Book of Me: Voice and Vision

Book of meJulie Goucher’s Book of Me, Written by You has been very popular, with many people responding to every prompt. I confess I’ve fallen by the wayside over the weeks for one reason or another. Some weeks ago prompt 49 was Voice and Julie’s questions were:

Describe your voice
Perhaps include an electronic recording of your voice reciting a poem or reading a piece of writing. Maybe even this prompt response.
Do you have recordings of other family members?

I had in mind that I might be able to get one of my geneafriends or a family member to interview me, after being inspired by Kristin’s interview with her sister on Finding Eliza.

You Tube clip1_edited-1As you know I’m an official blogger and also a speaker at Congress 2015. Fellow genimate, Jill Ball did a Google Hangout interview with me as part of our plan to speak to the speakers and it dawned on me this would be an ideal response to Prompt 49 on voice. Even better, assuming it survives the rapid technological changes that come along, my descendants might be able to see and hear me, many years in the future as I talk about my life’s passion for family history.

baby sleepHowever, for a little personal commentary on my voice: as you hear on the video (in case it doesn’t survive) it’s quite deep and at times can be a bit “gritty”. It’s very common for people to call me “sir” on the phone, which annoys me no end as you might imagine! I can’t sing for nuts, though I know the tune and words, so now I don’t even try….even in the shower. I certainly don’t try to get my grandchildren to sleep by singing to them – that’s guaranteed to give them nightmares, and they do tend to give me strange looks.  It’s a shame really as I’d have liked to continue my mother’s tradition of singing “Tura lura lural…that’s an Irish lullaby” to them.

I did try to interview various close family members over the years to no avail. I guess most of us don’t like to listen to our own voices. Back in the eighties though I was lucky to be able to record the reminiscences of Anne Kunkel, granddaughter to my earliest Aussie Kunkels, as she told me about life on the farm and in Murphy’s Creek.


Book of Me: Week 34 Easter Memories

Book of meIt’s ages since I did a Book of Me post but then I found Julie’s topic for this week is Easter memories…just when I’d been reflecting on that very topic last night and how I’m completely underwhelmed by the Easter palaver these days.

This was Julie’s key question: What does Easter Mean to you?

A religious event?
The first main break (in the UK) since Christmas and New Year
A more general Spring/Autumn event
Easter Bunnies

Image from Wikipedia commons
Image from Wikipedia commons

Growing up very Catholic (no that’s not a redundant combination), Easter for me was all about the religious reason for the season. Even more it was all about going to church again, and again, and again. Even as a very good child I found this all a bit overwhelming. There was the Holy Thursday celebration with washing of the feet (something which has generated controversy for Pope Francis), and after Mass, the adoration of the Eucharist.

Friday was of course the commemoration of the saviour’s suffering on the cross with stations of the cross then in later years, a procession around the church. Throughout all this, all the church fittings were draped in purple and the tabernacle door left open to symbolise God was no longer present.

Good Friday was/is a day of fasting and abstinence from meat. What fun…South African yellow cod…one of my favourite delicacies…not!

Saturday involved confession and then the Easter Vigil Mass at midnight. This was a high Mass with white vestments and much grandeur and celebration. The Paschal candle was lit and this would be used throughout the year during church celebrations and baptisms.

Living in a sub-tropical city the change of seasons was immaterial. It was only when Easter was late that there might have been a nip in the night air as autumn approached.

A gift from Aunty Emily.
A gift from Aunty Emily.

What was more exciting was that Lent had come to an end…alleluia! No longer were chocolates on the banned list but we could pig out on Easter Sunday and indulge in all those lollies that had been hoarded in bottles throughout Lent (I don’t claim this was logical!). Mum told me recently that her Protestant aunt (a grandmother substitute for me as mine had died), used to give me little tea cups during Lent rather than buy lollies. I also had Easter egg cups from her which I passed on to my grandchildren a couple of years ago.

easter cups 2I don’t recall anything like the fuss and kerfuffle that exists today with Easter egg hunts etc etc. What I do remember are those candy Easter eggs with frilly icing around the edge and an icing flower in the middle, something like this modern-day version. They were so hard it’s a wonder we didn’t break our teeth on them. We lived in Papua New Guinea when our two older children were young and the chocolate eggs which arrived were invariably stale so we got into the habit of buying the kids something special in Swiss chocolate like a foil-wrapped chocolate orange. My grandchildren are happy to indulge in Swiss chocolates at any time of year.

A very rare occasion - the winning of an Easter basket at work.
A very rare occasion – the winning of an Easter basket at work.

In Australia, it’s quite traditional to go camping during the Easter long weekend. As we didn’t have a car and Dad had to work shifts, we didn’t do this when I was growing up. Nor was it a tradition when our children were smaller – after all how to reconcile all the tie demands of church-going with camping. Besides which the weather is invariably unpredictable except in the likelihood of rain. Hence why it bucketed down here yesterday <smile>.

The little tea cups my Aunty Emily gave me.
The little tea cups my Aunty Emily gave me.

There was the year we took ourselves off to Cairns for Easter leaving the teen and adult daughter behind. While we were sunning ourselves and lazing in the pool, Brisbane had a cracker storm and one of our big eucalypts quietly subsided onto the roof without any damage other than bent guttering. We weren’t entirely popular!

Mr Cassmob remembers our first Easter together when we drove out along Milne Bay to the mission at Ladava for Easter Saturday Mass and saw the moon rise over the bay. I have no reason to doubt him but I have no recollection of it…I think I was still in shell-shock from relocating from “civilisation”.

Over the years we’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit and because we like to do that off season we have some special Easter travel memories.

The Florence festival, Easter 1974.
The Florence festival, Scoppio del Carro, Easter 1974.

On our first trip to Europe we were in Florence for Easter and were delightedly surprised by the traditional celebration that occurs there, Scoppio del Carro. Rather than try to explain this complex process and its symbolism why not read this article? The owner of the pension arranged for her husband to stay up to let us in after midnight Mass which was kind of her. There were two interesting events in the midst of the service, at least to us. Firstly people just wandered around through the Duomo (cathedral) during the Mass, and secondly when it came time for the Bishop to pour out water from the pitcher, it was completely empty – much flurrying as an acolyte had to rush off and fill it up.

One of my all time family favourites. DD1 and DD2 in Interlaken, Easter Sunday 1977.
One of my all time family favourites. DD1 and DD2 in Interlaken, Easter Sunday 1977.

On our second trip to Europe with darling daughters 1 and 2, we were in Lucerne for Easter. What better place to be for a chocolate treat or two, yet there’s not a single photo of our indulgences. It was also spectacular because overnight on the Thursday or Friday, there was a huge snowfall which got even heavier later on. The girls got to make their first snowmen and have a mini-snowfight. On Easter Sunday we headed off by train on the next stage of our journey. I particularly love a photo I have of the two munchkins in Interlaken taken while we waited for the next train. And yes, despite warnings, they did of course go off into the snow and get their shoes wet even though we had an overnight train trip ahead of us.

A plethora of clerics.
A plethora of clerics.

It wasn’t for many years that we had another opportunity to be in Europe at Easter time. We met up with DD3 and partner and gadded around, taking our chances with Italian traffic. One day we visited the lovely village of Montepulciano where we saw the delicious Easter treats in the window of Caffe Poliziano. By Easter Sunday we were a deux once again and staying in a lovely hotel where the “room was tiny but the view was marvelleuse”.

Easter Mass was celebrated in grand style with a cluster of clergy and a huge crowd of people. Afterwards we had booked Easter lunch – about five courses, all huge. It remains in my memory as the biggest meal we’ve ever eaten – and trying to cut corners was definitely not permitted. We were so piggish that by the end we could barely walk without groaning and couldn’t even indulge in a little post-prandial gelato.

Easter Mass in Assisi 2000 with a massive outdoor congregation and al fresco Mass.
Easter Mass in Assisi 2000 with a massive outdoor congregation and al fresco Mass.

These days our Easter celebrations are so low-key they’re virtually invisible. In fact this year we haven’t even indulged in any more than a Tim-Tam or two. No Easter eggs were bought as the smallest people had reached their quota of sugar-hit and as family were off on a bush adventure we had a quiet day catching up on blogs etc. I think I missed the Easter celebration gene.

The Italians do Easter treats more glamorously than anyone. Mr Cassmob looking happy despite the rain outside a Florentine Bonbonierie.
The Italians do Easter treats more glamorously than anyone. Mr Cassmob looking happy despite the rain outside a Florentine Bonboniere.

Book of Me: Home is where the heart is.

Book of meThe prompt for week 20 in the 15 month series of Book of Me is “Home”: Home means different things to different people, so this week we are going to explore what it means to us: What does it feel like? How do you recognise it? What makes it home -people, place, time. This will be a long post I fear, so get comfortable with a coffee or tea.

This is something I’ve pondered generally over a long time, in the context of my own life but also for my emigrant ancestors. Were they ever truly at home in Australia or did they still think of their places of birth as home? Did they hanker for grey skies, old buildings, green fields? Of course these are answers I’ll never have since there are no diaries to read, no letters and no oral history touching on the topic.

My own sense of home is sometimes elusive. We are empty nesters and our “children” have established their own homes. They are family but they are no longer part of “home” except inasmuch they live in the same city.Peter and Springer low

The core of “home” for me is my husband, Mr Cassmob. We’ve been together so long it’s almost impossible to imagine home without him, though that will be a reality one or other of us will have to face one day, hopefully far in the future. Another part of home on a daily basis is our very indulged fluffy tabby cat, Springer. Certainly both of us felt a gap in our lives when he went missing for seven weeks last year. He has, I suppose, become a surrogate “child”: he even gracefully returns our affections – when it suits him – occasionally.

My childhood home.
My childhood home.

After spending all my younger years years in one house, , our own family has moved house eleven times, some houses being but passing phases, others being our home for long periods. While I’ve loved living in each of our houses, the house itself does not define home, except for the duration we live there. If we return for a drive-by it’s out of curiosity to see what’s changed and especially to look at the garden. So I guess we have to add the garden to a sense of home. It may be a townhouse block or a larger suburban block, but the plants and birds who visit become part of our feeling of home. And in every house, a cat has been part of our home.29 bally st 7 front

There is really only one house for which I feel nostalgic and that’s my my grandparents’ house which I visited daily as a child. I think it was the indulgence and exploration that made it so irresistable. That is perhaps the home of “time”, a special place in memory and affection.

Other than husband and cat, the constants of home are the belongings we treasure and take with us from house to house. Always a core of books, special items and “treasures” we’ve acquired wherever we’ve lived or travelled. Very little has any real commercial value, but they reflect our lives. It’s hard to imagine our home without them, though that is something that has to be considered when living with the annual risk of cyclones. Perhaps that’s why my cyclone emergency packing pays minimal attention to clothes, linen and other practicalities. It’s interesting to ponder what I would take with me to define home if we were to spend an extended time overseas.

DSC_0272 (2)

Is “home” a specific place for me? For a long time Brisbane was home, as I’d known no other. That changed when I went to live in Papua New Guinea after we married, the transition to a new sense of home being surprisingly speedy. Returning to PNG in 2012, there was a real sense of being home again: the familiarity of place and people. We feel the same every time our plane lands in Cairns because the density of the tropical ranges evoke PNG so clearly. Now, each place we live imprints itself on mind and emotion.


My parents didn’t own a car until I was in my late teens so Brisbane was a series of disjointed images rather like map segments stuck together. Flying in regularly, my vision of it changed: the serpentine Brisbane River wound its way through the city; the hills enclosing the city and the red-roofed houses seemed so obvious.

Eldest daughter with her Poppy, feeding the lorikeets.
Eldest daughter with her Poppy, feeding the lorikeets.

Brisbane is kookaburras laughing, magpies warbling and lorikeets drunk on nectar. The sound of cicadas on a hot summer’s day. The different flowers and plants of this sub-tropical town: perhaps the best of both “worlds”.Billabong2

DSC_1100The Top End will remain with me for its very different geography and vegetation, and its wide open spaces. The drama of the Wet Season with its fierce electrical storms and torrential rains. The inability to swim in those magnificently turquoise waters (crocodiles, stingers, sharks etc). The tropical beauty of a bush billabong. The peep-peep of the crimson finches in our yard, the flash of colour from a rainbow bee-eater, the strangled laugh of the northern kookaburra, the speed of a whistling kite as it snatches a sausage.

All these places become part of my history of “home” as we move around.

Near Renner Springs NT
Near Renner Springs NT

What remains unchanged is my core sense of Australia as home. Whenever we return from a trip overseas it’s the wide, bright blue skies that strike me first and the vivid colours so different from the northern hemisphere. The sense of space when travelling through our much-mythologised outback. The sound of surf breaking on the vast white sands of our beaches. A huge sky emblazoned with the southern stars and the Southern Cross marking their transition through the night. Its bizarre animals and magnificent native flora. Dorothy Mackellar’s poem, My Country, though a little old-fashioned in style, sums it up well in essence.

So what is truly home for me? On a daily basis it’s Mr Cassmob, the cat, our books and belongings, the garden and its flowers and birds. The house structure is important but only while we live there. Underpinning it all is the sense of place: the affiliation with the land and landscape of Australia in all its manifestations.Birds better

Book of Me: Prompt 10 – Click, Click

Prompt 10 for the Book of Me is Do you have an unexplained memory or memories? Items, Places, People Things and times you can remember, but you are not sure where they fit into your past.

I have no unexplained memories that leap to mind so once again I’m heading in a lateral direction.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Do you have little mental snapshots that stand alone and unaccompanied in your mind? I find that I do, and while some interweave with other stories, like school days, others just insist on hanging out alone. One of the real frustrations of being sibling-less is that you have no one else to bounce your recollections off. Then again you also don’t have anyone telling you “you’re dreaming!”.

Some of my snapshot childhood moments are:


Feeding the kookaburra.
Feeding the kookaburra.
  • Playing mud pies with a second cousin from Sydney near the tank stand in my grandparents’ yard. But it’s not every mud pie that is baked with TLC including macadamia nuts, or Queensland nuts as they were known back in the day before marketing took hold. Given the price of Qld nuts you might find that horrifying but at the time we had a huge tree in our back yard so they were in surplus supply. Dad eventually took that tree out, I don’t recall why, and it was replaced with a large Melaleuca viridiflora which flowered spectacularly.
  • Cracking Queensland nuts in the vice on my grandfather’s work bench under the house. Or finding a dent in the concrete where the nut would sit still while you whacked it with a hammer.
  • Sitting under the stairs to the house, in the shade, reading a book and avoiding the summer heat of the holidays.
  • Being sooky because “no one” was ever home during holiday season to come to my birthday parties (boo hoo!)
  • Dad repairing the soles of shoes on his work bench (just imagine, how things change)
  • Mum washing in the big copper which had to have the water heated, and then the washing being hauled out, all soapy, with a long wooden pole. Back breaking work! A twin tub was an advance but an automatic (many years later) was a miracle.
  • The sheer drama and hardwork of Monday washing day with blue, starch etc etc.
  • Licking the bowl and the beaters when Mum was baking (every Saturday without fail)
  • The kookaburras landing on the railing for a snack of slivered meat -why would they catch snakes?
  • Lifting up the fence palings and finding a large snake under it, and seeing them elsewhere around the yard
  • Dad’s fierce injunction to never, ever run when confronted with a snake: stand still, don’t scream or yell, then back slowly away (very helpful many decades later when toe to face with a mercifully-sleepy death adder.
  • Doing bob-a-job for Guides and collecting money in Queen St for charity through my high school.
  • Joan Kunkel with Pauleen and quote_edited-1
  • The old Mason jar type stoneware jugs at the back of Grandma’s under-the-house. (For overseas readers, many traditional houses in Queensland are raised up on stilts for better air ventilation and also for protection against termites. I think the area under the house is used for similar things to colder-climate attics or basements: storage, play areas, work areas etc.
  • Climbing the mango tree, very high, and bobbing out of the “top” and calling out to Grandma (heart attack material, I’d have said). Then playing at Tarzan and swinging down from the lower branches –it would have been cheating to just climb down.
  • Standing up near Kelvin Grove state school and looking across the suburbs at the lights – my mother has a “thing” for lights.
  • Riding down the steep hills near KG school for the first time –like setting forth on a roller coast in a push bike.
  • Doing my Year 8 (Scholarship) exams at the state school and then coming back to the convent to run through what I’d done with my teacher (have I mentioned my obsessive characteristics?).

SCHOOL DAYSPauleen at Picnic Bay and quote

  • Walking home from school in the gutters when it had been pouring with rain. Yes, I did have my shoes off!
  • Being one of a handful of kids at school when there was a cyclone around, not because Mum had to work but because she came from North Queensland and probably thought it would be wimpy to stay home.
  • Grandad taking me to school in my first year, because Mum was very sick (and I assume Dad was at work). We went up one hill, he dropped me off, and I went home straight away down a different hill.
  • The big old tree, I suppose a Moreton Bay fig, under which we could sit during primary school lunch breaks.
  • The influx of students from all sorts of “strange” places in Europe as part of the post-war migration.
  • The warm milk we used to get at school courtesy of the government. Not very nice!
  • Sandwich lunches of sardines and potato chips (crisps) on Fridays back in the day when Catholics had to eat fish of Friday. Bizarre as it sounds I liked that food combination.
  • The class being tested for TB and having an early Salk polio vaccine.
  • Fabulous church fetes where I bought handmade doll’s dresses and home-made lollies.
  • Walking along the creek bank with a friend to the Guide hut at Newmarket –watched by Mum or Dad from the verandah.
  • The smell of the brewery across the road from school, and the smell of baking biscuits from the Arnotts factory off Coronation Drive.

MUM & DADNorman Kunkel and Pauleen at beach and quote

  • Dad being “up in arms” when they sold Ballymore Park to the Rugby Union, only to “adopt” the sport with gusto, especially after Mr Cassmob came along
  • Waving to Dad as he rode to work on his push bike (no gears!). He would always turn at the corner before heading up the hill.
  • The shock on his face when he came home after some bloke had got killed or caught in the buffers of the trains.
  • Mum making cakes or biscuits for me to take to school when we had birthday celebrations. This was an All Hallows’ tradition and we would sit in a big group on the terrace for our al fresco party.
  • Being violently ill and the boat rolling from side to side almost taking on water, as we made our way to Green Island soon after a cyclone. Mum always says “Green going over, and green coming back”.
  • Being scared witless of walking across the old pipe bridge near Gould Rd, leading to Bancroft Park. The timbers were pretty dodgy with gaps and missing boards: I really hated that! When my children were young and visiting from PNG, Dad would take them for walks in the pram over to the same bridge, something of a family tradition, though by then the bridge was in better condition.
  • Riding to Eildon Hill with Mum & Dad. Perhaps this is an ambiguous memory. I rather doubt I’d have managed Eildon Hill, where there was a reservoir, which makes me wonder if I was “doubled”. 
  • Riding with Dad to get fresh bread from the bakery in Butterfield St.

Pauleen as baby with Kit Kunkel AND QUOTE

And the only unexplained memory I can bring to mind, is whether there was ever a building at the back corner of my grandparents’ yard farthest from our place. I used to have the idea it was the dunny, but the sewerage maps show that was closer to where the mango tree was positioned. Must ask Mum.

Long term readers will probably remember some of these little snapshots as part of “story albums” on this blog, especially the 52 weeks series. I guess I got a bit carried away…thanks for reading along.

Book of Me: Prompt 9 -Halloween/Hallowian

Book of mePrompt 9 for the Book of Me is all about Halloween, which is appropriate given that it occurs in week 9 of our project. This will be a traditional event for many of my fellow bloggers, however Down Under it’s been a non-event until quite recent years: another commercial opportunity or just fun for the kids? I’m so cynical.

Julie’s questions were: Have you ever participated in a Halloween event? When was it? Where was it? What did you dress as? Trick or treat? My answer to each of these is “no”.

So my first thought was to pass on this week’s prompt but wait, there’s a lateral solution.

The Story Bridge is part of the school's geography and student memories.
The Story Bridge is part of the school’s geography and student memories.

Our good friend Wikipedia has an answer to what Halloween is all about. It celebrates the eve of All Hallows or All Saints, the day when the Christian churches remember their saints.  It also records that the celebration  initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.

The front altar of the All Hallows' Chapel
The front altar of the All Hallows’ Chapel

This is much more familiar to me for a number of reasons. It was always traditional in our house to go to Mass on All Saints’ Day (1 November) and also on All Souls’ Day (2 November) to remember all our family members who had died and gone before us. Actually this makes All Souls’ Day a pretty good feast day for family historians to celebrate. No particular year stands out because going to Mass was just one of those things you did on a weekly (or more regular) basis.

All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day is also important in my family history because I went to a school called All Hallows’ in Brisbane, now in its 153rd year. In fact three generations of women in my family have attended the school over many decades and given its name 1 November was of course an important day in the school’s calendar. To be honest I can’t recall that we did anything exceptional on the day (it was after all shortly before our annual state-wide exams) but we certainly went to Mass in the school chapel. By the time our daughters attended the school it had become traditional for the whole school to have the day out having fun at one of the water parks in town.  I guess they probably also went to Mass in the chapel as well (must see if any of them remember)

The school chapel has an amazing atmosphere and without being spooky evokes generations of women who have worshipped there.

When I was at All Hallows’ the school’s quarterly newspaper was called The Hallowian and it was a more light-hearted reporting of what was happening in the school than the formal end-of-year school magazine.

I’ve been looking at old copies from when I was at the school and have been intrigued by the diversity of the stories from totally frivolous (and fallacious!) stories about the new prefects, in-depth social commentary, welcomes to the New Guinea students who had arrived to study there, and the usual mix of charity, drama, cultural and sporting activities. I was particularly taken with the stories about the school’s buildings and grounds, so now I’m scanning them for posterity (perhaps something for my time capsule?)

Interesting to see the ideas for holidays in the day. I used to skate at Mowbray Park ice rink.

Back to the more temporal celebration of Halloween, we were in New England one year in mid-November, and traces of Halloween celebrations in garden decorations or florist’s windows. That’s probably my closest direct connection to Halloween.

Happy Halloween to all my mates and Happy All Hallows’ Day to my fellow AHS students.

Pumpkins on a Boston doorstep 1992.
Pumpkins on a Boston doorstep 1992.

Book of Me: Prompt 8 -Time Capsule

This week Julie has thrown us a curved ball with Prompt 8 for the Book of Me: Time Capsule. Julie suggests that we consider:Book of me

who we’ll have in mind to inherit the time capsule

whether it will be a virtual capsule or a real one

why we chose that person(s) and when we intend them to have it

She also mentions that we may want to leave a capsule with our home’s heritage for someone who later lives in your house, or another to celebrate and anniversary or event, as was done last year for the Queen’s celebrations. If we use a real capsule, what will choose and why.  Julie’s also got a link on this topic on YouTube here.

This image is from Photobucket
This image is from Photobucket

We have the option of doing Prompt 8 quickly, or taking our time and doing it over weeks or even months. There are occasions when I wonder if we’re just fighting time and ageing or if it is ego-centric to hope our life’s detritus will mean something to anyone else. On the flip side, there’s that wish all family historians hold dear, that we had some special ancestral item, diary or letters….and then I think, perhaps it’s not all about us after all. Perhaps it’s about capturing a slice of normal life for history, rather than the big picture that formal history will focus on.

At the moment the nearest thing I have to a time capsule is my memory box which has many of my bits and bobs from over the years. Nothing of any financial value at all but a trace, of sorts, of my life so far. What is required is some system to be brought into it, and perhaps notes as to why I thought each thing is important or relevant.

I’m going to be taking my time to reflect on how I want to do this project and what I want to include. Some of the topics might include:

How the workplace changed over the past 40 years (in my field)

Memories of places we’ve lived and visited, and/or why travel has been important to us

The meaning of some of the inherited objects we own. Little or no financial value but each item can bring a flood of memories to me…but at present will mean nothing to anyone. Will leaving some story with them, give them meaning to anyone else I wonder?

What will they go in? I don’t know but it will have to be transportable easily and also waterproof is my first guess, at least while we live in the cyclone-prone tropics.

It might even be a book of blog posts relating to our lives eg this Book of Me.

Meanwhile if you want to read a brilliant post on this topic why not visit Kim at KK Genealogy.

The Book of Me: Prompt 7 – Grandparents

I’ve decided that Prompt 7 of the Book of Me, Written by You series will be largely a private post, partly because I’ve written on this topic before, and partly because I want to draw out further nuances with my family alone. Julie provided us with these dot points for discussion:

What were their names?
Where were they from?
Were they related? – Cousins perhaps
Where were they born, another Country or state/area?
What did they do?
Did you know them?
What was your relationship with them?
If you didn’t know them have you researched about them?

My maternal grandparents (top row) and my paternal grandparents as young people (bottom row)
My maternal grandparents (top row) and my paternal grandparents as young people (bottom row)

Over the last few years I’ve often posted on my grandparents, especially those who lived next door to us. I was pretty lucky as I knew three of my grandparents into my teens or early adulthood and while my maternal grandmother died youngish, I still have faint, fond memories of her. Sometimes I wondered if they were figments of my imagination but on further discussion with my mother it turns out that I had indeed remembered the stories correctly even though Grandma died before I turned four. Her photo was always on display in my parents’ bedroom too, so it always seemed she was part of my life.

I wonder how many people are fortunate enough to know their grandparents well. Certainly in Darwin’s transient population many children grow up seeing their grandparents only a couple of times a year, or more rarely. Our grandchildren are among the fortunate few who have their “oldies” on tap.

So a very brief synopsis of my grandparents’ origins:

Irish Catholic  +  formerly Methodist, 2nd/3rd generation Queenslander (Scottish/English background)

2nd/3rd generation Queenslander ex-Catholic (Irish-German background) + Scottish Presbyterian.

Grandparents origins

Can you see there might be potential for religious and national tensions there? There is a common thread among the men, though, with the railway being the link.

Origins Great grandparents

I thought I’d put this together in a graph as it makes it more visual, and then because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I also drew out their ethnic background.

You might want to read my earlier stories about my two grandfathers Denis Kunkel and James McSherry.  I haven’t written as much about my grandmothers, Catherine Kunkel and Laura Melvin, but I did write about Laura’s sister, Emily, who served as a de facto grandmother to me in my childhood.

I also wrote about my grandparents as part of the Fab Feb Photo Collage, another reason for not duplicating what I’ve written. And no, nary a cousin or relation among them…one of the advantages of all that migration perhaps. Even though I knew each of them I’ve also done a lot of research on them over the years.

The Book of Me: Prompt 1: Who am I?

Pauleen query 3On a day to day basis we rarely reflect on who we are, only responding to specific enquiries from those we meet for the first time “where do you live?” or “what do you do?”. To each enquiry we are likely to answer in slightly different ways, perhaps not wishing to disclose too much detail to strangers, or adapting our responses to what their other level of knowledge is. Do they know Brisbane? In which case I may name a suburb and school. Do they know Australia? In which case I may say I come from Queensland but live in the Northern Territory. These enquiry-responsive answers are equally worth reflecting on in our ancestor’s lives and documentary responses.

Only over time do we reveal the weft and weave of our lives to selected and trusted friends, and oft-times the information slips out sideways in other conversations, so it seems quite confronting to tackle Julie’s first prompt in the Book of Me head-on. Prompt 1 suggests we ask ourself the question “Who am I” at least 20 times, or more if we feel so inclined. I’ve been ambivalent about responding to this prompt publicly, and will probably add other comments to my private post, but ultimately I realised regular readers of my blog will have deduced virtually all of these “who am I” answers.

Over the years I have had many roles and experienced many things, not all of which may be current today but which have intrinsically influenced who I am today.

  1. I am a wife, mother of three adult daughters and also grandmother of three. I don’t plan to go on about this here but family underpins my life and none of it is taken for granted.Pauleen with Louisa Rach and Bec 1979
  2. I am a daughter, an only child and, on my paternal side, an only grandchild to my grandparents who lived next door. Not surprisingly I don’t really “get” sibling relationships except mainly as observed in my own children. I had few aunts and uncles, all of whom are now deceased. I also have few cousins, two of whom are now dead and two I wouldn’t even recognise as they have always lived far away.
  3. I am a feminist. As a teenager in the 60s my experiences were very much affected by the emerging wave of feminism, which slowly worked to give women equal opportunities and to be able to use their talents in the formal workplace as well as in the home. Those vastly different working conditions have slowly changed over the decades and I like to think that it helped make my daughters’ choices wider and more possible.
  4. I am a friend and I have a cluster of really good friends. I’ve never been one to have many friends, rather a few close trusted friends who know and accept my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve been surprised to find that some of my blogging mates have become friends as well – perhaps not that really surprising when we get to know so much about each other.
  5. I am intrigued by migration. As a young girl my school absorbed a large number of post-WWII migrants and ever since I’ve been fascinated by where people come from and why. This curiosity also guides some of my research questions.
  6. I am an Australian. Not in a card-carrying, flag-waving, heart-crossed kind of way, but in my love of our nation’s wide open spaces, its huge blue skies, its flora and in a small-i indigenous love of “place”. I don’t agree with everything our nation does or says any more than I always agree with friends or family. Sometimes I’m even ashamed of our behaviour in the world.

    I did occasionally change my hair, and look demure.
    I did occasionally change my hair, and look demure.
  7. I am no longer regard myself as a Catholic but for much of my life Catholicism played a huge role in my life. It has fundamentally affected how I see the world both in a positive and negative way. Religious divisions were a thread (or threat?) to be reckoned with. I came to my teenage years on the wave of John XXIII’s ecumenical movement which again formed how I saw the world, and responded to it.
  8. I am an All Hallows’ “girl”. The high school I attended so intrinsically affected who I am and how I’ve approached my life that it has to be mentioned here, and I’ve written about it in other posts. Funnily enough my earliest family history collaborators were both past pupils of the same school, though then geographically remote, and a generation older than me.
  9. I am a University of Queensland alumni, both staff and student. I have been in love with the place since I first visited as a teenager and spent many years of my life there one way and another. As a research administrator I had the opportunity to work in and across a number of universities.
  10. I am a travel-tragic. This is a no-brainer to anyone who reads my Tropical Territory blog. Actually I might be just a tourist, not a traveller, but either way I relish the opportunity to see the world’s places and people and even though we’ve been fortunate to go many places we’ve only scratched the surface. Luckily for me Mr Cassmob is also a travel-fiend. Growing up working class before the era of cheaper travel it never occurred to me that I’d have these kind of opportunities so I’m eternally grateful.
  11. I am a photographer. I have no skills as an artist but I have always loved to take photos. This is how I record the places I see and the people and events in my life: a photographic diary.
  12. I am an obsessive family historian. I’ve been researching now for over 27 years (hard to believe) and there’s always more to unearth about my ancestors’ lives. I can equally happily help my friends with their genealogy as well. I like to combine family and local history.
  13. I am a writer and a blogger. I never really thought of myself as a writer until I got deeply enmeshed with family history but now I’ve written the stories of a few of my families as well as their emigrating peers, and I’ve published one family history. My blogging allows me to share my writing, family history and photography passions.
  14. I am a micro-migrant. Although I’ve never lived far from my origin, I’ve uprooted my life twice, once as a young adult to Papua New Guinea and once, much later, to the Northern Territory. I know people do this all the time, but when you consider it requires settling to new places and building new relationships it takes some effort while being a very pale shadow of true migration.
  15. I am a life-long learner and inspired by new ideas. Although my career focused on the practical and here-and-now, I’ve always wanted to see how things can be done better, and liked to acquire new skills and knowledge. Even though I’m now retired I find that blogging and family history research offer innumerable opportunities to continue to learn daily. I (mostly) love learning more about new technology and enjoy using it.

    I got my love of cats from my Dad, along with my love of reading.
    I got my love of cats from my Dad, along with my love of reading.
  16. I am a lover of animals and a complete cat obsessive. Although I love most animals (hmmm, not snakes), cats are my true love and my life just wouldn’t be complete without one.
  17. I am in love with nature and the wonders of the natural world. I’m not a “twitcher” but the sighting of a bird or hearing its song can make my day.
  18. I am a huge fan of gardens and flowers, and luckily for me, so is Mr Cassmob. Really can you ever have too many plants?
  19. I am a book-addict. As a child I could never get enough books to satisfy me: a good birthday or Christmas was one with a book present. “Be careful what you wish for” they say, because now bookcases threaten to overtake the house.
  20. I am a lover of a wide variety of music except very modern genres.
  21. I am not a shopper…I don’t have the “girl gene” and can’t do “shop till you drop” but you can lose me in bookshops, computer shops, garden nurseries or hardware stores.
  22. I am not into fashion at all, but I love house design books and magazines and love to tweak our “nest”, and particularly love art and tactile arts.
  23. I am a sometimes-crafter, former maker of family clothes, and occasional follower of whims hence why I’ve been learning glass-bead making.
  24. I am a human being with my own unique personality, flawed like everyone else, but always trying to do my best, succeed or fail.

The Book of Me: Prompt 3 – What I look like

Just as I was heading overseas in early September Julie from Angler’s Rest launched her Book of Me challenge, or perhaps it would be more apt to call it an opportunity to leave a record of our lives for  our descendants. My own plan is to write much of this on a private blog, though every now and then as the mood takes me I will publish my post here as well. I’m jumping the gun and starting with prompt 3 which asks us to describe our physical selves: clothes size, scars, eye colour, hands and fingerprints., and no, you don’t need to know my clothes size!Pauleen 3rd bday crop 1952

There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead”. This certainly described me as a small child but I wasn’t so keen on the implication that I was sometimes “horrid”…but if you can’t beat ‘em, take ownership of the tag if you must!

Check out the freckles.
Cute with freckles, and still fair-ish hair.

As a small child I had curly blonde locks, oh so cute. As I grew older the curls and the blonde disappeared and my hair turned brown and very straight. In an attempt to get the curls to come back I remember Mum took me to a hairdresser in the Valley (upstairs near TC Beirne’s department store) in the hope that the right cut would bring back the wave. Sadly for many years that was not the case, and frankly I hated those haircuts which looked far too boy-like to me, and as if a bowl had been placed on my head and the perimeter of my hair trimmed to match.

Over the years my hair took on a gingery-auburn tinge, not surprising since two of my aunts were “carrot tops” and when Dad was a young man he had black hair and a ginger moustache…..I guess it was my Irish/Scottish gene pool coming through.  Those of a certain age will recall that red hair in a woman was not considered a “good thing” ….come to think of a recent Prime Minister I guess it’s still largely unacceptable.

I think I inherited my hair gene from my Scottish grandmother because it’s very thick, like hers, and when I finally give up on visiting my hairdresser’s salon, it will no doubt be as white as Grandma’s was. At the moment, sans-dye, it would probably leave me looking like the human equivalent of a raccoon, and they don’t even live in Australia. Mum was right – the wave did indeed come back eventually and I have what my friend calls “wash and wear” hair, just as well since I have no patience (and less skill!) for blow-drying and styling.

Pauleen at Greenmount 1969I’ve also made it simple for my descendants to track me through the years. No constant changing of hairstyles and colours for me: whole decades go by with the same style and then regress to an earlier one. Perhaps when I’m 80 I’ll have a basin cut again?

Through my growing up years, my startled freckles were also a feature of my appearance, and even more so when I was sick as those spots just stood out like neon lights against my white face. Mercifully over the years they’ve faded and now aren’t all that apparent though they’ve left me with the propensity for severe sunburn and skin cancers.  Hence the now-faded Zorro-scar that slices its way across from around my mouth across to my ear and down to my jaw line. At the time (nearly 10 years ago now) “they” told me that the surgeon had done a good job…..”yeah right” I thought but indeed it is now largely indiscernible. Either way it was a lucky escape and better than “pushing up daisies”.

Dad low res at schoolFor two thirds of my life I was skinny as a stick with long, lanky legs. Never did I imagine it would be possible to fatten this particular greyhound but sadly I was wrong and no longer do I look like a “long drink of water”.  Throughout high school, when we had to line up for marches etc, we would be arranged by height. This made it super easy for me: I went to the top of the queue where I swapped places year-by-year with the other giraffes, my friends mostly went to the far end of the queue and we idled our time waiting for umpteen others to be precisely altitude-ranked. Have you ever realised how advantageous it is to be able to look over the heads of vast crowds to find your family/friends, or even where you’re going?

Check out the freckles and bi-coloured eye.
Check out the freckles and bi-coloured eye. I look amazingly like my Dad in this one.

I don’t think I’ve started shrinking yet, though I wouldn’t be so sad if it happened to my waistline. Unfortunately I don’t think the red wine and partiality to sweet-treats help (I blame my confectioner great-grandfather!).

When you were a child did people say to you “oh you look like…..”? In my case they’d say “oh you look like your mother” until they saw me with Dad when they’d change it to “oh you look like your father”. My daughter describes my hands “as great big German hands” which I think is rather unkind, both to me and the Germans. Certainly I didn’t inherit my mother’s dainty hands so I guess Dad, and the Scots, Germans or Irish have to be blamed …perhaps it was the nature of their work that did it.

As to my handprints: well there’s been enough scanning of fingers and thumbs by Immigration and Emigration in Tanzania and Uganda to make me feel rather like a convict-in-waiting.

My eyes are a little strange though it’s not immediately apparent. Mr Cassmob’s chat-up line at uni was “did anyone tell you that you have beautiful blue eyes”….pathetic I say, especially as he’d follow it up with saying he hadn’t said it either! For the good reason that my eyes are sort-of-green with one half of one eye being a solid light brown. If that sounds weird I remember a second cousin who had 1½ blue eyes and half a brown….by comparison green and brown looks quite normal….it is one way of getting people to stare deeply into your eyes.

A recent photo taken in Nairobi.
A recent photo taken in Nairobi. I think my haircuts make it easy for my descendants.

As a child I had a very bad habit of chewing my nails which lasted until my early teens. These days when I manage not to break them, and keep taking my calcium tablets, and have/do a manicure, they can actually look rather nice…though I have to say it tends not to last too long. On the plus side I wasn’t too badly plagued with teenage zits and spots so overall I came out ahead.

My dainty feet are the horror of Italian shoe salesmen who (just) refrain from laughing out loud when I ask for my size shoe….the equivalent of “oh no Madam we don’t make them in that size!”. Well they do, but they export them to Australia or America, where they sell for a vast sum of money.

So there I am, a once-blonde, now potentially raccoonish woman of a certain age, with a scar on her face, overweight but still with long legs and a great altitude. And, as they say, I’ve still got my own teeth (thanks to my fabulous Brisbane dentist!), my hair is still wavy (and pretends to be reddish), and I’m not pushing up daisies….I reckon I’m on a winner!

Not sharp but interesting from the background, and those lanky legs.
Not sharp but interesting for the background, and those lanky legs.