Grandma’s old cupboards sat unnoticed, as they silently watched the Lyons family story, through the years, unfold. They were not interesting enough to draw too much attention, although the sombre dark timbers of their construction told a story of old. There were tall armoires with mirrored doors and heavy bottom drawers, a plain sideboard on solid timber legs and dark masculine cupboards with bookshelves behind locked glass doors. These and more were hidden away in rooms that were for the most part out of view. So, it is not surprising that they receded into the background, as our history tends to do, waiting for someone to turn the key and unlock the past.
Behind the doors of those old cupboards, the life of my Great Grandfather, William Michael Joseph Lyons was neatly stored away. His life story was kept hidden for over 90 years. I never met the man as he passed away in 1955, four years before I was born. However, I can vividly remember visiting my Great Grandmother on Sunday afternoons as a child. My memories are overflowing with images of her old brass bed; the two children’s bentwood chairs that sat against the back kitchen wall; and the scrubbed pine hutch that housed crockery that appeared to mirror the lines and cracks of Grandma’s face itself.
In those eight years prior to my Great Grandmother passing in 1967, I cannot recall anyone mentioning Grandma’s husband. According to my memories, no photographs lined the walls and even my Grandmother who was a great collector of family photos, had none of her father-in-law in her collection. With the subsequent deaths of his children, the details of his life remained behind the cupboard doors in the house that had been their home since 1933. No-one spoke about him; I knew neither his name nor face. It was as if he had not existed.
Growing up on a farm in the small sugarcane community of Giru, North Queensland, I inherited a great sense of history. I was surrounded by an assortment of Aunts and Uncles, Great Aunts and Great Uncles, Grandparents and Great Grandparents, all with great pioneering stories to tell. My Grandmother was my teacher, she taught me how to put faces to the myriads of names that were positioned on our family tree. She hailed from a family of 12 children and kept in touch with, not only her siblings, but their children and their children. She took an interest in all matters of family and valued the importance of belonging. Why was it then, that she never mentioned the name “William Lyons”, her father-in-law, who allegedly thought the world of her?
In 1979, the cupboard doors were eventually nailed shut to prevent prying eyes whilst the house was rented to family. Then when the house was sold in 1985, the cupboards along with the remaining contents of the house were transported to my Grandparents’ empty house on our family farm in Giru. It took another 20 years before anyone realized the significance of what lay behind those cupboard doors.
Over the years I have sensed a mysterious presence overshadowing my memories of 10 Redpath Street, the home of my Great Grandparents. I caught snippets of conversations, words in passing, none of which made sense. It was not until I was in my late twenties that I was told that my Grandfather’s father was “a Military Man, he fought in the Boer War and in Egypt in World War I”. It was a statement that was often bandied around, but never expanded or explained.
Documenting my family stories began with scrapbooking 13 years ago. A steady stream of old photos and documents continues to come my way. And so, it was this interest that urged me to take a closer look behind those old cupboard doors, to read beyond the written word, to piece together a picture of William Lyons. I liken my journey to an archaeological dig, carefully handling letters, books and documents that, once exposed to light and air, want to crumble in my hands. Ever mindful that my family’s history could potentially turn to dust, my mission is to preserve it forever, for the benefit of present and future generations of my family. Not only is his story of importance to the Lyons family, it is also a story of historical significance.
So, to my dear family, friends and those of you who are interested in the mysteries that our history presents, I invite you to join me as I open those cupboard doors. Watch from front row seats as I exhume, piece by piece, the story of William Michael Joseph Lyons.