Serendipity across time

Sketch of Her Imperial Majestys Opera House Brisbane 1888 Trove

Unidentified 1888, sketch of Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House Brisbane, 1888, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

For Mother’s Day we took my mum to see the ballet Giselle broadcast live on the big cinema screen from London. On the way home she happened to mention that my paternal grandfather, Dinny Kunkel, had enjoyed opera and gone to see the Opera in Brisbane. Who knew?!

Like many things this was one of those snippets that leave as many questions as answers – after all he’d been born in a railway camp near Dalby:

  • How did he come to learn about opera?
  • When did he start connecting with it?
  • Did he learn a little about it from his German grandfather, George Kunkel?
  • Did he learn about it during his Paris leave amid World War I?
  • Was it part of a self-improvement program, along with joining the Masons (not looked on kindly by the Catholic church) or did he just like the music and drama?

Rigoletto record DJKInevitably I am unlikely to know the answer to these questions and it occurred to me to look among the gramophone records from my grandparents’ house, which I’ve inherited along with the gramophone. Sure enough there was this record…and a variety of classics but no other opera.

I turned to Trove to see what was happening in Dinny’s years working in Brisbane. Immediately before the war, the city was abuzz with the arrival of JC Williamson’s Madam Butterfly. I wonder if he attended, and did he perhaps go dressed up as he is in this photo? Perhaps he was even photographed there – I know I had photos taken at concerts I attended.

Denis Joseph Kunkel abt 15

Denis Joseph Kunkel (1880-1965). The original is held by Pauleen Cass.

The Opera was being staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, earlier known as Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House. Sadly no longer surviving thanks to Queensland’s political indifference to matters cultural, it was somewhere that most Brisbaneites would have visited for the ballet or a show. Quite grand, with heavy drapes, uniformed assistants and gilt embellishments.

Strangely enough, in a serendipitous link across time, we are planning to see Madam Butterfly ourselves soon, in a very 21st century way, at our local cinema, thanks to HD transmission from the Metropolitan Opera – a whole new experience unknown in Darwin.

 

1910 ‘”MADAM BUTTERFLY ” GRAND OPERA IN BRISBANE.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 11 October, p. 20. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 10 May 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186550560  Madam Butterfly

 

A near miss in Coolangatta: Sepia Saturday 243

Sepia Saturday 243This week’s Sepia Saturday 243 is one of those topics where a personal theme leaps to mind. Every family has its story traditions and family anecdotes, perhaps even about get-rich schemes and near misses.

Unidentified (1914). Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander, December 5, 1914, p. 59. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander, December 5, 1914, p. 59. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

All my life Dad used to tell the story of “the one that got away” in our family. My grandfather who I’ve written about before, worked for the railway all his working life. At one stage, perhaps around 1900-1910, he worked on the rail line that went from Brisbane city to the interstate border at Coolangatta. I don’t know about other countries, but here in Oz, a twin town (as opposed to towns twinned with overseas), is one that has a matching town on the opposite side of the (state) border. Coolangatta is one such town, sitting right on the border of Queensland while across the Tweed River sits its twin, Tweed Heads. One of the quirks of these twin towns becomes obvious with the start of daylight saving each year. Queensland doesn’t “do” daylight saving (no, I’m not going there with that topic!) so for six months or so, Coolangatta is 30 minutes behind Tweed Head. Could be handy if you urgently need shops which close promptly at 5pm.

Tweed Heads, showing railway passengers walking down Bay Street into Wharf Street. Queensland (or Federal) Hotel, Coolangatta, is on the right. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1905

Tweed Heads, showing railway passengers walking down Bay Street into Wharf Street. Queensland (or Federal) Hotel, Coolangatta, is on the right. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1905. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). 18 residential and business sites at Coolangatta for sale by auction in the Tweed Heads Hall on Easter Saturday, Queensland, 1914. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). 18 residential and business sites at Coolangatta for sale by auction in the Tweed Heads Hall on Easter Saturday, Queensland, 1914. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Dad told me that while Grandad was working on the Gold Coast railway line they used to fish for stingrays in the river using star pickets…those long metals poles with three sides. Personally I think that was a bit unfair on the fish, to say the least, but it is still a part of local lore.

But the one that got away wasn’t a monster fish, rather the real estate deal that might have made the family fortune. The story goes that he was offered a beach front block of land at Coolangatta for a tiny sum, £100 springs to mind. Given that property on the Gold Coast now sells for seven figure amounts, we were dazzled by what might have been, not to mention the sheer bliss of living within sight and sound of the surf and the ocean. But it was not to be, and perhaps even if it had, Grandad would no longer have had the money to buy the land that our family lived on for 96 years….the turn of the fate wheel.

Unidentified (1900). Greenmount Beach, Gold Coast, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1900). Greenmount Beach, Gold Coast, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Coolangatta has never been the glitzy, glamour (tarty?) queen of the Gold Coast, that role was left to Surfers Paradise. That didn’t stop Coolangatta’s nearby beach, Greenmount, being a big hit with families as a holiday destination. I recall that we had only one holiday at Greenmount, compared with the several we took up the coast a little at sedate but beautiful Currumbin.

Pauleen at the Porpoise Pool, Snapper Rocks.

Pauleen at the Porpoise Pool, Snapper Rocks.

Apart from the attraction of sun, sand and surf at Greenmount, one of the big “pulls” during the 1960s was the Porpoise Pool run by Jack Evans at nearby Snapper Rock. It was de rigeur to visit the attraction and see the trained dolphins leap from the pool to catch their fish. (You can see a video here). Afterwards it was almost inevitable to have a photo taken with Sammy the Seal, another feature of the attraction. In this photo of me I would have been about 12.  I remember that rainbow top, which Mum sewed, very vividly especially the texture of the fabric.

Part of the reason our family was able to visit the border towns was because of the railway line. Dad’s annual railway pass made it possible for us to travel close to our destination – an important factor as we had no family car. The lack of a car was unfortunate also because, dare I say it as a loyal Queenslander, there’s some spectacular scenery and beaches just south of the border….an area our own family grew very fond of in later decades… I wrote this story about it a while ago.

It’s always good to know that families aren’t the only ones to have near-misses…Queensland Rail closed the line to Tweed Heads in 1961 and to Southport in 1964, no doubt due in part to the increased numbers of people who owned their own cars. Decades later they had to rebuild the same line to cope with just some of the burgeoning commuter traffic. The one that got away indeed.

Don’t forget to visit the other Sepians to see which beaches they’ve visited or how they interpreted the image.

PS: I’ve just noticed something my sub-conscious may have latched on to earlier. The man in the suit in the foreground reminds me of a photo I have of my grandfather.

 

Sepia Saturday 205: Moustaches and mysteries

Sepia Sat 205I featured this photo on my blog nearly three years ago but since the mystery continues to elude me, I thought I’d include it under this week’s Sepia Saturday topic of moustaches. There’s certainly a plethora of all styles of moustaches and whiskers in this photo.

The history behind the photo is that it was found backing another picture which hung in my grandparents’ house. It is quite a substantial size but very much worn as you can see.

Mystery photo includes Denis Kunkel: are the other people Gavin family members?

My father identified his father as the man to the left rear of the elderly seated gentleman. It is very like other photos of Grandad taken about the time he went to war, 1917, or perhaps a year or two earlier. There are a number of young men in the group which might also tie in with that. There are definite family resemblances in some of the faces eg the man at the front left always reminds me of my Dad, and the young woman beside him looks like an older version of Grandad’s youngest sister whose photo appears in a wedding photo.

The presence of women in the group suggests it is not something like a Masonic group, and he had “spat the dummy” with the church so it’s unlikely to be a church group. There is a proprietal air, and I think a facial familiarity, about the older man with his hand on Grandad’s shoulder.

But is it a family group or some sort of social group? If the former it’s most likely to include members of the Gavin family from Pechey and perhaps a handful of Kunkels? If the latter it could have been taken on the Darling Downs or in Brisbane.

It’s certainly a mystery which I would love to solve.

Why not pop over and see what other Sepians have written this week.