My A to Z challenge: what’s it all about about?

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

This is how I introduce each post, but really, what is it I’ve been trying to achieve? There are, as I say, two strands to my stories: family history and travel. Mostly it’s the former with occasional sprinklings of the latter.

Those who’ve been reading the A to Z posts (well most of my posts) know that I don’t really do short and sweet. I probably could, but it’s not a priority. I want to tell a story, which is why I much prefer the description of family history to genealogy. In this particular challenge I decided I wanted to talk about the places of significance to my family history, wherever they are in the world. I wanted to describe the place, give some sense of its essence (if I can manage it) and explain why it’s important to my family history.

Rather like the 52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series, this theme has been an opportunity to bring a collection of writings together which I can leave for my family, so they know the places of importance to our family tree. Obviously I also hope that some elements of the stories will be of interest to my readers, however if that was my only purpose I’d probably only focus on one place for each letter and leave it at that…more likely to be a small meal rather than a buffet.

Some of the elements include more recent family history because it occurred to me that even our children possibly don’t know all the places their paternal grandparents lived and we visited. An unanticipated outcome from the series is a “to do” list for future research.

My intention is to batch this theme with the 52 weeks posts from 2011 and put them in a book. I’ve already done this with Blurb for my general 2010-2011 posts but I wanted to keep the thematic posts separate. Much as I like technology and instant access around the world, at heart I still believe books will survive longer. Maybe I’m wrong, but then I’ll never know, and anyway I’ll have done my best.

As to the travelogue, mostly it’s pure self-indulgence with the excuse that it keeps the story alive, and hopefully my readers entertained. Australians tend to be travellers, but even so we’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel a fair bit. Neither of us was born with a silver spoon in our mouths, rather we decided that travel (and family history) was important enough to prioritise so that we had no regrets. While we have informal bucket lists, that’s as much about going back to places as exploring new ones. Let’s hope there are yet more adventures ahead.

Meanwhile if you enjoy dabbling into these posts and reading a little about the people and places, I’m pleased. I really feel my readers are part of a community to which I’m proud to belong. I thoroughly enjoy getting your insight and comments. Thank you!.

52 weeks of personal genealogy & history: Week 52: Advice to future researchers of my families.

The topic for Week 52 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Advice. Do you have any advice for future generations who may be researching your family?

Reflecting on my own experiences over 25 years of family history research, what advice would I give to someone researching our family in the future, which may be a new, or indeed a current generation? What lessons have I learned? Oh, this is one of those questions where you purport to be an expert even if you’re not, but here goes.

Enjoy the ride

Family history is a wonderful hobby – you may think you’ll control it but like any obsession it will eventually control you. Fortunately, unlike most other obsessions, the hazards are few (poor eyesight, a diminishing bank account, an inability to bypass a cemetery, and a tendency to write 1711 when you’re living in 2011 or even 2111). Enjoy the ride, you’ll have a great time!

Be a life-long learner

Family history is a great obsession hobby for anyone who wants to continue learning. As each family door opens there will be something you need to learn about, be it technology-driven or history in any of its guises. Be open and be a learner.

Are you a number? Neither were they.

Our ancestors were people, just like us in many ways, even though times were different. Don’t treat them as a statistic on a tree with bare biographical data. Learn as much as you can from a wide range of sources so that as you learn, they become real people with real lives in their moment of history. The power brokers may make world decisions but it’s ordinary people who implement those decisions and live the consequences.

Don’t be shocked

Don’t think that in the olden days everyone was virtuous and made no mistakes…they were people just like us…human nature changes surprisingly little. Don’t start the journey if you don’t think you can cope with finding out unusual, scandalous or unpalatable things about your ancestral families. Give them forgiveness and tolerance for things they got wrong and remember they are/were (usually) precious to their families. Don’t fudge the truth but don’t abuse the trust salaciously.

Get down & dirty

Even though it would have been inconceivable to imagine how much family history research would change in 25 years, I can’t imagine there will never be a need to visit a library or archive. It would be a sad world if it comes to that I think. So go old-fashioned: check out books, hold documents your ancestors signed, visit the churches where they married, and if possible look at the places where they lived, died and are buried. You will learn so much this way.

Review and reassess

Don’t trust every record you see or every index you read. Just because the surname Cass doesn’t appear in indexes for Papua New Guinea, doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Just because the family was called McCorkindale by the late 1800s doesn’t mean the McCorquodale family, with its many variant spellings, isn’t your ancestral line. Just because one family is called McSharry and another McSherry doesn’t mean they’re unrelated: they are one and the same. Go back to basics and compare birth, marriage and immigration records.

Don’t trust everything that an earlier researcher has written or published. They will almost certainly have done their best at that point in time, but check their sources if you’re concerned. No sources? Perhaps you shouldn’t trust them all that much. If we’re good researchers and keep on looking, we learn more which may change the original story, a little or a lot.

Revisit aka Persistance pays (usually)

Can’t find them on the first pass through the records? Please don’t give up. Go back, again and again. As you learn more about your family you see information with new eyes. Is it a waste of time? Not even if you don’t get answers…you keep learning.

When persistence doesn’t pay off

Perhaps in decades to come and more records come to light, someone will find how my “swimmers” came to Australia. That’s George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien and her sister Bridget that I’m talking about. And if some future researcher finally solves this riddle, can they please get an ouija board and let me know how George and Mary got here, because it’s driven me mad for decades! I have visions of them in heaven (they were good people) saying “try harder”.

Second anniversary of my blog – sharing and learning in community with other genies around the world.

The world is your family tree oyster with blogging. Edited image from Office Clip Art.Today is my second anniversary of blog-writing. It’s been a fascinating journey and one which has taken me on a different path from what I originally anticipated. When I began I wanted to share information on “my” Dorfprozelten immigrants, try to attract anyone with Broadford or East Clare ancestry and share some of my family history research and a little bit about living in the Top End of Australia. I was totally naive about genealogy blogging and didn’t even know Geneabloggers existed or how many genealogy bloggers were out there sharing their research, skills and knowledge.

My first year was a “toe in the water” year as I was still working full-time, unsure about my posts, and not devoting much time to the blog. After finishing work this time last year I ramped up my blog presence and thanks to people like Geneabloggers came to realise just how many fascinating blogs were being written. Tips from other bloggers like Geniaus and then RootsTech 2011 also expanded my techno skills in this area. In those early days, comments from fellow bloggers like Carole Riley inspired me to keep writing and let me know I wasn’t writing into a vacuum.

After two years, I’ve found that it’s the comments from fellow bloggers that I value most of all and so I also make an effort to comment on the various blogs I read. I’m not sure Google Reader is such a good idea because I now have a long list of blogs I look at in varying detail and some I read faithfully every post. 🙂

My most popular single post has been my Dorfprozelten page about the immigrants from that small village on the River Main in Bavaria, Germany. It’s been a great meeting place for people with ancestors from there, and there’ve been wonderful times when I’ve felt a bit like a match-maker connecting linked families. A big bonus! I’m considering splitting this theme off into a separate blog in 2012 and adding more of my research.

I’d love to have heard more from people with ancestors from anywhere in East Clare (from the Limerick/Tipperary border across to Ennis) and especially Broadford, but this hasn’t been as productive as the Dorfprozelten page.

This year I’ve participated in the series designed by Amy Coffin, 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History as well as the Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Memories. The topics have made me dredge my memory for things that have been mentally filed away for years, so it’s been a great opportunity to revisit them and document the history. My main motivation for posting on these topics has been to leave my own history for my children and descendants so I will be combining these posts into book form (Olive Tree Genealogy has some tips here). It’s also been great fun to do some of the geneamemes that have come through…inspires me to think about what I might do differently, what skills to add to my repertoire and consider which things I want to include vs which I don’t. I also had a crack at a geneameme myself, Beyond the Internet, with the goal of highlighting just how much genealogy information is still off-line and what can be found there.

A while ago I posted on Open Thread Thursday about The Benefits of Blog reading and Why I blog, based on my experiences over the past two years. It’s been a great journey and I’ve gained so much from being part of the online genealogy community – even more valuable to me as I live away from many of the resources and learning opportunities others take for granted.

To all my followers and occasional readers, a HUGE thank you! You have become my online community and it’s your visits and especially your comments that make blogging so interesting and keep up my enthusiasm levels. I look forward to “speaking” with you again in 2012.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 50: Gift giving, Secret Santa and Kiva

The topic for Week 50 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Holiday gifts. Describe any memorable Christmas gifts you received as a child. As I was travelling I missed posting on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories on 10th December when the topic was Christmas Gifts: What were your favourite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors? As these topics dovetail neatly I’m going to combine them.

My bride doll Mary on display.

There are two Christmas gifts that stand out from my childhood – the beautiful bride doll I received when I was about seven I think. Then there was the year that I nagged my parents fairly remorselessly for a particular book published by the Readers Digest. It was all about animals and the natural world. Of course I received it and was very thrilled.

A good Christmas is always one with a book in the gift collection. I think most years I got a book of some sort from friends or family, some of which I have to this day despite the many moves of house and home. Within our own family, gifts almost always include good books: some years are more book-focused than others. One year my husband got a whole repertoire of books relevant to his family history: Argyll, Easdale, Lismore. Isn’t it a shame that I also have Argyll ancestry, but to be fair none from the Isles 😉 I’ve put in a request this year for How to write history that people want to read: a friend has lent it to me and it’s full of great tips and strategies. I do hope Santa’s got good links with the online bookstores.

The other gift-of-choice over the years has been music: LPs then CDs. Many is the year that we have almost bought the same book or CD for each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually doubled up…just come close.

One year our family looked at the pile of gifts under the tree and were somewhat dismayed by our indulgence, even though we’ve never been really extravagant with gifts. We decided there and then to simplify our Christmas in terms of expense, time and commercialism. Each family household has a Secret Santa of another household and we limit the price. We can nominate a handful of “things” we’d like, then it’s up to the gift-giving household to do the shopping and selection. We also do a silly secret Santa of low value for each individual. This year I messed up the name draw by putting our street suburb as well as our post office suburb…a neat strategy to get more presents? Well no, as it happens this year our nominated Secret Santa is to be put towards Genealogists for Families Kiva donations, as anyone on the Kiva lists needs a Christmas treat more than we do, and we get to feel good about what we’ve done. However having discovered the name-draw mix-up, the missing household has been sorted out – lucky they were leaving town before Xmas and it came to light before the shops shut! Lucky too that they didn’t want to take the gift away with them!

The littlies of course are exempt from this tradition and continue to get their own presents but not over-the-top. We also encourage them to be involved in making and giving the presents so they understand it’s about sharing and not all about them.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 49: Historic national event

The topic for Week 49 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Historical Events. Describe a memorable national historical event from your childhood. How old were you and how did you process this event? How did it affect your family?

My first thoughts turned to large-scale events then I settled on something less obvious but with a more pervasive affect on the fabric of Australian homes.

AWM Image 012953 copyright expired. Bombs explode in Darwin Harbour during the bombing of Darwin 19 February 1942.

I belong to the baby boomer generation – the population explosion that occurred as war ended and people celebrated the return of peace. The war after the “war to end all wars” had once again left society in a state of turmoil and disruption. In Australia this was the first war to directly occur on Australian soil and in its near north including Papua New Guinea. Queensland, where my family lived, had masses of American service men stationed there en route to/from the battlefields of the Pacific. This in turn often led to resentment over the different entitlements of the Americans commonly said to be “over paid, over-sexed and over here” as the novelty of the differences drew a fan-club of young women and subsequently ship-loads of war brides to the US. Some significant conflicts also occurred between Australian and American servicemen over differences to racial attitudes and military discipline. One big event was called the Battle of Brisbane which stretched Brisbane police and MPs to the limit. Let’s face it, tensions run high in war-time even between allies.

However none of that is precisely what I wanted to talk about. Over the decades, historians have revealed the impact of war on the individual’s psychological well-being and not just on his/her body. This resulted in terrible times, not just for the returning soldiers but also their families, who had no real understanding of what they’d gone through. None of this directly affected my own family because as I’ve said before, my father was in a protected occupation and as such did not serve in the Defence Forces.

Image P00561.036 AWM copyright expired. Group portrait of Australian wives and babies of American soldiers leaving an Australian port for the United States.

The more overt physical consequences of the war were seen on the streets of Brisbane whenever you went into town in the 1950s. The severely injured returned servicemen were readily visible. They held the types of jobs available to men whose strength and capacity had been taken from them at the prime of their lives. You would most often see a returned Digger on the street corner selling newspaper –he would be missing a limb, leg and/or arm, or may be blind. These disabilities were all too common and in many ways, quite confronting.

Another symptom was a youngish-man completely drunk in the city in the middle of the afternoon. I think there was more social condemnation of people being drunk in public in those days, but I never remember picking up a vibe from my father that these guys were unsavoury. Being around men at work he would have understood a little of why they drank. It’s hard to explain the impact of seeing these men, drunk or physically incapacitated but I suppose the fact they I remember them even though I was only a small child indicates its significance to me personally. It’s only by contrasting the general good health of those we see in town today that one is reminded just how significant those injuries were and the consequences of their sacrifice on those young men’s lives.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 48: Thanksgiving for family history blessings

Having been following the 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series devised by Amy Coffin’s and Geneabloggers, I was initially disappointed to read that Week 48’s topic was Thanksgiving, with the questions of: What was on your family’s Thanksgiving table? Do you serve the same dishes now as your family served in the past?

As an Australian plainly I wasn’t going to be able to respond to the question in this way and I really wanted to finish the 52 weeks now I’ve come so far. I decided to draw on the tradition of gratitude by offering my own thanks for the many people who’ve contributed directly or indirectly to my family history…a genealogical Oscars Awards speech. I’d like to thank:

A page of Kunkel and O'Brien photos from Nora's family album.

*        All my pioneer families but especially my early Queensland ancestors, for their courage, hard work, tenacity, determination, and open-mindedness in emigrating so far from home and family.

*        Anne Kunkel, grandchild of George & Mary Kunkel for sharing an oral history of these ancestors and their family, and for linking me to Mary O’Brien’s sister’s families interstate (Widdup,Garvey and Hogan).

*        My 4th cousin Nora in Sydney for sharing her stories and connections with the O’Brien families in Australia and USA not to mention a host of wonderful old photos.

*        Cameron, local historian for Murphy’s Creek, Queensland and the nearby Fifteen Mile, for sharing his knowledge.

*        The church archivists who have helped me in my pursuit of family and “my” Germans –a huge thank-you to Gabrielle!

*        All those who’ve shared their knowledge and enthusiasm for the specialty areas over the years.

GSQ publication indexes: the 1988 Bicentennial Muster roll and the Q150 updated version on CD as well as the stories of Qld Pioneers.

*        Family members, and others, who’ve shared their family’s stories and photographs and brainstormed links.

*        Betty and Carmel, the first two researchers with whom I worked on family history (it transpired we had all attended the same school, despite our geographic dispersal and different ages).

*        All those valiant people who indexed and transcribed records long before the digitisation of (some) records and whose publications are still out there waiting for new researchers to discover them.

*        Those who have written theses about my places and topics of interest.

*        Georg Veh for his local histories of Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

*        The parish priests in Tullamore, Gorey, Broadford and Dorfprozelten, for showing me the church registers with my families’ baptisms and marriages.

*        The acting parish priest for Kilseily, Broadford, Co Clare in 1992, for dropping us at the doorstep of the unsuspecting family who inherited the O’Brien family farm.

An array of published indexes by QFHS and one by Dr Perry McIntyre.

*        Paddy who walked us over the old farm at Ballykelly townland and exclaimed in astonishment at the Australian half of the story, and Nancy who fed us and dried muddy shoes on our return.

*        My parents for clarifying more recent family and answering myriad questions.

*        The archives, libraries and universities which are digitising records eg the TextQueensland collaboration between State Library of Queensland and The University of Queensland; the wonderful George Washington Wilson photo archives at the University of Aberdeen which includes some old photos of Australia; and my old favourite the Clare County Library.

*       The innovative local councils which have made it possible to search their cemeteries’ graves databases online.

*        The family history libraries where I’ve researched.

*        Family history bloggers who’ve become part of my community.

*        Mr Cassmob who has visited countless cemeteries, listened to countless ramblings and supported my genealogical flights of fancy.

You are all STARS in my family history galaxy.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 47: Fall fails to inspire in the tropics

Street scene Boston, Mass

The topic for Week 47 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Fall. What was fall like where and when you grew up? Describe not only the climate, but how the season influenced your activities, food choices, etc.

The leaves are turning gold and falling to the ground in the northern hemisphere, the weather is turning chilly and the nights drawing in. Meanwhile in a land Down Under, it can’t even be said to be Spring, as summer is hot on our heels with high temperatures and sunny skies interspersed with summer storms, lighting and thunder.

Having lived all of my life in the tropics or sub-tropics, autumn is a largely a foreign concept to me. Sure, in the sub-tropics some trees do lose their leaves but rarely with the blaze of gold or red that’s seen in our southern states or the northern half of the world. What is more noticeable about autumn in the sub-tropics are the shortening days and the freshness to the air that signals winter is coming. I love the cooler weather of approaching winter in Brisbane (sub-tropical) or the approaching Dry in Darwin (tropical) as it makes me feel energised. Apart from that, autumn is a non-event. Because the seasonal change is so slight there’s relatively little impact on food and I guess the only difference when I was a child might have been that Mum’s pea and ham soup appeared on the menu more often.

Near Portsmouth New Hampshire, USA

One year we decided to travel to New England (USA) in the Fall hoping to do a bit of leaf-peeping. The family had other views and illnesses meant we missed the full glory of the Fall colours by a couple of weeks, but we did really enjoy seeing the floral decorations with twigs and fruit, golden leaves massed on lawns, and the mirrored colours of the pumpkins set out for Halloween…all rather a novelty for us. So since we don’t have any Australian autumn images I’ll include a couple from our 1992 trip to New England.

To see a spectacular Australian autumn image by one of the country’s most talented landscape photographers click here.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 46: Politics not one of my favourite things

The topic for Week 46 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Politics. What are your childhood memories of politics? Were your parents active in politics? What political events and elections do you remember from your youth?

If I was to go all Julie Andrews in Sound of Music, politics would not be one of my favourite things in the world.

I have few childhood memories of politics until towards the end of my primary school years when reading the newspaper became part of our school homework. I think family listening to the news was restricted because of my father’s shift-work hours and sleeping patterns. I’m sure my parents listened when he was up and about…Dad was devoted to his “tranny” (transistor radio) as he always called it and in his old age would listen to the hourly news bulletins. Politics was not really discussed at home all that much when I was a child, at least that I recall.

Union politics and work matters were more likely to feature in the daily discussions as Dad was always an active union member, not always agreeing with the majority rank-and-file, and outspoken in his views. It’s only recently through Trove, that I’ve learned of my maternal grandfather’s political involvement: he was a union official and also had an official role with the Australian Labor Party(ALP), (not to mention the Hibernian Society). Given the presence of a declaration re the Irish constitution among his belongings it seems he also maintained a close interest in Irish political happenings, despite leaving the country as a two-year old. Neither of my parents was active in political affairs generally.

Particular memories of political events which have stayed with me are the election of John F Kennedy as the President of the United States of America which was a landmark event for Catholics across the globe. His assassination was consequently all the more shocking, and I remember my mother coming to wake me up that morning to tell me the President had been killed. Somehow it’s linked in my mind with being woken up a couple of years later to be told my beloved grandfather had died overnight.

I also remember the visit of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) to Brisbane and the cries of “All the way with LBJ”. The significance of the first visit of an American President to Australia was huge at the time and he was received by enthusiastic supporters. An interesting contrast with this week’s visit to Darwin by President Barack Obama when roads were closed and the general public had very little opportunity to see him – except on TV. The Defence Force members who heard his short speech and had a meet-and-greet with him seemed very keen to shake his hand and say hello (or g’day). He also won hearts among the survivors of the Bombing of Darwin who met him.

Other political “events” I remember are:

  1. The response of church leaders and teachers to the Communist Chinese threat in the 1950s, complete with gory details taught to five year olds.
  2. The establishment of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) with its anti-Communist, pro-Catholic aims and the break-away impact on the Australian Labor Party.
  3. The conservative governments in Queensland and Australia which were in power through much of my youth and into my adulthood.
  4. The all-pervasiveness of Prime Minister Robert Menzies and later Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland.
  5. The disappearance/drowning of Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967 with all its attendant conspiracy theories. Prime Minister John Gorton, a war hero with a mashed-up face.
  6. The right-to-march and anti-Vietnam-involvement protests at The University of Queensland in the 1960s and almost-daily speeches in the Forum outside the refectory. Brian Laver was the charismatic left wing speaker and Bob Katter, leader of the recently formed Australia Party, was then (from my memory) head of the student union. This story by a friend I knew at uni, reveals some of the issues of the fact I should have just put a link to this story against week 46, and left it at that!
  7. The election of an ALP federal government in 1972 and the rise of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, free university education, withdrawal from Vietnam etc, and later, his dismissal by the Governor General.
  8. The evacuation from Saigon in 1975 sticks in my mind as we were in New Zealand on holidays with our kids, watching the helicopters lift people out of the American embassy.
  9. Most importantly for my own family, self-government for Papua New Guinea in 1973, and Independence in 1975. My story about Independence is here.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 45: High School: I’m a proud All Hallows’ girl

The topic for Week 45 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: High School. Describe your middle and/or high school. Was it a large or small student body? Is the school still in existence today? How has it changed since you went there?

The old, new and not-so-new: buildings at All Hallows' including the heritage building on the right edge and the red-brick building which had state-of-the art facilities in my day, and the concert hall, new in my daughters' days there.

Earlier this year I wrote about my high school, All Hallows’ School, because in 2011 the school has been celebrating its 150th anniversary. At the time I spoke about its critical role in my life and the importance of the teachers who taught me there. Equally important to attending this school, was my mother’s determination in ensuring I was accepted to the school even though my primary school was run by a different order of nuns. At a time when many working class parents either did not believe in educating their daughters to university level, or could not afford it, my father and mother committed themselves to making this possible….without this opportunity I truly believe my life would have been very different.

All Hallows’ is a reasonably large school with a student population of around 1000, which may have changed somewhat in recent years with a significant building program to utilise what is a restricted inner-city location. Inventive building strategies have been required to maximise the opportunities.

The Brisbane city skyline as I finished school: you can see the start of the high-rise construction..

What’s changed since I went there? In my day the teaching staff were almost exclusively nuns and when we passed them we would have to curtsy and say, ever so politely “good morning sister”. These days the teaching staff are mainly lay teachers but I imagine that the students still have to be as courteous.

Our dress code was much more rigid than it is today. In some ways the school has had a more “modern” dress style than many other private schools of the day (aka public schools in the British system). However in my day, wearing stockings, gloves and hat was non-negotiable and failure to do so would generate a severe reprimand. It certainly kept the prefects busy ensuring everyone was dressed to code. And in case any wayward girl shed her gloves or hat on the way home, there’d be bound to be an “old girl” who would happily report the misdemeanour to the Principal! There are even occasions when I’ve felt like doing the same (before overcoming the urge) when their bags etc are scattered around the Brisbane mall on a Friday evening.  They even have scarves to wear these days…how trendy ;-). Eating in public was a major no-no as people would apparently think our parents hadn’t fed us….not so today.

Brisbane's river view from near the school c2001. The area beyond the right of the image is dense with tall office buildings and high rises. The old Customs House stands proud in the shadow of the new Brisbane thanks in large part to the support of The University of Queensland.

We were equally restricted in our social interaction on the way to or from school. It didn’t matter whether the boy on the bus was your brother or the gorgeous creature (usually from Churchie) that you’d had your eye on for ages….there was to be no communication…not even meaningful glances. By the time my daughters went to the same school they had a repertoire of male friends whom they met on public transport to/from school. When they were at All Hallows’ there was a visiting group of Italian students on exchange at the school…the “interpersonal interaction” on the Terrace was enough to make the deceased nuns spin in their graves!

The Story Bridge: part of the school's borrowed landscape as the saying goes. The bridge has always been something of a character in the school's events and dramas including this year's celebrations. Where there was wharves and working areas are now high rise apartments and a hotel.

Another significant difference, too, is that in my time we had both boarders and a primary school stream. There was always a division of sorts between the boarders and day students as we had an independence that their restricted lives precluded. I believe that the primary school has recently been reopened. The primary school strand was closed first and some time after I left it ceased to be a boarding school.

Another major difference is the view from the school up and down the river as you can see in the photos here. Taken from slightly different places near the school you can see how Brisbane has mushroomed.

The school retains its emphasis on academic, sporting and cultural achievement as well as its focus on Mercy ideals and faith-based activities such as retreats or charity and support for the less-advantaged. On Bow Tie Day this year, one class of students collected $15,800 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society from Brisbane’s CBD workers and visitors…that’s a pretty impressive contribution! I admit that when did something similar I was really pathetic at doing the collecting…left to my teenaged self they’d probably only have raised $15.80!

Brisbane, the River City c2001 from near the school.

The style of the activities may have changed but I imagine in many ways, it would be perfectly possible for any “old girl” to slot right in. What remains for many are the bonds formed between these teenage girls as they progress through high school and into the wider world, and the knowledge that women can be independent and successful…however each young woman chooses to define it.  I doubt, too, that there’d be many of us who have forgotten the spiritual presence of generations of women that you feel in the school chapel. No wonder it’s been such a success since they opened it as a wedding venue.

If you missed my earlier post , I’d love you to read it in conjunction with this story.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 44: primary school, church, nuns and migrants

The topic for Week 44 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Elementary (Primary) School. Describe your grammar/elementary/primary school (or schools). Were they big or small? Are any of these schools still in existence today? If so, how have they changed since you went there? This is going to end up as a long post, be warned.(I keep thinking of Cat Stevens and the Days of the Old School Yard, cue the music).

Clydesdale c1900 John Oxley Library Negative number: 146812, copyright expired. This was the convent during my school years.

No school bells ring today, there is no sound of children playing or chanting tables. Those who live in the modern townhouses built on a large block on Clyde Road probably have no idea that there ever were bells or children. After all, it is many decades since the old school and church were there: they only know of the 1960s church and presbytery adjacent to the townhouses, and even those are quiet these days.

Only those who attended the little parish school during the fifty odd years of its life can remember that it wasn’t always a sleepy hollow. In fact much that happened there reflected wider social conditions as well as a very particular experience of Catholicism in the pre-Vatican II era.

The official jubilee site tells how the Herston parish of St Joan of Arc was established mid-1920, while Trove reveals more details of its blessing in December 1920. The parish complex of 2 ¼ acres, included Clydesdale, an impressive house built c1890 which was to become a convent, a building for the priest, and a timber building which had been relocated from elsewhere and raised to a second storey building (apparently a former Salvation Army Hall, something I never knew), which was to be used for the church and a hall. The church was blessed by Brisbane’s “building Bishop”, Archbishop Duhig, who made much of the event by declaring all Brisbane’s Catholic churches to be fully occupied…ironic to read these days. Archbishop Duhig was renowned for buying premium plots of land around Brisbane and establishing many new parishes. He also contributed the organ to the new church.

I was surprised when first reading about the hall in the old timber building. To me, it was both church (upstairs) and school (mostly downstairs). While I don’t think of it forming a hall, on reflection the central area downstairs, immediately under the church’s footprint, could be opened up and with the stage (on the ground floor beneath the altar above), it would form a very satisfactory hall. I suppose this is where we held our concerts, though to be truthful I have no memory of the events themselves, only the preparation. The two central areas were surrounded by enclosed verandahs which mostly served as class rooms though downstairs there was a tuckshop and kitchen.

My first communion class from St Joan of Arc school. I don’t usually include photos of people without their permission but this one is so small and so old, and unidentified that I’m going with it.

The Presentation Sisters commenced the school in mid-1924 and for another 44 years it would have a pivotal role for the Catholics in the area. Of course a parish school is very much centred on the church and our lives were inextricably linked to the church’s liturgical seasons. We prepared for First Communion and I distinctly remember the bishop coming to examine us for our Confirmation – I was scared stiff I’d get the answers wrong.

Over the years this parish became responsible for the ministry to the Royal Brisbane Hospital so it was quite common for those who had been hospitalised there before their death, to be buried from our parish. It was the task of the pupils to sing at the funerals which became quite an intriguing responsibility: it became a “bread and butter” event for we school children. Of course the boys would also have the alternate responsibility of serving as altar boys at the funeral. I’m always bemused by people who have never been to a funeral until they’re adults….I lost count of how many I attended as a child and the richness and ceremony of the priest’s words, the incense and the procession of the coffin remain in my memory.

I started primary school aged 5, in prep class, and progressed round the classrooms for the next 9 years until finishing in Grade 8. My first classroom was on one of the verandahs adjacent to the church and I must say I don’t remember my first teacher with any great affection. While occasional nuns were pleasant (and young!) many were what I’ve heard referred to as “industrial strength” nuns. The convent, Clydesdale, was adjacent to the school so the nuns were definitely part of our lives. This convent was, I think, a sort of retirement home by this stage and many of the older nuns came there to live…at least that’s my memory of things. Apart from those who taught at the school, there were others (more than one?) who taught music. My friend, who was a non-Catholic, also went to the convent for her piano lessons.

Oh so demure Confirmation photo.

The school was always a small one, at least in my time. Most classes would have had fewer than twenty pupils and were usually taught as composite classes: eg Grade 7 taught with Grade 8. We used slates in the early days (that hideous scratchy noise) and ultimately pens dipped in the ink wells on our desks. The cane was never too far away for unruly students, especially the boys. Many of the boys left around Grade 6 and went to one of the larger boys’ schools. Only a handful of boys remained in my small Grade 8 class of about 13 students. If the nuns were sometimes cranky who could blame them, wearing those heavy serge habits in the heat of Queensland’s weather.

There was a nearby State School and the bus would go past our school on the way to and from it. Pupils of both schools happily shouted rhyming invective that would not be tolerated these days. At the recent Shamrock in the Bush I was much amused to recognise some of these old ditties while the younger attendees look on bemused, or was that appalled? Fortunately it was uncommon for the rivalry to go beyond the odd slanging match….uncommon but not unknown.

One of my endearing memories of primary school was the huge school and church fetes that were held in the grounds. Really they rivalled the Ekka for excitement. I think nearly everything was hand-made and the fete was just an absolute delight: sponge cakes, toffees, coconut ice, fudge, toffee apples, dolls clothes, dresses. What fun! They seemed so grand and important to me that I’m surprised there’s nary a mention of one on Trove.

St Patrick’s Day concerts were a very big focus: I remember that on the day we would wear little green ribbons with a shamrock badge in the middle..our Irish heritage was proudly flaunted in those days. We’d have to stand on the platforms on the stage while we practiced our songs and hymns, presenting all the old favourites both religious and Irish. For a long time it seemed that if you were Catholic you were Irish but that was soon to change. In fact one of my rare experiences of winning a raffle occurred in primary school when I won a lovely tin filled with home-made confectionery. It was a rare enough event that I still have the tin. 🙂

My primary school years overlapped with a significant change in Australia’s cultural life with the massive influx of post-war immigrants. I’ve talked before of how important this influence was in my life. Previously we had mainly Irish nuns, and an Irish priest, and many of us had the Celtic colouring of red hair and freckles or the “black Irish”. But our new school mates looked different and were learning English as their second language, negotiating with their parents or grandparents in another language and trying to navigate all the new experiences, no doubt including vegemite sandwiches, sardine and potato crisp sandwiches on Fridays, not to mention warm milk from the tuckshop daily. However one thing that would have provided continuity for them would have been religion, or at least I assume so. Many, if not most, of the rituals would have been familiar to them, although the Catholic Church in Australia at the time was very Irish-influenced. The Mass was still said in Latin in those days so some part of their religious life was a reprieve from the language barrier challenging them in the outside world. We had absolutely no understanding or knowledge of the horrors many of them must have experienced in the war years or immediately afterwards.

Trove again illustrates day-to-day life: to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, 400 “New Australian” children each planted a tree in nearby Ballymore Park (later to become the Rugby Union headquarters)[i]. This again shows how much a part of the local fabric these new immigrants were becoming. Many of the parents, especially the women, worked in nearby factories like the Mynor cordial factory or the cardboard factory, or much further away at the Golden Circle cannery.

Around the middle of my time at school, and to minister to the significant immigrant population, we acquired new priests from Holland (the Netherlands). One in particular was amazing to us because not only was he staggeringly smart and well read, but he spoke about 8 languages: unprecedented in monolingual working-class Australia.

Students from St Joan of Arc convent give a eurythmic display 1924 ( a bit before my time!). From Trove and The Brisbane Courier 15 December 1924.

And so the school and I moved closer to the Vatican II era and much was changing. The nuns remained for a while but I lost my link with them when I went to high school as it was run by a different order of nuns. I laugh when I think of the day my Grade 9 teacher challenged something I’d done by saying “you went to a Presentation convent didn’t you?” Apparently that could explain all vagaries in my behaviour! No doubt the Presentation nuns thought much the same of Mercy-trained children.

The old timber building is long gone replaced by a modern 1960s church with its simple style and open outlook, a promise of a new Vatican II era. The only remnant of its history is the statue of St Joan of Arc which links the old and new churches. The nuns also left and their rather more grand building was also demolished.

School, convent, and church: memories only for those who lived in those days.

( I can find no photographs online or in my own archives of the original church -something to add to my to-do list).

[i] The Courier Mail 20 May 1953 and The Courier Mail 29 May 1953.