Ordinarily, I’m not one for sharing current family photographs (though of course, I have a strong history of sharing through my genealogy pages). But I received this photograph recently via text message of my niece and couldn’t resist. It’s such a lovely photograph.
As it’s my birthday, I went searching through my photographic archives for images from birthdays past. Oddly enough, I don’t have a lot of suitable photographs of my celebrating, but I did find one from a birthday I remember vividly. It’s me and my mum celebrating her birthday in Feburary 1984, just nine months before her death. Her birthday was Feburary 7, and she died on November 7, just two days before my own birthday. At the time there was a lot of concern in my family about having her funeral on the day of my own birthday. In the end, she died on November 7, and was buried on November 8. Given the proximity to my own birthday, it’s an anniversary I’m sure I’ll never forget. Even though it’s a long time (thirty years) since mum and dad’s death, I still think (and dream) about them often.
I didn’t expect to, but ended up telling a story at the “Now Hear This” story-telling night in Sydney tonight.
I told the story of my great-great grandmother who had a relationship with her first cousin (no, I don’t have two heads). After the birth of their fourth child together, he married someone else and had four more children. My great-great grandmother then went on to live a somewhat shambolic life, it seems, until she ended her life in the “destitute women’s asylum” in Sydney, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at Liverpool Cemetery. She died of heart disease, though you might say she also died of a broken heart. What would it have been like to have had a long-term relationship with your first cousin, only to see him leave and form a new family in another state? We’ve had some contact with the “other family” and they had no idea we existed. In exchanging photographs, it’s pretty clear we are related as we look like each other very much.
The story-telling night was, as usual, handled beautifully by Melanie Tait and will be heard sometime soon on the ABC ‘s RN.
Back in May, when I received a MMS of the newest member of our family Willow, I wasn’t sure if Willow was a boy or a girl. Yeah, I know there’s the character of Willow on “Buffy”, but it seemed to me Willow could be a suitable name for either a boy or girl, and my niece is anything but predictable.
Willow turned out to be a girl, and tonight I got to meet her for the first time. Although we’ve “chatted” on Skype, it was lovely to meet Willow in the flesh. She has a wonderful smile, laughs a lot, and didn’t seem to mind a couple of selfies with her uncle. “You look like me”, I imagine she was thinking as she looked at the bloke with reddish/blondish balding head. While she’ll gain more hair in the future, I don’t imagine that will happen for me anytime soon. Although her mother is reasonably short, her father is quite tall, and so I imagine it won’t be long before she overtakes me in the heights stakes. Oh no, I’m becoming one of the old people in the family :(
So yeah, I’m home for Christmas. Luckily, there are times when I can pretty much do my job from anywhere, so I’ll be working out of the office here for a week or so, which means I can continue to work through while at the same time visiting my family. I sent out one of those wide d/l emails saying I’d be working from Lismore with the opening line, “I know you think it sounds like I’ll be sipping with cocktails at Byron most days, but I will genuinely be in the office”. I’m also filling in for a few other people who’ll be on leave. On a smaller scale, I liken it to the times when Doug Anthony acted as Prime Minister from a caravan on the North Coast.
Although I still have some friends in the area, and we catch up at this time of the year, coming home at this time of the year is very much about family. This is the area I grew up in, and which remains “home”, even if I also mostly call Sydney “home”. I have lots of lots of relatives in the area, and I’ll stay with and visit many of them.
Hopefully, I’ll also have a few tales to tell.
The view of Sydney Tower (I still call it “Centrepoint”) from the twenty-sixth floor of The Hilton is pretty bloody good. It’s a fact I discovered on Friday when my relatives, Michelle and Shane booked in for a weekend in Sydney.
Michelle and Shane have been to Sydney a few times. In fact, they were last here a few months ago. But Michelle’s seven year old son, Sam has never been on a plane before, and has never been to Sydney before. It’s been three years since Michelle’s seventeen year old son, Ryan has been to Sydney. And it’s seventeen years since Michelle mum, Pat has been to Sydney. This weekend, while Ryan stayed with his father, and Pat stayed with me, Michelle, Shane, Sam, and Shane’s sister booked in for a luxury weekend at The Hilton.
While all this happened, my role for the weekend was tour guide. I was the guy who knew how far it was from The Hilton to Sydney Aquarium; how to catch a ferry to Manly; and where we could find child-friendly places to eat in Sydney’s CBD. It’s a role I lived playing, as it was a chance to give my family a better insight into the place in which I call home. “We’re on your home turf now”, Shane said to me at one point.
It was quite an interesting experience to see my family outside of Lismore. Whenever I go home, I go back into the role of younger brother, uncle, and so on, whereas in Sydney, I got to be myself, the 46-year old with family responsibilities. I loved it.
A real, unexpected highlight for me was Sydney Aquarium. We planned the visit ostensibly for the seven year old, though it turned out to be as interesting and as much fun for the adults as for him.
I also got to do a bit of baby-sitting for a while late in the afternoon on Saturday. When I was asked the question, “Do you have a playstation, Jim?”, I suddenly realised my house isn’t all that well set-up for a seven year old. With a park across the road, an internet connection, and a disturbingly high level of junk food in the neighbourhood, I realised it wasn’t so hard. “I’ve given him two litres of red cordial and a jumbo pack of green frogs”, I joked as I handed him back. Seven year olds also love fireworks, so thank goodness, they’ve resumed on a weekly basis at Darling Harbour.
Overall, it was a great weekend, though a little exhausting being a tourist in your own city. The back of my legs still ache from all that walking.
And what’s a weekend without a big family shock revelation? Guess which member of the current Big Brother house I’m related to? Bradley, of course!
What is it about rain and the Queen’s Birthday Holiday? Although I can’t be sure, since I haven’t checked the records, it feels like it rains every year on this holiday in Sydney. In some ways, that’s okay, since rainy day holidays can be just as much fun as the summer ones. Life indoors, cooking, socialising and so on, can be a great way to spend the long weekend. You don’t HAVE to go away.
So for me, yesterday was reasonably quiet with just a bit of shopping and cooking. And then today, has been, and will be a day for going out for dinner. A friend and I went for lunch, today, at the Bavarian Bier Cafe in Bondi. He’s having some respite respite time at an aged-care facility there. One of his concerns about moving to Bondi was that it’s sometimes difficult to get to and from the city via public transport. Today, however, I had a dream run, as it took just over thirty minutes to get from my place to his. And then tonight, I’m heading out to The Balkan. Well, if the rain holds off. Lots of meat and potato for me today. :)
But the absolute highlight of the day has been receiving an email out of the blue from someone who worked with my dad back in the late 70s and early 80s.
It was my pleasure to work with John at LBH from early 1976 til his retirement in 1981. Johnny at that time was almost as old as my grandfather and i was fresh from school so he stumbled into the job of mentoring me. I’ve only written to tell of my great admiration for him, his quiet wisdom and general no fuss attitude to get the job done. He was certainly well liked amongst his work mates and i still think of him often when one of his lessons comes to mind.
Isn’t that the most beautiful email? I was sitting on the bus coming back from Bondi when I read it and almost got a little embrassingly teary.
He’s right too. Dad was a wonderful, gentle man. I was only sixteen when he died and there are many times in my life when I would have liked a little of that wisdom. I would also have liked to have gotten to know him when I was old enough to know him as a man, and not as my dad. Unbelievably, it’s almost thirty years since he died (the anniversary is June 22). Can you believe time passes so quickly?
I was looking tonight at a photograph of me and my dad. By the look of things I’m less than twelve months old, so it was probably taken sometimes towards the end of 1966. Dad’s wearing a cardigan, so it was probably the winter of that year.
As I looked at the photograph, I suddenly realised how close I am now to being the age my dad was in the photograph. He was born in September 1917, so he would have been about forty-nine years old at the time.
I still have a couple of years before I catch up with him, but it was still interesting to look closely at the photograph and think about stuff. He still had a fair bit of hair, whereas I pretty much lost most of mine about ten years ago. Is that a pen in his top pocket? Yeah, I think so, as I always remember my dad having a pen and often his glasses case in his top pocket. He’s not wearing glasses. Are they jeans he’s wearing? What must it have been like to have been close to fifty years old and suddenly find yourself with a young child to raise?
Researching my own family history is something which continues to fascinate me. There are so many amazing stories within a family, especially mine. You learn so much more about the motivations of the people who you’ve grown up with, when you look into their history. “Ah so that’s why so and so did that?”, I’ll often conclude.
After a bit of a break, I’m back writing and researching at the moment. I’ve recently had some interesting correspondence, and there’s nothing like a bit of feedback to make you go back and look at what you’ve written, and realise it’s time for a re-write, and time to more accurately reference and record the research you’ve done.
I’ve also begun research on some ancestors I haven’t previously taken much of an interest in. At the beginning it can be a slow, painful process, especially when your ancestors weren’t all that famous, often couldn’t read and write, and so the “public record” about them is often a little thin. Through this blog and through the research I’m doing now, I’m hoping it won’t be so difficult for people in the future. Although it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be like my dad and finding myself with a young child to raise over the next few years, I’m hoping a little of me will live on in the research I’m doing now.
These are the areas of research I’m interested in.