Proud of my Irish roots

shamrock angel

Amidst the celebration of St Patrick’s Day, I’ve been reflecting how big a deal this was when I was a child, thanks in part to the religious divide. We would wear green ribbons to school (like the modern charity-fundraisers), little shamrock buttons, and have St Patrick’s Day concerts with all the old Irish songs.

On a  21st century note, I’ve been considering my Irish roots and how accurate I believe my DNA results are for ethnicity.

DNA comparison

As you can see, each of the companies I’ve tested with have come up with different levels of ethnicity. At #Congress_2018 it was mentioned that Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates are based (at least in part) on the trees in their database. Surely this is a good reason to get your trees uploaded to increase accuracy?

Living DNA region stats

Living DNA by region.

None of the companies provide results closely consistent with my own paper trail which is 44% Irish, 31% Scottish, 19% English/Welsh and 6% German.

I’m confident of most of these lines, with the exception of my annoying James Sherry aka James McSharry whose place of origin in Ireland continues to elude me.

My other Irish family names are:

Gavin:                   Ballymore Eustace, Kildare

Murphy:               David’s Town/Dunlavin, Wicklow

O’Brien:               Broadford, Clare

Reddan:               Broadford, Clare

Furlong:               Tullamore and ?, Offaly

Sta(u)nton:         Tullamore and ?, Offaly

Callaghan:           Courtown, Wexford

How Irish are you?

Do your ethnicity projections match your paper trail?

Have you still got Irish brick walls in your research?

Congress 2018: Coming ready or not

Congress stuffIt’s finally here – the event Down Under Genies have been excitedly anticipating – the AFFHO Congress 2018. And it’s going to be huge with 600 attendees – the largest ever held. I guess that reflects the pulling power of Sydney and the growth of our obsession hobby.

This will be my 5th Congress (Brisbane ’94, Melbourne ’03, Darwin ’06, Canberra ’15) and I’m looking forward to seeing my many genimates whom I’ve come to know in the online world and in person. There’s often years between catch-ups but it always feels like old mates meeting again.

Around half of the attendees will be newbies to Congress so we “old-timers” will need to make them welcome, introduce them to mates, and generally help them to enjoy Congress as much as we do. GeniAus has done a fantastic job keeping everyone in the loop with the Facebook group, Genimates @ #Congress_2018. It’s also been helpful for those who are unfamiliar with Sydney.

GeniAus and Alona from Lone Tester blog are providing blogger beads for the Geneabloggers Tribe members. I will have “Blogging Down Under” ribbons as well as “Kiva Genealogists for Families” for those who are members of those groups. I aim to be at the reception desk at the International Convention Centre at opening time to hand out ribbons and chat to people.

Our overseas visitors have been flying in over the past days, and some have been visiting our Aussie wildlife, to the envy of their American mates.

shamrockcutoutfoil_smLike other speakers I have long since submitted handouts (available from 7th March) and my slide presentation. I have my speaking notes prepared as well, so now I’m in full Irish mode: my two talks are Uncovering Your Irish Roots and Parallel Lives: Irish Kin Down Under and Abroad. I am super-excited that I’ll have two sessions to learn from my genea-heroes Richard Reid, Perry McIntyre and Liz Rushen! Other Irish researchers will have the chance to hear Paul Milner on the wonderful Griffith Valuations, but I’ll be hanging out with my genimate Shelley Crawford who’s talking about Visualising DNA Matches. I’m sure DNA is going to be a hot topic at Congress given how keen people are about testing.

I’ve got my Congress kit ready: Whitelines notebook (thanks Shelley for the tip), Genealogists for Families flyers, Opal card, USB memory stick, blogger beads, conference ribbons to share, pencils, multi-coloured pens, my own notes, contact cards, and my promotional bag for the Waves in Time Conference to be held on the Sunshine Coast 24-26 May 2019.

I suppose it’s time to sort out my clothes for the trip and hope the weather doesn’t play havoc with my wardrobe planning.

Look forward to seeing you there! And if you can’t make it, remember there’ll be lots of chatter on Twitter using #Congress_2018.

Kiva’s 10,000 women

international womens day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and Kiva has been aiming to lend to 10,000 women around the world. Women help to leverage their families’ security and progress by maintaining their own business, supporting their husbands in theirs, and helping to fun their children’s education.

Our Kiva Genealogists for Families group has a tradition of lending to women, perhaps because the genealogy world has a majority of women researchers. Thanks to these loans, families have gained greater economic security and better health through eco-energy and toilets…things we often take for granted. As our loans are repaid, we can choose to re-lend to others and keep growing our impact.

If you’re part of our team why not boost your loans today. If you haven’t joined yet, you can read more about how the team works here. And if you’re at Congress 2018 in Sydney, feel free to speak to me about it if you want to know more. I’ll have some flyers to share.

GFF lending at Mar 2018

Missing RootsTech 2018?

20170209_213018It’s that time of the year when those who are #NotatRootsTech feel the deprivation of fun, learning and seeing their genimates. This year there are attendees from many (40-50) countries as well as all of the states of the USA. Among them are many of my Facebook friends, blogging friends, and genimates I’ve met in person at RootsTech in 2015 or 2017. So it’s fair to say I’m #MissingRootsTech.

However, it’s not all sad news for those of us still at home. We can take advantage of technology to learn more about topics of interest. How do we do that?

  1. Go to the RootsTech app on either Google Play or Apple App Store. It’s great for those attending, but those at home can also benefit. Check out the talks you’re interested in, and most will provide handouts. You can download these wherever you are and save them to your tablet, laptop, Pocket or Evernote. A great chance for learning!
  2. Some of the sessions are being live-streamed. This means you can watch them in your pyjamas – pretty much what we’ll be doing Down Under given the time zone differences. I’ve put a cheat-sheet with some Aussie time conversions here.
  3. Follow your genimates on social media including Facebook and Twitter where they’ll be using the hashtag #RootsTech. Try not to go green with envy.
  4. If you’re heading off to the AFFHO Congress 2018 in Sydney next week you’ll have the chance to pick the memories of those who have headed home straight from Salt Lake.
  5. Meanwhile read your favourite blogs and see what they’re saying. GeniAus is our local talent and the first Aussie to venture to RootsTech when it started.

    20170210_102305(0)

    Down Under attendees at RootsTech 2017.

  6. Revisit the RootsTech site after the event finishes, as at least some of the presentations are recorded even if they’re not live-streamed. You can see some from earlier years here.
  7. Maybe add RootsTech to your Bucket List and then you’ll get to go to that genealogy mecca, the Family History Library. The registration is very reasonable thanks to the scale and the sponsors. It’s the airfares that can be the stumbling block for many from Down Under.

20170210_114235The sheer scale of RootsTech has to be seen to be believed, especially for those of us from Down Under. The masses of people (25,000!), the variety of exhibitors and the super-deals that are on offer.

Then there’s blogger beads and promotional ribbons from all sorts. Never mind, at least those who are coming to Congress won’t miss out on blogger beads which are being donated by Alona from Lone Tester and Jill from GeniAus and several of us have had ribbons printed. See me if you’re a Queenslander (or have predominantly Qld research), a member of Genealogists for Families or you’re a Geneablogger Down Under.

20170213_093720

The sheer scale of the exhibition hall is more apparent when it’s empty.

Accentuate the Positive 2017

Family History

Opportunities for positivity

Once again Aussie Geneablogger extraordinaire, GeniAus, has offered us her traditional New Year challenge “Accentuate the Positive” from our research over the past year. This is my response.

  1. An elusive ancestor previously unknown relative I found was my mother’s cousin, Hugh Moran.
  2.  A great newspaper article I found was Hugh Moran’s personal descriptions of life in Prisoner of War camps in Italy and Germany during WWII.

    3.  A geneajourney I took was a revisit of Murphy’s Creek and perambulations on the Darling Downs. Also, my first trip to the Gold Coast since 1992, to attend the excellent Footsteps in Time Conference.

    4.  An important record I found was a mudmap of the Oughton Cottages in Courtown, Gorey where my Callaghan ancestors lived. It was hiding among the newly released 1847 Quarto books from Griffith’s Valuation and enabled me to track the homes of my ancestors.

    5.  A newly found recently-reconnected family member shared the christening gown worn by my grandmother and all her siblings c1870-1890. Such a treasure to see and hold. Another treasure was receiving a modern photo of Hugh Moran (see above). Another cousin regularly sends me family photos from her heritage collection. Some cousins have also very generously shared their DNA with me, enabling me to pin down new connections – with more to be unravelled.

    6.  A geneasurprise I received was a phone call from my 2nd cousin who I hadn’t seen since we were pre-teens. We’ve loved reconnecting and I’m grateful she found me, and that we live relatively close by!

    7.   My 2017 blog posts that I was particularly proud of were: the stories I’ve wanted to tell about my father’s life and work; and uncovering the war-time experiences of Hugh Moran.

    8.   I made a new geminate, Katherine R Willson, when we shared an Uber with her and the Legal Genealogist en route to the Post-Roots Tech bloggers’ gathering in February. We had an absolute hoot in the car. She has a heart that encompasses so many.

  3. 9.  A new piece of technology I used was Graphing DNA using Excel tools shared by Shelley from Twigs of Yore. I can see the usefulness of it and will learn more from Shelley during her presentation at Congress 2018. Meanwhile I’ll keep plugging away at my DNA matches and genealogy software.

    10. I joined the Caloundra Family History Research Group and re-joined the Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ) where I started my research back in 1986.

    11. Genealogy events from which I learnt something new was Footsteps in Time and the Unlock the Past Roadshow in Brisbane.

    12. A blog post that taught me something new – so many offer new insights, it’s difficult to single out just one.

    13. A DNA discovery I made was confirmation of the suspected link to the Reddan family of Gortnaglough, Broadford, Clare.

    14. Along with geminate Fran aka the TravelGenee, we taught Caloundra genimates the practical basics of how DNA testing works and how it might help them.

    15. A brick wall is still standing – My truly elusive ancestor, James McSharry aka Sherry continues to defeat me. So far, DNA hasn’t solved this dilemma as I’d hoped it would.

    16. A great site I visited was the Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques Facebook page – I use it constantly to (try to) learn.

    17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was Looking Over My Shoulder by Patrick O’Brien about the O’Brien family from Carrownakilly, near Killaloe in East Co Clare.

    poster-147876118. It was exciting to finally meet Dirk Weissleder and learn more about German research and new collaborations.

    19. I am excited for 2018 because there are going to be so many learning opportunities at Congress 2018 and an opportunity to meet “old” genimates and make new friends.

    20. Another positive I would like to share is that I participated in various blog memes, gave presentations through the year, and helped friends begin their family research.

Thanks GeniAus for the chance to reflect positively on our achievements over the year.

Reflections on Slow Genealogy

DelugeThis blog reached its 8th blogiversary milestone during the past week. It seems appropriate to post on a topic that has been on my mind for many months.

In recent times it seems I’m sometimes enjoying family history less, rather than more. On reflection, I think this is because I feel like I’m caught in a research tsunami or a whirlwind that leaves me tossed and turned and lacking direction. So much information is being released on almost a daily basis, that it’s far too easy to bounce from one record to the other, one site to another and one family to another.

I love being able to do more research, at a distance, at any time, but the ready access to online resources makes it all too easy to be reactive rather than pro-active. Back in the day I was much more likely to focus on particular research problems, not always to do with one family, and brainstorm possible solutions then pursue (and peruse) the relevant records. The pace of research made it easier to be more conscious of the process as well as the information discovered.  These days I feel more like a bee in a bottle randomly smacking against the walls.

It may well be that this problem is peculiar to me and others manage their time and research in a more structured way. No BSO’s (Bright Shiny Objects) for them, no getting lost in Trove. However, I suspect I’m not really alone in this battle of prioritisation.

We’ve heard of Slow Food and Slow Travel and I’m going to try to implement some Slow Genealogy this coming year. What will be my challenges and how might I cope with them?

LEARNING

There’s so many opportunities for learning in this online world and I really need/want to structure my time to review past Legacy Family Tree Webinars and watch new ones. They’re great value especially if you get a subscription when they’re on sale.

Down Under’s triennial Congress 2018 will be held in Sydney in March and I’m looking forward to learning from others, and sharing a little about Irish research. The trick is then to implement what I learn when I get home!

DNA

DNA is a whole whizzbang world of discoveries. There is just so much learning attached to the process of matches and ascertaining where the families link. This seems to be especially difficult with Irish ancestry where the records cause so many problems. I feel I have a mountain still to climb to come to terms with this whole process. Facebook pages like Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques are must-read to learn how others are approaching these challenges.

I’ve been lucky that relations have kindly tested: some matches are completely obvious in kinship, others remain a mystery. Nevertheless, I still want to think about who might test to solve my “brick walls” like the origins of my 2xgreat grandfather, James Sherry aka McSharry. He stubbornly refuses to be found.

SOCIAL MEDIA

With the rise and rise of Facebook as a genealogy learning and sharing tool, time has to be allocated to keeping up with new sites, programs and strategies. Then there’s building friendships and networks with genimates far and wide, who I’ve met through my blog, seminars or at Roots Tech.

I’ve progressively disengaged myself from Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ or my brain will fry.

Feedly remains on my iPad but I find I follow blog posts more through bloggers’ notices on Facebook. I feel guilty that I no longer comment as much as I used to, or that the comments appear on Facebook rather than their blog, which will have a wider readership.

My friend and genimate, The TravelGenee, introduced me to Pocket which has been helpful for articles and posts to be read later or retained for future reference. This has been a double-edged sword as I could lap the world a few times while reading, and still not catch up.

I also need to read through past genealogy emails and add them to my Evernote account so they are preserved and accessible if I have computer crashes. It’s all about creating a habit.

BLOGGING

For the last couple of years my blog posts have been declining in number. It’s not so much that I have nothing to say but that ideas that come into my head don’t always make it into my blog. On the up side, I’ve written a couple of posts that have been on my to-do list for some time, like the story of my father’s life and work. I also made a discovery that one of my mother’s cousins, Hugh Moran, had been in a German POW camp (Stalag 344) and I learned a lot from that discovery, both in particular, and in general terms – I now have a collection of books on Prisoners of War.

RESEARCH

This is where I really feel my lack of strategic planning is letting me down and that I’ve been blowing in the wind. Having recently been contacted by a long-lost second cousin, I’ve realised that my draft of the McCorkindale family story has been languishing for far too long, and I really need to add in discoveries I’ve made.

Similarly, the story of my Melvin ancestors needs further additions especially since I’m getting lots of DNA matches from that tree.

Meanwhile, my One Place Studies on Broadford, Murphy’s Creek and Dorfprozelten, have languished almost entirely. Perhaps I’ve just bitten off more than I can chew.

As an enormous advocate of offline research, I’m ashamed to say I don’t get to the archives or reference libraries very often at all, in fact probably less than when I lived in Darwin.

My general preference for “projects” is to work on one dedicated task at a time and this is probably why all this mental flitting about is getting me down. I like the online responsiveness but I miss the steady focus of offline research.

I also need to get back to maintaining a running “To Do” file for my research which also helps with focus.

WHERE NOW?

Revisit record revisePerhaps I need to dedicate a month/week per topic/family and see if that works.

I also need to take the advice I offered in my 3Rs of Genealogy post.

A concentrated focus on some Slow Genealogy with more consciousness may help. I wonder if it will work among the competing online demands?

What do you think? Do you have any ideas?

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY READERS.

I wish you fun in your research, new discoveries and the sound of brick walls crumbling.

Deck the Halls: 2017 Christmas geneameme

Baby Jesus in mangerBack in 2012 when I was blogging prolifically I created this geneameme. I was delighted that Randy Seaver from Geneamusings used it for this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Thanks for reviving it, Randy.

In the intervening years we’ve relocated to my home state, far from some of our family, the grandchildren have grown up a little and we’ve acquired another one. I wondered what might have changed, and found that most of our traditions have continued with only minor tweaking. So here’s my modified response.

THE 2012 2017 CHRISTMAS GENEAMEME

  1. Do you have any special Xmas traditions in your family? We always have a tree with many decorations – hearts and stars feature prominently. The Christmas angel we bought in Galway many years ago, sits right below the red star at the top of the tree. We usually have the tree up for about four weeks – between two family birthdays- but we’ve been a bit late this year.
  2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Xmas Day? We used to be regular church-goers but we had a falling out with the church and haven’t been for decades. Midnight Mass was always our favourite, with the joyous enthusiasm of the youth band revving it up at the end of Mass. Thanks to the late night, the children always slept in. One tradition carried across the generations was my husband telling the kids to “roll over and go back to sleep” followed by “open the gift at the end of the bed” (a book!) I’m curious why the local Anglican church here has a service in German.
  3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa? Yes, of course! Like most kids, belief was suspended one year when I snooped and found my major present. I can’t recall when our children stopped believing but must ask if all four of our grandkids are still believers. There’s the universal rule: even if you’re old enough to know the facts, you don’t spoil it for the littlies.
  4. Do you go carolling in your neighbourhood? I don’t think this is a general tradition in Australia, at least where we’ve lived. Instead, Carols by Candlelight is a celebration in many places. Our local town had one on what might be called the village green this year. We didn’t go…just disorganised.
  5. What’s your favourite Christmas music? A burst of the Messiah is hard to beat!
  6. What’s your favourite Christmas carol? Little Drummer Boy and Mary’s Boy Child remain firm favourites and I have fond memories of enjoying Oh Tannenbaum after I started to learn German. Boney M’s Christmas Carols is one of my favourites (joyous and exhuberant), followed by Christmas Carols from Oxford (serious but gloriously sung).
  7. Do you have a special Xmas movie/book you like to watch/read? Not really.
  8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)? The adults do not-so-secret Santa per family, and the little ones get gifts from each of us. We were shocked and rather aghast one year when we saw the massed presents under the tree and resolved to make it more balanced. In the mania of the mall I’ve been pleased to see that books remain popular, and at the garden centre, that plants are another favourite.
  9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away? It is usually indoors as it lets us have the table set formally, using family heirlooms. If it’s really hot, we’ll add the aircon. Afterwards, and before, we’re likely to be outdoors for a while.
  10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal? Never, ever turkey. Roast pork (cold or hot), ham always, seafood, and whatever fancy salads the collective gourmands put together. Christmas pudding has gone off the menu in recent years, replaced by one daughter’s tiramisu and a special pavlova-like dessert I make. Our meal is a collaboration of chefs even if the kitchen gets a bit crowded!
  11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Xmas? Always my Scottish grandmother’s shortbread recipe. The Christmas cake has also gone off the menu recently and after many years I swapped from my mother’s recipe to one I found in the Women’s Weekly: green peppercorn cake -delicious!
  12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Xmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited? For decades I used my grandmother’s pudding recipe but see 10, now we have a lighter dessert. I suppose my dietary restriction re dried fruit has influenced both this and the cake, since others aren’t die-hard fans. I’ve been intrigued, reading responses from the US in particular, that pudding seems to be a very British inheritance.
  13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they? Sometimes gingerbread. When the grandkids are nearby I like to involve them in the making of small cakes and the shortbread. It’s become a family tradition to find special salads for the day – some stand the test of time and reappear each year.
  14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas? Rarely these days though I once used to. One of our Christmas activities is doing craft with the grandchildren so they give something to their parents – teaches them it’s not all about their own presents, and it’s fun!
  15. Do you return to your family for Xmas or vice versa? Over the years this has chopped and changed depending on where we’ve been geographically. Some years we’ve all been together, other times it’s different combinations. This year there will be four generations including two branches of our Cass mob. Now that we live far away from some of our daughters and their families, they are usually here with us so it involves lots of preparation for the influx. When our daughters worked in the hospitality industry, rostered on public holidays, we started celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, in the European way.
  16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ? Yes, primarily around church-going. We also have more people involved.
  17. How do you celebrate Xmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Xmas outings? Drop-ins? Phone calls for those who are far away, and locally it varies depending on mututal availability. This year I enjoyed my first Christmas lunch with other members of the Caloundra Family History society – far more fun than work functions.
  18. Do you decorate your house with lights? A little or a lot? For a long time, we’ve had some lights around the garden but when we moved here, the strong hint we were given is that this neighbourhood “does” lights, so each year we’ve added a few more. Now some families have moved away and there’s fewer lights…sad.
  19. Is your neighbourhood a “Xmas lights” tour venue? No.
  20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where? Not any more, especially if we’re not organised. I guess when we had small children, we made sure we were organised and went.
  21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)? Not that I recall.
  22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue? “Always” at home or with family though one year we arrived home from overseas days before Christmas, and one year three of us spent Christmas in Lucerne…very pretty with snow, church bells etc – but we missed everyone else.
  23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live? I wish – but it would be rather a shock in the sub-tropics.
  24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year? Absolutely!
  25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation? As a child we had a small gum (eucalyptus) tree or a branch. Since we’ve been married it’s always been an artificial one. We were mesmerised to see real trees being bundled up in their onion-bag wraps when overseas at/near Christmas.
  26. Do you have special Xmas tree decorations? Do we ever! We collect them from our travels so we have all sorts – no themed decorations for us! There are also a few that go back years: kids’ craft, and one from our very first Christmas a couple. More recently there are some that were made by the grandchildren, including a handprint from each.
  27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving? Christmas for sure. Aussies don’t do Thanksgiving. I rather like the idea of it but it would have to be mid-year. After all, this is the end of the school year, time for annual holidays and in some businesses, end of financial year. The thought of adding anything else to the mania of the end of the year would send people right round the bend.

A numbertaker? Say what?!

It’s funny how when writing about ancestors in the past, it seems easy to be objective and base stories on discovered facts. When writing about more recent people and events, the concern is a lack of objectivity. Having said that, I’ll continue with the story of Dad’s working life which will inevitably be from my perspective more than anything else.

Growing up in a railway home, you are aware of two things: the dominance of shift work and its impact on eating and sleeping habits, and the dangers facing the railway workers from day to day. Having read several railway staff files for family members, the department could be unforgiving with mistakes, fining men for any errors (however minor), and occasionally remunerating them for an innovation.

Numbertaker Railway Daily Mercury 8 May 1935 p8

Fair dinkum…this was honestly a response we heard. 1935 ‘Local and General.’, Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 8 May, p. 8. , viewed 28 Nov 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article173191490

It’s likely that Dad started as a lad porter in the Queensland Railways, straight after Grade 10 and just before the beginning of World War II. He had brief stints in Landsborough and on the Gold Coast line, however he spent the bulk of his 50 years of railway service in Roma Street. Once he gained appointment as a numbertaker the rest of his working life was in the Roma Street (aka Normanby) shunting yards and he was working there by the mid-1940s. The usual response is “an undertaker??” No, though it could be argued there were times when the railways could have done with that occupation. In fact, a numbertaker is quite different and is also known as a tally clerk in some services.

 

To this day I’m uncertain about the exact responsibilities of a numbertaker but my understanding is that his duties included checking the weight distribution of wagons and the sequence in which they were loaded, so goods could be off-loaded in the correct order. He could add columns of figures up, quick as a wink, in his head and I saw him do this many times. In fact, when I was struggling with mental arithmetic in Grade 3 or 4 it was Dad who managed to make me understand it, rather than the nun who taught me. The next level up in the ranking was a shunter, and Dad never wanted that job given its high risk. Whether something deterred him when he was young I don’t know, but I do know is that even as a young girl I knew when he’d come up devastated because some young bloke had lost his life or his limb during a shunting accident – and the significance of the injured man trying to feel his leg(s). During his life with the railway he saw this type of accident, and worse, more frequently than anyone would like.

Roma St Good s yard 1935

1930. New Goods Yard at Roma Street Railway Station, c 1936, Queensland State Archives

Apart from the hazards of the shunting yard in and of itself (an occupation I’ve read in a journal is more dangerous even than mining underground), there was the lack of what we’d know as Occupational Health and Safety today. The men wore heavy navy blue serge uniforms which of course which made them nigh invisible at night or in bad weather. There were no high visibility jackets available at the time. Similarly, there was no arc lighting over the yards, rather the men carried a special type of kerosene lamp as they went about their duties. Imagine, if you will, these hazards combined with criss-crossing train tracks and the sheer tonnage of trains around them especially as they got further into their shift with associated tiredness. At a minimum they worked an eight-hour shift, walking between Roma Street and the Exhibition grounds. My mind boggles at how many kilometres and steps he’d have notched up on a Fitbit of today. In the 1970s, when he was in his 50s and we lived in Papua New Guinea, I remember there were many times when he worked extended shifts, sometimes as long as 16 hours. It has taken a long time, but I no longer get anxious with late-night phone calls –  when we knew he was on shift it could strike fear in your heart.

Roma St goods yard 1951 NAA

1951. Cities and towns – Brisbane’s main railway goods yards near Roma Street Station, the main suburban line terminal. National Archives of Australia, out of copyright. The photo was probably taken from the bridge across to the Grammar Schools. The huts on the right hand side are where the men had their smoko breaks.

During the war, the railways were a reserved occupation but before his death Dad told me how he’d had to supervise Italian POWs working near Corinda station. They would start early and work like crazy so they could “chill out” once they’d finished their duties. He always said that had he gone to war he’d have like to have been with the Ambulance Corps…he saw enough accidents that he knew he could cope.

VP Day 1945 Qld Police Museum

Brisbane Victory Celebrations – World War II, VP Day 15 August 1945, Queensland Police Museum.

Somewhere among my notes, he told me once about talking to a policeman about the events of the Battle of Brisbane. When the war finally ended, Mum told me he was pretty peeved to be on duty and unable to go into town to celebrate with the crowds.

Although Dad had learned to drive a car as a young man, we didn’t own a car until the late 1960s. He rode an ungeared pushbike to and from work every day….add that to the Fitbit tally! He would stop at the corner of our street before the hill, and wave goodbye – again part of that “you never know what will happen” concept.

All that fitness probably helped him a great deal aerobically and offset the effects of smoking at the time. However my own view is that his years on oxygen with emphysema had as much to do with coal dust in the yards as smoking. He caught pleurisy when he visited us in PNG in the early 1970s and our friend, the physician, said he had the worst lungs our friend had ever seen – full of coal dust.

On top of that he acquired industrial deafness, unsurprising in that environment, for which he was granted some compensation.

shunting Flickr

This wonderful photo gives a clear idea of why a worker’s lungs might be full of coal dust. Image from Flickr of a PB15 class locomotive shunts the Roma Street railway yards at the Normanby end.photographed late 1960s. Image by Leonard J Matthews, Creative Commons.

I mentioned the shift work which dictated our family activities to some extent. No air-conditioners then to offset a hot summer’s day in Brisbane when sleep was needed, and heaven help anyone who made lots of noise or who hammered on the door. Probably just as well we didn’t have a phone either! Throughout Dad’s working life, at least as I was growing up, his shifts rotated through 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am. He would then do three weeks of 2-10 in sequence, making it difficult, surely, to adjust the sleep patterns. Nor was there a regular weekend for family outings. Of course they also worked hail, rain or shine and he swore blind that he’d seen snow flurries on the night shift in June 1984 when we were in New Zealand, hoping for snow.

Crowds and police in Edward Street infront of the Trades Hall during the Railways Strike Brisbane 1948

“St Hanlon’s Day” march and railway strike was held near Trades Hall on Edward Street, 17 March 1948. Evocative of the scenes of “right to protest” marches, Brisbane, 1966.

Dad was a strong union man though his union was not a large one. He could be vocal about expressing his opinions at the meetings, or so I’m told. It’s hardly a wonder, given the abysmal standards of OH&S. When the contentious 1948 St Patrick’s Day railway strike took place, Dad witnessed what happened, though I believe he was not marching. I wonder if any of his Kunkel cousins were on Police duty that day. He would use this experience to warn me against political marches in the 1960s “if I ever wanted to have children”.

The breaking point for Dad came when they introduced computerised systems. This was all too much for him and he decided it was time for retirement. The men gave him the gift of a recliner, funded from their soft-drink machine purchases…a gift that gave good service as ill-health overtook him.  He also received a Railway service medal.

Numbertaker duties

This is an extract of a submission to get an upgrade to the numbertakers’ pay rates. It gives some idea of the complexities they might be dealing with.  (personal archives)

Eventually the coal dust and cigarettes took their toll and he had repeated bouts in hospital. Each time I returned to Darwin, I thought might be my last farewell so when the final farewell came, the impact was less of a shock. I had managed to catch a flight with minimal time and spent the last nights with him at the hospital along with my other half, and one of our daughters.

Dad on his 80th

Dad on the Kookaburra Queen for his 80th birthday. He’ll probably haunt me for including this photo, but for me it highlights his blue eyes – his DNA bequest to two of his great-grandchildren. Snowy white hair like his mother, but when he was young he had jet black hair and a red beard.

 

On the national stage, those few days were eventful: Kevin Rudd, and the ALP, were elected into federal government ; the Northern Territory government got a new Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, and the long-term asbestosis campaigner, Bernie Banton, also died.

The Normanby goods yard and the men’s mess room are no longer there. The men’s smoko sheds have been overtaken by a bus interchange and Grammar School buildings.  Classy apartments are on the site where dad worked, and the beautiful Roma St Parklands look out over what was once a maze of shunting tracks. Next time you pass by along Countess St, or visit the Parklands, give a thought to my dad and his colleagues who gave their lives to the service of Queensland Rail and successfully delivered freight the length and breadth of Queensland.

Remembering Norman Kunkel

Today is the 10th anniversary of my father’s death. His death went unremarked in the wider world as he was always a loner and never cultivated a friendship circle but of course for me it was a sadly memorable event. In most ways those 10 years seem a long time ago, so much has happened in my own life since, and yet he was such an integral part of my life. It’s time to share a little of his story, both work and personal.

Norman Kunkel had turned 84 not long before his death. He’d been born in a private nursing home on Butterfield St, Herston and his parents planted a mango tree in the corner of their yard when he was born. There was always a superstitious sense that if the tree died, Dad’s days would be numbered, and yet it is still there, growing more healthily than it had done for some years. His parents were old to be having their first child in that era with his father being 43 and his mother 36. Norman would remain an only child and apple of his parents’ eyes.

29 Bally St c1930s_edited-3

This photo of the house where my Dad grew up. The photo would be c1930s as the backyard toilets are still in evidence. It’s difficult to see but there’s a horse in the foreground.

It is unusual, in this day and age, to find someone who has lived in one area for all their life, but Dad took this rather to an extreme.  With brief exception(s), he lived on the same block in Kelvin Grove his entire life, first in his parents’ home and then in the home that was built after I was born when my grandparents subdivided their land. He knew so much about the area, and the people who lived there, yet it was difficult to get stories from him – my best discoveries came when I was writing the family history of the Kunkel family.  I only wish I’d been able to extract more stories from him over the years. Mum called him “Elastic Jack” because she thought he exaggerated a yarn (common enough with story-tellers, I suppose). In retrospect it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, but when on a roll he could be very funny. He had a very particular view of his German heritage which I suspect my Kunkel research discoveries threw into chaos. I now wonder if his German surname, unchanged through two world wars, affected his and the family’s response to their heritage.

Dad’s social network as a child focused on his mother’s siblings and their children. While he may have met his maternal grandmother, Annie Sim McCorkindale, he would have had no memory of her, since she died before he turned three.  Growing up, Norman was closest to his cousin Isabelle who was only a few weeks older than him. I have many photos of the two of them together and I’m thrilled to have recently reconnected with Isabelle’s daughter, my second cousin.

Isabell Bryson and Norman Kunkel c1927

Dad with his cousin Isabelle. Both these cane chairs are still in the family.

Sadly, Dad had little knowledge of his Kunkel cousins, of whom there were many. My grandfather had had a falling out with his siblings, reportedly over religion, and only two uncles came to visit from time to time, and perhaps also their children, one of whom was lost in Korea. I suspect Dad knew more about his Kunkel 2xgreat grandparents than he shared, both frustrating and ironic given my paternal grandfather was their eldest grandchild.

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930. Dad is 4th from left in second back row.

Dad attended the Kelvin Grove State School for his primary schooling. It was the closest to his home and many of the stayers in the area were kids he’d attended primary school with…handy one time when some boys threw stones at me en route home from the Catholic school. Dad was round totheir father, quick as a wink, and it never happened again. I’ve been lucky to inherit many school photos from those days. In high school he ended up at Brisbane State High School at West End. He was never a good scholar and yet he was a prolific reader all his life – a love he shared with me. A fond memory is that whenever I was sick he’d bring me special comics or books home to read.

Norman Kunkel v young

Dad in his railway uniform as a young man.

As a teenager Dad joined Queensland Railways, like his father and many other Kunkel family members. Ironically while I have staff files for many of my ancestors, there is none available for Dad as these have been destroyed. It’s likely he joined first as a lad porter but for decades he worked as a numbertaker in the Roma Street goods yard, of which more anon. He worked shift-work for many years and our family life revolved around accommodating these constraints.

There was no tennis or golf, cricket or football, in Dad’s off-duty time – he’d got quite enough physical exercise during his shift. Instead he did the standard things men did in those days: mowing the lawn, mending shoes, and keeping the yard tidy. Unlike many families of that era, there was no vegetable patch in our garden and no chook yard. I have a distant memory of Dad having to kill a chook one year (probably for Christmas) and it running around, headless. He’d have hated that as, looking back, I can see that he hated killing fish or chooks, and, only once, having to drown some kittens in the nearby creek.

Norman Kunkel

Dad and his roses – an early colour photo thanks to a family member who brought the film back from the USA.

He grew beautiful roses in the front garden, the most prolific of which was a red rose called Roundelay and one I loved that was pink striped (name?). Gerberas held a fascination for him and he grew magnificent double gerberas back when singles were the norm (oops a name pun there!). He would order them and the roses in from a nursery in Bundaberg.

Having lived near a tributary of Breakfast Creek all his life, he was familiar with the hazards of snakes and taught me early how to deal with them – a skill that proved handy many times. When I was very little we would fish in the creek but all I remember catching was the odd catfish. However, whenever we went to Magnetic Island on holidays, Dad and I would go fishing, either off the jetty or in a dinghy which he’d row out into Picnic Bay. There we’d catch delicious tropical fish like coral trout, rock cod, rainbow trout etc, and yet somehow I picked up his reluctance to having to kill them. I liked to be Daddy’s girl and go fishing, but it’s not something I’ve continued into adult-hood, for the same reason as him.

He loved the bush and he, Mum and I would often go bush-walking especially when on holidays. From him I learned the names of birds and some plants. They were special times as a family.

norm and joan at picnic bay1

My parents climbing up from Rocky Bay,

One time I came home from Girl Guides very upset about something and Dad’s advice has stuck with me down the decades “don’t always turn the other cheek”. This was so contrary to my religious education that it truly caught my attention. Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself.

Dad also shared his love of cats with me – a love that has continued throughout my life. We were never without one when I was a child, and only for one very brief period as an adult. They are a fundamental part of my well-being.

pauleen norm at picnic bay

One of my favourite photos – Dad, me and kittens on holidays at Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island

When they were planning to build the Ballymore Stadium in the 1960s, familiar to Rugby Union aficionados, Dad was up in arms battling all the powers that be. It was ironic that after it was built he became a dedicated rugby fan (helped a little by his daughter’s new boyfriend!). He was never much of a drinker, but he liked an occasional beer or whisky, which led to a funny story one day when we were all engrossed watching a game on TV and Mum moved his coffee table as she tidied.

Like many men of his era he enjoyed bush ballads and poetry and could recite some by heart.

Reading, flowers, cats, fishing, snake avoidance and the bush: all great gifts but the greatest he gave me – apart from his love – was the opportunity to have the best possible education. With mum’s committed and dedicated support, this was truly a gift that has kept on giving. It wasn’t always easy for them, with limited finances, but they made it a priority for which I’m grateful to them both.

Thanks Dad, for everything.

Why not come back to read the story of his working life, and how it contributed to his death.

Grandad goes to war: Remembrance Day 2017

One hundred years ago today my grandfather, Denis Joseph Kunkel, was at sea en route to England thence  to the war in France.

dinny jim & friend

James Edward (Front left) and Denis Joseph Kunkel (centre) and unidentified friend or relation c 1917.

He had volunteered with his younger brother, James Edward, on 22 October 1917[1] probably as part of a push at the time to recruit qualified railway workers to work on the lines to the front in the north of France. I wrote about his life-long railway career some time ago. Denis would join the Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company and given the rank of Lance Corporal.

We don’t know why Grandad left it until 1917 to enlist, as his much younger brothers had already joined up along with their cousins and he had already lost two cousins in the carnage of France and Flanders (James Gavin and James Paterson). Perhaps he was older and wiser, or perhaps he’d been reluctant to serve in a war against Germany while his Bavarian-born grandfather was still alive. Perhaps it wasn’t until the call for railway expertise that he thought he could contribute. We will never know.

At the time of his recruitment Dinny was already living on the Ballymore Estate where I’m told he was renting a room at 33 Bally Street.  His attestation records document that Dinny was aged 37 years and 1 month, 5ft 6inches tall[2], weighed 165lbs, had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. His chest measurement was 36-39 inches. He had a scar on his right thigh and another on his left knee. He was regarded as medically and dentally fit. Denis gave his religious denomination as “None” though a later notation has been made to suggest that on the rolls he had given Church of England as his religion. From a family point of view this is interesting because his parents, and grandparents, were devout Catholics. Family anecdote tells that he had a major falling out with the clergy out west (obviously pre-dating his enlistment) and he never returned to Catholicism.

Denis left Brisbane by train for Melbourne and was accompanied by his brother, James. Gossipy war news was part of the journalism of the day and on 5 November 1917, The Toowoomba Chronicle reported that “On Tuesday’s troop train, Privates James and Denis Kunkle (sic) passed through Toowoomba for the front. They are sons of Mr Geo. Kunkle of Toowomba and well known in this district. They are also nephews of Mr Gavin, of Pechey, who has five sons[3] at the front”.[4]  Their much younger cousin, Anne Kunkel, who was only a child at the time of the war, remembers that the Murphy’s Creek school children would see long trains with “carriages of khaki-clad young men going off to war” as they passed through en route to the south. She also remembered meeting Dinny at some stage when he returned safely from the war.

Port Sydney AWM 4029449

This photograph shows the interest of the men in the Crossing the Line ceremonies. Image by C.W.L Muecke, copyright expired. Image J06289 Australian War Memorial.

Denis sailed to war on the ship Port Sydney which left Melbourne on 9 November 1917. I was fortunate that there was an enthusiastic photographer on board, documenting some of the sights and events along the way. Today I’ve also discovered a digitised copy of The Limber Log, a souvenir journal on the voyage edited by Lt H Garland. (As it’s under copyright, those who are interested will need to follow the link). It includes references to the joy and pangs of the departure, the sad death of one of the railwayman soon after leaving Colombo, and his burial. Many of the comments will raise eyebrows today with their political-incorrectness and racial slurs, but it’s well worth a read if you had relatives on this voyage. At the end of the journal, they included a Roll of Honour of all the men on board, including one Corporal, Kunkel, D J.

 

4105393

Unidentified soldiers, probably British, grouped around two 12 inch howitzers on Railway Hill used to support the Australian troops. The howitzer in the foreground is mounted on railway tracks, which allowed it to be moved to take up different positions along the railway line. Note a railcar on the right and piles of sandbags in the background. Australian War Memorial image E04615 out of copyright.  While this is an Allied weapon, there would have been similar on the German side.

Railway WWI Goulburn Evening Penny Post 2 Feb 18p4

1918 ‘The Railway Unit.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2 February, p. 4. (EVENING), viewed 11 Nov 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99019997

My father recalled that Denis, as part of the ABGROC, was responsible for taking the heavy artillery to the Front along the railway line, unloading heavy weaponry, then quickly re-hitching the engine to make good their escape before the German’s “Big Bertha” gun could get a “line” on them.  The 49th Battalion’s historian tells us that the Australian military had railway lines as extensive as those of the British.[5] The threat may have been very different from that experienced by the front-line troops who had to go over the dugouts, but having heavy weapons taking a line on a large piece of rolling stock would surely have made the heartbeat race! The railways were pivotal to the movement of men and supplies and the railwaymen played their part, however mundane, and largely forgotten.[6] The war diaries provide a surprisingly rich description of life for the members of the ABGROC.

A few years ago we did a tour of the Western Front and I asked if it was possible to visit Poperinghe, near where my grandfather had worked at Peselhoek. At the railway station, I went down the platform looking for someone to speak to. My first reaction was to speak in German (hmm, perhaps not a good idea), and as my French is very poor and my Flemish non-existent I was dithering about what to do. Along came our tour guide and did the obvious: spoke in English to the railway worker we saw.

4103895

Ellarsyde. Broad gauge and light rail tracks and rolling stock at a railway yard near Ypres. On the far left some wagons are standing on the heavy gauge rail tracks; on the adjacent light rail tracks are several sets of flat cars, some loaded with building materials. On the right are some locomotives. Australian War Memorial Image C01384 out of copyright.

In a bizarre Who Do You Think You Are moment, the gentleman went into his office and then handed me about six photographs taken around 1917-1918, as well as talking to me about where the lines went. I was beyond thrilled and quite blown away by it. The guide swore blind he had not organised it, and as he was very chuffed with what I’d got, to this day I don’t know if it was serendipity or pre-arranged. Either way I was extremely happy to have a better sense of where Grandad had been during the war.

Poperinghe 13

Poperinghe Railway Station near the time when my grandfather served there.

Peselhoek Poperinghe

It has to be said, that compared to many, Grandad’s war was a short one, less than one year, although he did not return to Australia until August 1919 on board the transport ship Karmala. It seems the men had a fairly lively time of it on the way home with a wide array of activities. An orchestra was established and dancing took place every night. An on-board newspaper was established called the Karmala Kuts.[7] No doubt Dinny, who liked a good joke, rather enjoyed the railway-based story which appeared in Vol 1 No 2. Sports were held daily and chess, bridge and drafts competitions occurred. The men also had four lectures from the ship’s master who had been a member of Scott’s polar expedition. Education classes were also offered. Yet again the men were given gifts from the Comforts Funds with 1000 pairs of socks distributed. The ship stopped at Cape Town, Fremantle and Adelaide on the way home. “The people of Cape Town were very kind to the men who had a splendid time there with picnics, dances, motor trips etc”.[8] It is difficult to imagine in this day and age how mature men would respond to such simple pleasures. Denis disembarked in Melbourne on 17 August 1919. His military service was at an end.

To the best of my knowledge, Grandad never went to Remembrance Day ceremonies, though he was elderly when I knew him and perhaps did so when he was younger. His service medals and his RSL membership badge have been safely preserved in the family. As far as I know no photographs of him in uniform have survived.

LEST WE FORGET

Check out the treasures to be found at the Australian War Memorial including war diaries, photographs and personal diaries. I wrote about them here.

Are you looking for the service records of your WWI soldier? You can search through this link (select WWI) where they have been digitised.

There are also often letters/stories home in the local newspapers of the day. Our good friend Trove may have the answers.

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[1] The Courier-Mail, 23 October 1917, p. 8 reports on the previous day’s volunteers including the two brothers. Denis Kunkel’s service number is 2311.

[2] This was atypical of the Kunkel height genes.

[3] Sons were James, Stephen, Patrick Joseph, George and John Joseph. James was killed in action in the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916 and is buried in the War Cemetery at Rue Petillon, near Fleurbaix. He is remembered on the War Memorial in Crows Nest.

[4] Toowoomba Chronicle, 5 November 1917, p. 5.

[5] F Cranston, Always Faithful: The History of the 49th Battalion, Boolarong Publications Brisbane, 1983, p. 18.

[6] “Any activity out of the ordinary, such as …a light railway at work… served as a tonic for the Diggers”. D Winter, Making the Legend: The War writings of CEW Bean. UQ Press, Brisbane, 1992, p. 154.

[7] AWM 31. Karmala 306.

[8] AWM7. Karmala 4. Report on the Karmala 17 August 1919.