Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

 writingHindsight is a wonderful thing.  I look back upon my past and wish I had asked more questions.  But then the answers most probably would not have stayed with me or would not have had any impact or meaning.  So, it is perhaps a good thing that I can look back and make my discoveries as an adult.

I grew up in a small town where my childhood was coloured with many interesting living ancestors.  I crossed paths with countless Great Aunts and Great Uncles along with vintage friends of the family.  Like most families, there was one particular Great Aunt who shone like a treasured jewel.  Indeed Aunty Nelly Hourigan was a much treasured family heirloom.

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Nelly Hourigan (youngest daughter of George Deane born in 1893)

 

Nelly Deane was my Great Grandmother’s youngest sister and with an age difference of 19 years, she was part of my life for many years longer than her sister.  My oldest memories of Aunty Nelly go back to early childhood.  We regularly visited her at “Burwood” where she lived with Uncle Tom. We learned to ride on her big old draft horse named “Spider”.  We picked cumquats and mandarins from her trees.  All the while, an empty old house watched from the shadows of  large mango trees in the yard next door.

I knew little about the significance of that old house, of the history that lingered behind the walls.  I never enquired who had tread the floorboards or who sat on the verandah; nor did I ever question who stood at the old wood stove in the iron alcove at the rear of the kitchen.  No, it sat in silence, and commanded silence in return.

The thought never occurred to me that it had once been a vibrant family home, where two little girls grew into adulthood, one being Nelly Deane.  It was also the place where Irish immigrants George and Harriet Deane finally called home, where they lived into old age, where they left behind a rich family legacy. It was the place where their wandering roots, that sprouted in County Cavan, reached out across the seas to the land down-under and finally took hold in the fertile cane fields along the Haughton River in North Queensland.

As time goes on, I have gleaned snippets of information that form a picture of life behind those old tongue and groove walls.  Recently I inherited two large photographs that would exceed 100 years old.  They depict Aunty Nelly and her sister Lily riding horses at the Ayr Show.

“I remember those photos being on the walls of the old Burwood house,” Dad recalled.

In a discussion recently about George Deane’s strong personality, Dad recalled his father saying, “My grandfather would be sitting on the front verandah reading the paper, whilst yelling out instructions to my grandmother on how to do the housework inside.”

Aunty Nelly loved to tell stories.  She was stone deaf which made idle chat a little difficult, and often she’d sit at our dining room table drinking tea and without any prompting stories would flow from her mouth.  We tried on a number of occasions to record her ramblings, but she always sensed that something was going on and resorted to silence.  Finally, Mum asked her to write down the details of her father’s life story and I am thankful that she did.  Also I have acquired his obituary, written by his son in law William Lyons, which paints a colourful picture of his character.

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George Deane in the cane fields of Burwood

The old house at Burwood has long since joined its owners in that great place in the sky.  However, thanks to family stories, its significance still lives on.  The man of the house was a great pioneering spirit of North Queensland.  According to legend, he was an engineering genius, and the man to put to the task if you wanted to get things done.  Perhaps he should have been a politician like his brother John.  He had the foresight to envisage the Haughton River as a flourishing cane growing area and was the first to be given permission to grow sugar cane in the district.  Much of the land he selected for his family enterprise is still in the family today, including my own family’s farm.

I wonder if my Great Great Grandfather was here today, sitting on his front verandah surveying his land, what he would think of his achievements.  It was his vision that saw the establishment of an industry that is still going strong, more than one hundred and ten years later.  He was the driving force behind the establishment of a mill on the banks of the Haughton.  Invicta is one of the largest mills in the state today. All I can say is that I’d like to have a conversation with that  old Irishman.  He was indeed a pioneer worthy of recognition.  Although I would say that very few people outside his family would have heard of him at all.

I can thank our most treasured heirloom, Aunty Nelly Hourigan, for writing down her father’s story.  She has enabled present and future generations to learn their family history.  I can also thank my Mother for recognizing the significance of the story and asking Aunty Nelly to document the details before she took them to the grave.  I still have her seven page, handwritten account, and her words are worth more to me than any treasure of diamonds and gold.

We all have treasures waiting to be revealed; stories waiting to be told.  The stories may not always be as historically significant as the one I’ve just told, however, as insignificant as the details may seem, they nevertheless are part of your DNA.  The secret is to ask questions of our living relatives.  Enquire about their childhood experiences, their family’s way of life, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.  The important thing is to simply engage a conversation and you might be surprised at the details you uncover.

 

 

 

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Monday Musings from The Writer’s Desk

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The miniature blond bombshell burst onto the stage like  a bright fiery sun, capturing the audience’s attention with her mesmerising performance of dance and song.  From my seat in the Gods, she was a spec of light in the distance, but the energy she produced was electrifying.

Ms Dolly Parton is a messenger from heaven.  With a voice as sweet and rich as God’s driven gold, she can certainly deliver a tune, whether it is rock or ballad.  Without her gaudy makeup, facial alterations, over-the-top wigs and trashy costumes, I would still pay the price she asks for a ticket to her shows.  Beneath the cheap veneer is an authenticity that grips at your heart strings. One just has to listen to the lyrics of her songs to know that she is indeed a very special lady.

Whilst sitting in my seat at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, I struggled to fight back the tears.  Her presence was overwhelming along with the knowledge that I was watching a fellow family historian who has dedicated her life to the promotion of her heritage.  I was envious that she has the talent to put her family’s stories into songs to be shared with the world.  Indeed watching Dolly that night was an enlightening experience and I came away with more than just musical joy.

Dolly shared with the audience the stories behind her songs. She told us how her Daddy left the family in the smoky mountains in search of work in Detroit.  He had never been out of the mountains before and after two weeks returned home saying that he’d rather be penniless than be without his family.  She painted a cheerful picture of her “Tennessee Mountain Home” which was a humble one room abode that housed her family of ten. Then there was  the tale about her “Coat of Many Colours” which teaches the lesson “one can be happy, if one chooses to be”, despite the lack of money and fancy things. There are many lessons to be learnt from Dolly’s songs, which we can apply to our own family stories.

My ancestors were no better off than Dolly’s family who lived, dirt poor, in that little cabin in the Smoky Mountains.  Dolly could have written songs of bitterness and blues, as a result of being poor.  However, her messages are upbeat revealing the happy person she grew up to be.  The secret is attitude, which perhaps can be credited to her parents and the lessons they bestowed upon their children.  In her own words, “we had no money, but we had lots of love”.

Of course, most of us are not blessed with a voice as beautiful as Dolly’s greatest gift.  All the same, we do have a voice.  We can all tell a story and it is important to preserve our stories for future generations.  Perhaps there are lessons to pass on to our own children and grandchildren.  Our society has placed so much importance on wealth and what it can buy.  Yet Dolly Parton along with many of my own ancestors lived seemingly happy in the absence of money or things.

My own childhood was spent with very few toys and those I did possess, I can still remember with clarity, including the name of all my dolls which can all be counted on one hand. There were no computers, tablets or mobile phones so instead of existing with our eyes glued to screens, we used our imaginations. My sisters and I played caravan parks between the hibiscus bushes in the front yard.  Two apple crates formed a caravan and the annexe was a tea towel strung between the two, held in place by bricks.  We created a kiosk beneath the tank stand with Dad’s big paint box forming a counter.  The shelves were stocked with items from Mum’s pantry and we sold burgers made from two large leaves stuffed with grass and flowers. In our world of play we lived in imaginary houses set up in clearings amongst the banana trees behind our Grandmother’s house or in between the trees on the riverbank behind our house.  We were happy and our props cost zero.

When the props are provided for play, one doesn’t have to explore the possibilities.  The realms of our imaginations are endless and if it wasn’t for our ancestors’ explorations of the realms of possibilities, I am positive that their achievements would never have reached the heights that they did.  Many would not have left home for a foreign shore they knew very little about.  Their legacy was a huge leap into the unknown, not knowing if they would perish at sea or land safely at the other end.  Once they reached their destinations, their dreams of better lives were fraught with dangers and obstacles, and yet they persevered in order to create the world we live in today.  It might appear that they had nothing, however often the world they left behind was far worse than the one they created.  Therefore, they were grateful for the little that they had.

This is why it is important to tell our ancestors’ stories, to sing praises for their achievements however small they may seem, to keep their memories alive.  Despite my voice and song writing abilities being somewhat inferior to Miss Dolly Parton, that doesn’t stop me from promoting my heritage.  This is why I write my family stories.  My audience may not be as large and far reaching as Dolly’s, but I write in the hope that my family might take away some lessons from the past.

 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

 

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could personally contact our ancestors, to confirm the facts before sending our stories off to print. I imagine this is a dilemma for most family historians.  Research can be tedious at times along with the expense. It would be so much easier to just give Grandma or Great Uncle Bill a call to provide the answers to our questions.

Today, I must apologize to my Grandfather for thinking he was a year younger than he really was.  Although, that may appeal to his sense of humour to know that I assumed him to be 108 instead of 109.  That is of course if he was still living which I am sad to say he is not.

It seems like yesterday when I celebrated my Grandparents’ joint 100th birthdays.  I was aboard a plane heading to Norfolk Island on my Grandfather’s birthday, 15th September 2007 and so celebrated it in December to coincide with  my Grandmother’s big day.

When I shared my centenary celebration plans with a friend, she said, “Isn’t that wonderful, that you still have your Grandparents at that great age.”

“Oh no,” I replied. “They both died 30 years ago.”

She looked shocked as I excitedly conveyed my plans to take a carload of balloons and flowers to the graveside where I intended to enjoy a cup of tea with Nanna and my husband was to drink a beer with Pop.  Although, things didn’t quite pan out as planned.

Filling the car with a dozen balloons and a huge bunch of flowers, we head off for the cemetery, minus the refreshments.  Darryl thought I was mad and enquired “You don’t really expect me to drink a beer at the cemetery with your Grandfather, do you?”  So, I relented on that detail.

For those who are familiar with the Belgian Gardens Cemetery in Townsville, they know that it is not the lush green garden of Eden that its name denotes.  For the most part, it is a dry and barren wasteland of sand marked by a mismatched chequerboard of concrete, interspersed with brown tufts of grass and weeds.  Like the landscape, many of the graves are weathered by time and long forgotten like the inhabitants themselves.

Finding the heavenly home of my Grandparents was fraught with difficulties as there are no signposted roads crossing the concrete conglomerate of eternal beds of rest. However, there was a grave nearby which stood apart from the rest.  Living relatives built a tin roof over their loved ones and enclosed the structure with chicken mesh.  Perhaps the inhabitants were prone to sleep walking?  Who can work out why people do the things they do.  Although shade at the Belgian Garden cemetery would be a much welcomed luxury.

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Once we found the chicken coup grave, a short wander took us to the doorstep of “Johnno” and “Phoeb’s” abode, where they were resting peacefully beneath the afternoon sun. I am sure that their neighbours looked on in amusement as I tried to tie my armful of balloons to the grave.  The wind picked up, brushing the thin skins of rubber against rough concrete and gravel, popping each and every one of them before we left.  Perhaps helium balloons would have been better.  I only hope that  my Grandparents appreciated the flowers and the thought behind my efforts.

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Whilst Darryl thought I was mad in wanting to celebrate with beer and tea at the graveside, I felt reassured when I glanced across the neighbourhood and noticed a man leaning against a towering gravestone, seemingly having a conversation with his loved one.  I brought him to Darryl’s attention and said, “See, I wasn’t mad after all! He’s talking to the dead!” Upon a closer inspection, however, we realized he was talking on a mobile phone.  Perhaps he was really speaking on a hotline to heaven.

Now a hotline to heaven would be my ideal device.  There are so many people I could contact, who could answer my never-ending stream of questions and it wouldn’t cost me $20 each time I enquire about someone’s date of birth.  If that was possible, I could have confirmed my Grandfather’s birth date with him personally and not made the assumption that he came into the world in 1908 instead of 1907.  On second thoughts, if I could simply phone the dead, I would never be off the phone.

Post Note:  In order to do some research and plotting for the next segment of William Lyons’ story, I will be taking a month’s break.  However, my Monday Musings will continue in the interim.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my followers to date.  It is you who keeps my fingers tapping…..

William and The Letter

Sitting in silence beside her husband on the steps, Cis knew to refrain from enquiring about his thoughts until her father had finished speaking.  Her father’s strong-minded nature always commanded the floor, even if it was in ink that he spoke.  

Rocking baby Jack gently in her arms, Cis tried to enjoy the soft squeaky sounds of her baby son.  Unable to focus for long, her gaze  soon shifted to the boys.  The sun fell upon little Kev’s halo of hair lighting it up like a red fireball as he happily worked away on the fence.  Her face of earnestness relaxed into a smile as she noticed his chubby white fingers trying to lift the oversized paint brush up and down along the palings. 

A minute or two passed by before she stole a sideways glance at William who twisted the end of his moustache with his spare hand.  The furrows of his brow deepened as he continued to read in silence.  Cis returned her gaze forward, resisting the temptation to speak.  She thought it best to wait, despite her growing curiosity.   She knew that even her father would have difficulty convincing William to turn away from the military.

Cis fiddled with the edge of her apron whilst the crisp notes of turning pages began to consume her with regret.  She wished that she had not given Padda’s letter to William.  She felt trapped in the moment, where the sounds of life in her garden amplified William’s silence.  The rustling of birds nesting on the roof became increasingly deafening as she tried to analyse her own thoughts.

Distracted by the birds’ feet scratching against the iron above, Cis looked up to see bits of grass and twigs protruding from the gutter.  Suddenly she was reminded of her own life.  She had spent the last six years building a nest to keep her family safe and secure.  Since buying the house in September, William has constructed a fence and done improvements in order to make it a home. Whilst there was merit in her father’s offer, she knew there were immense risks.  Was it worth risking what they have achieved?  Especially now that they have three children.

William’s outburst of laughter startled Cis.  She had not expected his reaction at all.

“Padda really amuses me,” William said shaking his head.

“I was expecting a reaction from you, the least of which was humour.” Cis said, somewhat relieved.

“He has been trying to talk all and sundry to take up land on the Haughton for growing sugar cane.  When he gets an idea in his head, he never gives up.”

“So you are not going to take his offer seriously?’ asked Cis.

“I know how passionate Padda is about cane farming, but the thought of giving up my military posting is not something I can decide on a whim.”

Cis knew how much William enjoyed his job and she didn’t want to seem selfish and expect him to.  On the other hand, she would enjoy living closer to her family as well as moving to the warmth of North Queensland.  She wasn’t sure whether she should push the issue though.

“Besides,” William continued. “what do I know about growing sugar cane?”

“Perhaps Padda is looking at the long term,” Cis suggested.  “This could be a way of building a future for the children.”

William’s blue eyes softened as he looked at Cis and then down at his new son.  Stretching his arm around her narrow shoulders, he said, “But Cis, I am not a farmer, I am a soldier.  You knew that when you married me!”

“Nor was my Father,” said Cis.  “But he has never been afraid of change.  He has always faced a challenge head on.”

“Cis, I am not your Father and I never will be.”

Releasing his arm, William handed the letter back to Cis and slowly stood up.  Without saying another word, he strode with his usual rod straight posture and swinging arms to where his sons were playing at the front fence.  As Cis watched from the steps, she realized that her husband wasn’t merely a soldier.  In her heart, she knew the military was the air that he breathed. She also knew that her Father was not likely to give up, not yet anyway.

 

 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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It is amazing how a small insignificant cheque book can inspire an entire post or perhaps two posts.  Appearances can be deceiving though, as the cheque book in question is everything but insignificant. It was issued by the Queensland National Bank Limited, Toogoolawah in 1908.

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On the surface, it still doesn’t sound like a great find does it?  However, when my fingers went a-walking through the used butts, I learned some significant pieces of information about my Great Grandparents’ life in the year 1908.  The very first butt, for cheque No. A05461, dated 12th September 1908 was to D.C. McConnel & Sons for a sum of 100 pounds, being a deposit on a cottage.

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William and Cis had lived in Roma at the start of their married life and with my his military postings they moved to Dalby, Toowoomba and then to Toogoolawah where they finally purchased their own home. What is also interesting about the cheque butt in question is that on the back is written in my Great Grandfather’s handwriting, a list of items that he most probably used to renovate the cottage.  They include timber, oil and paint, net wire and paint brushes.

Now, moving along through the butts, I came to Cheque No. A05469 which was a two pound payment for 500 palings, which I can only assume were for a house fence.  Then he wrote a cheque on 1st March 1909 for the sum of 82 pounds and 8 shillings, payable to D.C. McConnel for the balance owing on the cottage.  If only one could pay a house out in such a short time in this day and age.

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I have learned some lessons during my exploration of the old cupboards.  The most important being that the smallest detail may in fact be a large piece of the puzzle.  I have also discovered that I must read and reread every card, envelope or cheque book.  What might not have seemed significant on one occasion may form a big part of my research on another.  My Great Grandfather had a habit of hiding bits of paper in pockets or pages of books. Each morsel of paper hold handwritten notes, the answers to his never-ending questions, battle plans from Gallipoli, and the list goes on.

So, I am forever thankful for the breadcrumbs of clues my Great Grandfather left for me to find.  It has been a never-ending journey, and just when I think that there is nothing left to find, more fascinating clues find there way into my life.

 

 

 

 

Padda’s Offer

The family’s world appeared increasingly brighter as William brushed a lather of paint upon each of the 500 palings that formed the new fence.  As he cheerfully whistled whilst working the paint brush up and down, his efforts in the morning sun glistened on his tanned face.  Cis, watched from the top step of the cottage, holding three month old baby Jack on her lap. She knew that appearances can be deceiving as elements of a picture can change.  Life is an evolving force, ever changing, like the wind.  Sometimes changes are mindful choices, other times they are left to chance.

With each slosh of glossy shiny white, a rush of intoxicating fumes reached Cis, unsettling her.  She already felt unsettled from the letter she received in the post yesterday from Padda.  She had been waiting for the right moment to tell William of its contents, although she wasn’t sure that there was such a moment as she watched William happily work on the new front fence.  Pulling the folded sheets of the letter from her apron pocket, she began to reread its contents.

The words written in ink were typical of her Father, persuasive. He was offering an alternative life; an alternative future for them as a family.

Cis…I assure you that the Haughton River will be soon a flourishing sugar growing community.  There could be a certain future for you, Will and the children.  You know that I have taken up a parcel of land for each of you children, yours being on the northern side of the river.  If Will so wishes, I am certain there is a future waiting for him as a cane farmer.  The move would also mean you can move from the cold of the south.

George & Harriet Deane

George and Harriet Deane (Cis’ Parents)

Cis knew how much William’s work meant to him and wasn’t sure how he would react to her Father’s offer.  And, his offer coincided with their move to their very first home.  Following years of renting and moving with each Army Post, she finally felt settled in Toogoolawah, happy with their new cottage.  The thought of the suggested change was unsettling; it was a blind journey into the unknown.

 

Had she not ventured into the unknown at the beginning of her journey as Mrs William Lyons? Although the thriving western community of Roma that welcomed them in 1902 was not much different to what Cis was accustomed to.  Spending part of her childhood on a property near Charters Towers gave her an appreciation for the freedom of the outdoors.  The rolling plains of swaying grains and the grassy paddocks of grazing cattle and sheep were reminders of home.  And it was at their home in Roma that they welcomed the arrival of their first son, Ronald Deane.  With each subsequent move came sons Kevin Mackay in 1905 and John Austin in 1908.

She had become accustomed to change.  Her childhood was in a state of constant change as her family moved with each of her Father’s new enterprises.  Since she married 6 years ago, she has moved with each of William’s new postings with the army.  Perhaps Padda’s offer will provide some stability.

She watched Ron and Kev as they assisted their father with paint brushes that were much too big for their little eager hands and wondered if an upheaval as large as the one proposed would be the best decision to make.  Although she would do anything to move to a warmer climate.  The winter frosts on the Downs made life difficult now she had three small children to care for.

Staring down at the letter, deep in thought, Cis hadn’t noticed William approaching the steps.

“What have you there Cis?”

Cis startled at the sound of his voice, and the realization that this was the moment.

“A letter from Padda.  Perhaps you should read it.” She replied, handing the letter to William.