Behind Bars

Lex Watson's Book Collection for Sale

It’s thirty years since the decriminalisation of consensual male sex in New South Wales, and “some of the leading figures responsible for that change have all died in a six month period”, we were told by Murray Maclachlan at the Australian Homosexual History Conference held at Sydney’s University of Technology. He was referring to former politicians, Gough Whitlam, Neville Wran and Ron Mulock, and to the academic and homosexual activist, Lex Watson.

As a young man thirty years ago, first becoming aware of homosexual liberation politics, Lex was a name I knew well. He was the “go to” person for the mainstream media for discussion about homosexual law reform. It’s amazing to think it was only thirty years ago that you could go to gaol in NSW for gay sex. In fact, the laws were so incredibly odd that the penalty for homosexual rape in NSW was seven years, whereas the penalty of consensual homosexual sex was fourteen years (I don’t think I’ve misrepresented the case there).

At the conference a series of speakers spoke about the moves to homosexual law reform in the different states and territories during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In some states and territories, the changes were as the result of the state government leading public opinion, in others, the politicians had to be dragged along by the sentiment of public opinion. In others still, it was a combination of both. And then you have Tasmania, where it was the result of strong action by a small group of activists, who had to take their battle internationally, before the long overdue change could occur back here.

The keynote speaker for the conference was the former politician, and now Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan. She told the conference she had grown up in a fairly conservative Catholic family, and so it wasn’t until she went to university that she learned about homosexuals. “Camp as a row of tents was a phrase that was used at the time”, she told us, reflecting on both the negative and positive use of the phrase. Feminism informed her understanding of sexuality, she added. She spoke early in the piece about the political turmoil of early to mid 1970s, and how there was deep distrust of her in the heavily male-dominated Australian Labor Party. “There was a general view in the ALP in support of homosexual law reform, but there were fears about the political consequences”, she said. Forty years later, she pondered the opinion gap between the public and politicians on the issue of homosexual marriage, with a clear majority of Australians in favour of making the change. “The community won’t go backwards so the politicians will need to go forward”, she said. Now, as the Age Discrimination Commissioner, one of her major concerns are the issues facing older homosexual Australians in faith-based aged care. Though she says the sector says they don’t discriminate, she thinks that needs to be tested, though noting “there haven’t been any complaint yet”. During her speech, she reflected on the massive changes which have occurred in the last forty years, saying with a grin, “We used to say in the women’s movement how come they’ve done better than us?”.

Darlinghurst History Walk

Then and now

I spent the early part of the day teaching at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. As part of the lecture I gave, I repeated the mantra, “there are no boring stories, only boring story-tellers” which I’ve heard many times from radio consultant, Valerie Geller. She’s absolutely right. Just about any story can be interesting, so long as there’s someone interesting to tell the story.

And thankfully, the second part of the day was a combination of both: interesting stories and an interesting story-teller. As part of History Week, I participated in a Walking Tour of the Darlinghurst area conducted by History Council President Mark Dunn. I went on one of these history week tours last year and enjoyed it very much.

This year’s walk had more of a focus on the food and wine of the Darlinghurst area, as we visited the locations of former sly-grog shops, the sites of former butchers, and the sites of former pasta and pie factories to name but a few. We also took in some of the Razor Gang sites which are generating a lot of interest now, thanks to the Underbelly series on television right now.

Appin Bi-Centenary

Celebrations for the 200th Anniversary of Appin

“I have a connection to the pub across the road” I told the woman who was looking after things at St Bede’s Catholic Church in Appin today. “Two of my ancestors ran the pub back in the 1840s”, I told her, referring to William Rixon and Ann Hoare.

“There was a close connection between the church and the pub” she told me, pointing to the family, the Carolls who owned the pub and who ran it as a guest and boarding house, who were buried in the graveyard. “The sisters also used to have rooms there”, she added.

With a strong and long-term interest in family history, I hopped on a train early this morning and made my way to the 200th Anniversary Celebrations for Appin, located about 15km from Campbelltown in Sydney’s West. My ancestral connection to Appin is pretty much confined to the period when they ran The Union Revived. Their main connection was with Campbelltown itself, which is where William is buried, along with his mother, in the graveyard of the Anglican Church. I visited their graves also today, for the first time. Meanwhile, Ann went on to marry a few more times, moved closer to the city, and was finally burried under the name Ann Phibbs at Waverley Cemetery. I visited her grave a few months ago.

After a look around the St Bede’s Cemetery, I made my way down the street to watch the street parade. Mostly, the parade was made up of school groups, sports teams, organisations like the Rural Fire Service and pipe bands. I couldn’t believe there could be that many bagpipes in one parade, but then I guess, the area is called The Southern Highlands and the main town is Campbelltown. My favourites were a young girl, maybe five years old, who was impressively beating her drum in time, and seeing a 16 year old emo girl as part of one of the bands. Later I saw an emo boy dressed up in colonial gear which also gave me a bit of a giggle.

Naturally enough, there were art displays, Aboriginal cultural displays, sausage sizzles, jumping castles, and of course gözleme.

But for me, the most interesting thing was going to see the pub that was once run by some of my ancestors. The building is in a very poor state of repair now. There were no signs to say you couldn’t enter the building, so I just did. But as I walked through I needed to be particularly careful, as I discovered the floor could give way with one too heavy foot-step. “It’s a real shame it’s in such a poor state of repair”, a woman who was doing the same said to me as we passed each other.

I picked up a book about the town which mentions William Rixon’s brief period at the pub, and I placed an order for another book commemorating the anniversary.

And that cleaned me out of my planned spending money for the day which became a bit of a problem as I went to use the ATM at the servo. “It’s empty”, I told the bloke behind the counter. “Yeah, it’s been flat out since five o’clock this morning”, he told me. I reckon it was one of the busiest days in the history of Appin.

Colonial Wine Tasting

Ten green bottles
Ten green bottles
Ten green bottles

Talk about four seasons in one day. What began as a fine sunny day in Sydney, had, by mid-afternoon turned into something cold and wet. Cold and wet enough to drag out the possibly fake “North Face” rain jacket I bought in Beijing a few months ago. As the rain tumbled down, I could think of nothing better than an afternoon of wine tasting at Elizabeth Bay House.

And not just any kind of wine tasting. No, it was Colonial Wine Tasting, an event at Elizabeth Bay House put on by the Historic Houses Trust.

Having been to the Colonial Spice Dinner there a couple of years ago, I was intrigued when I saw the listing in the HHT’s semi-regular events calendar. So intrigued, I invited along fellow Blogger-Twitterer etc, Tom who had come with me to the Colonial Spice Dinner in April 2009.

According to the blurb associated with the event…

Like most gentlemen of his day, Alexander Macleay kept an extensive cellar and he produced grapes at his Elizabeth Bay and Camden properties. Colonial wine expert Dr Julie McIntyre will talk about tastes and wine production in the 19th century. Includes tastings in the cellar and light food.

Tasting in the cellar at Elizabeth Bay House
Tasting in the cellar at Elizabeth Bay House

The first part of the afternoon went into quite significant detail about the history of wine in Australia. For example, I learned there were cuttings on the First Fleet and that a “Wine Industry” was part of the vision for the colonial settlement of Australia. The historian, Julie went into a lot of detail locating this, both within temperance ideas about the so-called “civilising effect” of wine consumption (as opposed to other forms of alcohol), as well as lots of economic theories about free trade advanced by the likes of Adam Smith. Though, Julie did ask whether Adam Smith’s theories may have, in part, been influenced by his love of French wine in a period when wine from Portugal was given preferential trade status by Britain. While it was interesting, most of us were probably there more for the second part of the afternoon…

The second part of the afternoon was a series of tastings of Angove’s wines. The idea was to give us an idea of the style of wines which may have been enjoyed during colonial times in Australia. Naturally enough you’d expect sherry and brandy and so on, but there were also lots of varietals and blends. There were some lovely wines and some not so great also. For me, there was a bit of a buzz in re-connecting with Angove’s, since I lived for a couple of years just down the road from their winery at Renmark in South Australia. “It’s great to have a winery down the road”, I told the company representative, but noted that it tended to stink the house out during crushing season. Eek.

There was another connection from my past also, in that Alexander Macleay used to grow wine around Wagga Wagga, where I also lived for a time. It was wonderful to try to imagine how it must have been to have brought the wine all the way from Wagga in those days by bullock dray, and then to bring them to Elizabeth Bay House, all the way down those stairs.

Garage sale in the downstairs carpark
Garage sale in the downstairs carpark

Elizabeth Bay House is a gorgeous property with terrific views. And it was great to go down into the cellar and to do some tastings. The people who spoke were also very passionate about their interests.

By the end of the afternoon, as we emerged at about 6.20pm the weather had cleared somewhat. It was no longer wet, and no longer cold. Or maybe that’s just because I chose to drink instead of spit?

The other two really cool things about the day were having a drink with my friend Graeme tonight (and meeting a visiting tourist, and having a garage sale in the basement carpark. While most people were participating in the great garage sale trail (or whatever it’s called), it’s not so easy in an apartment block. But that didn’t stop a couple of enterprising women in our block who set up a stall in the carpark downstairs. “All a bit girly for my liking”, I told one of them, a woman I used to work with, commenting on the assorted dresses they were selling, but still congratulating them on the efforts, and by maintaining apartment block security by declaring the garage sale “for residents only”.

Chinatown Tour

Fresh fruit and veg at Paddy's Markets
Chillis to bring passion and romance into my life
Chillis to bring passion and romance into my life

“These will bring passion and romance into your life”, the bloke behind the counter said to me as I handed over my planned purchase. “That was the general idea”, I told him and we smiled at each other.

It was towards the end of an “Historical and Cultural Tour” of Chinatown, co-inciding with Chinese New Year Celebrations in Sydney.

I love a good walking tour, and when I saw this one advertised a few weeks ago, I signed up immediately. Interestingly, I recognised two couples from some previous history walks I’ve undertaken in Sydney.

Chinatown Tour
Chinatown Tour

Of those attending, I was probably about mid-range in the age department, and possibly knew a little bit more about Chinatown than many of the others attending judging by some of the questions asked. More than general interest in cultural activities and history, I also spend a fair bit of time in Chinatown due to its proximity to where I live and work. I eat at least one meal each week in Chinatown.

But even so, there are lots of things I didn’t know about, and lots of things I’ve passed without paying too much attention to them.

I’ve never really looked at the big archways at either end of Chinatown before. I’ve never noticed the wording about how it’s about “Chinese and Australian Friendship”. I’ve also never really closely looked at some of the ornamentation on the archways and on neighbouring buildings. “They’re more of the style of Northern China” our tour guide, an older Chinese man told us, noting the incline of the rooftops allowed rain and snow to fall to the gutters easily.

Behind the scenes at The Emperor's Garden
Behind the scenes at The Emperor's Garden

Our guide was a man in his 70s, I’d guess, who had lots of great anecdotal stories of Chinatown in the past. For example, he spoke about going to an opium den at a very young age with his father. And he had a great knowledge of some of the different families and family businesses of Chinatown, and who did what to whom and so on.

But as we walked around and looked at various buildings, I felt a certain sadness: it sounded like the Chinatown of today is not as interesting as it used to be. Our guide mentioned Chinatown is getting a bit of a make-over in the next three or four years, and that’s probably a good thing, because as I walked around, I also noticed the place could do with a good lick of paint.

Aside from the architecture and the history, it was also interesting to do a few things I wouldn’t normally do: such as visit the Chinese Ginseng Centre of Herbs, and go into the depths of the kitchen of The Emperor’s Garden Chinese Restaurant, one of my favourite places for a plate of roast pork.

And it was great to look a little more closely at things I’d normally pass quickly by, such as the Golden Tree (a great meeting place in Chinatown) and the offices of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the KMT.

Fresh fruit and veg at Paddy's Markets
Fresh fruit and veg at Paddy's Markets

The tour lasted two and a half hours. And at the end of it all, Colin and I went out for some yum cha at Hingara, which I now know is a restaurant which has been in Dixon Street (an incorrect spelling apparently, it should be Dickson) for over forty years (though now with different owners).

We chatted about a few things including the gorgeous looking peaches selling in Paddy’s Markets at the moment. Although it’s mostly thought Paddy’s is an Irish reference, by the way, there’s an alternative reading that it related to people from the rice paddys, we were told today. So at the end of yum cha, we popped in there, where I bought some peaches and apricots.

A lovely day, and a very enjoyable tour.

More History

Unmarked grave for Joan Kathleen O'Brien, East Lismore Cemetery

I went in search today of details about the still-born child my mum and dad had back in 1953. As with many things in my family, it wasn’t something that was talked about. Indeed, when I mentioned it to one of my older sisters, and showed her the record from the online historical indexes of the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, she seemed genuinely surprised.

Although unnamed on the BDM records, a visit to the Lismore Lawn Cemetery revealed she was buried on July 10, 1953 and that her name was Joan Kathleen O’Brien (named after an aunt). With a map in hand, I set off to the East Lismore Cemetery to find her, which I eventually did in an unmarked grave in the midst of another of other infant deaths. Although she doesn’t have a headstone, there’s a lovely tree overlooking her grave.

She’s also buried not far from my dad’s parents, James and Lena who died in 1944 and 1953, respectively. I was pleased to discover their previously unmarked grave also now had a heastone. I assume it must have been erected by the children/grandchildren of their son Matthew (known as Robert or Bob), who also now has a headstone. Perhaps it’s time for one for little Joan too?

Aside from a visit to my aunt – the one little Joan was named after – it was a day back at work for me. Although I’ve been doing lots of work over the last few days via the mobile and the netbook, I needed to go in today to sign a few things, make a few longer calls and so on.

And then tonight I went to the Tropical Fruits Film Festival at the Star Court Theatre. The Star Court was the cinema I used to go to most weeks as a child. Although a few things have changed, it remains relatively unchanged from the early to mid 80s renovation that occured. It was funny to hear the Film Festival spokesperson refer to it as an “old cinema”, as it seemed still modern in comparison with what I remembered as a child.

The films? There were a couple of good short films. My favourites were “Last Call” (about a bloke whose relationship with Mark failed because of his alcohol problem, who wants to get back with him, but who realises things have changed), “Oscars First Kiss” (about a male uni student chatting up a female class mate on a tram, but who ends up with an unexpected same-sex first kiss), and “Hens and Chicks” (about a lesbian couple with an eight year old daughter who need to have “the conversation”). All three were very enjoyable.

Less enjoyable was the longer featured called “Flow Affair”. It’s a fascinating story about “flagging” in the gay and lesbian communities of New York. “Flagging” is an art-form which involves a lot of twirling flags around in dance clubs, pride parades and so on. It’s quite an interesting story. It’s such a shame it was told so badly with almost no narrative evident. The film needed a damn good editor to chop at least 30 minutes out of it and to give it some structure, IMHO. It’s not enough to have a series of vignettes where a group of people keep saying over and over again little more than, “I like flagging. It makes me feel great”. Boring.

The main feature was a film from Romania called “Trip” about a group of twenty-somethings living in a share house of sorts who take drugs, have sex, and generally hang out in a pretty wild post-communist kinda way. It’s a pretty out there film, but I enjoyed it very much.

On the way home I called in to The Civic for a post film drink. It was pretty amusing to see a pretty average working class bar in my home town overtaken by the Sydney and Brisbane gays who’ve arrived for tomorrow night’s New Years Eve Party.

“You planning to have a bet”?, the barmaid asked me as she collected up the TAB information cards. “I think you’re safe to put them away”, I told her with a smile.

Granny was a Hoare

The grave of Ann Phibbs, Waverley Cemetery, Sydney
The grave of Ann Phibbs, Waverley Cemetery, Sydney

Sometimes you can forget how beautiful Sydney is at this time of the year. That is, until you take a walk along the coastline near Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama. The sandstone cliffs, the blue-green colour of the water, and the gentleness of the walk are both relaxing and hypnotic. The walk wasn’t overly busy, though, as most people were down on the beach.

My reason for a visit today wasn’t to relax: I went in search of the gravestone of one of my ancestors, Ann Hoare. I’ve known for a number of years she was buried at Waverley Cemetery under the name Ann Phibbs, but until today have never really had the motivation to go looking for the grave. Others, like Joye Walsh have been there before and have taken photographs of the gravesite which are available online. But with a revitalised interest in family history lately, I figured I’d pay a visit to find the grave myself to help fill in this part of the story in my own mind.

Granny Hoare, as I choose to call her from now on, was only fourteen years old when she married William Rixon, the eldest son of early convicts James Rixon and Amelia Goodwin in 1826. For many years after their marriage, William and Ann lived and farmed in various parts of what is now Western Sydney, around places like Marsfield, Campbelltown, Airds and Appin. From farming, they diversified into hotels, being the manager or licensee of a number of hotels in a number of locations between Wollongong and Appin.

Elizabeth Hore and Ann Phibbs photo  from 1865`
Elizabeth Hore and Ann Phibbs photo from 1865 thanks to Elizabeth Friederich

Author Mick Roberts has documented their interests oin his website…

William Rixon licensed The Travellers Rest along the old coach road, between Mount Keira and Appin at the Wollongong court house during 1842. The location was known as ‘Stringy Bark’ or on some maps as ‘Lachlan Forest’. Licensing records state Rixon’s inn was located 18 miles (29 kilomtres) from Wollongong and 10 miles (17 kilomtres) from Appin. The license was described as a “wine and beer license” and not a “publican’s License” which indicates the inn was merely a refreshment stop for travellers and offered no accommodation.

Documents reveal the inn was under construction along the Appin to Mt Keira Road in May 1839. However, no records of the inn receiving a license can be found for another three years.

Lady Franklin reveals in her journal, while travelling from Appin to Wollongong and crossing the Cataract River, that she ascended the other side of Broughton’s Pass, and seen a hut and stable “where a man and horses for mail are”. She states the coach’s horses were changed there, while further along the track, the horses were stationed at a clearing where an inn was under construction. This building was no doubt The Travellers Rest and although Rixon moved onto another public house later that year, the inn probably continued in operation for several years as an unlicensed wayside stop for coaches and travellers until 1848 when Mt Keira was replaced by Rixon’s Pass at Woonona as the preferred mail route over the escarpment.

William Rixon became the licensee of the Union Revived Hotel at Appin later in 1842. The sandstone inn, still in existence as a private home, is located opposite Saint Bede’s Roman Catholic Church, on the main road through Appin village. Appin had two licensed inns at this time – the Union Revived Hotel and the Bourke Hotel – both had been in existence since 1826. Appin was the first large settlement reached after leaving Wollongong for Sydney.

William Rixon died on May 28, 1847 at Campbelltown and is buried at St Peter’s Church of England. After William’s death, Ann married twice more. On June 11, 1848, she married Owen Dunlaghan who died in January 1851. A year later, on January 24, 1852, Ann married William Henry Phibbs with whom she had one child, William Jordan Phibbs. Phibbs died on November 24, 1863. Ann lived on for many years after that, including at 362 Castlereagh Street, Sydney on the east side between Goulburn and Campbell Street. At the time of her death on August 8, 1895, she was living at “Adderborough” at 19 Denison St Woollahra, Sydney.

Finding her grave was no easy task. The office at Waverley Cemetery where they keep all the records is closed on a Sunday. So I had a copy of the photograph taken by Joye Walsh on my phone and walked around looking for it. Interestingly, it does quite stand out amongst the other graves, as it’s a reasonably simple crucifix, although it is quite large. Many of the other headstones are very very simple, or equally quite ornate. The best way to locate it, if you’re interested in finding it, is to go along the coastal walk, and when you see the main road which roughly equally divides the cemetery, take a walk up there about 100 metres. When you come to the next main “intersection”, take a left and you’ll see her grave there.

Ann enjoys wonderful views, and I reckon if she ever chose to sell, she could make a fortune :)

It was a lovely day and I’m so pleased I found the grave. It’s interesting for me and my sense of identity – as someone raised in the country, and having had ancestors in the country for several generations – to explore this more “urban” part of my family history.

West Dapto Catholic Cemetery

I went in search today of the grave of two of my ancestors – John Hoare and Elizabeth Love – who are buried in the West Dapto Catholic Cemetery, near Wollongong. “Search” is probably not the right word to use since I had a guide, someone who’d been there before, Terry Hore, who also maintains a strong interest in genealogy. Terry and I have been corresponding for a couple of years now, but today was the first time we’d met.

I’d caught the train down, and he’d driven up from Victoria for the annual church service at the cemetery which, sadly, couldn’t go ahead due to the wet conditions over the last few days which had left much of the cemetery bogged. Although called off, we still headed out to the cemetery for a look around. But not before first going to meet up with some other distant relatives at a registered club for lunch. It was great fun to meet people I have a connection with, though haven’t known previously. All of us have an interest in family history, so the conversation flowed naturally.

Who were John and Elizabeth Hore/Hoare?

John Hoare, who was originally from County Wexford, came to Australia in 1801. Researcher, Graham Lewis believes he enlisted in the Royal Navy at the Port of London on September 7, 1795. Initially he was on HMS Royal William, and soon afterwards HMS Impregnable. He moved to the HMS Defiance in 1796. On board the HMS Defiance Hoare was one of a number of people found guilty of their involvement in a naval mutiny on board the ship in 1798. He was transported to Australia and was imprisoned both in Sydney and on Norfolk Island.

A few yeas later at St Phillip’s Church he married Elizabeth, the daughter of John and Martha Love and they had a large family. In their first few years of marriage John and Elizabeth lived at the Field of Mars before moving to the Campbelltown Districts of Airds and Appin where they began to farm with the assistance of convict labour. By 1828, John and Elizabeth had increased their land holdings to 90 acres which was cleared and fully cultivated and they had eight cattle.

I am unaware, at this stage, how they came to spend their later years of their lives and to be buried at Dapto. A possible reason is that a few of their children married people in Wollongong, and so they may have spent their latter years closer to their younger children. Researcher, Kath Raulings mentions in a comment below she believes John Hore “had land at Illawarra and was granted a convict groom and farm servant. In 1839, both father and son had land at Dapto. See 1839 NSW Gov Gaz. pp.1353, 1378 and again in 1840 pp. 152, 171, 425 and 706. Some of these entries also relate to land in Murrumbidgee district (possibly Cumberoona) and at Camden. I have a feeling I remember seeing in one of the gazettes that there was some land transferred or given between the Hores and Rixons around Dapto. Hope this might help.”.

John died on April 25, 1862 (6420/1862), while Elizabeth died on March 3, 1878 (448/1878).

As it’s the 150th anniversary of John’s death in 2012, I guess it’s no surprise the inscription on the headstone has faded with time.

A lovely, fascinating day…

And with thanks to Terry, I’ve managed to locate a photograph of the grave of my great-great grandfather, Thomas Rixon.

Thomas Rixon grave at Bombala Cemetery
With thanks to Terry Hore, here is a photograph of Thomas Rixon's grave at Bombala Cemetery

Wimbo Park and Centennial Park

Although it’s a little cold, wet and windy outside right now, it was a really beautiful day in Sydney. And so I set out mid-afternoon for what I’d planned as a brief walk to the nearby coffee shop to read the paper and have a bite to eat.

Somehow that brief walk morphed into an almost three hour stroll which took me around Surry Hills and over to Centennial Park where there were, literally, thousands of people enjoying the sunshine. For me, a walk around Centennial Park is about taking the time to look at nature and the people you pass, to take in the sights, sounds and smells, to think and to contemplate.

Although I concede I wouldn’t have this layer of fat around my tummy if I ate and drank sensibly and exercised regularly (running around the park instead of strolling), I concluded firmly in my mind this afternoon, that I’m not a “runner”. Much like the story of the tortoise and the hair, I’m one of those people who prefers the slow, steady approach to my exercise, rather than the intense burst of energy. It’s perhaps also analogous to my attitude towards life also? Walking, not running, has other advantages, as I noticed a few things on my afternoon walk that I hadn’t noted previously.

First and foremost, I discovered “Wimbo Park”. Well, I shouldn’t say “discovered”, as I’ve been living near “Wimbo Park” for about fifteen years now. It’s that curious little park on Bourke Street, opposite Bourke Street Bakery. Thousands who have queued for their bread on the weekends are probably in a similar position to me. They’ve noticed it. They might even have sat in it. But they probably have no idea that it’s a park with “history”. There’s a few plaques around the park which give a little of the background. According to a plaque on Bourke Street Wimbo Park was officially opened on 14th April 1982 by the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Alderman Douglas W Sutherland AM. There’s also a mural which tells you about the different uses the ground had prior to becoming “Wimbo Park”.

Curious to know more about the histoy of “Wimbo Paddock” and “Wimbo Park”, when I arrived home tonight, I went online but found very little. Surry Hills blogger, Neil, of course, has previously blogged about it. But beyond that, there’s very little. There’s a brief reference to a need for improved lighting in City of Sydney council minutes from 1997. There’s a few references to a rather obscure EP, only released in NZ, by a band called Dappled Cities. And there’s also a Wimbo Park in Cannock in England, apparently. Slightly less enlightening was discovering “Wimbo” in urban dictionary defined in these terms… “The combination of a whore and a bimbo. Usually unattractive and slutty”

Family History

The Sydney Morning Herald Monday 16 April 1928, page 12
The Sydney Morning Herald Monday 16 April 1928, page 12
Before Mr. Justice ferguson, in the Supreme Court, two young men, John Joseph Creen, and Henry Augusta O''Brien, were charged with having, at Lismore, broken and entered the jewellery premises of Michael Phillips and stolen 12 watches, 50 bangles, and 24 rings...

I didn’t go to the pub tonight, as is my usual routine. And I won’t be going for the next couple of weeks either, since Swedish class has swapped to Wednesday night for the next few weeks. Instead, I stayed home and did some family history research.

There was a terrific documentary on television tonight about the female convicts brought to Australia on board the “Lady Juliana”.

Although one of the genealogists seemed at pains to believe her convict ancestor wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the court records suggested – yeah, right – it was a really interesting program, and it inspired me to go online and do some further research.

In particular, there’s a WONDERFUL archive of Australian newspapers online, thanks to the National LIbrary.

You put in a name, a place, a location, and you find all manner of things, including newspaper articles and advertisements.

For whatever reason, my family seems to turn up in the court records a fair bit.

I found this article about my dad’s brother which appeared in the SMH in 1928…

Before Mr. Justice ferguson, in the Supreme Court, two young men, John Joseph Creen, and Henry Augusta O’Brien, were charged with having, at Lismore, broken and entered the jewellery premises of Michael Phillips and stolen 12 watches, 50 bangles, and 24 rings. A plea of guilty was entered by O’Brien, but Green pleaded not guilty. The Crown Prosecutor stated that as O’Brien was an accomplice, and would be wanted to give evidence, the Crown prayed that no judgment be entered against him. His Honor (to O’Brien): You are released. After evidence had been heard, His Honor said the only direct evidence against Green was that of O’Brien, who was an accomplice. It was dangerous to take the evidence of an accomplice unless corrobated by some material evldence. The Jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and accused was discharged.

My dad’s other brother, Norman Leslie O’Brien also figures significantly for the circumstances surrounding his tragic death in 1935…

I’d previously seen some articles which mentioned the explosion which killed him at Cawongla, near LIsmore.

For example, the local newspaper The Northern Star reported…

Norman Leslie O’Brien (33) received fatal injuries at Cawongla yesterday morning when he was struck on the left side of the chest by a large piece of blue metal which was blown from a quarry about 75 yards away. Workmates who were close to O’Brien when he received the slow showed commendable bvravery in dragging the injured man under shelter while five more charges exploded in the quarry. O’Brien who lived at North Lismore was a motor lorry driver under contract to the Main Roads Department. He was employed to carry metal required on the road construction work in the Cawongla district where more than than 100 men, operating two shifts are engaged. O’Brien left his home at Lismore on Sunday and commenced work with the first shift early yesterday morning. When workemn ceased for breakfast about 9 o’clock six charges of explosive were placed in the quarry face. O’Brien had taken a billy to the open fire to obtain boiling water and was stooping over the fireplace when the first charge exploded. The force of the blue metal spun O’Brien round and his head struck the ground. His extensive injuries included a fractured shoulder and a fractured arm and lacerations to the face. A party of about 14 other workmen were nearby and, ignoring the possibility of being struck by a piece of flying metal went to O’Brien’s aid. William Campbell, who was standing a few feet away from O’Brien when he was struck said the injured man was picked up and taken behind the galley. The remaining shots went off in quick succession. O’Brien was still alive when he was placed in a lorry owned by the engineer-in-charge (Mr Steel) for transport to Kyogle. on the way to Kyogle, however, O’Brien died. In addition to a widow O’Brien is survived by one child. Known as “Sandy”, O’Brien was popular with the men employed in the Cawongla district, and it was stated yesterday that following the tragedy the men had held a meeting and decided to assist the widow. Instead of taking a holiday to attend O’Brien’s funeral, the men will work their usual shift. The wages earned by the 130 men, the majority of whom are employed under the Emergency Relief Scheme, will be pooled and presented to O’Brien’s wife and child. An inquest will probably be held in Kyogle on Monday.

But what I hadn’t known until tonight was what happened afterwards, and what was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks later..

The Sydney Morning Herald Friday 27 March 1936, page 7
A verdict for plaintiff for £1226 against the Comissioner for Main Roads in a case in which Florence May 0'Brlen, 24, widow, of Lismore, claimed £2000 damages for the death of her husband, Norman Leslie O'Brien, who was killed on the Main Road, Board's quarry near Lismore on August 12....

A verdict for plaintiff for £1226 against the Comissioner for Main Roads in a case in which Florence May O’Brlen, 24, widow, of Lismore, claimed £2000 damages for the death of her husband, Norman Leslie O’Brien, who was killed on the Main Road, Board’s quarry near Lismore on August 12, was given at the Grafton Supreme Court last night. The damages were apportioned to the widow and the child and an amount towards the funeral expenses of £20. The Chief Justice (Sir Frederick Jordan) said that the child’s poition was to be administered on behalt of the child by the Public Trustee. Evidence for plaintiff was that O’Brien was dipping tea from a fireplace at crib-time in the quarry, when ten shots were fired without adequate warning. A shower of stone fell on the spot, a large piece killing O’Brien and a smaller piece striking a man standing beside him. Plaintiff alleged that insufficient precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the men and that. after the fatality, those precautions were instituted, which showed negligence before the accldent. The defence was that every necessary precaution was taken on the day of the accident, and that O’Brien left a safe place under the hoppers to go out Into the open at a critical time, and thus contributed to the cause of his death.

So even though I didn’t make it to my regular night at the pub, it’s been a fascinating night nonetheless, learning a little more about my extended family, thanks to the interweb.

Berlin Wall Anniversary

Visiting the Berlin Wall in 1983

It’s the twentieth anniversary today of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I doubt there’ll be television specials except perhaps on the ABC or SBS, but I note there is a Beck’s Beer advertising campaign appearing on bus shelters around Sydney.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always felt a bit of an affinity with Germany. I guess it has something to do with those childhood memories and learning German in high school. As I recalled about twelve months ago on this blog

Twenty-six years ago, aged seventeen, I travelled to Germany (well, West Germany as it was then), with a group of school-mates and our teacher. I was in Year 12 and I’d been learning German for a number of years. Sometime a couple of years early, one of us had the idea of fund-raising for a trip to Germany, and so that’s just what we did. As well as the fund-raising, I also had a part-time job, and after two or three years, we had enough money to actually do it in May 1983. The memories of that trip remain incredibly vivid for most of my adult life. But particularly today, as I’ve walked around Berlin, many of those memories have come flooding back.

I remember the incredibly long overnight train trip from Frankfurt, being woken in the middle of the night for passport check (I couldn’t find mine for a moment), and then arriving in Berlin itself. I remember our day trip to East Berlin, and in particular, I remember going through one of the border points in Berlin (I remember it WASN’T Checkpoint Charlie), and going on a brief tour of East Berlin with an emphasis on galleries, museums and things like that. The East German tour guide was very proper, as I recall.

Later during our time in Berlin, I have an incredibly vivid memory of standing in the Tiergarten near Brandenberg Gate, where there were two guards goose-stepping their way around. Along with my two school-mates, Louise and Amanda, we waved at them, hoping for some response. Nothing. Nothing. And then finally, a very brief raised hand in response.

Travelling back to West Germany in the daylight hours, I also have a very vivid memory of seeing a school outside the train window, which declared with a huge sign that “The sun always shines in East Germany”.

Last year, I returned to Berlin and made the following observations…

A lot has changed in twenty five years, obviously. For a start, I’m staying in what was East Berlin. And so far, I’ve yet to wander over the border into what was West Berlin. From my perspective, it’s like visiting a whole new city, because in some ways it is. However, there are a few buildings I’ve recognised from that brief day-trip to East Germany. There’s been a wonderful sense of dejavu.

For a while the memories were a little overwhelming and I found myself a little overcome. “This is a total mindfuck”, I thought to myself at one point, reflecting on how different was the experience now. Not only because Berlin has changed dramatically, but also because I’m now seeing it through the eyes of a forty-two year old.

Interestingly enough, November 9 is an important day in German history. There’s a terrific article which discusses the significance of November 9 in German history, which I’d recommend’

Walk On The Wild Side

I spent most of the afternoon on a walking tour called, “Slurry Hills and Razorhurst”, presented by Mark Dunn President of the History Council and organised by 702 ABC Sydney. Although I’ve been on a number of local history walks before, this was probably the most interesting and illuminating one I’ve ever been on.

The tour started on the steps of St Peter’s Church, Devonshire Street, where we were shown photographs of Kate Leigh’s funeral which was attended by many people including Tilley Devine. According to the accompanying blurb, “From the 1920s until the 1940s two women ran the Sydney underworld: Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. This walk starts at the front door of Kate’s house and ends at the front door of Tilly’s, taking in the haunts, hollows and hovels of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst along the way”.

What was supposed to be about 2 hours in duration ended up closer to 3, not that anyone minded since there was so much to learn along the way. Although the common thread was Kate and Tilley and their trade in sly-grog, prositution, and shop-lifting, we also stopped by historic buildings including the Baptist Temple where Arthur Stacey (the man who wrote Eternity on Sydney footpaths), and the Reader’s Digest Building (formerly the stables for a brewery).

The photographs tell the amazing story we encoutered along the way

Come the end of the walk I grabbed a quick bite to eat and met Andrew for a brief drink.

Now two hours later I’ve got the washing machine pumping away, the television is playing quietly in the background, and I’m enjoying putting my feet up.

Family History Research Day

Historic Australian Newspapers, 1803 to 1954
Historic Australian Newspapers, 1803 to 1954

Today, as part of my ongoing family history research, I found a great website featuring Historic Australian Newspapers, 1803 to 1954.

I don’t know how long it’s been around for, but gosh it’s fantastic, as it contains a searchable database of newspaper articles you would otherwise need to visit the State Library to see.

For me, today, it’s meant that I’ve been able to pick up a few articles I had never seen before, and to get better quality images of newspapers articles, I’ve had only poor quality copies of.

So that’s how I’ve spent a fair bit of the day, working on my family history research. I’ve added a few bits and pieces here and there, and I’ve tightened up some of the articles I’ve previously written.

And then of course, I turned off the power for Earth Hour. I was surprised that most of my street seemed to have done the same.

At 9.30, the power came back on, and I wandered down the street to grab a pizza.

After all of the busy social occasions of the last fortnight, I think I’ve just about caught up.

Irish Famine Walk

Irish Famine Memorial in Sydney : the names of some of the young women who came to Australia as Assisted Immigrants are engraved in a large glass plate.

Irish Famine Memorial - Hyde Park Sydney
Irish Famine Memorial - Hyde Park Sydney
I’ve just spent a few hours walking around in the company of historian, Richard Reid.

Richard, who works at the National Museum in Canberra is noted for his interest in the history of the Irish in Australia. In particular, his interest in the many young women who came to Australia during or immediately after the Great Famine of the late 1840s.

Here in Sydney, the famine is remembered in the Irish Famine Memorial at the Hyde Park Barracks. Reflecting the displacement experienced by the many young women (and all immigrants and refugees, really), part of the wall at the barracks has also been displaced. They’ve taken the brick-works, turned them at an angle, inserted a large glass plate with the names of many of the young women engraved, and have placed a small table with some household implements to tell the story of their life before and after arriving in Australia where many gained employment as domestic servants, ahead of marriage.

It’s a very touching and beautiful memorial, and I was lucky enough to go along to the launch of the memorial ten years ago.

Today’s walk was organised by the Historic Houses Trust, and most of those attending were either trust members, or descendants of many of the famine girls.

the names of some of the young women who came to Australia as Assisted Immigrants are engraved in a large glass plate.
Irish Famine Memorial in Sydney : the names of some of the young women who came to Australia as Assisted Immigrants are engraved in a large glass plate.
My own connection isn’t that straight-forward. Strictly speaking my great-grandmother, Hannah Lynch wasn’t one of the “official” famine girls. She didn’t come to Australia on one of the famine ships. But she has a lot of the common characteristics. She came from a town badly affected by the famine. When she came to Australia (along with her sister), her parents were already dead. And she came as an Assisted Immigrant.

So although I’m not a direct descendant of these “famine girls”, I was interested in going on the walk to learn more about some of the common issues she may have faced.

Of the many points Richard Reid made today one was clear: that although these young women are often described in desperate terms, for most of them a life in Australia was a vast improvement on conditions back in Ireland. Here, they mostly received a regular wage (whereas they would often have experienced large periods of unemployment back in Ireland). And he emphasised that while some of them experienced problems associated with their relocation, the vast majority settled into a reasonably happy life in Australia and just “disappeared”.

The walk took us from the steps of the Opera House (they would have arrived at Circular Quay), up Macquarie Street, to Government House (to reflect on the significant number of NSW Govenors who were Irish, and who often did things to improve the conditions of the Irish in Australia), before finally arriving at Hyde Park (where many of these women stayed in the early part of their settlement in Sydney).

In terms of my own research, Richard Reid mentioned the availability and importance of weather records in helping to tell the stories of immigration. “The weather which greeted them on arrival would undoubtedly have influenced their impression of life in Australia”, he noted. He also mentioned the “Catholic Weekly” (and before it, “The Freeman’s Journal”), as an historical source (a source which I had given little thought to until today).

He also mentioned the opening of an exhibition at the National Museum on March 17, 2010 about the Irish in Australia, and of the forthcoming tenth anniversary of the Famine Memorial at Hyde Park.

It was a really interesting and enjoyable tour. Thanks to Richard Reid and to the Historic Houses Trust. Bloody hot though…

Prague Spring Anniversary

Prague Spring Anniversary

It’s forty years today since the Soviet tanks arrived in Prague to “take control”, amidst student unrest. The uprising was supressed, many people were killed, and the Russian troops shot at the National Museum, believing it was the home to the Czech radio station which had been broadcasting anti-Russian programming.

Forty years later, there was a tank outside the National Museum again today, except this time the there were flowers, not bullets, coming out of the end of the cannon. On top of the thank there were a number of men dressed as Russian soldiers, except this time, they were having their photographs taken with babies.

I can’t begin to imagine what the people of Prague went through. Even with a commemorative photographic exhibition, it’s still hard to comprehend what it must have been like in 1968.

I was only three years old at the time. And although I remember we had a young guy from Czechoslovakia (as it was then) in my kindergarten class, I had no real awareness of this kind of stuff until I was maybe 9 or 10 years old.

Even now, I’ve had to go online to read something of the history for an understanding of what occured.

The whole experience today has been re-enacted solely for the media and for tourists, I suspect.

And for a Western tourist, such as myself, who has worked as a journalist for most of his life in a country where there has been virtually no political strife, it’s a way of vicariously relating to something quite exciting. Bit obscene really, isn’t it?

It makes no sense. I’ll let the photographs tell the story…

The Ponds

Sir Thomas Mitchell Reserve, The Ponds, Sydney

Today, my interest in genealogy took me to Dundas Valley near Eastwood. In particular, I wanted to find out more about the land granted to my GGGGG-grandparents, John and Martha Love, who came to Australia in 1791.

John Love, who was a member of the NSW Corps, was granted 30 acres of land at “The Ponds” (February 20, 1794) and a further 90 acres of prime land at “The Field Of Mars” (March 14, 1795). Later, however, he leased the land out to Captain William Kent, the nephew of Governor Hunter. The land was in the modern day suburb of Eastwood, with the historic “Eastwood House” now located on the land given to him.

A few weeks ago, fellow researcher, June Love alerted me to a plaque of some sorts which recognised the early land grant at “The Ponds” awarded to our common ancestor.

June wrote…

If my memory serves me well, the land at The Ponds was sold to Gregory Blaxland, nephew of The ‘Blaxland’ Lawson & Wentworth fame. William Cox who built the first road across the Blue Mountains also gets a mention. All the records of land transactions involving John Love were able to be viewed at The Heritage Centre, Parramatta. There is a Notice erected by Parramatta Council in Dundas Valley near the Rugby Club where John Love is listed as an original land holder (30 acres), and overlaid on the original land grants survey is the present subdivision. Because Eastwood historical records are quite comprehensive, the succession of ownership of the 90 acres on which Eastwood CBD is now situated is well documented.

Getting there was reasonably simple…

Dep: 10:45am Central Station Platform 9: Take the Central Coast And Newcastle Line train (CityRail)
Arr: 11:06am Eastwood Station Platform 3

Dep: 11:19am Eastwood, West St Nr Eastwood Station – Take the 545 bus
Arr: 11:28am Dundas Valley, Yates Av Nr Alexander St

Walk to Quarry Rd, Dundas Valley – 352 metres

The signpost is very near the Dundas Valley R.U. Club – maybe known as Parramatta Leagues Club (sub-branch) – in Quarry Road, Dundas Valley near the intersection with David Street. Signs are dark blue with semicircular curve over the top and the sign at eye level. UBD Map Ref 192 F9. Nearest main Street intersection Evans Road and Yates Avenue. Although somewhat defaced more recently, it was still readable. Bronze in colour with black dots showing surveys, and resembles a lithograph (On the side where you are facing south/west as you read it). (A bit of a story on the reverse side)

And here are the pics…

What happened to John and Martha?

John’s career in the NSW Corps was at best mixed. Arriving in Australia as Private, he was promoted to Corporal (March 25, 1791) and then to Sergeant (June 26, 1791), though reduced to being a Private several months later (December 27, 1791). According to the book, “Sydney Cove 1791-1792″ by John Cobley, this later demotion resulted from depositions about an incident which occured on April 30, 1791 on board the Matilda. I have yet to discover what this was.

He was discharged from the NSW Corps on July 14, 1798, though he later re-enlisted, as the 1799 Muster records him as a Private in the Col. Francis Grose Company of the NSW Corps. Years later, he was reportedly mentioned in the Sydney Gazette (1814) for his capture of a deserter from the 73rd Regiment, one of a group of 17 bandits.

Despite being a member of the NSW Corps, whose job was to uphold the law, John Love had several convictions himself.

In common with other members of the NSW Corps, the “Rum Corps” John Love was involved in the production of rum. On Monday, June 1806, he was arrested and fined 100 Spanish dollars (one of the currencies in use at the time) after the discovery on his property at the Field of Mars of a still and other appartus for distilling liquor. The incident was reported in the Sydney Gazette of Wednesday June 6.

On Monday, in consequence of a like information, several Constables were sent to search for a still and other apparatus on the farm of J. Love at the Field of Mars; from whence a large boiler was produced, supposed to be for the purpose of distilling. The owner was in consequence ordered to find bail for his good behaviour.

In December 3 1816, John Love was convicted of stealing government cattle in collusion with two of his convict servants (Joseph Jones, Patrick McGinty) and all were sentenced to hang (NSW Records Reel 6006; 4/3495 p. 421).

His family appealed successfully for clemency, though it appears he may have been sent to Newcastle on the “Lady Nelson” for a period of time.

On account of some favourable circumstances in mitigation of his offence I am induced to extend Grace & Mercy unto him and to grant unto him the said John Love a Pardon for his said crime as the sole and express condition that the said John Love shall continue to reside as a convict in the Territory of NSW and the dependancies during the term of his natural life and be kept at hard labour ‘Macquarie’” The pardon was to be null and void if he were found outside NSW.

In a petition to the governor, the Superintendent of John Oxley’s farm requested the sum of 100-pounds to be repaid for the forfeited property.

Several years later on June 11, 1822, he was also fined Đ2.10 Shillings for employing a bushranger named Murphy (possibly, Patrick Murphy who later worked on nearby Harrington Farm).

It’s difficult to know whether these brushes with the law were the consequence or the cause of long-term economic problems.

The Court of Civil Jurisdiction, for example, ordered that the Seymour Farm had to be sold in 1814 to recover debt.

Ex parte William Packer, in the matter of Joseph and John Love: Pursuant to an Order of the Court of Civil Jurisdiction, ande in the above matter, the Provest Marshal will cause to be set up for sale by public auction at the Market Place, Sydney, on Thursday the 25th instant at Twelve o’clock, a certain farm and lands, called Seymour’s Farm; containing 80 acres, more or less and situated in the Field of Mars (unless the Debt Costs and all incidental expenses are previously liquidated.) Wm Gorr, Provest Marshal.

And after John’s conviction for stealing cattle, Martha was forced to mortgage the farm (on August 13, 1817) and a mare and foal were sold to Thomas Moore for 45 pounds.

Further evidence of their economic woes came in 1824 when their young son John (well, reportedly their son, but perhaps more likely their grandson since he was too young to be there son) was placed in the Orphan’s Home and died, aged 9 with dysentery June 29th, 1824.

Aged 74, and living at Appin, Martha died on November 28, 1822 (V1822 5579 2B/1822) and was buried at St Luke’s Church, Liverpool.

Just over four years later, John Love also died, aged 94 on January 4, 1827 (V1827196 2C/1827) and (182772 11/1827).

Anzac Day

Charles Dunn War Records

It’s funny, isn’t it, what images you remember from your childhood? Ask me what I did yesterday and I have to check my diary to remember. Ask me to describe my bedroom as a 10 year old and I can do that in detail.

Even now, I can still vividly remember the “Cetificate of Appreciation from the Municipality of Bombala” that used to hang in a picture frame in my childhood home. Along with the certificate there were also medal ribbons, though I don’t recall ever having seen the medals attached to them. The certificate and ribbons, along with a photograph in one of the bedrooms were the only physical manifestations of my grandfather I knew, as he died many years before I was born.

And so I thought on Anzac Day, 2008, I’d tell you a little about my grandfather, and his involvement in World War I, based on some of the research I’ve done over the last few years…

Charles Henry Dunn was born in 1890 at Rosemeath, a small village near Bombala, NSW (south of Canberra). Aged 24 years and 8 months, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on October 19, 1916 at Goulburn, NSW.

The enlistment papers record he was just 5 feet 3.5 inches tall, weighed 122lbs and had a chest measurement of 31-34 inches. They also record he had a dark complexion, grey eyes, brown fair and a scar on the right side of his jaw.

After enlistment at Goulburn, he was transferred to the 55th Battalion and then to the 12/30th Battalion at Liverpool, Sydney. He left Sydney on November 25, 1916 on the the “Beltana”, a troop vessell which took him to Plymouth England.

After arrival in England, he was with the 8th Battalion, and was given some basic training. After a short period of time in hospital, on May 3, 1917 he left Folkstone, Kent for service in France. As a member of the Fifth Division he was marched out for service in Etaples on the coast of France a few days later.

On October 12, 1917, he was shot in the left leg and spent much of the next few months in the field hospital in Buchez, France. He then returned to his battalion and on December 12, 1917 was transferred to the 15th Australian Field Artillery.

His record for 1918 contains little detail, except that between January 29, 1919 and February 28, 1919, Charles was seriously ill in hospital with influenza.

He left Le Havre, France on May 12, 1919 and arrived at Weymouth, England the following day.

He disembarked on May 7, 1919 and on the voyage back to Australia, became sick with Celulitis, a diffuse suppurative bacterial inflammation of the subcutaneous tissue.

Charles Dunn Arrives HomeHe arrived back in Australia at the Port of Melbourne on August 20, 1919. The Bombala Times of Friday September 5, 1919 reported simply…

Pte Charles Dunn, son of Mr John Dunn, returned home this week after doing duty with the A.I.F. on the battlefields of Europe.

Two weeks later, major celebrations were held in Bombala recognising the efforts of local servicemen. On Friday, September 26, 1919, The Bombala Times reported…

Both Halls were utilised for dancing and suppers, and they were both taxed to the utomost to provide dancing room and supper accommodation for the great crowd. To give an idea of the number of people assembled, it is estimated that 700 people were fed at the two Halls, and still there was food over. Nothing bigger than this has ever been known in Bombala.

Charles Dunn’s war record shows he was eligible for three medals, the Star Medal and the British War Medal (No. 65786) and the Victory Medal (63400).

The re-integration of World War I veterans back into society can’t have been easy. According to “A Brief History of RSL in Bombala”

When local diggers…arrived home they soon found that they had come home to no bed of roses, the economic situation wasn’t good, and the returning heroes found what jobs were available were already filled, and the Government re-establishment promises were mostly promises, so the bulk of them were unemployed. A fund called the Provisional Trustees Returned Soldiers Fund had been formed to help returned soldiers get re-established. The fund wasn’t enough, so it was soon decided that each riding of the Shire and the Bombala Municipality would provide work and each man would have to work for what he got out of the fund. However The 50-pound grant given to soldiers who had resided in Australia for 14-years prior to the outbreak of the War ceased on October 31, 1921 In 1921.

At the age of twenty eight, and working as a labourer in Bombala, Charles married Bertha Ellen Rixon, an eighteen year old woman born at Pambula, currently in domestic duties at Bombala. Their marriage on January 19, 1921 (1921/002992) at St Matthias’ Church of England, Bombala took place with the permission of her young mother, Ellen Rixon. They were married by D.D. Curthous in the presence of Ellen Rixon and J.P. Dunn. Their first child, Bertha Ann Dunn (my mum), arrived in February the following year.

After their marriage, Charles obtained work as a linesman for the Post-Master General, the precursor to Telstra. His work took him to a number of locations around NSW, finally settling in Lismore in the mid 1930s.

Charles Dunn died at Lismore Base Hospital on Saturday, July 24, 1943 due to heart and lung disease. A simple obituary appeared in “The Northern Star” a few days later…

MR C.H. DUNN – Mr Charles Henry Dunn, a returned soldier, of 13 Union street, South Lismore who died in Lismore on Saturday night, was buried yesterday afternoon in the Roman Catholic portion of the Lismore cemetery. The remains were conveyed to our Lady Help of Christians Roman Catholic Church at South Lismore, where a service was conducted by the Rev. Father Daniel McGrath, who also officiated at the graveside. The casket was draped with the Union Jack and at the conclusion of the graveside service Mr. Elwyn Roberts sounded the “Last Post”. The pall bearers were Lieut H.C. Nott (Secretary), and Messrs R. Stoker (Returned Soldiers’ League), W. Rutley, J. O’Brien, L. Winkler and E. Eggins. The wreaths were carried by Messrs T. G. Lovett (RSS and AILA) and TD Cleary. Messrs Will Riley and Son conducted the funeral arerangements.

From what I can see there was nothing extraordinary about my grandfather’s war record. I don’t even know why he enlisted. But in doing some research, and in sharing this story, I hope it goes some way to helping me getting to know him a little better.

My NSW Plates

When I moved to Brisbane at the beginning of 1984 I toyed briefly with the idea of changing my car to Queensland plates. “You know they don’t have annual inspections in Queensland. They’re all rust-buckets on the road”, I remember my brother-in-law saying at the time. I probably didn’t need to change my plates that first year because I spent so much of my time back in NSW, anyway. I don’t think I really became a semi-Queenslander until 1985.

One of my first memories of that year was the electricity strike. I remember having power one hour on and one hour off. I remember my university flat-mate, Cathy and I going to supermarkets and being shown around in the dark. I also remember going to the bottle-o with her to get some beers, with the result being she ended up drinking me under the table. How times have changed. The electricity strike was a big show down between the trade union movement and the Bjelke-Peterson Government. I don’t actually remember who won in the end, to be honest.

As I watched “Four Corners” tonight, I was briefly taken back to my days in Brisbane, as Chris Master profiled the dying days of “The Moonlight State”…

Like me, the reporter Chris Masters is from Lismore. As a young boy growing up there, Sydney was never really on my radar. With a large amount of family already in Brisbane, there was no question I would go to university in Sydney. And with a sick mum, Brisbane was the obvious choice being just three hours up the road.

Arriving at university amidst a group of students a year younger than me (Queensland only had five years of high school), and meeting people from such remote areas as Mount Isa, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Townsville, I always felt like a bit of an outsider in a way. There was something about being a “Queenslander” that I didn’t quite understand. There was a “pride” in being from Queensland that we never really had in NSW. I’m sure part of it has to do with being from a smaller, more remote state. Or maybe there’s something about the place that makes you feel really proud to live in a really terrific place? And Queensland is a terrific place.

In seeking to explain the dying days of the Bjelke-Peterson Government (and the twentieth anniversary of the uncovering of police and government corruption) Chris Masters’ program tonight sought to locate so much of what happened in the idea of “Queensland Pride”. Whether it was true or not, or just a ruse, the explanation given in tonight’s program by so many of those who participated was that “Joh just wanted what was good for Queensland” (or words to that effect).

As I recall it was a fairly commonly held view at the time. Another friend who I shared with at university at the time had an uncle who was actually a Queensland government minister. He constantly reminded us about all the great things the government had done, and steadfastly refused to believe there was even a hint of corruption associated with the government. I wonder what he would say now.

As for a hint of corruption? Well I never saw any, but as an undergraduate arts student you would never expect to me to. The one exception was going out to a club on a Sunday night. At about midnight the police arrived and we were all told to leave the club. I can’t remember if I actually saw a bag of money change hands, though that’s what everyone believed was occuring. After about twenty minutes we were all allowed back into the club. That’s about as close as it ever got for me to “The Moonlight State”.

Twenty years later, however, I don’t remember how much was fact, and how much was made fiction due to the passing time. Interestingly, a few of the people I work with also lived in Brisbane during the 1980s. Although a close colleague and I don’t recall ever having met, even though we’re of a similar age, and would have been hanging out in similar circumstances, when I first mentioned to him I lived in Brisbane during that period, and hung out at such and such a bar, his eyes began to smile. When I mentioned to another colleague I had lived in Brisbane during this period, and that I had often seen him on the same train line that I used to use, there was again a smile in his eyes. Those of us who lived through Brisbane in the 1980s all seem to be connected through our memories of the time, even if they have faded somewhat.

And even if I wasn’t all that aware of what was going on, it was great to watch tonight’s program, and to briefly reminisce about 1984-1988 when I lived in Queensland, but maintained my NSW number-plates.

Living History

You know you’re starting to get old when you begin to hear yourself say things like, “Oh yes, I remember when that happened” and… “Oh that used to be so-and-so the dry-cleaner, before they tore it down to make way for the high-rise”. I found myself both thinking and saying similar things today during a Mardi Gras History Walk.

It’s not the first time I’ve been on one, of course. Last year’s walk focussed on Kings Cross and Darlinghurst during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, including the very first Mardi Gras. I’ve also been on another walk which focussed more heavily on colonial history, especially in the area around Hyde Park.

This year’s walk was more heavily focussed on the emergence of a gay male subculture around Oxford Street during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. And that’s where I stopped being an observer of history and began to realise I was actually there for part of it. I was there when the Unicorn Hotel and the Albury Hotel had regular drag shows. I remember having lunch at the Green Park Diner. I remember having to go through the men’s toilets to get to the dance-floor at the Exchange Hotel. I think I even may have gone to Patches, long before it became DCM, or whatever it’s called now.

Having lunch after the walk I heard two American visitors relfecting on their experiences of the walk. “So what did you think?”, one asked the other. “It was good though there was probably too much detail. Too many reminiscences about things I had no idea about”. I think I would agree to an extent. What I have loved about previous walks has been the degree of fact-checking that occured before the walk. This time around there were several people providing input, and often times it was more opinion than fact, which led to a couple of disagreements. That said, I love going on this walk each year, and I can’t wait until next years.

I don’t generally do all that much for Mardi Gras these days. Although it’s partially because I’ve gotten older and the idea of standing around in some poof bar surrounded by thousands of others no longer has the appeal, but it’s also because I have so many other things happening in my life. A few weeks back I went through the program for Mardi Gras and made a shortlist of those events I wanted to do. Through a series of events I’ve managed to miss most of them, though I will probably take a walk up to Oxford Street to watch the parade (for a while) on Saturday night, unless of course it rains.

A colleague who has only recently moved to Sydney asked me the other day if I thought the parade was worth seeing. She’s about six months pregnant at the moment, and starting to feel a little weary, and so wanted an honest opinion of whether it was worth the effort. “Well it’s the thirtieth anniversary”, I told her, explaining that it would probably be fairly special this year compared with previous years. And when she then answered my questions about where she lived in Paddington, I told her she would have time for a quick walk there, a quick look, and she could still be home in time to watch “The Bill”.

The other Mardi Gras-related event I went to the other night was the play “Blowing Whistles” at Belvoir Street. The play tells the story of a couple who met 10 years ago at Mardi Gras and how their relationship had become quite dysfunctional. The play was well written – though I thought the second half was a little bit too long – well-cast and well directed. The play also had the audience totally in mind, connecting extremely well. I was able to relate to many of the references in the play, and to the obvious personal reference to my own circumstance of meeting someone at Mardi Gras in 1998. More living history! Downstairs at Belvoir Street was also the perfect venue, given the intimacy of the space. And did I mention there was nudity in the play? :)

Flood Memories

The flood photograph from the State Emergency Service website demonstrates how deep the flood-waters became in 1974. Source unknown. And by the way, that's AGR's Corner you're looking at.
The flood photograph from the State Emergency Service website demonstrates how deep the flood-waters became in 1974. Source unknown. And by the way, that's AGR's Corner you're looking at.

In the last few days I’ve had quite a few emails, messages and phone calls from friends concerned about how my family have fared in the current floods. “That’s not a flood”, I’ve told them, “It’s a high river. 74 – now that was a flood”. At which point I’ve gone on to tell them (bore them?) with my memories of Lismore floods, along with some interesting family family folklore.

Although the river had gone up and down several times already during my life, my first “real memory” of a flood was of the 1974 flood. I was eight years old at the time. As with most Lismore floods it had been raining heavily for several days. “What’s happening at Nashua?”, I recall my mum saying as my dad listened to 2LM. Early in my life I learned there was a relationship between the extent of flooding and the amount of rain they had at Nashua and the level of flood we could expect in Lismore.

As I recall it was a Sunday night when South Lismore flooded. Although due to an expected failure in the levee bank, dad must have known something terrible was going to happen, as we spent much of Sunday afternoon securing things underneath the house. The washing machine was raised three or four feet off the ground and the family car had been moved to the higher block of land next door. With everything secure, we came back upstairs and sat to watch “Disneyland”, as was the Sunday night family tradition. By the end of Disneyland our house was surrounded by almost six feet of water. Needless to say, both the washing machine and the family car were covered in water.

As our house was on stilts, we avoided inundation this time. The people who lived across the road, however, the Jobsons (their daughter Wendy was in my year at school) were evacuated in the middle of the night.

The flood-waters surrounded our house for three of four days, as I recall. When they finally subsided we were able to walk around the neighbourhood to visit family and friends to see how they had fared. These were the days before telephones were common in households, and communication was therefore limited. In particular, there was concern about how my sister, Pat had fared with her infant child. A she lived opposite a fuel depot (she still does), she told us of her late night fears (while her husband was out volunteering for the State Emergency Service) as she heard the floating fuel drums smash against each other.

From there we walked across the Ballina Street Bridge to see how people who lived in the CBD had fared. Long before the establishment of the levy-bank there were a number of families living on the riverbank, many of them Aboriginal. Standing on the bridge we were able to look down to see the water just a dozen feet or so beneath our feet. Rushing rapidly, and carrying livestock with it, I remember, in particular, seeing a distressed cow mournfully mooing as it floated underneath our feet.

Although the 1974 flood was, and remains the highest in recorded history, the 1954 flood was far worse, in terms of financial devastation and lives lost. A decade before I was born, I’ve only been told stories of what occured. Most significantly, our house was low-set in 1954, which meant the flood waters came right inside reaching to almost the top of the window-sills.

As it was in the days before the State Emergency Service, my family, like many others, had no other option than to move higher and higher as the water came up.Famously, my mum and my granny sat on chairs on the kitchen table until the rising waters forced them too into the ceiling.

When they soon realised my overweight granny couldn’t squeeze through the manhole, they cut a larger manhole. Thus, my mum, my dad, my granny, my uncle and my four sister spent close to a week living in the roof-top of our house, with flood-waters swirling just below them.

It’s hard to imagine how isolated they were at the time. According to press release issued by Telstra a couple of years ago, recognising my Uncle Alf as “Bigpond’s Oldest Customer – he was 100 years old at the time – Having been introduced into amateur radio by a cousin in 1922, Alf obtained his Amateur Radio Operators License in 1947 and today remains an active operator. During the 1954 Lismore flood he provided the only communication to the outside for telegraphs, police and councils.

With monotonous regularity much of my early life was spent on flood-watch. Listening to the radio and listening to the stories told by family members, I became knowledgeable at an early age about how flood-waters come and go and about the flood-markers you need to keep an eye out for. I wonder if any of the newer arrivals in Lismore know of the significance of “AGR’s Corner”?

Although my family continues to live in one of the two most flood-prone areas of Lismore, we have been fairly lucky. Like most people who have lived in the area for a number of generations, we have developed an in-built sensibility about how best to deal with floods. Mostly they have been an inconvenience more than anything, although we did lose a few family things in the 1989 flood which came up very quickly.

Perhaps not as quickly, though, as the flash flood which occured in the 1960s (I think), which my mum told me saw her quickly surrounded by three feet of water while putting out the washing.

The last time I was genuinely worried about my family was in 2005 when the river reached near record heights. At the time there was a genuine threat to South Lismore, and my niece, with a young child, for the first time in years considered moving to higher ground. As it happened, she didn’t need to.

My most significant flood memory remains, however of the 1974 flood. Whether or not 1974 will remain the biggest flood in recorded history remains to be seen. My dad told me a story many years ago relayed to him by his sister-in-law, Eileen Crummy. By way of interest, Eileen and her family (and my grandmother, Lena) lived in a house in North Lismore, the area of Lismore most prone to flooding. An Aboriginal woman whose family had lived in the area for, presumably, thousands of years, she told dad of a flood which had gone “over the top of the Cathedral Hill”. If such a flood occured again, Lismore would be in SERIOUS trouble.


* The flood photograph from the State Emergency Service website demonstrates how deep the flood-waters became in 1974. Source unknown. And by the way, that’s AGR’s Corner you’re looking at.

SES Floods

Going to Venice – Stories from the 1974 Richmond River flood

Going To Venice – Radio National