Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

A DEADLY ATTRACTION

Cemeteries are places that have interested me most of my life.  From an early age I remember visiting the old cemetery in nearby goldmining ghost town of Ravenswood.  It has always been a figment of my curiosity, probably because more people reside in that field of dead than in the town itself.  It is a desolate place that looks out upon the empty grassy outback plains that were once a flourishing settlement glowing from the discovery of gold.

Ravenswood is a town full of haunting stories that townfolk are ready and willing to impart upon any tourists who are willing to listen. On one such visits to the town, I struck up a conversation with a lady who worked at the old Courthouse.  She told us that the town is indeed inhabited by wandering souls who have left signs of their presence in the form of wafts of perfume or objects that when touched give off such overwhelming feelings and emotions that can only be explained as supernatural.

When my husband and I visited the ghost town, we stayed on several occasions at the Imperial Hotel which is widely said to be haunted.  On the eve of our first visit, I asked the owner if the rumours were true, and she confirmed that they were.  She said, “you will most probably not see anything, but you might feel the presence of spirits.”

The hotel is a big eerie old timber building that creaks and groans, and has lots of dark nooks and crannies for wandering spirits to lurk.  We were assured on our first visit that our room was on the opposite side of the building to “the ghost room”, however, I still was too afraid to leave our room on my own, and whilst I was awake in the dark, I kept my eyelids clenched shut in case I was to see a white misty figure wearing clothes of old by my bed.  Now, on a subsequent visit, the landlady announced that our normal room was already booked so she put us on the wing that neighboured the ghost room.  Now that made for a very disturbing night’s sleep.  Darryl woke me during the night when he got out of bed to visit the toilet which was on the opposite side of the building.  I insisted on going with him as there was no way I wanted to be alone in the room in case of unwanted visitors.

Now, you may ask “why do you visit the place if you are so afraid?”

Well, I can’t rightly answer that question, except to say that I am fascinated by what might be.  And, I have had my own supernatural moment in the town which reinforces my opinion that there is definitely something in all this ghost stuff. I was on a hunt at the time to find the grave of my Grandmother’s baby brother who was only a baby at the time of his death.

I had seen a photograph of the grave, taken by my aunt who swears she experienced an incident whilst taking the shot.  Her camera packed it in and she was overcome by a feeling that she wasn’t welcome. All I knew was the name of the deceased, however, I had no idea where to find the grave.  We parked the car and wandered towards the back of the cemetery.  All of a sudden I turned and made a beeline which took me directly to the grave in question. Now I do believe that someone was guiding me that day.

It is not just in Ravenswood that I have experienced my “psychic moments”.  Years ago before an upcoming trip to Tasmania, my boss told me that I must visit the town of Ross and especially the Ross Cemetery. I was on my own when I approached the cemetery gate where I experienced by first setback.  I couldn’t seem to find a way to unlatch the gate and a neighbour in the house across the street came to my rescue.

Once I made my entrance I wandered along the rows of seemingly ancient tombstones that appeared like crooked teeth in a ancient scull, protruding in and around a century of gnarled roots and tree trunks. My camera began snapping away until I became overwhelmed by an awful feeling that I wasn’t welcome.  I ran out of there as fast as my legs could carry me, however, I was quite baffled by being spooked in broad daylight.  Upon arriving home, my boss asked me if I had visited the Ross Cemetery.

I told him, “Yes, but I got spooked!”

He then advised, “Oh, it is a terrible place.  Many of the graves were victims of murder and rape that took place at the Female Factory.”

Then, when I tried to print my negatives in my home darkroom, I only managed to expose a tester as once again, I became spooked and to this day have never printed the photos.  Perhaps those poor souls just want to be left alone and I was happy to accommodate.

Now I am not a medium or clairvoyant, but I believe that the dead do try to contact me, whether it is by leaving clues, by leading my by the hand or by psychic messages.  The thing is that they are not on tap as I would wish.  If that were so, then I would have all my questions regarding my family history answered and that would leave no mysteries to keep me intrigued.

 

Monday Musings from The Writer’s Desk

writing

Hello once again from my desk!

Have you ever wondered about resurrecting the dead?  Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What would happen if I could resurrect a loved one, just for one year?”

Well, I have done just that.  And, I can hear your comments already, you think I have gone stark raving mad!  Perhaps I have.  But, I assure you I haven’t.  Just listen for a moment and I will tell you what I have done.

Facebook has long been something that I have kept at bay.  No-one that I could see, had anything worthwhile to say.  It seemed to be like a troubled mind with words, phrases and images whirring around mindlessly all the time.  It is obviously an addictive phenomena that kept its subjects fixated on finding their next fix.  However, in order to share my weekly blog posts, I realized that facebook is the best tool to use.  Then I discovered that it can be a wonderful forum for family members to reminisce and remember the past.

My story began on new years day, by posting photos of all those who were dear, but who are no longer here. That simple gesture attracted quite a lot of hype, from family, both distant and immediate. The comments came in waves, back and forth, as different ones remembered the faces from the past.  Then one day, as a result of a joke, I decided to bring back my Grandfather for one year.  It began with a letter from the man himself which of course was channelled through me!

From thereon, I posted a weekly photo of my Grandfather who passed away 43 years ago.  It has taken me by surprise, by prompting conversations, delving deep into our stores of Grandad memories.  Sometimes a simple photograph can produce an entire story, a chapter in our family’s history.  Other times we extract one or two small details of his life. Collectively as each cousin, sister or aunt peruses the weekly posts, I have created a treasure trove of details, both large and small.

Mind you, I chose an easy character to revive as he filled our lives with so much laughter and joy.  He has provided us with a lifetime of stories. He was bigger than life and in fact when the time came for his final curtain call, he couldn’t slip away quietly.  No, he went out with a huge bang as his damaged heart blew his life away.  But, that was typical of Grandad’s way.

Yes, the family all miss Grandad very much, but by creating a weekly feed of conversation, it is the next best thing to having him here himself.  We reminisce the good times and ask questions about his life, to which someone can usually come up with an answer.  So, I suggest you try it.  It is so much fun and you will be surprised what you find out about your dearly departed loved ones.

 

 

 

William and Harriet’s War Begins

 

The procession of empty sulkies tethered along the road that ran parallel to the railway line at Minehan siding was not unusual.  Once a week the farmers’ wives gathered at the tiny siding shelter to collect their orders of meat and bread that were trained from Ayr.  Mrs Hughes, the owner of the Minehan General Store and Post Office, was also a regular face as she waited to collect supplies and mail.  This weekly gathering was normally a time for gossip, to compare lives and see faces they only encountered once a week. On this particular November morning in 1914, however, Harriet Lyons and her family were not waiting with the women of the community for provisions.  She certainly was not in a mood for idle small talk.

 

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Minehan General Store

Charlotte (Kelly) Hughes

Mrs Charlotte Hughes

William’s appearance in his Light Horseman’s uniform caused a hush to fall over the gathering with ladies peering through the doorway of the shelter to take a look at the latest enlistee going to war.  Trains carrying men in uniform were becoming more common each week as men left their homes for Townsville where ships were waiting to transport them abroad.  Many viewed them with an air of awe and excitement, however, nothing could alleviate the deep sense of anxiety felt by Harriet Lyons on that day.

Harriet and the boys formed a circle around William on the platform.  She noted how handsome William looked in the khaki uniform of the Light Horse.  It gave shape and contour to his otherwise straight thin physique.  Seeing him in uniform always filled her with pride, but today was different.  She felt an  uneasiness she has never felt before.

William put his arm around the shoulders of his eldest son Ron and told him what he had already told him several times over the previous weeks. 

“Now, son, just remember that you are now the man of the house.  You have to take good care of your Mother and your brothers while I am away.”

“Yes, Dad, I know.” Eleven year old Ron seemed to grow taller before their eyes.  His nodding chin came to rest upon his inflated chest.

 Meanwhile, Kevin announced, “I wish I was going with you Dadda.  We could both give ‘em Germans what for!”

“Yeah,”piped in Jack, punching his clenched fists into the air.  “We’d give ‘em what for, eh Dadda?”

“That is right boys,” William couldn’t help laughing at his spirited young sons, running his fingers through the red curls of little Billy who giggled by his side.

“Now, now boys.” Their Mother admonished.  She was in no mood today for their silliness.

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William & Cis Lyons’ eldest three sons, Kevin, Jack (my Grandfather) and Ron – 1908

 

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William & Cis’ youngest son Billy Lyons in 1915.

 

William turned to his wife of twelve years and embraced her.  She had been quietly dreading this moment for weeks; since she signed the letter authorizing her husband to enlist. If she was a religious person, she would have resorted to praying, like some other wives whose husbands had joined up.  But no, Harriet’s mind was too practical for such inclinations. She was a realist.  In her way of thinking, no amount of praying was going to prevent a stray bullet hitting her husband 10000 miles away.  It is just not logical. Nothing can alter fate.  Fate is what it is. She would have to accept the outcome, whatever it may be.

“Don’t worry, Cis,” William tried to reassure his wife. “I’ll write as often as time will permit. Anyway, they say this war will be over in six weeks.  That is not long to wait is it?”

Before Harriet could speak, someone yelled “here it comes!”

Heads turned towards the thicket of trees down the track that lined the Haughton River.  Stormy clouds of smoke and steam billowed ominously into the clear blue sky as it neared.  Harriet watched it take the form of a giant moving brown and green caterpillar as it edged its way along the line.  She wondered about the waving arms of khaki outstretched on either side of the procession of carriages; about the families who have not long said their goodbyes as she was about to do.  As the steel wheels slowly squealed to a halt, filling the air with suffocating coal smoke, Harriet could feel her future running away, leaving her with a sense of dread.

Time for Harriet was running at record speed; too fast.  The world around her became a whir.  Sounds melted into one as doors clanged opened and shut; goodbyes were repeated; and whistles sounded. Before she knew it, William had gathered up his kitbag in readiness to board. She wished she could stop the clock; to prevent that inevitable moment… but, the realist in her knew that nothing can change the wheels of fate, once they were set in motion.  She could hear herself saying “Look after yourself Will,” as she watched him slip through the door of the carriage. 

The whistle blew its final series of high pitched notes.  Harriet and her four sons stood alongside the tracks waving to William even though they could not see him through the windows of the crowded carriage.  Their arms kept waving as the train began to move, spilling steam from its various orifices; as it gathered momentum; and as it clattered its way down the tracks; and even long after it disappeared beyond the dark shadows of Mount Elliott in the distance.


References:

My Knowledge of Minehan Siding – written by Dulcie (Hughes) Brookes.

From Behind The Writer’s Desk

writing

As I venture behind the old cupboard doors, and follow the lives of William and Cis Lyons, I am left with  questions.  With a copy of Will’s enlistment papers in my hands, I wonder how he broke the news to his family.  Where were he and Harriet when that word “enlist” marked the beginning of a new journey for their family?  How did she really react?

It is true that he enlisted without consulting Cis.  As one family member said, it would have saved an argument.  In any case, I am sure that in the back of her mind she awaited that day with baited breath, hoping of course that it would not arrive.  She may have hoped that he would feel responsible for his family and their fledging farm.  However, she knew that she had married a soldier, not a farmer.

William Lyons was a soldier for 20 years prior to the outbreak of World War One.  Even though he had given up his post in Toogoolawah to take up farming in North Queensland, he had not totally relinquished his Light Horseman’s reins.  He was an honorary member of the 27th Light Horse Regiment in North Queensland for 15 months prior to enlisting on 27th September 1914.

When I sat down to write my post “War Drums of 1914”, I wondered where I should set the scene, as there are no living relatives who know.  I kept throwing around ideas such as a train or perhaps jaunting along in a sulky.  She could have picked him up at the Railway siding on the day he travelled to Ayr to enlist.  Then my thoughts came back to “Fontenoy”, the farm where Cis fought her own war whilst her husband was away fighting his.

IMG – Click here to download William’s Enlistment Papers.

Tom Hourigan, the family friend from Dalby, did indeed come up to Fontenoy to help for the duration of the war and of course, as family know well, he never returned home.  He was 21 years old at the time and according to family, he never returned to his home town.  Once the war was over, he continued living in the Haughton District working for the Deane family, eventually marrying Cis’ youngest sister Nelly in 1935.

Tom Hourigan A

Tom Hourigan

 

You will also note in the enlistment papers, there is a telegram handwritten by Cis, giving permission for her husband to joint the Expeditionary Forces.  I question what the outcome would have been, had she not given her consent?  Judging by the handwriting, she wrote it hurriedly, as if it was a task, not entirely to her liking.

History poses many questions for those visiting lives and times long gone.  One cannot change the events of the world that changed the lives of those involved.  One cannot change the decisions that were made in circumstances that were surreal to say the least.  All one can do is accept those decisions and look at how they affected the paths of future generations.  If William had not decided to give up his army career for farming in 1910, my family would not be farming today.  So, despite the inadequacies he experienced as a farmer, I am forever grateful that he made that decision.

The War Drums of 1914

Who has not found themselves staring into the face of danger only to see it disappear as you awake from a dream?

 Harriet Lyons wished that she could snap her fingers and awake from a nightmare when her husband delivered his news.  It was a moment that did not entirely surprise her, but one she had hoped would never materialize.

As she listened to the words roll off her husband’s tongue, only one stuck in her mind.  Her world snapped frozen as it hit her at the speed of a bullet, impacting her before she realized what it was.  That very word rocked her existence in the split second it took to reach her ears.  “Enlist” was the word that changed her life forever.

“Why?” was all she could manage to say, once she regained her composure.  Although she needed no answer, as she knew her husband of 12 years.  She knew that he would feel compelled to do his duty.  But what about his duty to his family?  Shouldn’t that count more?

“Cis, the war office is calling for men of my experience.” Will continued.  “They need people who can train young men to be soldiers.”

“But, Will, how am I to manage?”  Cis’ mind was by now racing, panicking at the thought of running a farm single-handedly, as well as looking after four young children.  “My Father and brothers have their own farms to run. Who’s going to help me?”

“Cis, I wouldn’t do that to you.” Will softened his tone as he covered his wife’s hand with his own. “I have sent a telegram to young Tom Hourigan, asking if he’d be willing to move up from Dalby.  He can stay here on Fontenoy and help you”

“What if he is unable to Will?  What then?”

“Let us wait and see,” Will replied.

Cis looked down at her lap as she asked, “How long will you be away?”  She was afraid to look Will in the eye, afraid of the possibilities her question implied.

“The war is expected to be well and truly over in a few weeks,” he tried to reassure  his wife, as well as himself. “That time will fly. You’ll see.”

“I suppose so…” Cis’ voice trailed off as she tried to digest the gravity of what she was hearing.

“We’ll have to tell the children,” Cis kept thinking of the practicalities of her predicament.  She knew that no amount of talking would change Will’s mind.

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The Lyons family bought this house and had it relocated from Mexican Street, Charters Towers in 1912.  A carpenter pulled it down, marked every piece of timber, then painstakingly rebuilt the house on “Fontenoy”, Minehan Siding, for the sum of 180 pounds.

With thoughts churning relentlessly in her mind, Cis stood up from the sitting room chair and stared out through the open French doors, beyond the verandah and watched the afternoon sun lower its summer glare over the last day of her life, as she knew it.  The wind had picked up momentum and whistled as it raced across the  drills of charred  cane that stood as dark and lifeless reminders of death against the warming sky. With the heaviness of smoke from last night’s fire, the air was afloat with wisps of charred thrash and ash, remnants of life that had been quelled by its angry flames.  Cis suddenly felt vulnerable as her world began to change.  She struggled to breath.

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Cane paddock on Fontenoy

The openness of the land and the smell of fire, which she normally found comforting, now signalled danger.  On that afternoon in October 1914, she closed the doors and drew the curtains, making her house a cocoon to protect her family from the world.  Since purchasing their house and relocating it from Charters Towers two years before, it had become her safety net from the elements, from dangerous wildlife, from the hidden dangers of living in isolation. Now it was becoming a bunker to protect her family from a war that was encroaching on their world. With the setting of the sun, she could feel the normalcy of her life slip away.

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Loading cane on Fontenoy in the late 1920s.  LtoR:  Jack Lyons, Jack Egan, ?, and Kevin Lyons.

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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Family history is a never-ending past time. Unless we are fortunate to have someone write a book about our families, or to have done all the research, we find ourselves on an infinitive road of discovery.  Even if the research has been done, usually that only entails names, dates and places.  I am fortunate to have all the names, dates and places completed on much of my family trees, however, although those details are important, I crave the stories that paint the pictures of those lives; that form the great characters who reside on our trees.  The best way to collect those stories is by talking to family.

In the case of my Great Grandparents, William and Cis Lyons, I began with my Father.  I grew up hearing my Father talk about his Grandmother, giving me the impression that she was first and foremost a disciplinarian.  He’d say, “Oh, Harriet was as typical school teacher,” and go on to tell us, “If I didn’t eat all the food on my plate, she would put it in the ice chest and serve it up again at the next mealtime.”  The stories never varied too much from that line of thought.

Then when I began enquiring about my Great Grandfather, Dad had very few stories to tell.  He shared how his Grandfather had a hunger for knowledge; how he kept a notebook by his bed, in which he wrote questions.  He’d then send Dad and his cousin John off on their bicycles around Townsville in search for the answers.  The questions were quite obscure.  For example, “what is the technical name for a five-finger fruit?”  or “What was the substance used in the foot warmers on trains?”  Often they rode to the local newspaper company to seek out the answers, but returned mostly empty-handed.

Then, after I discovered the extent of his war service, I began to ask further questions.  The answers were interesting and varied, painting a picture of a character who appeared to have become the subject of family ridicule.  Although, many of the stories were meant in jest, they all implied that he was moulded by his wartime experiences.  Like many of his counterparts, he was a damaged soul. The more that I delved into his past, the more my Father became interested in his Grandfather.  He said, “I now wish that I took more interest in him.”  He suggested that I should talk to his older cousins who spent much of their childhoods and early adulthoods at their Grandparents’ house.

I have since spoken to several of Dad’s cousins and learned so much about their Grandparents’ lives.  Each and every one of them began the conversations with “I don’t think I can tell you much,” thinking I wanted specific details of their Grandfather’s wartime experiences.”  Once old memories began to surface, however, a stream of details began to emerge.

I discovered Grandma’s favourite jam, her attitude towards Christmas and Birthdays.  I learnt how proud she was when she taught herself to knit at the age of thirty.  One cousin told me how my Great Grandfather loved to dance and once gave his father a dance record.  Another shared how she and her sisters spent school holidays at the Lyons farm and their Uncle Will taught them to ride a bike.  I also discovered where Grandfather Lyons kept his wartime army trunk that housed his uniform, where he hung his wartime leather gloves and where he hid his pistol underneath the house at Redpath Street, North Ward. Interestingly, only two weeks after I had that conversation with Dad’s cousin John, I actually discovered the trunk behind the old cupboard doors.

So, conversations with living relatives can provide you with some wonderful information.  As I said, all those with whom I spoke, had little faith in what they could tell me, however, by simply prompting long forgotten memories with a series of simple questions, they revealed so much.  And despite my initial reservations about phoning people whom I had never spoken to before, they were all happy to talk to me.

My advice to all of you who are interested in more than just the names, dates and places on the family tree, make a call.  Write out a list of questions beforehand, things you are curious about.  It would also be helpful if you could record the conversations.  In my case, I took them down word for word in shorthand.  In the past, I have also written up a list of questions and posted it to a relative, who gladly obliged by writing out her answers and returned them by post.  My final word is to make a call, before the stories are gone forever.

The Lyons Family Move North

George Deane hauling (a)

Hauling Cane on Burwood early 1900s.  George Deane, William Lyons’ father in law on left.

The tin cottage welcomed William with a steam surge that drenched his flannel shirt with perspiration. The relentless rays of the morning sun stabbed the iron walls with a ferocity that soon transformed the cottage into an oven.  North Queensland summers were unforgiving to those who were accustomed to the cooler climate of the south and yet it was the warmer climate that the Lyons family sought when they moved north.

“Cis,” William called in a quickened breath. 

The pounding of his boots on the floor joined the chorus of creaks and groans as the iron walls stretched and screeched from the heat.  He found Cis facing a steaming pot on the wood stove.

Waving a piece of paper in the air, he announced, “This is the letter we have been waiting for.”

Turning to face her husband, Cis wiped her face and hands dry with the edge of her long cotton skirt, before taking the letter from his outstretched hand.

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She smiled and looked up at her husband, “So, this means we can finally see some rewards for all our efforts?”

“Yes, we can start planting, although mind you it won’t be ready to harvest until next season.” He reminded her.

“That worries me Will.  We have no money coming in until then.”

“Cis, look on the bright side.  The worst is behind us.  The land is ready for planting.”

William knew from the first instant that moving his family north would be difficult.  Cis was expecting their fourth child and, in all honesty, he was not sure whether he could adapt to farming.  If it wasn’t for Padda’s encouragement, he would have been totally disheartened at seeing their land for the first time.  It was timbered and unprepared for any type of farming.

Their cottage was not the home that he envisaged for his growing family either, when they moved to North Queensland.  With very few home comforts, Cis had adorned the iron walls with photographs and made curtains for the windows in order to make it more habitable, although unwanted visitors were a constant concern.   It was not unusual to look up at the rafters of the unsealed iron roof to find a snake coiled around the timbers.  The absence of ceilings and lining to the walls encouraged the wildlife to seek refuge from the bush outside, although the most prevalent visitors were mosquitoes who swarmed the house in a thick fog of buzzing black dots, as the sun faded behind the horizon each afternoon.  Smoke fires were lit in kerosene tins and placed outside the house each afternoon to keep them at bay. The smoke however did little to deter the wild pigs which were a concern for the children who loved the outdoors.  He kept reminding himself that the situation was a temporary arrangement, until the farm was established.

 “You know Cis, things will improve.  Padda keeps saying that the sugar is our future.” He tried to reassure his wife as well as himself. 

Cis rolled her eyes as she said, “You know that Father would say anything to encourage more people to set up cane farms.”

William nodded in agreement.  He suspected that there was an ulterior motive behind Padda’s insistence that they try farming on the Haughton River. His Father in law was a very forthright man who hoped that if there were enough growers, he could successfully lobby for a Mill to be established on the Haughton.  He had even earmarked a parcel of land for that very purpose.  William did not always share Padda’s faith or tenacity.  He still harboured some doubts on occasions, and it was during those brief periods that his previous life invaded his thoughts.  He missed the certainty of being a Drill Instructor.

 William looked out the window across the land that he and Cis’ brothers had spent months clearing and tilling.  ‘Could it all be for nothing?’ He wondered.  One thing for certain, he knew that the enemy in his old world could be outsmarted and deceived.  But, how can one outsmart the elements?  What happens when there is no rain?  On the other hand, he daren’t spare a thought about the damage that floods and storms can inflict on crops.  Deep down he knew which enemy he would prefer, if he had the choice.

References

  1. Black Snow and Liquid Gold – by John Kerr
  2. John Drysdale and the Burdekin – by Roy Connolly
  3. Notes written by Vivienne Lyons (Thanks to Jenny Saxby)
  4. Notes written by Nelly Hourigan on the life of her Father, George Deane.

 

 

 

Monday Musings From the Writer’s Desk

writing

Good Morning

There are two subjects that are best left alone when in company, and they are religion and politics.  Religion is an interesting topic when researching the family tree as one never knows where it may lead; or should I say, which side of the tracks you will end up.  The subject of religion in my family has been quite contentious over the years as there were such divided forces at play, and I might add that God had very little to do with it.  It was more like which team you back, and in the case of my family: Protestant or Catholic.

There is one person who comes to mind when I talk about my family’s inherited faith.  My Grandmother Phoebe Lyons was the staunchest protector of the Protestant faith that I have ever encountered, apart from her sister Dulcie who also erred on the side of bigotry.

Nanna was more than just a regular churchgoer; moreover, she was the church.  She lived and breathed the church.  I recall helping her on Saturday afternoons cleaning the church prior to each Sunday morning service.  We cleaned the pews, swept the floors, opened the windows to air the space, polished the brassware, placed freshly laundered linen on the alter and ensured there were enough prayer and hymn books for the parishioners to use.  It never seemed a chore for Nanna, rather it was her duty.

Nanna Lyons didn’t drive, so my Grandfather dutifully drove her to church each Sunday.  When I grew older and got a license, she bribed me to take her to church with the keys of Pop’s nice Triumph car.  I didn’t take much bribing as Pop’s car was a dream to drive.  One day on our way home from church, Nanna said to me,

“Kim, religion should be an important part of everyone’s life.”

Well, I never shared Nanna’s view in her lifetime, but I did like driving my Grandfather’s car which was the ultimate reason for my attendance at church each Sunday.

Being a staunch Anglican, Nanna’s biggest enemy, next to evil itself, was the Roman Catholic Church. There would have been hell to pay if any of her immediate family married Roman Catholics.   Mind you, many of her friends, including her best friends were of that persuasion. I have heard whispers along the family grapevine that her Mother, who was also a staunch Anglican, was born into the Catholic faith. Charlotte Hughes was born in Ireland, so perhaps her family switched faiths due to persecution.  We will never know why and it is something that remains a whisper because there are a few people in heaven who would come down to haunt me if word got out.

If it wasn’t for the actions of my Grandmother’s Mother in law, history may very well have taken a different course than it did.  Harriet Lyons was born into an Anglican family and married William Lyons who was a Catholic.  They were married in the Catholic church and their oldest son Ron was baptized in the faith.  However, when Kevin and Jack were born, in 1905 and 1907 respectively, they remained unbaptized. The Catholic priest in the town where they lived on the Darling Downs kept asking, “Mrs Lyons, when are you going to baptize your children?”

Now, Harriet was a fiery little redhead and retorted to the constant harassment by organizing the baptisms in the house of the opposition.  When her fourth son Bill was born, he was also baptized an Anglican.  Then when her oldest son Ron was sent to Mt Carmel Catholic Boarding School in Charters Towers, she insisted that he attend the Anglican Church on Sundays which must have ruffled a few cassocks at the time.

I can thank my Great Grandmother’s steadfastness for my own existence.  As much as my Grandmother might have been attracted to that cheeky larrikin, Jack Lyons, I do believe that her views would have prevented them from marrying if he was a Catholic.

Many years after my Grandmother’s death, her beloved church, St. Augustine’s, in Giru  opened its doors for its final service.  I am glad that her church saw its demise well after my her lifetime although I sensed that she was indeed present that evening. I am sure I could hear her high pitched voice belting out hymns above the warbles of the congregation.  Then as I stood in front of the congregation delivering a reading, I experienced an epiphany.

In the passage was a statement about religion being a battle of good against evil.  As the words rolled off my tongue I was suddenly taken back to that moment in my Grandfather’s Triumph car when my Grandmother preached to me about the importance of religion.  I knew with certainty that she was indeed watching over me that night with pride as the meaning of her words hit me like a flash.  I finally got it!  She triumphed at the eleventh hour, on the eve of the final curtain call.

Now as a tribute to my Grandmother and her almighty Church, I wish to share with you the Eulogy recited at my Grandmother’s funeral in 1978 by her friend, Father Ted Steele.  It is an incredible testament to the person she was and I remember Father Steele struggling with the delivery.

Phoebe lyons Fairstai

There is a well known hymn which is usually sung on the Feast Day of All Saints.  The first two lines of the hymn are these:

“For all the Saints, Who from their labours rest.”

Phoebe Lyons was one of the Saints of God, and her labours in the service of God, were prodigious.

It was always her privilege and joy to introduce each new Deacon and Priest in the parish, to the faithful in Giru, and that introduction was not only a personal one, but she also devoted her own valuable time to a guided tour of Giru, and to the far flung farms in the district.  It was her love of souls and the urgency of the Gospel message which prompted her to pursue this work for God.  For Phoebe Lyons, the work of evangelism was paramount.

Coupled with the work of evangelism, was the hospitality she unfailingly supplied – the morning and afternoon tea, and the midday meal she cheerfully provided for the Parish Priest on his day in Giru.  Nothing was too much trouble for her.  If the people of Giru didn’t want to be saved from their sins, Phoebe Lyons had a sympathetic ear, and a remarkably diplomatic tongue.

Saint Augustine’s Church, Giru, is synonymous with Phoebe Lyons.  Her love of God and His Church, was exemplified in the care and devotion she lavished on the Church of Saint Augustine’s.   Her only reason for being absent from the Sunday Mass, was sickness or her absence from Giru.  Faithfulness, and reverence for the things of God, marked her out, and set her apart, in a world where these virtues are fast disappearing.  Virtue personified her life.

In a world besotted with the Women’s Liberation Movement, she remained a faithful wife and a loving mother – and was more liberated than any woman hell bent on demanding her rights.

Her death will be a sorrow to all who knew her, and she will be missed and mourned.  And it is only right, that sadness and grief should fill our hearts at this time.  Great and saintly souls leave a vacuum which is difficult to fill.

But for my part, I also feel a sense of thanksgiving.  I feel it is only right and fitting that we should all thank God, for allowing us the privilege of having her in our midst.

Within the family circle, she was the symbol of unity, and motherhood, and of confidence.

Within the life of the Church in Giru, she was a shining light of reverence, devotion, and self sacrifice.  Rarely does anyone have the opportunity of living close to sanctity – and for that great gift, we all owe God a great debt of gratitude.