Sans Souci, Aunt Beth, First Australians, Sydney High…

What a strange procession of history and memory Facebook took me on yesterday.

I will begin in Sans Souci — a suburb by Botany Bay — where my family often went in the 1950s through to the 70s, as my mother’s sister Beth [Christison] had married a fellow teacher at Mortdale Public School, Bob Heard — originally from Stirling in Scotland — and they lived in Fontainebleau Street Sans Souci. In 1954 Bob and Beth were blessed with twin sons, Robert and James.

Uncle Bob, Robert, Aunt Beth, James. Colourised.

Later — in the 60s? — Aunt Beth returned to teaching and was Infants Head at Sans Souci Public School. And that’s where the First Australians come in — not that I knew anything about that aspect of the school or Sans Souci’s history at that time. I am not even sure how much Bob and Beth knew.

Yesterday the Facebook group “I Grew Up in Mortdale” posted this photo:

There was this explanation:

SANS SOUCI (Kogarah Bay) – 1904

Ellesmere Camp, near Endeavour Street reserve, on the eastern shore of Kogarah Bay, Sans Souci, was home to a number of Aboriginal fishing people in the 19th century, some of whom were living there until the mid-1880s. An article in the St George Call on 14 May 1904 included a photograph of ‘The Last of the Dolls Point Aborigines’. Among those shown in the photograph were Biddy Giles and Jimmy Lowndes, whose recollections were key sources for the 2009 publication, Rivers and Resilience, by Heather Goodall and Allison Cadzow. Their camp was not far from the ‘Ellesmere Estate’, which later was home to Sir Joseph Carruthers (1856-1932), 16th Premier of New South Wales. Also living at Ellesmere Camp were the Malone and Fussill families. Aboriginal culture is a living and thriving culture, and whilst no longer physically located at this site, these families and their descendants have a continuing connection to this land.

I checked further, finding a video at The Blacks’ Camp at Ellesmere: Karen Maber. That in turn took me to Georges River Library Local Studies.

Karen Maber, a descendant of Johnny Malone, has explored her family’s connection to Ellesmere Camp:

I remember walking into the last day of the ‘Rivers and Resilience’ Georges River exhibition in 2008 and seeing for the first time a photograph of my Ancestor, Johnny Malone (c. 1875) and saying “that’s my family there.”  I left a comment and over the next few months exchanged stories about my family and their life in and around the Georges River with co-author, Allison Cadzow. I found out that during the 1800s my mother’s Grandmother, Eliza Malone, was living with her family at Ellesmere Aboriginal Camp on the shore of Kogarah Bay. My siblings and I were born and raised just streets away from Ellesmere Estate, where my family still resides. I learnt that my Great Great Grandmother, Agnes Malone, in 1883, included the names of her children to a successful petition for the Government to establish a school just a block away from Ellesmere Camp.  Other Aboriginal families such as Anna Lowndes and Teresa Fussill did the same.  Coincidently, I, along with my sister and brother, all attended Sans Souci Public School during 1960-1975. For me, Sans Souci Public School was always a special place despite being an unassuming little school. I particularly enjoyed the wide-open spaces as did my Ancestors who, like me, were open to learning new ways but not willing to abandon our own knowledge systems.  This may have frustrated teachers back in 1880s who complained to government authorities that my Ancestors wandered off at play hour ‘looking for five corners and gathering bush flowers’.”

So it is possible Aunt Beth knew Karen Maber or her family. What she knew I cannot say.

The reason this led to Sydney Boys High is memory of a sad event in January 2006. 2005 was my last year actually working at the school. I posted in my then blog:

15 JAN 2006coincidentally, the anniversary of my own sister’s death in 1952.

Not the sort of thing I would have ever wanted to blog: a tribute to an ex-student who died suddenly on Saturday. He was one of my debating team in Years 7-8 in 2000 to 2001 and did the HSC in 2005. So young.

He had been a student at Sans Souci Public School.

On 2 February I linked to the funeral notice in The Sydney Morning Herald, saying: “My thoughts are with his family right now, and with his many friends, especially those who were with him that day. I spoke to Betsy Berger, who had been Mitchell’s Year Adviser, about this yesterday.”

In February 2006 I posted:

There are still people coming here looking for information about the Sydney High student Mitchell Seow who died suddenly on 14 January 2006: see my January 2006 archive. Mitchell was in the debating team I supervised in Years 7 and 8. High Notes has reprinted a lovely article that appeared a short while ago, though not online, in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A Lost Life Celebrated at Premier’s Ceremony

Awards News Wrap IT WAS a bittersweet day for Jenny and James Seow as they sat among other proud parents at yesterday’s awards ceremony.

One by one, 800-odd beaming students filed past the Premier, Morris Iemma, each clutching a trophy bearing witness to years of hard slog and dedication.

The Premier’s awards for all-round excellence in the Higher School Certificate recognise students who achieve a mark of 90 or above in 10 or more units.

With a mark of 99.6, 18-year-old Mitchell Seow was one of the best and brightest. But he never made it to yesterday’s ceremony. On January 14, he collapsed and died at a friend’s birthday party.

Collecting the award in his place was his best mate and fellow Sydney Boys High student, Bryan Wrench. At his side were Mr and Mrs Seow and Mitchell’s elder brother, Nick.

“He was my best friend,” said Nick. “I just feel very empty without him. I’d thought we’d make it through life together, do things brothers are meant to do … watch out for each other.”

Just what caused a healthy, athletic teenager to collapse and stop breathing remains a mystery. The Seow family is awaiting the coroner’s findings after an autopsy failed to reveal the cause of death.

But Nick believes had his brother survived, he would have ended up the chief executive of a major corporation. He was fascinated by business and had a University of NSW scholarship to study finance waiting for him.

The Seow family wants Mr Wrench to keep Mitchell’s award, as a token of the close friendship the boys shared since entering Sydney Boys High in Year 7.

Mr Wrench said Mitchell would be remembered as a consummate all-rounder; a keen rower, soccer player, debater and prefect.

At his funeral last month, attended by the whole of Year 12, the rowing team formed the guard of honour. Mrs Seow said: “He was just a happy kid who loved clowning around and going out with his friends. We are very proud of him.”

I certainly recall his big smile. A prize in his memory has been instituted at the school.

The following are taken from a Sydney High publication, High Flyer Vol.2 No.1 2007.

That is not quite all, as I had noted a little while back that in the case of South Sydney Rugby League player Sam Burgess his lawyer was Bryan Wrench. The Daily Mail reports:

‘I live for both of us’: The tragedy that changed young lawyer-to-the-stars Bryan Wrench’s life forever and drives him more than money or fame – as he steps up to defend Sam Burgess against shocking domestic abuse allegations

… Mr Wrench was just two months out of school at the elite Sydney Boys High when his best mate Mitchell Seow died suddenly.

When Mr Seow won a premier’s award for his 99.6 score in the HSC a month later, Mr Wrench was asked by his mate’s parents to not only accept the trophy – but keep it.

‘I keep that with me and I was honoured to take that award he should have received,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘I still carry that with me now, but it’s not just about the trophy.

‘He was quite an ambitious guy, we both were at the time, and you knew we both had futures and when he passed away so unexpectedly I sort of had to live the one future for both of us.

‘That’s what drives me quite a lot, just how precious life is and that opportunities don’t come twice.’

I remember both of them. In the Sydney High Yearbook, The Record, for 2006 there are many tributes. This is part of what Bryan Wrench had to say:

We’re here to mourn the tragic loss of Mitchell Seow, not only my best mate, but a good mate to all the people he knew. Mitchell was the hardest working person I knew when it came to academia. To get 99.65 in your UAI doesn’t come easily, especially when juggling GPS sport, Prefect duties and School duties which he did remarkably well. It was his tenacity to succeed and to accept nothing but the best that made him perform so well in school.

However this trait is not why he was so well liked and what made him such a great guy. I suppose the quality that I really admired about him and what made him so well liked, was his good nature. He always tried to do well among other people, such as not ditching people or talking too much gossip. He always tried to do what was right. But this was easier said than done. The important thing though was that he tried to do the good thing! And for the most part, he was successful, which earned the respect of many peers as seen here today. He was also a great sportsman because of his will to never give in.

All in all, Mitchell was one the best blokes and mates ever to have. He had dreams to become a ten million dollar businessman, owning mansions across the world. However, life has unexpected turns. Even though he didn’t live his dreams, he left us on the top of his game, well loved within the school, a high UAI, a well respected Prefect and a friend to all. I loved him like a brother and will always…

One last Sans Souci connection was Cronulla High colleague Paul Herlinger, sadly no longer with us, who lived in Alice Street Sans Souci. I was a frequent visitor, particularly in the 1970s.