52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.


[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 16: Restaurants

Out of place in the post, but doesn't it look lovely. Amanda Herbert's dishes taste as good as they look.

Pick the newly-married couple: how young they look! Dinner at the Tower Mill.

Himself enjoying his Mediterranean seafood platter in Aix while my tagine awaits!

This week’s topic in the series devised by Amy Coffin and Geneabloggers is: Restaurants. What was your favorite local restaurant as a child? Where was it located, and what was your favorite meal? Did you know the staff personally? What is your favorite restaurant now?

Firstly my apologies for the weird placement of photos -Wordpress and I are not friends tonight – I’ve been doing all the usual things and the photos just don’t want to go where I’ve put them. My patience has expired after multiple tries so here it is, albeit not with logical photo placement.

This week’s topic is an interesting question from a generational perspective. Perhaps I’m wrong but I’d have said that very few families in Brisbane ate in restaurants when I was a child. Not only was it culturally unusual, it was almost certainly economically unsustainable for most families. Nor were there the lower-income restaurant chains that have been imported from the US and which kept my kids in earning capacity during their uni years!

It was only as a teenager that I ever ate out at a restaurant and I imagine it was part of my adult socialisation. My mother and I would very occasionally go to a Chinese restaurant in Wickham St, Fortitude Valley (the Valley) in Brisbane. I’m pretty sure that we ate very pedestrian fare such as sweet and sour pork or chicken chow mein: it must be remembered that Brisbane, and Australia in general, was very much a “meat and three veg” society at the time.  For the life of me I can’t recall the name of the restaurant though I know it was on the first floor of a building, up some stairs, near the corner of Wickham and Brunswick Streets. I have a vague idea that the pub nearby, and possibly this restaurant, was burnt down in the mid-late 1990s. I certainly know that in the late 1980s we ate there again with my daughter’s boyfriend’s Cantonese-Australian parents, and it was assuredly not mundane sweet and sour pork!

I also distinctly remember being invited to my Italian best friend’s sister’s Confirmation party, also in the Valley, at an Italian restaurant (the Valley had lively Chinese and Italian influences). Most of the party spoke Italian only and I was exposed to food I’d never experienced before like olives!  It was a great insight into new food and socio-cultural celebrations.

Another dining “event” was a dinner at Brisbane’s revolving restaurant, The Tower Mill[i], named for its proximity to one of Brisbane’s surviving convict-era icons, a windmill which was used to grind grain. The Tower Mill was also a revolving restaurant so was seen as quite “the thing” for a special night out. My very good school friend and I were taken there by her godparents to celebrate graduating from high school. A few years later we celebrated my recently-married husband’s 21st birthday there with his family. A flash dinner out at a restaurant was a rare enough event that photographers came to each table to record the event with a Polaroid camera. Perhaps it was also that not everyone had a camera as well – hard to imagine in these days of digital cameras and mobile phones with cameras. This reminded me of a later trend in some restaurants where people came around selling roses.

Another dining “event” (there really wasn’t any other sort) was a hot date with my fiance to a theatre restaurant -perhaps our one and only such outing (oh yes, apart from a fondue and yodelling restaurant in Switzerland!) and as I have virtually no memory of it, we can’t have been impressed.

While not restaurant-based, another food memory is when I worked for a Greek-born couple who owned a fruit and veg shop. The exotic array of food I’d never encountered simply boggled my brain – capsicum, broccoli, mushrooms –it’s hard to put my culinary memory back in that place. Not to mention the octopus sandwiches!

The fact that so few restaurant memories come to mind from my childhood tells you that it was a rare and uncommon event. Even in Papua New Guinea, restaurant meals were few and far between though in Moresby we ate fantastic (and cheap!) lobster mornay at the Aviat Club and had a memorable lunch outing for my birthday one year when my husband presented me with a fantastic, imported, floral array.

Expo 88 was, to my mind, a benchmark in Brisbane’s cultural coming-of-age. While the various cuisines had been there for some time, even decades, their influence and the whole al fresco dining and restaurant-eating-out really came to the fore after Expo.

Like many Australians our food has become increasingly influenced by Asia and this is especially the case in the Darwin where the markets are stocked with Asian ingredients.  A culinary delight is attending one of one of Amanda Herbert’s  cooking classes at Hanuman Restaurant. Even though we cook a lot of Asian/Indian meals, this remains a real treat, not to mention a bargain!

What restaurants do I enjoy now? Well ethic probably is the easiest description though Australian fusion ranks highly. What do I expect from a restaurant? Good service (hard to find in Darwin with transient back-packer staff) and food that is unusual and excellent in its production, using quality ingredients. We are really disappointed when we’re served something we could have cooked at home! We have fond memories of a restaurant on the banks of the lake in Zurich many, many years ago when the maitre d’ was incredibly professional in his approach to two young people who plainly had no idea, not much money and were out of their depth. At no point did we feel he’d patronised us or that he thought our custom beneath him which taught us a lot about truly high-quality restaurants.

On a recent trip to the UK and France we had some very nice meals but the one that stands out for me is the meal in Aix-en-Provence when my husband ate seafood and I had a Chicken Tagine, all served by a waiter who’d worked in Darwin! The meal was delicious albeit simple.

So where do we eat in Darwin?  I’m pretty unforgiving when my meal is completely forgotten or service is appalling – so the beautifully-located Pee Wee’s on the Point has been off my list for many a year which is a shame.Hanuman remains a perennial favourite for special meals and their food is spectacular. There are other places that are okay for day-to-day events but Hanuman is “up there”. We’ve had some very nice meals at Il Lido, from brunch through to dinner. Its waterfront location with views of pelicans, in season, is hard to beat when the service and cooking is “on fire”.  There used to be a good restaurant called “10 Litchfield” with a Kiwi waiter whose service standard and client knowledge was international but it has, sadly, long gone.


[i] Now the Metro Tower Mill motel.

52 Weeks of Personal History & Genealogy -Week 12: Movies

This week’s topic in 52 weeks of personal history and genealogy is: Movies. Did (or do you still) see many movies? Describe your favorites. Where did you see these films? Is the theater still there, or is there something else in its place?

I’d been looking forward to the Movies question but as it happens it generated far more memories (and no shortage of questions) than I expected.

Many children “of my era” were routinely given a small amount of money and sent off to the Saturday afternoon “flicks”/movies at the neighbourhood picture theatre with allowance made for an ice cream or lollies as a treat. However, my memory is that I rarely went to the movies and I’m quite certain I didn’t go unaccompanied as my parents were quite particular in that way. There was a movie theatre on the main road at Kelvin Grove and this is where people went to see the current films. There was also a fish & chip shop nearby and I remember we sometimes got take-away from there, wrapped in newspaper. The Saturday afternoon matinee was mainly (I think) serials and news. The news reports were always done in a terribly British accent.

Until I was a teenager every movie show started with a short clip of the Queen trooping the Colours while “God Save the Queen” was played and everyone in the audience was expected to stand. As renegade uni students in the 60s we would defiantly sit through the playing of the national anthem. Now it’s impossible to imagine that anyone would think of playing the national anthem before a movie, and of course even if they did it wouldn’t be the Queen.

The neighbourhood theatre was largely used for the general circulation runs, sort of a pre-multiplex option. For bigger block-buster movies, people went into town to one of the bigger, and generally much flasher, theatres. The roar of the MGM lion was the prelude to many of the movies. The first movie I remember seeing was Fantasia which I saw in Brisbane city with my mother and great-aunt Emily. It was far too imaginative for me and frightened the wits out of me, so my first movie experience wasn’t a great success. That theatre survived in Albert St for many years but is no longer there.

As a young teenager, my first taste of movie freedom was to see an Elvis film (maybe Blue Hawaii?) and a Gidget film. I think the independence was more important than the film! I remember I saw those films at the old Tivoli theatre which was in King George Square. Not only is the movie theatre no longer there, the whole Square was transformed beyond recognition in the early 1970s when we were living in Papua New Guinea. There is a picture of this area on Picture Australia but it is copyrighted (Image BCC-B54-4329).

My Fair Lady programmeOne of the biggest block-busters was of course Sound of Music which I saw at the same theatre as Fantasia. Like most people I thought the movie was great fun, especially the dance sequences and the women’s formal dresses. It seems strange now to realise that every big movie had a printed booklet or type of programme on sale in the foyer. For anyone who could afford them, it was usual to buy one as a souvenir, and to save your ticket. Going to the movies was an “event” rather like a big concert today!

"MY Fair Lady" Programme

One particular theatre in Brisbane which was very classy was the Regent Theatre, which is still there though it has been modified into a multi-plex model. It was built in 1929 and its décor is quite amazing. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it: The Regent’s entrance foyer is on the narrow Queen Street site, and the auditorium was constructed on the broader site in Elizabeth Street. The original interior decoration was a mixture of Spanish Gothic and Romanesque. The mezzanine foyer contains a white marble staircase, made from Queensland marble, along with vaulted cathedral ceilings. A total of 2,600 patrons were able to be seated in air-conditioned comfort. However my illusions have just been shattered as googling for further information I have just learned that this theatre is now closed, to be destroyed for a 38 storey office block. Really Brisbane has never learned to preserve its heritage…we have absolute disregard for our unique icons, whether it’s the iron-laceworked Bellevue or the historic dancehall (and exam venue) Cloudland! 

http://www.ourbrisbane.com/suburbs/city-suburbs/regent-close. The YouTube video clearly shows the Regent’s emotional appeal for Brisbaneites.

My recollection is that the Regent had a sound shell for the pianist/orchestra, probably dating back to the silent movie era. I saw My Fair Lady here with my mother and it was quite a formal event. The Regent was one of the theatres where there were always usher(ettes) to show you to your seat. During the interval (and there was always one), the usherettes would come round with trays on which there were ice creams and lollies to purchase. Fantales, Jaffas  and later Maltesers were my favourite treats. It was all very civilised! Watching the YouTube clip on the link above reminded me that we had also taken our daughters there to see Bambi when they were young…half way through the show my husband had to go to the shop across the road to buy more tissues. We were always a hopeless family when it came to animal shows;-) Possibly the only family to ban Disney animal shows on TV!

You can see that the modern cinemas lack the character and drama of these old-style movie theatres.

When I moved to Alotau in Milne Bay, we used to go to the Cameron Club on a Friday night to see whatever movie was scheduled. The venue was partly open and the atmosphere was distinctly informal. As soon as the movie was finished we’d jump in the car and race home so we could boil the jug and have a coffee before the power went off at midnight (we had 18 hour power). To my surprise the Club is still there – described by Lonely Planet as a large cavernous space like a rugby clubhouse. But it was all we had for entertainment so who was complaining?!

In Port Moresby and later in Brisbane we very occasionally went to the drive-in, but with small children and limited baby-sitting options, we rarely went to the movies.

Darwin is famous for its Deckchair cinema, which like Broome’s outdoor theatre is “under the stars”.  I confess we rarely go there as somehow a late afternoon session suits us best and this means the multiplex. One of Darwin’s more aggravating habits is the tendency for movies to come and go with amazing rapidity –blink & you miss it! With all three cinemas showing pretty much the same programs, it’s all too easy to miss out on something you intended to see. It’s common, too, for ones you’ve seen reviewed and marked as “must see” to simply not arrive here.

Far too often these days my movie-watching is confined to in-flight entertainment, so if I’m not flying I don’t keep up with the current releases.

And so to my “faves”, which I might add are not deep-and-meaningful and indeed are mostly pedestrian. These are the ones I watch again and again on DVD.

84 Charing Cross Road: for Helene Hanff’s sassy New York attitude and the stoic Britishness of those at the bookshop. But WHY did she wait so long to go across the Pond?  Didn’t she know travel is as important as new teeth and a brownstone?

Hopscotch: A younger Walter Mathau and Glenda Jackson in a Cold War movie which is something of a spoof. We love it.

Out of Africa: While the others in the Ladies cried over the death of Robert Redford, I was crying about the servant left behind and waiting faithfully, and fruitlessly, for her to send for him. Don’t care about the cinematic bloopers that some kind soul emphasised for me, I just love it.

Top Gun: hot shot pilots, great music, quotable quotes, and Tom Cruise (before he dumped our Nic), and my daughter’s “embarrassing moment” during the beach volleyball scene!

You’ve Got Mail: For killing my ambition to own a small bookshop.

When Harry met Sally: so many quotable quotes, plus the scenery …but that bizarre female dating behaviour…

My Fair Lady –for the music and those magnificent costumes.

Dr Zhivago and Reds – for the historical era, the drama, scenery and the cold!

Other memories:

Seeing Hawaii with a new boyfriend in the front rows. I don’t think he enjoyed the birth sceneJ

Casino Royale with my future husband and being given a friendship brooch.

Papillon as an anniversary outing in Moresby –ugh –probably the only movie we’ve walked out on.

Born on the 4th of July with Tom Cruise: Sobering for the Vietnam generation. I think he did a good job on this one.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: In Sydney as a teenager.

Outings with other holiday workers from Pellegrinis book store–when the boys would roll Jaffas down the floor –the other customers must have hated us! Typical silly teenager behaviour really.

And lots, lots more. I love movies –they’re one of my favourite forms of entertainment!!!