Blogging the 2010s — 105 — November 2011

The funeral of my Uncle Roy Christison dominated this month. There were other things, including a train derailment.

Mainly family

Bit of a glitch on the local railway though.

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As well as showing the derailed coal train that excellent photo from the Mercury shows the single track leading to the Clifton/Scarborough tunnel and the proximity of the wonderful new road bridge, built because the road kept falling into the water…

My Dad would have been ONE HUNDRED YEARS OLD today!…

Off to The Shire again today

For my uncle’s funeral.

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Fortunately it’s a lovely day and the trains are running again….

Aftermath of last week’s derailment near Scarborough

I mentioned this morning that the line opened today.

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What a gathering of the clan that was!

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There were more Christisons there – including my surviving uncle, Neil, who looks well at 87 – than I have seen in decades. My cousin Ray wasn’t there, being at the time (or close to it) passing through Braefield, of all places, but he sent me this via Facebook.

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That was taken about 70 years ago at 61 Auburn Street Sutherland.  L-R: John H Christison (whose sister Joan was at the funeral), Eric, John’s father, Sophia Jane Christison (my great-grandmother), Roy Christison Senior, and finally, I am 99% sure, my brother Ian Whitfield.

Few houses remain in Auburn Street, but this one does. I visited it yesterday. I lived here from 1943 to the beginning of 1952.

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Uncles and aunts

I had so many! Christmas Dinner at Auburn Street in the 1940s and early 50s was a hectic affair. Grandpa Christison’s old oak table was one of those that could be extended by turning a creaky screw apparatus to open the table up so that an extra slab could be inserted. Rather like this:

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So from my colourised photos I select aunts and uncles that may have sat around that table to Christmas 1951, after which we had moved to 1 Vermont Street. I never did know what happened to that table, which had quite a history in our family. As my mother tells it:

The tornado

The following day, Monday, was Anniversary Day. Dad drove into Quirindi to get supplies; there were Chinese shops always open. Before his return we children had been watching the sky. At first we thought a dust storm was approaching across the Breeza Plains. The sky went from red to purple and then to deep indigo. Thank goodness Dad arrived home, and he said to Mother who was ironing in the kitchen, “There is a storm going to hit the back of the house, and we had better go into the bedrooms.” She refused as she wanted to finish her ironing. Within moments the verandah had gone and dad hustled us all into the dining room and under a heavy oak table. It became pitch dark. The storm only lasted for twenty minutes, but the dining room was all that was left of our home! If it had not been for a 10,000 gallon water tank which was luckily full and sheltered that room only, I would not be here today.

Yes, THAT table!

Well there would have been the eldest — Eric Christison and Gwen, but I don’t have separate pictures of them. However Eric is seated on the left-hand side of this early 1940s Christison group, with my brother Ian at the right extreme.  My great-grandmother Sophia Jane is in the centre, and she could have been at Christmas dinners up to 1951.

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Next would have been Beth. Not yet married in 1951, so I will use a photo from my other archives which came already coloured.

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After her Keith and Ruth, the two in the middle — and you have seen this pic of their wedding before.

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Keith and Ruth had two children, Helen and Patricia, by 1951. They are some years on in the front of this photo of Eric’s daughter Joan who, along with her brother John and sister Elizabeth, just may have been around the table too.

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The youngest Christison son, Roy Junior, may have also been there. He is far right in that photo.

Towards the end of our time in Auburn Street we might also have had the newly-weds Neil and Fay Christison. They were married in Wollongong Presbyterian Church as Fay was from Unanderra. Not sure what year: 1951?  They were a splendid couple though.

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Another colourised family snaps selection

These have been on Facebook over the past few days, but here a different order. First, some of my sister Jeanette (1940-1952) that haven’t been on this blog yet.

Sutherland Public School 1951 — with some friends in 6th Class, the last photo ever of Jeanette. She died in January 1952 during the school holidays.

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I can almost remember when this was taken. We were all out on a drive when Dad saw the pole and got Jeanette to stand in front of it to show how tall she’d got! She was a good runner by the way:

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Sutherland Public School 1947. Jeanette in the front row. Can’t help noticing the little girls on the right with no dolls. Poverty was not unknown in 1947 Sutherland. Note the slouch hat too front row right. Could be a story there. I was in 2A in 1951, mind you, and bits of military uniform were not unknown among us:

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More of my brother Ian (1935-2017)

Sutherland Public School 1947. Ian is back row, second from the left:

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Auburn Street Sutherland around 1940:

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This is most likely at 61 Auburn Street Sutherland around 1938-9. Notice the small chimney on the building behind, indicating the laundry with a wood-burning copper to boil the washing.

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A repost from New Year 2003 — Auburn Street

Here is another colourised photo: On the back it says “March 21 aged 9” — Jeanette’s ninth birthday (19 March 1949) being crashed by me, it appears. Left to right: Connie Phipps, Jeanette, me, Gail MacNamara, Deidre Hawke. The Auburn Street house is in the background.

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Yesterday on Facebook my niece Christine reminded me that she had sent me a photo of that house: “did you see the photo I posted ages ago if your house in auburn st?” In fact it was 2018, and I do remember. I replied: ” And back in 2002 I even was able to walk through the house and explore every room, thanks to an ex-SBHS student, now a teacher, Mitchell who I call Mr Rabbit at times.His description of the event is quite perceptive.”

Now those pages sit there waiting to be visited, usually via a Google search, but otherwise (such is the internet) they “waste their sweetness on the desert air.”  So I have decided to revive that page as a post, adding that The Rabbit, who was 20 at the time, is now almost another lifetime down the track. Last I heard he was in a position of responsibility in a secondary school west of Sydney.

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Auburn Street revisited

At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland. I said at the time, and still say five to six years on, that this was one of the best days I have ever had. I told the story thus on New Years Day 2003 on Diary-X:

Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day:

Yesterday was the most perfect day imaginable in the company of the best companion one could hope for.

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Woronora. 

First, let me repeat it was the best day I have had for a very long time, and part of what you need to know to understand that is that I have had an ongoing problem with agoraphobia; indeed on the outward journey I was chewing my fingernails rather a lot and willing my adrenalin to calm itself. The company certainly helped. The Rabbit’s driving was very competent, I should say — well, perhaps a tendency to have insufficient free space between his car and the one in front at times. 😉 Having been myself once rear-ended by a sneezing tupperware demonstrator in the Blue Mountains I am well aware of the issues of braking distance and traffic separation, but it is amazing how many drivers are overconfident about their chances of not crashing into the vehicle in front, should the unexpected occur. Tends to explain multiple pileups, a few of which I have seen on Elizabeth and Cleveland Streets in recent years. (I have been a driver, by the way, but not in recent years.)

Last Monday really was wonderful, and just what I needed. I can’t think of anyone else who would have enjoyed sharing it with me as much as The Rabbit obviously did. Aunt Beth (who was born in 1916) I had not seen since my mother’s funeral in 1996! She is, as The Rabbit reports, an extraordinary woman and definitely not in the realm of the bewildered yet. She can show a rather alarming hauteur sometimes, I have to say, but I always was something of a favourite nephew (with the soft spot partly coming from her closeness to what happened to my sister) and it was a sheer delight to see her again. Her stories were good, ranging from her nephew-by-marriage who deviously escaped the clutches of Colonel Gaddafi to her own flight from Northern Ireland to Scotland in the company of four IRA terrorists (a fact that became apparent only when the plane landed and was surrounded by soldiers.) True too. The Tower of London stories I will leave for the moment, but they are good. Oh, and Beth had recently visited Chipping Norton. (She still gets around.)

Roy and Kay received us with great warmth, and my second-cousin Matthew and The Rabbit showed every sign of getting on like a house on fire. It was nice to see them all at something other than a funeral, as my cousin Russell remarked on the day. Mind you “like a house on fire” may have been an unfortunate choice there, as Russell’s family live in one of Sydney’s worst bushfire zones!

And Auburn Street really was a totally unexpected bonus. Mister Rabbit said that I “glowed.”

Mister Rabbit’s account

I had been looking forward to a trip down (N’s) memory lane for several weeks; what I didn’t expect was how the Sutherland (and surrounds) trip would affect me. I offer a generally chronological account of my 150km trip, about two-thirds of which was shared with my passenger.

Traffic up the Hume Highway and Parramatta Road was fairly light, and I got to Surry Hills in 45 minutes. We set out soon after, and made our first stop at Sutherland, where I met Uncle Roy and Aunt Kay, and later their son Russell and grandson Matthew, who is a clever boy and a keen cricketer, and bears some resemblance to a younger N. There were some interesting stories — there’s a lot of talent in some families — and I began to get the flavour of N’s childhood.

Next stop was Woronora Cemetery. Neither of us had been for a while, but N found his relations in quick time. We left them some flowers, and trundled across the way, via the Greek Orthodox, to the Catholic section, where, after some searching, I found my grandfather, and his parents. All this took about an hour, and it was an emotional time for both of us.

Then we went for lunch. There is coffee in Sutherland, but I didn’t have any.

Then, to work off our sandwiches, we went for the longest walk of the day. We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

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“encroached by medium density housing”

We got back in the car and drove to Sans Souci to visit Aunt Beth, who I was prepared for by N’s reports of her alacrity. But nothing could have really prepared me for one of the most remarkable women I’ll ever meet. I’d only considered abstractly the notion of the elderly as living treasures; after yesterday, I have a concrete example. She told some amazing stories, and she’s immensely proud of her grandson Max, who I’d love to meet some day. We spent just 45 minutes, but there was never a dull moment!

By which time it was 4 o’clock. We stopped for petrol, and therefore could drive back to Surry Hills without fear of being stranded on Cleveland Street, which I imagine would be rather distressing. (In fact, the car stood up remarkably well for itself all day. I’m proud of the old Ox.) I left my car in a side street, hoping for the best; it was still there after a drink at the Norfolk and a light dinner at home. Traffic was light on the way back to my other home, where I arrived at about 7.

It was a wonderful day, and we’ll be planning similar excursions in the near future.

There were a few excursions, particularly to see plays, Shakespeare especially. The differences that emerged at times later had evaporated by the time we met up again when Mr Rabbit was teaching here in Wollongong. We even spent some time a few years back at City Diggers.

Aunt Beth passed away in September 2007.

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My Uncle Bob Heard, Aunt Beth, and the twins Robert and James, 1954 — Sans Souci

Continuing with the colouring

So let’s start with a family group in Auburn Street Sutherland 1940/2. L-R My cousin John Christison. Uncle Eric, my great-grandmother Sophia Jane, my grandfather Roy, my brother Ian.

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Next is a wartime wedding, with Dad as best man, Uncle Keith Christison and Aunt Ruth.

Pretty good skin tones, but the colourising app can’t really cope with Uncle Keith’s (presumably) khaki uniform — and I am sure he had matching gaiters — if that is the right word for the items above his boots!

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Next is a wartime family group. 1944-5. The cracking is because my father carried this in his wallet when he was in Port Moresby in the RAAF. Front L-R me, Jeanette, Ian; Back: Aunt Ruth, Mum, Uncle Neil in RAAF uniform, Aunt Beth.

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One of the great successes on Facebook was an attempt — not entirely successful — to colour my great-great-grandparents, William and Caroline Whitfield. Now I present his son, William Joseph John Whitfield: “William Whitfield (1812-1887) and his wife Caroline Philadelphia (nee West 1817-1881) married at St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Sydney 20th June 1836. Their son William Joseph John Whitfield was baptised at St James’s Church of England 18 September 1836. William gave his profession as carpenter, and his address as Elizabeth Street. The child had been born on August 14. (By the way, it snowed in Sydney on June 28 1836.)

“William IV was still King, and Sir Richard Bourke was Governor of NSW. Close to the time of William’s and Caroline’s marriage, Sir Thomas Mitchell, on his third expedition, was crossing the Murray River. He named Swan Hill on 21st June 1836.

“William’s father was Jacob Whitfield, a convict. William is thus my great-great-grandfather.. William and Jacob were both born in Ireland.”

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William Joseph John Whitfield, Picton (1836-1925)