanted his family to be more at risk in the north, and he also may not have wanted them as exposed to an overflow of military people (he was very strict). It’s not impossible that the railway may have wanted him in the south as well, for by then he was a supervisor and a very experienced carpenter, part of a team churning out railway carriages which were important to war effort. His war years were spent as a supervisor in the Railway workshops at Ipswich. We’ll never know the real reason for the relocation now, as his railway service record reveals nothing but his change of workplace.

This move was one of those family history turning points, and quite a recent one. Without the relocation my parents would not have met and I would not have been here. A bit “Sliding Doors”.

T is for Toowoomba (Queensland, Australia)

The Kunkel family reunion 2003 in Toowoomba. © P Cass

Toowoomba is a locus for the Kunkel family after the dispersal from the Fifteen Mile and Murphys Creek. Today it’s possibly one of two places in Australia where the surname, when stated, may not bring a “huh?” from the listener. For a long time, it was from Toowoomba that the Kunkel family’s religious support came, and their children and some grandchildren were baptised or married through/in the Toowoomba Catholic churches. It was in Toowoomba that in 2003 we held the first known reunion of the Kunkel family for close to 100 years and I launched the family history Grassroots Queenslanders, the Kunkel family. For many of the 120 people who attended, Kunkel had ceased to be their surname long ago, so it was a surprise to learn more about the family and make so many family connections. The din in the room was deafening so it seemed everyone had a good time.

I enjoyed the Q150 steam train to Toowoomba with a friend in 2009. We steamed through Murphys Creek where my ancestors had been when the railway was built. © P Cass 2009.

Toowoomba is also close to our hearts because a very good family friend lived there for many years and we visited often, especially while one daughter lived with her for a while during university. And of course there’s all my family history haunts, including the cemetery where I’ve spent many happy hours exploring family graves. A number of my Dorfprozelten emigrants are also laid to rest here, as quite a few relocated to Toowoomba after their first years in Queensland (then called Moreton Bay).

T is for Tullamore (County Offaly, Ireland)

My Furlong ancestors lived in Tullamore from about 1840 though it’s not known when they arrived there, or from whence they came. My 2x great-grandparents, Bridget Furlong and James Sherry (late McSharry) married there and my great-grandfather Peter Sherry (later McSherry) was baptised there. I’ve talked about this family line a few times on my blog, so if you’re interested, just put “Tullamore” in the search box, top right, and the relevant posts will pop up.

Mapping family places in Papua New Guinea

I’ve been talking about a few places in Papua New Guinea as part of the A to Z challenge but not making allowance that their location is probably all “Double Dutch” to most people. For those who are interested this is a tailored map from Google of the places I’ve mentioned plus a few more. You can click on each blue pin to see what it says, drag the map right or left, or click on “View Larger Map” on the bottom to enlarge it.

S slips into Sandon and Strachur

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). My goal is to hand down the stories of the important places in our family history, and some travel memories, to our family.

S is for Sandon (Hertfordshire, England)

Sightseeing in Sandon © P Cass 2010

Sandon, Hertfordshire was the home of my Kent family for a couple of centuries and for at least some of this time they were publicans in Red Hill and Roe Green, nearby hamlets in this parish. Last year I talked about my discoveries in the enclosure records and how they helped knocked down some brick walls in my research.

Sandon remains a rural area, reflecting its agricultural heritage, but it’s also now in the “stockbroker belt”, close enough to commute to London and there’s no shortage of houses with heritage listings and big prices. The village seems to me to lack a “centre”, other than the old church which stands imposingly, solidly. Somehow the lychgate appeals to me as an entry point. The house opposite used to be a pub when we first visited, but no longer. I love the pond across the way with its ducks…very restful.

Roe Green is similarly peaceful, revealing only by its buildings that there’s a long history here. There’s a village green where no doubt cricket is played in summer, horses being walked and a general air of tranquillity; who wouldn’t want to live here.

S is for Strachur (Argyll, Scotland)

Strachur church.

My Morrison family lived in Strachur on Loch Fyne for many years on a farm called Inverglen. Like my Sim ancestors in Bothkennar, they were more established than others family lines, being involved in local business and community as well as farming. Luckily for me one of my 2xgreat-aunts was with the Morrison family on the 1841 census as a small child. I’d have liked it to be the 1851 census with relationships stated, but I’m reasonably sure that she was with her grandparents.

Some years ago we met a very elderly man from the Morrison family in Strachur, but at the time we couldn’t be sure of our relationship. We loved that he offered Mr Cassmob a whisky (at about 10am), which he accepted to be hospitable. As several fingers of single malt were poured Mr Morrison announced he never touched the stuff…needless to say I was the chauffeur that morning. Mr Morrison had a memory of meeting a Fergus McCorkindale, a person who at the time meant nothing to me. It was only later that I established he was a grandson to my great-grandfather through his first marriage and so my grandmother’s nephew.

Outside Creggans Inn is a plaque commemorating the spot where Mary Queen of Scots came ashore.

I’ve posted about Loch Fyne and how it feels like home to me. Sometime I’d love to see it on a clear blue day rather than in its grey winter clothes with scarves of fog and cloud. One visit we stayed at the historic Creggans Inn in Strachur, with its view across the loch to Inveraray. We were amused during our stay when the waitress slipped us some fresh raspberries to accompany our porridge, with the injunction “don’t tell cook”.

S is for Sadds Ridge Road (Charters Towers, Queensland)

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

Sadds Ridge Rd sign

I wrote previously how my husband found this old street sign on a coconut plantation near Gurney in Milne Bay. This is where Australian troops were stationed around the time of the Battle of Milne Bay. We’ve always assumed it was a souvenir that a soldier too with him, but have never been able to unearth anyone who might know more.

Did you have a relative who went from Charters Towers to Milne Bay?

Beyond the Internet: Week 16 War service records

This is Week 16 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. In honour of Anzac Day coming up this week, the topic is War service records.  Once again this week, the topic will be a cross-over between online and offline resources.  Please do join in with this series and add your thoughts.

Online with World War I

We have been very spoiled with Australian World War I service records being digitised and made available online through the National Archives of Australia (NAA). All we have to do is put a name in the search bar, limit it to a period (1914-1919), and Bob’s your uncle, up come the list of names with a digitised symbol on the right hand side for you to click on.

Might I make a suggestion if you haven’t already tried this? As well as looking at your own ancestor’s records, have a look at any of his siblings/cousins etc or perhaps anyone with the same unusual name (obviously Smith just isn’t going to work). My grandfather’s service record includes pages from two of his brothers’ service records. Only looking at one record might not give the full story.

Then of course, there are the other options for that period, available online through the Australian War Memorial (AWM): Red Cross, Roll of Honour, and Honours and Awards through the biographical database.  Also don’t forget to search the collections which might pick up additional information eg my husband’s great uncle is mentioned in the write-up of another man’s medals.

But what of those records beyond the internet which is after all what we’re supposed to be looking at?

Boer War Service

There are search facilities with AWM and the NAA but my understanding is that many of these records are available through the state archives, or even libraries. If you have a relative who fought in the Boer War, you might want to explore these options. This is a useful information sheet.

Post World War I Service Records

There are other records which are still only available by ordering from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). They are the World War II service records, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf. Let’s assume you want to find out which members of your family served in World War II. You again enter the family name, plus a first name if necessary. It then presents you with the options available and you can choose the correct person. If you’re just using it to fill out information on your families you may want to stop there because you will have acquired some useful extra detail.

I find this search useful to determine a preliminary birth date, while it’s not yet available through BDM searches, even by year.  It may also tell you (with varying reliability) where they were probably living when they joined up, their place of birth, and possibly their spouse’s name as next of kin. Not bad for a quick haul. Of course with WWII we’re also more likely to pick up female family members.

However if it’s your direct ancestor, it’s still worth your while to obtain the full service history from DVA by providing the details (or a printout) found from your search. Why would you bother? Well just think about what you find in your World War I records, and it’s easy to see the benefits. Combine it with other sources like war diaries, photographs and oral histories and you can build a comprehensive picture which tells of your relative’s experience.

For last year’s Anzac Day post I told the story of one of my family members, based on a combination of his Korean service records and the digitised war diaries. You can read it here to see just how you can build a picture from these record sets, probably more so where the person was killed in action.

Catalogue items

It’s true that not all of us can manage to get to see the original records in the archives, but with online catalogues it makes it possible to draw up a list that you might want to look at if/when you’re lucky enough to be on site. If it’s a very specific item, you may just be able to order it directly, for a fee (still cheaper than airfare+accommodation).

I’ve already mentioned the AWM collections search but also have a look at what NAA has available through this link. Of course Ancestry and Findmypast also have overseas service information which you may want to explore.

I hope this post has provided some strategies for building up your relative’s military service history to incorporate into your family story.

Racing through R in Retford, Rotterdam and Rocky

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today I am going to keep comments on each place succinct and refer you back to earlier posts.

R is for Retford (Nottinghamshire, England)

Grove St, Retford where Susannah Cass had her school for ladies. © P Cass 2006.

Mr Cassmob’s Cass ancestors lived in Retford where his 2xgreat grandmother Suzannah Cass and her sisters ran a school for young women with her sisters. The women lived in the adjacent area of Moorgate. Back in 2006 we had a great time on this particular leg of our family history adventures. You can read about it here.

R is for Rotterdam (Netherlands)

My 2xgreat grandfather, Laurence Melvin, worked as a merchant sailor, travelling between Leith and the northern European ports. He was a young man, with a wife and three small children, when he took ill on one of his voyages. He died overnight and is buried in Rotterdam. I’m not sure I’ll ever know precisely where.

R is for Rockhampton (Queensland)

Rockhampton was the Queensland hub for my McSherry/McSharry ancestors after they arrived in 1884/1883 respectively. Last year I posted about discovering the sale of my great-grandfather, Peter McSherry’s estate on Trove. More recently I wrote about how his mother, Bridget McSharry, had a boarding house in Rockhampton and the hardships she experienced in her new Queensland life, and the on-going mystery and brick wall of her husband, James McSharry.  Peter, his wife Mary, and mother Bridget are all buried in the Rockhampton cemeteries. Although I’ve visited Rocky briefly in recent decades, for me the mental associationis stopping there on the Sunlander train, and Dad making a mad dash to get us beautiful fish and chips for our lunch.

St Mary's Rushden is just delightful. © P Cass 2010

R is for Rushden (Hertfordshire, England)

Although my Kent (name, not place) ancestors belonged to the Sandon parish in Hertfordshire, it’s likely they also visited the Rushden church from time to time as it was just as close to the Red Hill area of Sandon. I too have visited this church several times over the decades. It may only be “just another 14th century church” to quote a family member, but I love its simplicity and its peace, tucked away up a lane. When the daffodils flower in the churchyard among the graves it is simply lovely. The village has many gorgeous old homes with timber work and thatched roofs. I’m also enamoured with the name of the local pub The Moon and Stars. In one of those flights of fancy I usually never apply to my ancestry, wouldn’t it be nice to think my Kent publicans might have worked there once.

No quibbling over Q

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). There really was no quibbling as to what Q was for….

Q is for QUEENSLAND and Q150    

Queensland is Australia's north-eastern state.

Queenslanders are a proud breed, as fiercely loyal to their state as to their nation. Like the little sibling made good, Queensland was formed in 1859 when the former district of Moreton Bay separated from the colony of New South Wales. My own Australian ancestry is almost entirely Queensland-based though with business or kin links into New South Wales.

The arrival periods of my Queensland immigrant ancestors.

Queensland (Qld) celebrated its 150th anniversary of separation in 2009 with many festivities but also many Q150 projects to commemorate the state’s heritage. Believe me, if you were a family historian you had a busy 12 months across 2008/09. I’ve been planning to talk about a few of the genealogical projects for some time and now’s my chance.

GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY OF QUEENSLAND (GSQ)

GSQ undertook two projects in 2009.

PROJECT 1 was an update of the bicentennial Pioneer Muster of people resident in Queensland between 1859 and Federation in 1901. This had two parts: the construction of a database from the names submitted in 1988 and an update with new names. Many volunteers work hard to bring this to fruition. So far a CD is available with 12,000 names and it’s anticipated another will be forthcoming.

Pluses:

  • A readily searchable database of names of Queensland pioneers rather than the three volumes which had no doubt been languishing on the bookshelves.
  • The ability to link up with other family researchers.
  • The 2009 versions are likely to contain more information as the internet has made research more accessible. However by preserving the 1988 work, the entries of researchers from the time is also available.

Weaknesses:

  • It would have been great if the database had been searchable by place as well as name. This would have been perfect for anyone wanting to undertake a One Place study or simply to learn more about the people who lived in the same place as their ancestors.
  • CD#2 is still outstanding no doubt due to the sheer volume of work involved.

PROJECT 2 for GSQ was a book of 400 stories about the early Qld pioneers.

Pluses:

  • I liked the thematic approach to the stories, clustering stories of people with similar backgrounds or occupations. This made it easier to see similarities and differences.

Weaknesses (for me):

  • Like short stories, I found it frustrating to only get a canapé size bite of information about families. Limited visuals.

The link to these publications is here.

QUEENSLAND FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY (QFHS)

QFHS’s Q150 project was Queensland’s Founding Families, the stories of people resident in Queensland prior to Separation in 1859. It includes approximately 16,000 names.

Pluses:

  • QFHS had a requirement of proof of residency prior to 1859, making it more stringent.
  • With its focus on Pre-Separation Moreton Bay, this publication complements GSQ’s Separation to Federation database.
  • The stories were limited to three pages which gave the writer sufficient scope to tell the family’s story and add some illustrations.

Weaknesses:

  • None for me but perhaps the book is too expensive and too heavy for anyone who doesn’t want to use the CD.

Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society (TDDFHS)

TDDFHS’s Q 150 project was to gather stories on a representative sample of people buried in the now-Heritage Listed Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery. The book’s title was Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery: Our Backyard and it includes some very interesting yarns.

Also worth mentioning in the context of the above databases and publications, thought not Q150 focused, is TDDFHS’s publications of the Darling Downs Biographical Registers: Part I to 1900 in two volumes, and the recently released Part II up to 1920.

Once again, if you have any interest in, or ancestry from, the Downs these publications are well worth tracking down in your local genealogical or research library.

State Library of Queensland (SLQ)

The Storylines Q150 project has only recently come to my attention and it’s well worth a look if you have an interest in Queensland.

P presents Popondetta, Port Moresby and Peel Island

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today we have a guest post from Mr Cassmob on Popondetta, a place I’ve never visited. I divert into a sort of pathetic poetry on Port Moresby, and tell of tragedy on Peel Island.

P is for POPONDETTA (Papua New Guinea)

Mr Cassmob as a small boy with his Dad and big sister in Popondetta outside house #2. © Les Cass 1954.

This guest post is brought to you by Mr Cassmob who lived in Popondetta as a small boy.

Popondetta, capital of the Oro Province of Paua New Guinea, sits on the north Papuan plains, between Buna and Gona on the coast and Kokoda in the mountains; the area was the scene of vicious fighting when the Japanese invaded in the Second World War. In 1953, when Mr Cassmob’s parents, both teachers, arrived with their two small children, Popondetta was a very small town being established as the new administrative headquarters of the Northern District. Nearby Mt Lamington had erupted in January 1951, killing about 5,000 people and destroying the previous township at Higaturu.

Our first house in Popondetta had a coconut frond thatched roof, woven pit-pit (local cane/grass) walls and split bamboo floor, shutters, palm rats and a carpet snake in the rafters, and a long-drop toilet or thunder-box outside the back door. We thought we were the bee’s knees when we moved into our third house, a brand-new wooden high-set with louvres, internal doors, and an inside flush toilet attached to a septic tank. On the concrete slab under the house – very much our outdoor living area – Mum and Dad installed a cane-furniture bar complete with illuminated sign that said “Cass Bar”. For those who remember 1950s movies about Morocco, they greatly enjoyed saying ”Come wiz me to ze Cass Bar”.

School children, Northern District c1954 © Les Cass. Mould is what you get on your slides in the tropics!

I have happy memories of three years in Popondetta. It was, quite clearly, a colonial experience, but children could go anywhere in town, spending all day at the pool until dark drove us home; seeing flying foxes in columns half a kilometre wide and stretching from horizon to horizon pouring out of the jungle at dusk; checking Mt Lamington every morning to see if it was still smoking – if not, it might be trouble! Officially starting school flowed naturally from home because our mother was our teacher. The air link to Port Moresby (no roads) was through the Kokoda Gap in the Owen Stanley Ranges in a war-service Avro Anson flown by Papuan Air Transport. The Dutch pilot completed his flight preparations by walking out onto the tarmac, squinting at the clouds over the ranges and saying “Looks OK. We’ll have a go.”

I was saddened this morning to look at Popondetta on Google and see reports of raskol gangs, gambling, cyclone damage – in short, a town in collapse with no great reason for anyone to go there. Here are some recent insights into Popondetta life these days: Stranded in Popondetta and  SteveinPNG (unbelievable prices for betel nut).

P is for PORT MORESBY (PNG)

Poetry isn’t normally my thing, but for a change of pace I thought I’d present my impressions of (Port) Moresby in a different way.

At Jacksons Airport, Mr Cassmob's parents leave PNG after 23 years service (called "going finish") © P Cass 1976.


MEMORIES OF MORESBY

Bereft of family and friends

arriving at Jacksons Airport

humid heat slams like a truck

ground staff in lap-laps

a sea of different faces.

Betel nut sellers Port Moresby © P Cass 1974.

People sit around town

lime bags at their feet

mixed with betel nut to chew

mouths turn bright red with

blood-red globs of spit.

Catholic Cathedral near Ela Beach, Port Moresby. © P Cass 1975

Cathedral with indigenous art

becomes my refuge

a bastion of familiarity

flee, fly to Alotau and

our new home.

Returning to Moresby years later

we learn its other faces

children, jobs, a different life

Family and friends sit on the fence, Variarata. © P Cass 1975.

new friends, old friends

Gerehu greetings.

Ela Beach swimming, picnics

take the dog, leave the cat

adventures at Variarata

family photos on a fence.

At Christmas in Moresby

Santa arrives by plane or fire engine

Gerehuligans gather together,

a new tradition.

The Prince and the Bishop at a loss for words.on Independence. © P Cass 1975.

Independence for PNG arrives at last

watch the visitors, princes and chiefs

lower the old flag, raise the new,

commemorate our contribution

celebrate the start of a new country.

P is for PEEL ISLAND (Queensland)

It is late 1876 and a husband, his young wife and infant child set forth on the 869 ton Woodlark for the long voyage to Queensland. He is bred to the sea, but she is not. The voyage passes uneventfully thanks to the care and attention paid to the emigrants, and the cleanliness of their persons, berths and clothes[i]. The ship’s arrival in Moreton Bay is announced by the newspapers in January 1877. Among the 295 immigrants on board is a suspected case of enteric fever, also known as typhoid fever.  The ship is not granted pratique and the immigrants and other passengers are detained while those who are ill are placed in quarantine.

After a week most of the passengers were brought up to Brisbane but the case of a young woman remained doubtful. Six weeks later the young woman dies on Peel Island, in quarantine, but not of an infectious illness. The question has to be asked whether if she had been brought into the hospital she might have survived. There is some consolation in knowing her husband was with her throughout but her younger brother had probably been sent ashore previously. How did they write to tell her father the terrible news of his daughter’s death?

Janet Melvin nee Peterkin was barely 22 years old and she was my great-grandfather’s first wife.

For today’s A to Z challenge link, why not pop over to Stephen Tremp’s intriguing posts on astrological matters or Like a bump on a blog on blogging tips.

A feisty blog from someone living in PNG now is A Goddess in the Jungle, interesting insights into today’s expat lifestyle.


[i] Letter to the Editor, The Brisbane Courier, 25 January 1877, page 3.

O is for Oceans and Oban

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). The focus today is on migration to Australia.

O is for OCEANS

A sketch showing life on board for emigrants in the 1870s. State Library of Victoria IAN24/03/75/40 copyright expired. Searching Picture Australia for emigrant+ship will give you images of ships of the era.

My ancestors crossed the oceans wide to come to Australia braving the oceans’ hazards, health risks on board, and a new world. We can’t really imagine what they went through, cheek by jowl in the sleeping quarters, mixed with people of other nationalities and even counties, with whom they’d had no exposure prior to the emigration depot with all its own challenges. Just imagine the Babel, or babble, of the different dialects, including Gaelic, Irish, and English regional accents. Then put them all together on one small ship (averaging around 600 tons in the 1850s) and expect them to negotiate their mess arrangements and sleep in a hammock with others so close. Throw in the wild seas, anxiety and excitement about their future lives, and the potential for boredom and its surprising there wasn’t more dissension.

It was certainly one way to prepare them for what was ahead. For all that the emigrants to Australia had so much further to go, they were actually well looked after by the arrangements put in place by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) with required lists of clothing, specified dietary standards, a surgeon to supervise their health and a matron to take care of their other welfare. Education was often offered but not always availed.

The Irish were unusual in that Irish women were as likely to emigrate as men, atypical compared to other nationalities which either exported single men or families. Even where these women appeared to travel alone, a closer look at the shipping records will reveal there may have been cousins or neighbours on board. In the later years of emigration, they would have family in Australia who may have sent their remittance for emigration. It pays to look beyond just the name you’re researching to see who they may have travelled with…they weren’t as alone as we sometimes think.

My ancestral migration to Australia is spread from the 1850s through to 1911. This graph gives some indication of the family pattern -only two people travelled without known family/friends. © P Cass 2012.

Pondering on my post from Saturday about the precious packages my ancestors would have brought with them, I decided to have a look at their travel and migration status: who they arrived with, and whether they had family in the colony. Even this is deceptive because it only looks at their relatives, not at their broader social connections such as people from their home village. George Kunkel, for example, is not known to have had any family here before he arrived, nor did any arrive after him (chain migration) that I know of. However there were quite a few people from his home village living quite close by in Queensland. Did he arrive after them or before? Either way he wasn’t entirely alone, there was the solace of some compatriots.

How did your families arrive, alone or in a family group? Did it change depending on when they arrived?

To quote an unknown immigrant Mary Anne, writing home:

There are no backdoors in Australia to creep out as you must take everything as it comes when you get here.”[i]

O is for OCEANS OF CONSOLATION

Important reference books for migration research to Australia in particular.

If you have Irish ancestry in Australia there are two books you really must beg, borrow or steal (just kidding!). They are Oceans of Consolation by David Fitzpatrick, an analysis of letters from Irish immigrants and Richard Reid’s Farewell my Children which I posted about last year. Also worth looking at are any of the little Invisible Immigrant series by Eric Richards with chapters by Richard Reid.

Fitzpatrick uses the emigrants’ own letters to tell their story of settling into a new land. I particularly liked some of the comments from Biddy Burke, an immigrant from Galway to Moreton Bay. She commented “you must think it was hot when the plaits (sic) on the dresser should be handled with a cloth[ii] She was intrigued rather than horrified by the mixture of religions and races[iii], showing the adventurousness of those who made this journey.

Fitzpatrick argues that the migration decision was a family one, but my research suggests this may not always have been so. Wills tend to indicate that at least some emigrants went where they thought it would suit them best. The decision by some emigrants to come to Australia even though other family members had already emigrated to America suggests they were clear about what opportunities they wanted to pursue.

O is for OBAN (Argyll, Scotland)

Early morning over Oban's harbour, March 2006. © P Cass

Back in March 2006 we were in Oban, planning to visit Mull the next day. In the middle of the night we got a phone call from daughter #2 to tell us that my mother-in-law was dying. Now a B&B is not the best place to get this kind of news (is anywhere?) so we had to skulk down to the harbour to make calls on the public phone to get the whole story and try to arrange flights before the B&B came to life. Suffice to say that those who helped us on that occasion have our gratitude: the B&B owners who didn’t hold us to our three day booking, the staff member on the desk at one of the harbour-side posh hotels who helped us with internet links, and Emirates who made and held our booking until we got to Glasgow, unlike our national carrier. That morning at sunrise we saw seals in the harbour and as we made our way back into Glasgow, the skies were clear blue and the snow on the hills was magnificent…a blessing in a strange kind of way.

The Scots may not be effusive but we couldn’t fault their wonderful support. We were home within 48 hours and could have made it sooner had we not been a bit far from Glasgow airport, and thankfully we made it in time to say our goodbyes. Sure this is recent history, but as I want to publish this series of posts for our family and descendants, I wanted to tell this story, and checked my husband agreed.

Imagine what it would have been like for our ancestors to finally receive a letter telling them of a parent’s death, months after it had happened. Would they have sensed something pivotal had happened or would that barrier have passed when they left their family behind in the homeland?

In the A to Z challenge, Julie at Anglers Rest is continuing the story of her 20th century travel to Australia and her family’s links to the land Down Under.


[i] Haines, R. Life and death in the age of sail, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003, page 190

[ii] Fitzpatrick D. Oceans of Consolation, Melbourne University Press, 1994, page 149.

[iii] Ibid, page 148

N navigates North Shields, Nguiu and Nuremberg

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today’s places are scattered far and wide.

N is for North Shields (Northumberland)

North Shields is all about the sea, then and now. © P Cass 2010

North Shields lies between Tynemouth and Newcastle on Tyne in Northumberland. In its heyday there were busy shipyards with all the associated workers. Among the workers and residents of the nearby poorer areas, were my ancestors, the Gillespie/Gilhespy families, including my 2x great grandmother Margaret Gillespie. In the course of my research I’d read a number of references, and thought I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the town before I got there. Even so I was surprised to see how much the maps and Google Earth had helped me to understand the place. We were also impressed to see a huge slab-sided freighter come into the harbour: like a massive big box on the sea.

The wooden dolly is a feature of North Shields. © P Cass 2010

North Shields reminded me a little of Leith when I first saw it. Very much rooted in its working docks history, with hints of upcoming gentrification. Online searching had indicated that there were some very flash apartments near the river at North Shields. I’d say the Global Financial Crisis put paid to that idea for some time, as the construction site was a wasteland of inactivity. Empty shopfronts sit cheek by jowl with burgeoning quality restaurants. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves in coming years.

I enjoyed doing a tour of the area looking at their well-placed and informative historical signage. Because it covered a fair distance it became a driving tour, and the rain was driving as well. I managed to see most of what I’d hoped to, before I became soaked to the skin and had to call it quits…it was November, and cold!

N is for Nguiu (Northern Territory, Australia)

Nguiu waterfront, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory. © P Cass 2002

Nguiu is an Aboriginal community on the Tiwi Islands and was my daughter’s first teaching posting. The Tiwi people have a rich cultural heritage and their art work, carvings and fabrics are popular collectors’ items. There are all sorts of wonderful places to visit but you require a permit to go on the island (except on Grand Final day), so you need to take a tour or have family/friends on the island. The Tiwis were our first real exposure to Indigenous Australians in their own environment and we learnt so much from our daughter’s stay there. Not much use to my distant overseas readers, but maybe some of my Aussie geneabloggers will add a visit to the Tiwi Islands to their touring wish-list.

N is for Nuremberg (Bavaria, Germany)

The Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt: a sea of striped awnings. © P Cass 1992

For a certain age bracket of readers, Nuremberg will evoke memories of the post World War II Nazi crimes tribunal, as it did for me. Putting that aside what you’ll find is a Bavarian city rich in culture.

If you visit at Christmas, as we did, your focus will be on the city’s fantastic Christmas markets. It provides a sensory overload of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch combined. Stalls bristle with bratwurst on crispy white rolls with mustard, drunk with mulled wine to combat the chill, and decorated gingerbread for a sweet-treat or roasted chestnuts grilled over braziers.

Gorgeous horses and carriage tour Nuremberg © P Cass 1992.

Through the darkness the twinkle lights overhead mix with the coloured lights in the stalls to bring happiness and atmosphere. Stalls sell glittering Christmas decorations of all descriptions, large and small, inexpensive and pricey. A lovely nativity scene sits in sight of the ancient church in a square flanked by buildings. Beautifully groomed horses with golden manes clop by pulling old carriages for anyone who wants a sight-seeing ride. Lucky tourists may see the area dusted with snow. Truly magical!

And for anyone who is interested I’ve added Murphys Creek to my “M is for” list. I don’t know how I omitted it, given its significance to my family history.

In the A to Z challenge you might like to look at:

Coffee Lovin’ Mom on Galway

Family History Fun has a great “M is for…” post on Scottish sources.