Last we saw of Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, my grandfather, he was prospering in his new environment in Shellharbour and the Illawarra – and working like mad! I think he was a very driven man. Recent events back in Picton/Thirlmere which saw his father’s very significant timber business collapse may have been behind that.
The Shellharbour he knew in the decade before World War 1 was small. Even fifty years later – well within my memory – the approach from Tongarra Road Albion Park showed what we now call “the village” glimpsed on the sea edge surrounded by paddocks, patches of bush, and wetlands.
Tom was active in council, church and friendly societies.
Friendly societies or lodges like the Independent Order of Odd Fellows were part of the fabric of society back then.
The Independent Order of Oddfellows (IOOF) was established in NSW in 1836 and Melbourne in 1846. It was originally a mutual benefit society that provided aid to members in times of sickness and unemployment; these benefits were obtained through joining fees and ongoing subscriptions. Upon joining, prospective members had to sign a form stating that they and their wife were of sound health, and pass means, religious and moral tests. Local lodge members then voted on the suitability of the prospective member by placing a black or white ball in the ballot box; if more than three black balls were returned the prospective member was rejected, hence the term blackballing. If a prospective member was blackballed one more vote to assess his suitability was allowed, and those who voted against him the first time were required to state their reasons for doing so.
Competition between friendly societies for members was fierce and there was an intense rivalry between the IOOF and the MUIOOF (Manchester Unity) in Victoria. Both have survived to this day, although the the IOOF has transitioned into a specialist funds management business. Like many other friendly societies, the IOOF had initiation ceremonies, rituals for meetings, and regalia and jewels, which became increasingly elaborate as a member moved through the levels (degrees) of membership or attained offices. The IOOF was one of the few friendly societies that admitted female members – through the Rebekah degree….
St Paul’s Church of England with Shellharbour Jetty in the foreground 1900-1910 – image from Milton East. Search Shellharbour Library collection under the key word “jetty”.
You will recall that among the many jobs T D Whitfield worked on was the rebuilding of Shellharbour Jetty in 1909. Many a time I walked that jetty in the 40s through the 60s, but I don’t recall my grandfather’s connection being mentioned. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton) mentions him in 1909, even if they get his name wrong.
Amid all this activity came darker signs, and some of the tragedy that seemed to haunt this family. More was to come.