November 25th is a day of some family significance

Information expanded 3 hours after first posting.

On that day in 1911 in the Shellharbour/Kiama area this woman had a child, not her first.

That child was my father. Her name, before marriage, was Henrietta Bursill. She passed away in 1931. There had been many dark events in her life, including this.

As I explained in an earlier post my grandfather and grandmother had already lost two other sons, Aubrey (1893-1906) and Thomas W (1906-1906). Another son, Kenneth Ross Whitfield, served on the Western Front from 1917 and survived. I remember Uncle Ken fondly. And so my father, Jeffrey Noel Whitfield, was born 25th November 1911, passing away in December 1989.

My Dad and mother told me about his mother. It appears her birth had been a touch irregular.

That Henrietta’s mother was also Henrietta, as I note in this 2013 post. Yet an obituary for Henrietta Senior dated 1921 – reproduced in that post – states that she was survived by two sons (including Charles) and ONE daughter “Elizabeth, Mrs. Whitfield.”  That of course should be “Henrietta”.  There is another obituary for Henrietta Senior in the Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal 6 July 1921.

On 28th June, 1921, at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Thos. Whitfield,of Shellharbour, one of our best beloved and most highly esteemed residents passed quietly away to her rest in her 85th year. Mrs. Bursill was born at Bradfeld, England, in 1837, and at the age of 18 years took passage for Australia by the sailing ship “Asiatic,” and after sailing 97 days, entered Sydney Heads, 24th May, 1855. When 21 years of age she married Thomas Bursill, and they came to Illawarra in search of a new home. They settled on a small farm near Shellharbour over 62 years ago. Mr. Bursill passed away many years ago, leaving his partner the care of five children, three sons and two daughters. The two elder sons, Mr.E. Bursill, builder, of Robertson, and Mr. Chas. Bursill, builder, of Shellharbour, and are both highly esteemed and respected residents of both districts, the third son, George, passed away, from heart failure.It is safe to say we have never had  a resident more universally beloved and esteemed than was Mrs. Bursill,always bright and cheerful, and ready to help, going about doing good. The district is better for the lives and examples of such as she, and very much poorer for their loss.The Rev. Gallop, of Jamberoo, con-ducted the funeral service, at Shellharbour cemetery on 29th June, and spoke of the good she had done and of her kind way of doing, of a long life of usefulness, then entering into rest.

You may have noticed that the “two daughters” left when Thomas B died could not have included my grandmother Henrietta Jr. Do the Maths and study this birth certificate extract carefully.

The page on the Bursill family at the Shellharbour Museum glosses over some things but is still informative.

Thomas and Henrietta’s daughter, also named Henrietta, married Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, another well-known builder in the area. Thomas worked on occasion with his brother-in-law Charles Bursill. Thomas and Henrietta suffered much tragedy in their life, losing three children. Their eldest son, Aubrey died in 1906, the result of blood poisoning from lock jaw, the result of a kick from a pony. Just one week earlier, they had lost their infant son, Thomas. Nine years later in 1915, their son Colin was fatally shot while on a visit to Albion Park; he was 14 years old.

Question: Am I of Aboriginal descent?

Answer: Possibly, even probably. And no, I have not had a DNA test. But the story is in a way simple. I have (as you do) eight great-grandparents. I can account for all but one of them. In the case of my grandmother’s parentage — and a fine woman but troubled she was by all accounts — the father is unknown. That is, my father’s mother’s father.

The story — which I heard from my father and mother themselves — is that this grandmother was the daughter of an Aboriginal man, probably Dharawal (or maybe Yuin). We know nothing much about him.

But it is enough to make me look at Merrigong from my window with different eyes. The story was enough for Aboriginal actress Kristina Nehm, knowing the story, to always introduce me to Aboriginal people thus: “This is Neil. He is family.”

This is apart from the story of my brother’s wife, who is a descendant of the family of Bungaree.

Email info July 2021 from Rowena Gough

: Hi Neil,

Doing a google search on Bursill trees I’ve come across your website. I think that I can provide you with clearer family tree information for Henrietta Bursill (1874-1931). She was the youngest child of Thomas Russell Bursill (1832-c.1870) and Henrietta Woodley (1837-1921), and named after her mother. Father Thos Edw was bapt. 1832 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng, married Henrietta 7 June 1858 in redfern, Sydney, and died c.1870 at Shellharbour, NSW. Mother Henrietta Woodley cme from a farming family, born 1837 Englefield, Berkshire and died 28 June 1921 Shellharbour, NSW. Your Henrietta had 4 siblings. My great grandfather Edward Bursill was the younger brother of Edward Russell Bursill and he emig to the Maryborough area of Victoria. The parents of Thomas and Edward were Thomas Bursill (1808-1846 and Elizabeth Russell (1812-1888). I’ve spent anout 25 yrs on the family history and am quite sure that this is your family line. The William Busill (convict) line is not as yet, connected to our family, and were from London. Our line is from Cambridge, and Yorkshire. So at the moment the story on you blog re family tree probably needs to be reviewed.


Back Again Neil,

Yes, thinking about it. He [Charlie Bursill, Henrietta Whitfield’s uncle] would have known as an older brother what was happening in his household. Father dead, and mother carrying a baby and then a new little one in the house. They live on a farm with livestock, so would have known what was going on.  And of course, the shame of an illegitimate child in those times, and the gossip of local people. Charlie might have had to keep quiet for a long time and then later in life, just needed to release the pressure, so talked to family members. Anyway, it’s Henrietta [Bursill] I admire, and she seemed to have been held in some esteem in the area after a long and hard-working life.

So just to confirm, there is no connection with the convict William Bursill from London. But quite possibly, if you go digging back on all lines in your tree, there’ll be someone in there.

Cheers, Rowena

Charles Bursill prior to my parents’ marriage in 1935 had warned Roy Hampton Chrisrison, my maternal grandfather, that through Henrietta my father had “a touch of the tarbrush”. Grandpa Christison replied, I am told, along the lines of Charlie taking a leap into Lake Illawarra!

So here I am today writing this on Dharawal Country, gazing every day at mountains of enormous cultural significance.

I spent the years of my life from 1943, when I was born, through to 1970 when I first came to live in Wollongong also in Dharawal (or Tharawal) Country, the northern part where the Gweagal could be found; around Wollongong you have the Wodi Wodi. The stories there cross over into those we once wrongly regarded as the beginnings of Australian history, at least on the East Coast.

See this video on Facebook — sadly unable to embed, but here is a screen shot showing a rock shelter in the Sutherland Shire.

And I hasten to add that I am not at all a fan of “cancel culture” or anything like it. I am a fan of acknowledging all our national story.

I have posted several times on this theme, most often when such predictable sources as the Sydney Daily Telegraph or Quadrant or some twit of a pundit on Sky News is beating up a story about Captain Cook, or getting stuck into Dark Emu on the grounds its author is not really Aboriginal.

Twits on Sky News have been at it again in the past few days, getting their knickers in a twist over Adam Goodes’s children’s book — which does not pretend to be a systematic history text. The lesson in it, however, is essentially true. This place was peopled before Europeans came.

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham says a primary school play is attempting to “demonise” Captain Cook by falsely showing he was there when the First Fleet came to Australia.

Mr Latham said the play, which is based on a book by former AFL player Adam Goodes, is “complete fiction” and teachers at the school should be sacked.

“There’s one supreme responsibility for teachers in the New South Wales education system and that is to teach facts,” he told Sky News host Paul Murray.

“Teach knowledge and facts rather than political indoctrination.”

Now that Murray and Latham are busily stirring up boring old memes and “controversies” again — this time doing a bit of Goodes-bashing and pursuing woke leftie schoolies yet again, I, while tired of the stupidity involved and having begun my personal journey of recovery around 1988, am moved to share this 2020 blog post which in turn delves back to 1988 and 1788,… And to reflect on my own family story in this post.

I also am able to honour James Cook as the great navigator he was. I do chew gum and walk at the same time as well.

Sutherland and my brother in my dreams last night. He had a steak sandwich.

I do get vivid dreams at times — and yes, I dream in colour. Good sound too. Usually I don’t recall my dreams. Unless they happen just before I wake up, as was the case this morning.

My brother Ian, 3/10/1935 – 5/4/2017

The dream took place in Sutherland where we both grew up, but as with dreams had little respect for actual time, as it was partly in the present. For some reason we were shopping in Sutherland and the question of lunch arose. I proposed going to the Leagues Club (that’s in Wollongong and is one of five Collegians clubs around The Gong these days) — for a steak sandwich. The Leagues Club steak sandwiches are very good. In fact when Colin returned to Diggers after lunch on Friday he mentioned having a steak sandwich at Collies. Thus:

We eventually went to an eatery — my brother and I in the dream — in Sutherland but for some reason there was a salad shortage as it came with lettuce only. Weird detail, but this is a dream after all.

And I think what was somewhere in this mix was May 2014, when I actually did visit Sutherland — for our Uncle Neil’s funeral, and I had lunch at the Sutherland United Services Club. See Sutherland revisited — 1 and the following one below. My brother was not there that day, but I did ring him in Tasmania to tell him where I was.

So I had lunch at the Sutherland United Services Club in East Parade, pretty much just around the corner from Vermont Street where I lived 1952 – 1955 and again around 1963-64. Oddly, this was the first time I had been inside the club, though my brother Ian, born 1935 and now living in Tasmania, recently told me he used to drink there at one time with the late Reg Gasnier (1939-2014) of Rugby League fame. (I have been trying to work out when exactly this was…*)…

* Ian rang me while I was writing this post so I now have some idea – and a few other names well known in Rugby League in the 50s and early 60s were also mentioned.


I made a point of ringing my brother to tell him where I was – his heart was very much with yesterday’s real mission. And of course I rested and read a while, and had a red wine – a concept my Uncle Neil would surely have endorsed, if not the particular wine which was a touch ordinary…


So there you have it. I will leave analysis of all that to you. But I suggest age and memento mori are involved….

Conversations at Diggers on 11/11/22 — memories

Leo Tobin

As I said in the previous post, a fellow chalkie — older than I.

March was the last time I had seen him: Oh my! We are not all dead after all… That coincided with my renewing acquaintance via Facebook with a colleague from the 70s, Rosemary who read that post.

Rosemary responded with memories of Leo going back to the late 60s.

Leo Tobin and I had talked (among other things) about Misha Zelinsky, Leo saying he thought he had gone to Bulli High. No, Smiths Hill High (an academically selective school) after having been captain of St Joseph’s Primary, Bulli.

As at November 2022 Misha is back in Ukraine. His Twitter posts have been a great source which I share on Facebook.

Misha Zelinsky @mishazelinsky

Kherson 🍉.

To those who bravely resisted occupying Russians.

To those who fought valiantly to take her back.

To those who gave their lives for the cause.

To those who never gave up despite impossible odds.

You are the heroes of humanity.

Slava Ukraini.

9:43 AM · Nov 12, 2022

·Twitter for iPhone

But on Friday the conversation with Leo was about his National Service in the RAN in the 1960s, about which I had been unaware. Leo spoke of this Rugby League “Immortal”, Bob Fulton, originally from Wollongong.

It concerned Fulton’s service on HMAS Sydney during the Vietnam War, about which journalist Roy Masters wrote in 2016:

Bob Fulton’s mind was focused on two events over an emotional 18-hour period midweek.

The first was Wednesday night’s tense State of Origin game in his role as adviser to NSW coach, Laurie Daley.

The second was Thursday’s heartfelt homecoming of 33 Australian service personnel, including 22 Vietnam War veterans, who had been interred overseas principally because their families could not afford the £600 the then federal government demanded for their burial in Australia.

Fulton spent two years of the Vietnam War as an Australian Army conscript, deployed mainly as a PE instructor travelling on the aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney, transporting troops to the combat zone.

Leo’s story also involved the late Robin Askin, colourful NSW Premier at that time — but it was then that Leo and other “Nashos” in the Club went down to the War Memorial in MacCabe Park. So I never got the details on that…

Fulton has afforded a State Funeral in 2021.

An article on the NRL site tells of his passing:

One of the original four ImmortalsBob Fulton has died, at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.

The legendary Manly, NSW and Australian representative is survived by wife Anne, sons Scott, Brett and daughter Kristie…

“He was surrounded by Anne and his children and dear friend Royce Ayliffe when he went.

“He was first diagnosed some time ago and obviously those close to him knew of it and myself and Peter Peters were advised by Bob at the time. Some time during that later part of last year he was given weeks to live….”

I had a kind of connection since coming back to The Gong, as my friend Terry the Wharfie (RIP) had been a lifelong friend of another of the Immortals, Grahame Langlands, also from Wollongong. Through Terry I met Royce Ayliffe.


Adam at Diggers 2017

We talked in part about that pic of me in 1973 in Wollongong which I found some time ago on Facebook:

Being Remembrance Day, Adam kindly indulged me in my wartime reminiscences. Such as the time the pilot waved to me.

At the bottom of the backyard was a line of gum trees, a paling fence with allegedly poisonous gourds growing on it, and in front of that the chook yard. The story goes, as I can’t remember this, that my grandmother (whose nerves were not good as she had two sons and one son-in-law away in the War) was coming back one day from feeding the chooks when an American in a Kittyhawk or a Mustang appeared at treetop level and chased her up the yard. Convinced it was a Zero and she was about to die, my grandmother dropped everything, screamed, and ran for the house.

I do remember sitting on my dinkie on the gravel drive, near the Dorothy Perkins climbing rose which I called Mrs Perkins and confused with the lady next door who I thought was also Mrs Perkins. A yellow biplane flew over very low and the pilot leaned out and waved to me. My mother later told me that must have been the end of World War II.

Yesterday morning the memory feature on Facebook brought up this photo.

And this commentary from two years ago:

I am in several “nostalgia” groups. And I love them and contribute in a carefully non-partisan way. They are for me about sharing our common humanity and remembering temps perdu.

I am a sucker for all that. At 77, what can you expect?

But nostalgia is also a dangerous thing. The good old days were very often far from good. Nostalgia can so easily lead to Pauline Hanson and even greater horrors. Hitler, for example, worked on a confected version of “good old days” in a mythic Teutonic past, before untermenschen corrupted the joint. Not saying, but I do hear vibes at times that worry me, even on the groups I am particularly fond of.

I was, as I pointed out to a younger relative, born into a world where lynching still happened, where Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin flourished, where Dachau and Belsen were in full swing, where cities were utterly destroyed by firebombing and even nukes.

Good old days? Not always. In fact in more ways than we often think life has improved, attitudes have improved, so many people really are more enlightened. Yes, not everywhere, I agree.

But do I really want to go back? No way!

And this week on the blog and here I have been celebrating NAIDOC Week 2020 — and for all the problems you might point to, that is light years ahead of the world I was born into.

That’s me front left. My Uncle in the back row is in RAAF uniform. It is before the end of the war. When my mother, between me and my uncle, heard about Hiroshima and Nagasaki (she told me years later) she went into the backyard and vomited. The good old days?

Selections from October 2007 — 15 years — 1

Curious that I have two lots of blog posts for October 2007 — three if you include my English/ESL blog. One, Floating Life, soon after became my main blog. I think the October 07 entries there were originally on Blogspot. The other, Floating Life 4/06 – 11/07, had been the main WordPress blog — the first here in fact, being terminated in November 2007. So I hoovered the Blogspot stuff into the new Floating Life blog in November I guess. And there it sits. I will sample that one today. Its theme for the month was teaching. The link in Thomas’s entry below confirms these posts were origiinally on Blogspot.

The entries below are from this archive….

My own grandfather was an inspiring teacher

01 OCT

He certainly was to me when I was his class of one, whether it was explaining something about Nature in the garden, or inspiring me to read Dickens, or telling me of his own past, or telling me about just about any place I pointed to in the atlas…

But let his daughter, my mother, explain:

It was quite a challenging task to teach forty children in one room over six classes with ages ranging from 5 to 15. A deal of thought, of preparation, and great organising ability, were needed to keep each section actually engaged in quieter activities. Much has been said for and against the standard in these small schools, but I feel that given an earnest and sincere teacher the pupils gained much more than they lost, and the students of this particular school proved in the years to come that they could take their place in any field of commerce, profession, or industry, without apologising for their humbler beginnings. [NOTE: one such student was Sinclair Hill, famous for his Polo connection with the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles, among others. The story goes that his parents kept him at Braefield, rather then sending him to a private school for his early learning, because they so respected my grandfather as a teacher.]

In this building the younger children were taught to read, to write, to spell, to add, subtract, multiply, and all that is learned in any Kindergarten or Infants section of a modern school. To the older children in the upper classes the concept had to be more attractive and more challenging; their interest had to be aroused.

The worlds of History, Geography, and our spoken language, English, were wells of untapped splendour waiting to be opened. To these bush children it was a fascinating exerience to learn, and they were avid for knowledge. A lover of poetry himself, my father instilled in his pupils enough of the splendour of the written word to make them long to find more for themselves, which is so very necessary. He introduced them to Shakespeare, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Burns, the Brownings, Coleridge, Longfellow, Scott, Stevenson, Dickens… As for Australian poetry, it seemed to find an echo in the very hearts of the bush children, as Lawson, Kendall, Paterson, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Dorothea Mackellar, George Essex Evans, Bernard O’Dowd, and anyone else who had found a place in the Treasury of Australian Verse, wrote of things and places the children knew. Such was our heritage, to store in our minds for all times.

Not a bad role model.

Recycle 2

04 OCT

This one comes from August 18, 2005.

When I mentioned a day or two back that the Dip Ed course and the first few years of teaching could be somewhat transformative I remembered a funny story from my couple of years as a lecturer in Sydney University’s Dip Ed. I won’t mention names, as the person concerned turned out to be a really good English teacher who has had a very good career.

But back in 1978 “James” was in front of an English Class (Year 9 or 10) at Kogarah High School, rather heavily Lebanese. This really was new territory for a young guy who had so far inhabited the role of an English Honours student, and came from a solidly Anglo background. He was using sarcasm and/or irony as a control device, and there are times for that, but in this case I, sitting up the back in such a lesson, wrote the rather informal comment: “One day someone is going to call you a prick.” About five minutes later a student screamed out “You prick”, after which, fortunately, the bell went.

The student teacher and I went to a pub in Kogarah and discussed the situation.

As I said, he went on to do really well.

Perhaps watching Summer Heights High made me think of that again.

LOL! Pedagogical and theological disaster zone…

07 OCT

This is from a show seen in Scotland. I hope someone at the ABC or SBS takes note.

A welcome allusion…

08 OCT

Someone who has been at the classroom end of the teacher-student relation much more recently than I have is Thomas of Deus Lo Vult. His most recent entry begins in part from this blog. While not all that many people have been here yet, I have been very happy about some of the feedback I have been getting. Perhaps a positive non-ranting blog is not such a bad idea after all.

Thomas writes:

The past few weeks have been very teacher-dominated. I’ve had to survey people about the teaching profession, speak to people about motivations for teaching, done an assignment which was me reflecting on myself as a possible teacher and where I am headed, and had to think about where I’d consider applying for practical next year. As well, Ninglun has started a new blog up (I’d name it, but it seems to have a frequency of changing names and layouts) where he talks about a number of teaching-related topics. He also has a poll up at the moment, asking “What matters most in a good teacher?”, which I answered in.

All of this culminated in what I would call a self-reflective day on Friday where I started to toy around with the question of who was my favourite teacher, and why…

I won’t steal his thunder though, but if I were the teachers he mentions I think I would be very happy.


09 OCT

Beth Lella

September 29, 2007

Peacefully at Kareena Private Hospital Caringbah, late of Sans Souci. Beloved wife of Robert (deceased). Much loved mother and mother-in-law of Robert, James and Jane. Adored “Dibby” of Max. Dear sister of Eric, Keith and Jean (all deceased), Neil and Fay, Roy and Kay. Loved and sadly missed by their families.

A dedicated Teacher and Headmistress of Milton, Mortdale, Sans Souci and Kogarah Infant Schools.

Aged 92 years

May she be remembered
for her dignity, grace,
laughter and love.

Beth’s family and friends are invited to attend her Funeral Service in the South Chapel, Woronora Crematorium, Linden Street, Sutherland on Monday (October 8, 2007) at 11am.

Unfortunately I only got this news this morning from my Uncle Roy. The notice had been in the Herald on October 3 — my brother’s birthday — but I missed it.

Colourised. 1973 I think — Sans Souci — Christmas Back row l-r: James Heard, Robert Heard, my father Jeff Whitfield, Jean Whitfield, Fay Christison, Neil Christison. Front row: Janine Christison, Aunt Beth, Lloyd Christison.

See my 2021 post Thinking of Aunt Beth on Australia Day.

The Governor-General officially proclaims Charles III the King of Australia + my 9/11 video from 2011

Charles III — King of Australia

My Facebook rant

Yes of course The Crown — by which I mean the total institution and Empire — did great harm! As did every colonising European person or country from the Ancient Greeks and Romans on through the Vikings and the Portuguese and Spanish and French and Dutch and Belgians and Russians — who mostly did not need ships to build their empire — and so on.

I have studied these things for the past 60 years at least! I was introduced to K.M Panikkar, “Asia and Western Dominance: A Survey of the Vasco da Gama Epoch of Asian History” in 1962 and have a PDF copy on my laptop now! I have read Edward Said’s “Orientalism” long ago. I have gone down many a postcolonial track. I have learned and continue to learn the stories of dispossession here in my own country and elsewhere. I have even discovered anew that I am in fact a descendant of both the dispossessed and the dispossessors. As are so many Australians.

And my Irish background will seem to some to be a poisoned chalice — as it is quite clear my ancestors are Plantation….

So of course I can have all those thoughts and be commited to such things as support for the referendum that is coming our way.

But when people take the opportunity of the death of the Queen to beat certain drums so loudly I can’t help having the heretical thought — why are you still here? Why if you are that concerned have you not just packed up and gone back to wherever your blood-drenched families spawned your line? Why are you happily taking advantage of every asset and institution that our wicked ancestors brought and sustained here?

Yes, I know…. But put it this way. You can see here and on my blog my own takes on recent events and on the monarchy, some quite personal. And everyone is entitled to their own in turn.

So ends my rant.


It was so pleasing yesterday to get a “heart” emoji on that Faceboook rant from my grand-niece Mia Hampson (whom I have not actually met). Mia is from that part of my family who identify as descendants of Bungaree.

This happened in my life time as I noted yesterday, but radio was the only medium we had in Australia — apart from the papers and the cinema of course. I am sure the time over which all these events occurred would correspond to what is now happening.

February 6 1952, Yes I do remember it — particularly because just three weeks earlier my sister Jeanette had died, in quite a horrible way actually. Then the King’s death was on the wireless, where also there was blanket coverage*. To our family in Vermont Street Sutherland grief was compounded. I sense in memory that at 8 years old I too was cast down and in a class photo of the time perhaps that can be seen.

Me in back row. Also as you may see we did not know what a school uniform was in Sutherland in those days! That back row is (I think) Ross Mackay, Brian Smith, me, Laurie Napier.

By contrast the Coronation in 1953 and the Royal Visit of 1954 really brought me joy. I am not exaggerating. They seemed to make sense, to offer hope. That feeling for me has never totally faded and never will.

As we contemplate the passing of one era and the beginning of another — in British history at the very least, would we not be better off with these thoughts from a subtle-minded 17th century gentleman and cleric? Who uses 17th century language and pronouns — but if you let that interfere between you and its continuing validity then you really should think again….

Remembering 9/11

This is a video I made in 2011 here in my room in West Wollongong. Looking back I am pleased with it. It fits well with my thoughts above too.

* Not quite — see tomorrow’s post.