Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 70 — October 3 2002

At that time I was “journalling” as I still called blogging on Diary-X. Sad what happened to Diary-X, and when it vanished entirely so did my blog. The bits preserved on the Internet Archive are few and far between. This one is still around because I copied it to a site I had on Angelfire, and that got captured by the Internet Archive. Here it is with some videos added.

3 October 2002: Vermont Street 1

At Vermont Street Monday to Friday at 5 pm without fail I would listen to the ABC Children’s Hour, a habit begun the previous year as my sister was a listener; she became an Argonaut and then so did I. I was Leda 37 (each member was allotted a “ship” and given a number), but I only ever won one Blue Certificate. Many quite prominent Australians have testified to how significant this rather odd radio program was in their lives.

Can I remember the Argonauts theme song? Let’s try:

Row, row, merry oarsmen row
That dangers lie ahead, we know, we know–
But bend with all your might
As we sail into the night
For wrongs we’re bound to right,
Jason cry–
“Adventurers,
Argonauts, row, row, row.”

Today is my brother’s birthday. Vermont Street saw many changes in his life, culminating in his marriage in 1955 (he was 19, she was 16), the last year we were there. 1953-1954 he had been in the Army, stationed at Holsworthy; it is worth recalling that the Korean War in which there were 1538 Australian casualties (including 281 killed) was still being fought up to July 1953. So by 1955 I was the only child left in our household. By the time he was 24 my brother had four children of his own. [I was wrong there I think, as that would make the 4th child born by 1959. It was actually three children at that stage. A fourth did arrive a few years later.]

My mother has written about the move to Vermont Street, what it meant, and the impact of the death of Jeanette, my sister, far more poignantly than I ever could. It was, as she said, the first home our family could call their own; Auburn Street had been rented, first by my grandfather Christison, and then by us. I had been born into a large extended family all under one roof–we were only there because of the War– though by 1949 that had come down to the nuclear family of Mum, Dad and three kids. Grandma and Grandpa Christison lived in Waratah Street which intersects with Vermont Street, so in the new house they were just around the corner. I spent almost as much time with them as I did at home, as Grandpa Christison was probably more a father to me than my father was; after all, I had known him longer! Also, he talked to me and answered all my questions–even about snails 😉

Very many days after school I would be at their place, and a regular event was to walk over the road, cut through the railway fence, and stand together by the pulsing and hissing C32 steam locomotive that at about 4.00 pm always sat on the goods line waiting for the all clear to proceed to Sydney with its train load of fresh Illawarra milk. Grandpa had befriended railway workers during his time in the country and loved to talk to the engine driver and fireman, who seemed to enjoy talking to him as well. I just loved steam engines, their smell, their heat, their sounds, their explicit power. I was fascinated too by their age: “Beyer Peacock England 1896” for example, on the side of some C32. Of course the magic moment was when the South Coast Daylight Express would come roaring down the line on its return journey to Sydney with its streamlined C38 and its beautiful Pullman carriages that I would dream of travelling in one day. Why, it would come rushing through at 60 or even 70 miles per hour! Wonderful.

3801 in full flight! See also Dennis Rittson’s Train Photos where you will find many more.

The goods trains had their excitement too, often double-headed up the hill from Jannali by a pair of deep-throated D-51s or, most exciting, one enormous D-57, or occasionally an oil-burning Baldwin (an American locomotive) or a huge Beyer-Garrett double-ended articulated loco. The latter were rare as their length and weight made them unsuitable for the Illawarra line as they tended to displace the rails on sharp bends!

A D57! Wonderful model train layout…

Now you didn’t know I knew so much about trains, did you? In those days I just loved them, and could tell even in the dead of night from my bedroom in Vermont Street just what class of engine was chuffing up the hill from Jannali, just by its sound.

My mother was less romantic about steam engines; she rather resented the black flecks of ash falling on her newly washed sheets!

The real things with sound…
The beautiful restored C38 — 2021

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 26 — when your 6th Grade teacher’s son emails you…

Hi Neil, we chatted some time ago about my father, Edgar O’Neill, your teacher at Sutherland in 1955. I just posted a photo of the 1955 Year 6 class (as well as the 1953 cricket team). Are you in that photo? I thought I’d identify you as it’s your article on Eddie that the photo is attached to.

Muchael O’Neill enail 5 August 2021

He is referring to his family history page. There he reproduces an earlier version of my post Some reposts on teaching — 4 — we need to get back to thoughts like these. In that newer version I at least spell Michael O’Neill’s family name correctly! Here is his father, my teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954 not 1955 — in 1957 at Jannali School — where, coincidentally, I did my very first (unsupervised) practice teaching at the beginning of 1961! CORRECTION — Not so: he was at Jannali East, I was at Jannali.

Eddie on playground

I had said in my post what an outstanding teacher Edgar O’Neill was:

The thing about Mister O’Neill is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that.

Well, Mister O’Neill I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neill. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated….

Michael O’Neill in due course sent me two photos, which I have colourised,

1953 1st Grade Cricket — Edgar O’Neill coach
6A 1955 — one or two familiar faces. Repeating the year?

In 1955 I was in First Year at Sydney Boys High.

Me in 1955 Vermont Street Sutherland in SHS uniform

Sadly neither I nor Michael O’Neill has a copy of the 1954 6A photo — my class. I do have 3A from 1952 though, and I am definitely in that one.

That is from a post called (appropriately) I fear I was a weird kid!

I was much more attracted to the Australian Museum –– indeed, even took my neighbourhood friends and classmates there, just a year or two after this was taken at Sutherland Public School — that is from when I was maybe ten years old, travelling by train by myself (or with said friends) to the city, walking across Hyde Park to the Australian Museum. Loved the place!

What really strikes me now is just how formative those years 1952-1954 at Sutherland Boys Primary were.

Does that say 1951 or 1952?

If I was in that class in 1952 — and it is definitely my class — then I did 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th classes in three years. That does gel with the memory I am slightly hazy about, that I skipped a class, for whatever reason. I know my Maths never quite recovered.

The other thing is that you could say I was away almost as often as I was there. Every August I could guarantee most of the month off with bronchitis, and there were the illnesses I mentioned in the extract above from my post about Edgar O’Neill. In 1953 I had my appendix removed and missed quite a bit of school then. I posted about that, and it concerns also the boy second from the left in the front row of that 3A photo — pretty sure that is Colin Dawson.

And I remember my neighbours in Vermont Street, Sutherland, the Dawsons. Facebook puts me in touch with first the next generation, and then, miracle of miracles, with one of the three brothers I knew in the early 1950s.

Colin and Jimmy [Dawson] probably saved my life once when I had a bursting appendix at school in 1952 or 3 — complicated by the fact my sister had died of something similar in January 1952. They took care of me and carried me home one lunchtime when I am afraid the teachers were not taking much notice of my case. I was in such pain. I have never forgotten what they did. The next day I was in St George Hospital.🙂

The youngest brother writes:

Hi I’m Graham Dawson, Jim & Col’s younger brother. They are both well & Jim lives here with me on The Sunshine Coast & Col lives in Bundaberg. I remember you from those times, I was just the little brother hanging around. Lol.

How wonderful is that, after all these years!

I gained quite a bit of my education at home in my room recovering from whatever illness but listening to all the schools broadcasts on the wireless — 2BL? — and other things there too, some wildly inappropriate to my age! There was also the ABC Children’s Session/Argonauts Club. And I read heaps. Comics not least — Captain Marvel, Superman, The Phantom…

Then there were the many many afternoons spent at my Grandpa Christison’s place in then Waratah Street West. The house is still there, and my Aunt Kay still lives there. My father built the house to Grandpa Christison’s design in the late 1940s.

P9170749a

We would talk and talk, Grandpa Roy and I, and I would badger him with questions. He was the soul of patience, a retired headmaster. I now realise how those conversations are to this day the deepest source of my values and my view of the world. That is no exaggeration; I may elaborate in another post.

Grandpa Roy Christison and Grandma Ada — c.1944

NAIDOC Week 2021 — Healing Country — 6

1590203997-colorized
My family on Gweagal land in Dharawal Country 1944-5 — I am front left, next to my sister Jeanette, my mother Jean, and on the right my brother Ian. In the back row are my Aunt Ruth, my Uncle Neil (born 6 July 1924) in RAAF uniform, and my Aunt Beth.

Yes, it is 9 July again. And that means I turn 78. Born far to the south in the same year, 1943, was this man:

What a great man he has become, and what a life he has had! Just this week his story was brought up to date by the TV program “Who Do You Think You Are?” on SBS.

The show is often emotional; delving into the past almost always is. But for an Aboriginal man, and moreover as a member of the Stolen Generations, that was especially true for Charles.

“(I’m feeling) overwrought, and a profound sense of loss. I’m really peeved,” he says. 

“It’s causing me to lose sleep. But that’s par for the course for a member of the Stolen Generation. If I didn’t have such a high profile, I would have never learned this, I would have remained in ignorance, that I was Wiradjuri man on my father’s side.”

Charles’ family story reveals a history of activism and resilience in the face of the brutalities of colonisation. But an unknown connection to the peoples of Tasmania on his mother’s side revealed a truly remarkable, and tragic family history. 

Charles is descended of an august line; his five-times great grandfather, Mannalargenna, was a highly respected Elder of his people, and acted as ambassador and emissary to surrounding clans.

Uncle Jack Charles — “Uncle” is a term of respect for an elder

Now a question I posed on Facebook earlier in the week:

Seems odd to say “way back in 2016” — but five years is five years, and I don’t get any younger. Well, five years ago I published the post linked to this, which in turn went back to five years earlier!

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.

Here is my story.

My grandmother, Henrietta Bursill.

And let’s finish with something we can all benefit from, speaking of healing — #NAIDOC 20121’s theme after all:

UPDATE

This effectively ends this series, having brought NAIDOC Week back home to my own life and family. Remember, the matter of our national truth and the absolute need seriously to consider the Uluru Statement from the Heart are matters for every week in this country.

Yes, we have learned, and are learning, much — but there are “miles to go before we sleep.”

NAIDOC Week 2021 — Healing Country — 5

A little more about the country I am on right now, Dharawal Country. If you come in from The Shire via Heathcote you might see this sign:

Not there in my younger days — in fact living on Dharawal Country though I was, I knew absolutely nothing about it! How different it is today, as we see from this map provided by the local Catholic Education Authority:

The Shire is also part of Dharawal Country, though not on this map. It is north of Illawarra, on the other side of Port Hacking.

The clan of Dharawal in The Shire are the Gweagal.

And to the west:

The day after Anzac Day 2021

Which in fact is a public holiday, Anzac Day having this year fallen on a Sunday. As I said I would I passed the day at home, particularly using Facebook to be my form of observance of the day. For starters, as did many others, I changed my profile picture to remember a veteran in the family, in this case my father for his service in the RAAF during World War 2.

CORRECTION: Not a public holiday in NSW apparently! Thanks, Bruce Part for the heads up. It was in Queensland. See ANZAC Day public holiday 2021 – are you getting Monday off?

I had done the same in 2020 as a matter of fact, and wrote the following accompanying text. However, it turns out that a few of my Friends had not seen that then.

My father, Jeffrey Whitfield, during WWII. Looking back now I appreciate what a fantastic Dad he really was. These days I know much better what he stood for, where he came from. His life path was not always smooth, but his byword was always “integrity”. He passed away in 1989, just one year older than I am now. I had the privilege of being able to tell him I loved him as he was dying, and to hear him say he loved me too.

Except that in 2021 I should have said “the same age as I am now.” I also referred in a supplementary comment to the letter my father wrote to my mother from Port Moresby in February 1945. You can find the full letter and more here.

14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N.
Group 833
RAAF
Pacific
16-2-45

My Darling Wife

I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better. You notice I put the “worse” first, because I am sure many, many happy days lie ahead for us. Yes, we have had more than our share of worries & I have at times very selfishly added to them, sometimes quite unintentionally, because there really wasn’t any need for you to worry at all. I’m a bit of a tease really.

Anyway I promise you darling that I will try to make you just as happy as ever I can. I only hope that I am able to maintain a decent living standard for you & the kids. You are entitled to the best of everything by virtue of the fact that you have always been such a loyal pal always to me. If I can I will try to get some other sort of business going as well as the building so that we will be secure in our old age. Anyway dearest one I will try to do as you wish me to in everything. I have caused you enough heartaches. I can’t always help this of course, but I fully intend to try and make up for any short comings I may have. I can never repay the debt I owe you for giving me three such lovely children. I love them very dearly, and am exceedingly proud of their nice appearance & manner….

In the evening I added another memory of my father in relation to a photo (I think from the 1940s) of the War Memorial in Sutherland, where I lived for the first 20+ years of my life.

Here is a photo of Sutherland’s War Memorial which stood in the intersection of Eton Street and the Princes Highway. It has since been moved and rededicated, and the link on this post gives details of what is on it. It was more elaborate in its setting in the old days, as this photo shows.

Aside from seeing it so often in my first 21 years, I particularly recall it is the place where I first went to an Anzac Day Dawn Service, in the company of my father. I am not sure when, but it would have been before 1955-6. I was so proud! There was Dad with all his medals — a hero!

Afterwards we marched to the traditional RSL Breakfast, which I recall was held in a hall at Loftus, somewhere down the Mad Mile. I was so careful to keep in step with the marchers!

When you think about it, WW2 was probably less than ten years over at the time — and the talk and camaraderie at that Breakfast made me almost think I had entered a Biggles book — which I was rather a fan of in those days….

During the day I shared a video from the local newspaper, The Illawarra Mercury, of the Wollongong Anzac Day March, which the paper had live-streamed. A still showing Navy personnel leading the marchers, after a fleet of vintage cars carrying older veterans had passed by. (The Australian Hydrographic Office is in Wollongong.)

I mentioned that in the past I had marched myself: Anzac Day in Wollongong: honouring my father 1911-1989. One photo I took from within the march in 2012:

P4250524

Many other items I posted, finishing with a World War 1 classic song from a great Australian singer, Peter Dawson (1882-1961) — a song I remember hearing often on the radio in my own childhood — probably on Anzac Days!

Addendum

I forgot to include a post from a Dawn Service in Anzac Parade near my alma mater and former workplace, Sydney Boys High School. Anzac Parade is the school’s eastern boundary and many a cigarette did I smoke beside it between classes, I’m afraid to say.

I can’t recall, though there always has been an Anzac Day assembly within the school as with all state schools as far as I know, the memorial entry to Anzac Parade being utilised in this way. What a great idea!

I invited my Facebook friends to study the faces of 2021’s young Australia!