Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 47 — Judith

How cryptic is that?

Yesterday I posted this on Facebook, initially for my niece Christine who has been in hospital for a VERY long time:

I had never seen this particular clip before, though millions have! The sound is really good

Response was strong — my friends and relations love it! Kanani Fong responded from the USA with another video, saying “That voice! Those harmonies! So solid.”

Yes, The Seekers and their female lead, Judith Durham — Judith — my twin, almost (3 July 1943 — me less than a week later!) Except she has aged better and, need it be said, is much more talented!

Judith today.

This I did not know:

In May 2013, during The Seekers’ Golden Jubilee tour, Durham suffered a stroke which diminished her ability to read and write—both visual language and musical scores. During her convalescence she made progress to rebuild those skills. Her singing ability was not affected by the stroke.

Judith Durham sits down with Craig Bennett and opens up about the success of ‘The Seekers’, her insecurities and overcoming adversity. 2018

Who can forget this, having heard it once? YouTube credits it with over 17 million views.

In recent years one of her projects has been a version of the Australian National Anthem to avoid the colonialist memories and attitudes embedded in the version we use. The Morrison government recently took a small step in this space by changing “for we are YOUNG and free” (after 60,000+ years of continuous culrures?) to “for we are ONE and free.” I don’t think anyone seriously objects to that change, but Judith’s version goes much further. I like it.


Note the participation there of noted First Australians Kutcha Edwards, a survivor of the Stolen Generation, as is opera singer Deborah Cheetham, also in the video. The two choirs are the Aboriginal Children’s Choir and Australian Children’s Choir.

Kutcha Edwards released this moving version in 2017:

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 35 — so much good reading!

First let me mention something that happened yesterday morning.

So there was an insistent knock on the door just now, which I eventually heard through my headphones! Not Coles — they delivered my supplies a couple of hours ago.

— Facebook post

Turned out to be Australia Post. And inside, a Wollongong Library book I had reserved some weeks ago!

I am looking forward to that one. The author is a Yuin man from the South Coast of NSW. The book has been much praised.

Also from Wollongong Library is Robert Dessaix, The Time of Our Lives (Brio 2020).

We are pretty much of an age — and in fact I met him at the ABC around 1985. Used to listen to him on Radio National as well. I am still reading it — but although he is far more cultured than I am and far more clever, I can relate to so many attitudes and riffs in it… This review seems to capture it well. The themes are aging and death — or rather, dying.

Much of this book reflects Dessaix’s musings on this as he discusses it with various ageing friends living in different countries around the world and sees how they live their lives. When Sarah meets him for breakfast at their Indonesian hotel, she tells him:

 ‘You can try and look young forever … like Jane Fonda and whatshername from … you know …’

‘Joanna Lumley.’

‘It’s the names that go first, isn’t it. Nouns come next, apparently. Yes, her. You can try to die young as late as possible, in other words…’

‘Did you just make that up?’

‘No. Or you can do what you’ve done.’

Dessaix, according to Sarah, has failed to grow up in the first place. This sets him puzzling over a more personal question. What does she mean? As always, his musing and puzzling take him all over the place and involve people alive and dead….

Then there are two examples of left-wing history of the best kind. Each informed me of much that I had not known before but also connected with much that I did know or had experienced, this first one especially:

Free as an eBook from ANU Press: Teacher for Justice by Heather Goodall, Helen Randerson and Devlena Ghosh, 2019.

‘Meet Lucy Woodcock, a complex, undaunted woman in a tough and changing world. From her role as a public school principal in Depression and wartime, to her union and feminist organising, to her transnational engagements for peace, this clear and thoughtful book brings to life forgotten forms of activism. It’s the gripping story of how Lucy navigated the minefields of gender, class, race and coloniality to change her world.’

Raewyn Connell, Professor Emerita, University of Sydney

‘Just over a century ago, the last of the pupil-teachers, Lucy Woodcock, co-founded the NSW Teachers Federation. So many of the principles and traditions that underpin our union today can be traced back to the lifelong work of Lucy Woodcock. She fought for the industrial rights of teachers deep in the knowledge of the broader social and economic context in which she lived and worked. Too often the role of working-class women whose influence is profound is ignored. This biography installs Lucy Woodcock into her rightful place as pivotal player in the history of twentieth-century Australia.’

Maurie Mulheron, President, NSW Teachers Federation

I wrote on Facebook:

Back in 1993 when I was doing a research project for Disadvantaged Schools on the teaching of reading in the Botany Cluster of the NSW Education Department, and then in the early 2000s at gatherings for ESL teachers I spent much time at Erskineville Public School, which was the local HQ for the Disadvantaged Schools Program — a federally-funded initiative that ran from the Whitlam years until killed off by John Howard. It then became a regular meeting place for inner city ESL teachers.

So for that reason alone I find this book — which I am currently reading from my eBook library on Calibre — fascinating. But more for the insight it gives into social issues, left politics, education, the Teachers Federation, and life in the 1920s through to the early 1950s in NSW. The book may be downloaded as an eBook or PDF FREE!

And if you caught the quote on education I posted a day or so back, this was its source: Lucy Woodcock, Erskineville Public School:

“We still, in practice retain an out-of-date conception of education as the mere imparting of knowledge. Our examination system is largely responsible for the maintenance of this conception … It is necessary to remind ourselves that the real value of education is not measured by the amount and variety of knowledge we can force into the minds of the young …

“The aim, I take it, is to train the mind to observe accurately, to think clearly, to discard prejudices, to weigh evidence, to make judgements on the weight of evidence … We should aim to create a living intellectual interest in minds … The curricula of the schools should be based on the conception of man as a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of a small State …

“Our schools may be said to have succeeded if we can arouse a deep and abiding interest in the search for knowledge in all who pass through their portals. Our pupils should not be a standardized product, when they leave us, knowing so much of this and that, but young people equipped with well-balanced minds; young citizens who will go further along the pathway of life unprejudiced and untrammelled in quest of knowledge and pursuit of it until life’s journey ends.”

Erdkineville 1939 — from Teacher for Justice.

Next let me note one of the best Australian Left or Radical histories I have ever read.

While the author’s sympathies are clear, so is his generous humanity and ability to understand other viewpoints. He is scrupulous in his sourcing. His writing is mercifully free of stock attitudes and cliches.

So far as I know the work is only available as a PhD thesis from Wollongong University: Rowan Cahill, Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997)Journalist, Communist, Intellectual (2013). And there will be more on that in future! But do yourself a favour and download your own copy.

Rowan Cahill — historian and teacher. We have known one another in teaching circles since the 1970s.

Both Rowan Cahill and Heather Goodall et al almost apologise for employing a biographical approach, albeit in neither case pure biography. I can see why this is so, but for me as a reader I am glad they did! Far more interesting. And Rowan in particular writes so well!

Goodall et al:

Biography as method

This book has demonstrated for us the strengths of biographical method. Following one person’s life has allowed us to pull together the threads from diverse movements and see some of the interconnections between them. In Lucy’s life, this means her work with Jewish refugees in the 1930s and her work with Chinese Australians and students in the 1960s can be understood in terms of her commitments to economic justice, education, feminism and peace. This quality of intersecting movements has not been shown in studies of one movement or another, which characteristically focus on what differentiates movements rather than what draws the same person to more than one. Nor do movement studies shed light on those who do not seek the limelight for themselves. Those people who do the hard back-room work but do not tell their own story in some other way are also neglected. But following one person’s life allows an insight into how various movements overlapped and diverged, who was in all and who was in only one, how all were influenced by wider political currents.

And on Rowan Cahill

In the earlier drafts I failed to refer you to these posts from January this year: So Australia Day again — #2 and So Australia Day again — #3.

“Ah, Rowan! There is a great deal about you on that excellent blog from Berkelouw’s Book Barn in Berrima. For example:

(Geoff) I took the liberty of including some biographical information on Rowan, our associate beard…

Rowan is an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong.

He has a diversity of interests. Primarily he is interested in rebellion and resistance to the state, and in the apparatuses and methodologies deployed against these. In the area of academic/scholarly publishing he is interested in, and a supporter of, Open Access. With regard to Australian society and culture, he is variously interested in Australian militarism, labour history, and in the Cold War.

Rowan has published over 620 articles and reviews in some 108 professional, academic, literary, newspaper and online publications (see publications). With colleague Terry Irving he blogs at Radical Sydney/Radical History….

“And a lot more too…”

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 8 — tweak family history

You may recall that during NAIDOC Week I dealt with the question “Are you of Indigenous descent” by referring you to the story of my grandmother, Henrietta Whitfield (nee Bursill) 1874-1931.


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 Bennilong.

In the last week or two I had an email exchange with one Rowena Gough, who has for years been researching the Bursill family. A Google search had led her to my 2011 post Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection. She quite rightly called me out on my speculative history of the Bursill family, and I have added her correction verbatim to that post.

Update 18 July 2021

An email from Rowena Gough clarifies and corrects some of the material above, especially on the early connections of the Bursill family. It looks well-researched to me, so thanks, Rowena!

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.

Very interesting. We are still left with this birth certificate entry, however. And also — which coincides with what my mother and father told me — that c.1870 death date for Thomas Russell Bursill and the (agreed) 1874 birth date for my grandmother Henrietta was put this way: “Her alleged father died several years BEFORE her birth.”


See the additions at 13a — Whitfields 1880s-1930s. (I will add a reference there to these corrections.)

Thanks, Rowena! She added in a later email:

My notes for Henrietta Bursill:

The birth of Henrietta Bursill was registered in 1874, in Kiama District, mother Henrietta Bursill (NSW Birth Reg. No. 12644/1874). Her mother was one of the pioneers of Shellharbour area, who was a widow with dependants and managing a farm when her last child was born. Henrietta may have had an aboriginal father. According to family (from Charlie Bursill, an older brother of Henrietta) she “was born a long time after her father had died”. The birth registration confirms this. One Whitfield family tale tells that she was the illegitimate daughter of an aboriginal or part-aboriginal farm worker and a widow. Thomas R. Bursill had died by 1872, as the 1872 Greville’s Post Office Directory of Shell Harbour only lists a Mrs Bursill, as a farmer in Shell Harbour.

The marriage of Henrietta Bursell and Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield was registered in 1892, in Kiama District (NSW Marriage Reg. No. 4444/1892). They had six children between 1893 and 1912, in Picton, Albion Park and Kiama. Three of those children died in 1906 and 1915.

The death of Henrietta Whitfield, parents Thomas and Henrietta, was registered in 1931, in Kiama District (NSW Death Reg. No. 6705/1931).

I had posted in 13 – 1885 – Whitfields, Bursills an account of the funeral of Henrietta’s mother, also Henrietta.

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 that birth certificate extract carefully.

George Bursill, by the way, died in the middle of a cricket match at Dunmore near Shellharbour in 1913.

None of which reflects on my grandmother’s character, of course. She did have severe mental health issues in the latter part of her life, however, but given the horrendous losses she had experienced, and the times, little wonder.

On who her father was I further said to Rowena:

My parents of course actually knew Charlie Bursill! What he said about Henrietta to my mother’s father, Roy Christison (headmaster of Shellharbout School in 1935), was the real starting point of my story.

She replied:

Back Again Neil,

Yes, thinking about it. He 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 [senior] 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

I should have told Rowena more about the context of Charlie Bursill’s revelation. He was warning my grandfather Roy Christison against the proposed marriage of my mum and dad. I was told Grandpa Roy told him to take a flying leap into Lake Illawarra, or words to that effect. Proud of you, Grandpa!


Hi Rowena

“Touch of the tarbrush” were Charlie’s words, apparently. And yes, several convicts, most notably Jacob Whitfield, horse thief, life sentence, arrived 1822 on Isabella 1!

Thanks – and I have left the speculation on early Bursills up, but added your correction at the end of the post.

Neil W

Family history is kind of fun… In brief, Rowena’s information confirms the circumstantial details I had been told about my grandmother, excepting of course exactly who her father really was. But it does make my descent from the Dharawal or Yuin more probable.

And something just occurred to me — it is weird that it had not before! Charlie Bursill and my grandmother had the same mother (obviously) so he was my father’s uncle, and thus my great-uncle. Not some random dude…. Regardless of who my grandmother’s father was!

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 7 — share music

So many things out there! Where to begin?

Why not here in Australia with brilliant young musician Mitch Tambo? I have shared his work before, particularly during NAIDOC Week.

Mitch Tambo

A very different young musician, this time from the USA. Again, I have shared his work before: Josh Turner.

Carson McKee and Josh Turner

Then there is the wonderful series Playing for Change. The Bob Marley anthem which follows includes a very famous name — think Rolling Stones!

And you deserve a bonus:

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 6 — share the blessings

Don’t worry — this won’t be religious, exactly…

On FaceBook (yes, I find it a good place during lockdown) a friend I made at South Sydney Uniting Church back in the day posted about her grandchild’s birthday.

I’ve become a regular Sunday morning Zoom host for South Sydney Uniting Church , a task that teaches me humility as I have no, natural technical capacity. Each month we celebrate birthdays. Thank you so much Naomi Ward for including Billie in our July celebrations!

Julie Elizabeth McCrossin

Posted with this picture from the Church:

I of course noticed the bottom left-hand corner — and yes, that’s me! Naomi Ward, who does the birthdays, responded when I thanked her: “Absolutely we still see you as part of our church. I hope you had a good birthday.”

08feb 001b
In South Sydney Uniting Churcha while ago. I see Pat Corowa sitting under the middle window. The link leads to her portrait: salt-water Murroona and South Sea Islander, Patricia Corowa, a long time activist and a seminal figure in the Australian Black Pantherpan-African and pan-Pacific Islander movements of the  1960s and 1970s. The people one met in church!

For the past seven months my dear niece Christine Parkes has been in hospital, engaged in a major health battle. There isn’t much I can do about it, so each day on her Facebook I post a song for her. Occasionally two. A few days ago it was this wonderful discovery:

Billy Bragg’s latest.

Today it was a Wollongong memory — both of my return here in 2010 and Wollongong High in 1979-1980.

Something different today, Christine Parkes! Stewart Holt was the first of my ex-Wollongong High students I made contact with when I came back to Wollongong in 2010. We met at City Diggers, several times in the first few years. Through him I went to the Class of 1983’s 30th Reunion at Collegians. A great night. He is a criminal lawyer and proud dad these days, with a wife who is a teacher. Something of a singer-songwriter as well, and not half bad. And as you can see a FB friend.

With Stewart Holt at the 30th Reunion of Wollongong High’s Class of 1983

In fact this, which is both serious and funny, was the second one I shared with Christine today. It is very clever, very funny, and a calculated anticlimax stretching the wordplay in the final verse:

I noted on that one:

I encouraged Stewart to write when I was his Year 9 (3rd Year) English teacher at Wollongong High. He had a way with words even then. The following is from “The Gleam” 1980, the WHS magazine. I later also published it in the first Neos: Young Writers magazine in 1981, after I had moved to Glebe. When we talked at Diggers Stewart told me how thrilled he had been to have his poem recognised.