One hundred and ten years ago today — my mother

Here is Spencer, on the Hawkesbury River in NSW, in the early 20th century. In those days it was only accessible by boat. My mother’s mother, Ada, and father, Roy Hampton Christison, were living here in 1911, along with the first-born son, Eric.

My grandfather was the schoolmaster. My mother many years later wrote her account of the place.

Dad [Roy Christison Snr] completed his training at the age of 20 and his first school was then a very small place called Spencer on the Hawkesbury River. It was eleven miles down or up river from Brooklyn Railway Station. In those days it was only accessible by water so Dad was met at the station and rowed by the mother of a fisherman to his place of work.

He was perhaps one of the luckier ones because he had his mother who at a very young age had been left to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up her family alone. To do this she took in boarders and she herself, a very refined lady, went out to work starting at 3 am to scrub and clean office buildings in the city. With two of her children married and the youngest daughter able to stay with her married sister, Gran was left free to go with Dad to become his Housekeeper. He felt he owed her his help and care now he was in a position to give it to her. I think his wage was about nine pounds a month.

He was able to rent a sort of cottage — slab built — which had belonged to a fisherman or an orange orchardist who had found life just too hard. In front of the house was a bush track which led to the school building — also slab built; and here a very dedicated and ambitious young man started his career as a teacher.

The school had an enrolment of about 22; the knack with small school teaching was to divide it into sections: 1st & 2nd Class; 3rd & 4th Class; 5th & 6th Class. Preparation work was very much the order of the day. One composite class had only oral work while the others were given History, Geography, Reading, Maths or English which “Sir” had already given details of on the blackboard, times and classes being clearly indicated. Tables charts, charts for grammar, charts for important dates in history with emphasis on Australian History, maps of the various states of Australia and of the World, with occupations carried out in different countries both here and overseas, were all in places where the pupils could learn of the world at large besides being taught the Three R’s.

Most of the pupils at Spencer came from the families of orange orchardists or fishermen. I think 10 of the 22 pupils were from one family. Some of them were rowed across the river and some walked along rough bush tracks.

At the age of 22 Dad married a lass from Sydney [Ada Hunter] who had been to “Ladies College” and had no notion of life in the bush. Gran, after helping the bride to settle, returned to Sydney and made a home with her younger daughter.  Mother was a dainty little soul, brown-eyed and dark haired, with an hourglass figure. She was a delight to the older girls, to whom she taught sewing — that was part of the contract, that the teacher’s wife taught sewing. Looking back, I do not know how Mother adjusted to the rather primitive conditions. Her only shopping was done from the Trading Boat — a paddle-wheel steamer that came down from Wiseman’s Ferry once a month. Dad had bought a rowing boat and became quite an accomplished oarsman.

About this time my father sent his first he thought ready for a State Bursary and the honour of the first state bursary ever won by a small schools pupil went to this lad [Austin Woodbury 1899-1979] who later became one of the heads of the Marists in this country. When he died this year — 1979 — at Toongabbie NSW there was quite a bit about Dr Woodbury in the papers. Following Austin, State Bursaries came the way of several other pupils, two of these brothers and sons of fishermen who after an education at St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill and Sydney University became doctors. One had a distinguished career in Queensland and the other became a Macquarie Street specialist. Some of the girls became nuns and rose to Mother Superior in the different orders of the Roman Catholic Church. My father was the son of a Scotsman and a Presbyterian, so religion had no bias in those days. [For my grandfather at any rate, who was really an agnostic, if a conservative one.]

Life meantime had brought to my father and mother a son [Eric]. Mum was sent to Sydney in the company of Gran — Dad’s mother — and what a tower of strength she was then and in the years following. My brother was born at my other Gran’s home in Dulwich Hill and when Mum was well enough she returned to her duties as wife and now mother. Later she was to repeat the journey and I arrived in the world [1911] — again born at my Grandmother’s home, only I arrived the night Mum arrived in Sydney and caused complications which nearly cost my mother her life.

The Dulwich Hill family — where my mother was born. This is during WW1. Eric is the boy with the boat; on his left with crossed legs is my mother. The baby may be my Aunt Beth.

Dad meantime had become part of the community — playing Cricket with a local team which consisted of quite a few school boys; conducting a funeral service on a very wet day when the priest could not make the trip to say the last rites by the graveside. He had also become known as an expert with the mouth organ and the old squeeze box accordion and was much in demand to supply music for the local dances.

He always remembered his seven years and seven months at Spencer where he had toiled long and hard, but he felt he had done some of his best work for those pupils.

jeanletter
A letter my mother wrote from Braefield where they lived 1916-1923.
neilgrad
At my graduation, Sydney University 1965

My mother passed away at Annandale in March 1996.