Sunday, April 5, 2015

The "When I Was Young' geneameme

Alex in Edinburgh

The very genea-ial Alona Tester has come up with a new geneameme for us all. You might want to grab a cup of tea and a biscuit.  This seems to go on and on. I must be very old.

Do you (or your parents) have any memorabilia from when you were a baby? (ie. baby book, lock of hair, first shoes etc.)

Oh yes.  Mittens, boots and a hat. And a Christening gown. And a rattle.

Alex's christening
Do you know if you were named after anyone?

No I don't think so.  

And do you know of any other names your parents might have named you?

Not really - although I do remember that my mother was anxious that my name NOT be shortened to Sandy.

What is your earliest memory?

Clinging onto my father's slippery shoulders in the swimming pool on the Oriana coming back from Scotland.  I must have been about 3 years old.  The water was rocking from side to side in the swell of the ocean.  Note to self - find that VHS tape NOW and transfer it!

Did your parent/s (or older siblings) read, sing or tell stories to you? Do you remember any of these?

I think the book most often read to me must have been Winnie the Pooh.  We had a lot of fun with that and the characters were so real they were like another branch of the family.  When my father built a boat it was called Owl and Pooh. He was Owl and I was Pooh.  I loved all AA Milne's rhyme books too which gave me a great appreciation of nonsense in life.

When you were young, do you remember what it was that you wanted to grow up to be?

An actress.

Did you have a favourite teacher at school?

St John's Infants School Canberra (now Northside Infants) - Alex is in front row 2nd from left

I had so many good teachers, it's hard to pick a favourite. It was fun having dinnere with Miss Lees, our career's advisor, recently.  She came with us on our Central Australia trip in Grade 10.

How did you get to school?

By bus.  In earlier days TWO buses - we had to change in the city.  There was a group of us that chatted at the bus-stop and sat next to each other - Anna, Bronwyn, Thea and Kris.

What games did playtime involve?

Monkey bars at CCEGGS Junior School circa 1972
Elastics, jacks or knucklebones, some complicated game that involved putting a tennis ball in a stocking and then standing with your back against a large brick wall and then swinging the ball around to hit the wall while you said some silly rhyme like "Hello Hello Hello Sir!  See you at the show Sir!" or some such. Creating a really good dam and irrigation system on the dirt driveway at school until the teachers stopped us.  The 6th graders were in charge of the water flow (tap) at the top of the hill and the rest of us were in charge of the twigs and leaves that stemmed the flow.  I'm interested to see in this photo that we wore pinnies...well I'm not but everyone else is.  Do kids wear pinafores now at school?  I don't think so.

Alex and friends at school

Did you have a cubby house?

No.  But I do remember putting blankets over lounges and pushing chairs together and having lots of fun that way.

What was something you remember from an early family holiday?

The excitement of staying in motels in exotic places like Kings Cross in Sydney and swimming in the pool at night-time.  A swimming pool was such a luxury back then.  Not many people had them the way they seem to now.  Some motels even had massage beds - now that was a real treat.  Put 50 cents in the slot and shake yourself silly.

Summer holidays were spent with friends at Durras - lots of fun.

Jeanette sitting on the step, Megan and Judith
Winter holidays were spent at the Blue Mountains.  Or if we stayed home you might go to a YMCA camp or ride your bike around the suburbs and go exploring.  I had a very odd bike - not a Malvern star.  

What is a memory from one of your childhood birthday’s or Christmas?

I'm famous apparently for opening the front door at my 7th birthday party and taking the presents given to me and then shutting the front door leaving surprised guests on the outside rather than inviting them in.  My mother then had to give me a stern talking to and a quick overview of hostess etiquette.  I don't actually remember that but I do remember the brand new black patent leather shoes and the white stockings.

What childhood injuries do you remember?

The TV falling on my big toe when I was watching Z Cars when we lived in Melbourne and having to have stitches.

TV in Edinburgh in the early 60s

What was your first pet?

My first pet was a demented cocker spaniel called Dino who didn't like me. Such a shame.  Then we got a black kitten called Sooty who was much better.  Daddy found him in the bush near where we lived in Campbell.

Did your grandparents, or older relatives tell you stories of “when I was young ..?”

My maternal grandmother was particularly good at this exercise and would tell me stories about her large family of brothers and sisters in contrast to my own unique childhood.

What was entertainment when you were young?

Alex teaparty Edinburgh

I'm sure I played tea-parties as much as the next girl.  As I grew older we were probably into arts and craft in a big way and bushwalking.  

Bushwalking Blue Mountains - what would we have done without a centre part I wonder?

Who can forget the joys of macrame or hook rugs?  Cold climates will do that to you. Lots of embroidery, reading, drawing and going to the movies.

Do you remember what it was it like when your family got a new fangled invention? (ie. telephone, TV, VCR, microwave, computer?)

We tended to live on a lot of 2nd hand or borrowed stuff during my childhood. Our sofa came from my grandmother.  I think the most exciting thing was getting a new lounge and a persian rug when I was about 15.  We thought we were Xmas.  Maybe a new fridge....we seemed to have existed on an old fridge from Gran for years and then we got a two door Frigidaire with a freezer that Mum didn't have to defrost all the time.  I remember some families had tucker box freezers and they seemed very avant garde.  But we did have a new house and a wall oven in the kitchen and I seem to remember they were probably a bit new and fancy at the time.

Photo of Alex in kitchen at Aranda - actually a reflection in the toaster hence blurred- Dad being arty I think.

I remember how much we all loved our new Marantz stereo when it came.  You could not get me off it and I would sit there for hours with the headphones on listening to all my favourite albums - Venus and Mars, Yellow Brick Road etc.

Did your family have a TV? Was it b&w or colour? And how many channels did you get?

We had a black and white TV I think with three channels. The ABC, 7 & 9. Channel 10 was the new kid on the block when I was in my late teens as was SBS.  I do remember going to the UK in 1971 and thinking it so weird that they had colour TV and we didn't.  I'm sure no-one believed me when I went back to school and told them.  

Did your family move house when you were young? Do you remember it?

Yes we moved several times when I was young.  From Sydney to Edinburgh.  From Sydney to Melbourne.  From Melbourne to Canberra.  In Canberra we built a house at Aranda which was a very painful process for my parents.

Alex and Barbara standing on the foundations of 3 Nungara Street Aranda

I was really excited when we moved to Sydney when I was 16 because we renovated an old terrace house.  I'm sure it was hell again for my parents but I really loved seeing it transformed from a rundown old boarding house into a lovely big home.  And I particularly liked my attic right at the very top of the house with its dormer window.  

Was your family involved in any natural disasters happening during your childhood (, flood, cyclone, earthquake etc)

Old Mawarra Tallong 1965

My paternal Auntie Hazel lost her home in a bush fire when I was quite young.  I don't remember it at the time but we have a couple of photos.  I have a vague memory of driving with my mother in the bush and there being fire along the side of the road and her being unsure as to whether to keep going or not but I'm not sure if it was on that occasion or another.

Barbara cooking al fresco at Tallong 1965

courtesy of  National Library of Australia Man dies, 100 homes lost. (1965, March 8). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from

Courtesy of National Library of Australia Three days of fire, suffering, and death. (1965, March 8). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 11. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from
A letter from my mother to her Aunt Bell dated 31 March reads as follows:
The same week as Daddy (my grandfather) went into hospital, Jim's sister's house was burnt out at Tallong, the centre of all those dreadful bushfires a few weeks ago.  They are living under the most frightful conditions; they lost everything except the car, and were lucky to get out with their lives.  Jim has spent a lot of time on a simple plan to get them up a house of sorts before the winter sets in, as it can be really freezing there.  People have sent money from everywhere, old neighbours of Jim's mother etc and clothing has come from all over the state.  Joy sent down a lot of Bill's clothes and toys which were very gratefully received, and they are managing to struggle along as best they can.  There is of course, no electricity, water, or telephone.  Someone leant (sic) them an old caravan to live in; it's full of cracks and freezing at night.  They buy water by the bottle, can't do the washing of course, and Hazel takes it forty miles to Jim's mother's place at Bowral (which, by the way, hasn't any water either, this week).  
At the time we were living in the Orana flats at Bondi in Sydney.  We had just returned from overseas.  She mentions in the same letter that our car had broken down and was too expensive to fix.  Some of my parents' wedding presents and other personal items were stored at Hazel's place and I think we probably lost a lot of memorabilia then too.  For many years afterwards I remember if we couldn't find something you would hear "It must have gone in the fire".  

Alex in flat at Bondi dressed to go to St John's Vaucluse

courtesy of National Library of Australia, Advertising. (1954, February 13). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 52. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from

Here is an extract from a letter my mother wrote to her father 21st April, just after Easter:

Jim left last Thursday to help Hazel and Charles in the building of the new house: he will be away for two weeks....the weekend of the 1st May I'm due to go down to Bowral with Alex to come back with Jim.

I wonder how we got there.  Did we catch a train to Bowral and did my grandmother still have a car and did we borrow that?

Here is an extract from a letter she wrote to my father on the same day:

A strange phenomenon has occurred.  Alex is most demonstratively affectionate with me...and won't let me out of her sight even from room to a bashful sort of way she admits it's you having gone.  Every day we go through the same ritual three or four times, about Daddy having gone down to Auntie Hazel's to build a house (which she stresses is a BLUE house) (do you think I ought to write to Freud about that?)  Whenever there are footsteps in the vestibule she yells out "Here's my Daddy" and goes roaring up the hall.  

Is there any particular music that when you hear it, sparks a childhood memory?

Where do I begin?  


The Ventures a Go Go, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and James Last will always speak to me of what seemed exciting and sophisticated times of my parents youth. I was encouraged to stay in my bedroom with the promise of After Dinner Mints while they had dinner parties.  It was fun seeing the couples arrive dressed to the nines - we're talking silk taffeta dresses made from material bought from Peuan Thai and if the girls were feeling particularly chuffed, small tiaras.  I think I was allowed to move the TV into my bedroom on those nights too.

What is something that an older family member taught you to do?

My mother and grandmother taught me to knit and to sew.  My father taught me to ride a bike.  I'm sure my uncle tried to teach me to milk a cow without success!

Alex on tricycle in Edinburgh

What are brands that you remember from when you were a kid?

Walking around Canberra last week was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.  I was delighted to see Franco the hairdresser still in the same place at Baileys Corner in the lower ground shop.  I think I had my first proper style cut there - very short at the age of 7.  Sam Catanzariti menswear shop was a familiar name.  I remember Youngs Dept Store.  I remember Mary Quant makeup and what fun that was.  I was shocked to find that Millers of Manuka seems to have gone.  My mother and grandmother would be spinning in their graves if they knew.  You can see some photos of Millers in the ACT Heritage library here.  My memories are of wading through plush pile carpet and of having to be very quiet whilst ladies made momentous decisions about frocks in hushed tones.

courtesy of the National Library of Australia, Advertising. (1968, June 3). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 4. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from, 

Did you used to collect anything? (ie. rocks, shells, stickers … etc.)

I think I bought every Enid Blyton book I could lay my hands on.  My grandmother gave me a lot of dolls from her travels overseas and spoons too.

Share your favourite childhood memory.

Birthdays were always special when I was growing up.  My parents put a lot of effort into making me feel loved.  My mother would usually make me a doll. There would usually be a complicated treasure hunt or series of cryptic clues to find my presents and the cards often had scrawly fun "writing" on them from the various pets - from mice to cats.  I was very lucky indeed.  

Barbara and doll

Birthday card greetings

What can you find when you dig through your old "rubbish"?

Drawing of Alex going through the rubbish bin by Barbara

Friday, April 3, 2015

14th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry - Reflections and Wrap Up

Standing Figure by Ante Dabro at University House

I promised to write a wrap-up post of my experience of Sunday's talks at the 14th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry in Canberra so here goes..


Keynote Address: Meeting people at war: writing war on the home front - Michael McKernan

Michael McKernan - photo courtesy of Allen and Unwin

I was really interested in listening to this talk mostly because I've been busting a gut (to use an impolite phrase) creating PowerPoint presentations for our library service to commemorate the lives of the soldiers from the region who enlisted in the Great War.  The PowerPoints are just part of the displays we have in each library and they include display cases filled with artefacts from local RSLs and museums and some A2 sized themed posters.
Foyer Caboolture Library with WWI Displays

WWI Display Caboolture Library

Burpengary Library posters

These photos give you a rough idea of what they look like.  My colleague, Wendy, did a fabulous job with the display cases and it was a huge job - 10 libraries in 2 days.  Pat, Kelly, Tara and Pam I couldn't have done it without your support.  Thank you.  But enough of that.

This was my first exercise in writing history for work rather than for fun (blogging) and it just about did my head in.  Of course there is always the time constraint to deal with; you never have enough time.  But choosing which soldiers to focus on was also difficult.  I wanted to choose soldiers from each suburb or area that each library was in...but sometimes those areas just didn't exist back in 1914 e.g. Arana Hills.  And then I wanted to illustrate the stories and we didn't have photos of every soldier - let's be honest, hardly any soldiers. If I analyse how much I wrote about each soldier we're talking 3-4 sentences maximum.  Very sad.  How to encapsulate a life in 4 sentences?

What I'm talking about is "selection".  And that really was the nub of Michael's talk.  My take-away statement from this talk was "Selection is the key to writing something worthwhile about the past" and I tweeted it here.

Michael studied his doctorate at ANU.  His latest work is Victoria at War 1914-1918 and you can read about it here.  His challenge was to capture the lives of what he dubbed the "none of name" or stories of what some might call "cannon fodder" - the ordinary soldiers.  He spoke of a long mourning and deep grief for each life lost.  He referred to one family, the Fothergillls, who published a new ""In Memoriam" poem each year for 30 years for their son Jack as an example.  It was a very moving talk.  Thank you Michael. 

Tracing Your Pre-WWI British Soldier - Paul Milner

Do you know I almost didn't attend this talk?  I was going to listen to Kerry Farmer talk about migration schemes to Australia because I always need to know more about that.  And according to fellow genes - Kerry's talk was great.  

But oh boy, am I glad I went to this talk.  It's the first time I've heard Paul Milner speak and I am a new convert.

What a professional, energetic and inspiring speaker he is!  Confident.  Knowledgeable.  And he gave me genea-gold.  What a treasure.  The Congress program advises that Paul is a native of England but he seems to speak with an American accent.  Ah, I see from his website that he studied at the University of Wisconsin and has lived in the US ever since. Paul, you've won a new convert.  

I attended this lecture because my husband's ancestors were in the military in Barbados.  The genea-gold he revealed to me was that Halifax Nova Scotia was the central command post for Nth America including the Caribbean so it is really worthwhile checking records in Nova Scotia if you're trying to find out about ancestors in the Caribbean.  Who knew?

Thanks too to the HAGSOC host of the session who encouraged us just before the session started to take advantage of the much under-utilised AJCP microfilm for an index to the British army in Australia.  

Paul was anxious to let us know that he could easily have spent hours if not days in telling us about this rich subject area.  He did his best in 40 minutes giving us an overview of how the Army was structured before 1660, then from 1750-1870 and 1870-1945.  He walked us through using the National Archives resources and then gave us some case studies.  A very well organised and delivered session.  If you ever get an opportunity to see this man in action, don't miss him.

Mapping our families - putting them in their place - Cora Num

Having enjoyed Cora's pre-recorded session the day before, I went back for more!  

Cora spoke about the Discovering Anzacs site and I was interested to learn that it covers the Boer War as well as WWI.  

She also showed us the NLA Map site which has 600,00 maps of which 17,200 are digitized.  

Other sites referred to included:

Cora also spoke about mindmaps and if you've been following me lately you'll know how enthusiastic I am about those.  If mind maps float your boat she recommended inforapid knowledgebasebuilder here.  You might want to turn the sound down after a while as it has an annoying keyboard clicking soundtrack. Cora also remarked that you can import gedcom files into a mindmap which I thought was really interesting. Must try that one day.

After lunch fellow QFHS members and stalwarts of Unlock the Past cruises and publications, Rosemary and Eric Kopittke were presented with their AFFHO Meritorious Service Award Insignia.  Hooray!

Rosemary and Eric Kopittke being presented with their AFFHO Meritorious Service Award Insignia

Keynote address: Men, women, sex and desire: family history on Australia's first frontier - Associate Professor Grace Karskens 

I confess to suffering from a bit of a post-prandial snooze during this session although I was interested to hear that Castlereagh was the first Soldier Settlement and tweeted accordingly.  Grace is writing an ethnographic environmental history of Castlereagh in Western Sydney to be published by CSIRO press.  Those with ancestors in the area should be pleased.

Harness the power of blogging - Pauleen Cass

I couldn't resist seeing fellow-geneablogger in action at this session and was delighted to see so many other supportive geneabloggers.   I discovered the session was really called Blogging a One Place Study which I didn't mind at all really.  Pauleen gave an overview of why she chose to blog about one place and the benefits that brought to her and others research.  The take home message from this session was blogging about a place gives context to your family history.  You can read about Pauleen's presentations on her blog here.  Pauleen's presentation was short and sweet which allowed for discussion about the benefits of blogging versus traditional publishing.  Many agreed that blogging democratizes research - i.e. so that history is not just about the great and the good but the ordinary folk too.  It was also pointed out that blogs can be searched.  Not all books have fabulous indexes or can be searched as easily.  An interesting session.  Heck!  I might even be inspired to start yet another blog.  Saints preserve us!

For King and Empire - services rendered: WW1 Medical Records - Roger Kershaw

Roger is the Head of Military, Maritime, Transport and Family records for the Advice and Records Knowledge department and Acting-Head of Editorial and The National Archives (TNA).  I attended this session for obvious reasons - my work in researching soldiers' records for the Centenary of WWI.  

Roger directed us to MH106 records from the Ministry of Health and WO339 and WO374 in particular - neither of which have been digitised.  These are the officers service records...sigh.  WO363 and 364 are for the ordinary soldiers.  WO95 are the War Diaries.  PIN26 and PIN82 are the pension records.  There are 23,000 case files.  WO95 locates field ambulance units.  

Roger spoke about the conditions of war leading to poor hygiene and the infectious diseases that spread from that - trench fever, malaria, mumps, typhus to name a few.  

It was the end of a long day and I rather wished I had attended another session.

Oh well - that's why you get the Congress papers.  And you can too by emailing  They're available in hardcopy for $35 plus postage or on a USB stick for $20 plus postage.  Well worth it - if like me, you missed out on a day - or wished you could attend two or three sessions at once!

The day finished with drinks at the Crown Casino to meet up with fellow Kiva supporters - cards were exchanged and lovely Fran Kitto showed me how to save them to my contacts using Evernote.  Thank you to Judy Webster for organising.

Then I went to dinner with Uni Tas course graduates at the Jamie's Italian restaurant which was lovely to meet everyone.  Thank you to Janelle for organising it and thank you to HAGSOC hostess with the mostess Jenny for giving me and Prue a lift back to our motels.

Ribbons and Blogger beads

Thank you again to Jill Ball for my Blogger Beads and Pauleen and Judy for my Congress ribbons - #genealogy, Queenslander and Kiva Genealogists for Families.  Thank you to Shauna Hicks for greeting me so warmly and sharing goodies with me.  I really appreciate it.

Last but not least thank you to my QFHS Library Assistant buddies for covering my shift on the Sunday afternoon so I could attend. You are legends.

So - what was the damage?


2 days attendance @ $160 per day - lunch included - 7 talks a day not including presentations at speaker's corner during lunch hour. Let's say $20 per talk and $20 per lunch.
Originally $401.70 but I changed my return flight to stay an extra night. For international folk Canberra is about 1200km from Brisbane and the flight is nearly 2 hours each way.
$145.00 per night – yes you can get cheaper but I like my own bathroom and wanted to be within walking distance of the venue.
Lunch was included in congress so this was for 3 x breakfasts and 2 dinners plus drinks with friends.  The flight was late home so I survived on the free cheese and crackers and wine supplied by Virgin. $40 per day
At the airport out in the open with Budget Airport Parking booked online for 3 days 
This is for trips to and from the airport and then 4 more trips on Monday to and from archives  and the War Memorial - cheaper than a hire car which always seems to cost more than they promise.
Kiva - I know, pathetic - I'm sorry
Going mad at the War Memorial Shop
Somehow I managed to resists all the stalls in the Exhibition Hall at Congress but came undone here – I found a fabulous Map of the Western front, playing cards featuring Tommies and a Ben Quilty catalogue (pressies for the forbearing folk at home), postcards, books and a trench sign” Roo de Kanga” that I couldn’t resist for my desk at work.  I swear I bought half of what I wanted.

$1656.30 or $552 per day - ouch!  Back to the salt mine.  

The next Congress will be held in Sydney in 2018 and then the next one in Brisbane in 2021.  Yay!  Perhaps I will see you there?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Canberra and Congress

water mall with carp next to walkway

I must say that it was very difficult to leave my accommodation every morning in Canberra.  I was just in love with University House.  It won the Sulman Award for Architectural Merit back in 1953.  I suspect it is heritage listed.

The Queen size rooms are capacious.  The bathrooms have been updated except for the terrazo floors ...and there is a beautiful library....see...

So I was very happy with my accommodation and there were lots of other people there doing conferency things too.  It was about a 20-30 minute walk to the Convention Centre which I needed and for which I was grateful, sitting on my bottom for the rest of the day.  And I got to see lots of lovely sculpture as I walked along.

Sunday was full on at Congress and I might leave my account of that for another post when I'm not so tired.  

Today was spent going to the National Archives, the Australian War Memorial and the Noel Butlin Archives.

I didn't find anything at the National Archives really although I did take a few photos of things and the staff were all very helpful and friendly.  It was much quieter than I expected.  The Without Consent exhibition is definitely worth seeing and very moving.

Then I went to the Noel Butlin Archives.  What a giggle.  I disobeyed all instructions and did not have time to look up where it was before I went.  

This is where I stayed ...okay?

What a nice view I thought to myself as I stood on the verandah.  Guess what the view was?

You guessed it....the Noel Butlin Archives.  Talk about thick.  Anyway, here's my tip for those like me who are going to the Noel Butlin Archives.  When you look it up on the internet (as you're trying to tell the cabbie where it is) - it says that it's on the 2nd floor.  So when I walked into the Menzies Building I looked for a lift and went to the 2nd floor.  When I got out all I could see were stacks and stacks of Large Print.  And then I saw a sign saying "4th Floor" - huh?

So, when you walk into the Menzies Building you are actually on the 2nd floor already.  Talk about traps for the unwary.

This is the entrance to the Menzies.  Just walk in the front door and keep walking straight ahead.  

Honestly, for a librarian I am absolutely hopeless at asking for directions.  

2nd tip for newbies.  They only do one delivery a day at the Noel Butlin Archives so I ordered stuff but it wasn't ready til 2:30pm.  So ...

Off I trotted to the War Memorial - yippee!

I put a poppy next to Royston George Duncan's name in the wall...

I oohed and aahed over the WWI exhibition.  Whoever curated that should be very, very proud.

The Ben Quilty exhibition was simply stunning too.  I spent far too much money at the shop but it's all for a good cause, eh?

Then back to the Noel Butlin Archives.....didn't really find anything although I would like to go back and spend more time on a couple of the boxes, now I have the lie of the land, so to speak....

Raced out the airport only to discover the flight had been delayed...poop!

Finally on board an hour later.

The sun started to set...

Up we went over the sheep plains...

Up into the  clouds

And finally home to Brisvegas.

I'm knackered!