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….

NAIDOC 2022 — the Awards — 3

Here are the incredible winners of the 2022 NAIDOC Awards! See the link for details.

Former world no.1 tennis player Ash Barty has been named the 2022 NAIDOC Person of the Year at the annual awards ceremony. Male Elder Award – Uncle Jack Charles. Female Elder Award – Aunty Lois Peeler. Education Award – Professor Bronwyn Fredericks. Sportsperson Award – Buddy Franklin. Youth Award – Elijah Manis. Creative Talent Award – Lowell Hunter. Caring for Country and Culture Award – Walter Jackson. Innovation Award – Koori Mail and volunteers.

Here are the stories of three of them:

Where I grew up:

Reflections post-election, starting with Scomo’s tears

And I must start by thanking whatever gods that be for the FACT Australia has been witnessing a swift, smooth and PEACEFUL transfer of power. Not even the USA can boast that! Especially the USA since the Orange Sickness struck it!

I thank also our predecessors who have made for us from British roots and our own tradition an electoral system that deserves to be the envy of the world for its integrity and practicability.

I am going to do a different take on this.

I have annoyed some by not in the past going out of my way to demonise ScoMo. For example I have never spelled that with a U. Nor have I got overexcited about his religion.

Now it so happens that I have been in this church in Sutherland, or rather in the Assemblies of God church that preceded it. Ir was not called Horizon then and was much smaller and poorer, but the idea was the same. It was 1964 or 1965 I think, and I was still an Elder at Sutherland Presbyterian Church. Yes, another life. Fellow Elder and friend Robert Kennelly had been invited to preach there. He was aiming to become a Presbyterian minister, which eventually he did — but in the Presbyterian Reformed Church — which began in Sutherland just as I left the church.

From our point of view at the time the Pentecostals were more than a bit weird and theologically suss. But Bob accepted and I went along as moral support and to give him feedback on his sermon. Bob remains in my memory, along with Gwenda his wife, an esteeemed friend, as do Greg and Helen Fox who became key members of the PRC. Helen in fact later taught Latin at Sydney Girls High where I renewed acquaintance in the late 90s and early 2000s. A lovely and funny lady.

I was amused to discover where ScoMo’s church is. And it isn’t Hillsong by the way, though ScoMo’s connection with the Houstons was unwise.

Looking back at what I saw in the 60s and what I see in this story one thing does strike me. This church may be many things, some not so good, some no doubt fulfilling to its community. But I would call this a painfully naive kind of Christianity, and I suspect that is an issue with ScoMo. I also suspect, though he may not even be aware of it or would deny it vehemently, that aside from a certain emotional piety there is no great connection between the way he has acted as salesman and politician and anything profound in the religion. Heretical of me, but let me refer to another notably religious Prime Minister — Kevin Rudd. Again flawed (aren’t we all?) but his religion is far more sophisticated and intellectually and philosophically deeper than ScoMo’s.

OK, but to this story. Morrison’s behaviour here is well within what is normal in such a church as this, his emotions genuine — it must have been traumatic to come unstuck as much as he has in the 24 hours before this talk — and so I am not going to judge or criticise him. But it is also naive, Plucking Bible texts completely out of context because the wording seems to suit is common practice in many low church circles, not just in Pentecostalism. In my opinion it is a most undesirable way to use the Bible. As Cam Williamson, a wise Presbyterian minister at Sutherland in the 50s and early 60s used to say, a text without a context is a pretext.

But the truth is he looks and sounds like a broken man here. I am sure he will recover very quickly though.

And while ScoMo is many things, one rarely noted — and of course I may be completely wrong — is that he is, for 2022, incredibly naive and out of touch! Take his master work in his advertising days. Crass as!

Not that he was necessarily directly involved — though I suspect he would at least have approved them– the childish run of attack ads that characterised the Liberal Party campaign will go down in history as among the worst ever.

Amazingly irritating!

Idiotic and offensive

After the event the ABC’s great show Media Watch analysed the campaign’s media performances. The last minute or two introduce two of the most painfully idiotic takes you will ever see from — of course — the sheltered workshop called Sky After Dark.

Those final thoughts are the subject of some excellent analysis in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

The narrative according to a chorus of hardline Coalition MPs and columnists goes like this: the Morrison government positioned itself as “Labor-lite” – experimenting “with the poison of leftism”, according to South Australian Liberal Alex Antic – because it caved in on net-zero emissions, racked up budget deficits, abandoned “freedom” during the pandemic and shirked on fighting culture wars.

This shameless Marxist posture, say the critics, not only failed to placate voters in the Liberals’ traditional seats, those folks having long metamorphosed into Maoists and not for the turning, but alienated the party from “the Quiet Australians” and blue-collar battlers the party ought to regard as its real base.

In this construction, the battlers are less concerned about climate change than they are focused on cost-of-living pressures and whether their kids are being indoctrinated into radical doctrines at school. They seem curiously unconcerned about a minimum wage rise, however.

What really happened has been captured in some great cartoons, not least Cathy Wilcox:


A bit of a mystery about my own life solved perhaps, thanks to Facebook

Nothing too exciting or scandalous, but annoying as the key events are 70+ years in the past and no-one alive can tell me. So I am just going on memory.

It concerns my career through Sutherland Public School. It is a fact — and I am sure of this one — that I started school in 1949. It is also a fact that my last year at Sutherland Public School was 1954 when I was in the wonderful Eddie O’Neill’s 6A Class. 1955-1959 I was at Sydney Boys High, along with other classmates from 6A Sutherland: Ross Mackay, Laurie Napier, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie. (That makes five of us — could have sworn it was six! Memory loss?)

Eddie O’Neill — 6A teacher — this photo 1957

I have recounted much about this in these two posts: On IQ and reality TV on SBS, however well intended… (2018) and Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 26 — when your 6th Grade teacher’s son emails you… (2021). The latter includes this class photo:

Sutherland Public School (Boys) 3A 1951 — I am circled.

Just lately in the Historic Cronulla and Sutherland Shire Group on Facebook Joan Duncan posted a photo which I have cleaned up a little and tinted:

Sutherland Public School Kindergarten 1947

Now obviously I am not there as I began school two years later. But in the front row of the 3A 1951 photo 2nd from the left is Colin Dawson, who was a great mate and neighbour in Vermont Street Sutherland 1952-1955, after which I moved to Kirrawee. In the Kindergarten 1947 photo I swear that is Colin in the back row, 2nd from the right. And of course simple arithmetic makes you realise that K-6 the 6th Grade class of 1954 would have been in Kindergarten in 1947.

But I was not! Somehow I have skipped two years to catch up with them in 3A 1951. That is the mystery.

I did give a slightly garbled account of what happened in those two posts I referred to earlier.

How did you get there, Neil?

Now, says I modestly, I happen to know that according to my sixth grade teacher I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Public School, at least to 1954. I know this because he employed that in arguing with my parents who were reluctant to allow me to go to Sydney Boys High, where I was one of six [?] in the class to earn a place. My parents were concerned that my general rattiness would make the long train and tram trip involved too great a risk. After all, I had already in 5th or 6th grade had my school bag knocked out of my hand while crossing the road by a car I had failed to notice.

Mr O’Neill, the sixth grade teacher, won the day and I went to SBHS for the next five years. I learned there that my Sutherland smarts were not all that smart after all.

Mr O’Neill, by the way, did a fantastic job on myself and other gifted students at Sutherland back in 1954. He gave us our heads! I recall us running through the school PA system a “radio station” for example, on a Friday afternoon I think. (It’s all a very long time ago.) I wrote a novel — highly derivative — and illustrated it.

I also quoted after that in the 2021 post a much earlier version:

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

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. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

In my 2021 post I wrote:

 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. 

Sorting the confusion.

I do recall a little about Infants School — a dreadful woman called Miss Wise for example, and the lovely Head of Infants Miss Bevan. I think too that my 2nd Grade teacher was a Miss Bamborough — can’t guarantee that spelling. I recall shocking them in Kindergarten by writing Sydney Morning Herald and the date on the blackboard when I was meant to do meaningless squiggles. And bringing some weighty volume about trains to school and reading bits out loud to Miss Bevan if I recall correctly. Recall also being terrible at craft in Kinder or Transition or somewhere and being bored and eating the raffia.

And I could tell the time from a clock too. My Grandfather Christison really taught me a lot even informally, before I ever went to school. I was certainly reading before I started school.

I think this is what happened, though it may have been a little different. I am fairly sure for example that I was not in Kindergarten for very long. My memory says that in 1949-50 Sutherland definitely had a class called Transition between Kindy and 1st Class but I have been so far unable to prove it.

I also was dared — after telling some classmates that my big brother Ian always called Miss Bevan “Old Ma Bevan” — by said classmates to walk up to her and say “G’day Old Ma Bevan!” And of course I did… A dare is a dare after all.

She called me to her office and I was more than a bit petrified. Reform School perhaps? But I think when I explained she may even have been a bit amused….

I think that is when they decided I should go straight to Grade 2, thus skipping up to the level of the eventual Class of 1954 who had started in 1947. I think that is what happened… And the class photos kind of prove it.

And my Maths never did recover.


Not sure why, but Joan’s post to the group seems to have vanished. Or maybe not, the Admin of the group just informed me. So he “liked” my additions and now all is restored it seems. FB does such weird things — the post was probably never “lost” at all!

And there is still a mystery I am yet to explain. How did I (and I think a few others) not spend a whole year in 3rd Class but instead went to 4th Class? I know it happened….