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.

Sepia Saturday 172: A hiking we will go

2013.03W.34This week’s Sepia Saturday 172 image features some enthusiastic hikers setting off for time in the countryside. The image opens the floodgates of opportunity for hiking, camping and outdoor pursuits. Although I’ve a number of the latter, not so many of the former, still I’m going with hiking just because a couple came to mind.

This one of a friend, my Dad and me on an excursion to Brisbane’s outer bush suburbs.Somehow Dad’s cheery wave reminded me of the Sepia Saturday photo, though I can’t say I look that cheery -or was it that I was looking into the sun.

Hiking and picnicing at Brookfield.

Hiking and picnicing at Brookfield.

norm-and-joan-at-picnic-bay11

I’ve always liked this photo, not because it’s a winner in the photographic category but for the memories it evokes. It shows my parents climbing the steep hill through the rocks from Rocky Bay on Magnetic Island where we holidayed regularly when I was a child, taking the long (1 day, 2 nights) train trip from Brisbane to Townsville then across by ferry. You can read a little of why I loved these holidays so much here and here.

Norman Kunkel at Rocky Bay

I also love this photo of my Dad standing on one of the big rocks for which Rocky Bay is named.

Guide camp and hike

Another oldie is this one of some of my Girl Guide mates on a bush hike. Everyone looks a bit tired don’t you think? Or disinclined to have their photo taken?

Fab Feb Photo Collage: 2 Feb – Cats, Kittens, Maggie & Cyclones

4 x 7UP collageAnother of my photo favourites! I’m a huge devotee of cats and kittens and have been since I was a little girl, thanks to my father’s equal addiction. All my life we’ve shared our homes with one or more cats. Each one has a special place in my memory. When I was a child, one would always walk to the end of the street with us, and another would come all the way down a couple of blocks to the public phone booth.  Small wonder that Mr Cassmob also met this vital selection criterion for a future partner…neither of us can walk past a cat without saying hello and asking politely for a pat.pauleen norm at picnic bay

A man after my own heart

A man after my own heart

In this early photograph my father and I are in the back yard of the flats where we were holidaying at Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island in 1956. Presumably the kittens just happened to be nearby and we couldn’t resist them. Magnetic Island was one of our semi-regular holiday places, partly because we could get there using Dad’s railway pass, and partly because my mother still had friends there, including her closest friend. I talked about my love for the place in the 52 weeks series.

But back to this particular holiday which has become part of our family’s folklore. You see while we were there in 1956 Cyclone Agnes came through and threatened to blow us all away. The flats were only fairly flimsy fibro buildings with corrugated iron roofs so we were certainly at risk. My most distinct memory is asking Dad to take me to the backyard toilet in the midst of the storm. Why on earth he was willing to do that I don’t know, because I’m sure I’d just have told my kids to use a bucket! I remember the palm trees bending in the wind, like ballerinas touching their toes. Dad always said that the wind gauges at the Garbutt Air Force base snapped in the strength of the wind which fits with the news stories of the day.

Afterwards we were trapped on the island for a few days and I’m told there were no fresh supplies of milk or bread. My memory says that we were evacuated by Army amphibious duck to Townsville but Mum doesn’t recall that at all, so did I imagine it? Soon after we trained up to Cairns where I have a vivid memory of the Barron Falls in full spate, and then travelled to Green Island where the seas were so rough I can still remember the boat dipping into the waves on each side. Story goes that only Dad and the engineer weren’t sick on the voyage. Everyone else was hanging over the side of the boat. Or, as Mum always said, “green on the way over and green coming back”.

R and L asleep at Magnetic Is

Many years later we would take our girls for a visit to Maggie, on a day that was much more tranquil.

On the return trip to Brisbane the Sunlander train waded across the flooded Burdekin River where the waters were lapping the sleepers on the bridge as we crossed. Dad used to say that the fireman pushed away a log that was up against the sleepers only to discover it was a crocodile. A tall tale or true? I don’t have a clue! Mind you, being a fellow railwayman, Dad ofter heard stories that weren’t shared with all the passengers.

Pauleen and cats c1960

Socks' mother was fully-wild, but Socks was the most beautiful cat.

Socks’ mother was fully-wild, but Socks was the most beautiful cat.

This post is dedicated to all my feline friends who’ve given me so much love and affection over the years: Chips, Tammy, Sooty, Tabitha, Pedro, Brandy, Socks, Ginger Megs, Kizzle and Springer. Each had their own distinct personality, but I could wish Springer, my current young furry-friend, would extend himself to a few more cuddles….maybe he’s still in that teenage phase where boys won’t cuddle their families <smile>.

Fab Feb image

Unfortunately Pedro was chased away when we moved to our 2nd Goroka house- by our next cat! We never found out if he wound up as a fur hat or in the cooking pot in a village because we never found him.

Unfortunately Pedro was chased away when we moved to our 2nd Goroka house- by our next cat! We never knew if he wound up as a fur hat or in the cooking pot in a village because we never found him.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 38: Hooked on Hobbies: books, shells and photos

The topic for Week 38 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Did you have any hobbies as a child? Which ones?

This little book was my guide when collecting and identifying my shells.

My childhood hobbies depended in part on circumstance. Throughout my life reading and books have been my constant leisure time activity. Life just wouldn’t be the same without books in any form. This topic was my theme for Week 23 in the 52 week series, so I won’t go back down that path. The other lifelong hobby which I’ve enjoyed has been photography – this love affair started with my first camera when I was about 10 and has continued every since: hence all those images I still have to scan.

One of my favourite hobbies was collecting shells but this of course depended on being near the beach, so it was a periodic hobby rather than an everyday one. I was lucky that every few years we would holiday on Magnetic Island, which I’ve already talked about previously. Although quite close to Townsville it also has off-shore reefs and tidal flats where it was possible in those days to see and collect shells. While we stayed at Picnic Bay, the best place for shell hunting and collecting was usually Horseshoe Bay where low tide exposed rocks and reef and shells. Cowrie and olive shells were especially prized for their glorious sheen and colours while the potentially deadly cone shells had to be treated cautiously. Their poison darts had to be carefully avoided so there was definitely a right way to pick them up. Also on the tidal flats were quite a lot of stone fish which are nigh on impossible to detect until your eyes adjust to spotting them. With their poisonous spikes they would inflict a major injury if you were unwary enough to stand on them.

The beautiful book I bought with my shell cataloguing prize money.

Now I cringe at the environmental impact of collecting the shells, but in those days I suppose we didn’t know any better. The smell of decaying molluscs in the sun is an abiding childhood memory. In high school I catalogued a series of shells for a science show and was proud to win a prize though it was pretty tame in comparison with the high-tech scientific experiments which others presented (most of them boys I have to say, also reflecting the era perhaps).Still I got a £7 (today about $160) prize from the competition (thank you the donors Peters Arctic Delicacy Co) and with it I bought a gorgeous book on Shells of the Western Pacific. On my shell wish-list is seeing live paper or pearly nautilus shells “swimming” – they are just so gorgeous.

Some of the lovely shells we looked at this afternoon.

I still have some of the shells I collected (and in a few cases bought) and my grandchildren enjoy seeing them when I unearth them from the cupboard. Perhaps because the shell book was on the table today my eldest grandchild wanted to see the pictures of the shells then look at the real thing so we spread them out and inspected the different varieties….building up memories I hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My parents climbing up from Rocky Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 18 Weather

The topic for Week 18 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is”Weather”: Do you have any memorable weather memories from your childhood? How did your family cope and pass the time with adverse weather? When faced with bad weather in the present day, what do you do when you’re stuck at home?

For me this topic overlapped with those on seasons and also disasters, so I had to think about short term weather patterns.

When I think of bad weather I tend to think of being caught in tents while camping and having to re-peg the tent as the wind howled around. As a family we would then either read or play board games until the weather returned to normal.

If there was bad weather (usually heavy rain) when we were at home my mother would often bake cakes or sew and Dad and I would read. Sometimes as an adult I’d do some sewing on those wet and dreary days. But overall, bad weather = good reading times. For the kids it would be about board games or reading.

Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park thunders in a big Wet Season but can only be seen from the air.

Heavy rain in Darwin is the norm for about four months of the year, plus a few more months on occasions. It is often accompanied by tremendous thunder and lightning, making it difficult to hear yourself think. On the flip side we have months when we can pretty well guarantee no rain and clear blue skies accompanied by breezes. Delightful!

Brisbane is also rather prone to hail storms, something mercifully missing in Darwin. When the sky turned green it was common for people to dash to their cars and get them under cover, or “run” for home if it was near the end of the working day. Some hail would be the size of golf balls making a severe dent in your car’s paint work. We had some spectacular hailstorms and this picture shows a house in our suburb with a snow-like layer of hail on the ground.

Hail storm in Brisbane

As a child I was staying with my parents in a very basic holiday accommodation on Magnetic Island off Townsville  when a cyclone passed over. It was a biggish one and did some damage so the island was isolated without groceries for a few days as the seas ran high. Ultimately we were all evacuated by the Army on amphibious “ducks”. An adventure but I’ve no recollection of what we did while we waited for the “cavalry”. My mother has not-so-fond memories of the subsequent trip to another island some days later  when the sea was so rough and  the boat pitched from side to side so much that virtually everyone on board was sick, including the captain.

When I was a child, if it was hot I would make a tent under the steps and “chill out” there. It was also common to put a sprinkler on a hose and splash through that to cool down. No backyard swimming pools then. Of course, the many years of water restrictions in Brisbane have curtailed both pools and sprinklers including times for watering plants. Typical of Australia, and rather ironically, these years of drought and fears for diminishing water reserves,  have been closely followed by floods and full dams. Darwin on the other hand has been largely immune from these concerns, partly because of its Wet Season rainfall and partly because of its smaller population.

Another random “weather” memory or two: when we lived in Alotau we had my first earthquake (guria). I had no idea what had happened at first and thought a truck had run into the house so I rushed to get my infant daughter and the kittens and cat. When we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands District I became more accustomed to earthquakes and we have amusing memories of our friends in relation to them: he would rush to save his precious stereo and his wife would save the baby!