You learn something new every day (2)

I got a call this morning from my brother who has been delving into the places we have lived over the years, including those before we were born.

My recollection, hazy at best, is that my father’s parents lived in Camberwell, a suburb of Melbourne, and the boys, those that survived the war, lived there too. He had three brothers, I think, and a sister. From what I’ve read, his older brother was a sensible chap and the peacemaker between him and his parents.

Later one of his brothers went to Sydney, his sister lived among orchards our Ringwood way, and another, much later, moved to Queensland. We very rarely, if ever, saw them, and the last time I did with most in one place, was after my Grandmother died. I do remember Dora, the site, visiting us once, and being young at the time, she seemed a very forbidding woman.

But, this is about where they lived.

My father, presumably before and immediately after the war, at home, and my mother at her home in Pakenham. There her father ran a service station and motor mechanic shop and was well known. Their house, at the time, was built over the road, just a short walk from home to work. The place, the first time I saw it, was a mechanics dream, with old cars and car parts outside and inside garages, and a woodworking shop with every tool imaginable.

Once the place had very elegant gardens, but by the time I got to stay there, in the 1960s, it was all overgrown, and the house was in disrepair. My mother’s brother lived there with my grandmother, and he was a fearsome, huge man who said little. All I knew about him was that, a) he was the one who found his father after he had killed himself, b) he liked fishing and went to a place called Corinella, and c) he was a mechanic like his father.

So, at some point in 1948, my father must have up and left, perhaps after an argument with his parents, and moved to Keiwa House, Bogong, where the Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme was being built, as a projectionist, bringing films to the workers in Town Halls.

As I’ve said, my mother stayed in a boarding house for ladies during the week and went home on weekends. I have the first letter that my father wrote to her and references the fact he went calling on her, and she was not there. We’ll never know what she thought, but there’s a second letter, after she wrote back, so a friendship was struck. He told her, almost in minute detail, what he was doing, and presumably, she told him about hers.

A year later, they married.

Now it gets interesting. We both thought that their first house, after getting married was in Carrum. It wasn’t. In the pile of letters were references to the family staying in a rented flat in Camberwell.

Sometime after that, there is a contract for a war service loan in relation to a property in Carrum, which turns out to be the first house they lived in, and where my brother, born in 1950) lived, and where I lived after I was born in 1953. I have interesting if vague memories of this house, and of the people who lived behind us because we could climb through the fence into their property. We knew them during, and after living in Carrum.

Now, today, some interesting new facts came to light about the Carrum house. We always assumed we owned it, but it seems that we didn’t. A copy of the title for that property never had the name Heath on it, so did we rent it? More information is required, and we need to dig deeper. Let’s hope there are no skeletons there.

And something else came out of a discussion with the daughter of my mothers sister, that it was believed my mother’s parents bought them a house in Chelsea, but my father, apparently, refused to live in it and sold it.

OK, I never claimed that my father was the sort that might have accepted charity, so perhaps in a moment of madness, he lost the plot. The question is, what happened to the money?
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You learn something new every day (1)

And it’s not necessarily something that might be good. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, but in a strange sort of way it put a few things into perspective.

My brother and I have been delving into the family history, or at least my brother is throwing everything at it, and I’m along for the ride.

I did have a trove of stuff that we found when cleaning out my parent’s house when they moved into aged care, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. It was more about getting them settled than figuring out what was kept.

Now, four or so years later, and having finally received an interim output of the family tree, it’s not so much the forebears that interested me, as it was my parents.

It seems that our looking at our immediate family’s potted lives is like walking through a minefield, riddled with contradictions, rumors, and anecdotal evidence that doesn’t, for the moment, have any hard evidence to back it up. Or at least some have, but that’s not the interesting part.

So, picture this. The extent of my knowledge of my immediate family was that my father is Australian, his mother English, and I’m a second-generation Australian with an English grandparent. It doesn’t sound much, but not so long ago I could have applied for and got an English passport and had dual nationality. Unfortunately, that cannot happen anymore, you have to be one or the other.

My mother’s mother was of English descent and her husband of German descent. It was understood that my grandfather on this side died not long after I was born, though for a long time we were never told how. Only recently it came to light that he had committed suicide, and my brother has a copy of the suicide note he wrote. Morbid, eh? It turns out he thought he had cancer, but didn’t and mistakenly ended his life thinking he might have been a burden on my grandmother.

But now we started digging, getting dates of birth, easy, dates of death, easy, marriage certificates, and parents’ names for this limited dip into history, relatively simple.

But the story, the real aspects of genealogy, is where they went to school, their first job, what the did in the war, that fascinating the story of their lives at different times, that’s where I’m more interested. My brother has the facts, I want to give them a story entwining those facts.

Something that adds some flesh to the story is letters.

Another recent addition to the pile of family documents are the letters between my mother and father before they were married, and the fact my mother had another boyfriend, something we never knew until the great clean up. I have those letters, or some of them too.

Those letters, from him, unfortunately, we don’t have hers, are fascinating, as are those from my father. There is no indication of why there was a breakup with the first boyfriend, but I did learn that my father had gone to an introduction agent by the name of Mrs. J Phillips who gave him her name. What factors had led him down this path?

It was, to me, very Dolly Levi-ish.

I discovered my father worked as a projectionist at the Snowy River hydro-electric project after the war., around 1948. He had spoken of showing pictures at the Athenaeum Theatre in Flinders Street, and the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, but not exactly when, which accounted for his amazing knowledge of Hollywood movie stars. It was, however, as much as he had shared for a long time.

I also discovered that he was in Perth, Western Australia immediately after the war, and then went overseas to England by ship 13th August 1947, arriving in London on 12th September, and stayed at Middlesex with relatives.

Ok, now it gets a little weird because when in Bedfordshire he became engaged to an English girl that he had (apparently) known for 10 years. How this came to pass is still a mystery awaiting an answer. The wedding was supposed to be on 21st December 1947 but never happened, because the marriage was forbidden by her parents because they did not want their daughter to move to Australia, and equally forbidden by his parents because she was Catholic.

Yes. Religion was a breaking point in those days because he was a protestant. He returned, perhaps heartbroken, a year after he left, in April 1948.

I found that for a period of two years there would be enough speculative material to fuel a very lively account of their lives, and particularly his.

My mother, by the way, spent the war years attending Dandenong High School, a steam train ride down from Pakenham to Dandenong. After that, she gained employment in Melbourne, and spend the weekdays at a Ladies Boarding House called Chalmers Hall, in Parliament Place, and going home to Pakenham on the weekends. From a note or two, it seems she was something of a ‘wild’ child who craved doing something with her evenings other than ‘staying in’, with references to her going out with her friends.

My father confessed that he was the family’s black sheep, that he didn’t get along with any of the family, and which was why he was never home and always traveling. He wrote, in one letter of October 1948, that when he got into an argument he got mad and walked out on them, and came back when calm had returned. I assume that meant it might take days, weeks, or even months for the dist to settle.

There were disputes with my father with both his brothers and his parents over marrying my mother, and there were problems between my mother and her parents, to the extent they might not attend the wedding. For a few months of tense silence, there might not have been a wedding at all, but eventually, this happened at Trinity Church, Camberwell, on the 28th of June, 1949.

Wow! It shows that illusions of what might have been their happy day turning out to be moments of high dudgeon. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I still have no idea what split her and the original boyfriend, a man she’d known since she was 14, and was from her hometown area, Pakenham. It might have been something she said because there are indications on one of two draft letters that she was prone to speaking her mind, and had a temper which would not have helped in using discretion. I’m guessing a few years of war would make a man lose interest in a high minded, and perhaps a sharp-tongued woman. I suspect we’ll never know.

She is now 93 and has Alzheimer’s and dementia, and unlikely to remember back then.

Similarly, my father is 97 and I doubt sitting down with him would elicit much on the way of a sensible discussion. He was always irascible at best and oddly suffers from PTSD from his war service if that’s still possible. Over the years he was never prone to sharing his past life, except in snippets, and that, some of it was about the war. I guess war did terrible things to the participants back them

And, as for his war service, we have the physical documentation of where and when, but only a potted history of his own account of his service. But even that is a story and a half in itself.

More on that later.

You learn something new every day (1)

And it’s not necessarily something that might be good. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, but in a strange sort of way it put a few things into perspective.

My brother and I have been delving into the family history, or at least my brother is throwing everything at it, and I’m along for the ride.

I did have a trove of stuff that we found when cleaning out my parent’s house when they moved into aged care, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. It was more about getting them settled than figuring out what was kept.

Now, four or so years later, and having finally received an interim output of the family tree, it’s not so much the forebears that interested me, as it was my parents.

It seems that our looking at our immediate family’s potted lives is like walking through a minefield, riddled with contradictions, rumors, and anecdotal evidence that doesn’t, for the moment, have any hard evidence to back it up. Or at least some have, but that’s not the interesting part.

So, picture this. The extent of my knowledge of my immediate family was that my father is Australian, his mother English, and I’m a second-generation Australian with an English grandparent. It doesn’t sound much, but not so long ago I could have applied for and got an English passport and had dual nationality. Unfortunately, that cannot happen anymore, you have to be one or the other.

My mother’s mother was of English descent and her husband of German descent. It was understood that my grandfather on this side died not long after I was born, though for a long time we were never told how. Only recently it came to light that he had committed suicide, and my brother has a copy of the suicide note he wrote. Morbid, eh? It turns out he thought he had cancer, but didn’t and mistakenly ended his life thinking he might have been a burden on my grandmother.

But now we started digging, getting dates of birth, easy, dates of death, easy, marriage certificates, and parents’ names for this limited dip into history, relatively simple.

But the story, the real aspects of genealogy, is where they went to school, their first job, what the did in the war, that fascinating the story of their lives at different times, that’s where I’m more interested. My brother has the facts, I want to give them a story entwining those facts.

Something that adds some flesh to the story is letters.

Another recent addition to the pile of family documents are the letters between my mother and father before they were married, and the fact my mother had another boyfriend, something we never knew until the great clean up. I have those letters, or some of them too.

Those letters, from him, unfortunately, we don’t have hers, are fascinating, as are those from my father. There is no indication of why there was a breakup with the first boyfriend, but I did learn that my father had gone to an introduction agent by the name of Mrs. J Phillips who gave him her name. What factors had led him down this path?

It was, to me, very Dolly Levi-ish.

I discovered my father worked as a projectionist at the Snowy River hydro-electric project after the war., around 1948. He had spoken of showing pictures at the Athenaeum Theatre in Flinders Street, and the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, but not exactly when, which accounted for his amazing knowledge of Hollywood movie stars. It was, however, as much as he had shared for a long time.

I also discovered that he was in Perth, Western Australia immediately after the war, and then went overseas to England by ship 13th August 1947, arriving in London on 12th September, and stayed at Middlesex with relatives.

Ok, now it gets a little weird because when in Bedfordshire he became engaged to an English girl that he had (apparently) known for 10 years. How this came to pass is still a mystery awaiting an answer. The wedding was supposed to be on 21st December 1947 but never happened, because the marriage was forbidden by her parents because they did not want their daughter to move to Australia, and equally forbidden by his parents because she was Catholic.

Yes. Religion was a breaking point in those days because he was a protestant. He returned, perhaps heartbroken, a year after he left, in April 1948.

I found that for a period of two years there would be enough speculative material to fuel a very lively account of their lives, and particularly his.

My mother, by the way, spent the war years attending Dandenong High School, a steam train ride down from Pakenham to Dandenong. After that, she gained employment in Melbourne, and spend the weekdays at a Ladies Boarding House called Chalmers Hall, in Parliament Place, and going home to Pakenham on the weekends. From a note or two, it seems she was something of a ‘wild’ child who craved doing something with her evenings other than ‘staying in’, with references to her going out with her friends.

My father confessed that he was the family’s black sheep, that he didn’t get along with any of the family, and which was why he was never home and always traveling. He wrote, in one letter of October 1948, that when he got into an argument he got mad and walked out on them, and came back when calm had returned. I assume that meant it might take days, weeks, or even months for the dist to settle.

There were disputes with my father with both his brothers and his parents over marrying my mother, and there were problems between my mother and her parents, to the extent they might not attend the wedding. For a few months of tense silence, there might not have been a wedding at all, but eventually, this happened at Trinity Church, Camberwell, on the 28th of June, 1949.

Wow! It shows that illusions of what might have been their happy day turning out to be moments of high dudgeon. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I still have no idea what split her and the original boyfriend, a man she’d known since she was 14, and was from her hometown area, Pakenham. It might have been something she said because there are indications on one of two draft letters that she was prone to speaking her mind, and had a temper which would not have helped in using discretion. I’m guessing a few years of war would make a man lose interest in a high minded, and perhaps a sharp-tongued woman. I suspect we’ll never know.

She is now 93 and has Alzheimer’s and dementia, and unlikely to remember back then.

Similarly, my father is 97 and I doubt sitting down with him would elicit much on the way of a sensible discussion. He was always irascible at best and oddly suffers from PTSD from his war service if that’s still possible. Over the years he was never prone to sharing his past life, except in snippets, and that, some of it was about the war. I guess war did terrible things to the participants back them

And, as for his war service, we have the physical documentation of where and when, but only a potted history of his own account of his service. But even that is a story and a half in itself.

More on that later.

The past creeps back when you least expect it

Over the last few weeks I’ve been lamenting the loss of many things that once existed, once upon a time.

All children have memories of their childhood, but some dissipate over time and become forgotten, almost to the point where it is as if they never existed.

Like my grandmothers house in the country, bulldozed to widen a main highway. I have a lot of difficulty in remembering it even though we had spent many Christmas holidays there.

Other, more insignificant items just simply disappeared into the mists of time, as the manufacturers were slowly bought out by overseas companies and in their desire for globalisation, parochial items made for what seems, to them, to be too small for their economies of scale were no longer made.

No thought is ever given to the consumer. Nor does it matter that the item, made in this country for a hundred years, is especially attuned to the tastes of the people of this country, and therefore have a continuous core market.

Of course, as a child over 60 years ago, most of thise items were confectionary. Names of brands such as Hoadleys and Rowntree have long since disappeared. Products like licorice squares, polly waffles, toscas and crispins have gone too.

Some products like Kit Kats still exist, but are made by new manufacturers like Nestle but with the change no longer taste anything like they used to.

But what started of this lament for the old days was triggered by seeing an old, old favourite called Life Savers, which came in friut flavours, peppermint, and musk. My all time favourite was musk and walking through the supermarket I saw the words Life Savers on a box almost hidden on the bottom shelf and lo and behold they had musk.

The packaging had changed, the manufacturer had changed, but that timeless confectionary had reappeared. Given its shelf location, I don’t think it will be for long.

Now, if only they could bring back Toscas, and Tarax soft drinks in small bottles. Raspberry and cola were my all time favourites.

The past creeps back when you least expect it

Over the last few weeks I’ve been lamenting the loss of many things that once existed, once upon a time.

All children have memories of their childhood, but some dissipate over time and become forgotten, almost to the point where it is as if they never existed.

Like my grandmothers house in the country, bulldozed to widen a main highway. I have a lot of difficulty in remembering it even though we had spent many Christmas holidays there.

Other, more insignificant items just simply disappeared into the mists of time, as the manufacturers were slowly bought out by overseas companies and in their desire for globalisation, parochial items made for what seems, to them, to be too small for their economies of scale were no longer made.

No thought is ever given to the consumer. Nor does it matter that the item, made in this country for a hundred years, is especially attuned to the tastes of the people of this country, and therefore have a continuous core market.

Of course, as a child over 60 years ago, most of thise items were confectionary. Names of brands such as Hoadleys and Rowntree have long since disappeared. Products like licorice squares, polly waffles, toscas and crispins have gone too.

Some products like Kit Kats still exist, but are made by new manufacturers like Nestle but with the change no longer taste anything like they used to.

But what started of this lament for the old days was triggered by seeing an old, old favourite called Life Savers, which came in friut flavours, peppermint, and musk. My all time favourite was musk and walking through the supermarket I saw the words Life Savers on a box almost hidden on the bottom shelf and lo and behold they had musk.

The packaging had changed, the manufacturer had changed, but that timeless confectionary had reappeared. Given its shelf location, I don’t think it will be for long.

Now, if only they could bring back Toscas, and Tarax soft drinks in small bottles. Raspberry and cola were my all time favourites.

I should have paid more attention…

When I was back in school in what seems like a lifetime ago, I realise I should have paid more attention.

Why?

Because for some odd reason, we were taught more about American and English history than that of out own country, Australia.

WE cannot use the excuse that we haven’t been around all that long, because we have, something like 1770, which led to settlement by the English in 1788 or so, but the first landing was in 1606 by a Dutchman.

Of course, these are vague memories of a social studies lesson that briefly touched on our origins, but only to re-affirm our allegiances to Britain. While it wasn’t the Empire when I was in school, it was the Commonwealth, and our atlases still had the ‘wherever the map is red is where the British claimed as theirs’, and there were quite a lot red countries.

But, hey, that pales into insignificance the stuff we learned about England, from the time of William the Conqueror in 1066 through to the modern day. I could at one stage of my life relate from memory all of the kings and queens of England.

I know all about the industrial revolution, travel between Australia and England from the days of sail, right through to the Airbus A380.

It’s why I have a preference reading the English classics of Jane Austen and others of that golden era, and watching period TV, recreated so lavishly by the BBC and ITV in England.

And of course, we were brought up on a steady diet of American TV shows, and films, like out country never existed, and was notorious for producing laughable TV shows of the poorest quality, despite the actors who tried very hard to make it seem believable.

I could not name one Australian prime minister, and have trouble telling who is the current prime minister. Well maybe not, this Covid thing has had his face on the TV every day for nearly a year, but he’s the first. I couldn’t tell you who he took over from, nor who the leader of the opposition is.

It’s probably the reason why over the years people have often said we should become one of the states of the US.

Nowadays we’re trying to put a wall between us and them so China might not see us as an outpost of the US, and come in an attack us. The trouble is 28 million people versus 1.6 billion doesn’t give us any leverage. Come to think of it, the 360 million Americans wouldn’t stand a chance against an invasion of 1.6 billion either.

I’m not sure why it matters any more, because we’ll soon be back to the heady heights of the cold war days in the 50s and 60s, where the only deterrant to perceived enemies was the threat of nuclear annihilation.

It’s the one option where 360 million people could defeat an enemy of 16. billion.

But … there’s only one small problem …

We’ll all be dead.

AS horrifying as that might sound, there is one other problem than might just do the same but not destroy any infrastructure. A pandemic. A virus that can’t be cured, a virus that can mutate and adapt so there is not effective vaccine.

Dystopian? It’s sure a great idea for a story. There’s been a few, but those always have a few survivors, ready willing an able to get along and rebuild the world having learned the lessons of past failures.

This time? I don’t think the next story will have a happy ending. In it though, the aggressors are not going to be better off than the rest, because they forget to build in a fail safe, or couldn’t. Or it just got out before they finished perfecting it, and synthesizing an antidote.

That’s something else we learned a lot about. Nuclear holocausts, and their effect. It reminds me of the day our class was taken to see a movie about the effects of a nuclear war. Was it to scare us, or prepare us? Back then, a nuclear war was more likely than a change of government in this country.

If it was to educate my generation of people who are now the in the government and positions of power, they failed.

So, if I had my time over, I would insist on leaning about my country, the people who have inhabited for tens of thousands of years, without the need for cars, houses, cigarettes and booze, and definitely without the need for nuclear weapons and ideals of aggression towards other countries.

Now, where’s that pesky time machine…