Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 1st December: The Christmas Tree

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

As a child we always had a live tree – in fact I’m not sure artificial trees were even available then in Australia. However our live tree was nothing like what anyone in the northern hemisphere would imagine. It wasn’t a fir of any sort, tall and thick with a pine-needle smell. Instead in the week before Christmas my father would go down to the creek bank near us and select a small gum (eucalyptus) tree which he’d cut and bring to the house. I don’t know how common this was as I honestly can’t recall other people’s trees. As soon as the gum tree was in the house there would be the pervasive smell of eucalyptus throughout.

"Onion bagging" Christmas trees in Miltenberg, Bavaria, 1992

The tree would last till a bit after Christmas before it started dropping all its leaves.

In my adult family we’ve mostly had an artificial tree as we’ve often been in places where there are limited other choices. I remember when we first visited Europe near Christmas-time being intrigued by those weird contraptions that wrap your tree in what I think of as onion-bag netting. I don’t recall ever seeing anything like that in Australia anywhere…but perhaps it happens in the southern states? Anyone want to comment?

Our first own-family tree was a casuarina which my husband said was collected from near the club at Alotau in the Milne Bay District of Papua (as it was then).

Similarly when we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands we also had a casuarina.

Long ago and far away: Christmas in Goroka, PNG. Eldest daughter and her first "big girl" Christmas.

When we moved to Port Moresby we bought an artificial tree which was quite sizable…probably close to 2 metres, and lasted throughout our children’s growing-up years.

When we downsized to Darwin, we left the big tree with the family in Brisbane and downsized our tree as well. Now we have grandchildren in the family, last year we upsized again.…the cycles of life. Besides which the cat, who loves to climb in the tree and remove decorations, needed a bigger tree to mangle! The small one had taken a battering over the past few years.

Personalising electoral roll searches: surprises found and caution needed

Shelley over at Twigs of Yore blog has recently posted about Ancestry’s expanded Australian electoral rolls. Her points made me sit up and think, because frankly I’ve not bothered to look for the people for whom I “know” the details (including myself). This has been a bit silly given I’ve posted about the great uses of electoral rolls in relation to the street where I grew up here and here, though for those posts I was using Findmypast and World Vital Records.

We do tend to think that our ancestors’ electoral details are correct…even if we know we might not be so attentive ourselves. Why do we expect something different from our ancestors? The joy of looking at the microfilms of the original Queensland rolls, for example, is that they are annotated when someone’s residence is challenged, or they move to another electorate or die.

Personalising my search revealed some interesting anomalies likely to cause future descendants and family historians to scratch their hands in puzzlement.

Example 1:

My parents-in-law appear in rural Victoria in 1949, rural NSW in 1954 then reappear in 1980 in Rockhampton Queensland. In another 50 or 100 years will anyone know where those missing years were spent?

Even if they know the family were in Papua New Guinea, they won’t find them in the Genealogical index to Australians and other expatriates in Papua New Guinea 1888-1975 because I’ve been unable to find any reference there, even though I know there were BDM notices in the papers. Which reminds me: I want to suggest to the Trove people that the Post Courier newspaper be digitised given just how many Australians had links there.

Nor will they know that my mother-in-law was a teacher almost all her life, because on the early rolls her occupation is shown as “home duties” and in the 1980 roll she was a teacher’s aide (being then largely in retirement).

Example 2:

My father lived on the same block of land all his life, but soon after I was born the land was sub-divided and another house built. The electoral rolls continue to show my parents at my grandparents’ address more than five years after they’d moved into their own home.

My father’s occupation throughout his entire presence on the electoral rolls remains the same. While he remained with the Railways all his life, his actual job changed. Descendants in years to come will have no idea what he really did, or that his occupation (numbertaker, not undertaker) was actually quite hazardous.

Have you ever thought to change your occupation if your address remains unchanged? Would the Electoral Office even modify it if you asked?

Example 3:

My own presence on the roll, like that of my husband and in-laws is delayed by living in Papua New Guinea for a number of years. If descendants don’t get my birth or marriage certificate they are likely to think I’m much younger than I am…perhaps not a bad thing J

My husband’s bland “admin officer” occupation camouflages his real skills and work experience: much depends on what mind-set we’re in when we fill out the form. Do you descendants a favour, and give a precise title.

As with my mother-in-law, my occupation reflects a particular point of my life and disguises entirely that I was in paid employment most of my adult life. However, that might be remedied on later rolls because we’ve moved around a bit. I wonder what I put down when we’d just moved to Darwin? I just might have to visit the Darwin Electoral Office to look at the online rolls.

Perhaps these findings will give you food for thought too, and make you, and me, be a little less confident about some of the details we find on the electoral rolls, especially if they contradict other sources. This is one case where we should be looking to the future as well as the past… and yet another good reason for writing our family stories. Thanks Shelley for triggering off this train of thought!

52 weeks of personal genealogy & history: Week 25: Neighbours

The topic for Week 25 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Neighbours. Who were your childhood neighbors? Have you kept in touch with any of them? Do you feel the concept of neighbors has changed since then?

Of course like most Australians, on reading this week’s topic the theme song from the TV series Neighbours immediately started playing in my head even though I never watched the show that I can recall.

Reading with the neighbours -my grandparents.

So, neighbours…I suppose when I was growing up neighbours were quite important. One set of our immediate neighbours was my paternal grandparents so of course they were pivotal to my childhood and teenage years. For me it was like having two homes to be able to jump over the fence and pop next door to spend time with them, climb the mango tree, listen to Scottish music or whatever. When I was a child most of the neighbours, which included more people than those just adjoining our house, had lived in the area for many years and since that’s where my father grew up, he knew them all.

Apart from my grandparents there were some neighbours who were pivotal to my early life. I’ve already mentioned in other posts how one lot of neighbours would take phone calls for us, drive me to the library or Guides, let me practice on their piano with their daughters. Our lives were generally very interlinked. Although my mother kept in touch with this family after they left the suburb, I lost touch with the daughters after they and I moved away in adult life. Another family were regularly part of our extended network and their children were part of my usual group of playmates: we went to school together and spent time together playing around the neighbourhood. I have particular memories of a New Year’s Eve party at their place, watching the wondrous new phenomenon, TV, and also of the father carrying me home when I’d gashed my leg on a bicycle. I’ve recently reconnected with the woman from this family who was my childhood friend.

Neighbours at the back of our house were a couple without children and the husband worked for the railway. They used to take us on weekend outings in the car, when each time we crossed a railway line, the men (Dad & him) would say “pull up the railway lines and sack all the men”. What a strange thing to say….I’ve never figured out why! This family taught me a little about growing different flowers including dahlias. Another neighbourhood family used to occasionally have singalongs around a pianola. It wasn’t necessarily the case that neighbours were those who lived only a door or two away from your home, but those in a broader area but who were also not specifically friends.

An elderly single lady lived across the road from us when I was probably under 12. She was very kind to me, sending me postcards and embroidered handkerchiefs from around the world when she went on international trips. She also gave me my first experience of ballet, taking me to see a performance of Swan Lake, presumably at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

When we lived in Papua New Guinea neighbours were very often also your mainstay of support, friendship network and ersatz family. We supported each other with our young families, baby-sat, had dinners, Christmases and birthdays together, shared the excitement of new babies and many other things. It made for very close supportive friendships which we maintained for many years though distance and death have reduced the number of these links still in place now.

As we’ve moved through the past 25 weeks of this series, and I’ve looked through those early photographs taken with my little Kodak camera, it becomes very apparent how important early neighbourhood relationships were in our lives. However I can’t share those photos here without permission from the people involved.

I’m reminded of that saying that there are friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I suppose the same can be said for neighbours and perhaps explains why some of those links establish, survive or wilt over time. Has the concept of “neighbours” changed since my childhood? I don’t think the concept itself has, though perhaps the linkages and dependencies are less and the geographic proximity has probably narrowed to mean only those living adjacent or very close to your own home. In many cases people are very self-sufficient, perhaps not needing to share facilities like phones, cars etc as we become more affluent.

A major difference compared to my childhood, which was perhaps unusual based on the 52 weeks’ topic of “home”, is that people are far more mobile, often spending less time in one house and relocating across much greater distances. Under these circumstances I think it is really only the natural friendship relationships which are maintained long-term between former neighbours, while other links fade and then disappear with the relocations. Despite this there’s much to be said for simple interactions with those who live near us, even if it’s only by a smile and a hello, and to offer help when it’s needed. It’s easy to forget that such simple measures can mean a great deal to a neighbor who is feeling displaced, lost or needing help in a time of need.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 22: Secrets: Independence comes to PNG

The topic for Week 22 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Secrets. Describe something about yourself that won’t be found on any record 100 years from now.

Well my first thought was that if it was a secret it wouldn’t be so any longer once I blogged about it!

So what will future descendants of mine miss about my life if they rely on the records? In 100 years it will be all too easy for my great-great-granddaughter to wonder where I got to for about 8 years in the 1970s. They will find my marriage and the birth of two of my daughters in Queensland and possibly assume that I had continued to live in Queensland all my life. The Australian-based records, assuming they’re all digitized and indexed by then will let them trace me and my “migrations” and events. They will even, with a bit of luck, reveal some details of my working life and hobby (sorry, obsession) of family history. But they will have missed a very formative part of my adult life.

 An attentive and thorough researcher who buys the certificates may get a clue that I left the country for a few years and that my husband’s then place of residence, Territory of Papua New Guinea (TPNG), may provide the clues they need. However it’s quite likely this will still not disclose much about my life there because unless things change, records in Papua New Guinea are very difficult to come by. However if that does change, they may get lucky and may find our little “Gehuka”, born in the PNG Highlands, from the official records and may even find her baptism records. They may even get very lucky and find our employment records and so be able to trace our movements around the country, and my in-laws before us.

However they will have no real sense of the amazing sights that we lived with: the magnificent scenery, the power of a football-field filled with tribal warriors in full traditional attire and armed with spears and other weapons, the singing and drums, the hazardous flying conditions, the isolated villages or a small band of warriors armed with spears intent on “payback”.

The timeline of our life there will clue them in that we lived through self-government (1973) and Independence (1975) as the former Australian Territory became an independent country. Official documentation will not tell them that we were anxious going into self-government given the bloodshed and riots that had accompanied so many African nations recently gaining their autonomy. Our descendants won’t know that at self-government we lived opposite the Goroka hospital and listened to much noise, bottle-crashing and rubbish-bin-lid-banging that night but that we were at no risk.

By the time Independence came around we were living in Port Moresby and were able to participate in the many celebrations. The stores were decorated with red, black and gold streamers and the official banners were black birds of paradise on contrasting fabric, one of which we still treasure.

We went to the Catholic Cathedral and saw Prince Charles (much younger then, like the rest of us!) arrive to be greeted by the Bishop, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, other dignitaries, and school children in traditional sing-sing attire. In a short report I wrote at the time for my family in Australia, I mentioned that Mr Cassmob had heard murmurs of dislike for Whitlam when he arrived while Andrew Peacock, formerly Foreign Minister was well received. Michael Somare, the first Prime Minister, drew a spontaneous burst of applause.

There were other ceremonies to celebrate Independence and we were at Hubert Murray Stadium (in the grandstand and “on the hill”) and saw the amazing diversity of local dress, colour, and dance, with the Manus Islanders inevitably dominating the rhythm. The Australian Navy was nowhere near as precision-drilled as the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) which had nary a step out of place. Prince Charles arrived in stately fashion in the British Embassy Daimler flanked by traditionally-dressed dancers. Our eldest daughter then only a youngster and visiting the ceremony with her crèche/child-care called him “the man in white who was going to be king”. Prince Charles did the requisite inspection of the troops to the Skye Boat Song, some even forgetting their training long enough to take photos, and then did the rounds in an open-backed jeep.


Prince Charles arrives in the Daimler

The colour and diversity of the local people and their traditions were among the wonderful features of PNG. We were also very moved at the lowering of the (Australian) flag ceremony to the traditional bugler’s lament, “day is done”, and an impressive gun salute by the armed forces. We were proud to be part of such an important part of the country’s life and to have contributed in some way to its development. The new Governor General, Sir John Guise (aka Doctor John) from my husband’s “home” province of Milne Bay gave a well-toned speech about lowering the flag not tearing it down. A tinge of sadness was covered by pride and enthusiasm for the new country, especially when they paraded the flag to Auld Lang Syne, accompanied by the bagpipes. The PNG nationals were looking equally solemn during this moving ceremony.

Parading the Australian flag at Independence.

On Independence Day, 16 September 1975, our family went to Independence Hill and watched as the young high school students in their multi-coloured “uniforms” formed an honour guard and the new national flag was raised with much jubilation accompanied by a fly-over of military aircraft. While our family was part of the huge crowd photographed that day and appearing in the local Post Courier newspaper, there is no way our great-great-granddaughter could pick us out –unless she knew of my “signature” habit of wearing my sunglasses on my head, though even then I’m obscured by my blonde sunnies-wearing friend.Traditional dress at Independence Hill, 16 September 1975

So much of this secret would have been lost had we not written some notes soon after these amazing events – our memories recall only the highlights, not the level of detail that the notes have once again revealed.

Part of the crowd at Independence Hill on 16 September 1975.

Most of our photos are on slides and Super 8 films and really need to be scanned and the films converted…more jobs.

Other photos from PNG’s Independence celebrations can be found here (mostly copyrighted)*&type=all&lookfor=independence+papua+new+guinea&x=15&y=6

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 18 Weather

The topic for Week 18 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is”Weather”: Do you have any memorable weather memories from your childhood? How did your family cope and pass the time with adverse weather? When faced with bad weather in the present day, what do you do when you’re stuck at home?

For me this topic overlapped with those on seasons and also disasters, so I had to think about short term weather patterns.

When I think of bad weather I tend to think of being caught in tents while camping and having to re-peg the tent as the wind howled around. As a family we would then either read or play board games until the weather returned to normal.

If there was bad weather (usually heavy rain) when we were at home my mother would often bake cakes or sew and Dad and I would read. Sometimes as an adult I’d do some sewing on those wet and dreary days. But overall, bad weather = good reading times. For the kids it would be about board games or reading.

Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park thunders in a big Wet Season but can only be seen from the air.

Heavy rain in Darwin is the norm for about four months of the year, plus a few more months on occasions. It is often accompanied by tremendous thunder and lightning, making it difficult to hear yourself think. On the flip side we have months when we can pretty well guarantee no rain and clear blue skies accompanied by breezes. Delightful!

Brisbane is also rather prone to hail storms, something mercifully missing in Darwin. When the sky turned green it was common for people to dash to their cars and get them under cover, or “run” for home if it was near the end of the working day. Some hail would be the size of golf balls making a severe dent in your car’s paint work. We had some spectacular hailstorms and this picture shows a house in our suburb with a snow-like layer of hail on the ground.

Hail storm in Brisbane

As a child I was staying with my parents in a very basic holiday accommodation on Magnetic Island off Townsville  when a cyclone passed over. It was a biggish one and did some damage so the island was isolated without groceries for a few days as the seas ran high. Ultimately we were all evacuated by the Army on amphibious “ducks”. An adventure but I’ve no recollection of what we did while we waited for the “cavalry”. My mother has not-so-fond memories of the subsequent trip to another island some days later  when the sea was so rough and  the boat pitched from side to side so much that virtually everyone on board was sick, including the captain.

When I was a child, if it was hot I would make a tent under the steps and “chill out” there. It was also common to put a sprinkler on a hose and splash through that to cool down. No backyard swimming pools then. Of course, the many years of water restrictions in Brisbane have curtailed both pools and sprinklers including times for watering plants. Typical of Australia, and rather ironically, these years of drought and fears for diminishing water reserves,  have been closely followed by floods and full dams. Darwin on the other hand has been largely immune from these concerns, partly because of its Wet Season rainfall and partly because of its smaller population.

Another random “weather” memory or two: when we lived in Alotau we had my first earthquake (guria). I had no idea what had happened at first and thought a truck had run into the house so I rushed to get my infant daughter and the kittens and cat. When we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands District I became more accustomed to earthquakes and we have amusing memories of our friends in relation to them: he would rush to save his precious stereo and his wife would save the baby!

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.

[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 3 Cars


Family outing at Kelvin Grove c1950

As hard as it is to believe these days, when (and where) I was growing up, very few people actually owned cars and those who did were generous with their availability. Dad’s family had owned a car for quite a while when he was young but I don’t know why they sold it. My own family didn’t own a car until I was 20 and throughout the years my father rode his old un-geared pushbike to work in rain, hail or shine. Our family excursions were either bike rides or bus or train trips around the area. Dad worked for the railway so our family holidays didn’t really require a car as we got an annual train pass. On a day-to-day basis, we got around on “shank’s pony” ie we walked and as we lived in a hilly part of Brisbane, that was very good exercise!

Me and the neighbour's car at Kelvin Grove

Throughout my childhood, my experience with cars was through two sets of neighbours. One family, across the road, got one I think when I was about 10 and they used to regularly drive their daughters and I to Girl Guides, tennis or the library. This is a picture of me standing in front of it…talk about “legs eleven” as in the Bingo call. I’m guessing this must have been about the time that they got the car though I don’t honestly know.

The neighbours down the back used to take us occasionally on longer drives in the countryside. We would have singalongs in the car as we went. One thing that always mystified me (and still does!) is something they’d say every time we crossed a railway line: “rip up the railway line & sack all the men!” Now, why, when they were all railway workers would they sing something like that –sarcasm or wishful thinking, a bit like “when I win the Lotto.” I don’t know why I never asked Dad but it has certainly stuck in my mind across the years.

When we’d go on Guide camps we’d travel in the tray back of a large truck with all the gear, tents etc and again have a sing-along. In retrospect it’s astonishing to think we were allowed to travel like that but I suppose there were a lot fewer cars on the roads.

Our first car, Goroka, PNG -typical car-sales strategy!

We got our own first car after we’d been married a year. It was a little Datsun 1200 station wagon which enabled us to take day-trips in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea –not that there were many roads. On one drive up to Daulo Pass we encountered a group of warriors with spears and arrows off for a payback encounter (ie fight with another clan over some real or perceived injury). You might imagine we did not look right or left as we drove past, but were very delighted and relieved when they jogged past us chanting and didn’t look at us!

52 weeks of personal genealogy & history- Week 1 – New Year’s Memories

In the past week I’ve been discovering other people’s blogs about family history, not just their specific families but general discussions as well. Among these I’ve discovered (belatedly) are Amy Coffin’s WeTree ( and Geneabloggers ( For 2011 Amy has put forward another year of topics for family history bloggers which is hosted on Geneabloggers and this year’s topic is “52 weeks of personal genealogy & history”.

I love the concept of writing up my own history for my family and will probably use the framework to make a gift for my family for Xmas 2011.

In general terms I struggle to reconcile blogging about family history, and especially personal history, with privacy concerns. Where to draw the line? How to maintain a balance?

Week 1’s topic is about New Year’s memories. New Year wasn’t big in my family -probably partly being anti-social but also affected by my father who worked shift-work and missed the “events” that other people take for granted. I do have a few memories of it though. One was an old-style party where people sang songs around the pianola (who remembers those?) and then sang Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight. Or another neighbourhood party which was a little livelier and for which my prevailing memory is the Seekers’ songs being sung loudly and enthusiastically.

My most memorable New Year was my first as a young bride. We were living in Alotau in the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea and we only had power for 18 hours a day. We were hosting a party (or so the plan went) for New Year so I was up early to do some preparations. I had no sooner lit the kerosene lamp and turned to go to the kitchen when the kerosene exploded, the lamp shattered, and my nylon nightie caught fire and melted! My husband arrived to see kerosene in flames all over the floor! As I was pregnant at the time this caused a little consternation and a quick trip to the clinic. People’s reactions were interesting ranging from “someone’s shot his missus” to “why’s she going down the street at this hour”.

I learnt my lesson…I never did plan (or host) another New Year’s Eve party!

My most fun NYE as an adult was a party which turned out to be a surprise party for me and from which we returned about 4am. Our teenaged children were shocked, stunned and not a little amazed!