On my brother — some images reconsidered

See Ian Jeffrey Whitfield 3/10/1935 – 5/4/2017.  Last Friday on Facebook I posted a photo from c.1940 of Ian at 61 Auburn Street Sutherland, where I also lived 1943-1952. My niece Maree (with whom I have only recently renewed contact) commented that she had never seen it before.

That took me back to the image I used in the post linked above. I cropped it in order to think more about exactly when it was taken. It also shows my sister Jeanette (19 March 1940- 15 January 1952).  My father was in the RAAF from 8 April 1940 to 23 November 1945. The following photo was taken probably in 1944. It shows the family grouped in the yard at 61 Auburn Street.  It is possible my father took the photo before he was sent to Port Moresby, where he served in the last year of the war. Reflecting on the fact that these are wartime photos has been part of my revisiting them.warfamily

Left to right: back row: my aunt Ruth Christison, my uncle Neil Christison (in RAAF uniform), my aunt Beth Christison. Front row: me, my mother Jean Whitfield, my sister Jeanette, my brother Ian. The photo is creased so much because my father took this copy with him to Port Moresby.

Now the cropped photo, which may even date from the same day. If so, Ian would have been eight or nine years old.

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Just over ten years later, Ian (right) on his wedding day at 1 Vermont Street Sutherland, 1955:

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Now which aunt was it?

On the weekend I reread my cousin Ray Christison’s excellent biography of our interesting great-grandfather, John Hampton Christison. (Or rather, I reread the draft Ray sent me pre-publication. Thanks, Ray.)

The life of John Hampton Christison could quite easily be construed as a work of fiction. John was a remarkable man in many ways and was typical of his era in others. His fortunes foundered many times as he navigated the difficult waters of 19th century commerce and the passage of his life was marked by dramatic changes in occupation. Like many in colonial societies John was not averse to claiming a status in life above that accorded him within the restricting social structures of Great Britain. Time and again he claimed a past that exceeded his humble roots.

Ray is currently in Scotland visiting some of the “scenes of the crime”.

Also on the weekend I cleaned this old thing, which for some reason I have kept. It has no pottery marks and is probably not worth much, but it is a survivor of the 19th century. (I look as if I could be too!)

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Now I am not sure which of my mother’s aunts that belonged to — a Christison aunt — Lillie perhaps, or a Hunter aunt. Or maybe it belonged to my great-grandmother Sophia. For some reason my mother kept it all my life — and longer — and now I have it.  Below left-to-right around 1941 we have: my cousin John, his father Eric Christison, Sophia-Jane, my grandfather Roy, and my brother Ian Whitfield. Auburn Street Sutherland.

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And from 1880:

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Not quite what you’d expect on 11 September!

Yes, I remember what I was doing on 11 September 2011 — or rather, our time, the morning of 12 September.  Listening to the radio in bed, then out of bed to see the horror on TV. So much changed that day.

But instead of going there, I reblog an odd post from my Chinatown coaching days.

A five-finger exercise

12 SEPT 2009

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

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Ada and Roy Christison during World War 2 — my grandma and grandpa

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

VP Day

Yesterday was VP/VJ Day — Victory in the Pacific/Victory over Japan. 74 years! And yes, I was alive at the time, doing what I have told before:

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.

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And here I am close to that time with my sister Jeanette (1940-1952):

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My dad was still in the RAAF in Papua. Here he is in the cockpit of a Kittyhawk in Port Moresby:

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And here he is in uniform:

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My uncle, Neil Christison, turned 21 in July 1945 — I was named after him — was around Moratai at the time. His was a hard war. Here he is out of uniform in the backyard at Auburn Street, Sutherland.

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Another uncle, Keith Christison, was in the army on the home front.

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Yesterday there was a commemoration at Wollongong City Diggers. To be honest, it wasn’t until I saw footage on the local WIN News that I remembered what the day was! Not many WW2 vets left now. The scene at City Diggers yesterday, photo from our local member of parliament Sharon Bird:

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60 years ago in Shellharbour

Back when I was 15/16 I attended the centenary of Shellharbour Public School. I was in the company of my parents, Jeff and Jean Whitfield, my grandfather Roy Christison and various Whitfield relatives in Shellharbour, such as Una Gerke. My grandfather was there as the oldest living headmaster of the school. Here are some images I posted last year:

post on Facebook’s Shellharbour History and Pictures has generated this wonderful war-time picture of my uncle Roy Christison Junior, my grandmother Ada Christison, and my grandfather Roy Christison Senior in Sydney. (Note the tram!)  Posted by my cousin Linda Christison.

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In that same Facebook thread someone asked if anyone had seen a photo of Ada and Roy taken in the 1930s when Roy was headmaster of Shellharbour Public School. Well, I have: it is in my collection. That is the headmaster’s residence in Shellharbour.

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So I looked over Trove and found three items. The last one should say Caringbah, not Callimbar! The middle one refers to my aunt Beth, Beth Heard in later life.

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