Dream

This is my autobiographical book “Forgotten as a Dream” (from the hymn “Oh God our help in ages past”, played at 4pm Saturday 19 October 1929 as a migrant ship bearing my family left the Liverpool Dock in England bound for Perth, WA – ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day’). It begins in the England of the 1690s and ends the day before yesterday in Australia. Read in sequence if you have just finished War and Peace and are looking for something more substantial; drop in anywhere at random if you want the serendipity of the lucky dip; start here as I arrive in the world; or go from here if you just want to start with my adult life. Whichever way, enjoy.

This is the current list of “chapters” now “clickable” to take you straight to the particular chapter of what is becoming an opus more and more magnum.

Virtually family
What price?
We loved but could not keep
The corn began to sprout again
Clayhanger
Sometimes your old acquaintances
The pride of his father and mother
You just treadle with your feet
The luck of the Whitakers
Gaze Hall Revisited
Very superior quality
Real and personal estate
Second hand
Making plans
Look after my chickens love
Hymns are all you need
Not Anglesey but angels
Landed quite safely
All for one
I could hardly say ‘Good Luck’
The cyclists
Typhoid fever strikes
I could put my head under a train
Bathing in sunshine
Till Tales
At war
A single man
Fight the Good Fight
Leaving from Liverpool
To be called for
Fremantle via Capetown, 1929
Ghost trees
Sustenance work
Change of ownership
Quite a character
Home sweet home
Charlie is my darling
Canst boy read?
A miniature world
Water only
Totally unprepared
And heading for adult life
Light on the Hill
How the West was lost
You’ll like this chap
Travelling North
An art or a science
Sinking feeling
Blue remembered mountains
I’m living in the Seventies
The L word
Revolving chairs
Bon Soir
From a land down under
Ducking Stool
Sheep might fly
One out of two
Type cast
High dive
Slip slidin’
Not an anthropologist
Capacity building
High degrees
You can leave your hat on
A gift to the nation
The Sun also rises
Books, and records, do furnish a room
On the road again
Producing effects
Invisible Man
Home, home on the range
Trialling an idea
Up the down staircase
The Greening of Horton
Half a league onward
Heart attack
Total eclipse of the heart
Hanging out my shingles
Topic of Cancer

Virtually family
When I was young I lived in a kind of cloud of family history. My father had migrated to Australia, my mother had come with her parents when the whole family migrated – they were “to work on farms in Australia – Salvation Army family scheme in operation”, leaving England for the good of the Empire. My mother’s family, who I lived with, felt very much exiled in Australia. They had escaped the coal mines of northern England, and sickness, looking for a positive economic future, and good health, but ran into the Great Depression, which arrived in Australia when they did. So hard times, made worse when the settler scheme in the south west of WA was found to be totally impractical for inexperienced farmers with no capital. And all of that made worse by the lack of a support network of family and friends in a strange country with an inhospitable climate.

So they tended to live in the past, which was another country. England.

No internet of course, effectively no phones or air travel, letters that took weeks to reach a destination and get a reply. Communications with “Home” in the 1930s were little different to what they had been for any migrants to Australia in the previous 100 years. And so they peopled their world with the people that they had left behind. Made do with whatever scraps of information came by letter in order to refresh the old stories, endlessly told, about what happened to young Harry, and life on the Home Farm, and what my great grandfather said on his death bed, and how my great grandmother managed to raise 8 children on her own, and playing cricket, and digging allotments, and learning the piano, and how sister Sally’s boys were doing, and what was happening in their old street. In effect they created a virtual world of family and friends which made the difficulties of life in 1930s WA a little easier to bear. And I moved around a house peopled not just with the living but with the dead and distant, though vividly alive, friends and family from the old country, and would have been unsurprised to find, say, great grandmother Annie sitting in our lounge room, or Aunt Harriet in our garden.

And as I have grown older this sense of a crowd of close and distant relatives, old times and older times, has stayed with me, grown stronger in fact. As I added to my direct personal experiences and the oral history I knew with research into old census returns, and parish registers and letters, I added more characters, all drifting around in my mind, and seen, almost, by my eyes.

It is disturbing, sometimes, to take around, as part of your mental furniture, the people and places and events of the early twentieth century, and mid nineteenth century , and even late eighteenth century, but mostly it is a comfort. A feeling, as for my grandparents, that the past is always with us, people are never totally gone, no matter how far away they are in time and space.

And here, in this virtual world of the internet, I share my virtual family with you.

What price?
For at least 150 years the Ortons were one of those families where if you asked some one “What do the Ortons do?” they would have looked at you in surprise and said “Why, they are coal miners of course”. Generation after generation, Orton boys were born and, after a short interval to develop muscle, went down the nearest mine. For the Ortons coal mines were a matter of life and, on at least one occasion, death.

There were a number of Orton families in north Warwickshire. They had deep roots in the area, their name probably deriving either from the village of Orton on the Hill or Water Orton, and they were to stay in this area for a long time. The first of my lot that I know about were a couple called John and Rachel, married in the mid 1780s. This was about the time deep coal mining began in the area, to service the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the Midlands, and when it began there were Ortons ready to go down the mines and start digging.

Each generation from then onwards dug up coal. Of five or six children per generation the boys would dig coal and marry the daughters of other coal miners, the daughters would marry coal miners from other families. They stayed in the cluster of villages Baddeley Ensor, Grendon, Dordon, Baxterley, Polesworth, Austrey, and further east to Sowe from the 1780s to the 1860s, but at that time a few of them moved to Staffordshire, Potteries country, presumably to take up jobs in mines there (though they later all returned). A move which gave at least one of them a chance to broaden his marriage prospects by taking up with a girl from the Potteries.

So a pretty much unremarkable family. Oh there is an illegitimate child born to one daughter in 1827, but that can’t have been an earth shattering event. One woman lives into her late seventies, probably a very good age indeed at the time, and more remarkably, so does at least one man. One Orton married a girl whose grandfather had been born in Spain in 1767 (a British Subject, so presumably born in Gibraltar, but still exotic for north Warwickshire).

Pretty unremarkable names too – Tom, Bill, John, Jim, Sam, Luke, Joe for the boys, Ann, Mary, Liz, Hannah, Rachel for the girls. Nothing more exotic for either sex than a Caroline or a Charles. They were good biblical names, or good royal names. Good English names, and they succeeded each other down through the generations, father named for son, nephew named for uncle, grandson named for grandfather, and the same for girls. Hard to know, if you meet a Tom Orton, whether he was born in 1790 or 1890, or any of the ten decades in between. I guess, in a particular decade, they would have been distinguished as Young Tom, or Old Tom, or Our Tom, or Hannah’s Tom.

First names unchanging, but, curiously, surnames changed. They were, for most of the 150 years, illiterate, these Ortons, couldn’t sign their names even. No schools really available for poor kids, no point if they had been. Digging coal doesn’t need much education. None, in fact. So there was a potential disconnect between the surnames as said, in Warwickshire dialect, and surnames as written. If a man was asked his name by, say, the vicar, and he said “Orton” was he really saying “Horton” (perhaps Houghton) but dropping an “H”? So we find names changing in parish registers and census documents down the years. Changing, then changing back in some cases, Hs appearing and disappearing. My particular lot gained an H at one marriage and stayed with it. Others didn’t.

But no big deal, the exact spelling of a name for a mining family, nothing to really ruffle the procession of miners and sons of miners through the industrialisation and rapidly growing demand for coal through the nineteenth century. The Ortons fueled the industrial revolution, they lived by and for coal. And sometimes died.

By 1882, about 100 years since they had first gone down the mines, the Ortons were into their fourth generation of miners. On the night of 1 May young Joseph Orton was part of a group of 9 miners doing maintenance and repair work in the deep levels of Baddesley pit. They were reluctant because the pit wouldn’t be working the next day anyway having gone part time as a result of poor demand for coal.

Baddesley pit had been open for 30 years. All of the easy coal was exploited, and the mine owners had pushed on downwards, very deep indeed, half a mile underground, and then further down, a thousand yard incline to the deepest seam. The men had been there often, but on this night in getting down there the nine men (including a boy of 13) didn’t realise that they were entering a trap as surely as a lobster entering a pot. In the deep workings water had become a problem. Originally water had been hauled up the thousand yard slope in wooden leaking tubs, a prospect that doesn’t bear thinking about. As the water became worse it was decided to install a pump. It was just a coal fired steam engine, and the risk of having such a thing underground were well known. Conditions were placed on its installation – it should be bricked around to avoid the heat reaching the coal seam above it, and it should only be run one day a week to avoid heat building up. To save money the brickwork wasn’t done (resulting in a “chimney” made of coal) and the pump was run all day every day. As a result the coal caught fire and had to be put out 5 days before 1 May, but the coal had continued to glow red. A hose was left nearby in case fire erupted again.

The working party had walked past this pump on their way down. Did they glance at it anxiously? If so they didn’t notice anything new and kept going. But within a short time of them going past it fire had erupted in the coal seam and the deep workings filled with thick smoke and noxious gases. The working party were probably dead very quickly. At 8pm one of the managers came on shift to relieve his father and discovered the thick black smoke in the lower tunnel. A rescue mission was arranged, involving a young carpenter (Rowland Till – his family, by coincidence, would be linked by marriage to the Ortons in another generation) building wooden screens covered in fire proof material, and William Orton, trying to find his son, was also in the party. The idea was that the screen would form a protective shield which the men would gradually push down the incline, forcing the smoke back down or into ventilation shafts as they went. They had made some progress when there was a massive explosion – coal dust and fumes in the air had ignited. Some of the rescue party were killed instantly, the rest (including Rowland) were suffering horrible and fatal injuries. A new rescue party bravely went in to the choking smoke and pulled out the badly injured. Nothing more could be done as the fire burned below, and it was clear that no one left in the mine could be still alive so the entrance was sealed to cut off the air. Bodies were still being recovered 6 months later. Thirty two men died – quite a price for the costs saved in a few bricks.

Young Joseph Orton’s children (and many others) were orphans: Joseph’s wife, and his mother, were widows. More of the price to be paid by the community for energy company profits.

Another generation of mining Hortons were still to come in the 1880s. But after that, for some Hortons born in a new century, it was the end of the line. Yet another Bill Horton, destined for the pits in the 1920s, said to himself “blow this for a mug’s game”, and aged 16 had a row with his miner father, caught a ship for the antipodes, and became an Australian instead of a coal miner. Although he did get involved in a different kind of mining, wandering the goldfields of WA for some time. But there the mining was in sunny climes, sunny enough to cast harsh shadows, and hide the face completely.

We loved but could not keep
The Bakers were the kind of family, with roots firmly in farming soil, who found a profession, well two, which involved supplying, and repairing, essential goods for everyone in a community and in doing so became well off and significant members of society. The professions were shoemaking/bootmaking (cordwainers) and carpentry. Later one branch of the family began providing another essential service – alcohol, and presumably made even more money.

They were also a family that, like many others in Chilvers Coton – Nuneaton, probably had links with the most famous product of the area, George Eliot. One branch of the Bakers had the neighbouring farm to the Evans family, and their Arbury Mill would later be the model for “Mill on the Floss”. My particular Bakers had children who overlapped in age with Mary Ann Evans, and they would certainly have known each other as they attended Chilvers Coton church, later the model for “Shepparton Church” in George Eliot’s first (and now justly little known) novel “Scenes from Clerical Life”. The two real life vicars who were models for characters in that book would later perform marriage ceremonies for some of the Bakers.

Well, yes, it’s tenuous, but this is Eliot country, and the real life members of the Baker, Kinder, Till and Taverner families were the kinds of people who would inspire Eliot characters. The scenes they all knew became scenes in the novels.

The Bakers (much early work on the Bakers done by Ralph Weatherill) began as farmers at least by the late 17th century in the area just north of Coventry. The first we know of is George Baker, born in 1693 who married an Elizabeth Morton, probably in 1718. From then on there was a continuous line of George Bakers over many generations. The son, George, a “husbandman” married Ann Dawson (servant) in 1758, and thereby hangs a tale. Parental consent was required for the marriage – George, at 35 (a great age to be unmarried) was twice the age of Ann at 18 (although in their application to the Bishop for permission to marry they had gilded the lily by lying that their ages were 30 and 20 respectively). It wasn’t a case of having to get married, their first child not arriving until 11 months later, so it is a story of some interest.

They did well, these two, had at least 6 surviving children, and had become such wealthy farmer, that George, aged about 74 in 1797, drew up a Will with considerable (for the time) sums of money. Not bad for an illiterate husbandman some 40 years earlier.

To his son, yet another George, who was executor, he left the farm, providing that he cared for his mother, until her death, Ann his mother was also to have the pick of the beds and also of the eiderdowns. To his other children he left the following:

Ann, now married to William Dowell of Bramcote £10-10-0
Elizabeth, now married to William Wright of Nuneaton £10-10-0
Sarah Baker, unmarried £10-10-0
William Baker, unmarried £10-10-0
Hannah, now married to William Powers of Marston 5-0
William Powers, son of the above, on attaining 23 years £10-10-0

The lack of money going to Hannah may suggest a dispute between father and daughter (or daughter’s husband) over her marriage. Certainly it was aimed at keeping money away from William Powers, whereas the other two married daughters received their inheritance, there being no concern about their husbands having access to it. The fact that Hannah’s son was later a witness at his Uncle George’s marriage might suggest that the dispute was with Hannah’s husband rather than with Hannah herself and her children. It’s worth noting too that cash money of 50 guineas, plus farm, house and furnishings was no small bequest from a farmer at this time. Each child was receiving the equivalent of some £905.00 (using the retail price index) or £9,600.00 (using average earnings) the total value in cash being some £5000 – £50,000 (or $Aus 10,000 to 100,000). George died in late May 1800 at the age of 77, and was buried in the churchyard of St. James on 30th May. Probate was granted on 10th October 1800. Old George had set up a financial base for his descendants.

Son George (yes, already three generations), owner of the farm, waited, like his father, some time to marry, finally (aged about 40) marrying a Hannah Greasley in 1810 in Nuneaton. They had three children, all linked to farming. This is the family that were neighbours of George Eliot’s family, the children would have played with Mary Ann Evans (born 1819).

His sister Elizabeth [Baker] Wright left a Will in 1840 (dying in 1845). Clearly childless, and the owner of considerable property and money (by marrying William Wright, also a farmer, she had obviously brought even more money back into the Baker family), she left a number of houses to her brother William, and a shop to a niece. In general terms (and after William’s death which was only a year later, he gained no advantage from the inheritance), all of her property and money was inherited by her various nephews and nieces – the classic rich aunt.

George’s and Elizabeth’s brother William had a more complicated life, breaking away from the farming tradition of his ancestors and siblings. As the younger brother he had not inherited the farm, and needed a trade. It was to be shoemaking, and presumably the 10 guineas from the Will let him establish himself, and also get married. In 1800 when his father died William was 22. In 1802 (2 March) aged 24 he married Lydia Wilson of Cottesbrooke, Northants. This is a shoemaking area of very long standing and it is conceivable that William had been here for a while as an apprentice, perhaps even apprenticed to Lydia’s father, although some of the Wilsons were also carpenters.

The Wilsons had a long history in this part of the county close to Warwickshire, with a number of generations known back to 1700.

So Lydia Wilson (last of a family of 9 children) was to marry William Baker. They returned to Nuneaton, where presumably William began work as a shoemaker. Another big family followed:
George in 1804
William 1806
Thomas born 1808 died 1813
Ann 1811
Elizabeth 1813
Thomas 1815
Job born 1817 but died aged about 5 in 1822
John Baker 1820
Sarah 1822
A second Job Baker born 1826, died aged about a year old

By at least 1813 William was running a shoemaker business in Church Street. In 1822 William has a boot and shoemaker businesses situated in both Church Street and Bond End. William had built up his inheritance well. Sons George, William and John all became shoemakers also. By 1841 all of the children except John had left home. Their known stories are as follows:

William Baker married Elizabeth Randle in 1833. He ran the Bond Street shoemaking shop and then later (after his father died) the Church Street one. He gave this away, owned a beer shop in Bridge Street, and later moved to Birmingham, the father of 7 children.

Ann Baker married Joseph Wilson (son of Lydia’s brother Henry) her first cousin in 1841 aged 30. She had dark hair, high cheekbones, large eyes, and would probably have been termed “handsome” at the time. He, not so much.

John Baker married Amelia Capenhurst in 1845 and seems to have become a farmer and moved away from Nuneaton.

The parents died at the end of the 1840s:
In Affectionate Remembrance of
William Baker
Who died January 1st 1846
Aged 68 years
Also of
Lydia
His Wife
Who died November 4th 1849
Aged 66 years

Reader, how stands the matter,
Between thy soul and God,
Art thou renewed in heart and mind,
And washed in Jesu’s blood,
If not, lift up the heart felt groan,
Which shall by faith,
Make Christ thine Own.

Their son George (this is getting worse than the Hanoverian kings) had another big family and a long life, living through more than three quarters of the nineteenth century. And an interesting life, or perhaps vicariously interesting, through the vicissitudes of his sons.

George Baker was a shoemaker like his father William. George married Jane Lowe (pregnant), the daughter of Samuel and Ann Lowe, in 1826 (sister Ann Baker a witness). Samuel was a tailor and a neighbour of William and Lydia in Church Street, Nuneaton, so George and Jane may well have grown up together.

George and Jane originally lived in Abbey Street, Nuneaton, then moved to Attleborough sometime in 1828 and set up home in The Green, remaining at number 10 for the rest of their lives, apart for the few years that George was a publican at the Bull Inn in Attleborough.

They were to have 9 children in a 19 year period and were also to lose a child:
George jr 1827
Ann 1829
Elizabeth 1832 who died just eighteen months later
William 1834
Arthur 1836
John 1839
Thomas 1842
Sarah Jane 1844
Frederick 1846

Parents George and Jane had set about building up even further the family’s wealth and status, begun by grandfather George and father William. In 1841 George was a shoemaker (Jane a ribbon weaver, bringing in extra money). By 1845 George has gone farming, but by 1851 he has become landlord at the Bull Inn. Then in 1861 he has gone back to farming (cattle on 19 acres), leaving his son George jr to manage the pub. The farming continued through to 1876. Then wife Jane died in 1877 after 51 years of marriage. George moved back into town living on a pension, as part of the gentry, for the final 8 years of his life. He died in 1885 aged 81 (though thought to be only 79):

In Affectionate Remembrance of
Jane
The beloved wife of
George Baker
of this place
Who departed this life
the 27th January 1877
Aged 71 years

“We loved what God hath taken
We loved but could not keep
He knows, but decided
So we must cease to weep”

Also of
George Baker
Husband of the above
Who departed this life
The 7th February 1885
Aged 79 years

And what of their children. Well, nothing known about Frederick and Sarah Jane. And Thomas, William and Ann all had apparently straightforward lives involving farming activities and trades. Thomas and William continued the association with Arbury Mill farm. Especially William who was there (having taken over from his cousin) for nearly 30 years and then his widow continued on for another 20 years. Hannah died in 1895, and this finally brought to an end the Baker association with Arbury Estate after 170 years.

But Arthur and George jnr must have caused their parents a few grey hairs and sleepless nights. Arthur Baker at the age of 28 got a 17 year old girl called Betsy pregnant and married her. She had a son Thomas, possibly their only child. In 1881 they were living in some big building with other tenants in Birmingham and Arthur was a caretaker in a factory. Three years later he was dead at the age of 48. Not a history consistent with the upstanding pillars of the community that were the Bakers.

George jnr was even worse. Four marriages and 13 children during his life. It began with a marriage to Jane Edwards. He had set a bad example for Arthur. Jane was only 18 when she died as a result of having their second child, which means she can’t have been more than 17, perhaps only 16 when they were married. Lies about ages perhaps? George (by trade a shoemaker, but now landlord of Bull Inn) married again just 18 months later, though Elizabeth was of “full age”. She lasted just over 4 years (and no children). Just 10 months later George married (in a joint ceremony with brother William, marrying a servant from Arbury) a 30 year old Sarah Gibbons (originally a cook at Harpur’s). Sarah produced 5 children for him, but died aged 45 some 5 years after the last child. What do you know but George (still only about 46) married again within about a year to Mary Anne who produced another six children, the last as George was nearly 60. And there we will leave George with his 13 children.

The final son of George and Jane was John Baker. John was a carpenter and cabinet maker by trade, but would eventually become an innkeeper. His story will be told separately with that of his wife Elizabeth Kinder.

The corn began to sprout again
Sometimes, in our quest for history, the past speaks to us. Sometimes, though too rarely, actual voices emerge from the dry dust and ashes of names and dates, births, marriages, and deaths. Sometimes we can see the small stories of individuals played out against the broader historical backdrop.

In 1815 the British parliament passed the ‘Corn Laws’ (corn meant wheat in Britain). These were essentially a system of tariffs, the precise nature of which varied over the next 30 years, designed to maintain the price of wheat (by taxing cheap imports) and therefore to try to maintain farm incomes (although since imports were allowed when the domestic price became high, this in effect prevented farmers doing well out of very high prices). The conservatives were in favour of maintaining farm income, the Free Traders were against any interference in the market, the ordinary people in cities stridently and aggressively wanted cheap bread (all sounds familiar 200 years later in Australia, does it not – think Wheat Board). The latter two forces were eventually to prevail (not least as a result of riots and massacres), the demand for cheaper food trumping the demand for farm incomes, and the Corn Laws were completely abolished in 1846.

One of my great great great grandfathers (Joseph senior) and his father (John) were trying to make a living from farming in Yorkshire during these times. Joseph’s record of this period, beginning nearly 200 years ago, would be recognised by any modern Australian farmer wrestling with the weather, the price, farm succession, and competing imports. During the earlier part of the period Joseph was working for and with his father, but on ‘December 19th 1820 in the 64th year of his age. [John] died in peace with God and all men leaving a son and daughter Joseph and Mary’. So Joseph took over the running of the farm, and, probably within a few weeks, decided he had better get things shipshape, see how they were travelling, perhaps introduce some better business practices. And so he began what he called a ‘Memorandum’ in 1821, probably working from rough notes either he or his father had kept, to make sense of life under corn laws and poor weather:

’1816 The corn was so damaged with the wetness of the weather as to render it almost unusable it was so sprouted. It was dear in the same year as high as 3 pounds per load. But great quantities came from abroad and caused a reduction in the price nearly half.
1817 There was a long drought in the Spring. The wet weather commenced about the 28 of May and continued 3 months. The corn began to sprout again which made the people despair. American flour at 3 pound per ton.
1818 Corn sold at about 28 shillings per load.
1819 Corn sold from 14 shillings to 1 pound 5 shillings per load.
1820 Corn sold at 12s to 14s to 16s to 18s and 20s per load. Barley at 26s the top price. Oats at 12s to 14 to 16 and 18
1821 The same as the year before.’

Joseph is full of good intentions and resolutions and the vigour of a young man taking over his father’s farm, but having started a ‘Memorandum’ to mark the death of his father he quickly runs out of steam faced with the daily realities of raising a family, managing the farm, worrying about weather and corn prices. He writes ’1822′. Begins a word that may be ‘Mr’ then crosses it out. Writes ‘About’ and then stops. Fourteen years go by and then, new pen in hand, he decides the time has come to add to the record. He makes another false start – ‘The writer of the above Joseph had been in the’, perhaps he intended to fill in the missing years. But then he decides just to get on with it -
’1836 A late harvest the weather cold and wet a great deal of the spring corn out in the latter end of October and fields still standing and not likely to get ripe.’
Then another gap, then in April 1839 he sums up 1838 ‘A Deficiency in the wheat crop. Markets getting high. Great discontent on account of the Corn laws. Wheat at 30 shillings per load and still advancing. The people arming themselves in several places.’ [In 1838 the 'Anti-Corn Law League' was founded].
Then a new hand (almost certainly son Joseph) takes up the pen:
’1844 Joseph died June 2nd it being Trinity Sunday in 57th year of his age leaveing [sic] behind him 3 sons and 2 daughters’ .

Joseph never saw it but two years after his death the Corn Laws were abolished. Cheaper and cheaper imports began to come from overseas (especially America initially), farm incomes fell radically, the employment of farm labourers dropped away markedly. In effect it was the beginning of the end of Britain as a serious grain producing county. Neither Joseph’s son (Joseph junior, the one who recorded his father’s death) nor his other sons, nor his grandchildren would make a living out of farming. Though, both in odd ways, a great grandson and a great great great grandson, would give it a go much later in Australia, a country whose wheat had also helped to end effective grain-growing in Britain.

Clayhanger
Some of my ancestors had coal dust running in their veins, others hay, still others leather, or iron, or wood shavings, or, indeed, beer. The Hulmes were the family that had clay running in their veins through at least three generations – and they lived in Arnold Bennett’s five towns (actually six), centre of British and indeed the world’s pottery making for well over a hundred years.

They were a family who would have been among “The women and boys and girls [who] were on their way to work, with hurried clattering steps, some munching thick pieces of bread as they went, all self-centred, apparently morose, and not quite awake. The dust lay thick in the arid gutters, and in drifts across the pavement, as the night-wind had blown it” seen by Anna.

And they lived in Longton (Bennett’s “Longshaw” of which he said “For this the architecture of the Five Towns is an architecture of ovens and chimneys; for this its atmosphere is as black as its mud; for this it burns and smokes all night, so that Longshaw has been compared to hell; for this it is unlearned in the ways of agriculture, never having seen corn except as packing straw and in quartern loaves; for this, on the other hand, it comprehends the mysterious habits of fire and pure, sterile earth; for this it lives crammed together in slippery streets where the housewife must change white window-curtains at least once a fortnight if she wishes to remain respectable; for this it gets up in the mass at six a.m., winter and summer, and goes to bed when the public-houses close; for this it exists – that you may drink tea out of a teacup and toy with a chop on a plate.”)

George Hulme was born in Longton in 1812 and christened on Christmas Day 1813. His parents were Thomas and Elizabeth Hulme, but nothing is yet known of them. There is a village called Hulme only a mile or so north of Longton, and it seems likely that the Hulme family was long fashioned of the clay of the district.

He married, perhaps aged exactly 21, Amelia Richardson, who had been born, somewhat surprisingly, in Wybunbury (pronounced, of course, Winberry, on the same principle as Captain Mannering) Cheshire to Thomas and Amelia [ne Potts} Richardson, and was the same age as George. The Richardsons had been married in 1796, and Amelia's mother, also called Amelia (unusual this), was married in 1766 in Wybunbury, so this is a long established family in the area.

No potteries in Cheshire, but there are records of Cheshire people on the move in the nineteenth century, heading into the industrial counties of Staffordshire and Warwickshire as the industrial revolution gathered steam (ha!). Both of Amelia Hulme's parents worked in the potteries, so I'm guessing they made the move after she was born and she grew up in the six towns. A big shock, the transition from rural Cheshire to the hell of Staffordshire, although the descent into Hades would have been less steep at this time than in Bennett's day.

Within 11 months of their marriage George and Amelia Hulme were christening their first child. They would go on to have 13 over 19 years. Not an unusual number of course. They would also go on to lose at least 6, probably 7 of them, again not an unusual number in the hell of Longton (which at the time had the highest infant mortality rate in England) and its poor accommodation, filthy air, little medical help. and atrocious diets. But slightly unusual in that while Charles, Samuel and a young Amelia died as babies, the others died as children - young George aged 15, Henry (probably died) aged at least 8, Amelia Maria aged 11, George Richardson Hulme aged less than 8.

Still, they had 6 surviving children - plenty to bring money into family and care for parents in old age. They were Eliza, Thomas, Joseph, John, Samuel and Mary. Almost the whole family was in the pottery trade in various occupations, except for one miner, and the girls were both to marry miners.

But back to the start. By 1841, and presumably earlier, George and Amelia were living with some of Amelia's relatives (best guess an older brother Thomas and his daughter). They had, after just 7 and a half years of marriage, produced 6 children and still had 4 small children (Charles and young Amelia having died) - Eliza 5, George 4, Thomas 18 months, Joseph 2 months. The premises, in Weston Place, Longton Rd, Longton, must have been crowded.

Thomas Richardson was a "turner of pottery", daughter Eliza was a transferrer, George Hulme was a packer (ie of the kiln). (Pottery occupations are here).

Ten years later the family was still living in the same road, but in their own premises. However they had taken in Thomas Richardson, Amelia's father, who at 78 was a widower and retired ("formerly potter"). There were 8 children (all at home, as was mother Amelia, with her hands full looking after them, assisted by oldest daughter Eliza) - Eliza 15, George 14, Thomas 11, Joseph 10, as well as the new ones from the previous ten years, Henry 8, John Richardson Hulme 7, Samuel 3 (there had been a previous Samuel who had died), Amelia Maria 7 months. Father George simply describes himself as a "potter" which isn't useful, although since he was a "packer" in 1841 and 1861 this was probably the case here. Must have been a strong man, George. It's odd that none of the sons were yet working.

In the 1850s this family moves, probably not far, to Hanson Place, from where oldest daughter Eliza is married (she had been working as a potter before that). By 1861 they have moved again, and again not far, to Heathcote Court, where they were to live for the next 20 or more years. George is a potter packer. Mother Amelia, and sons John (17) and Samuel (13) are potter transferrers, and daughter Amelia Maria at age 10 is a potter papercutter (she only has a year to live). Young Mary, aged 9, is still at school. Also living with them is Eliza Swain, aged 26, a married dressmaker. She is a niece of George Hulme. Missing are young George (who died in 1851), Henry (who would have been 18, but has either died or moved from home), and George Richardson Hulme who was born in 1853 and died between then and 1861.

By 1871 George (presumably now too old for the heavy outside work) is a potter's printer, but Amelia is not working. Joseph is a potter's presser, Samuel's pottery job is ovenman (probably), Mary is a potter's burnisher. Ellen Bott, aged 50, a potter's wheel turner, is boarding with the family.

As well as pottery, the Six Towns had major coal mines. Some of the Orton family, probably with thousands of others, moved there from north Warwickshire. James Orton found himself living in Longton, and his son Tom therefore found himself living a street or two away from Mary Hulme, potters burnisher. Things developed, as they do, and hey presto Tom Orton and Mary Hulme were married in 1872, big sister Eliza as bridesmaid. They stayed close to the Hulmes. The Hulme family by 1881 was still living in 17 Heathcote Court. I assume this was a tenement with several 'flats'. George (at age 69 describing himself as an unemployed Potter's Printer) and Amelia were living there, as was their son Joseph (a Potter's Presser) and his wife Ann Maria. Next door at number 15 was their son Thomas Hulme (a miner), a lodger in the house of a charwoman and her family. And Thomas and Mary Horton moved into number 17 as well with their two children. I guess Thomas might have been out of work, or perhaps this was a temporary arrangement. Samuel Hulme seems to have been in gaol in 1881.

And now we are reaching the end of the Hulme story. Some time over the next few years George died in his seventies, a good age. Amelia moved in with her oldest daughter Eliza and her family (who had her own difficulties - her first husband had died leaving her with at least 4 children, and she had remarried a Welsh coal miner, which shows how far these miners had to travel to find work at times). She was still living there, aged 79, in 1891, and may have survived to 1898.

These were good ages. When thinking about pottery workers, discard the image of the happy little craft potter, languidly throwing a perfect pot on a wheel in a picturesque little cottage. The real potteries were hard dirty work, usually begun at very young ages. You worked covered in dust. You breathed it and swallowed it. Depending on the actual job - your hands were dry and cracked, your back sore; you would probably have burns and broken limbs; you might have silicosis developing in the lungs; or be dying of lead poisoning. If you were a valued artist, creating designs, or doing the actual painting, you might work in pleasant conditions and earn reasonable money. But this wasn't the Hulmes (nor many workers, as the production of pottery became more and more mechanised and standardised), they were working in hard, boring, repetitive jobs.

Here, as seen through the eyes of Anna again, is Bennett's description of a "good" pottery "men and women were working side by side, the women subordinate to the men. All were preoccupied, wrapped up in their respective operations, and there was the sound of irregular whirring movements from every part of the big room. The air was laden with whitish dust, and clay was omnipresent - on the floor, the walls, the benches, the windows, on clothes, hands, and faces. It was in this shop, where both hollow-ware pressers and flat pressers were busy as only craftsmen on piece work can be busy, that more than anywhere else clay was to be seen 'in the hand of the potter' ... All the ware as it was moulded disappeared into the vast cupboards occupying the centre of the shop ... innumerable rows full of pots in the process of steam-drying. Neither time nor space nor material was wasted in this ant heap of industry. In order to move to and fro, the women were compelled to insinuate themselves past the stationary bodies of the men ... Everyone exerted himself as though the salvation of the world hung on the production of so much stuff by a certain hour; dust, heat, and the presence of a stranger were alike unheeded in the mad creative passion ... He pointed to the oven nearby, in whose dark interior the forms of men, naked to the waste, could dimly be seen struggling with the weight of saggars full of ware. It seemed like some release of martyr, this unpacking of the vast oven, which, after being flooded with a sea of flame for fifty four hours, had cooled for two days and yet was hotter than the Equator ...

To the printing shop, where, by means of copper plates, printing presses, mineral colours and transfer papers, most of the decoration was done. The room was filled by a little crowd of people - oldish men, women, and girls, divided into printers, cutters, transferrers, and apprentices. Each interminably repeated some trifling process, and every article passed through a succession of hands until at length it was washed in a tank ... The room smelt of oil and flannel and humanity; the atmosphere was more languid, more like that of a family party than in the presser's shop; the old women looked stern and shrewish, the pretty young women pert and defiant, the younger girls meek.

They descended again to the ground floor, and following the course of manufacture, came to the 'hardening-on' kiln, a minor oven where for twelve hours the oil is burnt out of the colour in decorated ware. A huge jolly , jolly man in shirt and trousers, with an enormous apron, was in the act of drawing the kiln, assisted by two thin boys ... 'Step inside miss, and try it' ... Anna, challenged by the man's look, walked quickly into the kiln. A blasting heat seemed to assault her on every side, driving her back; it was incredible that any human being could support such a temperature.

'There!' said the jovial man, apparently summing her up with his bright quizzical eyes. 'You know summat as you didn't know afore, miss.'"

And so do we.

Sometimes your old acquaintances
The Hewsons were unusual among my patchwork of ancestors for several reasons. First there is no single way to characterise them, they are not one occupation families like Youngs and Mauds (who would be related by marriage to the Hewsons) or the Ortons or Tills. Second, the rest of my mob generally either stayed put to within a few miles of where their great great grandparents had been born, or headed to the southern hemisphere (notably Australia, but also NZ, and even briefly once, SA in the case of Henry Carter). Oh sure, John Carter had finished up in America, and a couple of Tills had gone to Canada, but the Hewsons went to Canada in a big way, and mainly stayed to help build the country. And third, they included among their number a professional soldier, a fact that probably explains the Canada link. All of this is the more remarkable in that they probably began as a family of farmers, and might well have just continued in that way like the Youngs and Mauds did.

The family originated in south Yorkshire, north Lincolnshire, with concentrations of the name at Louth and Hull, but the first I know about were living in that cluster of small villages along the Humber estuary - Laxton, Yokefleet, Saltmarshe - a bit further east than the Mauds. Nicholas Hewson and Elizabeth Pickering (born 1764, Nicholas birth date not known, but about the same) probably married in 1785. From 1786 to 1807 they had at least 8 children, of whom two, Thomas and Hannah, died as young adults (aged 27 and 16 respectively).

Of the other six children, two stayed put in England. Susannah (who was nick-named Ana) married Robert Maud, the farmer from just up the road. Among their children were one who was tanner, farmer, and "local preacher", and another who was a millwright said to have "married his master's daughter". The other two, Elizabeth and William, were respectively to marry brother and sister Charles and Eliza Young. Ana died in the 1850s, and Robert would later move in with the Youngs. The Mauds and Hewsons seem to have had generally close and good relations.

John Hewson was a school teacher and was married, had one daughter, and was remarkably mobile. He taught school in Wiltshire and lived at Appleton in 1831, and moved to Huddersfield till 1848. He was at Temple Coombe and Blanford and at Dorset in 1853. After a short illness he died at the age of 75. His daughter was also a school teacher and taught for years at Temple Coombe, Trowbridge and at Bath where she died in 1852. Her husband was a teacher too, and they were only married seven or eight years before she died, leaving two small children. She was said to be clever, as she held a "Certificate from the Committee of Council" (no, I don't know either, perhaps a teaching certificate); was a gifted musician; a talented water-colourist; as well as a good linguist, speaking French quite fluently.

Matthew ("by trade a tailor") was a gunner and driver in the Sixth Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, from 1 Oct 1809 (aged 19)-13 Oct 1840 ("31 years and 13 days" noted the Army, precisely). He served in Canada from 30 May 1814-27 Sept 1820 and was "Present at the Siege of Fort Erie the remainder at Home". (The British lost the Battle of Fort Erie, near Niagara Falls). He married Fanny Johnson, a spinster, on 2 Sept 1834, in St. Mary Magdelene, Woolwich, Kent, and they lived for a time at Woolwich (ie where he would have been serving in the Army) and Hull, Matthew retiring from the army in 1840 (for the medical reasons of "rheumatism and impaired vision" but not "attributable to neglect, design, vice or intemperance") and with "four marks of distinction for good conduct". ln 1853 he built a house for himself at Eastrington, and lived there till he died, at the age of 75 in 1865. Fanny died three months later in North Cave.

I'm betting that when Matthew returned to England in 1820 he began raving to his brothers and sisters about what a great country Canada was. And they believed him. Enough of old England and the small towns of Humberside.

Mary married a William Woodhall. In 1830 (aged 39), with her husband and two neighbours, and her young brother James (aged 25), they set sail for Canada. Within a year Nicholas, who had married a farmer's daughter, Mary Mitchell (in 1864 she inherited the equivalent of several thousand pound from her father) also headed for Canada, all of them settling near each other in Ontario. James married an Englishwoman in Canada in 1834, but just before this there was an upheaval back home. Father Nicholas died, and his widow Elizabeth also set sail for Canada, bravely at the age of nearly 70 and moved in with son Nicholas. She died in Canada in 1838.

Back home it was up to Matthew to keep in touch with Nicholas, let him know the doings of the family back home and of Mauds and Mitchells and other relatives, and complain about the lack of news coming back to him. The Canadian Hewsons had not written home from 1840 to 1853. In that year, the death of one of Elizabeth Pickering's brothers forces him to write, grudgingly, anyway. The old soldier, gruff and outspoken and not totally at home with written English, shines through:
Letter from Matthew Hewson addressed to:
Mr. Nicolas Hewson,
On Lot No. 18 in the sixth Concession
East of center ward
Chinguascousy,
Near Stanley Mills,
Upper Canada,
North America

Eastrington, Near
Howden, Yorkshire
August 3rd 1853
Dear Brothers & Sisters

It was a particular desire of poor Uncle Pickering, that you Should be Made Aiquanted, With his Death; by Us - which took place on the 14th January, he had been gradually, decaying for Some time, but kept About till Nearly the last; he Was a frequent Visitant of Ours; When We Was at Hull; and Many times expressed, an Anxious Wish, to hear of you all before he died; but We Could get No Intelligence, for him About you; Any More, than We Could get About him for you; when you Made inquiries of Us, in your letters to Us at Woolwich; we found No difficulty in finding him ourselves; when we Went to Hull; and Was Much pleased With his Company at all times. he was a fine Venereable, Handsome looking old Gentleman, to the End; Haveing performed our promise respecting Uncle Pickering; I am About to Ask for an explanation; or reasons Why We have been thus Neglected and treated With Such disrespect in Not getting a line, or Message in reply, to 3 Letters We Sent to you, before We left Woolwich; It is 13 years, and 6 Months Since you Wrote to us; the Only Word we have ever heard was through John Maud; who told us of the Marrage of Brother Woodall’s Daughter - - If I have given an offence; it was Unintentionally and am wholly unconscience of having done so, in any way, that Could Merit 13 years Resentment and Consider it Nothing but right to know what it is - If you think proper to reply, to this you will direct to Us at Eastrington Where We Are Now liveing; We have built Us a New House, on our own property, and are verry comfortable, enjoying excellent Health; with great Cause to be thankful; for that and every blessing – We Conclude With Wishing you to Understand, We Shall Not be Satisfied With a Messuage from, or though Any One, but a Reason from yourselves – Why you have So Neglected Us.
In Conclusion We have to beg our United love to All hoping it May reach you all in good health and Remain yours Affectionately
Matthew F. Hewson

P.S. I enquired a few days Ago After Mm, Mitchel She Was then Well I have Not Seen her and have No Messuage She Was With her Daughter at Spaldington

Not knowing if you heard of the Death of Brother Johns Daughter, I Will tell you she died on the 5th April last Year leaveing two poor Children, who Are With her Father & Mother - M F Hewson.

After this communications seem to have been re-established:
Letter from Matthew Hewson to Nicholas Hewson (some words unreadable)

Eastrington
October 9th 1858
Dear Brother & Sister
With Much pleasure We _____ received your kind letter and Newspaper for which we thank you – We are happy to find yourselves and family was enjoying health, and doing Well – May those blessings long attend Us all As to ourselves, we have Much to be thankful for – as to health and all temporal blessings – we saw Nicholas Maud, and his wife last week – they Was Well, and all Members of the family, Was at that time Well, and doing Well, and all are living, at the same places, as When Nicolas sent their places of Residence to Canada. I saw Mrs. Mitchel a few days since, she desires her love, to you, - Also Cousins Jackson, they are Well, and doing Well, they have got their third daughter Married; they have two in Service, and one a Milliner in London, The eldest son is Apprentice’d, to a Draper in Malton and one is at home – I forgot to say Mrs. Mitchel was quite Well and I think looks remarkable Well, she Was sewing Without glasses, - She enquired if you Was coming to see her; Sometimes your old Acquaintances in this place ask after you Collins the shoe Maker; Stephenson the Bricklayer; Mrs. Oster, and many others - - We had a very fine Harvest, and delightful Weather to get it in, Crops good, and good in Quality, - which has caused provision, to be More reasonable than it has been for some time Meat, of all kind, is high yet Butter, has been very dear; for a long time; - We have had very long, hot summer, with Much Wind, and ______ Weather; great Want of Water in some parts; but I have Not heard of any particular sickness arising from the excessive heat, there was several Accidents, from the lightening; some very serious, and fatal – I suppose you heard of the Queen’s Visit to Leeds, and how Loyally the Yorkshire people, receive’d her You Must Not be surprise’d if you have the Prince of Wales visiting Canada, before long I think he will come; he is a Nice Agreeable Youth and Much belove’d go Weare he Will = Having Nearby fill’d My paper, I must Come to a Conclusion feeling sorry I have Nothing More to communicate, hoping this will reach yourselves & Family Well Also Brother & Sister James Hewson Brother & Sister Woodall & families to Whom We beg to be very kindly remember and are at all times happy to get a letter from Cannada And Now dear Brother & Sister May the givers of every good gift Continue to dipense his blessings On Us all and grant Us ________ Happiness Until our lives end Believe Us Yours, Affectionately Matthew F Hewson

The Hewsons certainly left an impression on Canada, a long way from Laxton. By 1949 (when a big family reunion was held) there were 1200 Hewson descendants in Canada. By now the number must be many times that figure. Once Matthew died in 1865 though, the Hewsons who had gone to Canada became yet more emigrants for whom "Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day".

The pride of his father and mother
Perhaps when he was writing his Will in 1844 just 8 weeks before his death, Joseph Carter senior listed his family, and told a story of a hard life. Near the end of the list he wrote 'The above are the sons and daughters of Joseph and Elizabeth Carter born in lawful wedlock at Kippax in the West Riding of the County of York'. He may have just been setting the record straight as he prepared his Will, but it reads as an accounting of a life.
'Joseph Carter was born the 29th day of March 1815 about 40 minutes after 7 o'clock in the morning'
Then he makes a false start in listing his daughter (forgetting to say 'first daughter') so he crosses it out and starts again -
'Elizabeth Carter first daughter of Joseph Carter was born Feb 3rd at 20 minutes after eight o'clock in the morning' Then a strange thing. The next entry is crossed out heavily but reads -
'John Carter was born January 11th 1820 about half past 2 o'clock in the afternoon'. Why crossed out I wonder? Because of his illness?
Then a sad little entry -
'George Carter was born September 19th 1822 about 2 o'clock in the morning. He died April 24th 1823.'
Then Joseph Senior realised there was potential confusion in what he had done so far if people didn't know the family history so he added a note -
'The above mentioned Joseph Carter died when he was turned ten years old. He was the pride of his father and mother and a loving child'. You can hear the tears down the centuries. The next entry records the birth of the second daughter -
'Ann Carter born Feb the 29 1824 at 3 o'clock in the morning.'
Then another son -
'Henry Carter was born April 6th 1826 at one o'clock in the morning'.
And then, even though Elizabeth is nearing 45 they decide to have one more child to replace the loving child, and a new Joseph Carter is born -
'Joseph Carter was born October 8th 1829 at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. This was a second Joseph.'

Then some legalese following the note about 'the above are the sons and daughters' - 'As witness my hand Joseph Carter father of the above' This note is in a fine script, perhaps with a new pen, and after he has written it he decides to abandon the legal considerations and talk about the family again -
'The above John Carter was much afflicted with the smallpox and after which he was dropsical for some time and almost baffled the skill of the doctors to restore him. He was weakly for years and not being likely for business was made a schollar [sic]. No pains nor expence [sic] was spared upon … made great progress in learning and at the age … obtained a situation in a boarding school … obtained a good character’. Unfortunately a corner of the page has been lost but we can get a picture of John’s early life even without the precise details. This is the John who goes to Baltimore and we don’t know what kind of a life the scholar had there. He died “August 11th 1876 at 17 South Gay Street Baltimore Maryland US America aged 56″ but many Baltimore records were lost in the great fire, and John Carter’s later life seems to have been wiped from knowledge.

Having got the listing of his children straight Joseph senior settled down to write his Will. It was a very long document because Joseph was very, in John Galsworthy’s word, ‘warm’ financially. It can only be a guess, but I think Joseph had learnt the trade of carpentry while waiting to inherit the farm from old John. He did two things with the money he inherited from John, developed his ‘house-carpentry’ and wheelwright businesses, and bought property. He may also have built houses and rented them out. He seems to have had his business and investments running alongside the farm business for many years.

He became a man of property, and when he wrote his Will on the 9 April 1844, intimations of mortality setting in, he was determined that the family wealth would be maintained. Essentially what he did was to divide the property up between wife and four children, ensure that wife was provided for, and ensure that young Joseph, only 15 compared to his adult brother and sisters, would be protected until he was of age. He also ensured that, women being what they are, if a daughter wanted to sell any of this carefully accumulated property, they would have to let Henry have first offer. A dynasty beckoned, if you could only get all the legal details right to make your descendants do the right thing long after you were gone. He seems to be the only member of my family in 200 years who ever had any financial sense at all.

So what did he own? Carefully chosen property all over Kippax. How did he dispose of it, not being able, finally, to take it with him? Here is the very model of a last Will and Testament of a wealthy man of Kippax in 1844.
‘I give and bequeath the tools employed by me in my said businesses of Wheelwright and House -Carpenter unto and equally between my sons Henry and Joseph’. This is the very first bequest – he is proud of his tools and wants to see them carried on. They would obviously be of no interest to John the scholar. Now for the wife and the boy – ‘I give devise and bequeath all my tenement lands hereditaments and real estate whatsoever and wheresoever and of what tenure soever the same may be. And also all my Goods Cattle Chattels Stock in Trade personal estate and effects whatsoever and wheresoever and of what nature or kind soever [he clearly liked the sense of totality and completeness in this repeated phrase] (except my said Tools) unto and to the use of my dear wife Elizabeth for and during the term of her natural life, if she so long continues my widow and unmarried. But nevertheless subject to and charged with the maintenance and support of my son Joseph during his minority and in case my said wife shall die or marry again before my said son Joseph shall have attained the age of twenty one years (if he do not die in the meantime) then I give devise and bequeath the same real and personal estates unto my son John and my said son Henry upon trust to apply the income and rents arising therefrom or so much thereof as may be necessary in the education maintenance and support of my said son Joseph until he shall arrive at the said age of 21 years (if he shall live to do so [surely a psychologically significant repetition]) and pay and divide the surplus of the said income and rents (if any) unto and equally among him my said son Henry and my two daughters .. Then follows some juggling – if they die, if the widow remarries, portions to their descendants or back into the pot for the others etc. Then something more specific – once the widow dies or remarries, her share goes to Joseph junior (it would be another 24 years) – on Joseph attaining his majority ‘I give and devise those two dwelling houses or tenements adjoining the town street of Kippax and now respectively occupied by Thomas Limbert and William Firth, also the Dwelling House or tenement situate in Kippax aforesaid occupied by Elizabeth Spence and the long room adjoining now occupied by the members of the Foresters’ Club and the small cottage near thereto in the occupation of Ann Rhodes with the Fold outbuildings and appurtenances to the same.’ These three buildings were left to Joseph for his use, presumably to live in. Except that there was a mortgage of £170 hanging over them, owed to Robert Hudson of Leeds, corn miller, borrowed by Joseph Senior. But there is a lot more property, and this gets divided up between Henry, John, Elizabeth and Ann equally. ‘Three dwellinghouses … occupied by Mary Barton, Solomon Townend and Tabitha Lodge and of and in the Pigcote, Coal House and Manure Hole belonging to [Mary Barton's house]. With a right of road for the tenants and occupiers … at all times and for all purposes over and along the fold or yard in which the same are situate and the privilege of using the pigcotes now used by the said Sarah Townend and Tabitha Lodge and also the privies used by all the said tenants and of taking soft water from the tank in the kitchen … ‘. John gets another house ‘lately occupied by Mr Budgeon’. There is a lot of tying up loose ends for the future, the role of descendants, Henry to purchase the daughter’s houses, if no descendants the share goes back into the Trust. Then the clincher. If John or the girls attempted to sell their properties without selling to Henry then ‘the Day on which my said son John or either of my said daughters shall make such sale … shall as to each part making the same be considered as the day of his or her death’ and they would then lose all their inheritance. Joseph was determined to keep his empire together.

So Henry had done pretty well so far, the others less so. Henry was getting the prize though. Once the wife was dead or remarried and Joseph junior was 21 Henry was to take over the family home. ‘I give and devise the dwelling house in which I now reside with the Fold Yard Stable Shop Barn Pigcotes and privies near to, to my said son Henry’. But Henry wasn’t about to stay in Kippax, within a year or two he was off to London, presumably having come to some agreement with brother Joseph, where he would make a good marriage.


He would soon be off to New Zealand (via a period in Australia) where he would become an important man (and a good one, a politician who was a socialist and a women’s rights advocate years before his time). Sister Elizabeth also made a good marriage in London – clearly the Carters were wealthy enough to cut it in the big city. The other sister Ann became a cook, would remain unmarried, and would live in Kippax for the rest of her long life.

Finally the Will had some more technicalities and details. The wife was sole executrix. The Trustees could reimburse themselves for expenses (except for losses caused ‘by wilful neglect or default’, this is not a trusting man). The Will is witnessed by a solicitor’s clerk, Alfred Arundel of Horner and Son, and James Burley, Butcher. Elizabeth is granted probate on 29 November 1844. Notes attached show John’s death, and ‘Mam died in April 1868′ from Jos. Carter, gardener, Stockton on Forest. Another tantalising note refers to ‘Son John in Australia’.

Young Joseph then had become a gardener. Some of his inheritance at least was tied up until his mother died when he was 39. Given that he was present at her death, perhaps she lived with him after Henry became head of the family. Joseph needed an occupation to supplement his initial small inheritance. We know little about him in this early part of his life. He marries in the early 1850s, to a local woman, Anne Whitaker, 4 years older than he is. She was born at Denby Dale (west of Barnsley) on 30 March 1823, the daughter of Elijah Whitaker and Ann Falhouse. Their first child, Joseph Henry, named for both father and uncle, is born in 1853 at Rothwell, as is a second son, Fred, in 1855. Three years later they are in Killingbeck when the first daughter Ann Eliza (named for mother and both grand-mothers) is born, and stay there while a second daughter Emily Elizabeth is born in 1861, and a final son Louis is born in 1864. Both villages are close to Kippax, on the eastern edge of Leeds. They move to Stockton on Forest some time after this and before 1868.

You just treadle with your feet
The Kinders were one of those many industrial revolution families who lived through great economic upheaval but, through good luck, hard work, good judgement, came out well on the other side. They were the sort of people who could have come from a George Eliot story, or vice versa.

Silk weaving/ribbon weaving began in England in the seventeenth century, as a result of skilled tradespeople fleeing the various political and religious upheavals, and consequent persecutions, on the continent, most famously the Huguenots. For reasons unclear Coventry and the region just to its north (the villages of Nuneaton, Chilvers Coton, Attleborough) became one major centre for this trade, at least from the mid-eighteenth century.

And Kinders were there right from the start. My suspicion is that the name, like a number of others in the area, was a sign of their European origins, but this is just a guess. There is also a suggestion that it was based on a farming occupation. Whichever the name was originally most common from West Yorkshire down through Deryshire (where there is a geographical feature Kinder Scout) and in to Warwickshire. That is, common through the counties involved in textiles in the nineteenth century.

The story of my Kinders begins with John Kinder born in 1785 in Chilvers Coton, probably the son of John Kinder and Sarah Wykes (who were in the silk ribbon weaving trade as the whole town was). John would also become a silk ribbon weaver. On 1 September 1812 John Kinder married Ann Cox, a year older than John. She was also a silk ribbon weaver – this industry was ‘cottage based’. A family would have its own loom and parents and children would all work away at it. The trade lasted about 200 years and was the source of prosperity of Chilvers Coton/Nuneaton until about 1870. But let us backtrack a little.

The big advantage of the trade was that it was carried out as a cottage industry in every home. The whole family (including of course the women) could have meaningful and gainful employment in their own home, not in the appalling conditions of a factory. And the whole community could be involved. Here is an old woman remembering back 50 years from 1879:

“Yes we had three engine looms of our own once. I remember when all the shops along this row and the front houses as well were all open and filled with looms by the window and engine looms down the middle. That was maybe fifty years ago, before the a-la-bars come up. No we never had an a-la-bar, beggar ‘em, they were the ruin of everything. Our engine looms have been burnt for firewood, all but that one batten as stands there. My old man worked in this loom with the Jacquard machine up till the time he died – that was when he could get a bit of work. It hasn’t been touched since they cut out the last bit of work he did. That’s the only figure loom; the other three are just plain single handlooms. They are worth nothing to sell. I’ve worked in this one, on and off since I was a child. I dare say that brick, as bangs at the back for a weight, is as old as I am – you see the cords has nearly cut the brick in two. There aint much about the looms-you just treadle with your feet and throw the shuttle with your hands-but I’ve seen some beautiful work turned out of ‘em, clumsy as you think ‘em. You see the eye was always on the work.

I can show you some bits of ribbon as you’d hardly think were made in this shop. Here’s a brocade as rich as a flower garden, and look at this oriental-it will almost stand on end for all its forty years since it was woven. An them gauzes you’ve picked up-there was good money made on them at one time, till the trade was spoilt by the rubbish that was made. Yes it’s a bit of wool scarfing in my loom now. My sights too far gone I can’t manage silk now, but I get on pretty well with the wool when there’s any to be had. What wages can we get? -Well when its a bit of good yarn I could make seven or eight shillings in a week by keeping to it pretty close-a younger person might maybe would earn half as much again, but the work is only to be had by fits and starts. It’s much the same with silk-that is for us outdoor hands-you get a warp, and it lasts a week or two, and then you might stand at play for a month before you get a bit more. It don’t matter so much where the man’s a collier, or something of that in regular work, and the wife earns a few shillings as well in the loom every now and then. That comes in like extra. But a lone old woman often finds herself in close straits if she’d only got the loom to work on, even when she helps out with a bit of washing and charring. Well it won’t last much longer. I hope when my warp comes down, and I have to take the work of my life in, that the great Master will mercifully let it pass.”

The big disadvantage of such an industry was that it was at the mercy of technology changes (when the first steam driven looms were brought in there was a riot), trade, and fashion. Consequently there were downturns when the Napoleonic wars ended (French ribbons coming back in), and again in about 1830 and 1860. Any reduction in demand, when the whole town was involved in the trade, resulted in terrible economic hardship. In the 1830s for example – “soup was given to 2500 poor inhabitants four days each week and in the present year (1832) to over 3000 three days each week. This out of a population in 1831 of 7799 persons including the outlying districts of Attleborough and Stockingford. (Chilvers Coton was returned separately with a population of 2494 and presumably in a similar plight). 3240 received some kind of relief from the parish. Of this 7799 people living locally over 6000 were in some way dependent on the silk trade of which upwards of 4000 would have been directly employed given that they had the opportunity to work. There were approximately 3000 looms available in the town and outlying districts, but presumably many were out of use. There is no doubt that the re-introduction of French ribbons into the trade after the embargo on these goods due to wars and political problems led to the decline in the homespun trade. William Jacombs said in his submission: “if we introduce ever so beautiful an article the French fashion is preferred, and our goods are considered unsaleable and useless, if not exactly like theirs.”

Things had barely improved by 1835 when a Nuneaton resident, Mr. David Shaw, was asked to give evidence before a Select Committee. He submitted that by then, and out of a similar population, the dependency was:” nine-tenths of them on the ribbon trade”. And – “they are in a state of unutterable distress.” and Mr. Charles Hood, called to give evidence said: “the parish of Nuneaton is in as bad a state as ever it was in the very worst times.””

Thomas Kinder was born in Chilvers Coton to John Kinder and Ann Cox and christened 19 Dec 1813. Ann had had a year of marriage but would not enjoy many more before starting many years of widowhood. In January 1822 John Kinder made a will. He was only 36 and I guess must have already been suffering from a fatal illness or injury to be making a will this early. The will leaves to his wife Ann ‘messuage and dwelling house, shop, yard, garden in Chilvers Coton, and under tennant Richard Taylor’ for her lifetime, but if she remarried or died the above was to be applied to the education of their only child Thomas. One of the witnesses was a John Cox, presumably Ann’s brother (another was Richard Taylor). Ann herself was illiterate.

The house referred to at 12 Bridge Street seems to have been in the Kinder family for some 300 years from the time of their first arrival in Chilvers Coton. John Kinder died just a few months later, 14 May 1822. From then on Ann, for the rest of her life, lived with son Thomas, continuing after he was married and brought his wife back to live in the family home.

Thomas Kinder married Sarah Francis in 1834, just after the great hardship referred to above. Thomas had become a tailor (perhaps because of the collapse of the ribbon trade, and perhaps having put the inheritance to good use in an apprenticeship) and this was to see the family’s fortunes rise considerably for the rest of the century. It is also possible that James Francis (father of Sarah) was a man of some wealth and Sarah his only child. In 1820 he appears in Warwick taking part in an election for which the qualification as an elector was to be a freeholder. In 1836 he is living in Coton Road in Chilvers Coton, in his own property, describing himself as a ‘leasemaker’ and a pensioner.

In accordance with the times (and no contraception) Thomas and Sarah got on with the business of having a big family (also essential when so many children died young). In sequence they had:
1. John Kinder (named for Thomas Kinder’s father?) – christened 6 September 1835, died March quarter 1838 ‘Nuneaton’.
2. Elizabeth Kinder – christened 2 July 1837.
3. Mary Ann Kinder, born 1839, died June quarter 1843.
4. Margaret Kinder born April 1841. Don’t know what happened to her.
5. James Kinder born 1843. He was a labourer in 1861, but later became Parish Sexton (by 1881 when he was still living at home unmarried) and was to die in 1913 (still unmarried – being buried with his parents might suggest this).
6. Ann Kinder, born 1846. In 1861 she was ‘learning dressmaking’ at the age of 15. Don’t know what happened to her.
7. Joseph Kinder, christened 16 December 1849. Becomes the schoolmaster in Allesley by 1881 until at least 1901.
8. Sarah Kinder, christened 4 March 1852. She died 24 April 1871 aged just 19 and umarried, and like James is buried with her parents.
9. Thomas Kinder, christened 16 April 1854. In 1881 he is still living at home unmarried, and is the Parish Clerk like his father before him. He is in the 1901 census as ‘assistant overseer men’ which I think has a nice sound to it [but not such a nice reality - the title overseer relates to the workhouse, the overseer was like a manager, seeing to accounts, interviewing people asking for entry, as to public works schemes, they didn't exist in those days. The Chilvers Coton Workhouse was situated just around the corner from Bridge St; and the inmates would break stones, pick oakum ( unpick ropes), or walk the treadmill].

10. Eleanor Kinder christened 24 February 1860. In 1881 she is still living at home aged 21, a dressmaker. Her second name is variously spelt Sabina, Sophronia, Sabrina. Unusual whichever way. Married in 1886.

Some time between 1841 and 1861 Thomas Kinder the father become a grocer, the trade carried on by his widow for 16 years after his death in November 1873. From 1853, a man of some importance in the parish, he became ‘clerk of the parish’, holding the position for 20 years until his death (a fact he was so proud of he had it engraved on his tombstone). Thomas died 13 November 1873, Sarah on Christmas Day 1889. They are buried together in Chilvers Coton churchyard. Their young daughter Sarah and son James were buried next to them. Both tombstones can be seen in the graveyard behind the church. And they were of such standing that they had memorials in the church:

In affectionate remembrance
Of
Thomas Kinder
Twenty Years Clerk of this Parish
Who died
The 13th of November 1873
Aged 59 years
‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’
Also of
Sarah
Relict of the above
Who died
The 25th December 1889
Aged 73 years

In affectionate remembrance
Of
Sarah
Daughter of
Thomas and Sarah Kinder
Who died on
The 24th April 1871
Aged 19 years
‘In the midst of life we are in death’
Also of
James
Son of the above
Thomas and Sarah Kinder
Who died
4th June 1913
aged 70 years

But Elizabeth Kinder whatever happened to her? Well, she deserves a chapter all to herself, and she will get one.

The luck of the Whitakers
The village of Denby Dale, being at a crossroads, was one of those rural villages that found themselves, in the early nineteenth century, at the crossroads of the industrial revolution. The Whitakers (a good old Yorkshire name), who lived there, also found themselves, like many other families, at the same crossroads. They were also a family, like the Victorian era in general, who had a skeleton or two in the closet.

In 1825 the village was located at a crossroads of the Barnsley to Shepley and the Wakefield to Denby Dale roads. Within 25 years the village had various factories and mills as well as a railway. Denby Dale provided the textile industry with raw materials, coal, and transportation. For the people there was a shift from agricultural occupations to industrial ones.

Elijah Whitaker (earlier the family was “Whitacre”) was born in Cumberworth (next village to Denby Dale) in 1790 to James and Lydia Whitaker. His father, James, was a “stuff maker” [A stuff maker was a person who was a weaver of "stuff" which was the coarse part of the flax (linen). Junior barrister's gowns were often made of this and consequently they were sometimes known as "stuff gownsmen" unlike the QCs that were known as "silks"] and so had a early involvement in the textile industry of West Yorkshire. At least two of Elijah’s sons (though not Elijah) would also go into the textile industry as “fancy weavers” in the period when Denby Dale’s strategic position was beginning to count.

By 1811 Elijah Whitacre was living in Silkstone, just on the outskirts of Barnsley. He married Ann Fallas of Kirkburton (north of Denby Dale), a name of Celtic origin unique to this area. Ann had been born in Penistone, south of Denby Dale and not far from Silkstone. The couple were Methodists, and both were literate enough to sign their names, not a usual thing at this time. It was not to be a family with an abundance of good fortune. They had at least ten children between 1812 and 1830, and then Ann, aged 51 (she was 3 years older than Elijah) died in 1837, five of her children aged 16 or less.

By 1841 widower Elijah was living at “Wood Nook” (presumably a farm) Cumberworth, with all his children (plus a grandson) except the oldest, John, who had married 4 years before his mother died. While it is unclear what his occupation was prior to this, from 1841 to 1861, Elijah was a Surveyor. Two things worth noting about this. One is that given the boom times of this area in the mid-nineteenth century, surveyors were probably much in demand. And second, it is an occupation requiring literacy and numeracy, and an ability to do systematic and painstaking work and record it accurately. Elijah clearly was much more literate than an ability to sign his name suggests. One of his weaver sons would also later become a surveyor.

His sons and sons in law, and their sons in turn, in fact have a range of occupations – a sign of the changing times. A “clothier” becomes a rail labourer (presumably as the rail line through Denby is developed); two fancy weavers; coal miner; stay weavers; railway porter; farmer; railway platelayer; joiner; painter; glassworks chemist. One granddaughter becomes an “elementary schoolmistress”. Both the chemist and schoolmistress suggest again that these Whitakers were no fools and were not uneducated.

While one of Elijah’ s sons, John, in the start of the ill luck dogged Whitakers was to have a life of some difficulty (two wives dying young with young children, then marrying a widow and having more children, dying when the youngest of those was just three), it was his daughters that were to cause him sleepless nights and gray hairs.

It began with Mary, who aged about 16, gave birth to an illegitimate child, Benjamin, in December 1834 (christened Dec 25 – tempting to see this as symbolic, but it was common practice). She and the child were looked after by Elijah and Ann, then by just Elijah when Ann died. But in early 1841 Mary has managed to find a husband, Charles, and probably all the Whitakers breathed a sigh of relief. It seems certain that Charles was not the father of Benjamin because Mary leaves him behind with grandfather Elijah. He is still there in 1851 and then we lose track of him.

Mary and Charles (a stay weaver) proceed to have their own family – 2 girls and 4 boys. The second of these boys, Sydney, born in 1847, has mental problems and will be classified an “imbecile”. He lives at home but does have occupations, beginning as a bobbin winder and then becoming, like his father, a stay weaver. The rest of the children are clearly normal, so maybe poor Sydney was the result of a difficult birth or some accident. Whatever, he needed family care throughout his life, and this must have made his parents anxious.

But they had other worries in 1861. In the early 1850s, his other children having moved on, Elijah is left in the care of daughter Ann (aged 28 in 1851, acting as house servant to Elijah, and young Benjamin, out to work as an “errand boy” at 16). But in 1853 she get married at last, aged 30, and begins to have her own children. Some point after that, and by 1861, Mary, leaving her own family behind, moves in to look after Elijah. Hard to know how long he was unwell, or if this was the reason Mary moved in, but he was to die (“farmer and surveyor”), probably painfully, in October 1861, the day after his 71st birthday, of kidney stones (“gravel”).

But 1861 was a bad one for the Whitakers for another reason. Early in the year Mary’s sister Hannah, aged 36, had another illegitimate Whitaker child – a son Ernest. The birth takes place in Barnsley, presumably to avoid scandal back in Denby Dale, and Hannah goes to live with another sister Martha (and her carpenter husband Jarvis, and their three children) for a while, and then seems to leave Ernest with them to raise as their own. He is certainly still there ten years later without his mother.

After her father dies Mary goes back home to care for her own family – husband and six children including Sydney. They live in Kirkburton, and in 1871 all the children are still at home, even the oldest ones who are in their twenties (tend to marry late, the Whitakers, another of Mary’s sisters, Elizabeth was still unmarried at 27, and few of them married before this age). By 1881 Charles and Mary are in their sixties, and both the younger daughters, Ann and Eliza, in their twenties are still at home, as of course is Sydney. They seem to be operating a cottage industry, Charles and Sydney being “stay weavers”, the girls being “stay finishers”. I guess this was piece work delivered to one of the clothing factories.

And then the dreaded time came. Charles died aged 64 in 1882, Mary two years later aged 66. What to do about Sydney? Well his sister Ann stays in the family home, gets married, has children of her own, and takes care of Sydney. Is still doing so by 1891 when Sydney, aged 44, is a “hawker”. I wonder how Ann managed, with three young children (aged 5, 3, and 8 months) and a child like middle aged brother, in the house. But there we leave them, disappearing into the mists of time. Although there is a glimmer a few years later when it is said that an “uncle” of Ann Whitaker’s children had “threatened to kill one of his sisters and had been committed to an asylum where he had later died”. Unless there is another case of madness among the Whitakers, this may well be a reference to Sydney.

And speaking of Ann Whitaker, she had married Joseph Carter, not a local boy, and he had taken her away. Taking with her the bad luck of the Whitakers – which was in full swing in the 1880s as well, on the other side of Yorkshire.

Gaze Hall Revisited
On the 18 May 1844, yet another Spring in north Yorkshire, old George Young sat down with his solicitor to have his will written (he being illiterate). A good age, old George, nearly 85, perhaps the sort of fellow about whom the villagers say “Eh, isn’t he doing well?” and “Isn’t he alert for his age?” If he hasn’t made a Will until now it suggests that he has been in good health, never seen the need for it, plenty of time. But now he has convinced himself, or been convinced, that the time has come, not getting any younger.

He has had a long life, and a large family, and that is the point of this May day, time to get an important job done. And so he launched into his bequests, speaking so quickly, all clear in his mind, it seems, that the solicitor’s clerk struggled to get it all down and didn’t bother to pause for punctuation.

“In the Name of God Amen I George YOUNG of Gaze Hall in the parish of Hovingham in the North Riding of the County of York labourer being of sound and disposing mind memory and understanding but mindful of my mortality do this 18th day of May in the year of our Lord 1844 make and publish this my last will and testament in manner and form following first I give and bequest to my sons George and William YOUNG each the sum of two shillings and sixpence Also I give and bequest to my sons and daughters Leonard and John YOUNG Mary RUDDOCK Ann YOUNG Elizabeth MORTIMER Jane WILLIAMSON Sarah WREX and Alice MILNER the sum of five pounds each making in the whole the sum of £40.5s and as to all the rest residue and remainder of my estate whatsoever and wheresoever and of what nature kind and quality soever the same maybe and not herein before given and disposed of after payment of my debts legacies funeral expenses and the expense of proving this my will I do hereby give and bequeath the same being all personal unto my daughter Frances GOODWILL her executors administrators and assigns to and for her and their own use and benefit absolutely and I do hereby make ordain constitute and appoint my said daughter Frances GOODWILL sole excecutrix of this my last will and testament hereby revoking all former and other wills and testament set and subscribed my hand and seal the day and year first above written George X (mark) YOUNG.

Signed sealed published and declared by the said testator George Young asked for his last will and testament in the presence of us who at his request in his presence and in the presence of each other have subscribed our names as witnesses thereto Jonathan Smith. George Goodwill. Richard Spruce.

Seems strange, on the face of it, does it not? Two and six for his two oldest sons? Well, it’s not the pittance you might think – In 2008, £0 2s 6d from 1844 is worth £10.10 using the retail price index or £97.60 using average earnings, so something between $Aus30 and $Aus250, but it’s not a lot. Even £5 isn’t worth a huge amount, say £400 to £4000. Welcome, but not the stuff dreams are made of. Frances, however, was getting everything else, and, the clear implication is, set up for life.

So let’s go back a bit, see where it began, in this beautiful country around the Hovingham area. The Youngs were long time farmers. George’s father James was born in the 1720s, and although his ancestry is uncertain, there were Youngs in the area at least as early as 1715, and his wife Elizabeth Carlton’s parents were born in the early 1700s. Similarly George Young’s wife Judith Studley’s known ancestry reaches back to the 1690s in Westow and Bubwith, a little south of Hovingham.

Pretty much all this country seems to have belonged to the rich and powerful Howard family, and this early part of the eighteenth century was when they were building Castle Howard, one of the biggest and most stately of all the stately homes of England. So big and stately that in more recent times it was used as the setting for the tv version of “Brideshead Revisited”, Evelyn Waugh’s novel of changing times and ancient families in decay.

Families like the Youngs and Studleys and Carltons may well have been involved as labourers or tradesmen (old George described himself as a labourer when he made his Will, and at least one son, Leonard, was a labourer, then a carpenter, before becoming a farmer) in building Vanbrugh’s masterpiece, or at least known people who were. Would certainly have seen it gradually rising from this beautiful countryside as generations of people were born, married, died, over some 50 years.

But whatever they saw there is no doubt that the Youngs of “Gaze Hall” (or “Gays Hall” the etymology is uncertain; it is on the edge of Fryton Moor), obviously a much less grand house than the Castle (although big enough to hold 13 people, and to have an orchard), were tenant farmers for the Howards. George and Judith got on with the business of farming and the business of making a family. They had at least 11 children between 1780 (Judith aged 20, she was married at 19, George at 20) and 1807 – about a child every 2 years until 1807 (Judith almost 47).

Just 5 years later Judith, aged 51, died. You’d guess from exhaustion but I don’t know. Husband George, aged 52 is left with 11 children. The oldest ones are presumably on their own, aged between 22 and 32, but the youngest five would still be in his care, including two teenage girls (Elizabeth had married early, aged just 18, a few months after Frances was born) and a teenage boy, and little Frances, aged just 5 when her mother dies. Much rallying around, I’m sure. And much doting on the youngest girl by all concerned.

Which was reciprocated. As the others all got married and moved on to their own families, Frances stayed with her old father. Stayed and stayed, way past the usual marrying age. Didn’t get married until she was 29 and her father about 76. And even then her husband Thomas Goodwill moved in with her so that she could stay with George. Their first child was born just 10 months after the marriage and named, of course, George Young Goodwill (three others followed, the first daughter named after her mother).

She would be rewarded for this loyalty and love when her father died just before Christmas 1846, two years after making his Will, aged an amazing (for the time) 87 years.

Well, 11 children here, 8 there, 10 in another family, and pretty soon you are talking large numbers of Youngs in north Yorkshire, all related.

The one with ten children was George’s middle son Leonard. He had married (Elizabeth Sigsworth) the year after his mother died. Had been working his way around the district as a labourer, carpenter, farmer. The couple headed South via Bossall and Sand Hutton and finish up in Warthill, just east of York. After the children have all left home Leonard and Elizabeth retire on their farm of 42 acres in Warthill. And just down the road is his youngest son Charles, who will later move to Stockton on Forest, have a daughter looking after him after his wife dies, and make his own massively unbalanced Will, but this time in favour of his second oldest, but good, son, Leonard, named after his grandfather.

And Gaze Hall? Seems to have another family living in it by 1861. By 1900 it is in ruins with nothing left except a gable end and the orchard. Around the 1970s it might have been part of the land sold by the Howard family, when at least 3 farms were sold to pay death duties on the death of Lady Cecilia Howard. Now there is little left except a few stones in a wall. Gaze Hall, and all the family dramas it witnessed, has decayed, and the family descendants spread around Yorkshire and across the world. Castle Howard though will stand forever.

Real and personal estate
Back to Joseph Carter, substitute for a dead older much loved brother. Became a gardener, and as youngest child, was left at home looking after his mother when all the others had left, some to emigrate overseas.

He married Ann Whitaker, who brought with her the ill luck of that family. Not only did the family suffer a major financial collapse, and not only did several of their children die relatively young in unusual circumstances, but when Ann herself finally died, at a good age, in a new century, that death was going to trigger a catastrophe in the Carter family of such magnitude and scandal that it was to keep the tabloid journalists of 1902 occupied for weeks and their readers enthralled.

But back to the beginning. In 1851 widow Elizabeth Carter (“Proprietor”) and her son Joseph Carter were living at ‘Carter Fold’, Kippax, presumably the family farm with an income from property investments (including possibly the one they were living in, depending upon what “Proprietor” means). Joseph had turned 21 at the end of 1850 and then came into his own inheritance. But, perhaps while waiting to be financially comfortable he had trained as a gardener, a trade he (as well as two of his sons and a son in law) was to follow for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, over in Denby Dale, Ann Whitaker, aged 28, is looking after her widowed father. Hard to see how she and Joseph Carter ever got together. Kippax is 30km (as the crow flies) from Denby Dale, the two had somewhat different family backgrounds, and there was a significant age difference (Ann being six years older). But get together they did (perhaps when Joseph was travelling to do gardening work), in 1853 (at Silkstone, where Elijah Whitaker had been married, and where a brother and sister of Ann could be witnesses), and stayed together for over 40 years, through thick and thin, until death did them part.

He is slim and possibly tall and will be bald. A thin face with strong jaw, perhaps a twinkle in the eye, and a certain presence. He is literate and a reader and probably a religious man. She is (or will become) plump and round faced with kind eyes and is also literate and born a Methodist. They start married life in Rothwell, a few miles from Kippax.

Together they have five children over a period of eleven years. First comes Joseph Henry, named for father and uncle, born ( a week or two over 9 months after the wedding, they had wasted no time) at Rothwell in 1853. Then another son Fred born in 1855. Then there is a delay of three years during which the family had moved to Killingbeck, again just a few miles away and still on the eastern fringe of Leeds. Their first daughter, Annie Eliza is born in 1858.

Some difficulty may have arisen with the next pregnancy in 1861. In the April, about 3 months pregnant, Ann is in Pannal hospital which now (and presumably then), specialises in antenatal care as a ward of Harrogate Hospital. Joseph is working back in Killingbeck, and his mother has offered to look after the kids (aged 7, 5, and 2, probably a handful for the old lady, but helped by an older grandaughter, cousin of the littlies, who is also there for a visit).

Pannal did its job and another daughter Emily Elizabeth was born October 1861. Finally comes Louis, born in 1864.

Some time in the years between the birth of Louis and 1868, the family moves to the small village of Stockton on Forest, a few miles east of York. Joseph has taken up the presumably plum position of head gardener at Stockton Hall, ancestral seat of the Lloyds, now owned by a spinster Miss Alicia Lloyd. It is a grand house with many servants (33 just of female staff as late as 1908, and presumably many more 40 years earlier).

In April 1868 Joseph’s old mother dies at the age of 84, having outlived her husband by 24 years, She is still in Kippax, and Joseph has to go there to be at her bedside when she dies. He notifies the solicitors (‘Mam died’ he said) and it is presumably at this point that the family financial arrangements are finalised (with his mother gone and not needing an income to support her it seems likely that the properties accumulated by father Joseph and grandfather John could be sold up and young Joseph would get a substantial sum of money to add to the inheritance he had received at 21). The family, down to Louis, are in mourning clothes. Ann looks very sad, the children serious.

Either immediately, or within a short time, Joseph invested his extra money in a coal mine. Must have seemed like a good, indeed excellent, move at the time as the industrial revolution gained pace and places like Leeds boomed and the demand for coal grew faster than in China in 2010. Trouble is, it wasn’t. Something happened and Joseph lost his investment. He was still left with a “small capital” as it was described later, but if he had dreamt of leaving the gardening business and setting his family up for the future he was disappointed.

In 1871 the oldest boy Joseph Henry describes himself as a mason, but at 17 may still be an apprentice. The other children are in school, though curiously Fred is not home when the census taker calls in April. Perhaps he has an apprenticeship or a job, or perhaps he is visiting an aunt in Kippax.

Some time in the 1870s a family of farmers arrived in Stockton on Forest and were to play a significant role in Carter family history. The Youngs (Charles and Elizabeth and a family of 5 boys and a girl) haven’t come very far, but are succesful farmers, and will come to own several farms in the village. The two sets of children only just overlap in age, the youngest Carter (Louis) and the oldest Young (Robert Charles) being born the same year. But they would have attended the same school and Sunday school (on Christmas Day 1874 Louis aged ten won a Sunday School prize, his first bible, with two inscriptions, the first the Christmas message from Luke, the second, strangely for a ten year old boy, from Isaiah ‘Look unto me and ye be saved, all the ends of the earth’ perhaps the vicar was psychic) and church, and would at least have all known of each other in the 1870s. While the two oldest Carter boys, and the two youngest Young children were too far apart in age, the three youngest Carters and four oldest Youngs would certainly have had connections.

By 1881 the Carter children have all left home, even 17 year old Louis, and presumably all have jobs, Fred (just married) and Louis as gardeners, the former in York by this time. Louis was working as gentleman gardener, and lodging with another gardener, Harry Wilson, at the home of John Moore (an agricultural labourer) and family in Lindley. Emily, aged 19, was working as a ‘waiting maid’ in what was presumably a grand house in Clifton, York, home of the Whyteheads and three servants. Annie Eliza’s whereabouts are unknown, although she was also presumably working as a servant. Joseph Henry appears to be married and living in Leeds.

Joseph, like his father before him, was careful about making a Will, and does so on 13 December, 1884, aged 55. Unlike his father, unfortunately, he doesn’t specify the nature of the wealth he was leaving, and it is a short and simple document. He had built on his own inheritance but something had then gone wrong and much had been lost, though he was leaving his family in comfortable circumstances. His property, both ‘real and personal estate’, is to be all sold up by two of his sons Fred and Louis who are trustees. The money is to be invested in a Trust and the income from the Trust used to support ‘my dear wife Ann’ until her death. The ‘power of appointing new trustees’ was invested in Ann until her death. After her death the money is to be divided equally between all his children who have reached 21. The intriguing thing about the Will is that it contains no mention of oldest son Joseph Henry, nor is he a Trustee. It all suggests a falling out between father and oldest son, who has disappeared from the family record. Joseph senior though must have thought he had things in order, but the best laid plans and all that. A year later, Louis Carter, aged just 21, married Mary Ann Clark who was 2 years older than Louis.

In March 1887 tragedy strikes when Emily dies at the age of 25 of tuberculosis, her father present, and is buried in Stockton on Forest churchyard. Emily was engaged to Robert Charles Young (who had been working as a gardener under her father). But after her death her sister Annie Eliza and Robert Charles become close and they are married in 1889. The two newly married couples were close (Louis’ wife Mary Ann was a witness for Annie Eliza; both husbands were gardeners) and would remain so, their children also being friends. Louis and Mary Ann had just two children (see below), Percy born in 1888, and Frances born at almost exactly the same time as Annie’s son Charles in 1890. The two probably compared notes during pregnancy. Both families were living in Huddersfield by 1891 as was Fred Carter, just down the road from Robert and Annie, presumably in close touch with his sister. There must have been plenty of work for gardeners in the town in 1891.

Life goes on for a few years and then in 1893 Joseph dies of tonsilitis and heart failure, and son Fred, who if not actually nursing him has been in close attendance at the death bed, catches whatever bug Joseph had in his throat and is dead a short time later. This twin blow to the Carters must have been as devastating as the loss of Emily, if not more so. And, though I doubt anyone thought of it at the time, it had the unforeseen circumstance that Louis was now in sole charge of the family’s finances. He had to take care of his mother’s needs, but she was rapidly aging (70 when husband and son died) and probably knew little of what was going on around her.

Louis, with access to money, was about to turn 40, and perhaps about to experience a mid life crisis that was to last the rest of his life. His children were growing. He seems to have been successful as a freelance gardener, plenty of work among the wealthy upper and middle classes of late Victorian England. He went rabbit shooting for relaxation. He liked a drink or two. He liked good clothes and a good time. He had, it seemed a happy and successful marriage, although later it was said that he had an eye for the girls, and that his liking for drink could be excessive and could lead to abuse of his wife. Maybe, maybe not.

As we head for the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth, and the end of the Victorian era and the start of the Edwardian, we are also reaching the change that was to come over the life of the Carter family as a result of the change that came to Louis.


Very superior quality
Elizabeth Kinder was the oldest surviving child (those born immediately before and after her having died as toddlers, which must have given her anxious and over-protective parents for many years) of Thomas “Twenty Years Clerk of this Parish” Kinder and Sarah Kinder of Chilvers Coton in north Warwickshire. While growing up the family lived in Bridge Street, their neighbours being the Cox family, presumably relatives of Elizabeth’s grandmother.

Some time in the 1850s (she had left home by 1851 when she was 13) young Elizabeth began work as a servant. In 1861, aged 23, she is working as House Maid for Henry Harpur (Esquire and JP) of Caldwell Hall, alongside Joseph Fortiscue the Butler, Elizabeth Smith the Cook, and Samuel Halford the Groom. Grand house, Caldwell House.

Mr Harpur was used as the lisping character Mr Farquhar (“the secondary squire of the parish” in George Eliot’s “Scenes from Clerical Life “Mr Farquhar was susceptible on the point of ‘blood’; his own circulating fluid, which animated a short and somewhat flabby person, being, he considered, of very superior quality”.)

Mr Harpur had firm views about the fabric of society and the role of church in maintaining this. Here is part of a speech in 1851 (the anniversary of the opening of the village schools in 1848): “There is probably no-one present better qualified to speak on the present and former state of Attleborough than myself, or draw a contrast between the aspect it presents now and that which it presented some years back. That a great change is perceptible, and that for the better, cannot be denied, and one would hope the improvement extends somewhat below the surface. At any rate there is a greater outward appearance of order and decorum amongst you than hereto, less noise and confusion in your streets, and a manifest improvement in the demeanour of the inhabitants generally, especially the younger portion of them. To what then is this change to be ascribed? Is it too much to say that the erection of the adjoining church, the erection of the building in which we are now assembled, and the constant residence of a churchman amongst you, have contributed to this improvement.”

Anyway, having worked for the second most important squire in the parish for some years, Elizabeth Kinder married John Baker in 1862. Uncertain how they met. Their parents would have known each other having lived not far apart, but the children grew up some distance from each other. My guess is that, unless we are faced with a great coincidence, Mr Harpur had an indirect role to play.

Two of John Baker’s brothers, George and William, had married, in an unusual joint ceremony in 1857, Mr Harpur’s then cook and a domestic servant from Arbury Hall. Not too difficult to imagine that Elizabeth Kinder, aged 20 would have been at the wedding of her fellow servant, and met John, then aged 18.

Anyway, however they met it was apparently to be a great romance. John Baker had trained as a carpenter and was a cabinet maker originally. Somehow though he had followed his father and older brother into the pub trade, and by 1871 he was the publican of the so called ‘New Inn’ at 11 Albion Street.

John and Elizabeth had at least 5 children born in Attleborough between their marriage and 1874: Sarah Ann 1864, George John 1866, Alfred Thomas 1869, Elizabeth Gertrude 1870, and Lydia Frances 1874. But the marriage lasted just 15 years.

John Baker died in 1879 aged 39. Remarkably Elizabeth took over the victualler’s license and continued to run the Albion Street pub, helped by the children. By 1881 the children, all still at home are Sarah Ann (called Annie) aged 17 who is helping her mother in the pub, George John (aged 15) already an apprentice carpenter; Alfred (aged 12) who is at school, Elizabeth (aged 10) at school, Lydia (aged 7) at school. They have a 14 year old servant called Louisa Moore.

Must have been seen as unusual, and perhaps not quite proper, a woman running a pub, although she wasn’t unique – of 33 pubs in Attleborough in 1874 for example, no fewer than 7 were run by women. And for her to keep things going the way she did was remarkable. But things can’t have been easy for Elizabeth with a large young family and a pub to run. She married a Thomas Lester in 1881 (the Lesters were neighbours of the Bakers, and Thomas had lost his first wife in a flu epidemic in 1880) and had a son by him two years later. Thomas was a big man about town. Originally making money in the silk trade he became a wine and spirit merchant (a happy, and no doubt profitable link with Elizabeth’s New Inn pub), then an auctioneer – a man with fingers in many lucrative pies. He was also involved in local politics with the Liberal Party and was to become a member of the Local Board (forerunner of Councils), the Board of Guardians and the Attleborough Burial Board, he was also Chairman of the local Liberal Party.

By 1891 Thomas Lester, aged 76, has retired, and no doubt enjoys having his 8 year old son Herbert around. His wife Elizabeth is still, remarkably, only 53 and her youngest daughter Lydia at 17 is helping her in the house.

Thomas, at the age of 79, was hit with another flu epidemic, and this time succumbed in late 1893. He had opted to be buried with first wife Jane.

Elizabeth died in 1900 aged 63, and was buried with her first husband John Baker (dead over 20 years) and their sons, not with the Lesters. A sign, perhaps, of her different feelings for the two husbands. Or a sign of the attitude of the Lester family, big people about town, to a Kinder woman who had once been a servant to another big person about town? Or both?


Second hand
Joseph Carter receives in 1885 one of what were presumably annual Christmas presents from the Lloyd family who owned Stockton Hall. It is ‘Old Humphrey’s Country Strolls’ (it cost 1/6 from the Religious Tract Society ‘How much more calculated to raise the heart and soul to nature’s God are the beauties of nature’). But some good stuff, and I wonder if Old Humphrey’s visit to the village where he was born (‘There are few who have no inclination to visit the scenes of their childhood, especially if lengthened years have intervened since they gazed on the spot where their youthful days were passed, and still fewer who can revisit such scenes without emotion’) aroused similar feelings in Joseph.

In 1888 ‘With Miss Lloyd’s good wishes’ his Christmas book is ‘Heroes of the Desert: The story of the lives and labours of Moffat and Livingstone’ (it was published 13 years earlier – surely Miss Lloyd was not using cast off old books from the Hall library as presents?).

Joseph’s old patroness Alicia Maria Lloyd died in February 1892, and Joseph received his last book presentation, a copy of ‘As Happy as a King: A Plain Book for Occasional Reading by the Rev F. Bourdillon M,A., vicar of Old Warden, Beds, Author of “Family Readings of the Gospel According to St John”, “The Odd Five Minutes” etc’. The book plate reads ‘In memory of one [that is, Miss Lloyd] who always took a sincere interest in the welfare of those at Stockton-on-Forest’. The biblical quotes are, somewhat oddly ‘She “being dead yet speaketh”‘ from Hebrews and ‘Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at any hour when ye think not’ from Luke. Another second hand book, but the second quote was an appropriate warning for Joseph and his family, who had already unexpectedly lost one of their members, and were about to lose more.

Making plans
Annie Young, born Annie Carter, was full of life and happiness. Her son Charles was born in 1890 and she doted on him. Perhaps she was unable to have more children, as a Sunday School teacher she obviously loved children and was loved in return. What with bringing up Charles and doing good works at Church, Sunday School and Temperance Society she had a full and happy life.

A photograph (taken at ‘Dawson’s Studio, 24 William St, Huddersfield, under the patronage of HRH Princess of Wales, HRH Marie Theresa of Austria, Rt Hon W.E. Gladstone – latest photograph – Sir Wilfred Lawson, Lady Phillimore etc etc etc’ Annie had decided that nothing but the best was good enough for her son’s first photograph) of her son Charles aged 3 shows a broad-browed intelligent face, eyes set wide apart, lips together with an expression suggesting excitement at the strange proceedings. His hair is parted in the middle. He wears a bulky [Norfolk?] jacket, shorts that reach the knee, leggings and high laced up boots. In his pocket is a white handkerchief. He is poised at a pretend rustic style in front of a painted rural scene. He stands on a stone on which is also resting his fine large cap. He stares straight at the camera. Clear and bright eyed, he is a boy of much promise.

She dotes on him and keeps his toddler’s shoe (it is 14 cm long made of black silk, long laces to tie around the ankle, and a little bow on front) and a tartan silk sash he has had tied around his waist, for the rest of her life.

They had moved to Pool where Robert Charles was gardening. They were part of the Wharfedale Free Church Council, an association of 40 Methodist and like-minded churches. The group began publishing the Wharfedale Free Churchman monthly in Jan 1900. There were articles about amusements taking people’s attention away from the Church, exciting serials about a fight to save a chapel from a wicked squire, praise for mothers and for Jesus, and for ‘heroic lady missionaries’ and ‘what Christ has done for the children’.

There are debates – ‘A debate entitled “Is the Church keeping pace with the times?” was opened on Friday November 19th by Messrs J. Warner and J. Marston. Each speaker presented his case in a clear and forceful manner, and a vigorous discussion ensued. A vote in favour of the negative view was carried by a small majority. The Rev Thos. Riley occupied the chair.’

There are announcements – ‘The Simultaneous Mission is now at hand. Next month (January [1901]) the campaign will start in London. More than one hundred missioners from all parts of the United Kingdom have been engaged for the work in London by the metropolitan Federation of Free Church Councils. In February there will be an organised attack on the strongholds of sin and Satan in the provincial towns and cities.’

The simultaneous mission was being planned like a military operation. ‘The Wharfedale Free Church Council … includes within its area 28 purely village societies. It is intended to hold a mission at each of these centres … preparatory work … a band of volunteer workers visiting these places once a week, holding cottage meetings, visiting from house to house, and distributing tracts … And the spirit of unity which is needed to make the free churches, amid and though their necessary differences, one mighty army, to do victorious battle with all unrighteousness, must greatly gain.’ Annie has her Bible and New Testament and books like ‘Robert Hardy’s Seven Days: A dream and its consequences by Charles M. Sheldon author of “In his steps” “The crucifixion of Phillip Strong” “His Brother’s Keeper” etc’.

But as well as all this Annie had plans for her bright son. Maybe there was a sense that she had her share of her inheritance coming, and that Charles didn’t need to become a gardener like his father and grandfather and uncles, and certainly not a small farmer like his father’s family. Charles was getting an education and he was to learn music, and later, who knows, he could be, say, a lawyer. He learnt to read, and won book prizes at school and Sunday School. He has books of religious and moral tone like ‘The Man with the Book or The Bible among the People’ (dedicated by the author ‘To His Beloved Wife and unwearied helper in Christian effort’) and ‘Robert Martin’s Lesson’ (contents include ‘Prospects, Aims in Life, The First Sabbath… The Silver Lining, For His Glory’). But he also has the classics – David Copperfield at the age of 8 from Miss Shepherd, Christmas 1898 (the book that was later to give me my name) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And he has boy’s adventure yarns – ‘Rattlin, the Reefer’ (by Captain Marryat), obtained Aug 10 1900 it says in his flowing copperplate and ‘Masterman Ready or the Wreck of the Pacific’ (also by Marryat) obtained on Jan 19 1901, the timing of the two books suggesting both must have been a comfort to a ten year old boy and read over and over. Years later, in a land as exotic as anything in Marryat’s books (Masterman Ready in fact begins on a ship bound for NSW), Charles would read his old favourites to his grandson, lying on a couch. ‘He can read it himself’ said Emma about Masterman Ready. ‘Can ye?’ he said, proud as Punch. ‘It was in the month of October, 18_, that the Pacific, a large ship, was running before a heavy gale of wind in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean.’ Did Charles picture himself on board the Vedic in the Atlantic as he heard these words?

When he was just six he would sign the Temperance Pledge of the Band of Hope, no doubt to please his mother. He kept the framed certificate on his wall all the rest of his life. ‘Pool Wesleyan Temperance Society and Band of Hope. I Promise to Abstain from all Intoxicating Drinks as Beverages. This is to Certify that Charles having signed the above Pledge has become a Member of this Society. 24 March 1897′. They got their members young in the Band of Hope.

She bought him an organ when he was seven, and he still had it years later when he left for Australia. Leaving it behind must have been one of the most agonising aspects of a move that was full of agonising leavings. The organ was a proper grown up organ and must have been awe inspiring for a seven year old boy. It looks to be a least 7 foot tall. It has 10 stops, a carved panel below the keyboard, a shelf above the music stand with three large vases, and a top shelf surrounded by a carved ‘balcony’. There is carving everywhere, and the wood is beautifully polished all except for the pedals which are worn with years of heavy use by 1929.

Next to the organ, where it stands in Spennymoor, on the wall to the right, just at eye height where the organist would see it constantly while playing, is a photograph of long lost baby Kenneth.

Look after my chickens love
Charles Young married Elizabeth Maud in 1859. He was the youngest boy in a large family and had stayed on the farm to help his father after his older brothers had married and moved out. It would not be until he was 31 that he would be able to marry, and become a farmer in his own right, and having come from a family of generations of farmers there was no other alternative (and he was illiterate). His new wife also came from a farming family, although one with roots in the south of Yorkshire, not the north like her husband. Both families had eventually finished nearby to each other in central Yorkshire and became friendly, so friendly that Elizabeth’s brother would also marry Charles’ sister.

Anyway Charles and Elizabeth marry, and Robert Maud (describing himself as a ‘retired farmer’), her father, moves in with them and another Robert Maud, their first born Robert Maud Young, named to please his grandfather, is born on 15 December 1860.

In 1861 Charles Young and Elizabeth Maud with new baby and father in law are living at Warthill on 80 acres. They also have a general servant, 17 year old Ann Lancaster, probably brought up on Robert Maud’s recommendation, because she too was born in Eastrington.

Over the next 20 years the family moves a number of times, though never very far, to Holtby, Haxby, Strensall and finally to Stockton on Forest where by 1881 Charles has built his farm size to 117 acres, which made him a significant landholder. In 1851 there were 90000 farms between 5 and 49 acres, and half the agricultural acreage (the rest being in the giant estates) in England was cultivated in farms between 50 and 300 acres. He has 6 children, 5 of them boys, and a servant, Jane Scott.

Charles and Elizabeth’s family has a tragic start – Robert Maud Young reaches 5 months, but dies not long afterwards. Another boy is born in 1864, and they give him the same name as the lost son. This time though he is Robert Charles (named obviously for father and grandfather – William Maud’s first son is also named Robert Charles). Another son follows the following year, Leonard, named for Charles’ father this time (a cousin Leonard, born the previous year). Then a gap, then two more sons, John William (for Elizabeth’s brother) and Thomas (below, on the right, with his own daughter Lena, at her wedding, looking uncomfortable), born in 1868 and 1869. Then at last a girl, Elizabeth (called Lizzie) in 1874 (the year Elizabeth’s brother William Maud died at Holtby), and finally in 1876 the baby boy, Nicholas Maud Young, his mother in the end having a child with her family name included, perhaps partly because of the death of her brother. He also has a cousin called Nicholas, all of which must have made for some confusing family events.

Over the decade from 1881 to 1891 there will be an upheaval in this big family. Some time in the 1880s there is a dispute between Charles and his first born son Robert Charles, and the boy leaves home. Leaves the world of farming, becoming a gardener (which he would be all his life) and marrying the daughter of a gardener, and then leaves the world of the Youngs east of York, heading off to west Yorkshire to work. Was there a clash of personalities and he left and then had to find work? Was there a rejection of farming and a fight and he had to leave? Was there a clash over his choice of wife (herself not a local girl but a foreigner from west of Leeds)? Whatever happened he was gone and the separation appears to have been bitter.

The wedding was held well away from York and there were no Youngs as witnesses at the wedding of the oldest boy in the family (witnesses are Mary Ann, Annie’s brother in law, wife of Louis, and Thomas Roebuck, presumably a friend of the groom’s). Perhaps the death of Robert Charles’ mother (of ‘cerebral apoplexy’, her son Leonard in attendance, not her husband) the same year made a difference, but she has been dead 4 months by the time of the August wedding.

With the death of his wife (in April 1889) old Charles, now 62, needs the women of the family to rally around. His sister, Jane Studley, herself nearly 70, comes to live with them, and daughter Lizzie, at the age of just 15 has to take over as housekeeper.

This is the situation in 1891, where all the boys except Robert are still living at home, even though Leonard is by then 27 and John and Thomas in their mid twenties. Only Robert Charles has been married, the other lads are helping on the farm. Thomas married Mary Ann Cookshaw probably about 1892.

By 1901 Jane has died and Charles aged 71 has both umarried sons Leonard aged 35 (what a good son he is) and young Nicholas aged 25. Charles has also employed a housekeeper, a domestic servant, and a farm worker. Clearly not short of money.

Old Charles lives to be 74, finally dying of ‘cardiac dilatation’ (again the good son Leonard is in attendance) on the 12 July 1901. He is a substantial landholder, and his Will, made just one week earlier, is the chance to reward the good children and punish the bad. In it he leaves Robert Charles and Thomas just £10 each, John a cottage and livestock, and all the rest is to be divided equally between Len, Nicholas and Lizzie. Leonard had essentially inherited the farm, John another one, and Nicholas enough to buy a third. It is unclear what Thomas had done wrong (marrying Polly instead of staying on the farm?), but £10 inheritance to Robert Charles, who at 36 had just lost his wife and was raising a young son, must have been the final bitter blow. Old man Charles was never mentioned in our family, the name having been totally removed from memory.

‘This is the Last Will and testament of me Charles Young of Stockton on the Forest in the County of York Farmer made this fifth day of July one thousand nine hundred and one. Whereby I give and bequeath to my son Robert Charles the sum of ten pounds. To my son Thomas the sum of ten pounds. To my son John William the live and dead farming stock on the farm now occupied by him situate at Stockton on the Forest aforesaid. And I give and bequeath all the rest, residue and remainder of my real and personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever unto and equally between my sons Leonard and Nicholas Maud and my daughter Elizabeth share and share alike. I hereby appoint my said son Leonard and my daughter Elizabeth Trustees and Executors of this my Will Charles X Young his mark… This Will was first read over to the said testator when he appeared perfectly to understand the same before making his mark hereto in our presences Henry Cobb, Richard Suggitt’

His father gone and farm secured and money in pocket, Leonard was at last free to marry Harriet Cookshaw (sister of Tom’s wife) both, by now, in their mid-thirties. They would be childless.

There is a family tradition that Len was supposed to leave his money to the children of Robert Charles and Tom. Perhaps after the reading of the viciously unbalanced Will he said to them something like yes, the old man was very unfair, but don’t worry I will see you two right later. If so it came to nothing. When my grandparents were destitute in Australia during the Depression, Emma made Charles Henry write to Uncle Len to see if he could at least get a loan against his inheritance. A letter came back from the adopted daughter to say he was getting nothing either then or from the Will. We later heard that Tom’s son Charlie was bitter too. He and his brothers had also got nothing, and he in particular had worked for Len on the farm and ‘put up with his bullying’.

Robert Charles had just the one son Charles Henry Young. Leonard had no children but adopted a daughter Rhoda, the illegitimate child of a 14 year old servant at Stockton Hall. John Young was blinded when a sack of fertiliser burst open in his face, He had children, including a son John and daughters Christine and Cecilia, but as far as I know no descendants called Young. Tom had Lena who married an Irving in the 1920s and had descendants, and three sons, one of whom died young and the other two never married. Lizzie who married Mr C. Cook had two daughters who married and presumably have descendants. Nicholas Maud married Alice Darnell in 1906 and had four children but no now living descendants called Young. Len, Tom, John and Nicholas all farmed around York, particularly in Stockton. Len and Mary Ann died 1928, Lizzie 1937, Tom 1938, Harriet 1951 and Nicholas 1952. I don’t know when John died.

Back to Robert Charles Young, the story I know best. He had married Annie Eliza Carter, the Carters being an old Kippax family but her father Joseph, having lost money from unwise investment in a coal mine that went broke, had moved to Stockton on Forest and become head gardener at the Hall. Robert Charles Young worked as a gardener there and first courted Emily Carter who died of TB at 25 and then courted her older sister Annie. They lived at Pool where their son Charles Henry was born in 1890.

Annie Eliza died aged 40 in 1900 of pernicious anaemia and exhaustion – too much religion.

Robert Charles did try to keep faith with Annie in another aspect of the raising of his son. When he left school in 1904 at the age of 14 it was to be ‘apprenticed’ in a solicitor’s office in Otley, near Pool, with a view to one day becoming a solicitor himself. His Aunt is sending supplies from the farm:

From: Lizzie [Young, later Cook]
To: Robert Young
Stockton to Leeds (Parkhouse Cottage, Pool)
28 September 1904
We have sent the potatoes off today Friday and hope you will get them alright. Hope all are well, write soon, from Lizzie

A few months later and Lizzie is remembering her brother’s birthday:

From: Lizzie
To Mr R. Young
York to Parkhouse Cottage, Pool
31 December 1904
Wishing you many happy returns of the day, Lizzie

Just a few months later and Robert Charles is ill and he and Charles have moved to Stockton, initially staying with Len (presumably so that Harriet could nurse him). A friend of Charles writes to him:

From: Alan Thornton.
To: Mr Charles Young
Wem, Walsall to c/o Mr L. Young, Stockton on Forest
6.45pm, 24 July, 1905
Dear Chas, Still no word from you. I shall begin to think you had an accident going to your new home. A line from you would be much thought of. Have just arrived at Wem, Walsall. Stafford was my last place. Hoping dad is better and you are well yourself, Yours _ PS This [ie the card picture, of Walsall Arboretum] is a view of one of the parks at Walsall.

When he was well Robert Charles managed to get a job gardening for Captain Pearson in York, but what to do with Charles Henry? What about cars, Dad, said Charles, diffidently, I could learn to be a motor mechanic. No, there is nothing in that, no future there, said Robert Charles, showing the kind of judgement rife in this family. There would be no more of this namby pamby working in an office if Len had anything to do with it, and he did. Bellowing until he got his own way and Charles Henry was apprenticed to a butcher in York. He was a quiet and sensitive boy who loved animals, and he was in a job where he not only had to cut up carcases but slaughter the sheep and cows and pigs.

We see him at the age of 16 or 17 standing in front of T. Armstrong, Butcher, est 1891 (next to May Cottage), legs of beef and mutton hanging in the window, leaning on a railing, a long white butcher’s apron covering a suit, a cap on his head. He is small and thin, and in another year or two he will catch typhoid fever on the job, carrying buckets of offal and blood and tipping them out into the rubbish pit.

By Christmas Eve 1906 Robert Charles is hale and hearty again. He is best man for his baby brother Nick’s wedding to Mary Alice Darnell. He is smiling, one hand on Nick’s chair, the other propped in his coat pocket, He is smiling and happy, Nick is a bit of a favourite I think. Nick himself looks startled. Astonished first that Mary Alice has accepted him and second that someone wants to take his photograph. He has remained in that awkward pose down through the decades in that photograph taken all those years ago.
Robert’s sister is also close to him.

From: Lizzie and C. Cook
To R.C. Young
The Common, Hollesley, Woodbridge, Suffolk to Stockton on Forest
31 August [?] 1909

Dear Brother, We hope you are both well as we are the same. You will see you are not forgotten if some people are. What kind of harvest have you this year. Hope all the rest of friends are well. Thank CH for his letter he sent. We are sending you a view of Bawdsey Show held at Hollesley this year. Love from both E & CC.

The picture on the card is B.D.H.S. 1909 (ie the Bawdsey and District Horticultural Show), It shows a trestle table laden with about a dozen plates of potatoes, with a row of vases of mixed flowers (including sweet peas, daisies and poppies) behind. Next to it is another table full of vases of flowers and a sign saying ‘Exibited by Fred Smith & co, Suffolk Seed Stores, Woodbridge and Ipswich.’ Just on the edge of the picture is another similar sign, so there must have been a section for commercial growers to exhibit their produce. The flowers at the front are short stemmed, those at the back long, producing a sloping mass of flowers.

A few months later his sister has remembered him again.
From: Lizzie
To: Mr R.C. Young
Hollesley to The Cottage, Stockton on Forest
23 December 1909

The words are few the wish is true A merry Xmas and a happy new year. I hope you are well C & EC. In the photo below, affectionate sister Lizzie is on the left, visiting brother Leonard and his wife Harriet (by all accounts, and evident in the photo, a nice woman, compensating for her not nice husband).

Some time in 1909 or 1910 Emma returns to work for the Dobies where she had first worked in York. She can no longer work at Pearsons, where lady’s maid (to Captain Pearson’s mother, a powerful position) Beatrice Hodgson has made her life a misery. Beatrice is one of those people who, taking a dislike for someone, set out to destroy them. There are a few details – she told tales about Emma (presumably that she was having boys in her room, a suggestion that would have outraged strait laced Emma) and managed to get the key to her bedroom door taken off her, so she no longer had a private space in the house. She told another tale (presumably along the lines that Emma was skiving off, another suggestion that would have outraged my grandmother for whom the term Protestant work ethic might have been invented) and Emma was banned from the kitchen, where she had been helping the Cook (and incidentally learning, by memorising recipes, to cook, there had been no chance for her mother to teach her).

In these kind of situations the persecutor can’t lose, every new accusation causing a reaction from the victim and further hardening the attitudes of those to whom the lies are been told. In the end the atmosphere must have been so poisonous that Emma left a place where she had been initially happy. Her crime may have been that she was younger than Beatrice, more attractive, had a boyfriend, was loved by the Pearson girls, and praised by the Pearsons themselves. All hanging offences to someone like Beatrice Hodgson.

Charles and Emma are happy and courting, but life can’t have been much fun for Robert Charles. Only 36 when his wife dies he is still only 46 in 1910 and knows that soon Charlie will be married and leaving the home they have shared for 10 years, and Robert Charles will be all alone.

Except he won’t. Charles and Emma guess, or have heard, something that was probably welcome news. In late 1910 or early 1911 there are rumours that Robert Charles is courting. Charles is delighted. He hopes it will be Miss Kershaw who lives in the village and who helped to take care of Charles on holidays after his mother died. She is a lovely lady. On one visit to the house where Robert Charles lives (probably now The Lodge where Joseph Carter once lived, because Robert Charles has become in turn Head Gardener at Stockton Hall where he trained as a boy) Emma and Charles hear female giggling from the house. Lift me up Charlie, says Emma, and we will see who it is, I bet it’s Miss Kershaw. He carefully raises her up, her foot in his hands, until her eyes can see through the bottom of the window. Oh my god Charlie (an almost unique moment of profanity from Emma) let me down, she said, it’s Beatrice Hodgson.

In July Charles and Emma are married, and his father, accompanied by Beatrice, get dressed up for the wedding. Beatrice seems unable to smile even for a wedding photograph. Robert Charles seems desperately old. It is hard to believe it is the same man, smiling and confident at brother Nick’s wedding just 5 years earlier. In those 5 years he has aged 15 and looks beaten down.

Robert Charles marries sharp faced spinster Beatrice Hodgson (the daughter of a ‘journeyman tailor’), aged 38, in November 1911. It would be neat and tidy to be able to report that he died soon after this most unsuitable marriage, but they will be together for 11 years, the same length of time he was married to Annie Eliza. He dies in 1922 of nephritis and cerebral haemorhage. There should have been a post mortem, grumbles our family. But there are no suspicious circumstances.

It would also be neat to say that his son had never been able to see him when he was married to Beatrice. But in fact there were visits. My mother somehow recalled wetting one of the cushions as a baby and her grandfather roaring with laughter (they used to visit Len & Harriet on the farm too, my mother feeding the chickens – here about 1923).

When he was dying Charles was called to come and see him one last time. ‘When I’m gone you will be well off’ said father to son. ‘No Dad, I only want you’ was the response. Unusual perhaps in a Yorkshire renowned for lack of expression of emotion and for being tight-fisted.

No flies on Beatrice though, she had married well and for a reason. Emma remembered every detail 50 years later – ‘When his father was very ill he cycled over to see him. He wouldn’t make a Will he said. Not until Charlie gets here. She said to Grandad that she had sent for him and that he wouldn’t come. Such lies. It was when the strike was on. So off he went on the bike and stayed there. Grandad gave him £5 to buy a new suit and told him he would be well off after he was gone and Dad said “No Dad, I only want you.” After he died Dad asked his stepmother if he could see his father’s bank book. She said “Your father never had a bank book” and she had got her brother to draw up a Will. But he wouldn’t sign it. But she told Grandad that it was all arranged in Dad’s favour. So they held his hand evidently to write. However after Grandad was buried she showed him a sheet of paper with £50 on it and she took the £5 out of Dad’s £25′.

‘This is the last Will and Testament of me Robert Charles Young of The Lodge, Malton Road in the parish of Stockton on the Forest in the North Riding of the County of York Gardener. I give all my money that is at the London Joint City and Midland Bank at the corner of Nessgate in the City of York unto my wife Beatrice and my son Charles Young equally between them absolutely. I give all my poultry unto my wife Beatrice absolutely. I give all my furniture and effects whatsoever unto my wife Beatrice during her life and from and after her decease I give the same unto my son Charles Young absolutely. Provided always and I declare that neither my wife nor my executor shall be liable for any loss or damage that may happen to my said furniture and effects or any part thereof neither shall they be required to replace or make good any such loss or damage and I appoint my said wife Beatrice Young to be the executrix of this my Will and hereby revoke all former wills and testamentary depositions by me at any time heretofore made. I declare this to be my last Will and testament … set my hand this eighteenth day of July one thousand nine hundred and twenty two.’

Robert Charles had less than a month to live when he signed this. Among the interesting features are the specification of one bank account (but there is astonishingly no bank book); the insistence that Beatrice doesn’t have to make good any loss of furniture, which leaves her free for the rest of her life to sell it all so that none is left when she dies (and in any case what could you do, you can hear Beatrice, from hell, saying, ‘so sue me’); the revoking of all former Wills and ‘testamentary depositions’ – was Beatrice afraid that Robert Charles had written in a letter what Charles was going to inherit?; and finally the obviously beloved poultry, an unusual item to specify in a Will, you can almost hear Robert Charles saying ‘You’ll take care of my hens when I’m gone won’t you Beatrice?’ ‘Of course I will love, look we’ll even put it in the Will to set your mind at ease’. And then having them all sold or butchered before he was cold in his grave. It is unfortunate that Robert Charles wasn’t as canny as old Joseph Carter when making a Will, but with Beatrice in charge it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

One of the witnesses of the Will is W. Pearson (the other is a Stockton farmer). Pearson also acts on Probate for Beatrice, probate being granted very quickly on the 7 September in the amount of £87-11-3 there being no ‘value of personal estate’. Then we have the ‘accounting’, presumably also drawn up by Pearson:
Mr R.C. Young deceased
Money on Deposit at the Bank £50-0-0
Interest thereon £4-14-9

Undertaker’s Bill £13-0-0
Deduct amount received from the National Deposit Friendly Society £8-19-5
Balance remaining, payable out of Bank Money £4-0-7
Fee paid to Probate Office for proving Will £0-14-0
Total amount to be deducted from the Bank money £4-14-7
Balance at the Bank remaining to be divided in accordance with the terms of the Will £50-0-2
Mrs Beatrice Young’s share of the Bank money £25-0-1
Mr C.H. Young’s share of the Bank money £25-0-1

Mr C.H. Young’s share as stated above £25-0-1
Deduct the amount owing by Mr C.H. Young to Mrs Beatrice Young for the money lent by her to him on Friday the 18th August 1922 £5-0-0
Amount payable to Mr C. H. Young £20-0-1

The £5 was to buy a suit for his father’s funeral. The 2 pence is a stroke of genius. Mr Pearson was undoubtedly a friend of Beatrice’s from the old days. There was nobody to question just how much money was originally in the bank at Nessgate before the account was reduced to the neat £50, nor whether other accounts existed, because she was the sole executrix. Beatrice had sewn everything up into a neat bundle, money and furniture, and if Charles had any delusions about getting more than £20-0-1 they would quickly have vanished. She was smart and ruthless.

Robert Charles was buried in the churchyard of Stockton on Forest church, which must have seen a number of Young burials over the years since the family first arrived in the village. In the photo below, taken, I guess, as memento in 1929 as they were leaving for Australia, his grandson and namesake stand next to the grave. But the metal grave marker, though it says “In loving memory of” was perishable, and by the time I visited the scene 45 years later it was gone, as if Robert Charles Young had never been. Hard to keep those memories going, but I have done my best for him here.

We don’t know whether Beatrice mourned Robert Charles. In 1934, a long time after he died, she married Anthony Swales Sellars, a ‘gentleman’s servant’ who had also worked at Pearsons. She died in 1941 at the age of 68 unmourned by my family, having used up all the money and sold all the furniture (it is said that Robert had a great deal of good furniture which he had told Charles would be his one day. Almost all the money and all of the furniture would be stolen by Beatrice, who had carefully written into Robert Charles’ Will that she was not responsible for any loss of furniture, and Charles would see just £20 of the Carter family fortune) and perhaps having disposed of any photos of her predecessor. She had won for the time being, but she was not to know that Charles’ grandson would be writing her story and having the last laugh. But then without me her name would have been forgotten by 1942, so perhaps Beatrice once again is the winner.

There isn’t much point, or validity, in judging our ancestors and other relations with the exception, always, of Beatrice Hodgson, though it should be noted that my grandmother, perhaps more forgiving than I, who never forgets a bad turn, said ‘But she is dead now, so it doesn’t matter. We got through’. There is a sense though in which she meant ‘we got through in spite of the worst that even Beatrice Hodgson could throw at us.’

Hymns are all you need
Robert Charles and his son stayed in Pool for a few years after Annie died. In December 1901, just over a year after his mother dies, Charles receives a second-hand book by the Rev W. L. Watkinson ‘Mistaken Signs and other papers on Christian Life and Experience’. It is a strange present for an 11 year old boy, consisting as it does of theological essays on obscure pieces of scripture (Chapter 1 – ‘Mistaken Signs “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this” Eccles 7.10 On the whole we may confidently affirm that the world improves, and yet in certain moods we are apt to regard its condition as increasingly desperate …’ Other chapters include ‘Compensations, The Possibilities of Life, Perfect Peace’ and so on). Perhaps he was questioning the death of his mother and this was the attempt by the local minister to provide some answers. A poor attempt, but the book was kept by the boy for the rest of his life and carried off to a distant land even when luggage was greatly restricted. We cannot read our own views into the minds of our ancestors.

A short time after losing his mother he also loses his music lessons. Aunt Harriet, it is said, bullies his father into stopping the lessons. No need for him to learn any more, she said, he knows enough now to play hymns for church. And that of course is all he needs to know. Perhaps she thought he would get above himself. Music was for the gentry, not for a Yorkshire farming family. There may be a hint here of disapproval of Robert’s wife with her ideas above her station. It must have been a terrible wrench, a sign that his mother’s death had wrecked his life in all kinds of ways. He kept playing, and teaching himself, and 30 years later on the way to Australia, having left his organ behind, he would begin to learn the piano, but it meant he could never move to the next musical level. A door had been firmly closed.


Not Anglesey but angels

As the twentieth century dawned on January first 1901 Louis Carter may have made a wish that it would be better for him than the end of the nineteenth century had been. If he did it was to be unfulfilled.

Most people would have had high hopes at the time. A new century was symbolically important of course, but this one also coincided with the end of the long Victorian era (Queen Victoria was ailing and would die just three weeks into the new century on Jan 21 1901), and the start of what must have seemed like an exciting new Edwardian era.

But for Louis in particular perhaps the last ten years were ones to largely forget and move on to better times. He was the youngest of five children and three of them were dead by 1901 (the fourth seemingly not in contact with the rest of the family). The younger of his two sisters, Emily, had died at just 25 in 1887. His father and his older brother (aged 38) had died within weeks of each other in 1893, the latter presumably having caught an infection from his father. And then out of the blue his older sister Annie Eliza had died aged 41 in November 1900. His mother (probably senile), like the Queen, was in “decay” and didn’t have long to live. Louis was the trustee of the family fortune which was supporting his mother while she did live, although in 1901 it was Fred’s widow, Mary Ann, who was physically taking care of the old lady.

Just as well there was money in the family because there wasn’t much in gardening. Louis, like his father, brother, and several brothers in law, had been a gardener all his working life. In the 1880s Louis, Fred, and Annie Eliza, with their respective families, the three men all gardeners, had moved from Stockton on Forest, near York, to Huddersfield, south west of Leeds, and a long way from York. It was a major textile industry town, and I am guessing that this was a period when the people who had made big money from the factories were spending it. Fred and Annie lived essentially in the same street, Louis on the other side of town.

There was a hierarchy in gardening as in anything else. At the bottom were apprentices; then the kind of ordinary gardeners who might work for the middle class on small suburban gardens, or who made up the muscle on the big estates doing the hard yards of digging and shovelling manure; then came the head gardeners, ranked in turn by the size of the estate they managed and by the rank of the owner. The Head Gardener was a person of consequence in the world outside in the same way as the Butler was inside the house. My grandmother always spoke in some awe of the fact that both her husband’s father and his grandfather had been Head Gardeners. Another route to gardening status developed in the nineteenth century for those who worked for the big nursery companies, a growth industry supplying not only the estates but the rising middle class demand for gardens and allotments and increasing civic pride in public gardens.

I don’t know how far Fred got in the hierarchy, perhaps he died too young to get far. Robert Young reached Head Gardener status, helped no doubt by having married the daughter of his predecessor. Louis Carter chose a somewhat more indirect route, by working for the Backhouse brother’s nursery.

A York guidebook of 1874 noted “The lover of trees and flowers should on no account leave unvisited Messrs. Backhouse’s gardens, about 1 m. from York, on the road to Acomb. They cover about 75 acres, and are among the largest and most important nursery gardens in this country. They are famous for their alpine garden, their ferneries, and orchid houses. The chief fernery is under glass, and is so extensive and so well managed, that its real limits are quite unseen. The alpine ground is an artificially formed dell, with rockwork, lofty and broken, of most natural appearance, and covered in spring with the loveliest alpine flowers from all parte of the world. The sheets of bright colour are wonderful, and the plants are as vigorous as on their own mountains. The whole scene carries one far away from Yorkshire and England. In front of the offices are two dwarf palms which have survived, unprotected, many winters.”

The Backhouse garden company was a major player in the garden world. The Backhouse brothers bought the very old (mid 17th century) Telford’s nursery in 1815. The land (at Toft Green in York) remained a nursery until the York railway station was built in 1841. So the Backhouse brothers continued in the Telford tradition and could hardly have chosen a better time to become involved in such a business: their customers were wealthy from land ownership, trade with the colonies and from British manufacturing and their attendant service industries. They were keen to stock their gardens, greenhouses and estates. This was the time, too, when many horticultural societies and botanic and public gardens were founded and when the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew grew to become the British empire’s centre for the exchange of scientific information about plants.

The development of the railways, in which the Backhouse family were also involved, helped many businesses to prosper. It was the marriage alliances of the Quaker Pease, Backhouse and Gurney families, with their ownership of banks in the North East and Norfolk, that produced enough capital to fund the early railway system (at the time mainly needed for the transport of coal from Newcastle). For the Backhouse Nursery it meant that correspondence, plants and seeds could all be far more efficiently distributed. Previously, transport had been slow by horse and ship, often resulting in damage to plants. The 1821 catalogue, apart from listing the great variety of trees, shrubs and perennial plants, including culinary and ‘Aquaticks’ and gardening tools, advertises two other services often supplied by British nurseries: ‘Plantations Undertaken by the acre’ and ‘Gentlemen supplied with experienced Gardeners’.

When he returned to York (after working as a Quaker missionary overseas) in 1841, one of the brothers, James Backhouse took up the running of the business, firstly with brother Thomas, who died in 1845 and then with his son James Backhouse. Father and son were keenly interested in alpine plants and botanised together in Teesdale, in highland areas of Britain and on the continent. With the coming of the railway the nursery had been moved to Fishergate, York and in 1853 was moved again to a 100-acre site (bigger than Kew Gardens!) at Holgate, York. James died in 1869 and his son carried on the business, later being joined by his own son James Backhouse. It was in this period up to 1890 that the nursery was at the height of its fame and prosperity, importing plants, maintaining 40 greenhouses as well as an underground fernery, and a much-visited rockery that was famous for its huge cost and the attractive arrangement of its alpine plants.

In the 18th century the wealthy elite had formed collections – for instance of art, archaeology, insects or rare plants – and developed their gardens. In Backhouse’s time these interests were also apparent among middle-class and newly rich people, appealing, too, to the desire for compendious knowledge. The Backhouse nursery was able to display and sell ferns and alpines and an American visitor in 1890 wrote: ‘Nowhere, not even at Kew, is there so rich a collection of filmy ferns… Only the favoured are allowed to see it…’. The troubled economic times that followed the Agricultural Depression of the 1880s, the 1910 Land Tax and the First World War all led to a reduction in the demand for trained gardeners and for costly and labour-intensive gardens and estate plantations. So, despite James forming a new company in 1891 the firm suffered a loss of income over time, caused also by fierce competition from other nurserymen. In 1921 much of their land was sold and the firm was closed in 1955. But in the 1890s when Louis Carter joined the staff Backhouse was a major British nursery, and its future decline and death would have been unthinkable.

Louis had fallen on his feet. He boarded with a relative of his wife’s in York, presumably as a temporary measure until he was firmly established and could send for Mary Ann and children from Huddersfield. But in the meantime he was the bachelor gay. Never short of money, and attended “concerts and dances”. While no doubt Backhouse paid well, the phrase “never seemed short of money” implies more than this, and my suspicion is that Louis may have taken advantage of his position as sole trustee of the family wealth while his mother lived to supplement his income and grow accustomed to a wealthier lifestyle than he had been used to.

If Louis had planned working at the prestigious Backhouse Nursery as a stepping stone to bigger things he had planned well. Within a short time he had been taken on by Sir Edward Green, a big fish in the York pond. Sir Edward was from one of those families that had become rich in the industrial revolution, and, having become rich, was welcomed into the ranks of the aristocracy and conservative politics – an excellent career path. Green was the son of Edward Green, a Yorkshire ironmaster who founded E. Green & Son based in Wakefield. His father patented “Green’s Economiser” which was a device for recycling heat from boilers that previously went to waste – money in waste heat, obviously. The son Edward became an engineer in his father’s business, and joined the Yorkshire Yeomanry. He and his wife (a Lycett) leased Heath Old Hall, an Elizabethan House near Wakefield which they set about developing and furnishing. In 1877 Green purchased the Snettisham Estate in North West Norfolk. He built a new house, Ken Hill, primarily as a shooting lodge. Green became a director of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and was a JP for the West Riding of Yorkshire and for Norfolk. Between 1874 and 1878, Green was a Governor of Wakefield Grammar School. At the 1874 general election Green was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Wakefield, but he was unseated on petition. In 1880 he stood in Pontefract, but was not elected. He returned to Wakefield at a by-election in July 1885, and won the seat, but later stood down from the House of Commons at the 1892 general election. On 5 March 1886 he was created Baronet of Wakefield and Ken Hill – he had arrived in society. Green had married Mary Lycett, daughter of Edward Lycett of Bowdon Cheshire in 1859, introducing the name Lycett into the family. His eldest son Edward Lycett Green achieved a certain amount of notoriety as he was involved in the Royal Baccarat Scandal (cheating at cards by a member of the aristocracy, eventually involving the Prince of Wales as a witness in a court case when Lycett Green was sued for libel) in 1890. Edward succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father.

So a rich and climbing family took on Louis Carter as Head Gardener. Louis had made it to near the top of his profession. Settled in good employment he sent for his wife and children and moved into a house in York. And then, fingers reaching for the brass ring, something went wrong and after just a few months with Sir Edward, Louis was sacked, left “hurriedly”, and the family fled, in embarrassment perhaps, to Cloughton near Scarborough. We will probably never know what Louis did to warrant such a quick sacking, but he was rumoured to have had “affairs” during this time, and it is tempting to think there may have been one or more incidents with the female staff in Green’s establishment. But whatever the reason, Louis had left the glittering prizes of Head Gardener behind and was back to the world of travelling casual gardeners. But not necessarily on a small scale – in March 1900 for example he sought a quote from Messrs Walshaw and son, the Nurseries, Scarborough for the price of some hundreds of young trees, shrubs and plants, suggesting he had at least one big job in hand then for example. In 1901 he was working at Keighley Castle (not a real castle but actually a Victorian mansion built between 1875 and 1882 by textile mill-owner, Henry Isaac Butterfield).

What kind of man was Louis Carter? He was tall, and had dark hair and mustache, but his hair was beginning to turn grey, making him look older than he was, something which may well have concerned him. He was literate and liked music and concerts. He dressed fashionably, enjoyed spending money (gold cufflinks). Liked shooting (went shooting rabbits at Keighley on Boxing Day, 1901, for example, perhaps accompanied by the dog he had bought a license for 2 years earlier on 5 Jan 1900) and dining with friends.

He smoked a pipe. Had an eye for the ladies and was good male company. Had male friends including John who he went shooting with, and Joe and Percy Fletcher (both gardeners like Louis, Percy was his brother in law, having married Mary Ann’s sister, and close enough for Louis to have named his son after him). What did Joe Fletcher think of Louis? Well, he thought he was a “very funny fellow”. If you had pressed him on what that meant, asked him if Louis was “eccentric”, he might have reflected on the distinction between “funny ha ha” and “funny peculiar”. Pressed him further and he would have said, “well, most people are funny”. By this he meant, I think, that most people had secrets, something odd about themselves, no matter how they appeared on the surface. Everyone was unique, thought Joe, bit of a philosopher. But pushed further, with the benefit of hindsight in April 1902, Joe, and others who had known Louis, were probably all saying “Ha, always knew there was something funny about him”. And indeed his wife Mary Ann, and Louis himself, may well have thought so before that. There were people who thought that Louis, behind closed doors, in his cups, was a wife beater on occasion. On the other hand Mary Ann’s relative who knew the family in York always thought they seemed “very comfortable together”. But at some point, perhaps in response to, and explanation for, some episode between them, Louis told Mary Ann that he had an uncle (actually a cousin, one of the Whittakers, his mother’s family) “who died in an asylum where he had been placed for having threatened to murder an aunt”. So there was something there, some edge to Louis that was evident if you knew him well.

And so to the new century. Louis was not prospering. The family was back in Huddersfield, near his mother, now surely nearing the end; the Fletchers and Mary Ann’s family; and his nephews, the sons of the deceased Fred and Annie, so there was a circle of presumably supportive family and friends. He seems to have been reduced to taking odd gardening jobs where and when he could find them, at Keighley, presumably in Huddersfield itself, and perhaps sometimes in Scarborough and elsewhere. But his wife Mary Ann was increasingly having to supplement the family income by taking in sewing, and Louis still had control of the family trust money for his mother.

In April or May 1901 Louis Carter walked into a pub, The Marsh House. On the main road, just around the corner from where he lived in Lindley, Huddersfield, it was less than 1km from his home and was one of the closest local pubs. Perhaps it was his regular drinking place on the way home from a gardening job as he walked along Westbourne Road, perhaps it was just an impulse (it wasn’t the most attractive of public houses). If the latter then his decision to choose, out of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, this one at this time, was a random fall of dice which was to be fateful.

Behind the bar was Kate Bray, who had been working as a barmaid in Huddersfield for a while but was about to pack it in and go home, at this time in Holmfirth. She was 24, had brown hair, was about 5’6” in height, dressed fashionably, was of “a cheerful disposition”, essential for a barmaid, and spoke with a London accent (which might have given her an exotic sound in west Yorkshire). She was one of nine children, daughter of a man who began life, like his father, as an agricultural labourer in Northamptonshire, but had then become a gardener (although in 1881 he was a coachman, which suggests that, like the Carters, he worked on big estates), moved to Watford, where 8 of his 9 children (including Kate) were born, and eventually, in the 1890s, finished up in Yorkshire. At Holmfirth in April 1901, but then apparently in nearby Barnsley soon afterwards. Kate was closest to her little sister, the youngest Bray child, Nora, and sometimes borrowed her things, but was less close to the next youngest, Ethel, although they “never quarreled”.

Kate had begun working as a barmaid presumably as soon as she was old enough (perhaps at 18) in the late 1890s. Ethel worked in a tobacconist’s shop. Nora’s occupation is unknown. In 1901 the three were aged, respectively 24, 19 (Ethel), and 18 (Nora). It isn’t known whether Kate had a series of jobs, but in 1901 she worked for the Eastwoods at Marsh House, and lived on the premises. So there she was, and there was Louis, and they exchanged glances across the bar and that was that. They talked, as much as you could in a crowded pub with the landlord watching. He returned another night and another, and then arranged to secretly meet her on her day off, and then again, somehow. All fraught with danger and difficulty in a pub a few hundred yards from where he lived, in a town where he was well known. But enough opportunities were found to form an incredibly strong bond. My guess is that he told her very early on that he was married, and it didn’t matter.

Very soon Kate was heading back home – perhaps sacked because of her relationship with a customer, perhaps it had always been a short term job with the Eastwoods. But instead of this marking the end of the affair it made it easier for it to continue. Louis was a gardener with no fixed job and who travelled around Yorkshire where work was to be found. Nothing easier than to tell Mary Ann, which he did, that he was still working at Keighley, wave goodbye at the gate, and then head south to Holmfirth or south east to Barnsley instead of north to Keighley, returning a few days later with tales of hard work and a few shillings (derived, perhaps, from the trust account) earned. Pity he couldn’t earn more, couldn’t Mary Ann just take on a bit more sewing until things turned the corner? At the other end though, when he knocked on the door at “The School House” in Holmfirth (a town later to be the setting for that remembrance of west Yorkshire times past “The last of the summer wine”) and was let in by Kate’s father Charles (or mother Rebecca, or one of Kate’s giggling sisters), things were trickier. He was, carefully, carefully, a single man courting Kate – they were engaged, would soon be married. If there was a question mark about why a good looking fellow of 37, well dressed, a respectable occupation shared with Charles, never short of money to spend on Kate, was single, perhaps some story of a death had been invented. But anyway Charles was delighted to give his blessing. Kate’s older sisters were married, and at 24 it was probably time Kate was too.

And so the rest of 1901 drifted by in a haze of romance – Louis turned 37 in May, celebrated his sixteenth wedding anniversary in August, in December genuinely was at Keighley and enjoying some rabbit shooting. The Brays moved to Barnsley, further for Louis to travel, but what of it. And when he couldn’t get there he wrote to her, constantly. During the year Kate spent a month in Penistone, west of Barnsley, perhaps another barmaid job, and probably a month when it was easier for Louis and Kate to spend intimate time together. Louis was living a double life, and neither his family and friends in Huddersfield, nor the Brays in Barnsley, suspected a thing. He and Kate had been very clever and there was no reason that it couldn’t have gone on forever (except for that tiny detail of the imminent wedding).

But then came that long anticipated, but still unexpected, event, the death of Louis’ mother Ann. What must have been even more unexpected was that this death would trigger a series of events in which things would fall apart in Louis’ carefully constructed double life. Ann Carter died on 6 April 1902, the senile decay having reached its inevitable end. She was buried at 3pm on Thursday 10 April by James Savile, Undertaker, at a cost of £3.6s.4d. No doubt the whole family were there, and there may have been questions which caused Louis a little anxiety. With her death his trusteeship came to an end, and however much of the fortune that Joseph Carter had inherited when his mother finally died was left after Joseph’s unwise speculation on a coal mine, had now to be divided three ways between Louis and the descendants of Fred and Annie (and possibly Joseph Henry if he had any). There would need to be, inevitably, an accounting of expenditure over the last ten years, an accounting that Louis may not have been able to deal with satisfactorily, especially if Fred’s widow and Annie’s widower sought legal advice.

But Louis was faced with an even bigger and more immediate problem than money. Unknown to him, Ethel Bray had recently moved to Huddersfield to work. Had it been Nora it wouldn’t have mattered, but there was no love lost between Ethel and Kate. Being in Huddersfield she picked up a newspaper on the Friday and, happening to read a death notice for an Ann Carter, discovered that she was survived by Louis Carter and his wife and family . She immediately contacted one of her other sisters with this horrifying news, but didn’t tell the rest of her family, intending, probably, to deal with the matter herself without upsetting her parents.

For Louis and Mary Ann life went on as normal, neither aware of the storm that was about to break. They had been invited to her sister’s for dinner on the Sunday night and enjoyed their evening no doubt. But as they walked back home (the house was called “Reinwood Lodge on Reinwood Road” – something of a mixed area with one next door neighbour a “Woolen manufacturer”, but the other a weaver, and others nearby including a coachman a blacksmith and a “travelling draper”, presumably a door to door salesman) afterwards they could see two female figures waiting at the door, and Louis must have suddenly realised that the game was up. “Who on Earth can these two be?” Mary Ann might have asked, and Louis might have shrugged his shoulder. But as they reached them Ethel let fly – “Do you know your husband has been keeping company with my sister, pretending to be single, pretending to be engaged to her, saying they were going to elope, going to be married? You need to keep him away from Barnsley, lady. Keep him home where he belongs.” Or words very much to that effect. Mary Ann fell down in a fit, and Louis was afraid she might die.

The two girls left and Louis somehow got Mary Ann, beginning to recover her wits, inside, their life in ruins, trying to be quiet for the sake of the children, but the confrontation was on.
“Look me straight in the face” she said “If it is true, and you will turn over a new leaf, I will forgive you everything”
Louis replied “I won’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’; but she has given the whole show away, and she must bide by it now.” It’s not clear what he meant by this, although he may have thought that Kate had spilled the beans. If he was referring to Ethel then the sentence doesn’t quite make sense.

On and on it went, Mary Ann no doubt doing most of the talking. “Who is this woman? How old is she? How did you meet her? Where does she live?”
“In Barnsley? Then how did you ‘keep company’ with her? Oh, now I see, when you said you were working at Keighley all those times that was a lie, wasn’t it, you were seeing her. How could you Louis?”

“Get rid of her Louis. You have got to tell her it’s over.”
“Money? You mean she will want money for breach of promise? Well give her money. Give her the money you will be getting from your mother’s estate – I dare say Miss Bray has had a lot of it already. Give it all to her. I don’t want it. Give it all and we can be alright again.”
“You have been bad Louis, very bad, no denying that, but just put an end to it and I will have you back and we can be as we were. Think of the children Louis, if you won’t think of me.”

They spent a “terrible night”. Towards the end, Louis perhaps agreeing to everything, he told Mary Ann that they would talk about it more another time, it was all ok, but they better get some sleep because he had to go to Kippax the next morning to sell up one of the properties, in his role of trustee, belonging to his mother. And then it all flared up again.

“I’m going with you Louis. You are going to see her aren’t you? I know it. I know you I’ll never see you again if you go without me.’
“No, don’t be silly love. I just have to go on business, you know I do. It would cost to much for you to come too. Needless expense we can’t afford. I shall never leave you and my two bairns”.

Well, that sounded convincing, and Mary Ann quietened down again. Perhaps she did get some sleep.

On the Monday morning Louis told Mary Ann that he had to “take a box over” to Percy Fletcher’s house where they had dined the previous day (it must have seemed a lifetime ago). He dressed carefully. First his red and white striped shirt with detachable collar, gold cufflinks on the sleeves. Then his grey stockings. Then his dark serge suit, and over the top a fawn overcoat to allow for changeable April weather. He put his pipe and tobacco pouch, a gold pencil, his watch which he carefully wound, two extra pairs of cuffs for his shirt, and half a dozen silk handkerchiefs. Perhaps he was coming down with a cold. He popped his black felt hat (which had his name inside) on, put on his gloves, and off he went. There was no box of course, and he never appeared at Percy’s house.

When Louis didn’t come back immediately Mary Ann decided she had better take action herself, and she wrote a letter to Charles Bray “you must stop your daughter keeping company with my husband”. But Charles was out at work and events were happening too fast now. He saw Kate on the Monday morning as he left for work. In the meantime Louis had arrived in Leeds. But although there was undoubtedly business to conduct in Kippax, where the Carter properties needed to be sold, that was the furtherest thing from his mind. He telegraphed Kate at home, no point in being cautious now. Her mother received the telegram or was there when Kate did, and knew that Louis was sending for her to come to him in Leeds. She may have tried to talk her out of it but it was no use.

Kate got dressed in her nicest clothes. First her blue silk blouse, then white embroidered black stockings. She put on her black skirt, held up with black belt, and jacket, and then her high laced up boots. Found her good silver brooch. Finally she put her hat on a straw hat with black tips, trimmed in black chiffon, a blue bow fastened with imitation gold buckles holding black ostrich feathers, and then her gloves. She and Louis were going to make quite a distinguished couple. As she was hurrying out of the door, Nora came running up to her and gave her an umbrella. “Here, take my umbrella” she perhaps said “it might rain later and ruin your clothes”. “It’s got my name on it” she added, “be sure and bring it back”. Kate took it and was gone – it was just 7am. When her father arrived home that evening it was to be told about the telegram, and then to read the letter from Mary Ann Carter. All too late. The man he had welcomed as a potential son in law had proved to be a scoundrel, although Charles, even after everything, still felt well towards Louis.

Meanwhile Kate and Louis had met in Leeds, and quickly sorted out, if there had been a doubt in Louis’ mind, that Kate had not caused the discovery, Ethel had. Where they went for the next few days is unclear, although it might have been initially to Scarborough, getting away from it all. They needed a few things too, Louis especially not having been able to pack anything to avoid arousing Mary Ann’s concerns. He needed a razor, for example, and got a “Sprocks” razor from “B. Medley, hairdresser, St Thomas St, Scarborough.” They were on the run, and they needed to talk and talk about what they could do.

The fundamental problem was obvious. Divorce was extremely difficult if not impossible for people of their status in society. In any case Mary Ann was the one who had reason for divorce and she had no interest in losing Louis. And he did not want to leave his “bairns”. Conversely he could not bear to lose Kate, and even if he could have convinced her to leave him, her reputation was now ruined, no small thing for a young woman in 1902. They couldn’t simply run off to another town and live together unmarried, they had no resources and it would present legal difficulties and be frowned on by society. It would also mean totally isolating themselves from friends and family. The situation was insoluble, and the more they talked about it the more insoluble it became. Or rather the more they came to realise that there was only one solution.

In the meantime though they needed to move on. Neither of them had been able to bring much money and they had no way of getting any. If they had paid for trains and a couple of night’s accommodation in Leeds and Scarborough and some meals, though neither would have felt like eating, then their money was nearly at an end. Kate didn’t care where she went as long as she was openly with Louis at last. Louis suddenly decided where he wanted to go. It was the place where he had grown up, had felt happy, had all his family around him before they began to die, had been the adored youngest child, had played with friends happily in fields and woods and meadows, had a father who was a respected head gardener. His head and heart were hurting and he was going home to Stockton on Forest. He was going to show Kate where he had grown up.

They reached York by train, either on Thursday 17 April 1902 or Friday, using up almost all their remaining money, and may have walked the 5 or so miles out of town towards Stockton. Perhaps though they got a lift from one of the many farm carts that travelled the road each day, because their shoes didn’t show signs of having walked far the following day. They were there at last, and people saw them wandering the fields and roads around Stockton in the area near the Hopgrove Inn (blue dot on map), which was just down the road from where the Carters had once lived in The Lodge of Stockton Hall. Louis showed her where he had lived, gone to school and church, played with his friends, and told her who owned the farms in the village, some of them the Youngs who were related to him through his sister Annie Eliza’s marriage. Told her about his parents and brothers and sisters. They must have walked some distance, and Kate, whose boots weren’t made for walking, had sore feet and was limping by the end of the day.

They had come back to the Hopgrove Inn at 10 past 6 in the evening, a place to get warm, sit down, rest their weary feet, have a drink, a bite to eat, write a letter to Nora to tell her where they were, what they were doing, tell her to burn Louis’ letters that Kate had been keeping. But when they got inside they realised they had very little money at all. Kate emptied her purse, Louis his pockets, and all they came up with were a few pennies. Enough for a pint of beer each and some bread and cheese from Mr Phillips the innkeeper and Jessie his wife. They seemed perhaps a little odd, especially as strangers, and because of the disparity in age which seemed even greater than it was in reality (Jessie thought Louis was “much older” than Kate – perhaps the greying hair gave that impression), but they were respectably dressed. One odd thing Mr Phillips observed was that although they had obviously literally spent their last pennies on the food and beer, they had little interest in it and neither had drained their glass. Another odd thing was that they had a blue lettercard and some scraps of paper and were carefully composing a letter (presumably with Louis’ gold pencil), had a conversation with a soldier in the pub in which they said they really needed to have the letter posted urgently, and he said he was going back into York that night and would do it for them.

Louis was the bon vivant as always. He “genially” took part in the pub conversation, and reminisced about the people and events of the district, although he didn’t say who he was or how he knew about it. Kate said very little and seemed very tired. She had asked Louis for his pencil after he had finished writing and then added her own touches to it. When she had finished she passed it to him and after reading it he said “Yes, that will do’. He gave it to the soldier who said, as he left “I will not forget to post it”.

It was just a quarter to seven, and they had only been in the Inn for half an hour, but they had written their letters and didn’t want to finish their beer. Louis asked Kate if she was ready to go and she said “I am quite ready for the road if you are”, perhaps a deliberately ambiguous reply. And then they were gone out into the night. They walked a few hundred yards along the Malton Road and opened a gate into a small triangular field (red dot on the map) next to the Lodge (not the one marked on the map, but it was up where the railway crossed the Malton Rd, next to the red dot) where Louis had grown up. It was a field owned by Tom Young, Robert’s brother, but Louis may or may not have known that. The field had a pond (which he probably remembered as a child, would have played often in the field) and a hedge for shelter and privacy. They spent the night there, or in the adjacent trees, but it’s unlikely they slept. Louis smoked his pipe as they talked.

As it grew light on the Saturday morning it was decision time. At about 6am Louis asked Kate again if she was still determined to go through with it. She said yes, it is the only way we can be together for always, in heaven, I trust you Louis. They got up and walked slowly together over to the pond, Kate wanting to see where Louis was going to end it all. She was very lame from the exertions of the previous day and Louis, smoking his pipe, supported her with his arm through hers, as she limped across the grass, her head lowered, her hat pulled tightly down. And then a shock, they were concentrating so hard on each other that they hadn’t heard footsteps, and got a surprise when a voice said “Good Morning”. It was William Wilkinson of York, off to a labouring job, and he was as much taken by surprise at such an odd sight at 6.30am as were Kate and Louis by the interruption to their thoughts. Louis managed to reply “Good Morning” but Kate didn’t look up or say anything. William kept walking.

They walked back to near the gate and sat down. Louis said again, are you sure, and she said she was. You won’t feel anything, he said, over quickly. He tied a silk scarf around her eyes, kissed her one last time, took the Sprock razor out of his pocket, opened it, and cut her throat deeply with one strong and decisive movement. She fell back and died so quickly, her body turning over just once, that the straw hat on her head wasn’t disturbed. The blood poured out of her onto the ground in a puddle. Louis got up in a daze and walked towards the pond, left a footprint in the mud, and then straight into the water. He had not wanted to trust that he could cut his own throat properly, so they had agreed that he would drown himself to be certain. But if he had remembered, from his childhood, a deep pond in the field, he had remembered wrong, the next field had the deep pond, this one was shallow, and the water in the middle, full of water vegetation which he disturbed, came barely up his legs at all. He came back out, perhaps crying in frustration and shock and went back to Kate’s body. Along the way his hat fell off but he didn’t notice. He sat down beside Kate, trying to summon up the nerve to do what now had to be done.

And then another shock. The sound of wagon wheels on the Malton Road. James Wragg, market gardener, and his wife, who lived about half a mile away were driving to York, presumably with a load of vegetables for market. James saw Louis’ hat on the grass and said “There is something to do yonder” and she said “They are laid just beyond the hedge” and they both saw a woman lying on her back and a man lying a few yards from her. As they passed the man lifted his head to watch them, perhaps making sure they kept going. Which they did. James said to his wife “those two will have had a cold night of it” but while he thought there was something wrong he didn’t want to get involved. Said later he was “used to seeing tramps laying down” but then added that he didn’t think these two were tramps.

But seeing the wagon meant that time had run out for Louis, no more time to prepare himself. He rolled up his fawn overcoat and used it as a pillow, removed his collar and put it in his pocket, undid his top buttons, picked up the razor again, still slippery with Kate’s blood and tried to cut his own throat. Not easy and he botched it. He had been right, it was difficult to kill yourself like that, but it had to be done and in spite of the pain he made another stronger deeper slash. Even this one wasn’t enough and his body flopped about all over the place as he died. Jerked and flopped so much that it left five separate pools of blood. And then he was dead.

Back in Barnsley the soldier from the pub and the amazing British postal service of the time had combined to get the blue lettercard to the Bray household. Nora had been watching each day for something from Kate, desperately worried about where they were and what they might do. But then the lettercard with Louis’ familiar writing on it plopped through the letterbox. Nora grabbed it in relief and read it hurriedly. It’s alright she called to her parents, they have gone to Anglesey. “Gone to Anglesey, what do you mean” her father might have said, reaching for the letter, “what would they want with Anglesey?”

And sure enough, in her haste and relief, Nora had misread the letter the first time. Louis had written not “Anglesey”, but “angels”:
“My Dear Nora
When you get this myself and Kate will have gone to join the angels. Be sure and don’t let it worry you my girl, and remember dear to burn all those letters of Kate’s as soon as you get this. I suppose you will know it is your sister Ethel all this has come about, though I don’t see what good she has done. Be sure and burn this when you have read it, and the letter of Kate’s in the box. You will hear more shortly. Good night and God Bless you for the last time. Kate joins with me
Yours truly x x x x”

At the top of this note were the following words in pencil, in Kate’s writing:
“Tell mother I hope she will forgive me and never think you had a sister Kate.”

And on the piece of paper enclosed an afterthought from Kate
“Dear Nora
Have all belonging to me. Don’t let that girl touch any of them (Ethel), for I hate her. If I have to have a funeral don’t let her follow me. If she does I will haunt her. This is my last wish. From your broken-hearted sister Kate, if you like to call me sister.”

It was about two hours later that the bodies were discovered by Walter Gurden, a boy who lived not far away and was taking his two dogs for a walk at 10.30. The dogs stopped at the gate of the little triangular field and started barking. Walter stopped to look but was too frightened to go into the field (even years later the gypsies would never go into it or camp nearby) and ran off and found a man named George Wallis who had a look, not afraid he, and then gave the alarm to the Sergeant Walker of the North Riding Police, stationed at Heworth. He carried out a competent examination of the scene and then had the bodies carried back to the Hopgrove Inn, presumably as the closest large public building where an inquest could be held.

If Mr and Mrs Phillips thought it was a nightmare when two of their customers from the night before arrived back dead and covered in blood it was quickly going to get worse. A century later we pride ourselves on the speed of communications, but in Yorkshire in 1902 things moved just as rapidly. Letters posted late one night are delivered early the next on the other side of the county. Bodies are discovered in a field at 10.30am and the newspapers have full accounts that afternoon. And as a result of the gruesome nature of the discovery and the headlines, by the next morning the sightseers had arrived in this peaceful rural area. As the Monday newspaper described it “Hundreds of cyclists ran out during the [Sunday] morning and the numbers increased during the afternoon. Scores of others drove in traps after dinner, and the road was never free from pedestrians. All were drawn with the same desire to gaze on the spot where the bodies were found.” The editorialist added that he “hoped a strong police guard will protect the death chamber from morbid intruders” after it was revealed that Mr Phillips was being offered bribes to allow people to see the bodies.

Adding to the bewildering sense of speed compared to modern procedures is the fact that by the Monday the Coroner, J. R. Wood, was informed, an inquest had been arranged, jury members selected, witnesses called, police and crime scene evidence assembled. The inquest, which began at 3pm, was competent and fair. Another huge crowd had turned up, but was kept back on the other side of the road from the Inn. The proceedings took place in a small room, with just enough room for coroner, jury, policemen, journalists, and witnesses. A Gordon Learoyd, solicitor of Huddersfield, turned up to act on behalf of Mary Ann who was too “utterly prostrate” to attend. The two deaths were treated separately, beginning with Kate. Half way through the proceedings, and you can imagine the commotion and the breathless arrival “Mr Welsh, a solicitor of Huddersfield appeared, and informed the Coroner that he attended to represent the beneficiaries under a will of which Louis Carter was a trustee”. Presumably Mr Welsh had been employed by Fred’s widow, anxious about the fate of the trust funds.

The inquest succeeded in establishing the sequence of events based on the witnesses, and the crime scene evidence. The larger question really was whether both Kate and Louis had individually committed suicide, and if so what was the state of mind of each, or whether Louis had killed Kate as a result of some mental aberration and then committed suicide himself. So there was discussion of Kate’s state of mind (from Charles Bray who had rushed to this small Inn, and must have felt he was in a nightmare, just a week after he had last said goodbye to his daughter), and of whether Louis had mental problems (was he “eccentric”, was it true he had an uncle in an insane asylum who had threatened to kill his aunt) which could explain the savage murder. Those present were well aware of the “murder-suicide” scenario, but it quickly became evident, when the history of the last year and week was recounted, and when the letters to Nora were read out in court, that this was effectively a case of assisted suicide-suicide. Everything about the state of Kate’s body clearly indicated that she had been a willing participant in a suicide pact. The coroner summed up well. The only choice for the jury was between mutual suicides and murder-suicide, but the coroner was clear from the crime scene evidence that Kate had not cut her own throat, although he said it was up to the jury to make up their minds on that. But if it was murder-suicide then it was up to the jury to decide in effect whether this was a case, in essence, where Louis had gone mad. Again, the coroner didn’t think so, and gently gave the jury some guidance on the matter: “There were motives in the case which seemed to account in a sense for the deed. It had been discovered that the man had a wife living. She was aware of his attachment to the deceased woman, and there had been a row, followed by the flight of both of them. The facts seemed to show that they could not face the situation, and had determined to put an end to their lives. The jury ought to take into account the state of their minds, but probably they would think that in this case they were not warranted in finding that it was through their minds being affected, but it was the discovery of the circumstances which led them to this deed.” Fair enough and the jury thought so too, they found “that the deceased Louis Carter murdered Kate Bray, and that he then committed suicide”. The foreman added “We have come to the conclusion that Carter was in his right senses, and we wish to pass a vote of sympathy with the widow and children of Carter and with the parents of the deceased girl”. No winners in this dreadful event, and everyone knew it.

The newspaper editorialist in that morning’s paper had also summed things up well and very sympathetically – “The case possesses all the pathetic touches of a tangled tragedy – the resolute determination over night to die, the weary wait in the field till morning came. What battling against the idea of death there was during the dark watch we will never know. All that is certain is that life seemed to hold out no hope, and they sought the gate of death.”

It only remained to bury the bodies, but given the crowds of ghoulish spectators, this was no straightforward matter, and measures were taken to keep the burials private. The Press reported as follows:
“on Tuesday the body of the murdered woman, Kate Bray, was buried in the churchyard at Huntington [the decision had obviously been made to bury her locally rather than take her home to Barnsley, Huntington was on the outskirts of York only a mile or two from Stockton]. The burial took place at nine o’clock and the selection of such an early hour effectually thwarted the designs of the many lovers of sensation who would doubtless have attended had the interment been later in the day. As it was there were barely half a dozen persons present, and it was thus possible to pay the last rites to the dead amid decent quietude. The old father of the murdered girl was the only mourner, and the Rev E.B. Firth, vicar of Huntington, conducted the service.” Poor Charles Bray.

Louis was more complicated because Mary Ann wanted him buried in Huddersfield (near her so she “could go to see his grave”, and near his mother). and the final act was played out in the Press. “Funeral of Louis Carter – The last scene in connection with the York tragedy took place this morning at the Huddersfield Cemetery, where the body of the man Louis Carter, of Reinwood Road, Lindley, was interred. The body had been removed from the Hop Grove Inn, on the Malton Road, to Huddersfield, during Monday night in an ordinary conveyance [ie not a hearse] arriving at the latter place at four o’clock on Tuesday morning. The coffin, however, was not removed immediately to the house of the deceased, but was secretly kept in some premises in the town. About half past nine o’clock in the evening it was taken to Lindley, but this attracted very little attention. The time of the funeral and other arrangements also were very little known. Thus public curiosity had little opportunity of showing itself. There were very few persons present at the cemetery when the cortege, which consisted of the hearse and two mourning coaches, the latter containing only the widow and two children and two relatives, arrived. A short and modified non-conformist service was conducted in the general chapel, and then the coffin was carried to and lowered into a grave in the consecrated portion of the cemetery. The scene was very touching, and Mrs Carter, who wept bitterly, exclaimed as the coffin was lowered, ‘Oh! Louis. Oh! Louis’. At the close Mrs Carter, for whom much sympathy was expressed by the small gathering of spectators, very reluctantly left the graveside, being led away by two male relatives. The deceased man was buried in the same grave in which his mother was interred about a fortnight ago. The coffin, on which was placed a wreath sent by relatives bore the words ‘Louis Carter, died April 19th, 1902. Aged 38.’” A pity the journalist doesn’t say who the “relatives” were. Possibly the Fletcher brothers, possibly even two of the Youngs who had known Louis as a child. The children, probably also “weeping bitterly”, were respectively just 13 and 11 years old. Louis would have been 38 some three weeks after he was buried on 23 April 1902.

And then life went on. Mary Ann probably did go on supporting herself with needlework, but the resolution of her mother-in-law’s estate is unknown. However Annie Eliza’s widower clearly did receive some substantial money, and therefore the other family members must have done so also. Mary Ann eventually remarried some 7 years later. Her children grew up happy and healthy and nice, and had good friendships with their cousin Charles Young.

It is hard to read the Louis and Kate story putting ourselves fully into the predicament they found themselves in. Divorce laws gradually changed over the coming century, and the waste of these two young lives wouldn’t happen today. But it is a reminder of what can happen when the state (and church) decide what relationships between people are permitted and which ones are not. And it should be a story given to politicians who demand that we go back to the old divorce laws, back to the good old days when two people killed themselves in a muddy field because there was no alternative.

[Note to readers - almost all the conversations in this episode are either actually quoted words or words that can be inferred from descriptions of events. In one or two cases, for example Nora's words to Kate and her parents, Louis and Kate's last moments together, I have invented the things that must have been said.]

Landed quite safely
After he gets over the Typhoid it is clear that Charles cannot go back to work at Armstrong’s the butchers. And his marriage is getting closer and closer. In May 1911 Robert Charles puts £500 in his hand and sends him off to Ferry Hill to open a bicycle shop. The choice of Ferry Hill was significant. Emma’s family had lived here for a while, and Sally had been born there, the other children being born either there or at Coundon a few miles away or at Tudhoe Grange.The Scotts lived in Spennymoor, again not far away, and Emma’s family with stepfather had lived in Bishop Auckland in 1901. So Ferry Hill was all not only Emma’s beloved Durham, but her exact part of Durham. I guess that one of the Evans family had told her about the shop, and she had expressed delight about going back “home”.

The usual postcard comes back on 18 May – ‘I have landed quite safely and without feeling very tired, Charlie’ (he must have ridden his bicycle there!). But the shop was no longer available, having been let to someone else, and he came back and put the £500 back into his father’s hand. While he was in Ferry Hill though he had seen or heard about jobs in the coal mines, and this would be a major turning point in the lives of Charles and Emma. He packed and went back to start digging coal. At Tudhoe colliery, right at Emma’s birthplace, and they would live in Spennymoor for the next 18 years.

One intriguing question about the incident is the £500. How did Robert Charles get his hands on such a staggering sum (between £40,000 and £200,000 in today’s money depending on how calculated)? A gardener was not going to save money like that, and he had received just the £10 from his father’s will. It suggests that this money had come via wife Annie Eliza’s share of the Carter family inheritance, intended to be used for Charles when he came of age (he would turn 21 on 23 May). This in turn means that whatever was going on with Annie’s brother Louis as trustee of his father’s Will, at least some of Joseph’s money had in fact been passed on, perhaps before the trustee arrangement. It is also said that Robert had a great deal of good furniture, again, presumably from the Carter family, which he had also told Charles would be his one day. Almost all the money and all of the furniture would be stolen by wicked stepmother Beatrice (who had carefully written into Robert Charles’ Will that she was not responsible for any loss of furniture), and Charles would see just £20 of the Carter family fortune.

One for all
We left the Ortons grieving for the loss of William and his son Joseph in the Baddesley pit disaster. As well as William’s wife and children, his mourners would have included his sisters and brothers.

A close knit bunch, I suspect, that generation of Ortons, miners and sons of a miner. William and Hannah were married about 1812 and had at least 5 boys and 3 girls between 1813 and 1828. One of the girls (Caroline) died aged 17 just 4 months after being a witness at brother William’s wedding. Another girl Sarah appears only briefly in the record and then disappears into anonymity.

The mother Hannah, considerably older than her husband William (she was about 30 when married, her husband about 23) had her last child aged about 47. She then died aged 63, and her spouse moved in with daughter Ann and her husband. About the same time Rachel  Orton (“Pauper Charwoman” aged 76) moved in with grandson William and his wife and two children in Polesworth, and brought along one of her other sons, William’s 56 year old uncle Charles  “Retired Miner”. Take care of their elderly relatives these Ortons.

So the brothers were all coal miners – Joseph, James, Luke, Thomas and William. They moved around from mine to mine as work was available, and sometimes stayed in each other’s houses, suggesting a pattern of working together where possible and looking out for each other. They mainly stay in their ancestral home country of north Warwickshire around Baddesley Ensor, Polesworth, Grendon, Baxterley, Dordon, Austrey, but occasionally across to the Coventry area (Foleshill, Sowe, Bell Green), where James, Luke, and Thomas all find wives, and where some of the next generation of Orton miners (James’ children for example) would be born.

In the 1850s something shifts in the work situation and Luke and wife (childless) head for Staffordshire where they will be joined by Joseph, and James (the latter with about 6 children left at home with their mother) who has previously stayed with brother Thomas’ wife and family.

1861 is a very bad year for James, who loses, in the space of a couple of months (presumably as a result of some contagious disease) wife Elizabeth aged 43, his oldest son William (a miner of course) aged 22, and daughter Hannah (already silk weaving) aged 13.

By 1871 the Staffordshire Orton brothers were still in potteries country. Luke and Mary, still childless had brother Joseph and niece Mary (James’ daughter) living with them in Burntwood. If you were a member of the Orton family you were never short of a place to stay. And you get the feeling that with the Orton brothers it was one for all and all for one.

James, young children still to raise, had married again, confusingly (to his descendant, and probably at the time) he had married a second Elizabeth. She was a Staffordshire girl, three years older than James, and the Ortons had become a Staffordshire family. In 1871, having lost two children (one daughter Mary being with Luke, and other surviving daughter Caroline presumably married), James and the second Mrs Elizabeth Orton live at “The Ley” in Burntwood. with the two remaining Orton sons, both miners, Thomas aged 21 and young James aged 16. Also present is an Edward Cresswell who is described as “grandson” aged 15 (ie born in 1856). Best guess is that this is a grandson of the second Mrs Orton, who must have had her own story (quite possibly an earlier marriage) before marrying James at age 44.

So James has married into Staffordshire and son Thomas is about to do the same having met Mary Hulme from the sprawling Hulme potter family who live nearby. Thomas walks into the church (the nearby Edensor church) as an Orton and walks out as a Horton, the vicar, having assumed a dropped aitch, has helpfully added it to the marriage certificate. Father James, not needing a vicar to give him a new name, leaves the church without an extra aitch.

The first Thomas “Horton” and wife Mary start producing children. They had at least 8 children over 22 years, the last when Mary was about 43 – Lizzie 1873, Joseph James (called James) 1877, Rachel born 1882 died 1883, Fanny 1884 (died young), Thomas 1886, Emily 1889, William 1891, Mary 1894. Both James and Thomas went down the mines, and I guess William did too. The second Elizabeth Orton died in 1886 aged 72, and James, becoming “infirm”, brought son Thomas (the first) and family to live with him at “The Bank” in Burntwood. They might have gone from Ortons to Hortons, and from Warwickshire to Staffordshire, but they still looked after their own. Old James finally died in 1893 aged 78, a good innings for an old miner.

By 1901 (new century, just like the old century), young Thomas Horton, aged just 14 (and my heart melts as I type these words) was already down the Staffordshire mines as a “labourer”. At some point in the next few years though the ancestral north Warwickshire homeland (or, probably, just a job in a mine) calls him back and he moves to Attleborough where he meets, and marries, aged just 21, a local girl Ellen Baker, descended from the Bakers and Tills and Kinders and Taverners of north Warwickshire. She is the daughter of that scoundrel George John Baker and the long-suffering Jane Till.

The house Tom and Ellen move into is in a row of similar small terrace houses, occupied, I guess, mostly by mining families like themselves.

It is right next door to a pub, and it is said that Tom, who didn’t drink when he arrived in Attleborough, went into the pub to get something or ask about something, and stayed there for a very long time.

The Hortons will have their first child, Bill, in 1908 – the Ortons are back in Warwickshire, but as Hortons this time round.

I could hardly say ‘Good Luck’
The Evans family, like the Ortons, were miners. Unlike the Ortons though they didn’t stay put but travelled long distances (for the time) to find work in a succession of mining districts.

The Evans’ story begins with a legend. Two Evans brothers, it was said, walked over the border from Wales and up to Durham looking for work, an epic trek if true. There is obviously at least a grain of truth in this – the Evans name is Welsh – but when my grandmother was told this story (referring to her own father as one of the brothers) there had already been at least two, probably three previous generations born in England. But the family had gone from Shropshire (not far from the Welsh border in Shropshire – so the previous generation may well have walked over from Wales) in the 1820s to Worcester, Staffordshire and finally to Durham, following the mines all the way.

The generation that comes to life as real people starts with Richard Evans who was born in 1853 in St James Terrace, Dudley. He married Mary Ann Scott in September 1878 (she aged 20). Richard gave his occupation as Collier, Mary Ann had no occupation. Mary Ann’s father John Scott was living in Dudley and was an iron pudler. Both Richard and Mary Ann were illiterate. The Evans and Scott families were to remain entwined. Soon after marriage they headed north to Durham, and their first daughter, Sally, was born there in 1880.

When Mary Ann had her own children she would name them after her Scott brothers and sisters. My grandmother Emma Evans was named after aunt Emma Scott, who she didn’t like, and as a result she never used the name if she could avoid it.

Other children followed in quick succession:
Rachel 1882, Sam 1883, Hannah 1885, Richard (Dick) Evans 1887, Emma 1888, Jim Evans 1891, Ellen (Nellie) Evans 1893, Harry Evans in 1895.

They were a family of 9 children each born on average less than 2 years apart. As a consequence they were very tight knit (they referred to each other as “Our” as in “Our Sally”), loving, looking out for each other.

But suddenly it all fell apart. Tragedy struck soon after the birth of Harry. Richard Evans died on New Year’s Eve 1896 in Low Spennymoor of “Bronchitis”. Samuel Scott (Mary’s brother) was in attendance, the doctor was George Russell Stritch, possibly with plenty of practice in certifying death from lung disease for 43 year old coalminers. Mary Ann made do for a while by cooking and delivering lunches at school, but people didn’t pay her.

The children all went out to work (the two oldest girls as domestic servants first, then Hannah the same, Sam working as a brickyard labourer, presumably thanks to stepfather, then Dick apprenticed to a joiner) as soon as they could, the middle ones (like Emma) looking after little Nellie and Harry (she remembered carrying the toddler on her back, and taking Nellie by the hand to take them to school). For a long time we thought in the family that this was the end of the story, and certainly there was never any indication from Emma that anything else had happened. But it had, a desperate Mary Ann with nine children had married George Moffatt, an Irish brickies labourer, between 1897 and 1901.

God knows what this was marriage like. The children all loved each other and watched out for each other, but they were all getting out of this arrangement pretty quickly, and there was to be much heartache. Rachel Evans married in 1903. Like her mother she was to have 9 children and poor Rachel was to die, aged 38, in 1920, having the last child, when she began haemorrhaging. Sam also married in 1903 and took young Harry in and look after him as well as have a number of childen of his own, he, like so many of this once happy family, would die relatively young of TB in the bone). Their mother Mary Ann died in 1906 aged 48. Rachel had gone to live in York and this was where Sally also went to work as a servant. When Mary Ann died (curiously, for the time, she was considerably outlived by her mother Rachel, who was not to die until 1914, aged 82) , Sally sent for Emma to come and work there as well. Sally, Hannah, Dick and Jim all married and had children. Nellie also married but had no children and died young (aged about 22) having her first child. After Emma was married she took in young Harry, still only 15, to live with them – Emma and Harry were always the very closest of the close siblings.

Emma arrived in York and began working as a domestic servant (duties including scrubbing the front step of 10 St Marys in all weather until her hands blistered and cracked) for people called Dobies initially (Emma later became a “companion” to daughter of the house Susan, and a photo of Susan Dobie, long hair, ribbon, fashionable white dress, smiling, long-fingered hand holding beloved black cat, was kept over the next century.

Emma was later to be ‘married from’ Dobies, an unusual favour for a young servant in a grand house, in the absence of parents of her own, and she always spoke fondly of them).

Emma was very ill in April 1907 and had an operation to remove a goitre. It left a scar at the base of her throat, like a small hole, that she had for the rest of her life and never lost her embarrassment over. She was lucky to be alive. The picture taken when she was 21, not long before she was married, shows her with a high necked blouse, presumably to hide the scar which must have been very noticeable at this time. Some of this story is told in postcards:

From: Sallie [Evans]
To: Miss Emma Evans
York to County Hospital, York (Ward 7)
10.30pm 22 April 1907

Dear Sis, just a line to say I hope you are getting better, and I hope you were pleased with the parcel on Sat. Yours with love, Sallie

From: Grace
To: Miss Evans
York to County Hospital, York (Ward 7)
8.45pm 29 April 1907

I hope you are on the improve and soon likely to be out. I have had a very pleasant weekend. I hope to come down as far as the hospital on Wed if it is fine. Love to you from Grace

From: Grace. H.
To: Miss E. Evans
York (6 North View, Holgate) to York (14 Newbiggin St)
10.30pm 28 May 1907

Dear Emma, I heard you had got out of hospital and I hope you are now better, poor Mrs Fletcher is still in and undergone an operation. I am pleased to say I am keeping very well. You might send me a card and tell me how you are, with love from Grace H.

After Emma gets well she returns back home to Spennymoor, and seems to have found work there.

From: Jennie
To: Miss E. Evans
Middlesborough to c/o Mrs Whelan 4 Jackson St Spennymoor
2 November 1907

“Dear Emma, hope very much Mary, yourself and the baby arrived home safely. Oh! The introductions! Will you ever forget them? I have been to the opera twice this week. Tannhauser and Madame Butterfly. The music was beautiful. When are you leaving Spennymoor? Don’t forget to drop me a postcard, Jennie.”

The curious thing about this card (Who Jennie was, and what the introductions were all about, have been lost in time), so curious that I had to read it a number of times, is the casual, matter of fact reference to opera. If Emma was a follower of opera too it was never evident in later life. And it is somewhat unexpected, to say the least, that a young, almost completely uneducated daughter of an impoverished mining family would have become fond of opera or found the money to go. But a fondness for music must have been one of the factors that attracted music loving Charles to her a little later. And there are other hints that Emma was intelligent, and thought well of, by contemporaries, in all walks of life. She is apparently a “companion” to Susan Dobie. She is a “playmate” for Kenneth Anderson, only son of a wealthy family. Later Winnie Anderson, also daughter of that wealthy family, and herself married to a doctor, writes to her both fondly and as a friend and equal. Not much doubt, I think, that Charles was also attracted by Emma’s intellect. I wonder what she could have done if she had been “Emma Dobie” and had an education well past 11 years old?

From: Maggie [Evans, Emma's sister in law, married to big brother Sam]
To: Emma
Spennymoor (6 Wombwell St) to Miss E. Evans c/o Mrs Rutherford, Mainsforth House, Newbiggin by Sea, Northumberland
1.45pm, 21 Dec 1907
Dear Emma, Glad to have your welcome letter. I shall be pleased to see you on Tuesday. I have not time to write a letter. I am nearly upside down. A baby makes a lot of difference, Your affectionate sis, Maggie xx

Some time in the first half of 1908 Emma was headhunted by people called Pearsons to come and work for them. Here, as fate would have it, she would meet Charles Young – a slim young boy cycled up to Pearson’s one day on his butcher boy’s bike delivering meat. It is said that Emma was outside pumping up a tyre on her own bike and they got to talking about cycling clubs. It also helped that the boy’s father worked for Pearsons as a gardener and could introduce them.. The earliest mention is the letter from one of her many friends Amelia.
From: Amelia Jones
To: Miss E. Evans
West Cornforth (Kings Head Hotel) to York (14 Newbiggin St, Groves)
6.45pm 3 July 1908
Green half penny Edward
Dear Emma, having lovely wether (sic) here. how are you getting on. did you get your head blown off or what. well I suppose you are going with the same boy. don’t forget to write. From your loving friend Amelia Jones.

The Pearson house looks new and flash. It is two storey brick, T-shaped with the main windows on the base of the tee. There are two large chimneys, and a small conservatory at one end. Virginia Creeper has not long been planted and is beginning to work its way up the wall. Mrs Pearson is pushing an empty pram, one daughter standing nearby, the other two are standing three metres behind her. All four are looking at the camera. Mrs Pearson is tall and elegant. She has a long dark coloured coat which reaches almost to the ground and a dark hat with a very broad brim. Around her neck she has a white scarf, the end hanging over her shoulder and down her back. The two older daughters have almost identical outfits to the mother except that the skirts are to the knees, and the hats are sailor hats with narrow brims. Otherwise they look like miniatures of their mother. The youngest daughter (their names are Molly, Dorothy and Joan) has a light coloured coat, a hood, and a thick wrapping around the neck that looks like a fur. All four wear dark gloves. It is winter, the young tree next to the house, behind the trellis, being bare. Three metres behind the two girls are two of the servant girls. They wear working clothes with aprons, one has a mob cap (one of the endearing things about Emma, is that she would never, in all her years as a domestic servant for grand rich families, wear the mob cap, sign of servitude. She saw herself I think as working with people not for them, and being inferior to no one in spite of her humble origins), neither has gloves on a cold day. They gaze smilingly, admiringly, and perhaps adoringly at the family scene in front of them. Perhaps one of these girls is to be replaced by Emma, or perhaps she is to work with them.

On 17 November 1908 One of the Lloyd family, owners of Stockton Hall, signs (as ‘Hon. Sec.’) the ‘Abstaining Declaration’ by 20 year old Emma Evans at the Stockton on Forest Branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, On the back Emma has written, perhaps reporting what she has heard at her first meeting: ‘Motto “Cleave to that which [misspelt whitch and corrected] is good” or “What would “Jesus” Do”‘.

Emma is still ‘going with the same boy’ a year after it began:
From: Percy
To: Mr C. Young
Huddersfield to c/o Mr R. Young, Stockton on Forest
20 May 1909
Dear Charlie, So sorry I didn’t write sooner. Anyhow I got home all right at a quarter to nine, hurrying got back safe. I will write a letter soon if I can make myself, but I don’t like writing letters. Well I will close now, remember me to EE, your sincere cousin Percy.

Percy is the son of Louis Carter, and is the only cousin (in addition to Percy’s sister Frances) Charles is close to.

Some time in 1909 or 1910 Emma returns to work for the Dobies where she had first worked in York. She can no longer work at Pearsons, where lady’s maid (to Captain Pearson’s mother, a powerful position) Beatrice Hodgson has made her life a misery.

Charlie and Emma are into serious courting in 1910 if they weren’t earlier (no record survives):
From: Charlie
To: Robert Charles
York to Lynngarth Cottage, Stockton on Forest
11pm, Friday January 14, 1910

Coming on Sunday afternoon without fail. Am bringing E. with me for tea, so have something extra special for us. Of course when I say without fail, I mean if the weather is alright, as we shan’t come if it is wet, Charlie.

From: Emily
To: Miss E. Evans
York to York (c/o Mrs Dobie, 9 St Marys)
12.45am 29 July 1910

Dear Emma, Just a line to wish you many happy returns of the day. Don’t forget to come on Sunday. With love from Emily xxx

The 29 July is when Emma’s birthday is celebrated (though not her real birthday, for reasons unknown), and Charles (still living at the butcher’s home in Acomb St) is a bit put out this year.
From: Charles
To: Miss Evans
York to 10 St Marys
3pm 30 July 1910
Dear E, I am sorry I shan’t see you tonight, but I will be down tomorrow. I thought you could have been up yesterday but I was doomed to disappointment. Please excuse pencil as I am writing this in the open air at Acomb. Much love from C xxxxxxx.

In July 1911 Charles buys a wedding ring from J. Kay Jewellers, 80 Gillygate York, just two streets from St Marys where Emma worked. On the morning of the 18 July he has his photograph taken, probably in the back garden of The Lodge, in front of a bed of nasturtiums and a trellis of honeysuckle. He wears a morning suit, his shoes are shining, his gold watch chain peeps out from under the jacket and he is secretly smiling to himself – in a few hours he is going to marry Emma. Charles and Emma, after waiting 3 years for Charlie to reach 21, and nearly having him die, are married (witnesses Allan William Thornton, Elsie May Thornton – they will later name their daughter Elsie after these best friends) in Groves Wesleyan Chapel (below).

Does Alan fiddle nervously with the little hook and eye on the green box with the ring in it before getting it open to pass the ring to Charlie? Charles is just turned 21, Emma 23 a month later. Her profession is given as domestic servant, his as Coal Miner (‘Shifter’ – that is one who moves the coal, on a later form he is described as a ‘Hewer’, ie a digger). They move to Spennymoor, keeping the decorations of flowers and leaves that were on the fancy wedding cake (supplied by the Dobies?). Their first child will be born in 18 months, and they are looking after Harry. War, whether they knew it or not, was on the horizon.

Harry Evans had survived the war (like his brothers and brothers in law) happily and gone back to the mines. He married. His great love was ballroom dancing – full of life and energy and fun like Harry himself. Everyone, it seemed, was wild about Harry. One day in 1929 he had finished his shift and left the mine. One of his mates still inside the mine trying to move a large tub called out ‘Give us a hand with this Harry’. He went back in and as he did the roof collapsed, crushing his back and crippling him. His best friend and dancing mate went to see him in hospital and collapsed on to the floor, weeping uncontrollably. Emma visited him in hospital and both of them managed, for the other, not to weep uncontrollably too. She saw him for the very last time on the 12 October, they were just 7 days away from sailing to Australia and had to say goodbye to family in Stockton and then get to Liverpool. The combination of saying goodbye to Harry forever, and the strain of leaving home, must have battered Emma. Battered Charles too, and he was unable to face seeing Harry in this state, left Emma to go on that painful last visit.

From: Harry Evans To: Charles and Emma
Lower Eden Ward, Durham County Hospital to Spennymoor
Monday October 14, 1929
‘Dear Bro and Sis, I now take the pleasure in writing you a few lines and to say that I am still going well, but not very. You know, as well as can be expected. Hoping this letter will find you all in the best of health. Well Emma, I saw that you were full on Saturday, but, of course, you weren’t the only one, I could hardly say ‘Good Luck’, although I managed to get it out, and thanks for the half crown. By the way I don’t think Bella [Harry's wife] was able to get back to see you, as she didn’t leave me until turned 3.30, so you will have to excuse her.
Well Charlie lad, I was very much disappointed at not seeing you, but I was told that you were engaged, but nevertheless from the bottom of my Heart I wish you all the very best of Luck, and I only wish I had been able to go with you, but I have got what I will never cast off. I have every faith but one, and that is what I told you Emma, a Dirty Bladder [ie infection] and that’s what will finish me, although I am not giving up hope, it’s getting more septic every day, the Doctor says that’s what was the matter with Billy Rochford. Well, I wish I had something to send for a keepsake, I would have sent it through, but I haven’t. So I will Conclude my letter to a close with my best love to all, I remain Your Ever Loving Brother, Harry, xxxxxxxx’.
After Harry had finished painfully writing this he folded the two pages in four to put into the envelope. Then one last time he wrote on the outside ‘Goodbye and God Bless you all, Harry xxx’.

Harry took months to die, not dying in fact until after Emma and Charles had left for Australia, dying while his ever loving sister was at sea far away. He died, in those pre-pencillin days, of infection in the bladder after receiving internal injuries.

I wonder how Charles reacted to the letter, in which we can hear the voice of Harry all these years later. He had been unable to make himself go with Emma to see Harry for the last time. Couldn’t force himself to see the lovely young man crushed, paralysed, and dying horribly of a bladder infection in the hospital bed. Just couldn’t. It is the one blemish in Charles’ life. And I suspect always haunted him, as it did Emma, who had lost both of her younger siblings, that she had cared for so well, at very young ages (and of course both her parents, her father in law, and a baby, and an older brother and sister, all by the time she was 42). She went on caring for children, her own and those from many other families, for much of her life.

The cyclists
My grandparents, Charles and Emma, began courting in 1907-8. The courting during the first year or so is relatively low key. It is built around the cycle club which is the great social centre for the young people. My grandmother’s sister Sallie belongs to the Clifton Cycle Club, and is in the photograph (taken in 1908 or a year or two earlier), third from the left wearing a flash hat and a shy smile. And, seated just in front of her, is that the young Joe she is later to marry? The clubs go on group rides on weekends, covering huge distances on their primitive bicycles.

Each club has its own badge, worn proudly by the men on either left lapel or the front of the cap. Charles was a member of the York Harriers, also Emma’s club, and he kept his badge proudly until the day he died.

The clubs were a chance for courting couples to be together in what parents would see as a relatively safe environment, chaperoning each other, but not chaperoned by parents.

It was very technical. C.B. Kingsbury (‘Olympic Champion 1908′) wrote the ‘Text Book of Cycling: For Beginner and Expert’ and Charles had it hot off the press. ‘The novice can be taught to ride, or may elect to teach himself, according to his own particular fancy, but I would strongly recommend him to adopt the former course. He may be a sensitive plant, and may consequently be afraid of making a free exhibition of himself and being thereby exposed to the ribald laughter of his friend or instructor, but he need not distress himself on this account. For however ridiculous a figure he may cut, in his own estimation, before the eyes of his instructor, hired or voluntary, it will be positively serious compared with the one he will inevitably present to the uninvited spectators who will inevitably gather to witness his own unaided efforts’.

Two other works were essential. ‘The “Speedy” Atlas of England, Scotland & Ireland. 72 maps scale 15 miles to an inch’. It was just 12cm by 8cm and would fit comfortably into the top pocket to quickly decide which way to go at cross roads. The disadvantage was that so much detail was crammed into each of the tiny maps that I need a magnifying glass to read it, and even young eyes must have had some difficulty.

The other essential aid, in these days before 12 speed gears and mountain bikes was the ‘Cycling Profile Road Book of England’. There was a map at the back showing all the main cycle routes and ‘Blue lines refer to lamp lighting tables’ so you could plan the timing of your journey as it neared evening. Every route had an outline showing hills and gradients and houses and bridges and distances. There was commentary. For example on some of the routes Charles and Emma would have followed (and where the book falls open now): ‘York to Thirsk and Northallerton – An almost level road, nominally in splendid condition, but in reality inferior and badly kept for a main road’. York to Beverley and Hull ‘The road is somewhat rough at first, but after Grimston has fine surface to Market Weighton; thereafter the road is a little rough near Arras, after which it has good surface until near Hull.’

The cycle club was something my grandmother never forgot, and late in life would speak of those days with a twinkle in her eye and warmth in her voice. It was a golden time. The lads and lasses in their caps and jackets and plus fours, their blouses and skirts. Fifty, a hundred cyclists swooping down to the seaside from York. Along the road the races and the giggling and the pairing and the teasing and the sideways glances. Then back, weary but happy at night after an ice cream perhaps, or a donkey ride, or a dash up to the knees into the water. Or a trip to romantic Fountains Abbey with a picnic lunch. Or a ride to a cricket match in Leeds. Golden times those few years at the start of the twentieth century, the first time youngsters had some freedom to travel away from parents with a few bob in the pocket, and to choose partners. During the week they might be butcher’s boy or servant or apprentice or miner or farm labourer, but on the weekend they were flying gods and goddesses. A time before settling down with children and bills and illness and worries. Little wonder my grandmother never forgot what may have been the best period of her life. And how many of the lads in the Clifton Cycling Club or the York Harriers, a few years later in muddy and bloody trenches in Flanders, looked back with dreamy eyes to those carefree days on the roads of England? And how many came back?

Typhoid fever strikes
In 1910 Charles, at the age of 20, has contracted Typhoid Fever from working at the butcher shop. He ends up in the number 3 ward, County Hospital in York.

From: H.Marshall
To: Charlie
[November] 1910
Dear Charlie
We are so sorry to hear from Bob and your Dad you are so ill. We do hope will soon feel better. We thought you might like a few flowers to remind you of Stockton. You will be glad to hear Clarence is a lot better. He has got about again. I will ask him to write to you the next time I write to him. He has had the typhoid like you. So we hope you will soon be able to get about again as he has done. We are having nice weather all the harvest is in. It was our church harvest festival last Thursday and Sunday we had some very nice services. It is the tea tomorrow. With kind regards from us all I remain yours sincerely H. Marshall.

From: Frances
To: Charles
Huddersfield to No 3 Ward, County Hospital, York
1.45pm November 14 1910
Dear C, Hope you are feeling quite yourself again. Are you able to get out a bit now. Give my love to Em. Will write a letter soon. Yours with love, Frances

From: Charlie
To: Miss Evans
York to York (10 St Marys)
November [15?] 1910
Dear E. Thanks for your nice letter. I shan’t forget to be ready by 2 unless I am prevented. We can walk up to Websters I suppose if you don’t object. I hope you will excuse me for not writing a letter but I will make up for it tomorrow. I got a PC from Huddersfield this morning, with love from Charlie xxxx

There are two photographs of the 20 year old Charles in hospital. In one, presumably Number 3 ward, he is sitting in the centre of the ward. He is pale and a little sunken eyed, and his suit hangs off him in folds. He seems to have lost much of his hair, and he looks pensive, eyes downcast. The ward looks nice, with sunlight streaming through two large windows. There are 8 beds, and in the centre are a table with 2 jugs and washing bowls and 2 soap dishes, small towels folded neatly through the jug handles, and a table with 5 pot plants (one on each corner and one in the middle) neatly arranged. Are they aspidistras? There are three paintings or prints of rural scenes on one end wall. Lights project out of the walls and metal arches, chains and handles attached, project out over the beds. Four nurses and a matron line the walls, and at one end, in front of the landscapes, are two men who may be doctors (one in a white coat). Another man sits on a chair near Charles. The patients range from a young boy to middle aged men. As soon as this photo is taken everyone except the patients will walk through the door at the end of the ward out on to the balcony.

The second photo is out on the balcony, seeing the windows of Ward 3 from the other side. The outer side of the balcony has a metal mesh low wall, and the whole area is light and full of fresh air. There are 4 beds along the inside brick wall, and on the windowsills are vases of flowers and the mugs belonging to each patient. There is a wooden box under each bed. All of the same people are present except for the patients, although there are two additional nurses. Charles Henry leans against the balcony where he is partially hidden by one of the nurses. He is still unsmiling. The nurses’ uniforms look quite modern, a pale coloured dress, or blouse and skirt, covered by a white apron. Five of the nurses wear a piece of white material pinned to their hair in a diamond shape, one corner pointing down to forehead. Another, presumably a sister, has a large round white hat. The matron (whose face is clear in this photograph, she moved, impatiently or distractedly, while the first one was taken) wears a dark coloured dress with a white collar and large white bow tie, and a small white hat on the back of her head tied under the chin with a ribbon.

But Charles is in too big a hurry to get over the illness and get back to courting his girl. Just three days after the above message we have:
To: Miss Evans
From: Charlie
York to 10 St Marys, York
9.30am 18 November 1910
Dear E, I got back safely but rather tired. Father had just set off to meet me. He was in an awful stew about me, imagining all sorts of things. Don’t worry about me now will you, as after walking all that way I think I am capable of looking after myself. With love from Charlie xxxxx
The distance involved from York to Stockton is four miles (7km).

I could put my head under a train
Sometimes these stories from the past leap out at you, lives that were running on straight tracks suddenly lose a wheel, and from there the quiet desperation leads inevitably, it seems, to a train wreck. Here is an event from over a century ago. I was going to rewrite it into a conventional narrative, but the acount of the coroner’s inquest, as reported in the Nuneaton Observer of Friday January 24 1908, needs no embellishment:

Suicide in Ceaswood Pool – Nuneaton Blacksmith’s Sad End
On Sunday the dead body of James Till, a well known Nuneaton man, who at one time carried on business as a blacksmith in Abbey Street, was found in Ceaswood Pool, near Nuneaton. Deceased had been living apart from his wife for some time and had lately been lodging at Stockingford where his wife also lived. On Thursday night last he visited his wife, she having given him permission to visit the children. He had been working for the last two months at the Griff Colliery, but was stopped last week and should have gone to Coventry on Thursday about another job, but did not go. He left The Royal Oak Inn, Stockingford, at ten o’clock Thursday night and nothing more was seen of him alive. A search being made for him, his cap was found on the side of Ceaswood Pool. After several hours of dragging his body was found. He was for a number of years a Volunteer and member of Nuneaton Fire Brigade. The Inquest was held at the Nuneaton Law Courts on Tuesday conducted by Dr. C. W. Iliffe coroner, Mr. Edward Simpson was chosen foreman of the jury. Elizabeth Till, widow of deceased said his age was 42. There were 5 children. Deceased lived at Arbury Road, Stockingford and had been in good health. A week ago he lost his employment and had since been drinking. He did not live with her but came to the house often.

She believed that his end had been the result of an accident. She knew no reason why he should take his life. He was subject to epileptic fits and she considered he must have fallen in the water while in a fit. He had never attempted to commit suicide but he had said at times, when he suffered from pains in the head, he could put his head under a train. Mrs. Charlotte Eliza Haddon said she saw deceased at her house last alive on Thursday when he was under the influence of drink. When she heard what had taken place, she was very much surprised. A man named Veasey deposed to finding a cap by the side of Ceaswood Pool on the Saturday afternoon. He then gave information to the Police. Sergeant Orton in company with P.C. Pratt said he dragged Ceaswood Pool and recovered the body on Sunday morning. On searching the body, he found a snuff box and knife but no note of any kind. He searched the bank at the pool around about but could not see where deceased had got in. The body was recovered about 6 or 8 yards from the side in about 5 feet of water. the side of the pool at this point sloped down showing to his (witnesses) mind that the deceased must have walked into the water. The spot was 30 to 40 yards from the road and in order to get there deceased would have to go through a wicket gate, through a garden and some palings.
The Jury returned a verdict of suicide during temporary insanity.

What do you think, dear reader, suicide or accident?

Bathing in sunshine
Late in the afternoon of the 13 August 1911, one of those golden, never ending days before the first world war, two little girls were sitting on a bed in a seaside boarding house in Scarborough. They had been told to write to their aunt, back home in York, and it was Eva’s turn to do it. But Maud, as sisters do, decided to be annoying. She waited until Eva had begun writing on the postcard and then suddenly bounced up and down on the bed. Eva reported her to the aunt – ‘Dear Aunt, we are having a jolly time here. Maud is shaking the bed so I can’t write’ – and nearly 100 years later you can see the pencil wavering and hear the giggles.

They went to the seaside every summer, these two girls and their parents. Sometimes places like Whitley Bay (‘Dear Aunt, this is just one of the many lovely spots of Whitley. We have had a glorious time here, but sorry it is nearly over, love from Maud’) with its ‘promenades and sands’ and its seats where the serious adults could watch the frivolous young folk below.

But they went all over, and always a post card, dutifully sent, to aunt and uncle (their mother’s brother). Sometimes it was Bridlington instead of Scarborough or Whitley, other times it was an adventure to Llandudno in north Wales in 1923, the girls old enough now to seriously advise their stick-in-the-mud elders – ‘Dear Aunt & Uncle, You must try & come here next year for your holiday it is really great. We are having a good time, love from Maud’. At least once, memorably, they went to London and survived the dangers of the big city in spite of the dire warnings of their aunt ‘Dear Aunt, just to let you know I have not got run over yet. Hope you had a good time on Thursday. Enjoying ourselves imensely (sic), love from Maud’.

The golden years of childhood ended of course, and all too soon they were smart young ladies about town, too sophisticated and grand to remember bouncing on a boarding house bed.

And soon they would be married and have children of their own.

Till Tales
Rowland Till – the elder, not his nephew young Rowland, who died heroically in the Baxterley pit disaster – is one of those characters you love to hate. Some odd contradictions in the Till family, and perhaps this helps to explain Rowland, but it doesn’t help to make him a welcome addition to my ancestry. His wives and sons didn’t do too well either.

Thomas and Ann Till lived in Baddesley Ensor, north Warwickshire in the late eighteenth century. This was the region where the Ortons were found too, and the Tills would have known them well. Would have known John and Rachel Orton, having their children about the same time as the Tills; and William and Hannah Orton whose children matched the later young Tills in age. James Orton and Rowland Till, for example, were almost exact contemporaries. Later generations would have quite close contacts.

One main difference between the two families was that the Ortons, being miners, moved around this coal mining area, while the Tills were more settled. It isn’t clear what Thomas Till actually did. In old age he was an “agricultural labourer” which might suggest a farming background, but it was also a common later life occupation in farming areas, and in the days of no old age pensions. His sons would both become tradesmen, and another, obviously related Till was also a tradesman, so old Thomas may well have been something more than a farmer.

This is also suggested by the other major difference – the Ortons were standard C of E, the Tills were chapel (the “Independent” chapel). And not just chapel attendees but Thomas was a deacon in his church for many years (1819 to at least 1837 it seems). Many years later Rowland Till, getting married for the second time, gave his father’s occupation (Thomas long dead) as “book keeper” which seems very unlikely unless Rowland was remembering the Deacon’s role, and perhaps trying to elevate his father’s social standing.

Peter Lee wrote of the related Nuneaton “Zion” chapel as follows – “The Zion Independent chapel was founded at a time when the regular Anglican church was the stipend of a pluralist vicar, the Rev. Richard Bruce Stopford, who had a number of churches in his jurisdiction and services were taken every Sunday by the Rev. Hugh Hughes who eventually officiated for 52 years before his death in the early 1830′s. His sermons were so long winded, inaudible and boring that the “Double Plough” pub over the road from St. Nicholas Parish Church did good business as the menfolk slipped out to slake their thirsts as he waffled on for an hour or more. The need for spiritual enlightenment was such that when a “Chapel of Ease” was built on Stockingford common, a stiff half hour’s walk from Nuneaton town centre in 1824, and the newly engaged perpetual curate Rev. John Edmund Jones started his fiery sermons there, the great unwashed and the better off classes of Nuneaton jumped ship and trudged up the “Ford”. It caused quite a stir at the time, and George Eliot’s first published stories: the series of religious novellas gathered together as “Scenes of Clerical Life” – “Janet’s Repentance” published in 1857 give a sound insight into this part of Nuneaton’s religious history. The Zion Independent church came into being just seven years before the “Chapel of Ease” and must have filled a great need at that time as there was only one other Independent Congregational chapel in the town and this was then 100 years old. I do not think the Baptists or the Methodists had made an entrance in town before 1830. “

So the Tills were what we (and indeed they) would call evangelicals, which was a minority religious belief, and undoubtedly a brave one. They had at least 5 children, of whom one died as a baby, between 1806 and 1819, although there may have been at least two earlier ones, and possibly more.

The only stories I know are of young Thomas Till and Rowland Till. Young Thomas (named as a second attempt to commemorate his father after another Thomas, born 2 years earlier, died aged just 5 months) was the last child living at home in 1841 with his by then elderly parents, having trained as a wheelwright. Thomas married Hannah Dingley of this area. He had become a carpenter, a significant one who had at least one (and presumably more) apprentice, and it looks like the marriage was delayed until his father died, because the couple don’t have children until Thomas is 30 and Hannah 27. It also looks like the deal was that they would take the widowed Ann in, which they had done before 1851. It seems likely that they had inherited the parent’s house. Thomas was to have a life with tragedies.

The children began to come, as usual, and between 1849 and 1862 they had six, four girls and two boys. Between 1855 they moved from Baddesley Ensor to Baxterley (into “The Laundry House”, previously owned by two farmers). A small move (between neighbouring villages a mile or so apart) that was ultimately to result in tragedy. Well, two tragedies, the first not directly the result of the move. Their last child, Mary, was born in 1862, and Hannah died in late 1863, leaving Thomas with 6 young children aged from one to 14 years. Within a year he married again, Mary Gee, who came from Baddeley Ensor, and who he had obviously known a long time, who was 5 years older than Thomas.

By 1881 this couple were still in Baxterley, the oldest son Rowland and youngest daughter Mary Jane still living at home. Both Thomas and Rowland were working as colliery carpenters in the Baxterley mine, lucrative and steady work no doubt, but it was to lead, just a year after the census, to the heroic but ghastly death of young Rowland in the mine disaster.

The brother of Thomas was also named Rowland (as was a cousin, this was clearly a Till family name and would continue to be through another generation or two). He was 5 years older than Thomas, had become a blacksmith, and, perhaps most significantly, had married a Nuneaton woman, Elizabeth Booth, ten years older than him (at the time of the marriage Rowland was 23, Elizabeth 33). I’m guessing Elizabeth had money because by 1841, Rowland, aged 27, had set up as a blacksmith in Abbey Street Nuneaton, with an apprentice and his wife’s sister working as a servant. Again a guess, but I think Rowland had moved into the Booth family home, and established a blacksmith’s business.

This couple had no children, but did have quite a long marriage. Elizabeth died in September 1858, aged about 55, after 21 years with Rowland. Within 15 months, aged 45, he had found a young wife, Ellen Taberner, born around the time Rowland had married Elizabeth, and 23 years younger than him (they were married in St Nicholas C of E, perhaps he had left the humble chapel far behind). Some time prior to this marriage (maybe when his wife died?), Rowland had bought or set up a pub. If blacksmithing was a profitable business, then being a publican was even more so. Nuneaton was full of pubs in the mid nineteenth century. There were around 20 pubs in Abbey Street alone – must have been noisy at closing time, but a brawny blacksmith would have been able to handle any trouble.

Peter Lee says – “Beer houses were found throughout the district, and were informally set up in people’s front rooms where a chance of a bit of additional income could be obtained. In a town of courts and yards like Nuneaton the owner of the plot of land with his good front house fronting the main street, who had filled up his back yard with court tenements could turn his parlour into a beer house thus scraping a few more coppers out of his hapless tenants. In October 1830 a new act of parliament removed 2s. 8d. beer duty from a barrel of beer and the need to be licensed just to sell beer. New beer houses sprung up all over the district. Many only lasted as long as the beer seller could be bothered to carry on the business. Some old beer houses established in 1830 are still going today as fully fledged pubs having obtained licenses to sell wines, spirits and tobacco. “

Rowland’s new wife had come from a large family of ten children. Their surname was variously spelled Taberner, Tabiner, Taverner and Tavener, a difference perhaps resulting from their Leicestershire accent being misheard in Warwickshire. Her parents, Joseph and Ann had moved backwards and forwards between Newbold Verdon (in Leicestershire) and Nuneaton, perhaps reflecting his work as a carpenter. But it also reflected his involvement in the pub trade in Nuneaton, where he had owned the Pheasant pub in Abbey Street and later the Weavers Arms pub in the same street until 1841. They moved back to Newbold Verdon, then back again to Nuneaton where by at least 1851 Joseph had renewed his carpentry occupation and wife Ann had a grocery store. Presumably during these two decades (while Ellen was a child and then young woman) they had got to know Rowland Till.

Anyway, with a young wife, Rowland set about producing children. By 1861 they had their first child, Ann. The house was crowded in April. William “Taverner” (perhaps an uncle of Ellen), his wife Mary and 5 year old daughter Clara were on a visit. There were also a 16 year old house servant Mary Smith and David Garratt 20 year old apprentice blacksmith. Also, somewhat oddly perhaps, the Tills had taken in a lodger – Thomas Jones aged 64 a “Collar Maker Saddler”, from Birmingham. Working life was also busy with Rowland (“victualler and blacksmith”) having now taken over a new pub “The Pheasant” (once owned, years earlier, though I assume by coincidence, by Ellen’s father Joseph), which he would own for another 30 years.

Four more children followed Ann in quick succession. The first son, called, inevitably, Rowland, was born in 1862, Jane Louisa 1864, James 1865, and William Henry in 1866. These five children were all to reach adulthood, although none, except perhaps Ann, were to have happy lives. But something seems to have gone wrong after that. None of the next 4 children (the first named after her mother), born between 1867 and 1872 made it to their fourth birthdays – Ellen Till (2 Jan 1868 – May 1868), Thomas Till (March 1870 – March 1870), Joseph Tabernor Till (Dec 1872 – November 1873), George Herbert Till (12 March 1872 – July 1875). It must have been a dreadful 5 years.

But the other children were growing, and by 1881 Ann, at 20, was a milliner, and young Rowland, at 18, was a shoeing smith, the other three not yet having jobs. You would think all would have been settling down as Rowland was now aged 66. But then disaster struck. Either by accident (you would hope this was the case) or design Ellen became pregnant again in January 1883 at the age of about 45. Something went terribly wrong with the birth, and with this last, late child, born 23 September 1883, and Mabel Ellen Till was buried on the same day as the mother she had been named after – 16 November 1883.

The remaining family stayed (perhaps huddled) together for another 5 years. Then the oldest, Ann, married (in London, surprisingly) a Welsh businessman who whisked her off to Canada (where she would have a very long and prosperous life dying aged 88 in 1948). A year later Jane Louisa married one of the Bakers, and we will return to their difficult story another day. The three sons all became blacksmiths like their old man. James married in 1889 (he and wife living initially with his father) and had children, but seems to have been suffering from depression, neither diagnosed nor treated, and after his wife threw him out, he, probably deliberately, walked into a lake and drowned. William married a barmaid in 1893 but had no children. Separated from his wife, like James, at least as early as 1901, he later lived in the same boarding house as brother Rowland and died in 1927. Rowland himself, unmarried, had died a year earlier and was buried in a pauper’s grave (which suggests that little of father Rowland’s money had been passed down, or perhaps his sons had wasted it).

Their father, old Rowland, was unaware of these later developments, having died in April 1892 and being buried, as was wife Ellen, at St Nicholas church. Mourned by anyone, I wonder?


At war

Like so many other families, these brothers and their relations went to war. Here are the four brothers, only the eldest, Sam, responsible for his own family, not in uniform. Amazingly Harry, Jim and Dick as well as their brothers-in-law, all came back unscathed from World War 1. The coal mines were always more lethal for my family than war. While they were away the brothers-in-law sent cards.

This one was sent to a sister-in-law, the dove of peace carrying the flags of the allies (not an uncommon theme and image on these wartime cards it seems).

This one was sent to a wife. The flower was mounted on a kind of flap, stuck to a plastic surface. The soldier would kiss the surface, put the flower back in place. When it reached the other end the wife could lift the flower and plant her lips on the same spot. Not much comfort, but all there was.

A single man
So, do we make excuses for George John Baker? Tough on a young boy, I’m guessing – your father dies when you are thirteen years old, and then, to make matters worse, your mother, just two years later, marries an old man who is a big wheel in town (and probably strict and conservative with it), and then, to make matters even worse, has another son by this man. And you are still only 17 and have been working as an apprentice carpenter for at least 2 years.

So, he is the oldest son of John Baker and Elizabeth Kinder. He is the most recent of a long line of George Bakers stretching back generations, and in just another ten years, all those earlier, respectable, solid, George Bakers are going to be turning in their graves. And his mother won’t be happy either.

I see the young George John Baker as a man about a small town. Bit of money behind him from his own Baker family, probably a bit more if you played your cards right from the second marriage your mother has made to the wealthy Thomas Lester. And a bit more, in your own right, from your respectable occupation of carpentry. Altogether, you would think, a good catch.

As indeed was Jane Till, daughter of blacksmith and pub owner Rowland Till. These two coming together seems inevitable. The four family lines represented were all of a kind – respectable tradesmen – blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, tailors, shopkeepers, farmers – who had also gone into the lucrative business of owning a pub. The Tills, Taberners, Bakers, Kinders would all have known or known of each other, recognising kindred spirits, would have met each other while shopping or in church, would have had children attending school or Sunday School together.

Anyway, inevitable or not, George John Baker and Jane Till got together and were married in 1887, he aged just 21, she 23. And pregnant – so that alters the picture a little, does it not? First child Ellen is born just 6 months later, followed by another daughter, Mabel (also named, touchingly, like Ellen, after Jane’s little sisters who died) two years later, and a son, named, inevitably, George, in 1893. Family myth says Ellen was “taken in by grandparents for a while to help Jane but she was treated so badly she had to go home again”. This presumably was the Lesters.

Seven years after his son is born George John Baker, tiring, it seems, of domestic bliss, is out of there. He sailed from London on the SS Ortona (somewhat ironic, since daughter Ellen would one day marry a Horton/Orton) on 9 November 1900 arriving in Sydney on 13 April 1901. A new century for a new life in a new hemisphere. Oh, and like other men before and after, George John, aged 34, finding himself in an environment where nothing is known of him, suddenly loses a wife and family and is born again a single man (there is the single carpenter, third last name on the passenger list).

Back home, whatever she has been told (“Will send for you and the children soon love”? “It’s not you it’s me”?), Jane Louisa has apparently had to get away from prying eyes and wagging tongues and as George John arrives in Sydney she has moved to Tamworth, a safe distance from Nuneaton (and the Bakers and Tills and Lesters), where she takes in two boarders (musicians!) to make ends meet and raise her children.

George John is difficult (for me, impossible for Jane) to follow from his arrival in Australia, but a namesake carpenter arrives in New Zealand a couple of years later which is probably him, since family legend said New Zealand. And then the trail goes cold.

As did Jane back home, a widow but not a widow. Never gave up hope, apparently, that he would one day come back, or one day send for her.

Grew old, still expecting the knock on the door, the envelope through the letter box. Had that essential furniture of the abandoned woman, a large ornate rocking chair, on which she rocked, backwards and forwards, as her children grew up, and she grew old.

Meanwhile, more generations of George Bakers helping to populate New Zealand? Reckon it would be a safe bet. Oh, and, just by coincidence, George John and Jane would have a grandson who would do exactly the same thing. In the Antipodes.

To blame or not to blame, that is the question about George John Baker.

Fight the Good Fight
Young coal miners from Durham had gone off to fight in France in the first world war like so many other workers. They came back, the ones who did come back, to a heroes’ welcome and coal waiting to be dug out of the mines. But the years 1919 to 1921 were ones of industrial unrest in the mining industry. The St Andrews Church, Tudhhoe Grange, Parochial Magazine of May 1921 reported:

‘The trouble in the coal trade – Whatever you may call it, whether a “lock out” or a “strike” it is most certainly “trouble” and it has caused a very great deal of anxiety because its results are so far spread. Nearly every industry in the county has been affected by it, and until it is settled there can be no general prosperity. Happily in this county of Durham people have been very quiet and good tempered, some of them busy in their gardens and allotments, and others training for wheel-barrow races and exciting sports. The school authorities have taken in hand the feeding of the children of school age, and I can testify to the efficiency of the organisation in Tudhoe Grange. It has been a perfect revelation of the willingness of all classes to help in the work, and of the ceaseless labours of unpaid men and women, and of a real Christian Union in the sacred work of loving service to the weak. We have felt obliged to give up the use of the Mission Hall to the Canteen Committee and so all our parochial meetings have suffered, but I think everyone will feel that it was right to help the children. If anyone doubts it, let him look in at breakfast time, or dinner time, and he will be converted. The children have been exceedingly well behaved and it has been a pleasure to wait upon them. Teachers and helpers are to be congratulated upon the discipline and organisation. How long we shall have to go on, nobody knows, but all people should pray that the “trouble” may soon be over so that the children may have meals at home again.’

The strike in fact ended in April 1921 when Lloyd George implemented emergency measures and called out the military against lads who only three years before had been fighting in that same military for their country, and who in the face of such outrage remained “very quiet and good tempered”. But turning the other cheek doesn’t work with big business, and the miners had to give in and resume work on the mine owner’s terms.

A few months later on August 6 1921 Tudhoe Colliery had a service at Yorkhill cemetery for the unveiling of a war memorial, ‘erected by the Tudhoe Colliery Workmen and officials to their fellow workmen who gave their lives in the great war 1914-1918′. Similar memorials were being unveiled all over Britain and all over Australia at about the same time. There were 73 names on the memorial but thankfully none of my people, who had all returned safely. Over half came from the Durham Light Infantry, other regiments included The Yorkshire, The East Yorkshire, the Northumberland Fusiliers, but also odd ones like the Sherwood Foresters, the Grenadier Guards and the Duke of Wellington Regiment. Hymns included ‘Fight the Good Fight’ ‘When Wilt Thou Save the People’ and ‘O God of Love, O God of Peace’. The Last Post was played – did it bring a tear to Charlie’s eye? Were any of the 73 friends of his?

The surviving soldiers who had come back were presented with medals at the ceremony – ‘From the Tudhoe Colliery Workmen and Officials to Charles for Services Rendered in the Great War 1914-1918′. He put it with his two war medals (‘The Great War for Civilisation’ says one and on the front is an angel with a palm leaf. The other just has the dates 1914 1918 but has a picture of an ancient warrior naked on horseback, sword in hand, riding over the bones of his vanquished enemies, the horse’s foot standing on a German shield) neither of which he ever wore in Australia.

In 1925, the role of young coal miners in standing on the German shields forgotten, the war of the mine owners against their workers was on again and the owners proposed cutting the low wages of the miners and a strike resulted. The government postponed the inevitable by subsidising wages while it held an enquiry. The enquiry (4 men with no knowledge of the coal industry and no representation of the unions) recommended in 1926 that wages indeed be cut. The wages were already too low to sustain families and what was to become a General Strike ensued in May 1926. It lasted only 9 days, defeated, among other things by the strike-breaking actions of socialites and Oxford students and other members of the establishment, who drove trucks and buses and did anything they could to ensure the strike would fail. They were defeating the socialists, they thought, but in fact what they were doing was punishing poor families already on starvation wages.

The miners stayed on strike (“Fight the Good Fight”) for another 6 months (not much chance of socialites going down a mine where Charles had already worked for 16 back-breaking years). In the end the union ran out of funds and everything they had fought for on wages and conditions was lost. I don’t know if this was the time when Emma began to get interested in migrating to Australia, but it certainly must have played a part in her actions later, and the actions of many others from northern England.

Leaving from Liverpool
In early 1929 my grandmother Emma, aged 40, with two young children, a coal miner’s daughter and coal miner’s wife, living in the back streets of a coal mining town (Spennymoor) in the north of England, decided that she was taking the family to the Australian outback to become farmers. When their final photos are taken she looks anguished, but it is too late to back out now. They have had a year of thinking and arguing and talking about it. There is a file of correspondence with the emigration authorities and the Salvation Army which sponsors the emigrants.

John S. Phibbs is the Salvation Army branch manager who sorts out the nominations of prospective migrants and the correspondence flies backwards and forwards. They have their interview with the Australian ‘Migrant & Settlement Office’, based in Australia House, at 4pm on 2 May 1929 at the Employment Exchange in Bishop Auckland. It all seems to be sorted out but there are two late hitches. On 20 September the White Star Line, owners of the Vedic, and former owners of the Titanic (the story of which always fascinated my grandparents – were there whispered fears in the cabin at night that they too would go down?), discovered that there had been a ‘great increase in Smallpox’ in Durham, and that the Australian authorities wanted everyone vaccinated.

They were told that there would be no dental treatment available in the Australian outback so they were forced to have all their teeth removed as part of the preparations for the trip. My mother remembered them coming back from the dentist, jaws swollen, scarves wrapped around their mouths. A terrible initiation ceremony, and it must have been a further indication that they were leaving civilisation behind and going to a frightening wilderness. It must have also done terrible things to their sense of identity and self-image. There are no photographs of them smiling with lips open. Whatever the risk of toothache in the outback, doing this to people was a terrible denial of their humanity – not cannon fodder for the Empire any longer, but farm fodder.

In October, with only days to go, there was a fuss over the money they would receive to start their new life. They were offered £10 then it was discovered they had already been paid £10, but in any case they had to ‘have at least £20 landing money’ so they would provide a letter of credit for the extra £10. There was also a last minute panic when Charles realised they were being sent to Western Australia. The patient Mr Phibbs pointed out that they had been told in July it was probably WA so ‘you cannot say you have been kept in the dark regarding your destination’. But in any case ‘you need not unduly worry yourself as our people [ie the Salvation Army] there will see that you are suitably fixed up on your arrival’. With just a day to go Charles realises they have forgotten something:

‘I, Charles … now proceeding to Australia, hereby appoint Joseph Eugene Butler [the husband of one of Emma's sisters Sallie], of 53 Wellington St, York, in the County of York, to act on my behalf in the matter of winding up the estate of Robert Charles ….., deceased, late of Malton Road, near York, after the death of Beatrice ….., widow of the said Robert Charles ….. I hereby give the said Joseph E. Butler full power to act according to his discretion in the matter. Dated this 18th Day of October 1929.’

All the arguments and counter-arguments have been made and made again and they are sick of talking about it. They have to go for the sake of Charles and Elsie their daughter. He is not well. Has had two serious illnesses, and has worked in the mines for 18 years, he has been to war, he has seen a mother and a father and an infant son die. There are no prospects for him in England. He needs sun and fresh air to get well, and a new start and a chance for the kids to do something. Elsie at the age of seven had diptheria and nearly died. The doctor has said that Emma needs to get Charles and Elsie out of England before another winter starts. Emma herself has not had a healthy life either, with a major operation to remove a goitre, one of the diseases of the poor, 20 years earlier. They are both very thin, painfully thin. They have to go, but they are devastated.

In 1922 a Premier of Western Australia, James Mitchell, had come to London to sell his pet project the ‘Group Settlement Scheme’ for south-west WA. He was successful, being awarded funds for an initial 6000 migrants, and gaining the support of newspaper editors who promoted the scheme among the poor of Britain. The project was ill-conceived – the forests of the south west when cleared would reveal mainly thin infertile soils (and contribute to long term environmental problems), the people who would be doing it were mainly from non-farming backgrounds, they had no capital to enable them to succeed, and they were heading for the Great Depression. But like all Australian state premiers with the development mentality, Mitchell pushed ahead, brooking no dissent, and recognising no counter arguments. It is not clear whether Emma first became aware of the scheme at this time and filed it away for future reference, but in any case she had too much on her mind to do anything about it in 1922.

In 1928 both Charles and Elsie were again seriously ill, one with Rheumatic Fever the other with Diptheria. Once she had nursed them back to health, Emma became determined to get the family out of England in order for them to survive both financially and in health. She sent away for forms but she couldn’t get Charles to agree.

From John Phibbs
To: Charles
The Salvation Army Migration and Settlement and Shipping Office, Liverpool, to Spennymoor
10 April 1929
Dear Friend, We desire to inform you that if your application is approved, it will be definitely under the Group Settlement Scheme, and you must let us have a statement from you that you are willing to go forward to take up farm work under these conditions. Please let us have this written statement as soon as possible. The enclosed pamphlet will give you some particulars, Yours Sincerely, John S. Phibbs, Branch Manager, PS Complete these two forms and sign undertaking on back.

From: John Phibbs
To: Charles
The Salvation Army Migration and Settlement and Shipping Office, Liverpool, to Spennymoor
15 April 1929
Dear friend, we understand that you have received nomination ‘v’ form etc for completion and shall be glad if you will attend to these matters at once. Immediately you receive word as to when you are to be interviewed please do not fail to attend for same as it may be a long time before the interviewing officer will be in your district again.

Time had run out. Emma sat Charles down at the kitchen table, spread out the documents, put a pen in his hand and leaned over him until he signed.

My grandfather may have seen his Uncle Len as a substitute father, though the brothers were very different in everything except the moustaches. But in any case, after a traumatic few years, a very traumatic twelve months, and a heart-breaking leave taking in Spennymoor, he was probably hoping for some support. Certainly emotional support, and perhaps even a little economic support from the wealthy part of the family to the poorer one. Charles was no foolish youth with stars in his eyes, he was a mature man aged 39, with a grown up son, Emma was 41 and had been working since she was 11. They were adults who had reached a difficult decision and were sticking with it, and they deserved to go on their way with love and best wishes.

Instead they left Stockton, and England, with Len’s bellowing voice in their ears – ‘What do you think you are doing taking those bairns to the jungle’. There must have been more along the same lines, but that is the phrase that stuck in the craw and was repeated down the years. They sent a Christmas card from the RMS Vedic (length 481 feet, breadth 59 feet, tonnage 9331, single funnel, masts fore and aft). It is a ship’s card from ‘ss Vedic en route to Australia, Christmas and New Year’s Greetings’, Under the greetings are two hands clasped, and under that it says ‘From’, with a line, and ‘To’, with another line. Either Charles or Emma has filled in ‘Emma & Charlie & Robt & Elsie’ on the top line and ‘Uncle Len & Aunt Harriet & Rhoda’ (adopted daughter) on the lower line. Underneath is the chilly printed message – ‘We think of you-you think of us. HE thinks of all’ – and that is it, no personal message. Chilling too to think, as they must have thought, of how far away they were when they needed to send Christmas cards in October to be sure of reaching England in time carried on a ship going in the opposite direction.

They were on their way to a new life in Australia, and the family thought they were mad. They couldn’t go back to England unless they were successful.

The Vedic sailed from Liverpool at 4pm on Saturday 19 October 1929. There was a service (‘Lt Commissioner W. J. Barnard Turner in charge’). It began with ‘O God our help in Ages past’ significant not only asking for ‘shelter from the stormy blast’ but for ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day’.

That verse must have brought some tears from Charles and Emma, remembering both the deaths of recent years, and the idea of English sons being taken to a foreign land (The card was given to the travellers, I presume, as they checked in at the docks or on board, after arriving from all over England. The reverse of the card, trimmed down later, said something like “A family of England proceeds in the SS Vedic to work on farms in Australia – Salvation Army family scheme in operation” and shows a serious-faced family on its way to populate the colony). There was a prayer, messages of greeting, ceremony of flag-breaking (by Mrs Lt Commissioner Turner), introduction to the [Salvation] Army’s chief Representatives on board, the Doxology, and God Save the King. Music was supplied by the ‘Walton (Liverpool) Band, which will also accompany the “Vedic” down the river Mersey’.

The Vedic, built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast, was the first White Star liner powered solely by turbine engines, She was designed purely as an emigrant ship, with third class accommodations only, Vedic was launched in December 1917 and fitted out as a troopship, rather than a passenger liner. Her maiden voyage began in Belfast on 11 July 1918, and took her to Boston, where she began her trooping duties. Vedic served under the Liner Requisition Act until April 1919, and in September of that year she was used to repatriate British troops from northern Russia. After a 1920 refitting, she was placed on White Star’s Canada emigrant service. After a 1925 refitting, Vedic was placed on the White Star/Aberdeen/Blue Funnel joint emigrant service to Australia; she did considerable charter work for the Salvation Army, also carrying emigrants to Australia. When White Star and Cunard merged in 1934, Vedic was not transferred to the merged company, but was sold for scrap.

There were 147 emigrants bound for Fremantle (I don’t know how many were bound for other ports) on board in October 1929, a mixture of migrants (with a total capital of £200) and ‘nominees’. Migrants were classified as either ‘learners’ or ‘Domestics’. The ‘selected’ civilians, travelling alone, were as young as 14, some destined for Salvation Army ‘training Colony’ in Brisbane. Most however were being brought out to be servants (many had been servants, labourers, porters and the like), and the public was advised ‘farmers etc requiring farm workers or married couples for both branches of work – domestic and farm – should apply at once to the officer in charge of immigration. There were also the ‘nominated’ families, destined for the various Group Settlement schemes, many of whom had been miners in England.

Emma thought she had considered everything, organised everything, taken care of everything, taking her family to a better life. But there was one thing she couldn’t control. While they were sailing to Australia the New York stockmarket collapsed and the Depression began. They were about to land in a new country under a new economic regime

To be called for
The last minute rush to pack and get ready to go to the other side of the world and say goodbye to friends who were only just coming to terms with the impossible idea that they would probably never see Emma and Charles again when they went to this unknown country on the other side of the world, and that the days until their departure were disappearing at an ever faster rate, is summed up in a letter to Emma from her good friend Winnie Anderson (daughter of the alcoholic who had set Emma on path to temperance and sister of the delightful Kenneth) written, the day after parting for the last time, just 3 weeks before the Vedic was to sail.

Sunday 29 September 1929
My Dear Emma
After leaving you last night I felt I had such a lot of things I would have liked to have talked about, and was thinking perhaps I may have another chance of seeing you before you left Spennymoor. This week I am most likely going to Sunderland for a few days, either from Tuesday until Friday, or Thursday till Monday. I thought if I left Sunderland in good time I could come in to see you on my way back for an hour. Have been thinking of writing to Mr Henderson in Brisbane, only think it better to wait until I hear more definitely from you as to where you will be when you arrive in Australia. I will write to Mrs Black in New Zealand, and ask her to write and tell her brother-in-law Mr Henderson. He is the one I was telling you about who has the large sheep station. I only wish I knew more people in Australia, only was just a few months there. I am sorry I cannot remember the name of the steamer you are going on. Would you tell me, and when you will be arriving in Australia. I expect it will be Sydney. I will watch the papers, and will write to the Post Office Sydney or the town you will go to, so that you will have a letter or two where you arrive. Will put on the envelope “To be called for” so you will need to ask.

You and Mr Young will have a busy week. I know just exactly how you are both feeling about taking such a “big step”, only I feel you are doing the right thing, and my earnest wish and prayer is that you will all get on well, have good health and all happiness in Australia. I will try if I can to see you again, and it will be either Friday or Monday if I do. Just in case I do not I want to thank you for coming up to Miss Cowleys with me, also to say how glad I am to have seen you again, and to meet your husband. I think you have been a lucky girl, also Mr Young is lucky to have such a good wife. Hoping you will have a very pleasant trip, and that none of you will be ill, you will be glad when all is settled and you are away now. I think the last week or two are very trying. I hope some day we shall meet again, when I am coming back to New Zealand, if I can I will let you know, and who knows but I may see you settled and happy in your new home in Australia. It may very easily happen.
Yours very sincerely
Winnie Anderson

Winnie’s husband (a doctor I think) lived in New Zealand, and Winnie was apparently “home” in England for a holiday, and had there caught up with Emma (clearly after a long break since she had not met Charles) only to discover that she was about to head for the Antipodes too. They never did meet again, Winnie being drowned when the ship carrying her back to New Zealand sank.

Fremantle via Capetown, 1929
The Vedic looked rather grand on the ship’s postcards:

But the reality wasn’t quite so glamorous, and it isn’t hard to imagine what ‘third class accomodation’ (for the migrants) was like:

Once they had left the mouth of the Mersey they were out on the sea and it was cold in October. Here is Charles well rugged up but bravely facing the elements and the big seas:

It must have been about that time when he was asked to entertain the passengers by playing the piano. He hadn’t before, being an organist, and I would guess that he hadn’t played popular songs much before. They didn’t want hymns on board though (perhaps ‘Nearer my god to thee’ for the sea sick ones) and he set to willingly. Soon though they were into an adventure, passing the Canary Islands:

There would have been a sense that Africa wasn’t far away and Yorkshire a long way behind.

And then they were nearly at the Equator and it was time to rehearse for the ‘Crossing the Line’ ceremony. They all got dressed up in whatever costumes they could find:

They were clearly enjoying themselves as King Neptune, and the Judge, and as doctors and nurses:

And then they crossed the line and had their fun, small boys climbing into every vantage point:

Now they were in the southern hemisphere where they would make new lives and end their days. Capetown was their first chance to get on to land in a month, and they went ashore to explore:

A few new passengers would board in Capetown, and then they all got back on board for the crossing of the Indian Ocean, in the sunny weather of a new Spring, looking forward to a new life. They arrived at Fremantle looking curiously at the docks, full of excitement, and laughter, and clapping – here at last:

And they were welcomed by a brass band at Fremantle – how good is that!

Ghost trees
They arrived in Margaret River at the end of 1929, the Depression having begun with the Wall Street Crash while they were on board the ‘Vedic’. It had been a long hard trip, but they had left the mines behind, and were starting a new life of promise in a new land. But the reality was grim. The letterhead of the Salvation Army had warned them ‘Free and disinterested advice will be given to intending Emigrants telling them whether they are likely to benefit by emigration or not, and if the former, suggesting the part of the world in which they are most likely to succeed. We cannot hold ourselves responsible however for any loss sustained by Emigrants through failure to realise their expectations after emigrating’. Had they even read this caveat I wonder? Had Charles seen it and pointed it out to Emma who shrugged and dismissed it? John Phibbs had never seen the places he was sending his nominees off to.

They were faced with a tiny one room weatherboard shack with a tin roof, no running water, no electricity, placed on a small block covered in giant trees.

They had two horses and axes and saws, and with these Charles and young Robert were supposed to clear the trees, establish pasture and build a dairy herd. They had one cow to start with.

It must have been obvious from the start that the task was impossible, but they set to.

Many of the trees had been ring-barked. Emma was in a state of shock at the primitive conditions and the impossibility of the task. This wasn’t a farm and was never likely to be. She couldn’t look after the family in this shack. There were no neighbours close by. What had she done to them? Then it all started to crowd in on her, the deaths of Kenneth and Harry and Grandad, and her mother, and her sisters, the illnesses, the strikes, the voyage. She stands on the wooden verandah and stares out at this completely alien landscape, and the dead, ring-barked trees look like ghosts and they are closing in on her, waving their arms.

The nervous break-down comes just a week after they arrive, and she is taken off to hospital. She manages to recover, and they all try to get on with things. But the Depression is settling in, and it is becoming harder to get food, and the money is running out. There is no chance that a dairy industry will be established here in the near future. Even if the trees could be somehow cleared the land is poor (and, as it turns out, lacks trace elements as well as nutrients), and there is no capital to keep them going while they could establish a dairy herd and start generating income. What on earth did they think they were doing thinking that a working class family from Spennymoor could establish a farm in Australia?

Sustenance work
In 1930 the Depression is settling in, and it is becoming harder to get food, and the money is running out.

All around them the other working class families who came with such hopes are reaching the same grim conclusion. They have been had, and now they are even worse off than they were. About this time one of the promoters of the scheme comes to address the Rosa Brook families and revive their spirits. This is wonderful country he says, you will have fruit from your own trees and milk from your own cows. My grandfather, grim faced, speaks up from the back of the crowd ‘And honey from our own bees I suppose’ he says, remembering the lies about a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Yes. Yes, your own bees, says the developer, not expecting, perhaps, irony from a former miner.

Their efforts at Margaret River ended in just over two years. The final straw was the collapse of their bank. I presume they had a loan from the bank, though the financial arrangements are unknown. Perhaps they had some money in the bank and that was lost. The experience scarred them I think, and left them with a hatred and a fear of Australia or at least the Australian bush. In fact they may have come to think that Len’s question about taking bairns to the jungle was fair enough. When I was growing up it was clear that England was a real country, a civilised country, Australia was not. Nothing that was in Australia was any good, I was in no doubt about that.

They walked off the block with nothing, into the full fury of the Depression. All over the south-west, hundreds of other families were doing the same, victims of James Mitchell’s development delusions. They moved to the Perth suburb of Victoria Park, then to Swanbourne into a rented house in Brassey Street.

There was no real work of any kind for the men, and there was a punitive work for the dole scheme, including possibly sometimes just working for food. Charles and Robert went on the roads over much of south-western Australia doing labouring work. Emma stayed home and managed to find odd jobs like baby sitting, child minding, ironing. The combination was just enough to survive on.

A single sheet of paper recording the work Charles managed to find over a twelve month period in 1932-33 gives some idea of how grim things were:
Date of last employment:
Group S October 4th 1932
Sustenance work [ie work for the dole, or work just for rations?]:
Boyup Brook June 1st 1933
3s 4d Mt Lawley Aug 3rd
Casual work during quarter: 9 days £5-19-0

Change of ownership
We left Thomas Horton and Ellen Baker having their first child, Bill, in 1908. We see him for the first time when Ellen shows him off to the world, standing outside her front door. Considering what she has been though in her first 21 years (her father George John Baker leaving home, forever, when she was 13; moving around as her mum Jane tried to raise her family) she looks pretty good really. Has a husband from outside the usual husband pool, looks fit and healthy, and the look on her face – is it a touch of triumph or a challenge to the world to do its worst now she has husband, house, and son.

Bill looks well-cared for, chubby in face and arms, and he is certainly showing off, if somewhat uncomfortably, the latest baby fashions for Attleborough 1908.

Next we see him, aged 2 or 3 large black hat framing his face this time, his uncontrollable hair sneaking out from under it and hanging down his forehead like it was to do for much of his life, and as his son’s was to do in turn. He still looks chubby in the face, as does his younger brother George, dressed in a new and different outfit. But the change in mother Ellen is striking – same face, different woman. The upturned corners of the mouth are turned down, the lips not smiling but grim, the eyes not slightly bright and cheeky but gloomy and depressed, lines begin to form on forehead and around the mouth. Those first few years of marriage to Tom seem not to have been easy.

But life goes on, more children follow (they will have 5 altogether in 12 years), jobs change, the family moves houses. Tom is still working in the mines, but at some point becomes involved in first aid work for cuts and breaks and crushed fingers and skin diseases and all the other ailments which are the human costs of getting coal out of the ground. He is described, later, as quiet, often sitting by the fire to read newspaper or book.

No one in the family seems to keep a single photo of him, perhaps suggestive in one where there are a number of photos of Ellen throughout life. By chance, much later, a photo emerges in a pub, and there he is, a slim smallish man with mustache riding pillion on a motorbike, either on his way to or home from a pub.

Bill keeps growing of course, becomes, inevitably, a teenager. He has a pet dog, a whippet, that classic dog of the coal miner (cheaper to feed and house than a greyhound, just as fast when raced).

Whatever tensions there were in the house, in particular between Tom and his oldest son, erupt one day when Bill is about 18. A “fight over a radio” (“I want a radio”? “Turn that radio down”? “Turn that rubbish off”?) erupts out of nowhere in 1926. Things are said which can’t be unsaid. Bill storms out of the house, slams the door, straps on his skates and skates, on a very cold day, over frozen ground (but undoubtedly thin ice) to the railway station. Leaving his little dog behind.

Over the next few months he stays around Coventry, I guess finding some kind of accommodation, doing some kind of work. He visits his mother Ellen, no quarrel with her, whenever he can when his father isn’t home (knows, presumably, the times of the mine shifts, or does he wait around the corner to see him leave?).

Another photo of Ellen, taken in another doorway, the house Bill has left behind, probably about this time, shows someone worn down by life, and people.

Can’t last forever, this unstable situation, and at some point Bill decides he has had enough of England.

He gets to London. Finds a ship, the SS Barrabool (looking uncannily like the ship Bill’s grandfather sailed on to Australia), which sails backwards and forwards several times a year between England and Australia carrying migrants, and, perhaps in late 1926 early 1927 aged 18, perhaps a bit later, he somehow gets on board either having saved money for a fare or actually working on board to earn his passage.

Arriving in Australia he, having mining experience, gravitates to the West Australian goldfields. He is taught the ropes by an old digger, seems to make one or two other friends (at least two of whom, in a landscape more desolate than Mars, are Aboriginal), and writes long letters, in the form of diary entries, home to his mother. Letters later lost by the family leaving a great gap in our picture of this young man.

The Depression arrives, grimly, and he continues, through the thirties, in this fairly aimless existence. At some point in the late thirties he happens to be staying at the “Watsonia Hotel” where he bumps into Charlie Young and son Robert. The three hit it off. Charlie feels sorry for this young fellow (still only in his mid twenties and not much older than Robert) who is in a strange country far from kith and kin, and invites him to come home with them. There he is made welcome by Emma, and by Elsie, who, in her mid teens, takes a shine to this handsome young, but thrillingly older and mature, stranger. He sees her as a younger sister, like the sisters he has left back home.

Interesting dynamics. It isn’t clear how often Bill visits over the next few years, as Elsie goes out to work, Charlie finds a decent job, and Robert heads back to England, but it is often enough for him to be seen as part of the family.

Bill Horton enlisted in the army in early 1940 (Charles tried to enlist also, but he was 49 years old and they told him quietly to go away). He started filling in the form on 27 February, but eventually put it in a week later. He gives his occupation as miner, his mother as next of kin, and he invents a fake birthday year of 1911 lowering his age by three years, to 28 years and 10 months. Was there a maximum age of 30 at this time?
‘I, William Henry Horton swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lord, the King, in the Military Forces of the Commonwealth of Australia until the cessation of the present time of war and twelve months thereafter or until sooner lawfully discharged, dismissed, or removed, and that I will resist His Majesty’s enemies and cause His Majesty’s peace to be kept and maintained, and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service faithfully discharge my duty according to law’. Then he is off to the training camp at Northam, where whatever glamour was involved in signing up is tarnished by a “Haemorrhage of tooth” on 16 March. In early April, after training, he has embarkation leave and celebrates his 33rd birthday.

He embarks for the Middle East as a signalman with the 6th Division on 20 April 1940, a week after his birthday. Initially he is in Palestine. From Tel Aviv he sends a photo back to his friends in Australia. It is a photograph of himself and a friend in what looks like a bar deserted except for the two of them early in the morning. The note on the back reads “The smile on the face of the friend is false. The vacant look was right for that morning in Tel Aviv”. Later he is in Tobruk where he is photographed in the street and sends the photo and a clock that has been obtained, somehow, from one of the original Italian defenders, back home to his Mum and sister. He goes to Greece in June 1941 and is out again at end of July. Ruby lets him know that the clock doesn’t work by the time it reaches Coventry. He writes back, having managed to scrounge some grey paper and a red pencil, a little annoyed perhaps (not least because he has been to Greece and spent some time in hospital in July) on 16 August 1941 – “My Dear Ruby, The clock belonged to an Italian. But I’m afraid I’ve knocked it about since I got it at Tobruk. It was going when I got it. Perhaps it didn’t think much of the change of ownership. All love, Bill.” I don’t know about a signaller’s life in war – equal parts boredom and terror I suppose.

He doesn’t return to Australia (via Ceylon on The Athlone Castle) until 4 August 1942. A few weeks later and he is back on a boat headed for New Guinea, from where he returns on 9 February 1943. This marks the end of his overseas service. He has damaged his back and shoulder, or he has a degenerative condition, and he is classified as B grade medically (he has also he has suffered dysentery in New Guinea), fit only for certain duties. He spends the rest of the war in North Queensland. He was promoted to Acting Corporal on his way back from the Middle East to Australia, and is promoted to Sergeant in New Guinea in November 1942, but in June 1943 (after being on an NCO course) he reverts to Acting Corporal, and in March 1944 after being classified as medically unfit he reverts all the way back to signalman. He was in hospital in the Middle East and Greece a number of times between October 1940 and April 1941 for reasons unknown. While he was in hospital in Greece he stayed out one night (AWOL) from 10 pm one night to 9.50 am the next morning. He was fined £2 and forfeited a day’s pay. This seems to be the only disciplinary blemish on the record, but being promoted to Sergeant and then demoted all the way back to Signalman does suggest some problem, perhaps with an officer years younger than Bill (as was said years later). Throughout the war, and it is one of those facts that pull you up short, make you reassess, he somehow managed to carry a book with him, in his kitbag, everywhere he went. A collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

On 2 December 1943 he gets 24 days leave and returns to Perth and gets married to Elsie Young, no longer, it seems, a little sister. It is as if they have come together after travelling a huge circle. Elsie’s ancestors the Evans’s had lived near Wolverhampton, not far from Coventry, 100 years earlier. Genes that had started just a few miles apart on one side of the world would eventually come together on the other after many detours – in mid 1944 he gets leave again, and I am born in April 1945.

He was discharged in September 1945, at last giving his true age (37 years 5 months when he left the army, with fair hair, fair complexion, blue eyes, and 5 ft 10 inches tall). The shoulder problems may have had as much to do with his age as any damage caused by the war. In October 1945 he sends a photograph of me being held by my mother near the front hedge in Devon Road to England. On the back: “My Dear Mother, This is to introduce my wife and baby. I wish you could meet. Cheerio and all best wishes. Bill.” He brings home an assortment of curios – a Japanese bayonet with a curved guard, a couple of field gun shell casings turned into vases, a set of ebony elephants, a very risque metal lamp base in the form of a naked woman (probably amused him to bring that home to a strait laced Methodist mother in law, but she happily used it for years). They are all sadly lost now, house and contents sold when Emma died.

The war ended. Bill Horton came home to Devon Road, to his new wife and a new son he had never seen. He tried various ideas for work, including buying a truck with a friend to go into wood carting. That ended rancorously for some reason. There was an opening to use the skills learned at war as an electrician. He couldn’t settle to it. He had been on the road since he was 16 and he was now 37. Hard to settle to anything perhaps. Hard also to acquire parental control that he hadn’t had in 21 years. He stuck it for a few months, long enough for a couple of photographs to be taken of him with me, and then he was gone to Adelaide. Had gone with the wife of a friend, and her three young daughters. Gone and changed his name to Baker – a new life with a new partner and a new family in a new town.

Back in Coventry mother Ellen was getting older, and the news from Western Australia no doubt didn’t help.

In Western Australia I am being raised, nicely, by Charles, Emma, and Elsie. Then just Emma and Elsie and things get tight. No mention of Bill Horton except when I am stubborn, or “answer back”, or am otherwise untypically “naughty” then I am told “You are just like Bill Horton” or “You take after Bill Horton”. When I was good I took after my grandfather. In Coventry my aunt, determined to keep me in touch with my father’s family, and perhaps with guilt feelings on Bill’s behalf, sends me for birthdays and Xmases, things from England – my first watch, Mars and Fry’s chocolate bars, Dinky Toys, lead soldiers, Boys Annuals, and, a little oddly, a cake of soap in the shape of “Archie Andrews” ( a ventriloquist’s dummy, popular in the 1950s in England).

But really, given circumstances, I wasn’t taught to hate my father. Emma was madder at him than my mother was, but I think must have been told to hold her tongue. The only negative thing, and given our circumstances it was a biggie, was his failure to provide any maintenance. Never contributed any money at all. It was also I think feared that he might come and snatch me away, whisk me off to a foreign country like Adelaide, never to be seen again. Conversely it was seen as a mark against him that he never attempted to see me. Although he did, as he told me years later, he and second wife had parked outside the school at closing time, watched for me to appear. When I heard that I hoped I hadn’t been picking my nose or doing some other kind of obnoxious boy stuff.

Generally though, things settled down, we knew where we were, although for years afterwards I think my mother secretly held to the dream that one day he would see the error of his ways and come running back to her. I more or less got used to not having a father, wouldn’t have known what to do with one. But still had this itch, always, to find out why a man who carried Shakespeare through the war didn’t want to know me. Also wondered, secretly, whether I was just like Bill Horton. At some point in my mid to late teens two of his stepdaughters, on a visit to Perth, came to see me. We chatted, outside, they weren’t invited in. What they thought I don’t know. I don’t think I picked my nose, but I doubt I was impressive.

The question of whether I was like Bill Horton, at least physically, was answered when I did, finally, get to England. My aunt took me to see her other brother (in a betting shop, the surest place to find him). Said to him “Do you know who this is Fred?” “I can see who it is” he said, pleasing me no end. Then I was taken to see Ellen, meeting her at last. She was in her late eighties though, blind and near death, in bed. It was all too late. “This is Bill’s boy Mum” said Ruby, but although I held Ellen’s soft and loose hand I don’t think she had any idea, really, that I was related to her favourite son who had left her 50 years earlier. She died not long after that (husband Tom being long long dead).

Still, it gave me courage to find him, and I did with the aid of the Salvation Army to whom he said that yes indeed he would see me. Knocked at the door, and before I could introduce myself his second wife said “I can see who you are”.

How did we get on? Awkwardly of course. I don’t remember much either then or when he visited us a year or so later in Canberra. He was a wine buff. Stared at me curiously as if wondering what he had made. I only remember two things. He said he didn’t believe in “blood” as being important in relationships, that friendships were more important. Obvious really. And he commented that I always stopped my questions and discussions at the point of my birth, no curiosity about his subsequent life. Fair enough.

And that was that. He headed back to Adelaide, then subsequently to Perth where he died just a few years later. I heard no more from him. Nor he from me.

I don’t know where that left me.

Quite a character
Elsie Young was born explicitly as a replacement baby for one that died.

This was very similar to the case for Robert Charles Young and for “a second Joseph” Carter, and others we have met. In those cases the use of the same name was a constant reminder of the loss of an earlier “pride of his father and mother and a loving child”, in Elsie’s case it was made explicit, on doctor’s advice, that she was a replacement for the lost Kenneth.

And she never forgot this, writing, near the end of her long life, eighty years later, that she had been born “to replace my brother Kenneth who had died at the age of 16 months from Pneumonia. He was a beautiful, intelligent child, and his death broke the hearts of my parents and my brother Robert. My mother nearly lost her mind with grief, and the doctor told my Dad that the only way to save her reason was to have another child.”

Nor did she ever forget what she was told about her brother’s reaction – “neighbours told my brother Robert to go upstairs to see what his mother had to show him. He flew up the stairs, thinking his baby brother Kenneth had come back, but when he went into his mother’s room and saw me, that tiny red-headed girl, he screamed ‘send it back, I don’t want it, I want Kenneth’. I believe that feeling towards me, that inner resentment, lasted all his life, although I can remember him carrying me as a little girl on his shoulders.”

Lasting scar, eh?

Speaking of scars, animals which have structures (horns, antlers, some teeth, some bones) that grow through life show in them the marks of setbacks in life (illness, injury, hunger, reproduction) as well as good periods. I think Elsie had, or saw herself as having, a whole series of scars demarcating stages of her life. First was her initial rejection by her brother; then being uprooted to Australia; then being forced to leave school early when her less intelligent friends and contemporaries (as she saw them) continued on; then getting married and having a child (her life’s greatest achievement she called me); then being left, shamefully, by her new husband, and for a woman she saw as no great catch and with a family (so having a child wasn’t the reason he had gone); then being left stuck with her mother after I left home; then getting remarried; then losing her second husband suddenly, very suddenly; then returning to Western Australia for a new golden life with friends which didn’t work out; then getting old. Just one thing after another, each leaving a scar.

When I was old enough to wonder how old other people around me were I asked my mother how old she was, as you do. Wouldn’t tell me, can’t remember the reply but it would have been something like “Oh, I’m just a young thing”. So, ever ready to show I knew a trick or two I asked “Well, how old were you when you had me?” She figured out, somehow, that I was intending to add my age to her age when she had me, to calculate her age. She was having none of it “About as young as I could possibly be to have a baby” came the reply.

Well, now we were in business! If she had been, oh, say 16 when she had me, and I was 8, then she must be 24. Ah ha! So when she said we were more like “brother and sister than mother and son” she wasn’t being too far-fetched, was she?

It was only later that I discovered she was 24 when she had me, and no one, least of all a sixteen year old boy, was going to consider a 40 year old woman as his sister.

She remained sensitive about her age all her life, always believing that she looked years younger than her age. To the obvious question, from a friend or acquaintance, “How old are you now Elsie?” she would always reply “Well, how old do you think I am?” confident that the answer would involve removing at least a year or two from her actual age.

It was only really when she reached her eighties, and a glance in the mirror would reveal to her that, sadly, no one would ever think she was young again, that she began to say she had had enough, was ready to go, wanted to die.

Throughout her life she saw herself as an intellectual imprisoned in the body of an office worker (although she also took pride in getting in on the ground floor of the computer revolution in Australian business, and being a skilful operator of the early “punch card” systems of data entry, and being sufficiently skilful and valued to take on supervisory roles, at the Australian National University computer section in her final working role). She wrote poems of the Moon-June-Spoon type, and was validated by getting them accepted, occasionally, by women’s magazines. She loved animals and small children (who she rarely understood); loved crosswords and reading (magazines and light novels); liked fish and chips, and sweets, and cups of tea; loved to talk. She could, she knew, have become a school teacher, if only her family could have supported her. So she played at “teaching” as a Sunday School teacher, and later came to believe that she really had been a proper teacher. Her absolute and uncompromising determination that I would have an education arose from her own disappointment, but also in a sense I think helped to validate her lost opportunity – I had succeeded at university, she was my mother, therefore she would have succeeded.

A core belief she had was that every individual was no more, and no less, than the sum of their genetic inheritance. Whatever trait you exhibited would be the result of “taking after” someone – if not her (and it often was) then a grandparent or great grandparent or someone, fancifully, even more distant. There was this image of a cloud of ancestors, extending back hundreds of years, each contributing bits of DNA which would make you, say, good at spelling, or piano playing, or reading, or writing, or cricket; which would not only give you, say, red hair and blue eyes, but would also give you a sore back, a dodgy knee, a wonky elbow, weak lungs. It was an astonishing belief in genetic determinism, a kind of astrology of the body, in the same sense that if you knew the exact position of every star (every ancestor) at the time of birth you could determine all of the attributes you had brought to the planet and the role they would play during your time upon it.

As well as a strong belief in family depth as a guiding force in human affairs she also had a hunger for friendships. And, it must be said, a talent for keeping them, in many cases for decades. Generally she chose friends well, but I don’t think being a good judge of people was one of her abilities, and, particularly in later years, she made a number of poor friendships. I guess in a more general sense she lacked the educational background to put people and events into context, and to stand back from her own life and evaluate its meaning. This is evident in her autobiography (from birth to age 15) which often seems more of an exercise in demonstrating her remarkable memory for, say, the colour of a window ledge, rather than providing insights into people she knew, or events she experienced, or, indeed, into the meaning of life.

But maybe, as her son, I am too picky, maybe such an autobiography would not be just good, but the best, to paraphrase Jane Austen. If she always saw herself as a teacher who had been prevented from teaching, she also always thought of herself as a writer. Her autobiography is evidence that she did indeed have potential in that area.

She was a unique character, as indeed most people are if you know enough about them. As her son, and given the unusual family circumstances, I found her irritating, annoying, embarrassing (non-family friends obviously found her interesting, intelligent, funny, warm), but nevertheless generous, supportive and encouraging. She didn’t really understand what I was doing and why I was doing it, but she knew it was “good stuff”, was proud. She knew the Encyclopaedia was important, but couldn’t understand what it had cost me or why it didn’t lead to more. Read the third book but made little comment (except to express a concern that I would get into trouble for being rude about the Pauline Hanson phenomenon). Said, right near the end of her life, that she hoped I wasn’t going to waste my life farming when I should be writing. In a sense it was a comment about her own early life.

She had a dream about her own life that was unfulfilled. When I came along she was determined that I would, after all the checks and setbacks the family had suffered, be the one who would finally realise my own dreams and the ones she had for me.

To give a slightly different perspective based on how I felt when she had just, suddenly, died, aged 84, here is the eulogy I gave at her funeral:
My mother started the story of her life as follows: “I was born at 62 Salvin Street, Spennymoor, County Durham, England, to replace my brother Kenneth who had died at the age of 16 months from Pneumonia. He was a beautiful, intelligent child, and his death broke the hearts of my parents and my brother Robert. My mother nearly lost her mind with grief, and the doctor told my Dad that the only way to save her reason was to have another child. Both of my brothers had been over 10 lbs in weight, and my mother had painful and long labours. When the first pang came, my mother sent my Dad post-haste for the doctor and midwife. He had just left the house when I appeared – born on the bedroom floor – all 7 lbs of me and with red curls.” A boy child was expected and a girl was something of a shock. This may be why one of her favourite books throughout her life was Ann of Green Gables, which also begins with the expected arrival of a boy who turns out to be a girl, also with red curls. Another favourite was David Copperfield (the reason for my name) and that of course begins with the arrival of a boy who was expected to be a girl.

It is a bit surprising that this account doesn’t tell us the colour of the bedroom floor or how cold it was when she arrived on it. She had an astonishing memory, and a few pages later she is telling us about things she did at the ages of 2 or 3. Throughout her life, up until the very end, she could recount events, in detail, that had happened 75 years earlier as easily as she could tell you what had happened the day before and everything in between.

The other extraordinarily durable thing about her was her capacity to make friends and keep them for very long periods. Most notable was her friendship with Hazel Crump who she first met in October 1933 on the day they arrived in Swanbourne (after living in Margaret River). “My Dad called out to me ‘There are two little girls here who want you to come out and say hullo”. The girls called out ‘Little girl will you come and play with us?’ Hazel, who she met that day, would be her firm and closest friend from that moment until Hazel’s death about 70 years later. It was one of the great friendships of history. Hazel would later marry my Uncle Robert, turning a friendship into a family, and they would have my cousins Bryan, Shirley and Jeffrey who are here today.

Before she met Hazel she had also met Edna Ness, on her first day in Margaret River where they had arrived in 1929 from England. Edna would be a great friend but died tragically young at the age of 20. My mother wrote a poem about her in 1940:

“She loved life so, the little things
sweet music when a rainbird sings
the fields all wet with morning dew
and sunshine when the day is new.
She loved life so, and yet she sleeps
Where mosses cling and ivy creeps,
yet, as she sleeps she still may know
The things of life that she loved so.
The breeze will croon to her a song
The winds will blow the whole night long
And when the sun has gone to rest
She’ll find the stars that she loved best.
She was so young, too sweet to die
And yet perhaps the heavens on high
Had need of someone such as she
To make them bright with gaiety.
Oh Earth is dark without her face
But Heaven will be a brighter place.

My mother loved writing poetry and did it all her life, it was only a year or so ago that she joined a writer’s group in Mandurah. She loved to read, and had been an avid reader all her life. She loved doing puzzles and competitions, and would announce proudly that she had won this, or had a poem published in that.

She also loved family history. Her mother talked endlessly of the family back in England. She herself came from a large family, and my grandfather also had many uncles and an aunt. I grew up knowing the names and history of all these people who I had never met, but were as familiar to me as the neighbours in Swanbourne. My mother did some formal genealogy research to fill in some gaps, and I have continued this. She was always delighted by some new piece of information that helped solve the puzzle of the family histories of the Youngs and Carters and Mauds and Whitakers.

A year or so ago she decided to write down everything about her early life and set about it with energy. These were the stories that she had endlessly told me and anyone else who would listen. The detail is astonishing: Who said what, what they were wearing, what they had for dinner, the colour of the hair, the music that was playing, and so on, details that give a vivid picture of life in England in the 1920s, and then of life in Margaret River in the early 1930s, and in Swanbourne a little later. She was upset that she couldn’t keep it going through the war years, but she ran out of energy and her eyesight worsened and her hands couldn’t hold a pen properly, and she ended in 1936 as she is about to get her first job.

With her love of story telling and writing and reading she could have been a schoolteacher and that is what she wanted to be and had intended to be. But our family has been notorious for poor timing. When she set out from England with mother and father and brother in October 1929 they left with the idea of a new and prosperous life in Australia. But while they were sailing south through the Atlantic Wall Street collapsed and the Depression began, and they landed in Australia to an impossible situation.

By the time she finished her school life in the middle of the Depression there was no possibility of going on to teacher’s college. Her father and brother were on the road ‘working for the dole’ and she had to get a job in a shop to help the family survive. One of the saddest moments in the last few months was when one of the nurses asked her what she used to do and she answered ‘I was a school teacher’. She was confusing dreams and reality, something that was going to get worse as she neared the end.

She married my father near the end of the war, my grandfather had a job, and things were starting to look more promising all round. But the marriage failed as so many did after the war, and then just a few years later my grandfather died, leaving my mother and grandmother to bring up a small child. So my mother kept on working, and my grandmother picked up whatever casual jobs she could find. We survived but it was a great struggle.

When I reached school leaving age everyone assumed that she would take me out of school and get me a job to help support the family, just as she had done. But she refused. She was determined that I would get the education and chances that she and her parents before her had all been unable to get because of circumstances, and she kept on working.

When she went in to the nursing home in August there was a form to fill in so that the staff would get to know something about her history and interests. One question was ‘What do you think is your greatest achievement?’ ‘You are my greatest achievement’ she said to me. By that she meant not just that she had physically produced me but that she had nurtured me to let me achieve my potential.

One of the many things I have had to do in the last week was fill in forms. I began doing one called the ‘Death Registration Form’ and it seemed odd. I couldn’t work out why for a while and then it struck me. This was information about someone who for nearly 60 years had been telling me all about our family history, stories about the earlier generations. And we had added to that knowledge with birth and death and marriage certificates of grandparents and great-grandparents and so on as we did our research. Now, suddenly, instead of being a co-researcher with me she had become a character in the family history with her own details on her own death certificate. From now on she was part of family history and not an observer of it, and future generations, like her great grandchildren would look back and wonder what kind of person this great grandmother had been, who they never knew.

The staff in the nursing home got to know her very quickly. ‘She’s quite a character’ one said to me, and so she was. She will be remembered by everyone who knew her during her long life – she certainly remembered all of them.

To quote from her poem about Edna “She loved life so, and yet she sleeps”

Home sweet home

The home I grew up in has gone now, a large block sold, the bulldozers clearing away what had been our family home for almost 50 years, the garden gone, the land scraped back to bare earth to facilitate the building of two houses on small blocks where once there had been one house on a large block. Most of the people who lived there, and laughed and cried and thought and dreamed there, and the people who visited them, have all gone too, but it stays in my memory.

The garden was my kingdom, and I can picture it now without closing my eyes. I knew every inch of the ground, and if it still existed, I could, I am sure, find my way around blindfolded.

The house had been built on a block which divided the end of one dead end street from another main road. When my grandparents bought it there seems to have been a Council claim on the block, in case at some time in the future they wished to join up the street which headed off in the direction of the beaches and the Road (which headed off towards the city). This apparently left the family with a feeling of uncertainty about the future, and perhaps an unwillingness to invest too much in house and land, though if this was so it had little practical effect.

As a result of its position the garden had two street entrances, a very useful feature, but one which also caused some anxiety. There was a belief that strangers walking down the Street, and thinking that it continued on, might try to come through our garden, and this might lead to great danger. It might even be that the strangers were walking home from the local pub, and they might have been drinking, and then the danger of them coming on to our land, a land of teetotallers, would have been intolerable.

Our back fence then was a high solid wooden fence. When it eventually rotted it was replaced with another high solid wooden fence. The gate was a high wooden gate. You couldn’t see through it from outside, and I think you needed to reach over the top to find the latch. The back gate was flanked by two trees. My grandmother called them ‘lilacs’, perhaps with a memory of England, perhaps because of the flowers, which were vaguely lilac like. They were white cedars, but my family knew nothing, and wanted to know nothing, of Australian flora. They had struggled with Australian flora at first hand on the selection at Margaret River and the experience had seared their souls. Perhaps because there were electricity wires nearby, perhaps simply to keep them from becoming dominant, perhaps in memory of pollarded trees in England, the two white cedars were mercilessly pruned ever year. Pruned so hard that the trees looked like the pictures I saw in the Encyclopaedia of stork’s nests sitting on top of chimneys in Holland. I sat on the platform of misshapen branches, pruned so that there were dozens of short nobbly branches, as a lookout. In Spring the trees sent up long shoots, desperately trying to achieve their proper size and shape. These springy young branches were used for making bows and arrows. My pruning adding to the constriction of the trees. They weren’t very good bows and arrows. The bow, string tied around each end at points where I made a groove with a knife, was liable to break if pulled hard enough to make an arrow go more than a few feet. The arrows themselves were springy, and covered in the small buds that would never open. But sitting in the nest, greenery around me, bow and arrow at the ready, watching for strangers coming to invade, I was Robin Hood, greatest archer who ever lived.

Along the upper half of the back fence was a thick and somewhat prickly hedge of lantana. It was much later that I found out this was lantana, dangerous environmental pest, but in Swanbourne it seemed not particularly vigorous or threatening, and had the air of having needed to be nurtured to get it going. It had probably been planted when a house was built behind us, on what I guess had originally been vacant land. Because the street sloped down toward our fence, a house built on this block had to be built up very high on the lower side, and as a result one corner towered above our fence and potentially looked down into our garden. In later years this top corner of the block would have a poinsettia planted, and next to that the wood pile and wood shed, so that with the side fence, also very high, this became a hidden area, and a favourite site for playing with toy cars and soldiers.

When I was very young this corner had been the place where the air raid shelter had been built. I can only remember it as being a secret and frightening place, and I guess it had been made frightening to keep a toddler away from it in case he fell in or found a spider. It was made out of an old water tank and then roofed over with railway sleepers. Many people had bomb shelters in Perth, though it was probably the last place on earth that was ever going to be bombed. After Darwin though, who knew what the Japanese could do, and so bomb shelters it was.

I never remember wood being delivered, but delivered it must have been because there was always, like the magic pudding, a wood pile there. When I was old enough to chop wood (and pretend to be a famous axeman at the Show) without chopping off feet and hands and getting tetanus or bleeding to death, I chopped a lot of wood. My grandfather must have chopped wood originally, and after he died, my uncle must have taken over, for a lot of wood had been chopped on that spot. Wood chips and splinters were many inches thick on the ground, sometimes gathered up for kindling, but mostly just left to slowly rot, turning the yellow sand black. There was always a chopping block too. A big solid block with two parallel sides. Both sides eventually showed the impact of all the chopping, and looked abraded, with a thousand tiny cuts at all angles, all over the surface. When the wood was chopped it was thrown into the wood shed, an old water tank turned on its side, probably the same tank that had once been the shelter. The uncut logs were piled on one side of the shed, a wall strong enough to stop bombs and shrapnel if the need had ever arisen again.

From the wood shed down to the garage was, surprisingly, a line of old grapevines. There must have been 20 or 30 bushes on a long trellis. Most of the grapes were green ones, but there were also some purple. Watching the bunches of grapes form, and then watching the grapes ripen, was one of the great pleasures of summer. I would crawl under the grape vines, a long cool green corridor, and check out all the bunches, each one known intimately. It seemed to take forever, but eventually the grapes would reach a size where they must be ripe, and I would sample them. They tasted awful when unripe, and your mouth would pucker up and the grape spat out. I wasn’t supposed to sample them, was told often not to because they would make me sick. There were all sorts of rules about grapes. You mustn’t swallow the pips, because they would go through your stomach, and then, like tiny missiles, head for your appendix where they would unerringly block up the entrance and you would get appendicitis. I don’t know where this came from, maybe they had once heard of someone getting appendicitis after eating grapes, maybe it was just because the pips were small. But swallowing a pip, even though you know that appendicitis was just a story, would cause anxiety for a day afterwards, just in case it wasn’t a story. You also couldn’t drink water after eating grapes, for hours after eating grapes, because they would swell up in your stomach and burst. And you couldn’t go swimming after eating grapes, I think because you would get a cramp and drown. Some naughty boys did swim and drink after eating grapes, and I was somewhat in awe of a naughtiness I couldn’t imitate.

I also wasn’t supposed to touch the grapes until they were certified ripe by an adult because they didn’t want the bunches looking moth eaten. When they were ripe they were so abundant that bunches went off to friends and were also, carefully packed, sold to the greengrocers where my grandmother worked casually. The grapes went from being rare, and hunting for the odd ripe one, to being so super abundant you couldn’t be bothered eating them. The purple ones were not favourite eating, and they seemed to ripen extremely quickly and almost overnight the bushes seemed covered in fermenting grapes with clouds of bees visiting. Then it was all over for another year, when 12 months without grapes (we could and would never have bought grapes) would again make them the most desirable fruit in the world for a time.

Beyond the grapes was the garage. It was there when the house was bought because we had never owned a car and wouldn’t until I was 18. It seemed homemade, and was full of spiders. Cutting into the sloping block, it had a floor of old railway sleepers which also formed the base of the back wall which was dug into the sand. The walls were asbestos sheeting, the roof galvanised iron. Two wooden steps led down into the garage (steps I would later use to hide my first packet of cigarettes under). Next to the steps was a big wooden bench made from big heavy planks. A wooden vice was on one end. The bench was covered in odds and ends, including a box that was used for nails. It had once been a drawer from the steamer trunk that had come out from England in 1929. There was dust and spider webs everywhere because the garage was no longer used. The atmosphere was gloomy and I rarely went in there. When I got my first car it was magic having my own garage to put it in, and I would lovingly polish the car in there, the smell of the polish, and the gleaming paint and chrome making quite a different atmosphere.

Outside the garage was a lemon tree, and a path of railway sleepers led around to the back door. Next to the path I once came across, by digging, a brick structure, whose purpose I couldn’t work out. It may have been part of a septic outflow, or some kind of drainage system. I excavated it carefully, my first archaeological excavation. This area too was the scene of two of my animal nightmares. Here I carefully placed my guinea pig in his pen, a large old portable chicken pen, putting him here lovingly to eat the long grass. I came back to find him dead, I think because I hadn’t remembered to give him water (thinking he would get what he needed from the grass perhaps) or because he had run out.

Here too I saw a strange, ugly cat, and tried to shoo it away, only to find it was our own lovely cat who had been in a fight and had massive damage inflicted on his face. He later recovered with veterinary help I think, but another favourite in a fight didn’t recover. My memories are hazy, the horror of it putting a block in my mind.

Near the fence I once found a beer bottle, thrown over by someone on their way home from the pub. My grandmother was horrified, sickened by the find, the intrusion of a great evil into our innocent world.

The fence on this side separated us from the Punch family who I thought were enormously glamorous. I would peep through, my face pressed against the pickets, to see what they were doing. They were very keen and good cricketers, and one of the sons, Keith, I think played for WA, or went close to doing so. His father, to encourage his sons, had actually had a turf pitch and nets made on the other side of their large block, and this was an unimaginably wonderful thing to have, the neighbourhood kids couldn’t play on it, it was too precious, and was just there for the serious business of training the sons. The rest of us played cricket in the street, or on the grass of the park, or on the cement pitch the school had.

They also seemed to have glamorous parties. They were much older than me, teenagers I guess, and I was only invited to a party once. There, at the age of 4 or 5, I met the first girl I was aware was a girl. Her name was Diana, aged 6 or 7, and she was small and slim and had black hair and eyes and a silver bracelet. I never saw her again.

The path from the garage ran level, the sand held back from it by a wall made of limestone slabs which ran across the back of the house. Steps from the back door ran up and on to a path which then led on to the back gate, and this area was a flat raised garden. Almost in the middle of the garden was the toilet. Originally either pan or septic, my memory is only after it was connected to the sewerage system. It was rough brick (‘jerry built’), with holes where spiders could get in. We couldn’t afford toilet paper, and it would have seemed an unnecessary luxury, so newspapers were cut up to make small sheets, and speared on a nail in the wall. A climber grew over the top, and this may have kept the heat down a little in summer.

On one side of the toilet was a fig tree, welcome for the figs, but after a few days of sitting in the tree and eating all I wanted the taste would become boring and I would stop. Suckers kept emerging through the lawn and had to be removed or there would have been a forest of fig trees. On the other side was something called, on almost the same principle as the misnaming of the cedars, a Christmas tree. It was a Grevillea robusta, but this was a name that would have meant nothing. Golden flowers, and bark that exuded gum.

Just beyond this tree was a trellis of wire covered in honeysuckle. Honeysuckle exuded honey, and you pulled off the flowers to get the small, bee-sized, drops of honey, flower after flower until it became boring until the next time. There was a patch of grass in front of the trellis, and here I was photographed with my grandfather (who I called, not having a father, “Dad”, since this is what my mother called him), a rare, and much treasured image of us together. We look relaxed, comfortable with each other, relishing each other’s company, a feeling that there would be another 20 years of this friendship, not another two.

On the other side of the path was a bush with golden bell-shaped flowers, as a rare, exotic addition to the garden. It had been planted by Dad, but he died before it flowered. The flowers were enormous and seemed exotic, and the buds were full of fluid and could be squeezed to expel it like a water pistol. The stamens were big and loaded with pollen, visible in a way it wasn’t in lesser flowers.

On the left hand side of the back gate, in front of the lantana hedge, was the clothes line. Posts at each end had cross pieces with bolts through them so they could move like scarecrow’s arms. The line was perhaps 15 metres long, and to keep the clothes off the ground when there was a full load, the lines were held up in several places by tall sticks cut so as to leave two small branches sticking out at the end in a V shape. The sticks were sold by Aborigines, a transaction that was the only one that I or anyone I knew, had with them.

The area surrounding the toilet – under the clothes line, down through the wood chopping area, around under the fig tree and back up the path past the honey suckle, formed a race track. One year, anxious to be like John Landy or Roger Bannister, I ran round and round until I was exhausted. My grandmother convinced me that this wasn’t a good idea, and the athletic career was postponed for a little longer.

On the right hand side of the back gate was the chicken run. When I was very young it was extended to build up the number of chooks, later it was reduced in size again. There was a chook house made of sheets of metal. A vine grew over this too, and I could climb onto the roof via the fence, an alternative lookout to the cedars, and sometimes too hot to sit on. The chooks were much loved by my grandmother. She fed them on mash (bran and pollard) into which was mixed all the kitchen scraps. It was put on the stove to warm it up, presumably a memory from England, and mixed until all the dry bran was thoroughly wet and the scraps mixed through like a Christmas cake. She would spread it, ‘here chook chook’, on the ground for them. I would ask to do it, or to spread the wheat they got for their other meal. They obliged with eggs which I collected from a row of nest boxes in the shed. China eggs to encourage them to lay. The droppings under the perches grew thick like stalagmites, and later I would scrape them off and put the manure on the garden.

I grew to love the contented hens, and later got my own bantams which had their own part of the yard. I read books on poultry and visited the show birds. The breeders of the show birds became heroes, and I found the home of one in Mosman Park, one of only two close to our house, and would visit on a bike and peer through the fence and hedge hoping to see his wonderful birds (he bred Indian Game). Closer still was Bob Humphries, a friend of the family, who bred Modern Game. I couldn’t presume, or intrude, and so saw his birds rarely, but it was a taste of a lifestyle I envied.

A path led from the chicken run to the back door. It was bordered by a flower bed on one side, and on the other by a huge old mulberry tree, something of a landmark in the suburb. It was the perfect tree for a boy to climb, with broad, gently sloping, almost horizontal, branches and bumps on the bark, and many side branches, and you could climb and climb easily almost to the top, the route clear. When the mulberries were in season people came from miles to pick the inexhaustible crop. A boy could sit in the tree until his mouth and hands were purple. Then you could clean off the juice by crushing some unripe orange berries and rubbing them on the skin. The leaves were good for silkworms, and there wasn’t a boy without a shoebox and the need to collect mulberry or grape leaves. You couldn’t do anything with the silk, but it was the act of producing it that was important, and silkworms and their eggs (stuck to bits of the cardboard of the boxes) were traded widely in schools.

When I was very young the tree spread very widely, one branch hanging over the house, but it was later said (how accurately I don’t know) that this was dangerous, and my uncle cut off many of the branches, leaving a mutilated tree with little more than the central core. Later it would be bulldozed unfeelingly by the new owners of the block. A tree, like a house, that I had grown up in. I could, probably, still climb it blindfolded now.

Under the tree was an old water tank. It was badly corroded and each new hole was patched with putty. I would, naughty boy, poke a nail through the putty to see the stream of water come out, not realising how valuable the water was. It was probably originally used for the house water, but later was just used to water part of the garden, and was eventually removed.

Its place was taken by a bird aviary which was bought, complete, from another friend of the family who was a bird keeper, and who was building a new grand aviary. I was happy with his cast off, and plunged into the world of canaries and especially budgies, for a time even showing budgies and learning everything I could about them.

In one direction the path went to the back door, on the other it ran down the side of the house to the front gate. There was a side gate and trellis, and my kingdom was mainly the back garden, the front garden, like the front room, being a more formal area, not really for playing and adventures. There were two more white cedars on this side, each side of a much prized rose garden. I grew to love roses here, and would eventually buy some (like ‘Peace’) which I would knowledgeably add. But the pruning was a specialised business and was done by a family friend called Les Stafford. On a fixed day in July each year he would turn up and perform the esoteric rites of rose pruning.

The front fence was a low open picket fence, but for privacy at each end were hedges, both native, one with berries on it was highly valued by ants, and you stayed out of it. The front door of the house, which was rarely used, was approached by a curving path to an imposing set of wooden stairs. These were later replaced by a less imposing cement stairway. Many family photos were taken on the stairs.

The stairs led up to what nominally was the front door, though it was rarely used except by travelling salesmen, chiropodist, and doctor. Once a year it was the place where on New Year’s Eve we had the first foot rite. It was supposed to be a dark haired man, and usually my uncle was it, but if he couldn’t be there then I was the one, clutching my black cat to approximate the idea of the dark haired first footer.

The door opened into what had once been a verandah (seen below before enclosure, a teenage Elsie Young behind lifelong friend Hazel), but it had been enclosed, when I was very small, by Dad, using asbestos sheeting. My grandmother slept out here, not wanting to sleep in the bedroom she and Dad had shared (in fact it was rarely used as a bedroom ever again). I had sometimes slept at the other end, and so had cousin Marie, but mostly it just became my playroom, where trains and cars and soldiers could be left set up so that games could continue in growing complexity over long periods.

What had initially been the front door was in the middle of the wall. It was a huge solid wooden door with brass handle and lock, kept pushed back by a heavy door stopper. It led into a hallway, originally the entrance hall, with a lino floor. This was a place for games, but it was also a place for cooling off. With all the doors open, this hall, with no outside windows, could get a cool breeze moving through it, and on those days when it was over 37 degrees, this was the only place that was bearable.

On the right side of the hall was the main bedroom. It had only one window, and this, now permanently closed, looked out into the verandah. This room was very dark, with a double bed, and heavy dark furniture, in which my grandmother’s clothes were kept, smelling of lavender. My uncle, when he re-married, would sleep in here for a little while, my mother had slept in here with my father, the night they were married, and I was to sleep in here when I was ill, and then later when I visited the house for the last time. It was not a room in which you expected to find people, a room frozen in time the day Dad died.

Opposite the bedroom on the other side of the hall was the front or lounge room. In theory this is where guests were entertained, but if it had ever served this function that time was long over (echoes of it came on a few rare occasions when my uncle played boogie woogie. Though he knew only one tune, I think, it sounded impressive when he ran his finger down the keys). The room had the best lounge in it, a heavy lounge with furry seats, and for this reason alone couldn’t be used often in case the lounge was damaged. It had a record player in it, and I would play hit parade games, pretending that our records (In a monastery garden, Happy Wanderer, One enchanted evening) were moving up and down the charts. It was here I heard my first classical music too, perhaps Mendelsohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The main feature of the room, like a shrine, was Dad’s piano. In this room he had been a pianist, whatever he had of necessity to do outside it. Could have been a great pianist or organist it was said, if only for the opportunity. I had the opportunity and the imperative. His dying wish was that I would learn the piano and learn it I did, through many miserable years. I didn’t want to play the piano, was different enough to other boys without that added burden of difference, wouldn’t practice, hated the pieces that with one exception (Turkey in the straw) weren’t anything like boogie woogie. For some seven years the lessons ground on until I was finally released, perhaps on the advice of my last music teacher who came to the house for a while. She was always given tea and biscuits, and I could smell stale tea (which I guess she had been drinking all day) when she leaned forward from behind my shoulder to once again make the same comments and corrections she had been making for months.

The room had a fire place but it was never lit after I came into the world. It was kept clean and had the air that a fire would spoil its cleanness. The room should have a fireplace, that was expected, but it was a fireplace for show, and was on show.

Another feature of the room was a small box, the size of a cigarette box, but instead of containing evil cigarettes, it contained small rolled pieces of paper, tightly rolled like hundreds of tiny scrolls. Each piece had a short saying, religious quotation, homily. Were they Patience Strong or something older? The idea I suppose was that your visitor, waiting to be entertained, would choose at random a scroll and be enlightened or moved by its contents. You then rolled it up tightly and pushed it back in tightly shoulder to shoulder with all the other scrolls. I had no interest in the sentiments, but pulling them out was like a miniature lottery or lucky dip, and could entertain for a minute or two by its random nature and strangeness.

Both front room and main bedroom had very high ceilings with large plaster mouldings surrounding overhead lights. A picture rail ran around the walls and pictures hung down on long picture wires from large hooks. The house had once been not grand but firmly middle class, and my grandparents had been proud to move into it. Moving towards the back of the house was a step up from the hall and into what would now be called a family room, but which we called the dining room, and it had probably been this originally. We only ‘dined’, in the sense of sitting down to a meal, once a year for Christmas, but we dined in it every night watching television from the time we had television, and listening to the radio before that time.

This room had a fireplace that was used. It had a metal fire box with a hob on which a kettle usually sat. It was open and you could toast bread reaching out with fingertips to try to keep away from the glow, watching that the bread wasn’t falling off the prongs as the toast became brown, watching that it wasn’t burning on one side.

None of the rooms had wall to wall carpet, but lounge room and dining room had carpet squares that happened to be the right size. They may have been bought second hand. They didn’t exactly fit, but left a margin of lino and dark-stained (or dark) wood. The lino and wood on the hall side was wide, meaning that the line of the hallway continued on through to the kitchen, the carpet square had the furniture, making an enclosed space within the room. When I very young the room had an ice chest standing on the hall side, and later there was still a hole drilled in the floor boards that had contained a funnel to allow water to drain away from the melting ice. The ice was brought in from the ice truck. A big man with a thick sack on his shoulder carried the block by holding it with a hook. The hook was driven into the block of ice starting a crack, and the ice itself was full of flaws and bubbles as if cut from an ancient glacier. The ice truck was full of these blocks, and children would stick their heads in to cool off and to look for chips of ice, tasting vaguely of sacking when sucked.

The dining room was dominated by a big solid dining room table. It was a leaf table, the leaf sitting on a shelf underneath. A long screw ran through the table, ending at one end in a hole and with a square end. Somewhere was kept a handle, like the crank of a car. It fitted onto the square end and winding, with effort, pushed the two ends of the table apart until a space was made big enough to insert the leaf. It had bumps along the edge, fitting into studs on the table, and when it was properly lined up and the handle rewound these would fit into each other and hold the leaf in place. The table was rarely extended except at Christmas time, but later it was extended more often, and with a blanket covering it, formed a base for my train. When I was younger the table was a place to hide, the blanket or table cloth hanging down making a cave or tent.

The room also had a lounge with a wooden back. Not very comfortable, but the place where my grandfather had read to me. The lounge chairs were more comfortable, and were used for listening to the radio or watching tv. There was also an old, and old-fashioned, black sideboard, and a cabinet with a glass top, much flasher and purchased later. The tv had arrived late one night, and we turned it on and saw the black and white minstrel show. I would watch so much tv that my work would suffer, and I would not get the marks expected of me in high school. A single window looked out to where the grape vines grew.

Opposite the window and next to where the ice chest once stood was the door to the second bedroom. Once my mother’s, it became mine. I remember little about the furnishings. There was a single bed on the eastern wall, opposite to where the double bed was in the main bedroom. At the foot of the bed was a wardrobe. There were bookcases and a desk. It was left a mess and my grandmother tidied it. Just inside the door was the spot where a chart, like a fund-raising thermometer, had recorded my painfully slow saving up to ¬£5 to buy my electric train set. Around the walls were treasures – the Japanese bayonet with the curly guard and the rust spots that might have been caused by blood stains, the plastic planes and boats I had made, my grandfather’s cricket cap, a fishing rod, cricket bat, flippers and goggles, a spear gun that didn’t work, badminton racquets, hockey stick and boots. Somewhere on the wall were one or two paintings I had done and was proud of, and records of numbers of pushups, and points towards fairest and best hockey player. A sash window looked out into the more western of the two white cedars bracketing the rose garden. Next to the bed was a rug where as a teenager I would lie down at 2 in the morning, desperately unable to sleep with bronchitis, taking a pill, and desperately waiting for the morning when I could grab some sleep.

Out of the door and turning right took you down a step into the kitchen area. On the left was the kitchen proper. In the corner a Kooka gas stove. Bought to save my grandmother from the heat of the wood stove, it didn’t, according to her, cook properly, and so was mainly used for boiling a kettle. I suspect she was a little afraid of it, or couldn’t cope with the numbers for temperatures. Next to it was the wood stove, almost always burning even in summer. My grandmother made cakes and roasts in it, adjusting times or the amount of wood by an instinct born of 50 years of cooking in wood stoves. The top had kettles on it too, or soup, or chook food. Next to that in the corner was the dresser. Tall with glass doors on top and wooden beneath, full of plates and knives and forks. The last time I saw my grandmother the dresser was one of the things that showed her decline, being full of junk, and with salt shakers rusted solid.

Along the southern wall was the sink and bench top. The sink was deep and had only a cold water tap. To wash in hot you took the kettle from the wood stove, always boiling, and topped up the cold water. In the corner above the bench was the old meat safe, covered in fly wire. It had been used before the ice chest was available, and was still used for food that needed to be protected from flies. Next to this was the new fridge. Creamy yellow with rounded lines and not very big. A small freezer inside for the luxury of ice blocks or home made ice cream. Then a small table where pastry could be rolled with rolling pin to make apple pies. or jam tarts when my grandmother was entering her cooking in the Show.

Coming back through the open doorway was the eating area of the kitchen, but we rarely ate there. The table was the place where the grocery delivery man put his groceries from his basket, or where one of my grandmother’s friends might have a cup of tea, having entered, of course, through the back door. There was a radio in this room, and I was sitting at the table when I heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination, in some ways the end of my innocence and the world’s innocence.

Next to this room was the bathroom. It had, mainly, a bath. There was a shower rose above the bath but it was almost never used. The problem, apart from custom, was that the bath was filled from a chip heater. This took a long time to get going, filled with newspapers and then chips (logs wouldn’t fit) and sticks. The fire roared, but it didn’t heat much water, and the most you could do was half fill the bath with water with small ashes floating on it. Then we all shared the bath water to make the most of it, me first as a child, then my mother, then my grandmother. The bath water was emptied on to the garden.

Next to the kitchen table was what had been originally the back door, but which now opened on to three steps down into a back porch. The porch was where the dog slept at night (and would, one memorable summer, result in a flea plague, you had to reach the back door through fleas jumping around your feet until we got it under control). There is a wonderful photo of my dog looking up at me from the floor of this room. It was where silkworms and mosquito fish and tadpoles and breeding budgies and the parrot lived too.

When I came back after I had been away from home, for the first time, for a year in Melbourne, my dog was lying down in the back porch when he heard the sound of the side gate and familiar footsteps. He ran out the back door, along the back wall and reached the back corner at the same time I turned it. He jumped, a small dog, so high he landed in my arms, we loved each other very much. I had to leave him again when I went back east to get another job, and never saw him again, or him me.

To the left was the laundry dominated by a big copper, also heated by a wood fire burning underneath. The clothes were swirled around in the copper, as they boiled, in a process perhaps thousands of years old, by my grandmother wielding a ‘copper stick’. They were pulled out and rinsed by squeezing by hand, in the laundry tubs, and then run though a hand wringer. It was hot and steamy, and something else my grandmother did for fifty years until eventually washing machines became available, though they didn’t ‘get the clothes as clean as the copper’.

The laundry was where I was later to do chemistry experiments. Most notably watching the phase changes of sulphur, heated on a pair of silver sugar tongs (and blackening them) through orange liquid to a sulphur dioxide gas that would help to damage my lungs. I would have ‘The Selby Experimental Booklet No 1 38 experiments for the young scientist’. The 38 experiments were all very innocent and harmless (and certainly didn’t involver heating sulphur on a spoon), including crystal growing, a weather indicator, the floating magnet, a test for starch (‘one drop of iodine solution is added’) and so on.

There was a small square drum of kerosene with a tap permanently in the laundry. It was used to help get the fire started, a splash being thrown over the wood, making a satisfying whoooomp when it hit the flames or when a match was thrown onto it. It was also good for washing bike chains and other bike parts when I had once again taken everything apart, like racing car drivers did, cleaned it in a bath of kerosene (the chain coiled like a snake) and put it back together again. Then you washed your hands in it to get the oil off.

On the other side of the back porch was the sleepout, my mother’s bedroom. It had been originally a verandah, enclosed as an extra bedroom when it was announced that my uncle, with family, was coming back from England after the war. It was a light airy room, with a row of louvred windows making it the room with the greatest window area. It was a narrow room with a single bed which I used to lie on with my mother before I became too old, a chest of drawers, a wardrobe.

The house was clad in weatherboard on both sides, the kind of weatherboard that overlapped like tiles so that there were horizontal lines all along the sides. It was painted a dull reddish brown, probably the cheapest of the small range of paints available. The added verandahs at each end were clad in asbestos sheets, painted white. The house was on quite high wooden pillars at the front, reducing in size back towards the laundry which was at ground level. Each pillar had a capping of metal, like a skirt, on top to stop white ants, The wood was painted with creosote for the same reason. The pillars were in sand (the street in which we lived climbed a very steep hill which was a sand dune), but I guess had been dug down to reasonably firm ground. Under the front verandah, and for some way up the side towards my bedroom, a trellis, made of individual lathes nailed horizontally an inch or so apart, covered the area from floor to ground. Maybe this was to stop people seeing under the house, which might have been embarrassing.

Where the trellis stopped the rubbish bin was kept, under my bedroom, and this was the place where a small boy could get under the house and wriggle almost all the way to the narrowest part, a thrill as you looked at the underside of the floor, no one knowing you were underneath, seeing the familiar world upside down. A bit scary too, pushing on your back, head going into tighter and tighter space, as if exploring a cave.

The roof was a slightly brighter red corrugated iron. It had two elongated peaks, one above each side of the original house, and then it extended back in a flat gentle slope over kitchen, laundry and sleepout. At the front the verandah had a curved roof. Painting the roof was a major undertaking because of both the extent of tin and the steepness of the twin peaks. Short home-made ladders were used with a hooked section on top which could be put over the ridge caps and hang there while you climbed up, paint pot and brush in hand. I was never old enough to do that part, but remember being up there when I was old enough to help with the flatter parts. You could always get up onto the laundry roof quite easily because it wasn’t much above the upper garden level, the house almost nestling into the cut out hill. It was almost unbearably hot on a red tin roof.

The house had no views to the south, north or west, the only view was east. Two rooms had no outside windows, the others small ones, but they in any case looked out only into garden and neighbour’s fences. The sleepout had glass, but looked out only into garden. Only at the front, standing on the front steps, could you see any distance, and from here you could see the distant low purple smudge of what was called, with little reason, the Darling Ranges. Everybody in Perth could see the Ranges, they were just the normal backdrop to a city. The hills on one side, the beach on the other, it was a linear world of two dimensions.

Our street was a linear world too, though because of our back entrance I always had another dimension available. It was the pathway to the school and beyond that to the shops and to the train. Going in the other direction, for children, it led to the park and the swamp. People passed our gate and other gates. Everyone who passed was known, who they were, who their parents and perhaps grandparents were, where they lived, where they were going. There were no strangers, and there really could be no strangers, though it didn’t stop the fear of them.

Most of the houses were weatherboard of various kinds. I guess they had all been built at about the same time around the turn of the century. They were all gloomy, with little belief in light or air or views. There were one or two brick or stone houses at the top of the hill, much grander, and perhaps representing a different period of building. There were two vacant blocks (three if you counted the one where the Punch’s cricket pitch was built), one, opposite us, being built when I was still young. It was a new 50s style house, and made the rest of the street look even more old fashioned.

Generally speaking it wasn’t a shabby street, most houses were kept painted, most front gardens neat, but it was not a rich street. Relatively poor people had moved in during the Depression when the houses were relatively cheap, and had stayed there, families growing up and moving out to newer suburbs and modern homes, the parents staying behind, until when they were gone their houses would be bulldozed and the gentrification begin.

It was a steep hill, originally a very high sand dune, and when you walked up it you knew you had done some work, when you rode down it on a bike you kept the brakes partly on. It was so steep that Dad once organised a go-cart race, beginning half way up. There were no cars to interrupt the proceedings, and there seemed nothing odd in a major road being the scene of kids in go-carts.

A steep hill

I wasn’t allowed go-carts generally though, partly because there might have been danger if a car had unexpectedly come around a corner, or I had fallen off. With only one child in the family, dangers could come from anywhere. They were simple affairs, half a fruit box formed the seat, nailed onto a board which ran forward. The back wheels ran under the box and were fixed on an axle, the front wheels were on a piece of wood which was attached to the chassis by a bolt and could therefore rotate around the centre. A piece of rope, like a horse’s bridle, attached just near the front wheels, allowed for steering. There were usually no brakes, the carts being stopped either by pulling around in a tight corner, or putting foot onto front wheel (this was best done if you were wearing sandals, but the tough boys could do it with bare feet, the soles hardened by constant running barefoot everywhere. They needed to be hard too because of the constant risk of treading on double-gees, those triangular shaped burrs, one spike always upwards, that stuck into the foot as if bashed in with a hammer, and left you bleeding when you pulled it out, wincing at the pain).

My grandmother was said to have walked up the hill every day of her life, it was part of the reason she lived, healthily, until she was 92. She would pull a shopping trolley behind her, mercifully light on the way up, heavy on the way back. Before she went she would usually visit her friends. Mrs McQueen (they all called each other Mrs, there were no first names even after 30 years) lived two doors down in a house much like ours, though gloomier if anything, with a big hedge at the front, and more trees, and a grape vine over a shadehouse outside the back door. Their two sons had grown up and left home. Mrs McQueen was a tall, slightly red faced lady with grey hair pulled back into a bun, and big arms, and always seemed to have an apron on. She was very kindly but quite noisy with a booming voice, partly at least because Mr McQueen was totally deaf. He had been a carpenter before he retired, and outside their back door was a proper work shop full of lovingly maintained tools which even then looked vaguely old-fashioned. The floor was covered in wood shavings, because he kept on carpentering until he died, and much of it seemed to involve planing and drilling with brace and bit. He was a nice man, something of a second grandfather to me after Dad died, but his deafness meant that we communicated only in silence and with signs. Mum and Mrs Mac saw each other every day from the time we moved into our house until Mrs Mac died over 40 years later. They would have a cup of tea on either one of the respective kitchen tables and talk about things – probably the family activities, or gossip about the neighbours about whom one did gossip (there were two distinct categories).

Mum would bring back some shopping for Mrs Mac, and vice versa. They both kept chickens and when there was a rooster to have its head chopped off it is said that Mum took her rooster to Mrs Mac to chop its head off and she in turn did Mrs Mac’s roosters. Both unable to do their own.

If Mum was heading up the hill she would then cross over the street and call in to see Mrs Stafford, the other one of the triumvirate. Mrs Stafford was the opposite of Mrs Mac. She was small with black hair until she was much older, small and quiet, her eyes dark, her features fine. I don’t remember Mr Stafford. They also had two sons who had left home, one of whom came to prune our roses, the other had used our garage to store his car all through the war ‘and never offered to pay a penny’. Their house was on a corner and very high up on stilts. It had all of one side as an enclosed verandah with louvres, and a glassy back sun room, so it was a much lighter house, and the garden was fancier. It was one of the gardens I was often called on to water when people were away on holiday.

When you had nearly reached the top of the hill you came to the bottom corner of the school grounds. Originally you could just walk straight into the grounds at the same level, but years, and generations, of running feet, had begun to push the shifting sand down the slope too much. A wall was built, quite high at the bottom end, so the grounds could be levelled and an attempt made to grow grass.

Charlie is my darling
When we left young (just 21) Charlie Young in 1911 he had just been through a major life changing couple of years where he was gravely ill, had failed to buy a cycle shop, had decided to move to Spennymoor (where most of Emma’s family lived) and work in the coal mines, had got married, and was about to formally acquire a much hated stepmother.

The failure to get the cycle shop, and inability for a smart boy with great expectations to continue in education, must have both added to the unpleasantness of going down the mines. Taking a long view though the person who had beaten him to the shop had saved his life, and the mines were to change his lifestyle, and eventually his life totally.

From being a weedy youth in the butcher’s shop, his chest has broadened and upper body strengthened as a result of the back-breaking work in the colliery with pick and shovel. I guess he played cricket as a child, but without much success. He becomes a fearsome fast bowler who achieves some staggering bowling figures playing in the local competition. In Perth, aged in his forties and even fifties he was good enough to bowl in the nets to an aspiring state cricketer. Cricket was one of the great loves of his life.

His other relaxation becomes the Rechabites. He joins because he has to join a friendly society in order to get medical benefit coverage, there being no universal health scheme in 1910. He chooses the Rechabites over all the others because it is a Temperance society and he, like Emma, doesn’t drink, though his reasons for not doing so are now lost. Perhaps it was simply that his mother had brought him up in the Band of Hope and he continued on in honour of her memory.

He becomes Treasurer later on and probably occupies other official posts as well. The Treasurer’s book he inherited dates from December 1908. It shows a society acting to support workers, but also actively involved in providing a social life for the children of the workers.

The early entries are bland, with payments for Christmas cards and stamps, rent for hall (5 shillings) and so on. By the end of 1911 though there are ‘treat to the pictures’ (2s11d), fruit and ‘New Year’s treat’. In 1913 we have the purchase of eggs, fruit and sweets and a football (6d). A gramophone has been purchased and is being paid off quarterly and there are more outings for the children.

In 1914 there begin to be sick benefits. 3s given to ‘sick members under 14 years old’, in 1915 23 days sick pay to Norman Kirtley (15s4d) and they seem to have a paid worker (J.Armstrong) who keeps the books and makes the collections. There is the purchase of ‘fruit for sick members’. By 1917 regular children’s games have begun (and the children receive ‘pennies instead of E. eggs’) – prizes for recitations, prizes for ‘ball stotting’, prizes for ‘Blowing out candle competition’, all of which become regular entertainment,

The year 1917 seems to show an increase in sick members, perhaps a reflection of the effect of the war in this area. March 1918 has the purchase of a pen for ‘CHY’, perhaps the moment when he takes over as Treasurer. It also has ‘contribution to Adults Soldier’s Fund’ and new prizes for ‘Word making’, singing, the ‘Trencher Game’. ‘NW’ takes over later in the year (and gets a pen) when CHY goes to war. September 1919 sees a big outing. A ‘Field Day’ with ‘Ham, cakes etc, tea, milk, sugar, Prizes for sports, butter’.

The book ends in December 1921, perhaps at the time my grandfather handed over to someone else again, other things being on his mind. The attendance at these meetings is huge, a maximum of 161 being recorded in March 1921. Throughout its time the Rechabites acted as health insurance and funeral benefit scheme in the absence of government schemes, and, perhaps as importantly, provided a major social venue for children.

In 1912 Emma has her own child to add to all the others she has looked after in the family, at work, and in the Rechabites. Her son Robert Charles, named for the beloved grandfather, is born on New Year’s Eve 1912. The namesakes share the same birthday, and it is the day Emma’s father died – mixed emotions with which to welcome a New Year in down through the years. In his baby photo Robert Charles doesn’t look pleased to be wearing bulky clothes and to be propped up on a pillow on a cane chair against the back wall of the house.

The war comes but not directly to Charles and Emma. Charles joins the 3rd Durham Light Infantry on 9 December 1915 and is placed in the Reserves. He is in the reserved occupation of mining, he has a young family, and he has had a serious illness. If he had bought the cycle shop he would have been called up in 1915 and would have been very unlikely to survive the butchery of the war.

Emma’s brothers join up, Harry pretending to be older than he is to get in early. Eventually, in early 1918 the war has wasted so many young lives that even people in Charles’ position are dragged in. He sends a card (whose postmark is unclear) when he is on his way to barracks having joined up. It is a postcard ‘For God King and Country’ supplied to soldiers by the ‘YMCA with HM Forces on Active Service’:

Dear E, Just a line to let you know we are at Doncaster and are having a half hours rest and a tea. I will send you my address when I know it when you must write me a long letter, your l.h. ['loving husband'], C.’

It is not clear where Private Charles Young, regimental number 95068, 13th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, serves, although it is probably in northern France. During this time he sends Emma a card – ‘a kiss from France’. It is a plastic card and sitting on it is a paper pansy, with a red white and blue ribbon, hinged on the plastic card with a piece of concertina paper. The idea was that you lifted up the pansy and pulled it aside, pressed your lips to the plastic underneath and then let the pansy sit down again. When it reached the other end Emma could in turn lift up the pansy and put her lips where Charles had placed his. One can imagine her doing it over and over, the card pressed firmly, the tears flowing down. He is somewhere in France and the experience must have been like working in the butcher’s was for him 10 years earlier. He never speaks of it afterwards.

His demobilisation account, paid in three instalments in January 1919 is as follows:
Soldier’s Earnings
Balance [presumably of wages] due to soldier on the date of arrival at Dispersal Station 8s 8d
28 days furlough at 1/- (net rate) £1 8s
28 days ration allowance at 2/1 £2 18s 4
Allowance for plain clothes £2 12s 6d
War gratuity (less £1 payable on return of the military great-coat) £4
Total £11 7s 6d
Stoppages and payments
Advance at Dispersal station £2
Deposited in Post Office Savings Bank £4
Paid by demobilisation postal draft; 13/1 £3, 20/1 £1 10s, 27/1 17s 6d.

As well as his war gratuity Charles brings back just two mementoes of France. One is a purple silk handkerchief, edged in lace. The words Souvenir from France are embroidered in one corner with a posy of flowers which includes a Flanders poppy. Some souvenir seller must have done a roaring trade as the boys went home.

The other was a game or puzzle, an early fore runner of Rubik’s cube. There are five blocks each with sides hand-painted with the flags of the allies Britain, France, Belgium, Japan, and a blue cross representing the Russian ensign. Each block contains one flag which appears twice – the British, Belgian and Russian, but for some mathematical reason the French flag appears twice on two blocks and the Japanese flag never appears twice. The idea, obviously, was to juggle the five blocks until the sides each contain just a single flag. I have never managed to do it. I wonder if Charles played the game in the trenches, and whether he competed with his mates to see who could do it the fastest.

I also wonder whether this was the time Charles took up smoking. Later he was never without a pipe in his mouth.

Emma had become pregnant again, perhaps before Charles was called up (did they talk about him not coming home?) and on the 4 December 1918, three weeks after the end, she gives birth to a second son. He is named Kenneth Richard, after Kenneth Anderson, the first baby she looked after when she left home, and after her father. He must have been a sign of great hope. The war was over, Charles and her brothers had survived, and here was a new beautiful boy. He lived only until 1 April 1920, dying of pneumonia, in these days before antibiotics, when his teeth didn’t cut through the gums properly and the gums became infected. It is said that the teeth did erupt in the days after his death and before he was buried.

They were completely devastated. The doctor said Emma must have another baby immediately, and within three months she was pregnant again. The psychology doesn’t bear thinking about. My mother, simply named Elsie, after the friend Elsie Thornton, was born in 1921. When her much older brother saw her and was told this was his new baby sister he said “No, take her away, I want Kenneth”. Again, the psychology is obvious and would last their lifetimes.

In 1929, Elsie Young, aged 8, is in Class 5 of the Spennymoor Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School and has a card to record her attendance (a * records early attendance, a O records late attendance ‘and counts one half value’ a P mark is for scholars entering 15 minutes after the opening of the school) every Sunday in both morning (10.30am) and afternoon (2pm). Among the notes ‘to scholars’ is the injunction to ‘Pray to God before coming to school, and also on entering your class, asking him to bless the teachers, your fellow-scholars, and yourself, that every Sunday may be a happy and profitable day for all’. The note to parents includes ‘Parents are earnestly requested not to give their children ‘spending’ money on the Lord’s Day, as it tends to encourage Sunday trading.’ Elsie missed only a few days through sickness all year and was always early. Her last day, both morning and afternoon, was the 5th Sunday of September. After that they were packing and moving.

And the family was on its way to Australia, escaping the unhealthy life of a coal mining town in the 1920s. But they escaped into difficult circumstances, as we have seen. Their efforts at Margaret River ended in just over two years. The final straw was the collapse of their bank. I presume they had a loan from the bank, though the financial arrangements are unknown. Perhaps they had some money in the bank and that was lost. The experience scarred them I think, and left them with a hatred and a fear of Australia or at least the Australian bush. In fact they may have come to think that Len’s question about taking bairns to the jungle was fair enough. When I was growing up it was clear that England was a real country, a civilised country, Australia was not. Nothing that was in Australia was any good, I was in no doubt about that.

They walked off the block with nothing, into the full fury of the Depression. All over the south-west, hundreds of other families were doing the same, victims of James Mitchell’s development delusions. They moved to the Perth suburb of Victoria Park, then to Swanbourne into a rented house in Brassey Street. Charles and Robert working for the dole, Emma finding what work she could in looking after children. Desperately short of money all the time.

Things continued on like this through the 1930s, but towards the end of the decade there were some significant changes. Elsie had to leave school in spite of plans and encouragement to enter teacher training, and get work in shops to help support the family (there she is above, first day at work, at front gate of the Brassey Street house). Her boss at one shop was on the Local Council and met Charles when he used to come and meet the teenage girl to ride home with her and protect her. Mr Clarkson thought Charles a nice man and offered him a job as a Council Gardener in September 1936. He was following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps at last. With a job at last they are able to get a house, and they move into Devon Road. At the end of the decade Robert, disillusioned with Australia and the lack of prospects, went back to England.

Moving one way the family had sailed into the Depression, moving the other way Robert sailed into the Second World War, and would be stuck in England for the duration, working in the Coventry factories that attracted the Luftwaffe bomber’s attention night after night.

Charles volunteered for the army in Australia, but at 49 he was told quietly to go away. He had joined the ‘Coastal and E. G. Govt. Water, Sewerage & Drainage Employees’ Industrial Union of Workers’ when he got his job in 1936 (dues 1s per week). He is a member of the ‘Municipal Roads Boards etc Employees Union’ in 1945. He gets an identity card W2M90 5521 on 27 March 1942 (You must carry this Identity Card with you whenever away from your home. The card must be shown, at any time on demand, to any person authorised by law to see it.’

He purchases War Savings Groups Bonds (4s per week, one certificate 16s) at least from October 1942 onwards. He has some kind of accident at work in the first week of August 1944 and is off work for 5 weeks.

He buys an Everyman’s Diary (price 2/3) for 1943 but frustratingly puts almost nothing in it. The diary as well as the usual things like calendar, postal rates (eg ‘Rates of postage on mail matter addressed to members of the Defence Forces, either within or beyond the Commonwealth’. The ordinary letter rate for this was 1d an oz), average travelling time from Perth (Sydney 3 1/2 days), time differences (‘telegraphic time’) in different parts of the world, metric conversions, and ‘help in case of accidents’, also had ‘What to do in an air raid’ (including ‘if incendiary bombs fall’).

The first entry looks promising – Friday 1 January – ‘At work as no holiday allowed’, he obviously thought this was pretty mean spirited. But the only other entry for January is on the 9th when he ‘Received bicycle tyre (this was significant in a time of rubber shortage) Finished Quarterly Accounts and returns’ (ie for the Rechabites). And after that the entries remain sparse.
6 February – [Rechabite] Swimming Carnival Crawley [Baths] – Victory’s victory 35 points (this was a play on the name of the winning tent ‘Victory tent’).
14 February – [Christian] Endeavour Service. Very hot and uncomfortable while playing [the organ]. Had to change clothes after coming home.
20 February – Attended [Rechabite] District Council meeting. Trustees v Ex[ecutive]. Seconded motion which successfully ended trouble and meeting ended happily.
7 March – Went to Armadale with Bill [who was on leave between 25 Feb and 19 March after returning from New Guinea], Elsie and Mum. Very Hot. [Armadale was where the Vellender family, also Salvation Army nominees who had come out on the Vedic, lived. They remained firm friends for many years with a number of families they met on the boat].
14 March very Hot and humidity terribly high. Got very bad headache and backache
15 March – off work sick
16 March – Off sick. Got cable from Robert [in Coventry] better news [presumably there had been earlier reports of bombing].
Up until 15 May there are just the occasional records of meetings and other Rechabite business, but then we have -
15 May – E. went to Fremantle Hospital
She was 55 and she was having problems that led to a hysterectomy.
Then follow a couple more items of Rechabite business and some surprisingly empty pages. Then:
30 May [Sunday] – [Rechabite] Tent Annual Service. Good attendance and great address by Rev Phillips. Solo by Elsie.
31 May – Lantern lecture and social. Small attendance but went well.
1 June – Went to hospital
2 June – Went to hospital
3 June – Went to hospital. E. rather despondent
4 June – E had operation. Rang up at 6. Reply satisfactory. Did not go to hospital. Very wet morning. Got soaked.
11 June – Basic wage increased 4d. Now £4-19-1
5 July – Went to church after month’s abscense [sic]. Mr Elms.
After that there are just two more minor notes of Rechabite business for the rest of the year. A miserly feast on which to make something of a man.

He is still paying off the operation a long time afterwards. He paid a pound at a time to Fremantle Hospital on 3/8/44, 12/10/44, 15/3/45, 12/4/45, and 24/5/45. These were simply the receipts he kept for the tax man for the year 44-45. Presumably he had paid at a similar rate in the previous year and possibly in the following year. It was a lot of money on a basic wage of £4-19-1 a week, and a reminder of what life is like without a Medicare scheme to cover all its citizens.

In June 1945 Australia, with Japan still at war, was still operating under the National Security (General) Regulations, for example the ‘Control of Cycle Tyres and Cycle Tubes Order’. You had to apply for an ‘Essential User’s Certificate’ demonstrating that you needed a bicycle for work. Charles filled in the form on 21 June declaring that he was an ‘essential user’ for the following reason ‘Proceeding to place of employment and for use during employment’, and asked for the right to purchase one tube size 28 by 1 and 3/8 (inches). On ‘receipt of such articles’ he agreed to return a tube ‘of the same size which is unsuitable for further service’. He noted his occupation as ‘Council Employee’ and his boss had to sign to say that yes he did need a bicycle to work.

Not only was Charles riding several miles to report to work in Claremont (the neighbouring suburb to Swanbourne) but he was responsible for gardening work in a number of public parks spread over the whole Council area, and there was no way he could have done his job without the bicycle.

The war is nearly over when Charles acquires a son in law and a pregnant daughter. But this man who has had such a difficult life has yet more difficulties to face. A grandson was born, me, and his son in law came back from the war. Briefly, and was then gone again, permanently, which meant that Emma (and Charles) had yet another child to care for, 50 years after she cared for the first ones.

My mother worked in shops and then department stores. Emma also began doing some work casually in the local greengrocer’s shop. Charles read to me and put me on the stool beside him when he played the organ at church. He also had a piano, acquired during the war by Emma who saved pennies and shillings until she could afford it.

Robert came home after the war too, but this was also not a homecoming of unmixed happiness. He came not alone, as he had left, but with a wife, a divorcee with 6 children several of whom were teenagers. The wife was appalling, the marriage disastrous, and it would not be long before it ended. But in the meantime relationships were unpleasant, the situation impossible. This is not my story to tell, but it was perhaps a last straw for Charles on top of the problems with Bill Horton.

Charles is sick and off work early in 1952. He goes back to work too soon, it seems, and runs foul of K.G. Somers, the voice of the bureaucrat through the ages – “Due to the fact that you returned to work on 11/2/52 you have been overpaid benefit amounting to 7/6d. This overpayment is recoverable and you are requested to refund the sum of 7/6d to the Collector of Public Moneys … at your earliest convenience”.

Quarterly Notice I.O.R. [Independent Order of Rechabites]
Sister Mrs Horton
Jubilee Tent
You are requested to attend the Quarterly meeting of your Tent to be held on June 16th 1952
C. H. Young, Secretary

This routine notice, of the kind he must have signed hundreds, perhaps thousands of times over almost 40 years, is probably the last time he signed anything. He would not be at the meeting himself, possibly the first meeting of its kind he had not attended in 40 years except when away at war, and would never attend another.

There is a photograph taken around this time of Emma and Charles at a Rechabite’s Dinner. It is heartbreaking to look at even after all this time. Emma is looking sideways at him, her lips slightly parted, with an expression of agonised concern. There is something about him that is wrong. He has lit his pipe and he is looking downward so that his eyes appear hooded, almost closed. He looks unhappy and unwell, and Emma knows it. Perhaps his colour is wrong, already a bit jaundiced, perhaps he is sweating a little, perhaps his expression implies that he has a pain in the abdomen, perhaps he has grunted softly. It is the last photo that will ever be taken of these two together, who have been together for 45 years, he already has the hepatitis that will take him away from her in a few short weeks.

From: David Horton
To: Charles Young
16 June 1952
Dear dad, I hope you are well. And I have some new football boots. I have now joined a football club. And please come home. I hope you are getting better. And I will be coming to see you. I will be having my exams soon. I am learning a song this is it – Do you ken john peel with his coat of grey, Do you ken john peel at the break of day, do you ken john peel when hes far far away with his hounds and horns in the morning. Im saying my prays. God bless you. Love from David. Xxxxxxxxxxxx

I went to see him in hospital, on his deathbed, nurses being rude (calling him ‘Pop’. ‘My name is Mr Young’ he said, maintaining his dignity while dying, ‘the only person who can call me “pop” is my son’) to the working class man, but can’t remember seeing him, though I try and try.

He died on the 6 July. On the day of the funeral, unknowing, I was sent to stay with friends of the family (and the local barbers, husband and wife, the McLaughlins) for the night. I can picture sleeping, strangely, for the first time away from my bed, on a couch in their lounge room. It was a new house, which also made it strange, and very clean and shiny and unlived in, all very unlike my old house. I had corn flakes with cold milk for breakfast at a shiny new kitchen table, all very unlike home too. I can’t remember going home, or what I was told, or what I asked. Life had changed, but what it changed into is all I can really remember. It is one of those times when being able to go back and have a look, and understand what was really going on, and tell your young self what to do and think (and how to write a better last letter, I still wince when I read the words of “John Peel”, added, I am sure, because I wanted to make it fill a page, and didn’t know what else to say. I would now), seems very appealing. Perhaps the reality of doing so would drive us mad.

His funeral notice said ‘Loving memories always of our wonderful husband, father and grandfather. Years may go but memories stay, As near and dear as yesterday’. Exactly 2 months later, I guess when she could face doing it, my grandmother wrote me a letter. It purported to come from my grandfather, but was in her words, and I don’t know how much of it represented what he had actually said in those grim last few days, and how much was my grandmother’s interpretation of what he would have wished to say:

‘To my grandson David Robert Horton with love from his beloved Grandad Late Charles Henry Young. Dear David I leave you this watch and chain. Hoping in all your life to come, you will try and live your life according to your Grandad’s standard of honour. Remember to never touch strong drink and never lie about anything whatever the provocation might be. Do all you can in trying to help others and always remember that right always triumphs over wrong. Look after your mother and always do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Then you will please our Dad and he will always know that his early teaching to do right was not in vain. He loved you so much David. Please try to do all I say, with all my love. Your Loving Grandmother Emma Young’

That word ‘Late’ must have been the hardest word she ever wrote. The ‘standard of honour’ was tough but fair. I’ve given all of it my best shot except the strong drink. The pocket watch is a treasured possession. Dad is wearing it in his wedding photo. Had been given it by his father a few months before for his 21st. I inherited the watch in turn when I was only seven, my grandfather didn’t live to see me turn 21 and pass it on himself. My grandfather had worn it to his wedding, proudly, and I would have it in my pocket for important occasions (I had it in my pocket when my Encyclopaedia was launched by the Prime Minister, had it there when I was presented with the Premier’s Literary award by the NSW Premier) The watch had been passed on to me like a baton, but what inheritance came with it?

Fathers and grandfathers come and go through the years and centuries. Some are saints and some are ogres. Some are much loved and some are much hated. All spend some time as a major figure in the little world of their family and then are gone, lamented or unlamented, their places taken by other young men in their turn.

After my grandfather died there were probably times, over the next thirty years, when we could have scrimped and saved enough to get my grandmother to England for a trip. We would say she should go, as the remaining Evans family members gradually died, and old friends from Spennymoor days. But she wouldn’t go. Couldn’t go. Her beloved Charles was buried in Australian soil, and if she went to England who could know that she wouldn’t die over there and then have to be buried on the other side of the world. So she stayed. Waiting for thirty years to be buried with Charles under Australian skies.

He was a good man, Charles Henry Young. There was scarcely a period of more than a couple of years, in the 52 years from the age of ten, when he didn’t experience some great tragedy, some enormous personal difficulty, some awful event, some terrible disappointment, and through it all he remained calm and thoughtful and a gentleman to his bootstraps, as Emma later described him. My father said that when he knew him he often couldn’t afford tobacco for his pipe and would just clench it in his mouth unlit. It would be nice, time travel permitting, to buy a big packet of McBaren’s pipe tobacco, tiptoe across to where he was working and slip it into his tobacco pouch. And then watch as he reached into his pocket, when he sat down to lunch, and discovered that his tobacco pouch was full.


Canst boy read?
I remember little of my grandfather, and this has been one of my great regrets. He was one of the family who encouraged me to read, and used to lie on the couch with me, home from work and perhaps sweaty, his working clothes still on, my head on his shoulder, reading to me and I guess teaching me words. I don’t remember this, but can remember remembering for a long time, trying to hold on to the memory of him but slowly losing it. I called him Dad, which was what my mother called him, and I, having no one else to call Dad, followed her lead. I guess that he probably saw me as a son, or perhaps as a kind of return of his own fair haired second son Kenneth who had died as a baby.

So what was Charles reading to his grandson while lying on the couch? The earliest book was probably ‘Curly Kitten’ who was ‘never still; here and there he skips and plays’. Curly has many adventures, including climbing a monkey-puzzle tree and having to be rescued. The monkey-puzzle tree has fascinated me ever since, in my mind I think a tree like a vertical maze, where you could get lost or stuck, rather than one you could climb easily.

Possibly the next, for Christmas 1948, was ‘The Runaway’, the story of a pet rabbit who escapes and joins the wild rabbits in the woodland – ‘Down the hill and through the woodland scampered Sandy free at last, thought no more of Little Michael, and his rabbit-hutchy past!’ The same Christmas brought, extraordinarily, ‘Black Beauty’ a present from Mrs Ness. It had originally been a present to Edna Ness in 1931, and Edna having outgrown it, the book was passed on to me. Edna was the first person (then about 10 years old) my 8 year old mother met at Margaret River, the Nesses living nearby. They were friends until Edna died at a very young age.

A favourite in 1948 or 1949 was ‘The Rupert Book’ and my grandmother could remember my grandfather reading this one to me. The Rupert books were strange in having a picture, a couplet of poetry underneath, and underneath that two paragraphs of prose which gave the story in more detail. ‘The little bear gets quite a fright, when cheeky Jack Frost pops in sight’. ‘As Rupert rounds the tree he pulls up with a start, “Good Gracious, who are you?” gasps the little bear. “Wait a minute, I’ve seen you before! Aren’t you Jack Frost?”‘ And so on.

The alternating picture, prose and poetry was designed to let the reader choose what level was most appropriate for the child being read to. But when I read it myself, the prose and poetry gave a strange feeling of being able to jump from one to another, both telling the same story but in different ways, and the mind make a jump as well. I couldn’t choose which one I liked the best, both were equally valid tellings of the story, and I would be forced endlessly backwards and forwards between them. At some point about here, early, I learnt to read for myself, and one day when my grandfather came to read to me he was told I could read for myself. ‘Cans’t boy read?’ he said, astonished, and perhaps dismayed. But I enjoyed him reading to me anyway, and would have enjoyed it even more, made more of it, could I have seen the future.

Dozens of other books followed. ‘The Stories of King Arthur’ came from a friend of my grandparents in England for Christmas 1951 for example, ‘In the long, long ago, there were many small kings reigning over different parts of Britain. The greatest was named Uther Pendragon’.

A favourite in February 1952 was ‘The Old Oak Paddock’ a wonderful idyll of English farm life ‘Jinny stood there perfectly still, remembering things, whilst cocks crowed, and dogs barked, and the moon moved slowly towards Mr Wigg’s chimneys’. It deserves to be a classic work of children’s literature, if it isn’t, but for me it was just a much loved work to be read many times. It gained, perhaps even more than it might have done, a place in my mental furniture, coming, as it did, the year my grandfather died.

A miniature world
Primary school was, in a street of mainly weatherboard houses, a brick building. There was originally just a single line of classrooms along a corridor. Later a wing was added at one end to form an L shape, and there were two separate weatherboard classrooms at the opposite end, each a small building not attached to each other or the main building. Together the three parts enclosed a courtyard which was bituminised, and had a wall at the bottom end and a drinking trough with a row of taps, separating it from the sandy part of the yard.

For some architectural reason part of the school building that lined a section of the top of the courtyard was a high plain brick wall with no windows. There was a sloping ledge about a metre off the ground where the bricks sloped out and then down (I guess at this point the foundations started with a double row of bricks). The combination was irresistible, and a never-ending game was for a group of boys to try to catch a tennis ball flung hard against the bricks, either as high as possible (the higher the greater the status) on the wall, or flung, after charging at the wall, against the ledge so that the ball would bounce upwards. A pack of boys would try to leap to catch it, the only reward being to be the next one to throw. The game was effective training for Australian rules football, but it was really just a game to demonstrate strength, height and agility to your peers. If you were small and weak like me then you were one of the boys who tried to guess where the ball would go if no one in the pack marked it and it flew off their out-stretched hands, and gather up the crumbs in triumph for a rare throw at the wall.

The rest of the boy’s playground was the sloping sand. At the top was the concrete cricket pitch, and you could see how much the sand had eroded away because the concrete slab now perched on top of the ground, and you had to step up to it and down from it to bowl or run. It formed a play focus probably all the year round. In the middle of this area, near the cricket pitch, was a huge old Moreton Bay fig. This was another play focus. You could sit underneath it on the buttressing roots, also protruding more and more as the sand drifted down the hill. There were the small oval shaped figs to pick up and throw at each other. There were also the shoots, tightly coiled leaves from which you could remove the central bud and leave behind a leaf whistle. It was good for a few moment’s amusement, and a compulsive activity, but must have devastated the tree. In the shade of the tree was where the marble games were played in season. Triangles and circles drawn everywhere, being careful who to play with, trying to find your own level where there was a chance of winning, and avoid the hard eyed, hard knuckled boys who could shoot the marbles like lightning, and behave like pool hustlers.

Further over still were some steel structures, primitive climbing frames. You could struggle along the one that was like a ladder supported by two other ladders. The idea was to go from rung to rung swinging along one hand to the next. The big strong boys could go from one end to the other missing every second rung. Exceptionally, and only for the top boys, was the chance to go across missing two rungs at a time. If you tried to go across and couldn’t make it you couldn’t hold up the procession, or get in the way of a record attempt, but had to drop down to the ground ingloriously and run around to the queue to try again.

Further over still was the lunchroom, though this shed, open on one side, and with wooden seats all the way around the other three walls, and another seat in the middle, was more play room than lunch room. The games were simple, and just involved running around on the seats and jumping from one to the other. Below that was the boys’ toilet block. It was another brick building with a long urinal where you competed to see who could piss the highest and longest.

Below the toilet block was a fenced off area where access was forbidden. I guess now that it was a kind of sump where water running off from the school was allowed to collect and soak away, or perhaps it was an area with a natural spring. It was full of trees, and every so often someone would manage to remove a picket and we could squeeze through, greatly in awe of our own daring but wondering why we had bothered. You could stare down into the pit for a while, then there was nothing else to do but squeeze out again.

Just outside the fence was a patch of shrubs or stunted trees, perhaps ti trees or something similar. They had been broken down by boys over many years, and now formed a kind of platform that you could sit on, or a roof over a maze you could crawl through, or a hiding place during games. This whole area between shrubs and fig tree was the site for running and brutal games. The most popular was brandy, so called because the aim was to brand people with a tennis ball flung at close range. Someone began with the ball and the others scattered. Each person branded in turn became a kind of posse, helping to catch others and have them branded while held. It was brutal and was a kind of continuous game all the year round, kids drifting in and out of it. It was all reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.

One day during one of these games someone was hit by a stone thrown by someone unknown. For some reason, perhaps simply that the stone had come from my general direction, suspicion turned to me. Perhaps suspicion had been deliberately turned to me. I was called out of class to the headmaster’s office and left to wait outside. There was only one outcome from waiting outside that office, you were caned, the only question being how many ‘cuts’ you received. I wasn’t guilty and I wasn’t having this, so I went home. Mum came back to the school with me, outraged, I suspect, that her little boy was being falsely accused, she would give that Bart Northam a piece of her mind. I can still remember my alibi – at the time the stone was thrown I was lying on the ground having been knocked down or tripped and therefore couldn’t possibly have thrown a stone. The headmaster, presumably impressed by my bush lawyer work, or my boldness in going home, or my evident distress, dismissed the charge.

The girls’ playground, on the southern side of the school was a much more civilised place than the boys’ zoo. There was a bitumen area but it was marked out for netball. There was a grassed area where softball (not hard ball) was played, there were trees for shade, a lunch room that was used for sitting and eating lunches, and a toilet that didn’t smell of piss. On its eastern boundary, built during my last year, was the school hall. While it was being built we could sit inside, legs dangling between the beams that would hold the floor. It would hold a tuckshop too, where you could buy ‘Oslo lunches’ new fad for healthy young Australian bodies, to go with the free school milk that had built healthy bones (though not, unfortunately, teeth). But I usually had to run home for lunch anyway, perhaps to save me from the savagery.

You were not permitted in the girls’ playground except on official occasions, the dividing line at the back of the school marked by the school bell. It was a wooden post, two steps at the base and a chain hanging down. There was much competition, and much room for favouritism, to be allowed to ring the bell to mark every period and break in the school day. Occasionally, very occasionally, some kind of strictly supervised sporting competition would be organised, boys versus girls at softball for example, and then a class of boys would get to walk around the corner into this foreign land.

It was also the foreign land where the school fete was held each year, and we would stroll around the stalls and chocolate wheels with this strange feeling of trespass. The fete too was an open day, and all the kid’s work was pinned up around the walls of each classroom for doting parents to admire. Much of it was penmanship, pages of beautifully written lines of As and as and Bs and bs and so on, a grid of three lines providing the framework for each line. The works done with a pen with an open nib, dipped into ink wells in the top corner of each desk in a way that would have been familiar to Dickens 100 years earlier. My writing was so unkempt that it was never included among these displays of the calligraphic art. ‘Get the boy a fountain pen’ said one exasperated teacher in a school report in high school, annoying my mother greatly because she had somehow managed to find the money for a fountain pen some months earlier, and all the writing complained about had been done with it.

I had attended a local kindergarten (a grand name for what was a private playschool operation by a married woman, run in her garage), before attending primary school (which, curiously, my mother had also attended, there was still the feel of a village about Perth in the 1940s and 1950s). Having learnt a great deal at home (including an encouragement of reading to the extent that I was soon reading many books a week; and a love of animals and nature. I was also taught to write, and my very first piece of writing is below. Typically on the back my mother has written “David did this all by himself. I just told him what letters to do. Not bad for a four year old is he?” Very important not only to teach the actual work, but to encourage self-esteem. I hope one day, as I write my last piece, people will say – “Not bad for a 84 year old, is he?”), I was given what would now be called accelerated development, not skipping classes, but completing the work fast, doing the necessary tests, then proceeding to the next class. The result seems to have been that I completed 3 years work in 2 years, then managed to maintain the position of being a year younger than the rest of my class at each level. I therefore reached High School at 11.

My first day in the kindergarten class of primary school was frightening. For some reason the enrolments, if that is what they were, were being held at the Methodist Church, and I still have an image of walking up the wooden ramp to the back porch of the church and being confronted by some fierce teacher.

There is not much memory of learning at primary school, though there are strong images of playing. The sequence of classrooms ran from kindergarten classes in the wooden huts on the eastern side, through the central core, with the senior classes in the new wing. I spent little time in the huts, because these were the two classes I completed quickly. I have a vague memory of being in the rooms and doing some kind of work, perhaps a series of tests, and then I was out and into the main building (and above I am on my way, there peeping out in the top right hand corner, already in grade 2). There the ceilings and windows were high and the rooms gloomy. It was said that if the temperature reached 105 degrees everyone could go home, but either the thermometer in Mr Northam’s office was broken or he didn’t have one, because on even the hottest days we stayed and worked.

I can only remember three teachers apart from Primary. Tom Ryan had been a school friend of my mothers. I see him as a tall gloomy quiet man who though stern liked me, perhaps for my mother’s sake. The other was a Mr King who was frustrated when he couldn’t get the class to pay attention. He would pace around the room, asking questions, or observing set work. If he saw a boy doing the wrong thing he would grab him by the hair on the side of the head and pull firmly to get attention. It would certainly wake them up. Colin Benporath who we called Pugwash, I guess from similarity of looks, though I hadn’t read Captain Pugwash, was either particularly inattentive, or his kind of spiky hair came out readily, because by the end of the year he had a bald patch where the hair had been removed like the bald spot on a monk. But third and best was Harry Creeper who I had for two years in a row, years 2 and 3 I think, critical years in the middle of your primary school development. Harry was a quiet gentleman, never raised his voice, never pulled hair. He obviously liked me, saw my potential perhaps, encouraged me. Gave my school life, indeed my life, a boost, got me going. Good fellow, thank you Harry.

My world was in three parts. The classroom world, where I can remember almost nothing, but must have learnt something, seems to drift by me shrouded in darkness. The outside playground world is full of light and colour and movement and images. Perhaps I learnt more being outside than being in.

I don’t think I was either popular or unpopular in primary school – I doubt that many of my fellow students would have any memory of my existence. The two enormous disadvantages I had were my age and my family circumstances. It didn’t matter what I did, or how many times I ran around the clothes line, or hit a ball against a water tank, or threw a ball against the toilet door to practice marking, I was always a year younger and a year smaller and weaker. I would never be picked other than last on a team, or achieve anything on a team to make me be picked sooner next time. No matter what I did I was never going to be one of the sporting heroes of the school and there were no other kind.

My other disadvantage was the lack of a father, a very uncommon thing in those days, and my consequent family home. I called Mum Mum, because my mother did and by analogy with Dad, but this just left Mummy for my real mother, and no boy has ever called his mother Mummy. My grandmother worked some afternoons in the greengrocer’s and I would go there after school and then come home with her. There really wasn’t much opportunity to bring friends home, and if I had it would have been embarrassing with a grandmother instead of a mother as hostess, and in an old home, when all my classmates seemed to live in new homes.

So almost no socialising at home, but occasional socialising in the park, safe neutral ground. In any case, although I was ostensibly seen as one of the mob, in fact I was a year less sophisticated than my classmates, as well as the physical shortfall. Playing with me would have been like playing with kids from the next lower class, and this was beneath everyone’s dignity. On the other hand I was too mature to play with my own age group, having completed a year’s more schooling, and apparently being part of the older boys network. So it was a no win situation and with rare exceptions I remember little contact with other boys outside school.

A final problem I had was the after effects of measles. I had a severe dose of measles when I was 6 or 7, and it left me with punctured eardrum and partial deafness for the rest of my life. The deafness was worst in group situations or inside, though it took a long time for me to realise the extent of it. As a result I would give the wrong answers to questions or responses to comments, and probably was seen as having an air of not paying attention or being slightly removed, perhaps even of trying to be superior, none of them attributes likely to result in popularity.

The ear problem had another very damaging effect. The doctor had given strict instructions that I was not to get water into the ear that had been punctured because it could lead to infection. This almost totally prevented swimming, or rather, it permitted swimming only while wearing a girl’s bathing cap to cover my ears, which amounted to the same thing. It prevented learning to swim properly, if only because I had to keep my head out of the water while swimming, swimming carnivals, and the beach (except on rare occasions). I was insulated from the water and as a result insulated from the major sporting and social activity of West Australian boys during the years when these activities were essential if you were to have a social life.

The third world was then the world of imagination and imaginary play. I consumed enormous quantities of books (at least some involving the kind of school life, or group life, I wasn’t having). Much if not all of it was books about England – Biggles, Secret Seven and Famous Five, the William stories, school stories like Fifth form at St Dominics and Jennings goes to school. Adventure Stories like Coral Island. And endless English boys magazines – Boys Own Paper, Champion, But also some better things in the same classes- Treasure Island, Two Years before the Mast, Children of the New Forest, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, The Secret Garden. Books to fantasise about group identity, about belonging – belonging to the fifth form, the Camel squadron, the Five, the Rovers, the first eleven, the crew, the cavaliers.

The Boys Own Paper I saw I think as a teenager’s magazine rather than a children’s one, and it became the favourite. It was packed full of information as well as stories, humour, letters, adverts, careers, travel. The first I have is April 1955, perhaps they began to be sent for my tenth birthday. It cost 1 shilling. Advertisements included a merchant navy cadet course, a bicycle pump, chest expander (‘You will notice that each handle has three loops. This enables you to add one or even two extra springs as your strength increases’ – they knew the fantasies of their audience), toffees, camping tents, bicycles, bicycles, bicycles, bicycle parts, model railways, air rifles, chemistry kits. There was an article on gliding (‘The “Silent Sport” grows more popular every week’), ‘My friends the hawks’, the Vienna Boy’s Choir, the new movie ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’, the two Nottingham soccer teams, the British rugby team, the night sky in April (‘April is not a good month for observing the planets’), ‘Boys build a racing car’. ‘Overhauling a free wheel’, and stamps. There were several adventure and school stories, a crossword and a competition. Readers recorded as competition winners in this issue came from Malaya, South Africa, Singapore, Ireland, USA, Northern Rhodesia, Kenya, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Jamaica and Southern Rhodesia as well as all over Britain. You could let your mind roam to all parts of the world, and imagine yourself undertaking a huge range of sports, hobbies and occupations.

The garden was the world of imagination too. Get down close enough to the ground and the garden is finely textured, a miniature world. The grass is jungle, the plants are trees, every bump a hill, every depression a creek bed. I played battles with soldiers endlessly, and car races. Never cowboys and indians, which hadn’t caught my imagination. They weren’t English, and all of my reading and games, ultimately, were.

My first sporting memory is of listening to test cricket around 1950. But I wasn’t willing Australia on to win, I was a little English supporter, and my heroes were Hutton and Compton and Edrich and Washbrook and Evans and Truman, and later Lock and Laker, Tyson and Statham, and Cowdrey and May. My football was soccer, my team was Manchester United. I spoke with an English accent, indeed a Yorkshire accent, before going to school and hearing other voices.

At home the talk was of life in England. That great love letter to England, a set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedias, was bought for me at great expense, and I learnt the flowers and birds and cathedrals and counties and stories of English heroes long before I knew anything of the comparable facts about Australia.

My father’s little sister had maintained contact with us, uniquely among my father’s family, from the time I was born. Whether she felt bad that her long lost brother had left us, or was simply delighted to have an Australian cousin for her own two children (who were a little older) I don’t know. But birthday and Christmas presents continued to arrive and were much anticipated. They were Dinky Toys and parts for Hornby Dublo trains, and farm animals. A soap in the shape of the puppet Archie Andrews (‘Peter Brough’s Archie Andrews’) arrived, carefully wrapped in a box. There was the Champion Annual or copies of Hotspur or Tiger. My first wristwatch was an English one from Aunty Ruby. The letters came, with the latest doings of Graham and Christine, And there were Mars Bars and Fry’s Chocolate and English sweets.

It all helped to maintain the sense that we were a family in exile, and that I had been born, unaccountably, and by accident, in the wrong country. One day I would return like Bonnie Prince Charlie to take my rightful place in a civilised land. In the meantime I had to get on with growing up and going to school, preparing for the return of the native.

My last year at primary school was 1956. Was there a growing sense of excitement as the year proceeded or a sense of fear? It was the last year of childhood, the last year of being safe in a little self-contained world. The primary school was just up the hill. To reach it I walked just a few hundred yards past houses which had always been there, in which lived people I had known, or known of, all my life. All of the children at school were actually or potentially known by me. My mother and grandmother knew their parents and perhaps grandparents, knew where they lived, knew their histories. I had seen them at Rechabites or in Sunday School, they had been to my birthday parties and I to theirs. Even the teachers were well known and had been to school with my mother or taught her. There were no surprises. High school was going to be different – full of strange kids and strange teachers from strange places.

There would probably be strange new subjects and strange new ideas too. Primary School was cozy, with lessons that matched what I was reading at home. Almost all the history for example seemed to be British history of Kings and Queens and Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake and 1066 and burnt cakes. There was almost no Australian history that I remember, and what there was related to the west, not the east. Related to European discovery of Australia not its pre-European past, and to development not to conservation. William Dampier and Dirk Hartog then (not James Cook and Arthur Phillip neither of whose names I remember hearing at school), and C.Y. O’Connor and Alexander Forrest. And nothing, absolutely nothing about Aborigines, except perhaps the occasional story of brave settlers resisting savages who attacked their lonely cabins in the bush.

For Christmas 1956 I received the only book from my childhood that did relate to Australia in any significant way. It was the ABC’s Children’s Hour Annual Number 1. All of us listened to the Children’s Hour of course, and most of us were Argonauts, though I am ashamed to say I have forgotten my ship’s name and oar number. Charles Moses, in his Foreword hoped I ‘will keep this book for many years, not only for itself, but because it will remind you of your friends in the Children’s Hour’. I have, and it does, a bit, with its pictures of Jimmy and Gina, Mac and the Melody Man. But I realised, as I turned the pages, after keeping the book for 45 years, that nothing jumped out at me as familiar, and I suspect I hardly read it. I am not sure why, but maybe the Australian content put me off (though there was certainly a great deal of non-Australian content) and maybe I was starting to feel a bit too grown up for the show.

Among things of interest were the preparations for the Melbourne Olympics (‘We wish [the Australian team] and all of their fellow competitors – GOOD LUCK’]. Another intriguing article records how ‘Professor Milgate … told us about the proposed Chair of Australian Literature … at the University of Sydney … we learned what an important thing this was and how it was hoped to make it possible by means of money being raised by public subscription. Professor Milgate ended his talk with these words: “I hope many people will see why those of us who are interested in Australian Literature are so excited about this plan to have a Chair established. It is a great step in the recognition and development of our culture. I am sure that many thousands of Australians will help us to achieve our purpose, and I know all Argonauts will tell people what we are trying to do and will be interested in how we get on. I think we’ll succeed and I’m pretty sure that there are some Argonauthors listening to us now whose work will one day be studied by the University. Why not?”‘ You couldn’t say the Children’s Hour underestimated its audience. I don’t know if I read these words in 1956, and if I did the concept of having a ‘Chair established’ can have meant absolutely nothing, nor could I have asked anyone I knew what the words might mean. But the idea of having my work studied might have struck a chord, whether I knew what a university was or not.

Of personal interest is some of the names I discovered in the book. Names that meant absolutely nothing to me then, but were to have some significance later. Allen Keast, then at the Australian Museum had a description of a museum field trip to the north west. Much later I would study Allen’s other work and write academic papers referring to it and extending it. Allen became a professor (took up a Chair) in Canada, and in 1973 was one of the examiners for my PhD thesis in biogeography. I met him in the Australian Museum and he said I was unlucky in graduating in the 1970s, because when he graduated there were so few Australian graduates in biology ‘if you could sign your name you would get a Chair’. He couldn’t help me find a job.

In one of the articles on frogs, there is extensive discussion of the work of ‘Mr John Calaby’. When we came back to Australia in 1974 John was one of the first people we met. He helped me enormously in my work on animal bones from archaeological sites over many years, and I was to dedicate one of my books to him.

G. K. (Ken) Saunders wrote a story (‘Mariners on the Mountains’) in the book. Forty years later when I was head of Aboriginal Studies Press he came to me with a book manuscript with an Aboriginal theme which became the first book for teenagers published by Aboriginal Studies Press. People’s lives weave in and out and touch in strange ways.

Water only
Emma Evans once saw, in another of the grand houses (home of a doctor) where she worked, a drunken woman, the lady of the house, and it was to mark her, an eleven year old girl, psychologically for life. The woman was Mrs Anderson (mother of Winnie), and Emma had been so impressed with this family (including the little boy Kenneth that she was looking after as a “playmate”), that she would later name her second son Kenneth.

One of her jobs had been to get Mrs Anderson’s “medicine”. One day when she got back with it, Mrs Anderson came lurching out of the dining room, staggering drunk and grabbing for the bottle, which was obviously alcohol. Emma was so horrified by the shock of seeing this great lady drunk and lurching and desperate for the next shot of brandy, that she was never to drink alcohol throughout her long life, she was to have her children also swear off it, and she was to have us all join one of the institutions of the temperance world – the Independent Order of Rechabites.

Charles also had a history in the Temperance movement, his mother being a leading light in ‘The Band of Hope’ in England. He had been treasurer for the Rechabites (Motto – ‘We will drink no wine’) in England.

It was a strange movement, named after Rechab, an otherwise unknown figure of the Old Testament – ‘We shall drink no wine, for Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons, forever’ (Jeremiah 35.6). It was organised into ‘tents’ (as in tents in the desert of the Middle East), or lodges, each with an inspiring name ‘Jubilee Tent’ ‘Victory Tent’ for example. The tents were based in suburbs, and many suburbs in Perth had one, and they were grouped into districts. Each tent had an adult branch and a juvenile one, and my membership of the local juvenile tent had been ordained at birth, with my grandparents staunch members and leading office bearers. The members called each other Brother and Sister – Brother Young, Sister Young.

The office bearers had some odd titles, Guardian, Levite, Deputy Chief Ruler, Chief Ruler, Past Chief Ruler, based on the Bible. An adult Superintendent provided overall supervision of the children’s meetings. The officers sat in prescribed places in the hall, the ordinary members sitting around the edge. One was a doorkeeper, another sat in the middle, one on one side, and three at a table. The table was covered in a ceremonial cloth, the name and number (numbers like 123 showed the size of the movement) of the tent on it. Each office holder wore ceremonial regalia, a kind of necklace sash which went around the neck and hung down the front, with the name of the office on it. Something similar is now mainly seen in the Northern Ireland Orange Order lodge sashes.

You moved through the offices in strict sequence, starting at the door (the doorkeeper’s role was to admit new members and show them on to the next office bearer and so on), and the sash was placed over the head by the previous occupier of the position. In the junior lodge the idea was presumably that you would move through the sequence in say 6 years and then join the adult lodge, but few people did this by the time I was a child, if they ever had.

There was a meeting during which a pledge of abstinence was spoken in unison (as if at a wedding. The pledge I hadn’t thought of in 40 years, though once it was a fixture of the furniture of my brain. Reading it again now brings back the sound of the meeting like nothing else, and I remember exactly the places where the Chief Ruler paused for the members to repeat the words: ‘I promise to abstain’ ‘I promise to abstain’ ‘from all Intoxicating liquors’ ‘from all Intoxicating liquors’, from all home made wines | from all other wines | and to do all I can | to promote total abstinence | to ‘abide by the Rules | to obey the officers | and ever strive to be | a faithful Rechabite’. The words ‘a faithful Rechabite’ were always the loudest). Formal meeting proceedings were held (the 1948 book of General Laws for the Western Australian District records 243 laws. dealing with the procedures of meetings and the running of the Tent generally. There were constant revisions – in his copy of the 72 page book Charles Henry had carefully pasted in dozens of revisions over the top of the revised laws, in some cases just a two lines of fine print – ‘Law 113 page 27 in line two delete the word “the” and insert in lieu thereof the word “a”‘). The Rechabites were supposed to be non-religious and non-denominational, but our meetings were held in the Methodist church, and I think most of our members were probably Methodists, it being as hard to imagine teetotal Catholics and Anglicans as it was to imagine a drunken Methodist.

After the meeting there were games, the big attraction for children for whom there were few entertainments available. The adults also had a game, shared with the kids, carpet bowls. After the meetings the table and chairs were pushed back and a bowls carpet with markings rolled out. The box of balls were opened and the kitty placed on the spot. The rules were the same as lawn bowls, that is the aim being to get your team’s ball closest to the kitty, and then as many other balls from your team as possible before the first of the opponents. The difference was in the smaller size of the bowls, in proportion to the length of the carpet, and that the narrow width made it impossible to make so much use of bias to curve the ball. Games were hard fought. The adults had a league of home and away games. The kids I think had tournaments one or more times a year. Home and away games were significant because the home floor, particularly in a rickety old building like our church, was a big advantage, the ball sometimes taking strange deviations as it went over a bump or hollow or loose board. Many a game has been won or lost for want of a nail.

When I was a young teenager I was allowed to play in the adult team occasionally. This was a big event. You got to ride in a car (Bob Humphries’ huge black car) through the night (and it was very unusual to be out at night) and go to a strange hall – perhaps Mosman Park, or Claremont or Subiaco. After the game was supper, tea of course and scones or pikelets or biscuits. Then home, even later in the night.

It is hard to recognise it now, but the Rechabites were once a major force in West Australian social life, a fact long forgotten. In 1935 they celebrated the centenary of the movement in WA. There was a grand centenary dinner on 26 August held in Rechabite Hall in William Street in the heart of the city at 6pm (‘arrival at 5.45pm will facilitate arrangements’). The souvenir toast list is headed by the Rechabite crest (with a motto ‘Peace and Plenty the reward of Temperance’) a strange conglomeration of images supported by two biblically robed ladies, one an angel, the centre part with a disembodied all-seeing eye, and images including a beehive, a sheath of wheat, a sword, a lamb, sun moon and stars, a snake, an unrecognisable animal, and three tents in the desert.

There were many toasts (in soft drink or tea of course) “The King” (by the District Chief Ruler, Brother Judges), “Centenary of Order” (by A. Panton MLA, a politician recognising the size of the Order), “Old Members” “The Juveniles” “Kindred Societies and F.S. Council” and “The Press” (this one responded to by ‘Representative of the Press’). The toasts were interspersed with songs, alternately by Bro. Lyle and Miss Thelma Neill (Accompaniste Sister Warren), and the singing of God Save the King ended the proceedings.

I didn’t realise it then but the 50s were the end of the flourishing Rechabites which had seemed to be such a permanent fixture of the social scene. The adults were generally those who had joined in the 20s, 30s and 40s, and by the 50s they were ageing. The days when you could buy, as my grandparents had done in York in 1910, a little water jug with a picture of a fishing boat and a legend that read ‘Drink like a fish – water only’, were long gone. The juveniles (as they were called) had been designed to furnish the next generation of total abstainers (no ‘temperance’ for Rechabites). But there was no enthusiasm among the kids of the post war generation for what was increasingly a meaningless ritual. Kids went for a while to be with their mates, and to have a night out, but they went home to families where the father went to the pub on a Saturday night, and there was sherry on the sideboard.

The main Rechabite families like ours had several generations coming through the ranks, but no new families came into the fold, and the juveniles dropped out earlier and earlier, in spite of attempts to water down the ritual further and further and make it almost just a games night. As a young child there was some status in working your way through the offices, and of being on the bowls team, but they weren’t accomplishments you would boast about or even admit to outside the Rechabite circle, and by the time I was a young teenager they were not things I wanted to be part of any more and dropped out totally.

The movement had its roots back in England, but the leaves of the Australian branch were withering and falling. The juvenile groups disappeared, and the tents closed one by one, the survivors huddling together in combined lodges. The movement survived as a tiny fringe group, its major function being, appropriately, funeral benefits for the members, then even that function was gone, taken over by another company. No more Rechab sons and daughters.

Totally unprepared
When I was a lad I wanted to be a boy scout. Well, I wanted to be a cub first, but that was out of the question apparently, I think because it would have meant investing in a second (as well as Scout’s) uniform, and because I wasn’t old enough to get myself to the hall and there was essentially no other way of getting me there. Don’t know why I wanted to be a scout, but it was probably because they would appear in English boy’s stories having a jolly good adventurous time. Kim’s game, and following trails, and sitting around campfires toasting muffins (or marshmallows), and camping out in tents telling ghost stories until midnight – all the kind of things that an only child without a father in 1950s Perth suburbs wasn’t doing.

So, I reached scouting age, went to a few troop meetings in ordinary clothes, standing behind those magnificent real scouts, arms and chests covered in badges, and therefore proved that I was really serious about this. So off we went, my grandmother and I, to the scout outfitting shop, oh magical Aladdin’s Cave. And that is where the problems began. My grandmother, thrifty (of necessity) soul, decided that it wasn’t going to be possible to keep buying new uniforms as my adolescent frame grew like a thistle, and so she would need to get one that would last a few years. This meant, if at the time I was really, say, size 4, buying size 6. As a result my hat flopped around on my head, and almost covered my eyes. My shirt, that neatly fitted my scouting heroes, on me flopped out like a girl’s blouse, had short sleeves that reached down to my elbows, and had so much tail to tuck into my trousers that I looked like I was wearing a life belt around my waist. The shorts, on others neatly ending mid thigh, and tightly hugging those thighs, on me reached past my knees, my belt pulled up tightly to keep them up. And my socks, those symbols of neatness and correctness on others, extending to just below the knee, were constantly flopping around my ankles. I looked, in short, as if someone had shrunk a much larger scout and left him wearing the same clothes.

I was no good at scouty things either, it seemed. There was, if I am remembering correctly through my mental scars, a kind of basic scout test which you had to pass, a mere formality, to get you on the first rung of scouting glory which would eventually see you as Chief Scout for the universe. It involved, a doddle really, lighting a fire with only two matches, lashing two poles together, making, I think, porridge. Well, I couldn’t do any of those things. Both matches would go out, the fire unlit, the poles would fall apart as knots slipped, the porridge could have been used for cement. It became, I imagine, more and more embarrassing for the scout troop as I hovered (badly dressed), uneasily, in the twilight world between civilian and novice scout. Eventually the troop leader had me around to his place to try to get me though these basic tests. I forget now, my embarrassment blanking out the event, whether I eventually succeeded.

My only achievement in the scouting world, which consequently I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday, was “Scout’s Pace”. This “skill” was one of those clear reminders of the origins of scouting in the Boer War and the needs of the Empire to train young soldiers. The idea was that you would be a message carrier (the forerunners, so to speak, of the signallers as warfare began to rely on technology for communication), covering huge distances across the veldt, to carry dispatches to or from advance scouting (in the military sense) parties. Now, you clearly couldn’t run all the way on such an errand, or you would collapse exhausted (and be eaten, perhaps, by hyenas) half way there, the message undelivered, the battle lost. On the other hand you couldn’t walk or the message would take so long to arrive as to be useless. And finally the general would need to know that if he sent a message it would arrive at a particular time. Enter “scout’s pace”. Someone, Baden Powell himself probably, had figured out that if the boy ran 100 yards, and then walked 100 yards, alternating for the whole trip, he would cover exactly 1 mile in 12 and a half minutes.

This particular night a one mile course, all the way around the old flour mills, had been measured from the front door of the scout hall and back. The other scouts and me were sent off in a bunch, leaving scoutmaster at the door with stop watch, and as each scout returned his time would be called out. Some had seen it as a race, and returned much too soon – “ten minutes, ten minutes 2 seconds, ten minutes 5 seconds” and so on. Some, unfit or bored, had basically walked the whole way – “15 minutes, 15 minutes 20 seconds, 16 minutes” and so on. And then there was me. If you were supposed to run exactly 100 steps and then walk exactly 100 steps then that is what I would do. And therefore, as I approached the finish, I heard, to my great pride “12 minutes 20 seconds, 12 minutes 25 seconds” and then, like clock work, as I came to a halt, shorts flapping around my knees, “12 minutes 30 seconds”. I was, for once, the epitome of scouting. Could see, in a kind of rosy glow, being taken around to other scout troops, to demonstrate exactly how to achieve perfect “scout’s pace”. Perhaps a world tour. All came to nothing of course. Seems 12 minutes 30 seconds was seen as just a fluke (which it pretty much was), seems “scouts pace” was just the flavour of that week, never to be repeated, seemed that achieving a perfect result in that didn’t compensate for all my other scout failings.

Some time during this uneasy introduction, while BP was revolving in his grave at the thought of this Sad Sack with scouting pretensions, there was a major scouting event of some kind held in Perth. I don’t know now what it was, perhaps the investiture of a new Chief Scout, or the awarding of Queen Scout qualifications, some formal occasion of that kind anyway. My best friend Peter, as well as having a father with the perfect occupation (car workshop owner), also had a father who was a scout troop leader (he may even have been higher in the hierarchy). Envy. As a consequence Peter (he and his father in a different troop to mine) was the perfect scout – up through the ranks to venturer and queens scout, shirt ablaze with badges and awards, uniform and hat perfectly fitting with exact creases where they belonged.

Anyway, Peter, and his father, were going to this event, but when he told me I knew nothing about it. Had heard nothing of it at my scout troop. Expressed my envy that Peter was going to such a grand happening. “Why don’t you come along with us?” he said. So I did, dressed up in my ill-fitting uniform, rode my bike there to meet them. Saw, with awe, the massed scouts in neat ranks, the flags, the top brass assembling on a dais. Saw, with surprise, members of my own troop there. Went over to them. They were more surprised than I was, since they had ensured I hadn’t been told about the event. “What are you doing here?” they asked. I explained and then was told that this was an event for proper good scouts, and that my large bare uniform didn’t belong among all those smart young scouts with perfectly fitting uniforms covered in badges and ribbons and signs of rank. Could I, in fact, go over there and stand behind that building out of the way so no one could see me and think that I belonged with them.

Well, as you can imagine, that was close to the end of my scouting career. But there was one final act. The son of our scoutmaster, one of those people (like the Royal family) who assume an unearned status purely on the basis of a strand of DNA gained from parents, had long been making himself unpleasant to me. Teasing me about my uniform, my inadequacies in the scouting skills arena, making life unpleasant. At the meeting after this unfortunate event he again began making fun, this time extending it to include my grandmother who was just a menial helper in a vegetable shop. That did it. Bad enough making fun of the uniform she had bought with hard earned money from the vegetable shop, but making fun of her as a person was off limits and I jumped him. Got a feeling I won the battle, but that may be wishful thinking. Whether I did or not I hadn’t won the war because I was expelled from the scouts for fighting and that was that.

So did it all leave me scarred for life, a dream of childhood unfulfilled? Nah, and I have a feeling I may have been secretly relieved, thinking myself well out of it. This kind of uniform-based hierarchy run, often, by idiots, wasn’t for me, I had discovered, no matter how jolly it sounded in books. On the other hand it was my first attempt to enter a world quite separate to the family one. An attempt to do what the other kids were doing, to belong, invisibly and seamlessly, to the mob. But whereas the others could do it, effortlessly fit in, observe the mores, do the right thing, look the part, I clearly couldn’t, didn’t fit. Something of an omen, in a way, but also part of coming to terms with who and what I was. And in a negative way, my scouting adventures had helped me start defining my niche. I wasn’t a person who could give a three fingered salute to a uniform – I was more likely to give a two fingered salute to the person inside the uniform. Scout’s honour.

And heading for adult life
The new high school was still being built in 1957. They had taken their first students in, but few classrooms were completed and the 1957 intake of first year students couldn’t be accommodated. Instead we were to have classes in what had been the old high schools the new one was to replace. There were two schools, Fremantle Boys and Princess May Girls, and they occupied buildings next to each other, the boy’s school a single storey sprawling dark building, the girls a two storey compact light building. They had probably been originally separated by a wall, keeping girls and boys apart, and there were still walls between the schools and the outside world, but the wall between the two had been removed to make a single playground.

We turned up on the first day (and there I am above, wearing my first tie, and apprehensive about what was coming that first day in February 1957), all the bright keen kids from all the primary schools within a radius of several miles, and entered the large hall on the bottom floor of the Princess May building. I was 11 years old. I guess there must have been close to 1000 students in the hall. We had been brought together on the first day in order to be allocated to classes. I assumed that the top students would be put into the top class first, then the next batch and so on down. We were told, or somehow knew, that there would be classes named alphabetically from 1A down to 1Z. As each new batch of names were completed, a teacher standing out at the front of the hall and then leading off her group of 30 or so, my spirits sank. The numbers remaining in the hall were lower and lower, and it was looking increasingly as if 1Z was to be my fate. If it was, then it was clear I would never be able to go home that night to my ambitious mother. Finally there were just 30 kids left, and my fate was sealed. Amazingly it turned out that we survivors of this horrific lottery were in fact 1A. For whatever reason the roll call had not been alphabetic but based on some other logic. I think only one other student, Cherry Gribble, from Swanbourne Primary, finished up in the class with me, I guess now there must have been some system of allocating two students, in order of rank, from each primary school to each class, but this is just a guess.

The result was strange anyway, for I had never been top of any primary school class. In the top ten, but never top (frustrating, no doubt, my mother). But I guess many of the kids from primary had gone on to other private or catholic schools, or high schools elsewhere, or selective high schools, so maybe I was just the top of what remained. Or maybe my age had been taken into account in assessing my marks, in something like a weight for age horse race. But I was safely in the top class, status secure, for at least a year.

It was a state high school, the first of the modern co-educational, large high schools in WA, called John Curtin High School. It was a lucky break. Because it was an exciting new educational development (I presume modelled on the English comprehensives) it seemed to have attracted, or been assigned, some excellent teachers.

My first year or two at high school were a process of trying to leave behind the world of childhood and present an image of being grown up. Being a year younger than everyone else made this all the more imperative.

Having been allocated, finally, to Class 1A on the first morning of my high school life, the class was led out of the hall, across the courtyard, and around the corner into an area with a netball court and a banked row of seats for spectators. There was no netball that morning but we were told to sit on the seats. Perhaps our classroom wasn’t ready or we were waiting until the movements of other classes had finished. I found myself sitting next to another boy, and, as can happen at the age of 11, we had become best friends for life by the time the teacher got us up and moved us into the classroom.

His name was Peter Leech (a name that was to constantly cause him anguish, I can still hear him now, correcting yet another teacher, ‘No sir, that’s Leech, L double e c h, not L e a c h’). He had been born in England and I think had not been long in Australia, though he had attended Mosman Park Primary. He was more than a year older than me (perhaps because of the move to the Australian school system he had lost 6 months, the rest of the class were a year older), tall and gangly, very fair skinned, with a shock of hair and glasses, much like Roger Bannister or the class swot in an English school story.

They were characteristics not likely to endear him to Australian schoolkids, and part of the attraction I guess is that we were both outsiders (when we added two others to our gang they were also both outsiders, Kevin Rouse, who was going blind, and Ian Bailey who had to repeat a class and was a year older than everyone). But Peter was very strong and tall, and could bowl a cricket ball very fast, and if there was a fight he could take care of himself (after taking off his glasses carefully and handing them to me to hold). He also had a father who owned a car repair garage, and Peter knew all about cars. So he quickly gained respect and was not teased as he might have been, and I was under his wing with him acting as my minder.

We would eventually spend a lot of time together throughout high school, particularly once I was permitted to ride a bike all the way to Mosman Park. The family was delightful, Mrs Leech being like a second mother, and there was a young sister Penny. They lived in a rambling old house with a wide verandah. We spent a lot of time playing cricket on weekends or in the holidays in the park down the road, I would arrive with stumps and bat on my bike carrier, and we would play for hours, taking it in turns to bat and bowl.

We were in the same class all through high school, but when university came, Peter was one of the half dozen or so from our class who went into medicine. We lost touch with each other, for the lives of medical and science students were very different and inevitably separate. Peter lived in college, handy to the university because of his long hours, and I still lived at home. He had a car long before I did, an old Triumph Mayflower, big and clumsy and slow, but we thought it was wonderful. He let me drive it once while I was still trying to get my licence.

I saw little of him after the first couple of years and then I went east while he was still finishing his studies. He specialised in neurosurgery, and in about 1973 went off, now married, to Glasgow to do post-graduate work and training. Glasgow must have been a leading centre for neurosurgery. When we were in England we visited him, catching up late into the night, our two small children long asleep, on all the things that had happened since we had last met some ten years earlier. And probably talking over school days.

I didn’t see much of him the next morning. He lived some distance from the hospital and had an early start, so they left us to have breakfast and get the kids organised and head off by ourselves. He had acquired a little sports car, an MG, the kind of thing we had dreamed about, and drooled over, as children. We broke, I remember, a glass jar in the street as we were leaving, and had to try to pick up all the fragments. He returned to Perth a few months later, dreams shattered, having been diagnosed as having a brain tumour and died not long afterwards.

At the end of first year high school, most of which had been in the Princess May building, was a period of a few days when there were no classes but you were free to bring in board games to play. Cherry Gribble taught me how to play chess, the only productive lesson I had all year I think because I can remember nothing else, except imitating the sounds of the Goon Show with every other boy in the playground, in between meeting Peter and learning chess.

The report at the end of my first term could have just been copied and recycled at the end of every term for the next four years – Geography 80%, English 76%, Arithmetic 75%, History 68%, General Science 67%, Algebra 64%, Geometry 60% and metalwork (a crooked shoehorn, a bird seed container with hole) 50% – except that I would never do that well in any maths again. The note from H. Hoad (‘First Mistress’) could also have been recycled with varying degrees of exasperation – ‘Has not worked to capacity must try hard for scholarship’.

After first year we returned, after a lot of cricket and chess, to second year in the new building on the hill, now completed but still looking like a building site. There again seems to have been something of a shakeout, kids recombining in the second year classes, presumably after evaluation of how well they had dealt with the primary school – first year transition. At every transition, primary-secondary, secondary-university, university-postgrad, the performance at the previous level gave very little indication of likely performance at the next. The stars of one level could be the also rans of the next, and vice versa.

On the first day in this exciting new school we once again sat outside before lessons started, this time as class 2A, big kids now, not frightened little children. We had been around, we were pretty sophisticated. Not sophisticated enough perhaps. I found myself sitting next to Bronwyn Lewis. She was the ultimate class sophisticate, and she looked sideways at me and asked if she could squeeze my blackheads. Embarrassing, do you think? I was cool, but rejected the grooming overture. It was something of a sign of things to come though, which is why I remember it when so much else is forgotten.

Adulthood was beckoning somewhere down the track and we could smell it, our nostrils twitching eagerly. High school was the beginning of our membership of the adult world, and of a change in our relationships with each other and with adults. Up until then, the adults you knew had mostly known you from birth or soon after. You would always be, no matter how old you were, grandson, son, nephew in the family, and to those outside the family you would always be Elsie’s little boy, or Mrs Young’s little grandson, or young David who rides a scooter. You could never be a prophet with honour.

At high school though we were all newborn, no history, no memories of scraped knees or runny noses, we were high school kids, and our lives and identities would be what we chose to make them. We would have new relationships with adults too. The teachers at John Curtin High, which was to turn out to be a very good school, also began to treat us like adults. For the first time there were older people with whom you could have a conversation which wasn’t mediated by the sense of where you had come from.

There was also a sense that we were differentiating from each other, that the amorphous, quite uniform group of primary school children, differentiated only by sex and ability with a football, had turned into a collection of individuals each with their own mode of getting through life and their own dreams and their own cloud of cultural and psychological baggage. My first memory of Bronwyn Lewis is symbolic of this.

It was probably accentuated by the fact that in 1957 and 1958, John Curtin was pulling students from a huge catchment. I came from about 5 miles and 6 suburbs to the north, near the northern rim of the catchment though others would come from as far as Nedlands, and there were others coming from equal distances to the east and south of Fremantle. It was a melting pot of different socio-economic backgrounds, parental expectations, primary schooling, and so on. There was almost no variety of ethnic background – no Aboriginal kids attended the school at all I think, and there were definitely none in our class. Only one girl was from migrant background and she was Dutch.

If I had delusions of approaching adulthood it was as well that my classmates didn’t see much of me outside of school. In 1958 I was still reading the Meccano Magazine and would still be doing so as late as fourth year. And still be collecting Dinky Toy models. The Meccano Magazine was essentially an extended piece of advertising for Dinky toys, Hornby Dublo model trains, and Meccano sets. But it also carried articles and adverts very much like those of the Boys Own Paper. The August 1958 issue had ads for traineeships at Metropolitan-Vickers, apprenticeships in the British Army, apprenticeships for ‘careers in physics and chemistry’, Ilford Films, bicycles, tents, chemistry sets, careers in the RAF and many more. As well as the articles on the cars, trains, and model building there were others on Dover, stories of Northern Nigeria, Space Notes (‘The gases to drive a rocket motor along are produced by burning a “propellant”‘), ‘The Daylight Express: Australia’s Fastest Train’, Russia’s Greatest Designer (Tupolev), Life-Boat Story, Railway Notes, Air News (‘it is an open secret that BOAC is considering the possibility of opening a transatlantic service next year’), travelling on a freighter, a new post office machine (‘ingenious machines for the sorting and handling of letters’), and stamp collecting.

Second year at high school has left little else in my memory. It was, like fourth year, a year of little consequence. There was no big exam at the end of it to concentrate the mind, and we all, I think, took it easily, and spent the time trying to work out where we were in this new adult world. My marks went down, I think to abysmal levels in maths, and while this was embarrassing there was another sense in which there was plenty of time and no need to worry.

I briefly experimented with smoking, getting only as far as a part of a packet of cigarettes, hidden in the garage, lured by the idea that this was a quick way to maturity. These few cigarettes, possibly in combination with my ‘chemistry experiments’ with molten sulphur and the like, may be what gave me bronchitis around this time. But maybe it was some genetic weakness I had inherited, or perhaps some environmental factor, or perhaps an infection, rather than a self-inflicted wound. Always hard to identify the causes of these moments that affect our lives. For over ten years after that I couldn’t sleep at night without taking a tablet to keep my bronchioles open. The nights when I didn’t were marked by waking at 2am and hearing all the hours strike on the clock in the dining room until, with the first glimmers of dawn, my chest would relax and I could fall asleep for a few minutes before being woken to go to school.

Years later the bronchitis and the deafness would keep me from Vietnam. Living in the high country of Armidale, and later in Canberra eventually cured me of bronchitis, but the deafness remains and is accentuated by the decay of age, and the smoking left me with permanently damaged lungs.

Third Year was the big one. ‘The Junior’ came at the end of it, and that was the entry card to adult life, the one that decided where your destiny lay. The teachers put the fear of death into us though there was little need. Whatever you thought about your own intelligence and ability, and however comfortably you were holding down a place just outside the top ten in the top class, there was always a feeling that this might not mean anything. That in the outside world were all these other bright kids in good schools, and maybe all of them were better than we were.

Until thousands of kids all sat down on the same day in hot school halls, seriously supervised by unsmiling teachers, and simultaneously did their best on the same exam papers, there was no way of knowing. Perhaps it would all come to an end, this dream that you were one of the scholars who would continue on through school and even, something at the far end of the tunnel, to a complete unknown called university.

The Junior was made even more terrifying by the wait and the way of obtaining your results. The results were not released until January, so once you had left school there was a period of perhaps seven or eight weeks where you remained in limbo. Perhaps once again bemoaning your failure to answer a question that now seemed in retrospect a piece of cake, or wondering yet again if you had indeed put down New York instead of Washington as the capital of America during a brief mental aberration, or put down x=3 rather than x=30 on the third algebra question.

But the time spent waiting for the answer to these nightmares was a new adventure. My mother had spent time working in Foy’s Department store a few years earlier and still had contacts there. Everybody tried to get a job in the holidays after the Junior – we were old enough to get jobs, and the Junior being held before the end of normal term meant that there was an extra long period before Christmas when most shops were looking for casual workers.

Either because of my connections, or just by chance, I was put into the mail order section of the store, and this was a marvellous breakthrough. Other students were standing behind single counters all day, I was free to roam the store, and to work from almost private space. The mail order section was very important at Christmas time. All over WA there were isolated farms, and those near small country towns, without physical access to shops. They would have an account with a store like Foys that could supply all their needs from food to clothing and so on.

At Christmas time they also needed presents and extra special food. It was a bit like children writing to the North Pole (not, of course, the South Pole) and wishing for train sets or dolls. I was one of Santa’s helpers. I would head off with a shopping list and a box. Families in the far outback of WA were trusting me, an immature 14 year old, to choose a nice shirt and a tie to match for the husband, or a red dress size ten, shoes for a six year old perhaps, some nice books, a range of foods for the Christmas table, a new bicycle, and so on. I was filling their Christmas stockings, supplying their clothing needs, putting food on their table, helping their children play and read. It was a great responsibility and I took it as such, wishing that I could see faces when they opened up the parcels I had packed for them.

It was very enjoyable, not like work at all. I wasn’t standing behind a counter all day, did a great variety of work, and got to chat up the blonde girl on men’s ties (which were a frequent request as a Christmas present) who undoubtedly had no idea that the boy who read Meccano Magazines was trying to chat her up.

And then it was another Christmas, and another New Year, and the days before the Junior results had dwindled down to none. The results were printed in the newspaper, and it was possible to get the morning newspaper late the night before as it began to be delivered. Crowds of people were in Perth streets, standing on street corners, a growing fear in the pit of every student’s stomach. Then a sound of a truck engine and the crowd edged forward, surrounding the newspaper seller. A ‘West Australian’ truck slowed down enough for a man on the back to throw a bundle of papers, tightly tied, onto the pavement. The seller opened them and then we thrust forward, threepence or sixpence in hand, reaching out to get the copy that had your fate written on it in fiery letters.

There was your name, so that was the first nightmare disposed of (the prospect that you had done so badly that you had failed to pass a single subject, and your name was therefore left out completely, a non-person in the great struggle for existence). Then it was a matter of counting the numbers against your name, and recounting them and recounting them yet again. There seemed to be eight. It seemed to be all right. You were over the first hurdle of your adult life. Then it was a matter of seeing who else from the class had jumped the hurdle clear with you, looking sideways for the other horses as if in a steeplechase.

Most of us were probably there, though I no longer remember any details, and ready to tackle the next lap of the great race. The disadvantage of the Junior though was that it was a very blunt tool. You either passed subjects or didn’t (and later it would seem inconceivable not to have passed all eight subjects, or that you would know anyone who hadn’t), but there was no indication of how well you had done in each. So there was no guidance as to where to go next.

My mother had promised me that if I got through all eight subjects she would buy me a dog. There had been a dog, Sandy, much loved when I was a child, but he had been run over when he was 16 years old and I was still very young. He had been my grandparent’s dog, and this one would be mine.

We found an advert in the paper and went off to look. There were two cocker spaniel puppies, a golden roan female and a blue roan male. The male it was, Lilli-Illa Cavalier his stud name, and we would be inseparable for the next 5 years. I would one day have to leave him, but in 1960 this was inconceivable, just as it was inconceivable that I would ever leave home, or that things would change in any way. It must have seemed just as inconceivable for all the previous generations of the family, about whom I then knew almost nothing. But a family pedigree is not a diagram of a static tree, but of constant change. The tide comes in, washing up children to be part of a family and young forever. Then the tide gradually pulls out as they leave home and then as the tide goes out even further they gradually die. Then back in it comes with a new generation of loved children.

Cavalier had a long English pedigree, and I was proud to find, in a book on Cocker Spaniels, pictures of many of his English ancestors, some standing outside stately homes. But really he was just a boy’s dog, and we ran and walked, and chased, and he swam and sniffed things and went to dog shows, and enrolled in gun dog training. He was much loved and much loving. He was my first dog.

Fourth year would involve a reduction from eight subjects to seven, but there was also a change in the form of the maths and science subjects, so that the actual change from third to fourth year was greater than a reduction of one subject might suggest.

There was another complication. Up to third year the classes were numbered by order of merit, so that there was no doubt you wanted to be in 1A, 2A, 3A, and that those who were not were somewhat less talented. In fourth year that was about to change, the classes being numbered not by merit but by the choices you had made about what subjects you would be doing (although this was not entirely true, in fact you had to make certain choices if you intended aiming for University, and in practice the top two or three classes were still the top in order of merit. It was true however that 4A, 4B, and I think 4C were equal to each other).

I was sailing in new waters here, trying to steer my little ship to a new land. I was the first member of the family in 200 years to be heading into this level of education and there were no navigators for me. In the end the decision was fairly easy. The choice between the top two classes was one of either doing two sciences and a language or three sciences. I had done French, or rather survived French, for the Junior, and there was no way I would continue with it. Whatever abilities I might have had certainly didn’t include the ability to speak other languages. It is said that there is a very limited period very early in life when your brain is susceptible to the sounds of another language, and if you don’t hear them then you can never be fluent, always sound like a foreigner. I could communicate with the world in my own language but not in the languages of other people. (Many years later I was in France for an archaeological conference. As part of the event we went on a tour of archaeological sites, including one in a cave that had a deposit which clearly had largely come from owls. Trying to show that the fellow from Australia was not only paying attention but knew a thing or two, I asked one of the Frenchmen what the word for ‘owl’ was in France. The actual word, I know now, is hibou, but one of us misunderstood the other and he said something like ‘huish’ – perhaps he was telling me to keep quiet. After the talk by the cave’s excavator I went up to him and, pointing at the deposit, said ‘Huish? Huish?’ ‘Eh?’ ‘Huish? Huish?’ ‘Eh?’ ‘Huish? Huish?’ I said, this time in desperation accompanying the words by holding my arms bent, elbows outwards in the shape of wings, and flapping them. ‘Huish? Huish?’ I said again, flapping and smiling and nodding my head towards the deposit. He backed away from me, looking haunted and then, gaining speed, turned and ran.)

So it was 4B (‘Only 4B’, said my mother, ‘why aren’t you in 4A?’ Even after I explained I don’t think she really believed me and harboured a slight sense that I had not quite reached the top level and this was something of an embarrassment. Not only did our family know nothing of education, nor did anyone we knew, and explaining why the supposedly clever son was not in the top class can’t have been easy).

It was a good class, in competition with 4A where much of the rest of 3A (those who knew the word for owl in French) had ended up. Most of the class would go on to university, and about half of us would win Commonwealth scholarships. And we had good teachers.

The first to make an impression was probably Sheila[?] Bruce. She may have been an English teacher for earlier classes or lower grades, and I have no memory of her having formally taught me. But her other great passion was drama, and she created, through her energy and enthusiasm, a totally unexpected tradition of excellence in drama at the school. She dressed in flowing dresses and skirts, and long scarves, all in pastel colours and floral designs. Her hair was I think blue rinsed, the shade varying from time to time. She looked like a gypsy perhaps or an artist in Bohemia, whatever the image, it was totally different to anything I had encountered before. The women we knew were very very conventional.

She would invite students in her productions to her home and this too was a new experience. The house was light and airy with large windows, and the furnishings were as softly dressed as she was, with cushions on cane furniture, bright rugs on wooden floors and bright curtains hanging to the floor. It was nothing like the dark houses I was used to with their heavy furniture and drab colours. Mrs Bruce’s house was both civilised and arty in some indefinable way, and she was opening my mind to such possibilities.

Her productions were deliberately professional, set up as a professional company might do it, and done to a standard at which they could be presented to audiences without allowances being made for us being only schoolchildren. She gathered around her students who shared her enthusiasm, and if you couldn’t act (and I couldn’t) there were always roles to learn in stage management, or lighting or scenery painting or costume design.

I had a role in Midsummer Night’s Dream – Snout playing the wall ‘and such a wall as I would have you think that had in it a crannied hole or chink, through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, did whisper often, very secretly’. So I was a student pretending to be an actor, pretending to be a rustic, pretending to be an actor, pretending to be a wall. Other productions I remember included ‘The Admirable Crichton’, ‘She Stoops to Conquer’, and, most notably, ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. This was the big one of 1960 and it was very well done. It starred Brian Hannon, who became a professional actor on leaving school, and he was a real star. My enthusiasm meant I couldn’t be left out, but my inability to act made the choice of a role difficult. Finally Mrs Bruce settled on me being a mouse in the jury. Not a big role, in fact it only involved saying one word, ‘Guilty’ but I thought I could manage that.

Everyone else had quite realistic costumes, but my grandmother had some difficulty deciding what to do at little cost. Finally she got a sheet of white calico and turned it into a sort of a bag with a hood. I was the only white mouse, and the role of foreman who said ‘Guilty’ seemed natural for such an individual looking creature.

Stan Richards was the next to make an impression. He was the English teacher, thin and wiry with glasses and great energy, who seemed to bound everywhere. He had a passion for education and literature, and a belief in the value of both, and if you shared that with him he also had a belief in you. He was the first adult who treated me as an adult. He helped to develop my critical appreciation of literature, but most importantly he taught me to write, and taught me to have confidence in my ability to write. He would read anything I wrote, class work or the poetry and short stories I was increasingly writing on my own account. He would provide intelligent feedback, and often read things out to the class. It was the first time I think that I had been singled out and given a talent which others could recognise. It was my identity (David Horton is the one who is good at English) which was being developed, and I will never forget Stan for that.

Another memorable teacher was Beryl Critch, the biology teacher. Small with frizzy hair and a round face with glasses, she looked like an old-fashioned schoolmaam but was anything but. She did two things which were quite remarkable. First, she taught Biology as a serious scientific subject. It wasn’t just a soft option that girls might do if they wanted to do some ‘science’, looking at flowers and birds perhaps, it was a real science to stand alongside physics and chemistry as real, rigorous subjects. So we studied it properly, and took it seriously because she took it seriously.

Second (and in this she matched Richards and the chemistry teacher) she set out in fourth and fifth year to train us for university. But this phrase doesn’t quite convey the magic of what was going on and its unusual nature. All three teachers said to us openly – most of this class will go on to university. At university you won’t be spoon fed and be expected to regurgitate, you will be expected to study and learn for yourself, and be expected to make up your own minds and develop ideas. We will therefore teach you in university style so you will be ready for this.

As a consequence the lessons and practical classes were conducted like university seminars and tutorials and lectures, not like normal school lessons at all. We thrived on this. The other advantage was that when I reached first year zoology at university I found I had already done the whole course with Miss Critch, and could concentrate on the physics and chemistry I might otherwise have failed.

The fourth of this quartet of remarkable teachers was Alan Strahan the chemistry teacher. He was plump with a round face, thick glasses which gave him an owlish appearance, and thinning fair hair. On the first day we had him he said to the class. ‘Now, at any moment I may collapse on the floor and lie there unconscious and twitching. If this happens you must make sure I haven’t swallowed my tongue, turn me so I am lying on my side, and get help. Don’t worry I will be all right after a while.’ We probably stared at him open mouthed. I can’t remember what his medical condition was, though it may have been diabetes or even epilepsy. But this was another introduction to adulthood, both because he was being so open about his condition, rather than hiding serious things, even death, away, and because he was trusting us to save his life. From that moment we would do anything for him.

I loved chemistry anyway, having mucked around at home for so long. I liked, I think, the idea that new things could be formed by combining other things, and that there was certainty to the process. I had learnt the periodic table off by heart very early, recognising that this was the key to chemistry, and this became another talent, I was the one who knew all the symbols. The chemistry lab was full of all the apparatus I would have loved to have at home, all of the complex paraphernalia that was so appealing. And there were long term experiments running in containers round the walls. One was crystal growing I think, chemicals gradually adding to a central core to produce a large visible object that reflected the invisible materials that had been in solution. Another was a huge glass tube. In the bottom had been poured a layer of blue copper sulphate solution. In the top had been poured, somehow, magically without disturbing the bottom layer, a clear liquid. Perhaps just water. There had originally been a clear dividing line between blue and clear, but very slowly, over a long time, you could see that the blue was diffusing into the upper layer. Given an infinite amount of time the oscillation of molecules would cause the two layers to completely mix and become indistinguishable from each other. Perhaps, 40 years later, that tube still stands in the chemistry lab, silently and slowly mixing itself.

Physics wasn’t a favourite, and caused me endless difficulty. But I remember being captivated by thermostat, this magical, brilliant invention of someone, that involved simply binding two different metals together. Because the two metals had different reactions to heat, if the temperature was rising or falling the bimetal strip would bend one way or another, first making connection with one terminal and opening a circuit, then connecting with the opposite terminal and opening a different circuit.

I hadn’t been involved much in sport at high school. If you were any good at any sport you played for the school first eleven (or 15 or 18, a lot of different sports were played). If you weren’t then you just mucked around during sport period, kicking a soccer ball, or playing cricket in a manner no different to that played at primary school an eternity before. I liked to join in, perhaps hoping to be seen by a talent scout for Manchester United, or the state cricket team, but if you were really cool, like Lee Walsh or Robert Patterson, you made no attempt to even pretend to play, but sat behind the tree or the toilet block, seriously smoking.

Lee Walsh was the biggest boy in class, and it seemed to be not fat but muscle. His nickname was ‘Squasher’, but he really wasn’t a bully. He didn’t need to be, because he was so much bigger and stronger that his physical superiority was simply taken for granted and didn’t need reinforcing. But he would occasionally, just because he could, or because he was bored, inflict some casual cruelty on some smaller human being. I found myself in class one day sitting directly in front of him, an unenviable position and one which all tried to avoid. It was a geometry class. I suddenly felt the point of a compass rammed into one buttock. ‘Stop it’ I hissed. He did it again. I wriggled and squirmed, but with a chair with a gap between the seat and the back rest there was no way to protect your bum. He did it again, delighted with the effect he was having and something cracked within me. I suddenly revolted against the years of being the youngest and smallest in every class, and getting up lunged at him and grabbing him around the neck managed to so shock him as to carry him down to the floor of the classroom.

The shock didn’t last long, and he quickly and effortlessly pushed me off and probably hit me. I hadn’t been brave, just tormented to the point of lunacy. But for once it did work out like it did in the school stories and Lee never did anything like that again to me. It may have made me seem more like one of the boys, I don’t know. It is as impossible to know what kind of boy I was, or how I was perceived all those years ago, as it is to know what kind of a boy Joseph Carter was, or Charles Henry Young.

The other smoker was Robert Patterson. He was also a figure from school stories. He had cultivated the image of the languid dandy. Tall and slim, long hair oiled and carefully combed back, smart clothes, and Rothman’s cigarettes. He cared about nothing and was very laid back. He was good at English too, in a couldn’t care less manner.

I did play sport outside of school though. Peter had taken me along to enrol at Claremont-Cottesloe cricket club, and I played under 16 cricket in a low grade. At training sessions in the nets all the grades would mix in together, and we would watch in awe as Graham McKenzie, later Australian fast bowler of great distinction would bowl a few balls at lightning speed, or have a knowledgable discussion with the first grade coach. I was never much good, in spite of my love of the game, and my grandfather’s genes. Perhaps if he had lived. But there were many sentences that began like that after he had died.

I had also joined the Subiaco hockey club with my other best friend Kevin Rouse. This was a different story eventually. When I first played I was still very small and slight, and I was put on the wing where you were put so as not to do any harm. But after the first year I put on something of a growth spurt and was a few inches taller. We’ll try you at fullback said the coach, and from then on I had a sport I could be quite good at.

Kevin was good at it too, and in fact played a higher grade than me at first. He was almost completely blind by now, and it was a remarkable performance. In his early years playing he had developed, as good players do, an instinct for the run of play, and its ebb and flow. So much so that he would see the vague coloured blobs in the distance, get himself ready for the direction the ball must inevitably take, and then listen for the sound of the shot to know how fast it was travelling. He could almost inevitably trap the ball and then clear it, and if you didn’t know, there is almost no way you could have deduced that he was blind. But just occasionally, someone would mishit a ball, and it would fly off the stick in a curve sideways, or upwards, leaving Kevin heading in the wrong direction and unable to readjust.

Years later when I saw the imaginary tennis game in ‘Blow-Up’ I thought of Kevin and his hockey. It was a remarkable achievement. He played table tennis and badminton the same way.

Fourth year came and went far too quickly and fifth year was upon us ready or not. It was the year we got television, the first program we saw, at about 10 o’clock at night (when it was delivered for some reason), was, oddly, the black and white minstrel show, white men, actually, pretending to be black men, pretending to be white men. We watched avidly until the end. I had never been very disciplined about homework, and now things were worse. I spent the year ‘doing homework’ in front of the TV and then ‘studying’ in front of the TV.

As teenage boys we were growing all the time and keeping up with the school uniform as we left small jumpers and trousers behind was difficult, particularly for poor families. If you had finally grown out of your jumper in fifth year there wasn’t much point in buying another one with only a few months of school life to go. So gradually one by one we stopped wearing the school jumper.

This began to distress the headmaster, Jack Howieson, and, unusually, a group of us were summoned to his office. ‘Now boys’ he said, ‘I know you are all nearly finishing school, and think that the school jumper is a waste of time, but look at it this way, if you buy a jumper for these last few months you can always use it for a fishing jumper after you leave school. So, I’d like to see you all properly dressed in uniform from now on.’ It had absolutely no effect of course. Mr Howieson (seen below with his prefects, all correctly uniformed, in 1960) was keen to maintain the image and identity of this wonderful school he had built, and he was nearing the end of his career. We on the other hand could see our school life and identity fading away day by day, and we had absolutely no interest in refreshing that identity.

Not just the school identity was about to fade, but the group identity. After years of seeing people every day in the closest of circumstances, and assuming that these were people you would know for the rest of your life, it seemed inconceivable that you would never see these people again. There had been a break after Primary School, but the break after High School would be the start of adult life. A group identity forged in the adversity of growing up would be shattered, or perhaps, because shattered sounds too strong a term, just dispersed, in the way that a clod of soil might fall from a river bank and be gradually dispersed down stream, grain by grain until all was gone. People who were as familiar to you as your own family would become people who you wouldn’t recognise if you passed them in the street.

The Leaving exam was the really terrifying one. Not only were there the results themselves, but there were Commonwealth Scholarships hanging on the results. Without a scholarship there was no way I could go to university. I kept watching TV, but much more nervously as the exams approached.

The results were announced in the same way as the Junior results had been. So once again it was into Perth at night to listen for the sound of the tumbrils approaching. For the Leaving there were also grades, so that you either got a pass or a distinction, or a fail. I opened the paper nervously. All seven subjects, with 2 of the magic ‘Ds” in brackets behind English and Biology. Peter had the same, though Ds in different subjects, and most of my friends had similar results. Stephen Graves had worked heroically hard all that year, and it had paid off with 5 distinctions, one of the best results in the state (there were usually one or two in the state who got 7Ds, and a handful with 6).

But 2 distinctions was enough, just enough, to get a scholarship, so I had scraped in yet again. Now there was one more question. How good were the marks for the distinctions? The actual marks were posted out to students, and I guess came a short time after the newspaper announcements. I went round to Peter’s house clutching my bit of paper. English 78, Biology 76 (and Chemistry, irritatingly, 72, so I had just missed out on the third distinction, and might have got it without TV, or with more strength of character. The school motto was ‘Persevere and Advance’ but few except Stephen had heeded it).

Not very high for English, but was it high enough to make me top of the school and retain my mark of identity – ‘oh yes, he came top in English’. Only one other student had a distinction in English, Robert Patterson, obviously working, or trying, harder than his image suggested. We started ringing around (there may have been other queries as to how well Peter had done relative to others, or where I stood in Biology) and eventually reached Robert. It was like playing poker, and we both knew the stakes. What did you get for English? I asked. ‘Oh. 79, or something silly like that’ was the usual languid, casual reply, perhaps hiding a nervousness as to whether I was holding a full house. But I wasn’t.

The results had failed to sort out a big dilemma for me. Was I a science student or an arts student? I had scored the same in English and Biology. I couldn’t choose both, so which one was I meant to have a career in?

My uncle saw himself I think as head of the family in the absence of both Dad and my father. Now that I had passed my Leaving my schooling, in his view, was complete. It was time I got a job, and the only question really was whether I was to go into a factory or perhaps an office. His belief I think that any time spent at school past the Junior was a waste. That given our family circumstances, I should have been put out to work as soon as I legally could be, in order to bring a few more pounds a week into the household.

It wasn’t that he was against education as such. He saw himself as a self-educated man. He subscribed to magazines like Reader’s Digest, and National Geographic, and obtained his knowledge of the world from them. But this was the way people of our class did educate themselves. In a more general sense, though he would not have said it like this, he saw us, people like us, as having fixed roles. In this he would have agreed with Uncle Len, and Len’s father Charles. If your family were farmers then you became a farmer, and if you broke away from that role then you were rejecting the family and its history and all its values.

Now that our branch of the Youngs had broken away from the farming life that Len and Tom and Nick and John had so faithfully followed, our options were in the world of mining or factories, or working behind the counter in shops, or, if you managed to get a bit more education, you could aspire to be perhaps a clerk or a bank teller. Uncle Bob himself had gone to work in factories and had trained to become a welder, so he had a trade. You could have aspirations, you didn’t have to be a labourer, but the aspirations would be circumscribed within, say, factory life.

In an even more general sense both Uncle Len and Uncle Bob would have seen the family as being bounded within the great hierarchy from God (though neither, I suspect, were religious men) through the royal family, the aristocracy, the professionals, the tradesmen, and the working classes. We were clearly working class, but you could have aspirations to acquire a trade, or as a farmer you could stay in that trade.

A consideration of anything else meant you were getting above yourself, and there was a major row between my uncle and my mother. She had a smart son, and by god he was going to get as much education as he could. She had missed out, her father had missed out, her son wasn’t going to miss out. He had got a scholarship so there was a bit of money coming in (about £4 per week as I recall) and she would keep working and Mum would keep working. Eventually he washed his hands of the whole thing. I don’t know how he felt about it in later life.

I had finished school, and I wasn’t yet at university. I was sixteen and I thought myself pretty unique. But how was this uniqueness to manifest itself? How was I to make it clear to the world that David Robert Horton was someone who was going to make a splash? Ah, I was only sixteen, and I had just come second top in the school in English. I would write a novel. I would become the youngest person in the world ever to write a novel.

I got a large notebook, and a pen, and sat under the Mulberry tree, and started to write. I don’t want to make fun, fifty years on, of my 16 year old self under the tree, writing a novel. It was a valiant attempt. It told the story, obviously, of a sixteen year old boy and his thoughts and dreams. What else could it do? I called it ‘The Night is Open’, the idea being that in the day time the hero had to be conventional but at night, in his dreams or imaginings, he was free to be extraordinary. I started on the first page of the book with the first page of the story and then wrote it in real time as it were, in sequence. After a few weeks I had managed to fill the first large notebook and calculated that I had half the novel written.

It was at this stage I must have told someone what I was doing, or perhaps I just happened to pick up a newspaper, and discovered that Francoise Sagan had just published a novel at the age of sixteen. Bugger it. I was clearly going to be 17 by the time I finished, and in any case there wasn’t much point in being the second person to publish a novel at 16. So I stopped, and put the manuscript away somewhere, and went off to begin university life. Perhaps I could become the youngest biologist in history. (I later finished the second half of the manuscript when I was living in Melbourne aged 21, which must make for a big disjunction between the two halves, if I could ever bear to read it again which I can’t).

There was only one university in Perth, so the University of WA was where you went. I entered at the age of 16, having, as the youngest, or one of the youngest entrants that year (and indeed for most years, though I presume there have been younger ones) to get special permission and undertake additional tests including aptitude and psychological evaluation. I guess I was considered able to cope. My choice was either Arts or Science, but with no career guidance in those days, and a family background that had absolutely no experience of making such choices, I went for Science, partly on the grounds that Arts led only to school-teaching (I thought, not entirely incorrectly, and I had no doubt that I didn’t want to do that), partly because of my interest in Biology and aptitude for it (and Chemistry, an interest I acquired in High School). I was determined, I think, that my degree would be as good as it could be, that is I wanted to avoid soft options (as they would now be called, and probably were then). I was one of relatively few people who did the four hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, maths, all at the top level, then called 1.0 or 1A I think). Most people did top level in the subject they intended to major in, lower levels in a couple of other (say) sciences, then added in geography or some other easy option to make up the fourth.

I cruised through Biology and to some extent Chemistry in first year because of the good start I had been given in High School the year before. It was just as well because the Physics and Maths were a real struggle. I had absolutely no aptitude for either, and although I passed both it must have been a very very near run thing in the two subjects.

When the exams were over at the end of first year I happened to bump into Julie Robins in the coffee shop. It may well have been my first view of the coffee shop and perhaps I had gone out of curiosity. As a science student there was very little free time during the course of a week, with five mornings full of lectures and four afternoons with practical classes, and the fifth afternoon spent in the library preparing an essay. Arts students of course, as everyone knew, had almost no time in classes, and spent most of their time in the coffee shop talking about the essays they could write if only they had the time.

But the reason I was there at all was that I had made a vow early in first year not to buy or read books except text books until I had got through the year. It would have been extremely embarrassing to get this far, full of promise, and get an end of year report saying ‘not working to capacity’. In any case I had no idea what work would be required. School and I had reached an equilibrium where the teachers knew how much work I would do and I knew how much was required and we settled on the deal. Until I had got through a year at university I didn’t know whether the bar was set higher or not.

Anyway I had made a pact with myself on the books (though not on TV) and now it was time for my reward. I had saved a few pounds from my scholarship and I had a list of the classic books that I hadn’t yet read but knew that I should (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Sartre and Mann, Forster and Balzac, Zola and Stendhal, Bennett and Butler). I was going to wallow in the luxury of buying a pile of books that had nothing at all to do with science and taking them home and reading them.

Julie was an Arts student. She had been in my class at John Curtin and although I didn’t know her well, there was a feeling that she was one of the core group of interesting and intelligent people in the class. People outside the common run. She was always going to be doing Arts, and had the air even in fourth year high school of someone who was already a University Arts student. When Martin Nash threw a dinner party after we had graduated from High School for the people he thought were the most interesting, or had the most potential, or just for some strange Nashian reason, Julie was one of the three he chose, along with Carolyn Rae, and, for reasons that still escape me, me.

Martin himself was one of the great characters of the school, perhaps the greatest character among some reasonably strong competition. He was openly gay at a time when most people in WA would not only never have met a gay person, but would probably never have even heard the term, nor even believed such a thing were possible. He was respected for it, and, remarkably, not harassed or even I think teased very much. He wore what seemed to be makeup at a time when sunscreen for men was thought effeminate. He shampooed, blow dried and styled his hair at a time when haircuts for men were short and simple and covered in oil. He looked incredibly out of place in a school uniform since he adopted an Oscar Wilde persona (his friend Rupert, a grade lower, was even more like Oscar Wilde, and I think refused to ever wear the uniform).

The dinner party was in a fabulous flat (I had never been in any kind of flat before) at the top of Perth on the edge of Kings Park overlooking both city and river. I don’t know whether Martin had borrowed the flat for the night from another friend, or whether he had actually moved in now that school was finished. Carolyn Rae was rather plump with jet black hair and eyes to match and an olive complexion. She was bright and nice, and could have been a friend, but I never saw her again. The dinner was sophisticated and so were we, spoilt only I think when I commented on the fact that Martin’s friend had stacks of Time magazines, and I said, never having read the magazine myself or knowing anyone who had, that this was very pretentious.

Julie was small and thin faced with blonde hair and rather a sharp tongue. She seemed to consider me to be ok. In the coffee shop she thrust a book towards me and said ‘Have you read this yet?’ ‘This’ was ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and I had never heard of it, let alone read it. I read the first few pages, and when Holden Caulfield’s teacher picked his nose in the second chapter a blinding light hit me. There was this whole range of modern books that were potentially relevant to my life, and they were waiting for me to read them. I had read Dickens and Galsworthy and Bronte and the like at school. They were English classics, and they were clearly great books, but they were of a time and places and people far removed from me. The new European classics on my list would be the same. That was what literature was, that was how you recognised it. Suddenly here was someone who had been studying literature, showing me that there were authors like Salinger who were great authors but also directly relevant to a teenager in the 60s. It felt like the start of my real education, and Salinger was added to my pile, and later McCullers, and Braine, and Amis and Mailer and Golding. My heart sang at the thought of just how much there was still to read.

Light on the Hill
When I set off, aged 16, for my first day at university I was dressed for it. Well dressed. My mother and grandmother had no concept of what a university was. I guess they saw it as a kind of third, and very fancy, level of school. Just as high school was much grander than our little local primary school, university (there was only one at the time) was grander again. It was a place where the upper classes went and became doctors and lawyers I suppose, and when I began there I was among some of the first few generations of poor students who could take advantage of the new scholarship system to get into these hallowed halls.

So, all of that being the case, while I (and others) might have got a bit sloppy in clothing towards the end of high school, there was no room for sloppiness here and my family was determined I would look the part, fit in well. So I had been bought a new very smart blue blazer, and my mother had acquired somehow the crest of the university in a cloth form suitable for sewing on to the pocket, which my grandmother did. Just like the high school blazer, here was the university blazer. I would belong. Oh and they got me a smart, and shiny, brief case. It was an ugly orange brown colour and much too big, but it was a brief case, and that is obviously what you would need for university.

School bags were in themselves something of a badge of status. At primary school in my day the fashion was for a satchel, slung over the shoulder, the length of the strap precisely correct to allow the satchel to bounce in a sophisticated way on the hip. The cool kids would leave their satchels open in a casual sort of way, but I don’t think I ever did that, and they tended to have well worn and not very big ones, whereas mine would have been new and too big. I have no idea what we would have carried in them. Lunch, obviously, presumably pencils and ruler and rubber. Maybe a book. Not much anyway.

At high school the fashion was, somehow, no one knew how or why, just was, for “Gladstone bags”, I guess named after the nineteenth century British Prime Minister. They had a single handle, and the top opened up with a kind of system of hinges to the same extent as the body of the bag. Nobody carried them closed, but open, hand through the handle, the bag slung on the back, books sticking out at various angles. Again the really cool guys had a small model, not big enough to hold much, but who cared. Mine was the uncool larger model.

And now I was carrying a brief case, on a bus, on the first morning, wearing my university blazer, and, I imagine, smart new trousers and shoes. I got off at the front entrance to discover of course, to my horror, that I was the only university student in the universe to be wearing a blazer with a crest on the pocket, and that while one or two others might have had brief cases they were certainly nothing like mine. If I had been under-dressed for scouts I was over-dressed for university.

But I was there, could try to be inconspicuous while I figured out where to go, what to do. First step was enrolment in the big hall. I had no sense of how to proceed with this. My gut feeling was that if I was at the university with the big kids I needed to show them I belonged, was right up there with the best and brightest, and the obvious way to do this was not just to enrol in science, but to enrol in the four hardest subjects and at the highest level of each – a hand with four aces, no bluff there. So it was not just zoology 1A, but chemistry 1A, physics 1A, maths 1A. Ah if only I could go back and give my naive young self a bit of a nudge.

Now the zoology was fine but the other three, especially maths and physics, were nightmares. They were all designed for, respectively, students intending to major in each of those subjects, and they were hard. They were held in the main part of the campus, in, if I remember correctly, dusty old laboratories and lecture rooms, and it all felt like being back at school. I struggled, and struggled, and struggled, and hated every moment of every course for the year, and at the end of it just scraped through those three subjects.

But all that time the zoology department was like a shining beacon on the hill. It was in what had once been an old mansion, up on the hill, next to Kings Park. And whenever I was slaving away at incomprehensible equations, or conducting experiments that never worked, my eyes looked up the hill.

Getting to the end of first year without failing those three subjects felt like I had climbed a mountain and lived to tell the tale. So now the department on the hill could become a home, and it quickly became obvious that it would be. When you began second year zoology it was assumed that you were serious about the subject, were intending a career, and you were treated accordingly. It began with a field trip, how wonderful, to Rottnest Island. This was the first time I had been away from home without family, and it felt like a giant leap forward to adulthood. And what a place. Rottnest in those days was a tourist resort, but the tourism was very strictly kept to one part of the island, the rest being a nature reserve. And a reserve in which the zoology department undertook research.

We drove in a bus across the island and discovered that we were heading for another light on the hill. This was the Rottnest Lighthouse. Once fully manned it was now partly automated, which meant that the lighthouse and associated buildings had been made available for use by the Zoology people.

We piled out on to the sand and into the lighthouse, which had several floors for use as a male dormitory (the female students would use the main house), each with several old metal and wire bunk beds of the kind that might have been used to harden up army recruits in the War. But it all seemed like magic, as we grabbed a bed, slung our bag on it, and then went outside to begin the adventure.

Some staff (including, amazingly, the Professor himself, Harry Waring, who looked perhaps, rather wonderfully and endearingly, like the classic absent-minded professor – having forgotten, in this photo, his belt – but more accurately could be described as looking like the odd job maintenance man for the lighthouse) went along on the trip, and a few post graduate students, who would show us, over the next few days, field techniques like mark and recapture, and talk to us about quokka behaviour in front of the quokkas. It all felt like being out of the dusty old textbooks and in to the cutting edge of science where new things were being discovered, old ideas overturned, and we were foot soldiers, recruited to the cause. By the time we had returned home we had all happily enlisted in Harry’s army, and the command post on the hill would be, we hoped, where we would be based for many years to come.


How the West was lost
We got back from Rottnest Island, shook the sand from our shoes, and got down to work. The field trip had been a smorgasboard, a sampling of some of the many research activities going on in the Zoology Department in WA. The state was essentially Zoology Incognita, and the genius of Professor Waring, arriving from the industrial wasteland of post-war Birmingham, was to set in motion a great wave that would sweep all before it.

Zoology at Uni WA had many advantages, but the major one was that, for both research and teaching, nature was never far away. The Department was on the edge of the amazing Kings Park, and neither the ocean in one direction, nor the hills (“Ranges”) in the other, nor even the desert to the east and the great forests to the south, were very far from the building on the hill.

Another advantage, I guess, was that the state was isolated from the rest of Australia. Different now that flying is cheap and frequent, but in those far off times of the fifties and sixties, even Adelaide was two days on a slow train, or several days bouncing over a goat track littered with wrecks and ruined tyres in a car. Just as far in the other direction of course.

West Australians were the poor cousins (in those days before the minerals of the north began to be dug up in huge quantities) of the country, looked down on when they weren’t being ignored, and consequently a chip on the shoulder was part of our birthright. So in Zoology we were on our own, studying a unique (also the product of a much older isolation) fauna and flora in our own way, and to hell with everyone else. It was an effective ethos and soon the first PhDs from Harry’s program began to fan out across the country taking up senior academic positions.

And in a microcosm of all this, up on the hill, us second years were also isolated from the rest of the campus, a band of brothers and sisters who had seen the light, and, if truth be told, pitied those down below whose destiny hadn’t been to be in Harry’s Army. Ah Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!

The sense of being part of a glorious endeavour was heightened by the linkages between undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Unlike the rigid hierarchy I was later to experience, disastrously, there was a sense here that it was one for all and all for one. That the second year student was just a larva soon to pupate and then to burst out into a glorious butterfly. Well, possibly.

Anyway, as students we worked hard and late in the department (begrudging any time away down in the valley, where, of necessity, other subjects had to be done. I had, with some recognition of my first year near disaster, picked a lower level second year chemistry, and biochemistry and physiology. They were bad choices, as it would turn out). And so did staff and the PhD and Master’s students, toiling away on fascinating projects. Our laboratory lights burning midnight oil attracted thirsty post-grads, who would drop in to take advantage of our coffee supply, and repay us with tales of derring do in the study of marsupial rumens, or desert reptiles, or marine molluscs. As would staff, including, not infrequently, Harry Waring himself, constant pipe drooping out of his mouth spilling ash as he accepted a strong brew and regaled us with tales of past, present and future of the world of Zoology, our world. He had been a student of the almost mythological Hogben in Aberdeen, and an associate of his in Birmingham, and so linked almost back to times when modern Zoology began.

We were part of the great endeavour, scientists now, no longer students. (Though one of the doctoral students pricked the bubble a little for me. An insect collection was part of the second year work. I had put considerable effort into mine, both in the collection and the identification, and I commented that this would be of great value in my later scientific career, I would keep it by my side so that I could always identify any insect that came my way. The doctoral student suggested quietly that I was unlikely to find second year work of value much beyond second year, and that I would look back on the insect collection with some embarrassment when I was a professional. He was right of course).

The second year zoology class was big in 1963, and we were divided up (alphabetically) into two halves for practical classes. While we knew the people in our own half well, those in the other half were only familiar faces. It was the time when a serial killer was loose in Perth suburban streets. We were all aware of it, but these were things that happened to other people not to people we knew. Shirley McLeod probably felt the same way. She was baby-sitting near the campus, her way of earning some money to help her through university, when Eric Cooke shot her through the window and killed her. I don’t remember her well, she was in the other half of the practical class, but I do remember a fair haired pleasant girl, always smiling and friendly, delighted to be at university, probably with plans for the way her life would be. For all of us I think it was our first taste of violent death in someone we knew, the first sense that, even in Perth, life was potentially as much about nastiness and evil, coming without warning through a window, as about happiness, working hard, and succeeding. Shirley was studying when she was shot.

By the time we got to third year it was like the end of a marathon, the last few stayers struggling on towards the end. Those who were majoring in Botany or Geology or Chemistry had moved on out, and the ones that were left were the ones set for careers in Zoology if only they could do well enough.

There wasn’t much room for outside interests, but I had continued to play hockey and had taken up badminton. I wasn’t a bad B-grade player, and was picked in a train-on squad for the university inter-varsity team, which, composed, except for me, of Malaysians and Indonesians for whom badminton was a national sport, was very very good. Nevertheless, when I was told politely that I hadn’t been selected for the final squad of 6 I wasn’t pleased, and demanded the right to challenge for a position. There was no such right of course, but the selectors, bemused, agreed to give me a go. Pick anyone you like on the squad they said. I picked the chap who was clearly the weakest of the six, because he was always losing to the other five. We went out to play. He also looked bemused and proceeded to beat me by about 21-0, or perhaps it was 21-1, hardly raising a sweat. I later did play intervarsity badminton for UNE, but that was a much weaker team, and I was a few years wiser.

Third year work was at a much higher level. We were acquiring skills like statistics that we would need, learning the details of embryology, ecology, nutrition, physiology, gaining more intense knowledge of fossils and evolution.

But I had made a big mistake. If there was a general over-arching philosophy in Zoology in WA it was that the subject’s future lay in being linked to physiology. Harry was a physiologist himself, but it was more than that, it was a feeling that to study these unique animals, in this unique and often harsh environment, meant studying their physiology, understanding how they had evolved and adapted to, say, desert conditions. Hence my physiology in second year seemed only natural.

But now it was third year and I needed a second subject to go with Zoology. It would have been life-changing if someone, Harry himself perhaps, or any of the others, had taken me aside at this point and advised me. Had said “Look, you are going to be a zoologist, so you need to put all your strength into third year zoology and pave the way for Honours and post graduate work, whatever you do don’t do a second major (ie a second third year subject, since third year subjects, “majors”, were designed for those going on in that subject and were extremely testing and packed full of work for that reason).

This mythical person might well have explored my particular interests, and discovering that they were more along the lines of evolution and ecology than physiology or nutrition, should have said “How about you do a first year geology or botany as your second subject? You should really have done them before, both of them, given the way I foresee your career going, but better late than never.”

But this imaginary conversation never happened. Instead I had funneled myself towards physiology, this would undoubtedly be a plus in a Waring Zoology Department, and then there was a clincher. I knew, one of those pieces of information that circulate in hot houses, that only one person had ever attempted the “Double Major” of Zoology and Physiology, which loomed like a twin peaked Mount Everest. That person was the star post-graduate student (and would later succeed Waring as Professor), Don Bradshaw. So, rather in the way I had chosen the hardest topics on that long ago first day, now it seemed obvious that I should shine as the second person to attempt this mighty feat. I would show that I was a star, and my achievements would later be spoken of in hushed tones like those of Don. Done.

A terrible mistake. Second year physiology had been pleasant enough, third year was unpleasant and hard. I hated every minute of it. And what was worse, because it was so demanding, it sucked my intellectual energy away from Zoology. Couldn’t afford to fail this albatross hanging around my neck, otherwise I was stuffed, would have to do another year, and there was no scholarship money for that. So I ground on, managed to pass it alright, but at some cost. And it was to have another unforeseen consequence, later.

A final field trip to Rottnest, bookending my zoology undergraduate life, and there we all were, likely lads and lasses, on the hill again for one last time as a group (me, untypically, in the middle of the photo). Exams, and the weight of Physiology had pulled me back to third in the Zoology class. Enough to let me go on to Honours, thank goodness, but not enough to go into Honours perceived as a rising star.

So, a final vacation filled with working in the hospital laboratories as usual and then it was back to the hill for the Honour’s Year. The structure had changed recently, and we were I think the first year to try a new, experimental Zoology Honour’s year. There were 4 of us doing it, and under the supervision of Don Bradshaw, his first teaching role as he completed his PhD. The idea was that rather than narrow down to a single topic and thesis at this stage, honours would be seen as a continuation of undergraduate life, and we would continue to receive a broad zoological education, prior to finally making a choice in the post-graduate years. The result was that we worked as a team, on, I think, 5 different projects during the year. The projects involved ecology, behaviour, physiology, nutrition. We all worked together, but for each project one person wrote up the work and presented the seminar, while each of us wrote up particular aspects we had personally done. It was probably a good idea, but I find it hard to know now whether I would have been better with a single long project.

We were a reasonably close group, survivors of all those years of school and university, all of those kids who had started out on the journey had boiled down to just four. We were on the verge of scientific careers. We had to do well to be allowed to go on to a PhD, and, in my case at least, well enough to get a post-graduate scholarship.

We had our own Honour’s Laboratory – for three years we had watched other students in there and now others would be watching us. We worked together, for example on all night stints observing quokka behaviour from a hide in the yards. And we had many field trips together. On one we had been collecting geckoes on a big granite outcrop in the Darling Ranges. It was the middle of the night as we were finishing, miles from anywhere in the darkness. Suddenly there were dozens of lights in the hills all around us (the outcrop was in a valley), spaced like a necklace. We had no idea what was happening, but gradually the lights began to edge down the hills towards us, getting closer together. We had been using torches too, but as we whispered to each other wondering what the hell was going on, we decided to turn them off so we couldn’t be seen. The lights kept coming (had we seen the movie we might have said ‘who are these guys?’) until they were near the edge of the outcrop, and at that stage, terrified, the four of us ran in the darkness towards the only gap in the cordon, and kept running, stumbling and falling until we reached the car (Mike’s old Volkswagen). We drove off in a fast getaway, and looking back, could see that the lights had converged at the point where we had been. At the time our best theory was aliens looking for specimens, as we were looking for geckoes. In the cold light of 45 years later I think it was probably kangaroo hunters, curious as to what other hunters were doing there. But I am still glad we didn’t wait to find out.

I didn’t then, or now, of course, believe in aliens, or ghosts, or anything supernatural. But this was my first time in the real Australian bush. Certainly my first time in the bush at night, and I felt that anything was possible. Any kind of unstoppable threat could come out of that alien landscape, even to a band of brothers like we four honour’s students, working away, minding our own business. Both my grandmother and grandfather would have agreed.

We four students I think, assumed that we were working at the same level, we were certainly working together, and I guess if we had thought about it we would have assumed that we would all be assessed as equal. There was no apparent way for the staff to distinguish between us, other than the individual bits we did, which were a small component in the overall scheme. It came as a great shock when two of the group were awarded first class, the other two, one of whom was me, not even upper second, but lower second. This was devastating and I think, even after all these years, unjust. It can have only been based on perceptions, expectations. Or was my attempt to star in Zoology as unsoundly based as my badminton challenge?

Part of my shock I think was to do with the fact that I had thought that we had all been accepted into the zoology club. That these superhuman characters like Waring and Main, gatekeepers, had agreed to let us come into their world. Now I had found myself pushed outside and the gate slammed in my face. I hadn’t been allowed to belong, I was not one of those who would pick up the torch of learning and carry on. They hadn’t accepted me as being one of them. My cosy little gang had been punctured.

The injustice was one thing, the implications for my future were another. Honours 2b meant you couldn’t go straight into a PhD, and the future, which had seemed clear-cut, was suddenly very murky.

You’ll like this chap
Having got second class honours, and therefore not being able to go directly into the WA PhD program with a scholarship, there was only one avenue available if I was to continue on to become a zoologist. Not that there was any “if” about it, I was going to become a zoologist, a top zoologist, and if the Zoology staff hadn’t had the sense to recognise that, then that was their loss.

But bravado could only take you so far. In real terms there was only one other pathway and that was to enrol for a Masters as a stepping stone towards the Doctorate, and to do it while employed as what was called a “Demonstrator” (a very old title) or a “Teaching Fellow” (more newfangled). Since Zoology (and Botany) involved very large weekly practical classes, lecturers couldn’t deal with showing students how to dissect, say, an earthworm, and needed numbers of zoology graduates to do the hands-on teaching. Sometimes these might be people (usually women) who just wanted to earn a bit of extra money, but generally this work was allocated to post-grad students without a scholarship, who could survive on a pittance, and squeeze in research work on a Masters or PhD in the evenings or the odd morning with no classes.

At the time when I was cast adrift from the promised land there were two universities advertising for a Zoology Demonstrator with opportunity for post graduate enrolment, Melbourne and New England. Knowing nothing of either, and having no preference, really, except a mild tendency towards the rural university, I sent off applications and waited, hopefully. In what seemed a short time, back came, pleasingly, a job offer from Melbourne. I accepted, instantly, in case they changed their mind. Only to find in the letterbox, by the old front gate, a day or two later, an offer from New England. Bugger, I was in demand. Why couldn’t they have come in reverse order? Too bad, I had accepted Melbourne, my word was my bond, and it never occurred to me to go back on it and reject Melbourne and accept UNE. My bed was made, my path was set, I was off to Victoria, it would be an adventure.

I said goodbye, quite happily, to mother and grandmother. Was I an ungrateful wretch? Yes I was. Did I understand how heartbroken they were? No I didn’t, and wouldn’t until many years later, as an older and marginally wiser man. All I saw was that I was leaving home, no longer a child, gaining independence, in a big city on the other side of the country. Getting away from being looked after as a 20 year old man was a positive, it seemed. Unlike leaving my little dog behind which was heart-wrenching for both of us.

Board a plane (itself an adventure, having only ever flown once before, on, I think, a DC4 doing a cargo run to and from Rottnest which we hitched a ride on as Honour’s students once), and some hours later, ears blocked and very painful, land in the big city. I arrived at the front door of the Zoology Department in a taxi, clutching a suitcase in my hand, “unsophisticated suburban boy from small town arrives in big smoke”, was the caption if anyone was watching. The Department was awe inspiring, brand new, two stories, pale brick, big glass windows, a feel of a modern office about it, not the rabbit warren of dark small rooms I was used to back in the house on the hill. I entered the big glass doors nervously, but it was a very warm and cordial welcome inside. Professor Geoffrey Burnstock assigned his personal secretary to settle me in, and quickly this nice lady had found me a bed-sit in Toorak, introduced me to her husband who was a big wheel in the St Kilda hockey club, shown me around the Department, and got me set up in a very nice brand new office with extensive laboratory space. Hey hey, this was something like. They appreciated me here, anyway.

What I didn’t know was why.

During the tour of the building it had become obvious that there was something unusual about its structure. What I hadn’t realised was that the imposing building I had arrived at was something like the false facade in a cowboy movie. The tour began in this glossy part, physiologists downstairs, geneticists upstairs (“where are the zoologists?” I began to wonder), modern laboratories, nice offices, bright young things in white lab coats searching for glittering prizes. But there was another part to the building as I discovered as we walked through the teaching laboratories and into the old part of the building which was just like what I had left behind in Perth. And here were the zoologists, rooms crammed with zoological specimens, piles of reprints and old books, enough space to fit a chair and a desk. Rarely has a building so accurately reflected, not so much form and function but form and status, and form and history.

Burnstock had been appointed as Professor of Zoology straight from the nearby Physiology Department. Where Waring was a zoological physiologist, Burnstock was a pure physiologist. He brought with him several physiologists from his old department. The addition of the new wing, the facade, symbolised, and made concrete, an apparent desire to leave the old Zoology Department behind. The way of the future was physiology and genetics (which had its own professor), and the rump of the old zoology (where there were still specimens collected and labelled by Baldwin Spencer, the first Professor, in Central Australia some 60 years earlier) could be left to wither and die.

I don’t know whether Waring was aware of all of this, but he would certainly have known that Burnstock’s background was in pure physiology. So when he wrote the letter of recommendation which got me the job, he included the phrase which he must have known would be a clincher “You’ll like this chap, he’s a physiologist”. Hence the warm welcome. I was unaware of this introduction until later, but I had thought I had been appointed, on merit, as a zoologist to a Zoology Department, and it was only as the first few days went by (days that included my 21st birthday, celebrated by looking at the cards from my mother and grandmother which sat on the smooth white painted shelf in my laboratory – leaving home wasn’t necessarily all beer and skittles, it seemed) that, heart sinking, I came to understand that they thought Waring’s comment was literally true, that I had majored in Physiology, and after a brief wrong turning in Zoology Honours, I was ready to be welcomed back into the world of pure physiology.

Could I do this? No I couldn’t. Third Year Physiology had been a misery, there was no way I could spend several years doing post-grad work in the subject. So I mulled and I mulled (not knowing the contents of Waring’s letter), and finally told myself not to be silly. I was a zoologist, this was a zoology department, what could they do to me? It would be fine. So, summoning sinews etc I made an appointment with Burnstock and let him know that I really really really didn’t want to do a physiology masters, but would quite like, please sir, to work on the taxonomy-evolution-biogeography of a group of lizards (a group suggested to me by one of the Zoology PhDs, a nice fellow, who worked on snakes, but knew, it seemed, everything about the reptiles of Victoria). Can’t remember how the conversation went, frosty I imagine, but anyway, it was done, weight lifted off my shoulders, could get on with research in zoology now.

Had barely got back to my room when the message came that, since I was no longer doing physiology, this was no longer a suitable room for me. There was another room available, just round here in the old dark zoology wing. And indeed there was, in the old wing a bit chopped off the second year laboratory with plywood partition had been used as a windowless cupboard by the cleaners, but now, mops and brooms removed, chair and small desk inserted, would be my future home. Somewhat noisy whenever there was a laboratory class on the other side of the barely head high plywood, but can’t have everything, right. Oh, and by the way, you know how we mentioned research funds being available for your research? Sorry, we meant to say there were physiology research funds available. As a zoology researcher you wouldn’t need money, stands to reason.

Well, bugger them, I thought, you won’t stop me, I’ll just get on with it. My PhD friend told me not to worry, I would need to sort out the taxonomy first (the group had hardly been studied since the 1880s, and indeed one major reference I used dated from the 1830s) and that could be done with preserved specimens. He himself had lots of jars full of “my” lizards which I was welcome to examine and measure, and there would be plenty more in the Museum (then called the “National” Museum, in competition with the “Australian” Museum based in Sydney, the old colonial rivalry was never far away). So I trotted down into town, met Joan Dixon the curator of vertebrates, who took a liking to me (she didn’t always, it seemed) and we would be friends for years. “Yes, of course, here’s a table (in the old catacomb-like collection storage area under the building) light, microscope, come whenever you like”.

So I was on my way. Doing a lot of practical teaching with the big second year class, spending the time in between getting to know the lizards. But there was more to life than work, wasn’t there? Apparently not (except for hockey, once a week), since I knew no one, had no family, no support network of any kind in Melbourne. The three way division of the “Zoology” Department resulted in three separate groups of academics and post-grads who socialised as separate groups. In addition, and very much unlike WA Zoology, there was a complete division between staff and post-grads on one hand, and undergraduates on the other. Oh, and then there was me – had rejected physiology, was not a geneticist, was not seen, having come from outside, as one of the under siege tight-knit zoology crew.

I wasn’t invited to anyone’s house during my time in Melbourne. If there were parties the staff were having they weren’t telling me. I went home to a one room bed-sit each night. Come on, this was the Swinging Sixties, I was 21, where was the FUN?

If I wasn’t having fun with staff (although, to be fair, one or two geneticists, and a zoology Master’s student, were friendly during daylight hours and would invite me at work for a cup of coffee and a chat about research) then that just left students. I overlapped in age with the students I was teaching, and I was treating them, during classes, as if they were human beings and not some kind of lower orders, behaving, in fact, like the post-grads in WA had behaved towards me. The result was that some of them might join me for coffee when they saw me drinking alone in the university cafe. Might mention that there was a party on, friends of friends, in Carlton, Friday night, turn up if you like, might be fun. So I did, and it was, and there were often parties, and it was better than drinking alone.

My work was going well. The Museum collection was letting me sort out the taxonomy, the specimens the PhD student had collected gave me more detail for Victoria, better idea of variation within species. I kept going back to him, would you mind if I checked out species x again, need to do some additional measurements, check that colour pattern, get started on this other group, record the habitats in more detail. I was feeling my way, not sure what was useful, what wasn’t. I had no real supervisor, the person who would have had that role (and an early emigrant from Waring’s department) was away on sabbatical for a year, and I was nominally on the books of another PhD student.

After some months of this I became embarrassed at disturbing my PhD friend, knocking on his door, disrupting his work. So I began going late in the day, when he was just finishing, so I could work without disturbing him. I knew his collection of my lizards as well as he did now so I didn’t need help to find things. And eventually when that routine was ok I would sometimes go after work so I could do measurements unobtrusively and not annoy him at all. I thought I was being very considerate. It seemed not, like a bolt out of the blue, late in the year, I was told he had made a complaint about me using his collection without permission in his absence. Didn’t talk to me about it, drop a hint, a quiet word, no, a formal complaint.

I was devastated and wasn’t sure what to do next. Not long to think about it. I was called in by Professor Burnstock who had his own complaint about my behaviour – I was too friendly with the students, it wasn’t permitted, if I was seen on casual terms with any student again I was going to be sacked. I stumbled out of his office, out through the big glass doors, and, as it happened, bumped straight into a group of the students I knew particularly well (one of whom was interested in research on reptiles, and would later go on to do that). Seeing my distress they said hey, come to the Cafe, you need a cup of coffee. I hadn’t thought too much about it, but our meeting, and subsequent joint travel towards the Cafe, had taken place right under Burnstock’s office window.

I arrived back after the coffee (and an agreement that in future I would have to keep my distance from all students, interested in reptiles or not) only to get a message that Burnstock wanted me in his office, NOW. He told me that I had disobeyed his instruction, immediately after he had given it, and that was that, I was out on my ear, pack your bags, you’re gone. Melbourne was meant to have been a lifeline for a chap who wanted to be a Zoologist. Instead it was a dead-end – no protests from the physiologists, cause I wasn’t one; and no protests from the zoologists – wasn’t clear perhaps what I had done, but must have done something outside the Code of Zoologists, stood to reason really, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a complaint. I packed up my few belongings in my car, and set off for Perth. It was a long way. My career in science was over, before it began, where could I possibly go from here?


Travelling North
When I got back to Perth I pretended to be the sophisticate, at home in a big city, experienced in all the fabulous activities of the 60s. The first disco had just opened in Perth, and I took my Honours comrades along to show them what it was all about, I had, after all, once been, briefly, and to be honest, rather boringly, to one in Melbourne.

But it was a hard image to maintain, and mostly I just sat, as before, in a deck chair under the old Mulberry Tree. Once my cousin (by marriage) dropped in. I had essentially grown up with him, but we had gone our separate ways (me to university, he into the navy) and had lost touch and any common interests. He had served on the aircraft carrier Melbourne, which a year or so earlier had collided with the Voyager destroyer, sinking it and drowning many sailors. He hadn’t been on at the time. Not sure why we were discussing it, perhaps the inquiry had just concluded or something. But he insisted that the Captain of the Melbourne was a great man and would certainly not have been to blame (he had been blamed in the Press as I remember). I might have pointed out that whatever the reality, the facts of the matter, perceptions would really count. The Melbourne Captain was later cleared, but it might easily not have happened like that.

Anyway, I sat in the shade, reading books, waiting, I suppose, for something to turn up, although I had gone into the department to see if they knew of anything I might try. There was a research job going with WA Fisheries on crayfish, but that was as little to my interest or capability as physiology, and I went back to waiting. And, like magic, something did turn up, the University of New England wanted to know if I was still interested in the job I had been awarded a year earlier. The second choice who had filled it had moved on, and there was again a vacancy. If I wanted it I better get myself to Melbourne to be interviewed by the Professor, who would be there the following week for a conference. I packed the car and was on the road again, retracing my steps all the way back to Melbourne.

The interview was conducted in Tony O’Farrell’s motel room, and Alex Stock (who had a personal chair) took part as well. Being interviewed by two full professors in the circumstances I was in should have been daunting, but somehow wasn’t. I hit it off with Tony immediately (not so much with Professor Stock, well, not at all, and never did), but I also had a feeling that the tape of my life had been rewound back to where I knocked back their offer a year earlier, only this time the script would have me accepting it as if the awful year in Melbourne had never happened. So, I had the job, there was just one proviso, one condition. There were to be no politics. Sure, fine, whatever you say, no politics it is (I certainly didn’t say it like that). But inside my mind was saying “no politics, what does that mean, no politics? What on earth is he on about?”

It was later, much later, that I managed to piece together what this was all about. Tony had, it seemed, curious, and concerned, about the reason I was on the loose again after only a year in Melbourne, asked someone on the Melbourne Zoology staff, what had happened. Whoever it was (perhaps my acting supervisor) had said, “oh, no big problem, it was just politics”. They had clearly meant by this the departmental politics of physiology versus zoology and my being got rid of to make room for a physiologist when I hadn’t played the game. Tony however seems to have heard this not as “small p” departmental politics, but as “big P” Politics. It was the time, early 1967, when anger about, and opposition to, the Vietnam War was beginning to gain momentum. There had been protests in Melbourne over LBJ’s visit the year before, and both Monash and Melbourne universities were seen as being much more radical than campuses elsewhere. Tony I imagine thought that he had here a bit of a radical, perhaps a socialist, perhaps even, heaven forbid, a communist, and there would be none of that sort of stuff in his department in a conservative university in a country town.

The irony was that at the time I was somewhere just right of centre. In the tea room, where, yes indeed, there were one or two staff members who were strongly opposed to the War, I was likely to argue with them that it was necessary, a judgement I based on my reading of Time Magazine and Newsweek, media outlets I still, in those days, thought were objective and factual sources of information. I had even, and this is just between you and me dear reader, told my grandmother in 1961 that she should vote for Menzies because I didn’t see Arthur Calwell as being of Prime Ministerial quality. I still shudder in embarrassment years later at the memory. Anyway, O’Farrell was happy to employ me on the basis that I was ok except for suspect Politics which he would need to keep an eye on in case I erupted in some kind of spontaneous demonstration in Beardy Street, and I was happy to be employed on any conditions really.

I filled up the back seat of my old Volkswagen with the stuff I had left stored (unsure of where I would be heading) in Melbourne – clothes, bedding, books, odds and ends – and was heading North. It was, as it would turn out, the best move I could have made. Should have done it years, well, one year, earlier.

Over the next six years or so in Armidale I would go to a lot of parties, play a lot of sport (including for UNE, as below in the inter-varsity hockey team in Hobart), get married, have children, buy a house, make life-long friends, complete three extra degrees to add to the Honour’s degree, gain a qualification and a referee which would set me up for my major academic career, and have a lot of fun.

The University had been established, uniquely, as a result of community pressure and politicking and fund raising, the people of New England sick of seeing their children having to go away to Sydney or Brisbane for university education, and seeing, I presume, a great opportunity to have a university focused on rural research in the rich farming area of the northern tablelands of NSW.

But it also proved to be, like the University of WA, ideally situated for biological research. Within a few minutes you were in open farming land, and within an easy drive east you were in the rugged edge of the Great Dividing Range, falling steeply to the coastal plain; an easy drive west took you to semi-arid country. A couple of hours had you on the coast with an interesting marine environment, and a few hours north took you into sub-tropical Queensland. I was heading towards a pretty idyllic place to do zoology (although it took me a while to adjust to the rural side, remarking, on my first drive around the countryside outside Armidale “Wow, look at those big brown sheep”. They were, of course, cows).

I was also, as it turned out, heading to a department that was undergoing a great expansion and ferment. The year before I arrived O’Farrell had appointed, an undoubtedly courageous decision, a brash and energetic young American academic. Hal Heatwole had interests and expertise in ecology, herpetology, marine biology, tropical ecology. He was an inspiring lecturer and an inspirational post-grad supervisor. His arrival had stimulated a flurry of new post-graduate students beginning research work, of which I was to be one.

His teaching style took me back to WA. Here was a lecturer who was friendly with undergraduate students and encouraged his demonstrators to be the same. He held parties at his house, almost weekly, to which staff, post-grads, and undergraduates were all invited and came. Not an approach that would have been appreciated, or permitted, in Melbourne, but the result was that a rather staid even stagnant department with little research program was quickly transformed into one where undergraduates were clamouring to do research work, and those who completed higher degrees were beginning to expand out and fill posts in various institutions around the country. It was all very exciting.

I finished the Masters (as well as, most weeks, teaching four full afternoons of practical classes, and also teaching in the holidays in the university’s unique “external student” program, a first for Australia) I had begun in Melbourne, and was now eligible to enrol for a PhD – I was back on the road again towards a career in science. Got my research underway and then had a kind of mid post-grad crisis.

I had never really resolved the split between my interests in Science and The Arts. Instead I had just got onto the science highway, and in spite of a few bumps in the road, had stayed there ever since. But I didn’t want to die wondering whether I should have gone into Arts instead. So I quietly went off after enrolling in the PhD and enrolled in an Arts degree simultaneously. I could get some credits from my science degree to count towards an Arts degree, but I would have to do at least five new subjects, including a Major.

So it was English and Ancient History. I had an interest in Roman and Greek history, so the latter was obvious, but the New England course began, somewhat unusually, with Australian Archaeology, taught by another newcomer to the university, Isabel McBryde, also an inspiring figure. I discovered, to my surprise, knowing nothing about it previously, that Australian archaeology was very interesting (and was also about to flower vigorously), so I continued on into the second year course (there was no third year, although you could do this course as either a second or third year component of a degree).

At this point Isabel discovered that I was also doing a PhD in Zoology and asked if I would be willing to teach my fellow archeology students about bone identification (bones being often found in sites and revealing much information about diet and environment). I did, with great pleasure – it was to prove an important decision.

I reached third year Arts (majoring in English literature) as I was approaching what looked like being the last year or so of the PhD. I had timed it so that I wouldn’t be trying to write up a thesis while continuing the undergraduate work. At this point, someone in university administration, happened to notice that what they thought (I guess) was two people with the same name doing a PhD and an Arts degree respectively was actually the same person.

Consternation. Hal, who knew I was doing both, asked if I was managing ok, and when I said yes he reported back to administration that everything was fine. So I was allowed to complete the Arts degree, but the university quickly changed its laws to prevent dual enrolment. I guess I will remain unique in having done two degrees simultaneously.

Anyway, while an amusing diversion, that didn’t get a PhD finished, and a career in Zoology required one. And suddenly, what had seemed like a steady jog to the finish line became increasingly frantic. Almost at the moment, it seemed, that I took up my pen and wrote the heading “Chapter 1″ my supervisor Hal announced that he was off on a year’s sabbatical (at that time every 7 years for academic staff), not somewhere close by but in Tunisia. So for the next twelve months I would complete a chapter, send it off in a parcel to Tunisia by camel train, wait for comments to come back, make corrections, send back, each parcel taking, each way, a week or two. At the same time, with one eye on what the hell I was going to do when I finished the thesis a friend, reading the massive “guide to academic scholarships and post-doc fellowships” found something ideal for both of us in England. One that would suit his marine biology interests in Newcastle, one that would suit my biogeography research in York. Even better, the scholarships, based on a fund donated by a Victorian era soap millionaire with a desire to do good, were so obscure that no one else seemed likely to apply for them. So we applied, were successful, and were given a starting date of the following October (start of the UK academic year), a few months away – I would be heading even further North. However the success was contingent on me having a PhD, which meant finishing the damn thing, and getting it successfully examined, in a very short time indeed.

Quick work from Hal in Tunisia, quick work by me, thesis submitted and sent off to three referees, one in England, one Canada, one Australia. With a heartfelt plea from Hal to get the examining done quickly in order to then get it through the UNE bureaucracy. But now it was October, had to sell house, store furniture, get packed, head off to England leaving our poor dog behind. All the time knowing that the thesis was not yet approved. But, arriving (after buying a second hand camper van from returning Australians in Bristol, and a brief stop to meet, for the first time, my father’s relatives on the way) in York I discovered that the examiners had been approving, I was indeed Doctor Horton, and I would start being paid a salary. Phew!

I had, in a way, completed the return home that my grandparents, feeling they had failed out in the “jungle”, were never able to do. I had gone “back” to York with a university career and future under my belt, would I be welcomed with open arms, or what?


An art or a science
The University of York in 1973 when I arrived was only ten years old, many of its buildings much less. It was part of a new wave of “concrete” universities, following the “red brick” campuses of earlier times, and of course the hallowed ancient halls of Oxbridge.

The biological sciences (none of this old-fashioned “Zoology”) were in a long concrete and glass structure with light airy laboratories and offices set along very long halls. There was, inside, something of the Melbourne division between the modern biological sciences involving chemicals and test tubes, and the ecologists, all beards and corduroys. Whereas Melbourne Zoology didn’t really want to know you unless you were a Melbourne graduate, York was much more broadminded, being equally happy with a degree from either Oxford or Edinburgh.

I didn’t know whether Hal had written a reference saying “You’ll like this chap, he’s a biogeographer”, but that seemed to have been the attraction to Professor Williamson, Oxford graduate and lecturer at Edinburgh before being appointed as Professor at York, whose research interest was also biogeography/evolution. So, all good. There was some tutoring to be done each week, but otherwise I was free to follow up some publications from my thesis, do a lot of reading in evolution and the history of science in the excellent University Library (catching up on general reading in biology there hadn’t been time for in the last few years of specialised thesis work), and begin work on some new theoretical ideas about biogeography.

It was also great to be able at long last to get to know the ancient stamping grounds of Youngs and Carters, and to get to know my father’s relatives in the Midlands. For someone used to the huge distances of Australia, the idea of driving for an hour or two, apparently unheard of for most people at that time, was nothing. I could go to Coventry for a weekend, where we were made welcome by Aunt and cousins.

Not so welcome in the Department though. Years later I read Manning Clark’s memoirs about going to Oxford as an Australian, and his experience that as a colonial he was not just being set an exam for acceptance, but an exam it was impossible for an Australian to pass. I knew how he felt. The ecologists were friendly, say at morning tea, the others not so much. I was once invited to a general staff/post-grad party at a lecturer’s house, so that was one more than in Melbourne, but only one. I was seen, and referred to openly, like Clark, as a colonial (“you colonials” began one conversation to me, going on to detail some sin of omission or commission), an expression I thought might have been dead and buried fifty years earlier. There was no getting around it, I had an Australian accent (once at a cricket match, half way through the year, and fancying myself to have a fairly neutral, if not blending in English accent, was asked by a man selling hot dogs where I was from. Hah, I thought, he is wondering if I am from Yorkshire or further south. “Where do you think I am from?” “Well, I know you are from Australia, I was wondering which part, I have a cousin in Sydney I thought you might know”), and I wasn’t an Oxford graduate, and in the great scheme of things the best of the Australian universities were perceived as being another rung down the ladder from even the worst of the English ones. Old habits die hard it seems.

So I made friends among the other visiting post-grads (we had an area of new built semi-detached houses at the end of a cul-de-sac, and on the edge of campus, on the banks of the central lake, it was a lovely campus – below is the bridge I crossed each day to go to the department) from other colonial outposts like South Africa, London, red-brick English universities, who all seemed to have a similar lack of acceptance. And got on with my research in biogeography. The fellowship was only a year, and I needed to try to establish academic credentials beyond the thesis. Most of what I was sending off for publication was on the reptile group I had studied, and that was fair enough, but I did need to broaden my publications a bit.

And then one of those light bulb moments. Not that frequent, actually, in science, in spite of popular perceptions, and all the more welcome when they do come. I had been reading up on some of the new ideas about mathematical modelling in biogeography, which was getting the subject away from a kind of naturalist approach of mere description about what had gone where when, and into a more scientific basis for explaining how the composition of, say, islands, was determined.

There was a major book on island biogeography that had come out a few years earlier and it was all the rage, the American authors instantly becoming leading figures in biology. And I suddenly, little me, saw a way to slightly modify, adapt, one of their ideas and apply it in a new way. YES! You ripper (as us colonials might say), I was about to make a bit of a name for myself. I drew some graphs illustrating the model, wrote it up, and sent it off to the Professor, sure that he would be delighted, but also thinking maybe I had missed something, or needed to expand on something, and looking forward to getting comments back (as I was used to from Hal), modifying my draft, and sending it off to a journal.

I waited and waited and got no response for several days. Odd, but perhaps he was busy, perhaps my breakthrough wasn’t as important as I thought. Still, I was disappointed, having thought that this was the point at which I had proved my worth to the Department, had indeed been the chap who was a biogeographer. Then came the summons to the Professor’s room. Far from enthusiastic he was grim faced and clearly restraining his anger. “What do you mean by this?” he asked “Are you suggesting a joint paper with me?” Well, no, I wasn’t, it was my idea, but maybe this was how things worked here. But I was puzzled by the anger, had I broken a convention by not immediately suggesting a joint paper myself?

Then all was explained. “You were at my seminar last week” he said, “you heard me present this hypothesis. Why are you writing it up as if it is your idea when you got it from me?” I sat stunned – I had graduated, it seemed, from stealing lizards to stealing a professor’s ideas (had I again lost the art of making sure perceptions of me matched reality?). There was just one problem, and I pointed it out “I wasn’t at your seminar”. Can’t remember why not now, perhaps I had been sick, or one of the children had been, but whatever, I hadn’t been there (nor did I have any idea in general what he was working on – we had rarely even exchanged “good mornings” since I arrived). We had, it seemed, great minds and all that, come up with the same idea (though using slightly different data) independently at exactly the same moment.

Well, I doubt he believed me, but whatever the truth I had a black mark against my name which wasn’t going to be erased. Not a team player. Couldn’t expect a colonial to be a gentleman I suppose. So I went away, joint publication abandoned. I sent it off as my paper, which it was, it got published and sank without a trace, being, as it turned out, really just a very minor idea after all. The dream of being either the new Macarthur or Wilson was over.

But that was my card marked, the black ball placed in the hat at the gentlemen’s club, and any slight hopes I had had that maybe there might have been a job, or a continuing fellowship of some kind, at York, were gone. And the year was coming to an end, things were getting a bit frantic, applications began to fly off to Canada, America, Australia, all to no avail. I was on the same wave of PhD graduation as many another baby boomer, and competition for any zoology job was fierce.

And then, as I began to settle into the slough of despond, one day, plopping through the letterbox (oh I was going to miss the arrival of mail and the Guardian, delivered to the door every day), a post card from Isabel McBryde, recently moved to the Australian National University. Attached to the card, a tiny slip from a newspaper, was an advert for a palaeoecologist at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Isabel thought, diffidently, as was her style, I might like to apply.

When I was studying archaeology with Isabel, she had once included as an exam question (“Discuss”) a famous quote from Mortimer Wheeler “As for archaeology, I do not even know whether it is to be considered an art or a science”. Could have been applied to me “As for Horton, I do not know whether he is to be considered to be in Arts or Science”. And now here was a job that resolved the question by combining both disciplines. Getting the job would depend on me having done both zoology and archaeology. Isabel could write a reference saying “You’ll like this chap he’s an archaeologist” while Hal could write “You’ll like this chap he’s a zoologist”.

I sent off my application. In the meantime the Professor, knowing my time was running out (and it is possible I dreamt this), surprisingly asked tentatively if he could explore some options for me staying on temporarily. If there had been a question about whether I was English or Australian it was resolved at this point. We were migrating, with the bairns, back to Australia, back to the jungle of Canberra.

But then an oddity. A letter saying, in effect that I had the job. But asking (“I need to ask you what will seem a strange question”), it seemed, whether I would prefer to have the Institute job or a very similar position at ANU. This came under the same kind of heading as “Of course you will have to stay out of politics”. Why did these imponderable questions keep recurring?

Chewing my fingernails, and pencil stub, desperately anxious not to mess up (must be a trick question, right, trying to assess my level of dedication?) and lose this fabulous sounding job, I composed a reply of the kind that a politician, faced with a question about beating his wife, would have been proud. On the one hand, I was absolutely delighted to be employed by the Institute, and although I didn’t know much about it I was really looking forward to contributing: on the other hand of course, ANU was a magnificent university and if it was decided to employ me there I would be very proud indeed, blah, blah. There that had everything covered.

So back came the firm offer, I was going to work for the Institute. It wasn’t until months later that I found out what was behind all this last minute mystery. But there wasn’t time to worry now. Sell the camper van, goodbye to the cul de sac, goodbye to family in Coventry, and on a plane for Australia. The last piece of unfinished family business in my wallet, a letter from the Salvation Army (who I had approached as a neutral party) saying that yes indeed, if I cared to call in, my father would see me. We landed in Perth. Took train to Adelaide, had a meeting which was a strain for me, but also, as I only years later realised, probably as great a strain for him, a 66 year old man meeting a 30 year old son for the first time. And then on to a plane for the last lap travelling east, landing in Canberra after a tumultuous couple of years, hoping to settle.


Sinking feeling
When I turned up, right on the dot of 9am, for my first day at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, I had no idea what to expect of any aspect of this strange new job I was beginning. But if I had been expecting, spoiled by the beauties of the campuses of York and New England universities, an attractive building in pleasant surroundings, I would have been sadly disappointed.

The Institute was housed in one of the defined commercial/light industrial areas (in this case largely devoted to cars) on the edge of the CBD of this very planned city. The building had originally been a shop or some other retail or service operation, with offices upstairs and an open plan ground floor. It was next door to a discount tyre service, surrounded by petrol garages, spare parts outlets, another tyre centre, fast food joints, new and second hand car sales yards, car repair workshops, and so on.

Inside the main glass entrance doors was a reception desk, and then the rest of the ground floor (not a huge space) was occupied by the Institute library. You walked through the library to the other end of the building where a wooden staircase took you up to the top floor, and at the end of the corridor there was the office of the Principal, he who had asked the odd question before appointing me.

Not knowing anything about the Institute (or indeed Aboriginal culture and history) I had turned up wearing smart trousers, a business shirt and tie, and my smart new sports jacket. There wasn’t a cloth pocket badge version of the Institute logo, but even if there had been I am almost sure that, being 29 and a half years old, and having had a fair bit of experience of the world by now, I wouldn’t have put it on my jacket.

At the end of the corridor, after all, was Peter Ucko. I did know who he was because his book, co-authored with Andree Rosenfeld (academic and domestic partner), Palaeolithic Cave Art, published in 1967, had taken the world of archaeology by storm and had been one of our set text books in archaeology in Armidale. One of those major works (like Macarthur and Wilson’s Island Biogeography, published the same year) that change an academic discipline forever, and become instant classics. So, walking down a corridor to meet Peter Ucko was no small deal, and my mouth was dry, my stomach a little uneasy with a potential to become very uneasy. Did I really deserve this job? Would the great man instantly see through me as someone with rubbish qualifications who had been mistakenly employed because he was thought to be an archaeologist/zoologist?

Whatever I had been expecting it wasn’t what I found. Behind the desk was a very youthful fellow (he was still only in his early thirties, just a few years older than me, this enfant terrible) with a shock of unruly dark hair like an English schoolboy, a quizzical expression, and eyes that were clearly assessing me instantly and accurately. He was very casually dressed (if not quite as casually as Harry Waring) with no tie (he only owned one scruffy op-shop kind of tie which he would hastily and inexpertly put on if he had to go to Parliament House, I would later discover), a crumpled white shirt, ill fitting wrinkled trousers. He might have wandered in from his real job selling petrol over the road. I would not wear a jacket and tie again at the Institute after the clothing embarrassment of that first day except on essential public occasions.

No time to think about how to make a good impression, just blurt out whatever came to mind first “You are much younger than I thought”, oh god, no, don’t say that. He glanced quickly down at my job application on the desk in front of him, looked up and said “So are you”. It was fine, we were going to get on. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. “I’ve managed to do a really great thing for you” he said, leading me back downstairs and out to the rear of the building. Flinging open a door he said “There, how about that?”. Well, “that” was an almost empty room except for a small desk and chair, some boxes piled in a corner, with scruffy old linoleum on the floor, and a view out into the Institute car park behind the building.

I must have not looked quite astonished and grateful enough because he pointed to the corner of the room behind me and said “There, there, I managed to get you a room with a sink!” I discovered a little later that he had achieved this amazing feat (I had never thought about needing a sink, and in fact didn’t really, but Peter had thought that since he was hiring a scientist, scientists needed a laboratory, and while he couldn’t manage this in the building we had to make do with, he had, by a miracle, managed to get me a room with a sink which was a huge gesture towards a proper laboratory) by throwing out the coffee making facilities and chairs of what had been originally the tea room. From then on people drank coffee at their desks, as was often pointed out to me.

“So, what do you need?” he asked, recognising my underwhelmed expression, and sensing that the room probably was a bit lacking in scientific accoutrements once you had got past the sink. I had absolutely no idea, searching desperately for something to say as he stood there notebook in hand, waiting to take down the list of astonishingly arcane scientific equipment his new star recruit was going to want. “Um, a filing cabinet?” I said, “is that possible?” He looked a little disappointed but wrote it down. “Some shelving, a table perhaps?” Yep, seemed I wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility yet. Oh, of course, silly me “A microscope?” (I had, in my defense, never before been in a place in which microscopes weren’t part of the standard equipment). Yes, of course, but I would have to order that myself, work out exactly what I wanted.

Well, that was that, I had exhausted my imagination about how a palaeoecology laboratory might be outfitted, never having seen such a thing (they didn’t, to be fair, really exist, in those days). “So, what would you like to do now?” he said, needing to get back to work (sorting out, as it happened, another brand new employee who had arrived, with wife, having landed in Canberra from America with all his luggage lost in transit, and dressed as a result very casually indeed – we had passed them on the stairs on our way to view the sink). “Well, I’ll get to work” I said. This seemed a little surprising to him, perhaps thinking that a scientist would need to warm up like a tennis player. “Okay” he said, “there’s your first job”, pointing to a pile of boxes I hadn’t paid attention to in the corner. “It’s Andree Rosenfeld’s excavation in Cape York, very important project, those are the bones from it for you to analyse”. Uh oh, here was the real test. Not some anonymous break-you-in-gently kind of project to do while I found out what on earth this job involved, but straight into a major excavation and by the boss’s partner. I was so screwed.

As he left he called out, over his shoulder “Oh, and you should go and visit Jeanette Hope pretty soon”. I would soon find out why, but in the mean time I sat on the chair, picked a box off the pile, put it on the desk and opened it up with a sense of doom.


Blue remembered mountains
My first week at the Institute included a number of events which were something like a university orientation week – who? what? where? why? – were questions that needed resolving it seemed.

I had been told to go and see Jeanette Hope as a matter of priority, so I made an appointment (the result of a short and abrupt phone call) and off I went. I knew who she was in the sense that I knew of one or two of her publications, and knew that she was doing, at ANU (for ANU researchers), the kind of work I would be doing at the Institute. So, plenty of room for cooperation, sharing of experiences and ideas, perhaps an opportunity to begin making friends in this new environment.

Sadly, not. The frostiness of the phone call continued into the meeting in person. Jeanette had a crowded office (filing cabinets, shelves) and an adjacent large laboratory (microscopes, sinks etc) which she shared with Alan Thorne who worked on human bones, and was beginning to become well known for his work at Mungo and Kow Swamp. He was friendly and would remain so through life. The building which housed their department of prehistory was new (well, the whole of ANU was quite new) and part of the Research School (of “Pacific Studies” in this case) system very distinct from the “School of General Studies” which was the part of ANU where undergraduate teaching took place. The two halves of the university duplicated many departments (SGS had a department of prehistory and anthropology, which was where Isabel McBryde had moved from UNE) and there was no love lost between the separated twins. ANU campus, like UNE and York, was idyllic, with trees and gardens and rolling lawns, set on the edge of the Lake in one direction, and within walking distance of the centre of Canberra on the other. All a huge contrast with the Institute, although we would be moving nearby, and just as idyllically, within the year.

Anyway, that’s where we were. Cup of coffee, some chit chat about what she was working on, what I was going to be working on, and then suddenly the mystery was solved. “Did you know I had written the job advertisement for the job you got?” she said “Peter Ucko asked me to.” Had asked her to because she, as the first and at the time only Australian palaeoecologist, was the only one who knew what the qualifications and job description should be. And she had, therefore, written the advertisement precisely for herself, apparently desiring a move to a more permanent job. Written it for herself in the sure and certain knowledge that there was no one else in Australia who was qualified for such a job, couldn’t be, she would have known them. But, just like Malcolm Fraser calling an election he thought he could win against Bill Hayden, only to discover that at precisely the same moment the Labor Party had switched to the unbeatable Bob Hawke, so I had suddenly popped out of the woodwork, thanks to Isabel, and applied for the job from the distant jungle of York.

Even then it had been a very near run thing, as I later discovered, the selection committee was split down the middle, and most of them thought that either one of us could do the job. It was a debate between someone just with a zoology degree and (uniquely) experience in palaeoecology (well, zooarchaeology, but the distinction is minor); and someone with (uniquely) degrees in both zoology and archaeology, and no experience in palaeoecology but obvious potential.

And so the “strange question” that Peter had put to me about choosing. If Jeanette had been appointed to the Institute, then her ANU job would be available, and I was the only other suitable person for that. Or vice versa. The archaeologists on the selection panel were determined that both jobs would continue, part of the growing ferment and development in the discipline, as more and more scientific techniques became applied to archaeological questions. The discipline no longer an art but definitely a science.

But, whatever the case, Jeanette felt betrayed by Peter, and by association, me (years later I understood this, just as I understood the professor in York – positions reversed, in both cases, I would almost certainly have felt and acted the same way. But at the time, hard done by, you demand more saintly performances from those who misunderstand you). And members of the department and profession who liked Jeanette also felt she had been hard done by and that I had stolen her job. Not the act of a gentleman. So we never got on, and people who I might well have worked with made a decision about me, sight unseen, that would affect my relationships for decades.

In addition, this Sophie’s Choice was in a way symbolic of much larger forces beginning to swirl around like an incoming tide, and big waves and subtle undercurrents were also to set directions and determine outcomes in quite unpredictable ways. The major factor was the election of the reforming and progressive Labor government of Gough Whitlam in 1972 after 23 years of conservative rule during which the politics of social, cultural, environmental issues had ground to a complete halt. Whitlam, among many other changes had initiated a massive increase in university activity (including free admission for students) in Australia, and was undoing years of neglect on Aboriginal matters by introducing land rights and recognising the value of Aboriginal culture. The Institute was benefiting from these moves in a massive increase in funding (hence my job, among many other jobs and research fellowships). On the other hand it was also to feel the effect of Aboriginal people finding a public voice and expressing a desire to determine their own futures.

The Institute hadn’t come into being as a result of these developments, quite the opposite. It had been formed during the Menzies era some ten years before I arrived as a result of considerable willpower and effort from an apparently most unlikely source. Bill Wentworth was an extremely conservative (we would now say “culture warrior”) member of the very conservative Menzies government. He was descended from, and named for, a very prominent member of the first British colony in Australia William Charles Wentworth, one of the trio who famously crossed the Blue Mountains and discovered the potentially rich farming country that lay on the slopes and plains inland from Sydney. From that moment on Australia had a future as a rich western country. The family had been rich and well-connected and involved in politics ever since.

Billy Wentworth, perhaps as a result of some lingering guilt feelings over the role of his famous ancestor in the initial disruption and dispossession of the Aboriginal people of inland New South Wales, and concerned at what he saw as the approaching end point of a 200 year process of the destruction of Aboriginal culture and society, demanded the establishment of the Institute, and nagged Menzies until it happened. Wentworth saw the loss of Aboriginal society as inevitable, but unlike Daisy Bates some sixty years earlier, who merely wanted to “soothe the dying pillow” of the Aboriginal people, making them comfortable as they faced their inevitable end, Wentworth wanted to urgently get hold of all the remaining vestiges of Aboriginal culture – language, kinship, music, art – record them for posterity, and store the results in a library or archive. This was to be the role of the Institute, supervised by the senior figures in each discipline from the Australian universities, which would cary out the work. The sole role of the Institute was to hand out research money, coordinate (eg through specialist committees and conferences), publish, and to store the results safely. The work was to be concerned solely with “traditional” Aborigines (ie from the north and centre), neither Wentworth, nor the university people, had any interest in what they saw as degraded remnants of culture in the south and east of the country. He couldn’t foresee that this Institute would begin to form a major focal point for all Aboriginal people, emphatically not dying out, and into reviving culture in a big way, in the 1970s and beyond. That indeed, totally unpredicted, Aboriginal people would begin to take a major role in running the Institute and determining where its efforts should be directed and what should be done with the results.

However wrong-headed, in some ways, his reasoning was, there was no questioning Wentworth’s sincerity, nor can it be argued that if he hadn’t acted (no one else was doing much) then much more would have been lost. And his Institute, much in the way a child can turn out in a quite unexpected way, must have certainly exceeded, in its first three decades, all expectations of its father. And in spite of his horrible politics, and against my expectations, when I met Billy Wentworth, I quite liked him, it was hard not to.

Anyway, for most of its first decade, under Principal Fred McCarthy (pioneer archaeologist, museum man, scholar and gentleman) the Institute did no more and no less than its founder had prescribed. And then, a courageous appointment (an archaeologist associated with the Institute had seen him organising a major conference and been mighty impressed), along came Peter Ucko. Nothing would be the same at the Institute again, and I was arriving at just the moment when the change began to gather force.


I’m living in the Seventies
When Peter Ucko began as Principal at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in the early 1970s he had a vision, a dream perhaps, of what the place could be. Instead of a tiny, passive organisation that handed out money to universities to conduct esoteric research on Aborigines and then store the results, Peter saw it as becoming a major research organisation which would conduct research itself. In doing so it would be in a position to set the agenda and ensure that work that needed to be done on Aboriginal culture and society would be done, instead of leaving it to the whims and personal interests of a few professors in universities.

So he organised a major conference in 1974, which both set the tone and showed where the gaps were (and there were many), and then he set about filling them by employing staff who would directly conduct research themselves, and employing research fellows to fill a particular knowledge or geographic gap.

He immediately ran into strong resistance, which would continue, from the university people who thought that all the available money should continue to go to them, and the Institute should not conduct its own research, or indeed to employ staff other than for archiving and accounting purposes.

While those battle lines were being drawn and the first shots fired, a second front opened up. All of the work by the Institute to that point, and the dreams and visions for its future, had been conducted as if Aboriginal people were merely passive subjects to be studied in the way, that, say, a zoologist might study a kangaroo. Had always been that way. What was worse was that all the research was of a purely esoteric nature, examining the curiosities that were Aboriginal languages or kinship structures or song cycles. And making this still worse was that the research was all directed at those Aboriginal groups seen as having maintained a purely “traditional” lifestyle. Absolutely nothing here for the tens of thousands of Aboriginal people from Tasmania, or Victoria, or living in the big cities of Australia, or indeed on cattle stations or missions.

In all of the developing Aboriginal protest movement (begun in its then form by Charles Perkins) the Institute was probably a relatively minor issue, but it actually was potentially important, it was noticed, and a group of Aboriginal people wrote a manifesto demanding that the Institute also change. Peter Ucko may not have been expecting this, in his vision for an Australian Smithsonian on Lake Burley Griffin, but he seems to have quickly become aware of the justice of the demands, and set about changing things. Aboriginal people were brought into membership, appointed to the academic committees, mechanisms found to get them on to the governing Council, plans developed for staff positions. In addition there was a marked move to get the Institute working in “non-traditional” communities in addition to traditional ones, and to start research work in areas such as health and education which were of potential direct benefit to Aboriginal people.

All good, and from the point of view of Aboriginal people it couldn’t happen fast enough. Trouble was, from the point of view of many of the university-based academics with links to the Institute it was all happening too damn fast. Some saw the inclusion of non-academic Aboriginal people on academic committees, and of research funding in non-traditional communities, and in applied research work, as diluting the standards of the Institute which they thought had always been high. It also further reduced (added to the reduction resulting from the Institute carrying out its own work) the funding going directly into, say, departments of linguistics or anthropology in universities. The interplay between these conflicting forces was to continue over the next few decades.

My involvement in all this wasn’t particularly central, although almost everyone employed by the Institute at that time to a greater or lesser extent shared the dream of excellent research and of involving Aboriginal people in it. Late night debates (Peter Ucko had instituted a “Happy Hour” once a fortnight where not just staff but all kinds of people involved in the Institute would turn up, drink, and have fiery discussions about Aboriginal politics, or social issues, or the latest in rock art research) were intense. Staff meetings much the same. Ad hoc committees set up, and discussion groups. We all had a strong intellectual investment in the good ship AIAS.

The only significant development I was involved in (with Alan Thorne) was to convert the old physical anthropology committee (measuring skulls, the genetics of blood samples, neither activity any longer automatically sanctioned by Aboriginal people, for various reasons) into a Health Committee. Bringing in people like Fred Hollows (briefly in his case) to set priorities in health research. Otherwise I was busy working on animal bones from archaeological sites from one end of the country to another. Which made it ironic that 15-20 years later, the Encyclopaedia I was editing made me the focus of all of the accumulated anger in Aboriginal studies academia that the Institute was no longer as it had been under Fred McCarthy.

That was a long way in the future though, and in the meantime the Institute in the late 1970s was an exciting place to work. You could find yourself talking to Kim Beasley senior or Bill Wentworth at a Happy Hour; returning the skeleton of a community leader (stolen, as so many were over a long period, it was one of the things that had made the Aboriginal backlash against “physical anthropology” so strong) to Groote Eylandt after finding it by clever detective work, this was the first return of human remains to an Aboriginal community; visiting a minster for Aboriginal affairs (a Liberal government now, but Peter Baume was a good fellow, unfortunately he thought I had “developed an index” which would measure Aboriginal health status in communities, instead of just a reference system for published work); having dinner with an Aboriginal elder from Cape York. Every new day was exciting, challenging, and I would rush in happily, eager to see what it would bring, and work late into the evening most days. It was a totally different environment to that of a university department (although it did have something of the feel of WA Zoology in the 1960s, but on a bigger and faster scale) – we saw ourselves engaged in good things for a good purpose.

Couldn’t last? No, couldn’t last.

The L word
When I sat down an opened, with trepidation, the first box of bones from the Andree Rosenfeld excavation of the important rock art and archaeological site at Laura, in Cape York, it marked the start of a long career for me in palaeoecology. But having seen the tiny bits and pieces of bone, sometimes burnt, I realised I had better step back a pace, take a deep breath and get myself mentally organised.

So I set about reading everything I could find on the topic, in the Institute Library, and also visited John Calaby. I had met John within a day or so of arriving in Canberra, at a welcoming dinner party thoughtfully organised by Isabel McBryde. He was a senior scientist in CSIRO, and had a long distinguished career, beginning in WA as it happened, in many aspects of wildlife biology. He had a tiny office which was packed to overflowing with books and manuscripts and academic journals and correspondence, as was his desk, at which he was almost invisible behind the piles. He was a lovely fellow, one of the nicest people I have met in academic life in over 40 years. Always pleasant, always supportive, never competitive or begrudging of help. The initial help I needed from him was to make use of reference specimens of mammal bones to try to identify the material from Laura. He was happy to oblige, having an interest in archaeology and Aboriginal studies generally, so that was one support in place. I would have to gradually build up my own reference collection, but in the mean time access to the CSIRO collection (there was then no museum in Canberra) was essential.

Having read a great deal of Australian archaeology (which was then beginning to see a great expansion in people and ideas) I made a decision about my approach. I dropped in on Peter Ucko and said “I have decided that I am not going to be an Appendix”. By this decision I was breaking away from the accepted format. In Australia and elsewhere the Archaeologist on a site had absolute primacy, and his (or increasingly her) report was the central defining publication about a site. Any other consultants who had been brought in to analyse carbon, pollen, soils, bones, any of the increasingly long list of scientific analyses that could be applied to an archaeological site, were seen as second order to the analysis of stone tools and their stratigraphic context. Indeed it was often the case that specialists in other disciplines not only were not involved in excavating a site, but may not even visit it (I for example, never saw Laura, excavated before I arrived at the Institute, or my second site, Louisa Bay, likewise excavated earlier).

I thought that all specialists should be involved in excavation, so they could fully understand the context, and be involved in discussions as the dig proceeded, and that when the final report was produced it should be an integrated document, not archaeology with appendixes tacked on almost as afterthoughts. Peter, who had a similar view that the Institute would no longer be an Appendix to the universities, although he hadn’t put it like that, instantly agreed. I had also decided that I would begin developing the discipline of palaeoecology in Australia, along lines that were being explored overseas, and no longer be content with supplying a mere laundry list of species present as a faunal report, but begin to explore taphonomy (the science of how a site was formed) and to see how much biological information (such as age and sex and seasonality) could be extracted from the bones. All of it would add to our understanding of how people had lived in the past. I had a philosophy, and an agenda, and I was about to find a site, and a colleague, where I could put them into practice.

But first a second pile of bone boxes had arrived in my office shortly after I began. It was from Ron Vanderwal, and my first two sites couldn’t have been more different (well, except they both began with L) – one from the far north, one the very far south; one inland, one coastal; one from a complex art site of Cape York, the other a set of simple open camp sites in Tasmania. Quite a challenge to do both, but both were completed in a year or so and written up as joint publications (the Louisa Bay one completely integrated), both, as it happened, in the same journal series. But I was still wanting to get involved in a site from the beginning, be an equal partner, and suddenly there was Lancefield (and I began joking I could only work on sites beginning with L).

Lancefield was a very unprepossessing little swamp in a little town about an hour’s drive north of Melbourne. It had, briefly, been known in paleontological circles in the early nineteenth century as one of the very first sites at which the fossil bones of giant extinct animals had been found (by a farmer digging a well) in Australia, and then it had been instantly forgotten again. Until a Victorian geologist happened to come across the reference to it in that early publication, and decided it would be fun to take a group of his geological friends out for a few days, have a picnic, see if there was anything to see. So they did, found a few bones, came back, I think, the following year and did a more serious test pit excavation in which they were astonished to make two amazing discoveries. The first was that the site was a massive bone source, a layer a foot or so thick full of tightly packed and beautifully preserved fossils of giant animals. Second, and even more astonishing, as they began removing some bones, they came to a large piece of stone, inserted solidly among the bones, and which proved to be, when brought up and cleaned, a hand axe of the type Aborigines made. They were excited and shaken, and knew they had to bring in the experts – this was a site with enormous potential.

To understand why we need to go back in time to the mid-nineteenth century when a debate began about these giant animals (seen as being analogous to, but of course unrelated to, the giant extinct animals of Europe like Mammoths) and what had happened to them. There were two theories (well, three really, Ludwig Leichardt expected to find some still alive in inland Australia, but he was to be sadly disappointed in this as in so much else) either climate change had caused the extinction, or humans had hunted them to extinction. The debate continued on for 150 years, continues on today in fact, because it seemed impossible to even find evidence that the animals had overlapped in time with Aborigines arriving in Australia, let alone that Aborigines had ever had any interaction with them at all. And suddenly, here were giant animals, with a hand axe of the type you might well use to chop up a large beast. The end of the debate was nigh.

Phones started ringing, and a team came together which consisted of me, Richard Wright (an archaeologist from Sydney University, plus wife Sonia, an indispensable part of the team for any field work), Tom Rich (curator of fossils at the National Museum of Victoria) and Philip Ladd (pollen specialist from Melbourne Uni). The original group of geologists who had found the site mostly drifted away, not wanting to be involved in a major excavation outside their areas of interest. The one who stayed, and became an essential part of the team, was Phil Macumber, a geomorphologist with a strong interest in archaeology. It was undoubtedly the strongest multi-disciplinary team ever assembled to tackle an archaeological site in Australia.

If I was the specialist bone man I didn’t get off to an auspicious start when we all began assembling in Lancefield in January 1975. I had a long arduous journey to get there – plane to Melbourne, train to middle of nowhere (Clarkfield), bus from there on country roads to Lancefield, then a long walk, lugging my suitcase on a hot day, from bus stop down through the recreation oval and into the swamp area. There was Tom Rich (whom I had never met), specimen tent (the museum’s role was to curate all specimens recovered) already set up, sitting at a portable desk on which were various bones which he was looking at in a puzzled way. I ducked under the tent flap and said hullo. “Can you identify kangaroo species from foot bones?” was Tom’s reply. “No” I said. He looked relieved, perhaps appreciating honesty, perhaps glad that I couldn’t do what he had failed to do. We were to get on well. He was a dinosaur man, and had no interest in the late Pleistocene material from Lancefield, which he described as being the scum that real palaeontologists removed to get at the proper fossils.

In fact we were all to get on well as it turned out, and this was to add greatly to the enjoyment and success of the work. I had a particular rapport, professionally and personally, with Richard. We approached excavation and archaeology in general, in very similar ways, and sparked ideas from each other, and we shared a similar sense of humour and world view. January 1975 would turn out to be the start of a long and productive working relationship and friendship, not ending until over 15 years later when we both moved on to other kinds of projects. Lancefield changed both our academic careers in significant ways. And Lancefield was to become a very important site in Australian archaeology, still argued over and debated today, 35 years later. It may not have provided the answers that looked so likely when that stone axe was first unearthed, but it has provided many questions, ways of working, and has served as a litmus test for the battle of ideologies over how to interpret Australia’s past and the place of Aborigines in it.

But all of this was just a distant dream as we left the museum tent and walked down to the swamp, in stifling heat, to begin digging the sticky clay of Lancefield Swamp. Five years of digging lay ahead. Digging in the Dreamtime.


Revolving chairs
The ten years from 1975 were to see me working solidly in archaeology/palaeoecology, cooperating with a number of different archaeologists, working on a number of different sites the full length of eastern Australia, developing contributions to a number of theoretical questions in Australian prehistory, and, at the end of it, shifting careers. All of this against a background of some turmoil, and three Principals, within the Institute. During much of this period the adage “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all”, will be my guide. Well, at least not by name.

For the first five years field work was at Lancefield with Richard and Sonia and the team (and probably 100 or more students in that time, Richard used the site as a practical teaching class, and many good people went through Lancefield and on to later careers). Twice a year, January and May, boiling hot, or cold enough to freeze water in buckets. Digging through sticky mud as trenches wound through the swamp, water constantly draining in and the sound of pumps removing it, the only good thing being that much of the dig was in the shade of willows.

Bones, hundreds of them, coming back to me in Canberra from the museum after treatment, and me measuring and describing them. The task seemed never ending, and the fieldwork the same, since I spent a total of close to a year in the field over those five years. And then it was off to the Liverpool Plains in northern NSW with the same team, Richard having been contacted about the finding of a whole Diprotodon skeleton, and this leading in turn to sites with artifacts. Another 4 years of similar conditions but quite different site contents.

At the same time though I was taking up other invitations – with Graham Connah elsewhere in northern NSW (where I discovered that apparently similar sites can be quite different, one way and another); with John Campbell in inland Cape York (where I discovered that caves, and limestone outcrops, aren’t as much fun to explore as they seem); in northern Cape York with John Beaton where I discovered that a tropical paradise can be full of sandflies; with Peter Murray in northern Tasmania, where I discovered an extinct species not previously known from Tassie.

It was varied and interesting, and I was seeing a lot of the country. And a lot of data. And giving it a lot of thought. When I began studying Australian prehistory, and then working in the field, the discipline was undergoing a philosophical change. Aborigines had, from the time they were first seen by various European explorers, been viewed essentially as, in one much later famous phrase, “intelligent parasites” (always considered to be a put down, an insult, it seems to me well meant and, with the emphasis on the first word, not the second where it is usually considered to be, actually little different to much of the later analysis). In the fifties and sixties, first Norman Tindale, and then Rhys Jones, turned this idea on its head, and began presenting Aborigines as active agents, essentially very early farmers down under, who had molded the whole landscape (including causing many extinctions) of the continent in ways (as Sylvia Hallam later suggested) that had enormously benefited the white settlers. All of this fitted well with developments elsewhere in linguistics, anthropology, art, music, suggesting that far from being primitive stone age people (the popular view, and a rationale for taking the continent, being wasted, from them) Aboriginal society and culture was highly complex and advanced.

So I absorbed all this, and it seemed pretty good. The work I was doing, I thought, would help to flesh out the picture even more. But the more I dug, and analysed, and thought, and wrote, the less comfortable I became with the Tindale-Hallam-Jones theory (later to be successfully popularised in a best-selling book). In particular I came to the conclusion that Aborigines hadn’t modified the environment by the use of fire (the mechanism hypothesised) and hadn’t caused the extinction of the giant animals (called, popularly, the megafauna – giant species of kangaroos, and wombats, wombat like creatures, and emus, etc – now all extinct), the two critical components of the idea that Tindale had set rolling.

Incidentally I had, and still have, a lot of admiration for Norman Tindale, which developed when I began to share with him the experience of being the only two researchers who had created a map of tribal groups in Aboriginal Australia. On the other hand it wasn’t an uncritical admiration, since I thought everything he had thought and written was wrong. I once happened to be sitting behind him at an Institute conference in the mid-1970s. He, distinguished white-haired gentleman, as old as the century, was sitting with another distinguished white haired gentleman of the same vintage and prestige, whose identity I have forgotten. It was a time when the significant involvement of Aboriginal people in determining the future direction of the Institute was accelerating, and one of the leading Aboriginal figures, chairing the session, got up to speak to the audience. Tindale leaned over closer to his friend and said “Octoroon, do you think?” and I was transported back to another age. An age when the amount of “Aboriginal blood” an individual possessed (full blood, half caste, quarter cast, octoroon) would determine exactly what rights, if any, they had, where they lived, who they could marry, whether they could keep their children or not. And an age when academics debated the importance of such divisions, as Tindale indeed had done. There we were, in the 1970s, and the Aboriginal academic, viewing themselves (rightly of course) as being the equal of anyone in the audience, and of having a role in determining what this Institute would be doing in future, was, to Tindale, just an object for classification. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Anyway, I began to write about Aboriginal fire use, and extinction, and how the Aborigines had originally colonised the continent, and what had happened to the Tasmanians (the latter two topics of popular interest and relevant to the overall philosophy), and was instantly, it seemed, viewed as mad, bad, and dangerous to know. These theories were, it seemed, unquestionable, set in stone for all time (when I much later told someone I was writing a book which totally contradicted the popularised account of this Tindale-Jones-Hallam theory, I was looked at in astonishment, and the question asked “How could you do that?”), and to query them, suggest that the Emperor’s theories had no clothes, was to be put beyond the pale, not a gentleman.

While all that was going on, and just at the time my work with Richard was switching from Lancefield to the Liverpool Plains, there was a sudden major change at the Institute – Peter Ucko announced that he had tendered his resignation. I was horrified, could see that everything we had all worked for at the Institute was in danger of being lost, and I wasn’t sure that the governing Council of the Institute was fully aware of the importance of Peter to what had been done. So I wrote to the then chairman, the wonderful Les Hiatt, nice anthropologist, carefully explaining all that, and my concern. But almost immediately after sending that letter somebody told me that there were some personal factors involved in Peter’s decision (I seem to have been uniquely unaware of this, having, as always, totally ignored any relationships, or changes in relationships, between people in and around the Institute – ignorance that could quite often be embarrassing). So when Les took me aside for a little chat, with something of the air of a father about to tell his son the facts of life, in his always reticent and awkward sort of way, I told him it was ok, I understood the situation. It didn’t make it any better, but I understood.

And so I had my first change of Principal at the Institute. And everything indeed did change. I remember little about him, but one of the things I do remember, vividly, was the sound of his voice one day as he came around the corner into the Research Wing of the Institute. My room, where I had been working so hard for the previous six years, happened to be closest to the corner, and my door, as always, was open, so I clearly heard the words with which our new Principal introduced the area to some distinguished visitor who was being given the grand tour – “This is the research wing, or, as we like to call it, the sheltered workshop”. That simple statement seemed to sum up what the Institute environment was going to be over the next five years. The knowledge and ideas I had were no longer valued or wanted, so I put my head down and concentrated on being a pure palaeoecologist.

Not good enough though. A little later I had a phone call from the Principal saying that one of the professors at ANU wanted to see me, and had an interesting job offer for me. Not someone I knew (geography) so I was a bit puzzled but off I went. Pleasant chit chat with a nice lady professor and one of the geographers I did know, but chit chat going nowhere. Eventually as topics of conversation dried up, I said “Look, this is nice, but was there a particular reason you wanted to see me?” The other two looked at each other and said “But you wanted to see us, to ask whether we could find you a job over here, you wanted to join us.” “No, no” I said “you wanted to see me, offer me a job.” The meeting ended in some embarrassment, and as Geoff was showing me out he said “You’d better hurry back, make sure your chair is still there”. I agreed, I knew the feeling of being forced out of a department because your position was wanted for someone else, and it wasn’t going to happen again.

Fortunately, before I could arrive one day and find my seat missing, the Principal announced he was moving onward and upward. I didn’t write a letter of protest to Council this time. The then Deputy Principal Warwick Dix (a very nice man, and another West Australian, was a pattern emerging?) acted as Principal and was then appointed permanently. Early in this period he asked me to take over as editor of the Institute journal, launched a couple of years earlier, with the then Principal as editor. Only one issue had ever been produced, and its role as Institute research flagship was sinking and very embarrassing.

I took it on and got it moving. To do that, given the circumstances in the neglected and moribund and politically sensitive publishing area, I had to do the lot – chase contributions, write stuff myself, edit, do the layout (in those days before computerised page make-up this involved physically pasting, with wax, typeset galleys on to a page with layout guide lines), organise photos, take to printers, distribute. I learnt a lot.

Enough so that when the head of publishing left, worn out with the struggle, at about the time Warwick was appointed as Principal, he asked me to take on an acting role in Publishing until they could find a permanent replacement, and bingo, I had a new career. Actually, it was more complicated than that. Warwick being Principal meant there was now a vacancy for Deputy Principal, which would take some time to fill. He asked me if I would be Acting Deputy Principal. I said yes, but there was a complication. I knew that two of us from the research area were intending to apply for the Deputy Principal’s job. I said to Warwick (rather as my grandmother had said, when offered a job some 80 years earlier) look, it wouldn’t be fair to just let me be acting DP, would give me an unfair advantage in the application, how about you make us both half time in the position? OK, he said, in that case, would you take on responsibility for publishing as your special interest in your half Deputy Principal role? As it turned out they appointed an outsider to the job, so it was a futile gesture on my part. I doubt I would do it again.

So I took on publishing, got the logjam moving (again by personally laying out the two longest delayed, for many years, books), started to sort out all the other problems that neglect and interference and interpersonal problems had caused over many years. Then the marvelous Frank Thompson (formerly head of University Queensland Press, which I had a dream of modeling Institute publishing on, and enormously experienced) agreed to take the job of running publishing. I stayed on to guide him through some of the political and philosophical questions he had to deal with, and he taught me much about professional publishing. Sadly he only stayed a year in the job, and I was back in the hot seat, at first temporarily, then permanently, when Warwick, relieved to see the publishing arm being sorted out, agreed I should shift my job. I had a new career. And the bicentennial year of 1988 was not far away.

Bon Soir
In 1986 I went to France for my very first international conference. No big deal for many university academics, but almost unheard of in the Institute. It came about partly because there were two conferences, one immediately after the other, the second in England. And because the second one was a “World Archaeological Congress” being run by Peter Ucko (who had been professor at the University of Southampton since leaving the Institute) and I think he had asked that there be some Institute representation there. The first, in Bordeaux, deliberately timed to allow people to go to it first as part of one package, was a palaeoecology conference, and I was enough of a figure in the discipline by now for this to be argued as something I should be at.

Anyway, Warwick had been convinced, and I had my air ticket in hand and was boarding my Lufthansa flight. “Guten Morgen” I said to the hostess, having practised for my cosmopolitan adventure, and “Danke Schon” as she gave me head phones. My accent, based on a blend of Hogan’s Heroes and old British war movies was apparently impeccable because she, obviously pleased to welcome a returning fellow countryman, burst into an excited few sentences in German. Embarrassed I had to hold up my hand and say “Sorry, I don’t speak German”. At which she instantly, and with a cross expression on her face, said “Well don’t you ever dare pretend you can again”, or words very much to that effect. I slunk to my seat, conscious of having committed a terrible international faux pas. This cosmopolitanism in foreign countries wasn’t going to be as easy as I had thought.

Nor was travel, as I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport late in the evening, and stood forlornly at the carousel as bag after bag was removed by excited travellers, eventually leaving just one lone bag, circling round and round, which wasn’t mine. Not a good start with no spare clothes, and, perhaps more importantly, no copies of my prepared lectures. Reported the loss sadly, and caught the airport train into Paris, found my hotel and slumped wearily into bed. Up the next morning. Breakfast “Cafe complet” (never in trouble for attempting French, it just never got me far, French Resistance movies apparently having given me the wrong accent). I was in Paris! Paris! Now, if only I had some clean clothes. They arrived later that day, efficiently delivered to the hotel, I was back in the business of appearing human and being able to give a lecture.

Next day out to Versailles on a bus. We had decided it was best if I picked up my hire car out there rather than attempt the nightmare of Paris traffic and probably spending my entire trip driving around the central roundabout unable to escape. I was in Versailles! Versailles! And there was the Palace, greatest ever monument built by a King to thumb his nose at the peasants. Into a little car, and off I went, each 50 metres punctuated by a bang as I bounced off the kerb, and then corrected, and then bang again. Driving on the right hand side was not as easy as I thought it would be – like trying to trim eyebrows with scissors while looking in mirror. Eventually I escaped the narrow roads of the forest of Versailles, which I had entered by mistake, and then I was travelling south. Through France!

Well, surprisingly I made my way successfully, and alive, to Bordeaux, and the conference was good. Truly international, but with another Australian, Iain Davidson who I knew a bit from Armidale, and a couple of New Zealanders, and British and Swedes, and so on. The last day saw a splendid outing. On a bus out to view some famous archaeological sites – including one where Neanderthals had been found. There it was, just an ordinary looking rock shelter by the side of the road in a French village, but occupied 25,000 years earlier. In the evening we reached the Chateau Malrome which had been the home of Toulouse Lautrec, now a vineyard and restaurant-convention centre. A splendid evening as we all let our hair down, revelled in being famous palaoecologists in France. Toasted our hosts, toasted each other, celebrated birthdays, gave impromptu speeches in various accents. This was life, this was being cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, at the end of the evening I failed to take into account the likely effect of so much good French wine, and forgot to go to the toilet before boarding bus. The journey, over what seemed excessively bumpy roads, took apparently, some 17 hours longer than the outward trip, and by the time we arrived back at the student accommodation we were using I could only hobble, painfully towards the door – 6 metres, 5, 4… Bon Soir everyone! Bon Soir!

From a land down under
The World Archaeological Congress of 1986 planning had begun some years earlier as for just another conference of the world’s western archaeologists, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Southampton lecture halls.

Just as the Institute in 1974 had experienced protest from Aborigines about their lack of involvement in its research, so by the mid-1980s there was a world-wide protest from indigenous people everywhere about the way archaeology was being practiced. Archaeology had always been presented as a kind of pure, value-free, description of the facts about the past (apart from a few recognised anomalies like Hitler’s use of it), and therefore those whose ancestors were being studied in Australia, the Americas, Asia and Africa, could have no possible objection to the work being done by white folk. Indeed I remember one comment to the effect that it was actually better, more objective, for the work to be done by outsiders!

Indigenous people all over the world had finally had enough of this nonsense. If you are going to talk about us, they were saying in effect, at least have the courtesy not to do it behind our backs. Oh, and by the way, we’ve had enough of the removal of our artifacts to western museums, and the excavation and removal of human bones. Give em back. Oh, and don’t pretend that archaeology is so pure and far above the ordinary world of politics and human rights that we can welcome white South Africans to a conference like this. We want them banned.

Well, just as in the Institute context, many of the white academics erupted in outrage over these propositions. Peter Ucko was facing not just damage to the conference but a split in the whole world of archaeology. He dealt with it (the South Africans were banned – a popular song of the day was “Free Nelson Mandela” – it was sung loudly at the final Conference party), indigenous people from around the world invited, sessions added. We voted in Plenary sessions for noble resolutions. The times they were a changing, archaeology would never be the same again.

And that was something. Oh, we were realists. Knew, in those heady days of 1986 that Maggie Thatcher would be Prime Minister for ever, that Apartheid would last for a thousand years, that the Berlin Wall was a permanent blot on the landscape. Couldn’t really do much about those things (banning South Africans from an archaeology conference was unlikely, obviously, to have the same impact on South African public opinion as banning their Rugby and Cricket teams), but at least we could get our own small corner in order. Make sure that archaeologists behaved ethically and that archaeology was no longer part of the colonial process. Seemed to me that what was going on back in the Institute had anticipated this movement by a long way (the skeleton I had returned to Groote Eylandt ten years earlier being just one straw in the wind) but that now we needed to keep the process going. Having anticipated the rest of the world we now needed to keep up with it.

But there was also an ordinary archaeology side to the conference and I was down to speak. Had nervously read and re-read my talk, nervous about speaking to the biggest and most knowledgeable audience I had ever faced, far away from familiar surroundings. But it would be a turning point for me, a chance to strut my stuff, show I was neither over-awed nor out of place in such a gathering. I was ready to give it my best shot. Had a dream, you might say.

There were five of us in the session, and we were instructed very sternly in advance by the chairman – “I will be very strict on time, you have a total of ten minutes, and I will ring a bell with one minute to go, and then cut you off ruthlessly at exactly ten. We have to run a tight ship, lot to get through, can’t go over time etcetera, etcetera.” This sounded serious. Had another surreptitious look at my paper, clutched in a now sweaty hand. Should I cut that first sentence with its crummy joke? Could I speak faster in the second paragraph without gabbling like a parrot?

I was the final speaker, but I had no concerns – this chairman would be ruthless. First three speakers, fine – plus a minute here, minus a minute there, reaching number four in the relay right on time. She was Australian, and was clearly determined to make this stage her own. After five minutes she had barely finished introducing herself, let alone her site. “Hah”. I thought to myself “she’s going to be sorry she didn’t rehearse more”. She ploughed on. The bell rang at nine minutes and she looked straight ahead and kept talking at the same pace. At ten minutes the Chairman stood up, at 12 minutes he sat down again after once more ringing the bell. At fourteen minutes he looked in vain to the wings for divine intervention. By this stage the speaker was projecting slides of detailed results of the contents of her excavation – every single bone, artifact, pollen grain, and she was reading from the tables on the screen out loud. It was like the scene from Mr Smith goes to Washington where he is singlehandedly filibustering the US Senate by reading aloud from a big book for hours. Finally after 16 minutes the Chairman got up again and stood next to her at the podium. Did he turn off the projector? With a last splutter she concluded with a sentence or two or three summarising the greatness of her site, its unrivalled importance among all the archaeological sites of the world, and her undoubted, but modest, genius, in bringing it to the light of day. Then she sat down.

The Chairman looked at me helplessly and shrugged. We were just four minutes away from morning tea time, when, precisely as the big hand reached eleven, every member of the audience would rush to the door in an attempt to reach the coffee and biscuit tables before the giant slow queues formed. I discarded my written speech, so nearly lost for ever at Charles de Gaulle airport, and spoke briefly to summarise my work for a couple of minutes. Coming ten thousand kilometres for each minute spoken seemed a poor allocation of resources. And that was that, my moment of glory was over.

After another day or two so was the conference. There was a final raucous party in the university convention centre, where the Aussies present, always louder than their numbers justified, endlessly demanded that the DJ play (“Play it again Sam”), over and over again, “I come from a land down under”, each time singing along, and drunkenly “dancing”, just as enthusiastically as the time before. Beer flowing and men chundering was certainly appropriate for the night. But given the events of the last week, and the radical changes envisaged for the discipline we all shared, the chorus perhaps sounded a warning “Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder? Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover.”

Next morning, badly hungover, we all departed in buses that took us to London for a visit to the British Museum (where the bog man from Denmark, probably strangled by a woman, poor devil, had recently been put on display). I came out to look for a hotel nearby, and walking along a street I saw heading towards me that familiar figure of Les Hiatt. Not much point in saying “Small world” though I probably did.

After that the time flew. Had a few pleasant days staying with Peter and Jane, and then a week or so staying in Coventry with my father’s family. Then it was all over and I was boarding a plane at Heathrow. This time I didn’t say “Guten Morgen”. Had learnt my lesson. Anyway, this time I was flying Qantas.


Ducking Stool
After I got back from my brief taste of living the life of an international academic it was to an Institute where Frank Thompson was about to move on to another job and I was to go back in to the publishing area, this time not for 12 months but 12 years.

It wasn’t a move I made with eyes closed. As Frank had said to me, publishing at the Institute by the mid-1980s was beset with every problem it was possible for a publishing house to have. But I thought I could make a difference. A major, perhaps the fundamental, problem besetting the area was that it fell in the intersection between academia and publishing. Since I was an academic who now had considerable experience in the reality of publishing I thought I could possibly rationalise the conflict and reduce it.

In addition there were three changes that clearly needed to be made. The first was that we needed to be much more involved in publishing works by Aboriginal people – if the Institute wasn’t the place where an unknown Aboriginal author could turn to then we weren’t doing our job. The second was that we really needed to be producing at least some works that reached out to the public and helped to inform, educate, inspire them. And finally we needed to begin taking into account a likely readership. It cost just about as much to produce a book that 300 people (or indeed 30) wanted to read as to produce one that would reach 3000 (or 30,000). That didn’t mean you should never produce books for a tiny audience if they were important (say for the purposes of a particular area of scholarship, or for the interests of an Aboriginal community), but that given rising publishing costs and limited resources, such decisions needed to be faced.

Most people reading that paragraph will have said to themselves “Well D’Oh, didn’t take Mr Hot Shot International traveller to work those out, any fool could see that those three things were essential”. All I can say, Dear Reader, is where were you in 1986 when I needed people to stand by me in the face of strong and bitter resistance from Aboriginal studies academia to all three propositions?

In 1984 Ken Colbung had become the first Aboriginal chairman of the Institute (from then on all would be Aboriginal). Ken was something of a controversial figure in the wider world of Aboriginal politics, but I liked him and always found him immensely supportive and helpful. He had the same approach as Warwick Dix, both I think believing that the roles of Chair and Principal were to support, facilitate, provide the foundation for, the work of the skilled and professional staff in key positions. With both Warwick and Ken having that approach, and with both of them liking and having confidence in me, anything seemed possible (when that approach and situation was totally reversed, under a different pair of people, though I had remained unchanged, a few years later, nothing was possible, or nothing that didn’t come at immense personal cost).

With the support of Warwick and Ken (and the magnificent Diane Barwick as chair of the publishing committee until her shocking untimely death in May 1986. Diane was a good friend and an indomitable supporter of Institute publishing in general, and of myself in particular, she was a great lady) a great deal was achieved. The publishing committee was reconstituted in a more professional form (Frank Thompson coming on to it after leaving the Institute); the critically important position of Senior Editor was introduced, and held, even more importantly first by the superb Robyn Lincoln, and then by the equally superb Stephanie Haygarth); I developed a computer program to keep track of publishing costs on each title, and another one to track sales figures; set a production goal (there had never been one, but usually 4 or 5 new books appeared each year) of one new title a month; obtained the services of first CUP and then Peribo to provide professional distribution services; brought in Apple computers for staff and upgraded typesetting equipment; introduced the name Aboriginal Studies Press, to give Institute publishing an identity; improved promotion; made sure the Press was seen as an integral part of the Australian publishing industry.

They were all basic and obvious changes, and even just to list them gives some idea of the parlous state of Institute publishing before 1985. Sales began to improve rapidly, our profile lifted, reviews appeared in newspapers, books appeared in bookshops. As a result we began to attract new authors with sales potential, seeing us as a first resort instead of a last. It was coming up to Australia’s bicentennial year in 1988, and there was clearly going to be an increase in interest in Aboriginal material in that year and hopefully beyond.

In particular I had set out to attract Aboriginal authors, and non-Aboriginal academic authors who had a story to tell. The Aboriginal authors were wonderful. There was the elderly and stately Tasmanian lady who turned up with a shoebox full of scribbled bits of paper, and things written on the backs of envelopes. As things about her personal story, and that of her people, had occurred to her she had written them down in hand-writng curiously (given they had developed at opposite ends of the Earth) like my grandmother’s. “There you are”, she said, “there’s my book”. And there, after a huge amount of work assembling the jigsaw, it was.

Oh and then there were the senior men from Yuendumu, concerned about what was happening to the children of the community, who had painted the doors of the local school, each door painted with a different Dreaming story, each story told. That was a book of dreams.

As were the others that began to flood in – children’s books from a couple of Aboriginal communities in NSW, books from the Torres Strait, the biography of an old Aboriginal boxer, teenagers in Walgett, oldtimers in South Australia. And on and on. They were Aboriginal people who had not previously been give an outlet for their stories and ideas and histories, and they relished it (a big regret was that Sally Morgan didn’t offer “My Place” to us – it would have provided us with the impetus it was to give FACP. But so it goes, and we had plenty of good Aboriginal authors anyway).

While all this was going on we hadn’t neglected the “academic” side, and books on music and anthropology and linguistics, and all the rest kept appearing regularly too. And got better promotion and sales than would once have been the case.

So, everything coming up roses eh? Happy smiling faces all round? You think?

Well, couple of things you don’t know. More than a couple really.

First the white academics who had, in many cases been associated with the Institute since the time it began, or not long afterwards. They were outraged that things like children’s books, or the autobiography of a lovely old man in northern NSW, were being published, partly because they saw them as being of very low standard – not “academic”, and the Institute should publish only academic books – and partly because they saw them as crowding out worthy academic books. In vain to point out that the latter wasn’t true, that since production rate had been doubled there was enough room for both as our catalogue showed. In vain to say that in fact very few “academic” books had been rejected, and that any that had been were rejected because their sales potential was so low as to make publication unviable. In vain because to these academics NO academic book should ever have been rejected, if a university academic had been good enough to send a manuscript in then I should have been leaping on it with glad cries and publishing it instantly, no questions asked. Certainly no questions about this new-fangled notion of “sales potential”. To these academics the lower the sales in fact the better because it would be a sign of how pure the research was – an ideal book, I sometimes thought, with not a hint of exaggeration, would have been one that sold only one copy.

But at another level this wasn’t what these academics believed at all. There were many academics who had never had a book published by the Institute because they had never submitted one to it. There were others who had published an unsaleable work of data with the Institute, but whose main, popular work, aimed, say, at the general public or at university textbook status, was sent off without a thought to the big commercial publishers with the aim of getting big sales, publicity, promotion. But they wanted to be sure that when they sent off a manuscript of, say, lists of kinship terms to the Institute, having published the major work on Aboriginal society with, say, Penguin, it would still be accepted instantly.

And there was more. My academic status, such as it was, rather than being a reassurance was a big negative. Memories of Peter Ucko who had set all this “Aboriginalisation” in motion were still fresh. He had betrayed them, as they saw it, betrayed academia, sold them out. And I, with a few others, were seen as being Peter’s boys – supporters who had helped him in this treacherous activity. Furthermore the academic status I had in Aboriginal studies was seen as phony. I had been employed not by a university but by the Institute and so was illegitimate, no researcher should have been employed by the Institute. So whatever status you think you have won’t wash with us Sunny Jim, and you have absolutely no right to be passing judgement, accepting or rejecting, the manuscripts of real academics. It was, with little exaggeration, similar to the attitude Charles II had to those who had dared to try his father and condemn him to death. I escaped being hung drawn and quartered, I suppose. Well, physically anyway.

“But”, I hear you ask plaintively “all that may be so, but by now you had a Council consisting of a big majority of Aboriginal people. There had already been one Aboriginal Principal and after Warwick all subsequent ones would be, and all Chairpersons were now Aboriginal. Those white academics could whinge all they liked, but with Aboriginal people in positions of power, their delight in what you were doing must have been overwhelming at times.

Well, actually, no. A number of the Aboriginal people who had come into positions of influence with the Institute either had university degrees or an equivalent kind of status. Some may have felt a little insecure in dealing with very senior people in Anthropology, say, Professors and the like, and therefore, perhaps needing to be more Catholic than the Pope to establish their academic bona fides, were very critical of the kinds of things I had been publishing in the way of autobiographies or children’s books. Saw these kind of books as being, perhaps, a little demeaning for Aboriginal people. Whatever they thought, and I don’t know for sure, because it was never discussed with me, the outcome was the same as from the white academics – I was doing the wrong thing.

So, the more demand there was from Aboriginal communities or individuals for publication of their books, the more pleasure they got from seeing their work in print, being present when it was launched (one community group drove all the way in a van from western NSW to Sydney for their launch for example) or being nicely reviewed, the more damning was the evidence that I was letting Institute standards fall. Publish Aboriginal works and you are letting some Aboriginal people down, don’t publish them and you are letting down others. Publish autobiographies and you were demeaning Aboriginal culture, don’t and you were just another racist not recognising Aboriginal self-determination and the right to publish what they chose. Publishing Aboriginal works was also a sign to white academics that I was letting the side down – neither a gentleman nor a scholar. On the other hand publishing white academic works was also a crime because I had no right to be passing judgement on university academics (even if that decision was to publish) – they were the gatekeepers of each discipline, and only they could decide what it was valid to publish.

It was all reminiscent of the classic trial by ordeal in water for a wizard – if you sank and drowned you were not guilty, if you floated you were guilty and would be killed. But that isn’t quite the right analogy – those witches had it easy. The small numbers of people who were critical of the Encyclopaedia were critical in totally contradictory ways. There were Aboriginal people who thought no one writing the Encyclopaedia, least of all its editor, should be white. There were white academics who thought there should be no Aboriginal involvement of any kind in writing the Encyclopaedia. There were Aboriginal academics who wanted no involvement by some other Aboriginal people, likewise white academics who wanted to specify particular Aboriginal authors and not others as being suitable. Other white academics wanted any Aboriginal contributions marked by being set aside in particular coloured boxes. Some white academics thought the project was too much like an Encyclopaedia, others that it wasn’t enough like their vision of what an Encyclopaedia of Anthropology should be. There were white academics who blasted and denigrated the contributions of other distinguished academics. And so on. You would think, I thought, that what I was doing was producing a work that would make all these competing and contradictory complaints superfluous. That by creating a mix of modern and traditional, of purely academic work and more personal writing, of Aboriginal and white authors, and so on, that everyone would be happy. What I hadn’t counted on in this ducking stool process was that it made none of the critics happy. Whatever I did in including Aboriginal authors meant that I had in fact included some, but on the other hand it wasn’t 100% Aboriginal authorship, so both lots of critics kept pounding away, not having achieved their aim. Same with traditional and non-traditional, same with every other dichotomy. Same with the dichotomy between the 99.9% of people (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) who loved what I was doing and the 0.1% who didn’t – the more I met the wishes and needs of the great majority, the angrier and more determined became the 0.1% (this was all true of the publishing operation generally, as well as the Encyclopaedia specifically). Aiming for a happy medium was evidence of witchcraft, achieving the aim was certain proof. Some ducking stool.

Oh, it was all sort of ok as long as I had support in administration. Could shrug it off, continue to publish a mix of books, except …. there was a big threatening cloud on the horizon. While I had given publishing an identity as Aboriginal Studies Press, a notional sort of independence, this didn’t really mean beans. The academics were used to having the ear of administration members. Were used to dropping by, picking up the phone, expecting to be heard and taken notice of. Was there some hint that a manuscript might be rejected by that Horton fellow? That’s what he thinks. A quick call and that decision would generally be reversed, even with the support that I had. Someone’s manuscript was sixth in line, based on when it had been submitted after the five in front of it? No, no, can’t have that, it must be out in 3 months time, conference on – and up it would go in the priorities, disrupting all schedules. And then they would be disrupted again by another phone call on behalf of another manuscript, and another. Can’t afford a big launch in Sydney for this book? Oh, yes you can and will, even if it means dropping someone else, who cares. And on, and on. If it was this bad under these circumstances, what would it be like when circumstances changed, which they surely would soon (Principal and Chair were both term limited)?

But I had made it to 1988, published a big Institute book arising from a Library project, published many other books, enjoyed the ferment of this historic year.

A year which was to see another decision made, in response to another source of influence and pressure, that was to radically affect the Institute’s future, my future, the future of a great many individual people, and, potentially, the future of Aboriginal people themselves. But it was a publishing decision, and given the pressures and hatreds that swirled around publishing at the Institute, it was certainly going to be fraught with problems.


Sheep might fly
Not knowing that a major life changing decision was coming my way in 1988 in any case, I decided on another to be going on with. One of my daughters, from the age of twelve, had a pony, which was kept down the road on a farm that had a riding school and boarded horses for people. Then my mother gave her a second horse, and the logistics became more difficult. Perhaps we should look to moving to a small farm where we could keep the horses ourselves? Yes! No! Yes! Where? What about this one? Oh! Yes! Let’s go!

It was perfect – 40 acres, an interesting newish house, a separate 2 bedroom block for the kids, stables, great views, at the end of a quiet dead-end little country road, but all on the border of the ACT, so no further to drive into Canberra to work than it had been from the outer suburb we had lived in since we first arrived (and which, in a similar way to the house in York, had seen us getting to know a group of people who had all arrived when we did, and making life-long friends).

Sold the old house and we were off. So much land – look, one border fence is way over there, and the front fence, way down there! Can’t actually see a neighbour unless you have very good eyes, look, way down the bottom of the valley (actually cheating a bit, there was a somewhat closer neighbour’s house just several hundred metres away, but on the other side of the steep hill and so quite invisible).

So happy horses, but what else? So much land, what to do with it? Now in spite of my generations of farming ancestors among Youngs and Mauds and Carters, my farming knowledge (big brown sheep, remember?) could have been written on the margins of those little green tags you removed when opening a bag of lucerne chaff to feed the horses.

I looked around, discovered there was, because of the numbers of people moving out of Canberra on to small farms on the outskirts, a course at the local technical college for “farm managers”. My enrollment was one of my best decisions for several reasons. First I learned a lot. Oh, the lecturers weren’t all good, far from it, but the chap who ran the course (“Dave”), and taught great chunks of it, was a good teacher and seemed to know everything there was to know about farming. Much of the theory stuff I could have read for myself, but the practical classes, for example on fencing (which I discovered, surprising myself, I was good at), were to prove invaluable. Secondly the other people doing the course, mostly chaps, were an interesting mix from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences, united only in living on a small farm (or wanting to) and wanting to make a good job of it. It was good to chat in tea breaks, or in the field, about all kinds of stuff, with people I ordinarily would never have met. The course was dumped, the year after I had completed it (in three years), and I think this was a great mistake.

But in the short term the big plus was that it formed a break from the increasing horrors of publishing at the Institute. On tech nights (once or twice a week) I would leave work at 6pm (early for me) and head to the technical college. Eat a packed lunch style dinner sitting in the car, and then spend three hours thinking and talking about something completely different to the day’s events.

Events which would have included some or all of the following: demands from an author to have a unique contract agreement different to all others; or to have a book published in a month, or with colour photos, or with a launch at the Opera House; a phone call from a Council member demanding that the demand be acquiesced to (the worst of these, but only by degree, I described in my diary as follows “Got a call from [councillor AB] telling me [author YZ] has cancer and I have caused it and furthermore I am preventing the treatment being effective. And the method I have used? Refusing to activate the deal she did with [a particular] bookshop [there had been endless nitpicking from the author concerned about the absolutely standard simple contract. The bookshop "deal", a very minor proposition, caused some complication with our distributors if I remember correctly]! Felt like asking if I had caused AIDS, El Nino and ocean pollution. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sickening”. This incident was one of the final straws in my decision to leave); some intractable production problem; an insoluble dispute based on personal animosity between two or more staff; a computer problem; a speaker for a launch dropping out at last minute. Such problems became more frequent and more difficult after the administration change in 1990. I don’t think a fencing session would have distracted me from accusations of not only causing cancer but preventing its treatment while carrying out an ordinary administrative negotiation, but for many of the other things it helped keep me sane over a three year period.

And gave me some ideas which eventually saw 6 pregnant Wiltshire Horn ewes arrive from Victoria on a stock truck. “Where’s your ramp, mate?” “Well, thought you would have one built in to the back of the truck.” “Nah, need a ramp” “Haven’t got a ramp”. And so on. But in the meantime, just as the truck had arrived, the culmination of about a year of thinking and planning (had decided 40 acres wasn’t big enough for cattle, and there was absolutely no point in having a few specimens of a major breed like Merinos, couldn’t do much with that. No, if we were going to achieve anything with the farm, and we were, it had to be a very rare breed, and the Wiltshire Horn, I discovered, was at the time the rarest in Australia. Oh, and it had a lot of very interesting features), I happened to look down the valley and there, unbelievably (this was Winter), was a column of smoke, apparently threatening the visible neighbour’s house. So, while arguing with the truck driver about the non-exixtence of a stock ramp (clearly a philosophical question) I was also wondering what to do about the smoke, who to call. Anyway, the impasse was broken – “can’t waste any more time, mate, gotta get these sheep off”. So he proceeded to grab each ewe and toss her off the end of the truck to where I was standing on the ground, ready, like a slips fielder, to catch them as they flew towards me. In spite of my fears they coped with this better than I did (and certainly had fewer bruises), and trotted off to where I had left little piles of lucerne in a welcoming trail. Paid the grumpy truck driver, and then raced inside to phone the neighbour.

“You have a fire.” “No I don’t.” Yes you do” “Just a minute.” I heard him put the phone down and could see him, tiny figure in the distance, go out his front door, look around, and go back in again – “No I don’t.” “Try the back door.” I heard the phone put down, footsteps, a door opening, an exclamation, and then the phone hung up. Seconds later I could see his truck heading up the road, the column of smoke now hanging over his house like a tornado in Texas. I headed off, too, job done, to find the fire brigade on the job, putting out a fire that had begun in a pile of wood and had begun to spread rapidly. I stayed to help with the mopping up. Then at last went back to see my new sheep, quietly grazing, and unaware of all the fuss. It was 1991, and I had two big projects, one academic, one farming, well under way. Both tended often to involve telling people something which was a cold hard fact, only to have them reject it because they were looking in the wrong direction.

Still, things might improve at the Institute. And sheep might fly.


One out of two
Clyde Holding was Aboriginal Affairs minister in the Hawke government until 1987 when he had a falling out with Hawke after trying to introduce national land rights legislation only to have Hawke apparently block it. His wife Judy was an artist who developed a strong interest in Aboriginal art, I suppose at least in part because of Clyde’s ministry, and, as a consequence decided that what Australia needed was an Encyclopaedia about Aborigines and that the Institute was the obvious place to do it. With, I presume, Clyde’s facilitation, this proposal was made to the Institute in 1988, an auspicious year for such a suggestion, given that the bicentennial celebrations in general of course were heavily weighted towards the Arthur Phillip First Fleet side of history.

Senior Institute staff in a meeting about the proposal suggested I was the obvious person to look at the practicalities of the project. I produced a dummy of what it could look like, wrote a number of trial entries, consulted with an experienced encyclopaedist, and started to list entries (derived from all the indexes of a series of major works in all subjects of Aboriginal studies – most of them by some of the same academics who would later viciously criticise the contents). In 1989 this proposal was approved by Council with me as General Editor, and also approved hiring two staff, a Senior Editor and Editor (the only financial contribution the Institute was to make to the project as it turned out) for the project. The Publications Committee acted as a sounding board initially while I put in place a system of Advisory Editors. This groundwork got under way in 1990. The good ship Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia had set sail.

But as it was raising its anchor, casting off the ropes, sounding its fog horn, there were big changes underway in the Institute. The size and function of the Council was radically altered to turn it into the executive body running the place; and, the terms of Ken Colbung and Warwick Dix coming to an end, a new chairperson and Principal took their places. It was as if a migrant ship had set off for Australia in early October 1929, with the world in a certain condition, and landed its passengers in late October 1929 after the great Wall Street Crash, in quite different circumstances.

The question for the Encyclopaedia now was whether it would even be able to reach its destination as a result of these changes, and, if so, what state it would be in when it did.

But if I was apprehensive, and I certainly was, there was nothing for it but to roll up my sleeves and get on with getting this massive project organised. The first two appointments were made, with that of Editor (the excellent Dallas de Brabander, cool, organised, and unflusterable) being especially important. I was determined, given the thousands of possible sensitive topics, that we would undertake an unprecedented level of consultation, with every word being made available to every advisory editor and to others where needed, and it would be up to Dallas to coordinate and maintain this information flow, as well as keep track of an extensive system of indexing and cross-referencing I had planned.

But, dear reader, you need to understand some other human and structural components of the project. First I had decided that two additional integral components, to be worked on simultaneously with the book, would be a Map (only the second attempt at mapping Aboriginal Australia, and the first since 1974 – a map based on work from the 1930s) and an electronic version of the book. Second, my work with the Press, in itself a more than full time job, would have to be combined with being in charge of the Encyclopaedia, obviously also a more than full time job. I was determined that no one would be able to say, honestly, that work on the Encyclopaedia was preventing other books being published.

The Map was mainly down to me. I started from scratch, colouring in (and using up a box of coloured pencils in the process), on a big map on the wall, one group at a time, starting at the tip of Cape York and working around in a big circle until I did the last one in central Australia. For each group I went to the library and came back with every reference on that group. Then I would spend several days reading all the material and relating to to my other reading on neighbouring groups. I paid particular attention to works that had been done in cooperation with Aboriginal groups, and also to what Aboriginal organisations said about their country and what they called themselves. One difficulty was that the map tried to represent all groups at a single time, but in reality the information comes from different times and is of different quality depending on circumstances. Another difficulty is that groups of this size had different structure and meaning in different parts of Australia. But again I tried to base what got put on to the map by relating it to what Aboriginal people themselves saw as their identity – in some cases they see themselves as being part of a small group, in others part of a much wider group.

For the electronic version I turned to Kim McKenzie. Kim, a film maker, had been at the Institute nearly as long as I had. The “film unit” had been closed down (yet another change) and Kim was therefore floating as a lone person. We had talks about how he could become part of the general publishing operation, and the Encyclopaedia, and Kim’s computer and design expertise, made this happen in a concrete way. There were no computer/electronic educational resources at this time, so we were creating the whole idea from scratch (even down to the medium to be used. At one time two very convincing salesmen for “video discs” came along. The quality was good, but it was clear to me that the future lay with the much smaller “CD-Rom” technology, and that’s the way we went). The Apple system included, way ahead of its time, what we now call html, but in the Apple context was just called hypertext. It enabled us to create all the special effects and linkages that the electronic version would require, but I could also set up the original database of text for entries so that it was eventually automatically transferred, with added formatting, either to the CD-Rom or to the printed version. I doubt anyone else had ever done anything remotely like this at the time.

Finally keeping the Press running at normal speed was down to Stephanie Haygarth who had just taken over (another change!) from Robyn Lincoln as Senior Editor, and who succeeded magnificently, by working incredibly hard. She also, of necessity, had a major hand in planning the production of the Encyclopaedia, and therefore had to work doubly hard. Stephanie and Kim were the two people on whom I depended absolutely to complete the project. They both knew everything that was going on, were both extremely smart, and I could rely on both to give me good and honest advice. It was much less lonely at the top, facing slings and arrows, with those two as my strong right and left arms. I also relied a great deal on Robyn Bancroft, Bundjalung woman, who, if she wasn’t actually related to another Aboriginal person, seemed at least to know them. She was not only well-connected but doing a university degree, and therefore straddled the two worlds the Encyclopaedia was straddling. She was enormously important, particularly for the electronic version (where sound and film added another dimension of concern) in advising me on what Aboriginal people wanted from the Encyclopaedia, and in letting me know, forthrightly, when I got something wrong.

As the planning for procedures and functions was getting underway I was also putting together the panel of “Advisory Editors” (whose roles included advising on such things as structure, style, essay writers, entries, writing the main essay which would overview their field, reading every word that was written and providing feedback). These were critically important to ground the work firmly in both the academic world and the Aboriginal world. They included people who were among the most senior figures in their respective academic disciplines; included about one third who were either current or recent past members of the Institute Council; included a number of senior Aboriginal figures (including the wonderful Charles Perkins, for whom my respect grew as I got to know him). One member of the advisory board, while knowledgeable in a particular field, was there because I wanted them on the inside of the tent pissing out, not on the outside pissing in. What I hadn’t anticipated was that this was the kind of person who was just as happy pissing inside the tent while being inside the tent. Not unique as it turned out.

Beyond those twenty were some ten times that number (ranging again from extremely senior figures down to junior but upcoming figures, again with a significant proportion of Aboriginal people ranging from young ones to elders, and including a large number of the professional Institute staff) employed to write particular entries in their fields of expertise. It was an extraordinary collection of people – there were few names, familiar to anyone knowledgeable in Aboriginal studies, who were not included. The gatekeepers were all safely inside the gates. If you wanted credibility in both the world of Aboriginal people, and academics in Aboriginal studies, you couldn’t go past a team of people like this.

Could you?

Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

In later years people would say to me, with a sympathetic note in their voice – “Well, it must have been hard navigating your way through all the complexities of Aboriginal politics and society.” “No”, I would say “that part was easy.”

Type cast
After the first lot of lambs were grown up a bit it was time to go on the Sheep Show circuit. I knew almost nothing about this, except for my long ago brief experience in dog showing, but it seemed like a good way to announce the arrival of a new breed and new breeders in the area. It was also, now I had finished my technical course, a way of having a short break from the madhouse involved in running a Press and writing an Encyclopaedia simultaneously, in the face of gradually strengthening resistance.

What an odd world it was and is though. There are people involved in showing who not only have never heard of DNA, but haven’t yet caught up with the work of Gregor Mendel in the mid-nineteenth century. They speak in terms of “blood”, “infusing with blood” (an old view also familiar in anthropology as we have seen, with its talk of “full bloods” and “octoroons”). The ram is of primary, indeed almost sole importance, the ewe doing little more than acting as a receptacle, an incubator, for the “blood” of the ram, and now we are back into mediaeval times and earlier.

The whole show philosophy indeed, dates back to Plato and his idea of “perfect forms” or “types”, each object having an ideal form, a golden mean, from which, in the real world, individuals diverged, but the aim was to keep trying to achieve the perfect form. A breeder, or judge, of sheep (and the same applies to other domestic breeds of animals and plants), has a perfect ideal form in mind for the particular breed concerned. In breeding he (very rarely she) is striving to produce sheep that match that ideal as closely as possible; in the show ring the judge is ranking the animals before him (very rarely she) according to how close they come to the ideal type.

Curiously the same process applies in a very formal way in biological taxonomy. When I went to England in 1973 one of the things it enabled me to do was check the “Types” (technically the “Holotypes”) of the lizards I had worked on. When a new species of plant or animal is described a “typical” single specimen is lodged at a museum. When other similar specimens are found later, the question to be asked is “Are these specimens similar enough to the type to be the same species, or are they so different that they must be from another species?” It is a concept that precedes Darwin of course and precedes our knowledge now of natural variation in a species around a mean. It also ignores our knowledge of the way genes work as discrete units – one specimen could appear to be radically different to another simply because of the presence of the dominant allele of one or a small number of genes. There are many species described on what turned out to be just minor variants.

Judging in the show ring based on divergence from the ideal type fits very well with the eighteenth century view that inheritance is through the “blood”. As one senior sheep person put it a few years ago (1999!) – “purity is purity to type not 100% purity blood”. The same chap was encouraging the “infusion” of breeds with each other because there couldn’t have been enough variation among the animals on Noah’s Ark to suit all our purposes today (I thought this was a joking remark, and said so, turned out not to be – “I hope my book of reference, the ‘Bible’ was also documenting the truth”). As does the showing ideal that an animal is judged on its looks, not on age, weight, muscling, amount of wool produced, or indeed any objective measure at all. No, an expert sheep judge, one could call him a gatekeeper for a breed, knows instinctively which are the best sheep. Just knows, needs no other information, has a “good eye for a sheep”.

Naturally though a view of which sheep in a line up most closely approximated the golden type for that breed was a very subjective view (at the end of judging a judge is supposed to explain, for the edification of breeders and spectators, the reasons why this one wins first prize, this one second, by reference to objective differences to them. One judge, not the wonderful one above, I heard exposed this concept by explaining “This one was a very good sheep, so was this one, but not quite as good, and this one wasn’t quite as good as that, but still very good, and this one …”). If you had doubts about which one was closest to the ideal type then there was a sure fire way to confirm it. The individual sheep are not made anonymous by some kind of random numbering system (as happens, for example, in wine judging or even poultry judging) but are exhibited in the ring while held by the breeder or members of his family. Stands to reason, does it not, that a leading, and long established breeder, will have much better sheep than a novice breeder. No question.

Similarly when it comes to the interbreed judging, all breeds judged against each other to see which is the best sheep, no question but that the long wool section will be won by a Border Leicester, the short wool by a Poll Dorset. No question of seeing which of the specimens representing each breed was closest to the golden mean for that breed – the logic of the earlier judging. No, the big breeds were expected to win, and they did.

Look it was fun for a while in an Australian Idol kind of way (and these competitions could well have been modelled on sheep judging, where the hundreds of sheep that arrive on a cold morning in the sheep shed are gradually whittled down by a series of eliminations through a hierarchy, to leave just one standing at the end), but it quickly became obvious that it was a waste of time if you were just trying to breed good sheep that performed well, did the job they were bred for. So I gradually stopped, although I have occasionally judged (in the blood, I suppose), and done my best, since then. But it really isn’t my kind of thing, surface impressions, subjective opinions, I think judgements should be reality-based.

Hard to find those kind of judgements anywhere though.


High dive
And now we reach the point described by Kafka – “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.”

But let us step back for a moment. I began creating the Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia with the feeling that all of my career to that point might have been aimed at ensuring that I was perfectly, uniquely, equipped to do the job. And that all of my ancestors, themselves lacking opportunities, held back by circumstances, knocked by outrageous fortune, had combined, rather in the way that gymnasts build a human pyramid, to act as my support and lift me up over the wall. That I had, to use Newton’s thought in a different way, “stood on the shoulders of giants”.

Just as the Palaeoecologist job had combined my twin interests of science and the arts, so the Encyclopaedia combined my knowledge of Aboriginal Studies and publishing.

A brief summary of where I was up to, academically, as I began the Encyclopaedia. I had four university degrees – Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science with Honours, Master of Science, Doctor of Philosophy. I had been a staff member at the Institute for 16 years, and for 13 of those years two Principals had liked, trusted, relied on me, sought my advice, involved me in major decisions. I was 45 years old, at the peak of my intellectual powers, and had, under my belt, professional careers in science, archaeology, publishing.

In archaeology I had undertaken more field work than most Australian archaeologists; had been involved in excavating very diverse sites over the whole length of eastern Australia; had made significant contributions (and published many papers and monographs) to prehistory theory regarding major issues such as colonisation, use of fire, megafauna extinction, Tasmanian prehistory; had radically altered the way archaeozoology was done in Australia. I had attended many archaeology conferences and in 1990 was keynote speaker at the AAA conference, and had examined a number of PhD theses. In 1990 I published my first book on the history of Australian archaeology. By any conceivable measure I was a major figure in Australian archaeology.

I was also a major figure in Aboriginal Studies in general. Had been Editor of the Institute journal Australian Aboriginal Studies for 5 years; had supervised the publication of a wide range of books, some 50 by 1990; had played a key role in establishing the Aboriginal-run press Magabala Books, in Broome; had served on a number of Institute advisory committees. I knew the ethical and philosophical questions, had hired the first Aboriginal member of staff; had returned the first skeleton to a community; had published work that had significant implications for the way Aboriginal people were viewed.

I was recognised as a significant figure in Australian publishing, attending conferences, taking Institute books to the point where they began winning awards, were selling well, being reviewed in newspapers, were leading the way for other publishers to copy us in publishing autobiographical works, community histories, children’s books. I knew the nuts and bolts of publishing from manuscript to distribution, with editing and design and layout skills, printing knowledge, familiarity with the intricacies of finance and distribution and promotion. I had extensive computer skills and had introduced Apple computers to publishing in the Institute before many other publishing houses had done so.

I don’t list these attributes in a boastful way (although looking back I should indeed have been much more boastful as I went along, rather than standing back in the corner of the room unseen satisfied simply with having done a job rather than wanting to claim credit. Does everyone regret more the things undone than the things done in life?), but for two reasons. First to point out that I wasn’t, as I started the Encyclopaedia, some unknown young graduate in a single discipline still wet behind the ears, nor some bureaucrat who just happened to have been in the right place at the time Encyclopaedia editorships were handed out. I wasn’t one of the grand old figures of Aboriginal Studies, but I was part of the next wave, the grand middle-aged figures, and there was no one around my age who I had any need to feel inferior to.

And second to illustrate how chance events, random decisions, lucky breaks, can put together (rather in the way that mutations and environmental accidents can lead to the evolution of a species ideally suited to a sudden major climatic change) a cv which just happens to be ideally suited at the right time to a job that arises. If someone had said to me, in 1963 – “Listen, in 25 years time the Institute is going to be looking for someone to create the Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, this is the plan we want you to follow in order to be qualified for the position” – then I couldn’t have done much different to what I had done.

So anyone looking at the situation in 1990 would have seen that a significant figure in Aboriginal Studies academia, with bonus ability in publishing and computing, with a long history as a respected Institute staff member, with a track record of having saved a sinking Institute publishing operation and turned it into a major player in Australian publishing, and with a sound plan for developing an Encyclopaedia, was about to start work, they would have heaved a sigh of relief and thought, well, that’s all right then, lucky we had David available. And while I felt a bit like a diver in the final of the Olympic Games, faced with a triple summersault with a handstand start and pike and tuck, I also felt like I had done all the training, had the skills, was going to give it my best shot. For my ancestors and for Aboriginal people. I felt great expectations on me.

And I, looking back in 1998 (beware, plot spoiler follows), could see that I had maintained the publishing performance of the Press, while at the same time obtaining outside funding to produce the Encyclopaedia (in an astonishingly short time) at no cost to the Institute, producing and selling a record (for the Institute) number of copies which returned even more money to the organisation; had won major awards for the book which had been launched by a Prime Minister; had received positive feedback in reviews, and from the Aboriginal community and from schools; had published both an Apple and Windows version of an electronic version on CD-Rom, again to popular accolades and awards; and had produced a Map of Aboriginal Australia which sold in its tens of thousands and was seen on walls from one end of the country to the other. Looking back then, you could see that our anonymous predictor in 1990 would have been quite right, though in fact their expectations would have been very understated against the actual achievements.

So, why was it, do you think, that throughout those 8 years there was scarcely a day that someone wasn’t screaming abuse at me in person or down a phone; or spreading rumours behind my back; or lying about what I was doing; or reversing, with bad consequences, a decision; or trying to cause trouble for me with someone outside the Institute; or causing endless delays; or running me down (at the time when I had been for some years working 14 hour days, weekends included, day after day, the then Principal told someone that I “didn’t do any work”)? Why were some academics behaving towards me in ways they wouldn’t have dreamt of behaving towards any other academic, and in ways they would have been outraged had they been applied to them? Why were a handful of Aboriginal people making demands about things that went against the interests, frequently expressed to me, of the great majority of other Aboriginal people?

And here I pause, on another high diving board, am I ready to take a plunge?

The reasons for what happened can be easily summarised – two people who hated me intensely were in a position to act on that hatred; and given that hatred, other people saw the chance to refight the battle many of us had thought settled in 1974 – was the institute only to be about “pure” academia, or did it also have a role in informing the general public about Aboriginal society and culture, and should “ordinary” Aboriginal people have a voice, an influence, in deciding how that informing should be done. The Institute publishing operation in general was a target over these years, but the Encyclopaedia provided a large and convenient single target to focus all of the rage that some people connected with the Institute felt because they had been on the “losing” side of the debates of 1974 and subsequently. And furthermore that I, perhaps because I was still there long after Peter Ucko was gone and out of reach, perhaps because I was seen as just Institute staff, not a “proper” academic, by some university academics, was going to be a particularly welcome target. This, it should be reiterated was “friendly fire” from inside the organisation, not bombs being lobbed in from “radicals” outside.

And as the captain of the good ship Encyclopaedia I was a bit like the captain of an ocean liner cruising up a river too narrow to turn round. The work had to be completed, no matter what damage I sustained there was an endpoint that had to be reached.

But the people who inflicted this damage are mostly still around, still active (they may all be; after 24 years in the Institute I left in 1998 and have never been back, so I am out of touch), still, in some cases, much publicly admired. So how do I tell the story without being threatened with legal action? Do I publish my eight years of detailed diaries (some 150,000 words)? Do I merely summarise, without naming names?

I need to pause on the diving board a little longer I think. It seems to me an important story and one where public perception at the time was quite different to the reality from the bridge. Where even the memories of some participants are wrong, or only represent part of the truth, rather in the way that after a car crash eye witness accounts differ markedly. So the record needs putting straight, history too important to be left to the “winners” (those who caused the damage) to write. We’ll see, dear reader, we’ll see.


Slip slidin’
During my university undergrdauate years I did vacation work in hospitals. It was through a Rechabite friend of my grandfather’s, who was now very high in the Public Service, that I had managed to get work. He had been told (you’ll like this chap) by my mother that I was doing science, and therefore would have the skills to work in the public health laboratories, which of course was nowhere near true.

The first year I worked in the histopathology laboratory. For some reason this was based in the Repatriation Hospital, quite separate to the other laboratories, and therefore had something of a secret society feeling about it. The boss was from one of the fundamentalist fringe religions which don’t believe in evolution, and we had furious arguments about this. He would give me books to read by American “creation scientists” and I would come in the next day scoffing. It was my first contact with the sort of religious belief that is so strong as to completely overturn common sense – perhaps there was less of it about in the 1960s.

It was interesting work, and I was taught how to carry out all the processes professionally, which was later useful in my science career. Tissue samples came to the laboratory from either post-mortems or biopsies. Each sample was impregnated with wax in a vacuum flask, then placed in a wax tray (like an ice block tray) on top of a label, then wax poured in (carefully avoiding bubbles) and the whole tray allowed to set. Each block of wax in turn was then trimmed to remove excess wax, and attached to a chuck with some melted wax.

The chuck was placed in a guillotine, the block carefully lined up, and then thin sections cut by winding a handle, rather like a salami slicer, click, click, click, click. You might turn the handle ten or fifteen times, making sure that you had reached into the main part of the sample and away from the edge. The result was a chain of wax, which you carefully lifted off from the edge of the guillotine blade with a small paint brush and carefully laid it on to the surface of the water in a water bath kept slightly warm. Like magic the warmth expanded the wax, unfolding the wrinkles, and producing a long transparent strip just like a piece of movie film. Each ‘frame’ contained a piece of the tissue, the sequence unfolding like a person’s life.

You would have a look at the sequence, pick out the best one or two sections, detach these from the rest with the brush, and carefully lay on to a glass slide. The slide was then placed on a hot plate, long enough to evaporate the wax and leave the tissue attached to the glass. The slide was then run through a series of chemicals (varying according to tissue type and nature of disease) for differing periods to stain the cells. They were dried, a glass cover slip put on top and glued in place (avoiding bubbles, which might have to be teased out around the edge by angling the slide and gently squeezing with the blunt end of the paint brush). Then they were dried on an oven, labelled, and placed in a rack.

The slides would go to the pathologist or doctor for diagnoses, we were just the technicians, but the senior technicians had many year’s experience and knew what they were looking at, and taught me how to recognise cancer and other abnormalities. It suddenly jumped from being the practice of a technique you were trying to perfect, to a slice of someone’s life, because the case notes would give information like ‘breast lump from 40 year old mother of three’ and the cells you had so carefully stained clearly showed malignancy.

After second year I reported for work again. This time (there was a policy of rotation) I was attached to the virology laboratories, which unlike histopath were near the centre of Perth, and close to the children’s hospital, where a lot of our work came from. The ethos was quite different. In histopath there was a great sense of urgency. Life and death could hang on the result of a slide, and samples were processed as soon as they came in and turned around within hours – faster if necessary. You felt part of the medical team, trying to help save people.

Virology was quite different. We were looking not at visible lumps but at invisible agents in the human body. It was impossible to get a quick result, and many results could take weeks. We joked that by the time we could work out what the virus was the patient was either recovered or dead. The atmosphere then was more like a research institute. There was time, and what we were trying to do was to see if there was an epidemic of a particular virus, or whether some new strain had emerged, or work out better ways for detection. The work involved live tissues, of necessity. There was an incubator for hen’s eggs, which I was responsible for maintaining (the eggs moved through a sequence of shelves, so that there were always some available at each of the required incubation periods). I would later learn how to drill a hole into the air space and insert viral material. After more incubation the chicken cells would be extracted and examined.

There were also laboratory mice, which I was also responsible for. I loved looking after them, and maintaining the breeding stock, but injecting the babies with viral material was enormously cruel and I hated it. That and then killing the mice for autopsy was not a job, like my grandfather in the butcher’s shop, that I should have been doing.

The third method of testing for viruses was the human cell lines. There were two, one I have forgotten, the other was HeLa, named from an abbreviation of the woman’s name (Henrietta Lacks – she recently became famous following an autobiography, but at this time nothing was known of her, deliberately, I was told her name was Helen Lane) from whom the cells had originally come. She had died perhaps 30 years before, or maybe a little less, but all over the world she lived on through her cells which continued to grow and reproduce. I had to maintain these too. They grew in flat jars, in a red culture medium. When they had covered the lower surface of the jar a chemical was added to detach them and break them up, then they were centrifuged and small numbers added to a whole new tray of bottles where they would begin to divide again.

When a test was needed I would supply the number of jars and a drop of the viral sample added to the jar and the bottle placed in another incubator. After some days the bottle would be placed under a microscope to see what, if anything, had happened to the cells, different damage being the signature of different viruses.

There might have been no urgency, but on the other hand there was a strong need for perfect laboratory techniques and disease control measures. Because the viruses of necessity remained alive, there was a constant danger of catching any one of them. In histopath there was no real risk of catching anything, in virology there was a risk of catching everything. I learnt to wash my hands the way surgeons did, we wore gowns all the time, all equipment and clothing was sterilised, and I learnt to remove a cap of a jar with my little finger, while holding a pipette in the same hand and the jar with the other hand, then putting the lid back on with the little finger, all the time wearing a surgical mask.

At the end of third year I was assigned to haematology. The laboratory because of the urgency of blood tests was actually in Charles Gairdner Hospital. I was fine for a while. I learnt to centrifuge blood, measure haematocrit, make blood smears and do white cell counts, test for blood chemistry. But then came the crunch. I was sent off with one of the senior technicians to learn how to actually take the blood samples. Up we went in the lift. There in a bed was an extremely old, very grey, and very pale lady. The skin of her arms was wrinkled, the arms thin. The technician began to try to find a vein, telling me to pay close attention. After several unsuccessful attempts, she seemed to have no blood left in her, and I was feeling very sick. As we stood up I nearly fainted, turning as pale as the old lady. I was asked to have a try myself but refused, and went back downstairs, telling the boss that I just couldn’t get blood from old people. I was quickly sent back to the histopath lab, and spent the rest of the vacation there. But the atmosphere was different this time, because the brand new lab was now also in Charles Gairdner and the people were different. Perhaps for the first, but not the last, time I learned that you should never return to a place left behind.


Not an anthropologist
Academics in Aboriginal Studies have levels of mutual obligation, patronage, reciprocity, payback, tribalism, feuding, kinship, hatreds, that would leave members of bikie gangs, the Mafia, and, yes, even the NSW Labor Party, looking like rank amateurs organising a Sunday School picnic.

Now the same would probably be said about academics in any discipline (think CP Snow The Masters, or perhaps Amis’ Lucky Jim, or the story of the discovery of the double helix) but there are a number of factors that make Aboriginal studies particularly virulent.

First there is the competition to be top discipline. There are three major disciplines – anthropology, archaeology, linguistics – which each consider themselves to be the queen of Aboriginal studies. Then there are the second division wannabes – musicology, material culture, rock art studies and so on, all vying for a place in the premier league.

I’m sorry, that was all a little frivolous. There is of course no question, in the minds of anthropologists, that theirs is the premier discipline, rather in the way that America sees itself as the world superpower. And, just as the US consequently sees itself as the World’s Policeman, Anthropology sees itself as Policeman for Aboriginal Studies.

All Australian anthropologists are related. No, not by blood silly (though sometimes by marriage), but by the even more important linkages that develop in academic life. All anthropologists have at some time been a student to one anthropologist, a teacher or supervisor of another. An older academic will have preceded someone in a Chair, a younger one be a successor. Important linkages can be forged from the UK, with new staff members having perhaps shared a supervisor in Oxford with an existing one. In addition there are marriages, divorces, affairs, co-authorship of books, co-organisers of conferences, people who have hosted you for a sabbatical.

Strong ties that bind? Certainly, but forces that divide as well. The university base provides a strong sense of territory, as does the state the anthropologist calls home. But in addition most anthropologists develop strong ties to a particular Aboriginal community where they conduct the majority, perhaps the entirety, of their lifetime research. If the anthropologist spends some time there the community will probably assign them a place in the kinship system – they will become “brother”, “son”, “cousin” – given a relationship to every member of the community in order to give their presence there, and their interactions with people, a firm basis in law. The anthropologist will have obligations (providing transport or food, for example, to senior members of the community) and responsibilities, and will receive benefits in turn, just as other members of the community will be obligated and entitled to. To have such relationships also provides status for the anthropologist back in the academic community – it means they are a real anthropologist, part of a very exclusive club.

A club which has its own obligations and rewards. A middle ranking academic will have received benefits in the form of appointments to lectureships and subsequent promotion, thanks to his supervisor and or professor, will in turn be able to provide such things to his own students. And will help to protect the academic reputation of his benefactor, while expecting his students in turn to do the same for him. The currency is often in the form of academic papers, editorships of journals, presentations at conferences. Particularly in relation to the Institute, anthropologists saw this as a source of academic wealth in the form of book publishing potential. If someone had demanded and got publication of your book manuscript through the Institute, then in turn you would return the compliment to them, or apply it to one of your students. Getting a book published was a major credit towards getting a job or promotion, and so being able to deliver such a prize was powerful source of status, and the creation of future obligation. For it to work though it couldn’t be done in the normal way of having to run the gauntlet of readers and editors that you would have to do at, say, Penguin. That would create uncertainty, a lack of guarantee that you were indeed powerful enough to get a book published for your student. It had to be done through the Institute where, for many years, academic books were simply published on request.

And then I came along and tried to turn the publishing operation into a proper Press, where publication depended not on academic mutual obligation but on actual publishability of a manuscript. Cat among pigeons. Horton on blacklist.

Even more so because I wasn’t part of the club. A club whose function, as well as providing glittering prizes, was to guard the academic purity of anthropology. Those who had become elders, big men anthropologists, were the ones who decided not only who would be admitted to the club, but what research and writing would be considered to be, accepted as, part of the canon, part of the holy writ. They were gatekeepers to wisdom.

And I wasn’t part of the club. Had done archaeology, not anthropology, at university, owed no obligations to senior anthropologists, had no right to even comment on the discipline. A discipline too which, somewhat unusually by this time, in either Arts or Science, had absolutely no interest in educating the general public (including, in the case of anthropology, the general Aboriginal community). Other disciplines had tried to reach out, had created popular works aimed at the public, even at schools, where the latest findings in, say, physics, or archaeology, were being written in a way that was as jargon free as possible. Anthropologists saw this as a cop out, a terrible dilution of standards. Instead of believing that if a thing couldn’t be explained simply you didn’t understand it properly, they believed that if a thing could be explained simply it was wrong.

All of this, just as with Catholic Church doctrine, gave rise to a great many occasions of possible sin, and I, over a ten year period, committed every sin in the Anthropological bible. I had made the publication of books by the Institute not something purely in the gift of senior anthropologists, and had dared therefore to act almost like a gatekeeper which I certainly, not being an anthropologist, had no right to do. What was worse, perhaps, was that I was actually encouraging the publication of books by Aboriginal people themselves, who should have been content to be the subjects of anthropological research, and had no right to actually write stuff themselves – what was the world coming to?

And then I started the Encyclopaedia, and it all became a thousand times worse. I, some kind of scientist/archaeologist thingy (you won’t like this chap, he’s not an anthropologist) was presuming to be the General Editor, when such a glittering prize certainly belonged to someone from the anthropology club. Further I was daring, again, to act like a bit of a gatekeeper, communicating with anthropology advisory editors and writers, editing their work, and, heavens to betsy, presuming to write some short entries on, say, kinship terms, where I took the original work by a real anthropologist and made it understandable. Why, it was criminal, the public would start thinking anyone could understand anthropology. And on top of that I was including stuff about modern Aboriginal issues, and about communities and individuals who weren’t proper traditional Aborigines. I was even letting some of them write entries – this Horton fellow was evil, and his so-called Encyclopaedia (which as one anthropologist said he thought would have more “high anthropology”) would be the end of civilisation as we had known it since the first anthropologists began working among the natives on every southern continent in the nineteenth century.

By god if he wanted a fight (he didn’t) then he would get one, this would be war, and war to the bitter end, and if Horton thought he had some sort of control over the project as General Editor then he was very much mistaken. He was about to find out where the real power in Aboriginal studies lay. And how strong the bonds between anthropologists could be.


Capacity building
The report at the end of my first term of first year high school could have just been copied and recycled at the end of every term for the next four years – Geography 80%, English 76%, Arithmetic 75%, History 68%, General Science 67%, Algebra 64%, Geometry 60% and metalwork (a crooked shoehorn, a bird seed container with hole) 50% – except that I would never do that well in any maths again. The note from H. Hoad (‘First Mistress’) could also have been recycled with varying degrees of exasperation by various teachers – ‘Has not worked to capacity must try hard for scholarship’.

Jackie Hos had become a friend at university because her name was the next one after mine in the Junior and Leaving lists, and then she turned up doing Zoology (“Oh, you are Hos, JW!”), her name again next to mine in the lists (I discovered too that her father had been our gym teacher at high school). I ran into Jackie again (there she is below, centre, faded, me on far left, John Shield who ran the field trip in between, Bert Main behind, 1964 Rottnest Island) when I came back to Perth briefly after the Melbourne year. She said that she was very disappointed I hadn’t lived up to expectations (not working to capacity in fact) and made use of my talents better. I could only agree with her of course. At the age of 21 I had done surprisingly little (compared, for example, to that cow Francoise Sagan).

But there was a problem – what on earth was my capacity, and how was I going to know when I was working to it? I was now, I thought, pretty well settled as a scientist, not a writer, so what capacity did I aim for? The ethos in my undergraduate years, expounded by Bert Main, was that the research was the important thing. That you aimed to know the truth about something, and that was a good end in itself. You might publish, to let other people know about something of importance, but you published rarely, and only when you had something really important to say, each publication should be, if possible, a minor classic in its own right. His publication list, given his enormous knowledge and hard work, was relatively small.

And then I went to New England and came under the supervision of Hal Heatwole, whose view was that publication was the main thing, that research was only of value when it was published. He could, at times, publish the results of a single experiment, a single observation, a single days work in the lab or in the field. His publication list consequently already ran into the hundreds when I knew him. [Later, when I reached the Institute, Peter Ucko took me back to the Main philosophy - "Make sure your first book is a good one", he said, his first book having been, of course, a good one.]

A happy medium somewhere? I guess so, I would try to publish as much as I could, but I would aim to have at least some of my papers be important ones. So I published a dozen or so papers in lizard taxonomy, but also on larger scale issues of biogeography, by the time I had finished my PhD and post doctorate year. Not a bad output, by most people’s expectations, but I still felt I was cruising a bit, not working to capacity. Oh I don’t mean it was easy stuff, or that I didn’t put everything into it, but I just felt that I was well within a comfort zone. If things had worked out differently I could well have spent the next 30 odd years of academic life producing similar kinds of papers on similar topics at a similar rate without being able to go back to Hester Hoad and saying “There you are, capacity achieved”.

So I was into prehistory at the Institute and I had to work even harder, see what my capacity was. I determined to reform the theory and practice of archaeozoology, oh, and the history of archaeology in Australia needed looking at. And then there was the early colonisation of Australia (above, my “present study” compared to the two earlier classic theories), and fire, and megafaunal extinction, and ethnoarchaeology. There were recent coastal sand dunes to dig, and Pleistocene swamps, and sandfly riddled islands in Cape York, and much in between. Australian archaeologists, like anthropologists, tended to work on a single site or region, and write about single topics. The only other person who had attempted, was attempting, the range and depth of topics I was tackling was Rhys Jones, a brilliant archaeologist and thinker who I liked and admired.

All of that was satisfying and challenging, I was spending months in the field each year, analysing thousands of prehistoric bones, publishing a number of academic papers and monographs each year. Added to involvement in Institute committees and other activities, raising children, getting on school boards, creating a garden on bare clay, building a house extension, coping with my mother (who had remarried and lived nearby), maintaining old friendships and developing new ones; if this wasn’t working to capacity it must have been very close to it.

But again I felt that I was back in a comfort zone. I knew my topics, knew how to analyse a site, could see the future clearly. It must be time for example for that good first book, discussing Aboriginal prehistory and environmental issues like fire and extinctions – had plenty of material. Then more of the same research and maybe a second book, and then, who knows, a third and a fourth. I had finally got to that place that great expectations had mapped out for me when I was a very young fellow indeed, being read to by my grandfather. Or had I?

If I pictured myself as a young teenager, day-dreaming when I was supposed to be studying, imagining what I was going to be when I grew up (an impossibly long time in the future), life as an academic in archaeology didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. Nothing out of the ordinary about it, no awfully big adventure, no glittering prize, no major contribution to Australian or indeed world society and culture. Had I reached capacity in a fairly mundane way? Would I recognise an opportunity to extend myself if it came?

And then, out of the blue, came the proposal for the Encyclopaedia, and it was suddenly obvious to me that this was it, this was Capacity with a capital C. And more importantly, this was a way of showing that the family had been right to journey to the Australian jungle, a way of exorcising the ghosts of nervous breakdown inducing dead trees. And even more importantly this was a way of establishing Aboriginal studies as a serious academic discipline not a collection of disparate disciplines, an aim I had begun with editing the Institute journal. And of ultimate importance, here was a way of promoting the interests of ordinary Aboriginal people, of educating schoolchildren and the general public about the value of Aboriginal society and culture, here was a way of making a big difference. I was going to be finally testing my limits, but my cause was good, my aim extremely worthwhile. If it wasn’t my first book (which I had just published, a history of Australian archaeology) which was going to be a really good one, my second book was going to be great. And my third, on prehistory and environment, would just have to wait a while (eventually a decade) until I could get this Encyclopaedia done.

If my life to that point had been in retrospect a preparation for the task of creating this Encyclopaedia, then the Institute, begun nearly 30 years earlier, could be seen as having been created with the Encyclopaedia in mind as a major achievement. The Encyclopaedia would be, I was determined, a major showcase for all the collected material, and collected wisdom and knowledge, that the Institute had been developing through these decades. I chose as the logo for the Encyclopaedia a piece of Rock Art showing a group of Aboriginal people heading off to hunt – it was meant to symbolise all of the people, academic, Aboriginal, Institute staff, Encyclopaedia workers, me, who would be undertaking this adventure together. All for one and one for all, a band of brothers and sisters. I should, in retrospect, have noticed which way the spears of the “followers” were pointing in that logo.


High degrees
My friend Les Hiatt, one of Australia’s great anthropologists, used to make the following observation about how Aboriginal people viewed culture. If you were to take a group of Arnhem Landers to Washington, he said, and visited the Smithsonian, they would have little interest in the exhibits relating to white culture, or that of native Americans, or that of Australian Aborigines, or that of Australia in general. What they would want to see is any artefact derived from Arnhem Land, especially one derived from their own community, especially one made by, say, the grandfather of one of the group. Aborigines had, thought Les, a very particular personalised interest in culture, not the more general one of Western society.

From the early 1970s onwards Aboriginal people began using one of two routes towards closer involvement in, and recognition by, the wider Australian society. Some, especially the younger Aboriginal people, followed the lead of Charlie Perkins and began enrolling in university courses and obtaining degrees, often in subjects relevant to Aboriginal issues such as anthropology, history, archaeology. The other stream of endeavour was from Aboriginal people without university education, often in fact with very little education at all, beginning to tell their personal history, or that of their community, or to put together traditional stories, perhaps for children.

These were both valid approaches. Those who went to university tended to have a broader interest in Aboriginal culture and politics, and were starting to be employed in academia and the public service, and, by the time I began work on the Encyclopaedia in 1990, were playing a significant role in the Institute. On the other hand I had been promoting books by Aboriginal authors, giving a voice to people like Ida West or Bill Cohen, with barely a primary school education, but whose stories were an important, and never told, part of Australian history. It would be vital to include both groups in the development of the Encyclopaedia.

So obviously vital that it never occurred to me that it could be an issue, especially in the form the issue was used personally and politically. My aim was to have the Encyclopaedia cover the whole spectrum from what was later referred to as “high anthropology” right through to stories of Aboriginal people not generally known about, and so on. The academic side of things would be done to the highest possible standard – all the leading academics writing, with careful checking, referencing, indexing, and with the later addition of extensive appendices. If a university student was looking for an introduction to some aspect of linguistics or musicology, say, this would be the place to go. On the other hand if Les Hiatt’s Arnhem Lander, say, was looking for something about his community, or its leading figures, or its material culture, or history, then he would find it too. And for that well loved publishing icon the “informed general reader”, and for high school and even primary school students, the language used and its style would enable even the most complex of issues and events and ideas to be easily understood.

Hard to see anyone being unhappy with that approach? Well, they were. A number of white academics were outraged that there would be entries by or about non-academic Aboriginal people, and so were a number of Aboriginal academics. The latter had become another form of gatekeeper, apparently believing that only those who had university degrees were qualified to contribute in any way. That the days of the community leader presenting their autobiography were long gone, and had no place in the new world of Aboriginal politics and culture. It was a “holier than the Pope” approach.

So the more I published books by ordinary Aboriginal people, and the more I included them in the fabric of the Encyclopaedia, the more the outrage grew among some black and white academics, outrage expressed behind closed doors in venues where it mattered. All the while, Aboriginal people in the community, like the protest group of 1974 (outraged that the Institute was holding an all-white pure academia conference), were telling me that they wanted more, not less of this kind of general interest material.

It was a conflict impossible to resolve. No matter how much high quality formally academic material the Encyclopaedia contained it was never enough to compensate for the relatively small amount of “non-academic” material. In fact it seemed that even a single drop of non-academic blood would be enough to irrevocably pollute the Encyclopaedia. As a consequence there were those who set out to damage or even completely stop the Encyclopaedia (and publication of non-academic books by the Institute) on the grounds of “quality”, and others helping them who were simply determined, on personal grounds, to destroy me.

Still, even given all that, you were still part of the Institute staff (and its elected membership), so that would have provided a firm base from which this vicious nonsense could be resisted, right?

Um, no.


You can leave your hat on
In 1815 a major volcano (Mount Tambora) erupted in Indonesia, throwing ash into the air to a great height. Its effects were felt the following year (the “year without a Summer”) on the other side of the world, even by a farmer in Kippax, Yorkshire. So unusual were the effects of this distant event, that it prompted Joseph Carter to begin writing in a kind of diary in 1816 – “The corn was so damaged with the wetness of the weather as to render it almost unusable it was so sprouted.” The following year the effects were still being felt – “1817 There was a long drought in the Spring. The wet weather commenced about the 28 of May and continued 3 months. The corn began to sprout again which made the people despair.” Unforeseen consequences from distant, probably unknown (in Kippax), events.

The only physical thing I remember about my grandfather was that when he took off his hat it left a red ring around his head, just above where the hair ended and the bald dome began. As a result I thought (and I was very young) that the hat had caused his hair to mostly disappear, I suppose I thought as a result of abrasion of cutting off circulation, though I doubt I had a clear-cut theory. Anyway, cause and effect, though I had, as can happen when young, got cause and effect precisely back to front. He was not bald because he wore a hat, he wore a hat, at least in part (the other part was convention and fashion, all men, and women, his age in those days of the 1940s and 1950s wore hats – there he is below, on left, with my grandmother and friends), because he was bald. But not wanting, myself, to go bald, for many years I wouldn’t wear hats.

I was told later that he had become bald as a result of rheumatic fever, cause and effect again, but whether or not this had accelerated his hair loss (his increasing baldness, at the age of just 21, is clearly visible in his wedding photo, some 16 years before the fever), the actual cause of his bald head was buried in his DNA. Not so much from the Youngs perhaps, the males of whom seem to have fairly good heads of hair, but perhaps through the Carters, his mother’s family. His grandfather Carter’s bald head shines out from his photo.

Crown baldness from one side, pattern baldness from my father, whose thinning temples are visible quite early in photos, I was doomed by my DNA to go bald in middle age, whether I wore a hat or not. But I didn’t. In photos after the age of about 2 I never have a hat. Not fashionable for my generation. The earlier generations wore hats, therefore we didn’t, and in birthday shot after birthday shot as I grew up, none of my friends have hats either.

Nor did we wear sun cream, and so as a result of the blazing West Australian sun, and a life lived mostly outside, my generation were creating little ticking time bombs in our cells, which would explode later and send skin cells into a frenzy of division. In my case it took about 60 years before I became aware that spots on my now balding head were growing, itching, sore, sometimes bleeding, and began the process of removing new ones every few months. Fortunately none so far the malignant melanoma that kills people regularly in sunny Australia.

In talking to my skin specialist she advised about hats and long sleeves and lotion and staying inside, but also pointed out that the damage was long done, the time bombs long in place with fuses ready to be lit, that I was paying the price for doing innocent things when young whose consequence was completely unknown at the time.

Things could have been much worse I suppose, if I had, like the rest of my generation, spent long days unprotected from the sun on beaches. I didn’t because of the consequences of measles when I was aged 5 or 6. A bad case left me with a perforated ear drum, and this in turn meant that I couldn’t go swimming without ear plugs held in place with a female bathing cap with flaps that covered the ears. Which meant, of course, that I couldn’t go swimming. There were enough odd things about me without adding a woman’s bathing cap to the list of things other boys could tease me for.

The other consequence of a damaged eardrum was some deafness in one ear. And in turn this probably led, unknowingly, to some unfortunate conversational sequences where I, guessing what had been said, nodded and smiled when I should have been shaking my head and frowning, or perhaps looking sympathetic when I should have looked cross, or vice versa, and unintended consequences may well have often flowed from perceived insults or failures of empathy, or any of the other thousands of human interactions where a foggy hearing of a word sequence may lead to disaster in the long run.

On the other hand, as my deferment for education came to an end, and Vietnam loomed, my deafness was to have the consequence of making me medically unfit, the chance of miscommunication having even more dire consequences in that grim war. I was also unfit for army service as a result of a self-inflicted wound. I had begun smoking very occasionally as a teen, but had taken it up seriously, as a badge of sophistication for the ultimate unsophisticate, while in Melbourne, and rapidly become addicted as that awful year unravelled my self-esteem.

Such was my genetics, as it happened, that even the desultory few teenage cigarettes had triggered chronic bronchitis, which got worse as the addiction deepened. At sea level and in humidity my lungs were so congested that I slept badly night after night, and it was only the move to the higher altitude of Armidale that would eventually start to partially cure the problem. But in the meantime a breathing problem which was worse in humidity and at low altitudes was also obviously not going to be a military bonus for someone with partial deafness, and the doctor signed the form to say I should stay away from Vietnam.

A good unintended consequence following a bad one? Yes indeed, but as with the damaged skin cells, I hadn’t realised for a long time that my lungs were getting damaged, even when I switched to the “benign” (and grandfather precedented) pipe smoking. Eventually an odd feeling in my lip and a biopsy showed that pipe smoking could indeed kill you if you kept going after finding pre-cancerous lip cells, and I gave it up. Not soon enough though because, reaching 60, and getting increasingly short of breath, the doctor told me that chronic lung disease was the inevitable result of early smoking, and even though I had stopped may years before (as I began the Encyclopaedia) the ticking time bombs in the lung cells, like those in the skin, would just keep exploding.

Life is full of historical and structural factors that affect the way we live our lives – wars, financial Depressions, coal mines closing, unexpected severe illnesses and deaths – we can’t prevent the causes, can only deal to the best of our ability with the consequences.

The things that happened to me, were done to me, in the 1990s were partly the consequence of historical and structural factors to do with the way the Institute was run, the political environment of the day, the philosophy of the discipline of anthropology and the battles for Aboriginal self-determination and expression. All things to be taken into account when starting out to make an Encyclopaedia in such a contentious area as Aboriginal studies. But all were things I understood, had trained for, could deal with. What I hadn’t expected, allowed for, were vicious personal attacks resulting from hatreds which were based either on nothing I was aware of or some incident so trivial as to be forgotten, by me, a day later, but incidents which festered away in a few people like damaged cells becoming cancerous.

And just as a bitter feud with a work colleague who later becomes your stepmother is personally disastrous; or a fight between two sisters which will later result in one taking revenge, given opportunity, a revenge that will result in her sister’s death; or a fight between a father and son over something as trivial as a radio will result in the two never speaking again and the son ending upon the other side of the world; so minor events between me and people who would find themselves in positions of great power became the excuse for inflicting any kind of damage upon me that they could manage to inflict.

A gift to the nation
In 1933 my twelve year old mother was invited home by a friend from a wealthy family and commented “to show how rich they were they had a set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia”.

Perhaps this always rankled, in the back of her mind, because about 20 years later, when a door-to-door salesman came calling with a later edition of the Encyclopaedia, all ten volumes in an attractive wooden stand, she bought it for me. Or, more likely, agreed to pay it off at some few shillings a week, it being a purchase well beyond our means in the early 1950s.

She may well have felt satisfaction, a kind of retrospective cocking of the snook at the Storeys “who had decided by then I was a rude cheeky girl and unfit to play with Marjory or eat at their place”. Here we were, a set of Arthur Mee’s, as good as anyone (when my uncle Robert came back from England he bought a Singer car, a big, black, ugly monster like a London Taxi but not as streamlined, and rare in Australia. He had bought it not because of some supposed fine motoring quality, but because in England, during the war in Coventry, he had cycled, on his way to factory work, past the Singer factory, and he had bought the car in memory of those times. My mother was highly critical of a decision based on such sentimentality, which was ironic since she rarely made a decision in her life untainted by sentimentality. Me too I guess). But she also thought, correctly, that if I was going to achieve something in life I was going to need a kind of boost above what came from the school, and a high class set of encyclopaedias like this was just the thing.

It became a focus of my reading. Oh I read plenty of other books, My mother and I went, each Saturday morning, walking a few kilometres each way to the nearest public library, and came back with (I think) four books each, the maximum allowed. By the time I got the Encyclopaedia (aged perhaps, seven or eight) I had probably reached the point where I had worked my way through everything I wanted to read in the children’s section and had moved on to “adult books”. My mother would provide guidance there, suggesting, say (one I remember) “The Forsyte Saga”; or perhaps something by Somerset Maugham, who she thought a great author. I was also reading a lot of nonfiction (the four books may have been specified as two fiction, two non-fiction) but I can’t remember specifically what, with the exception of the British Poultry Club standard for all poultry, which I, a poultry nut, then and now, devoured from cover to cover, with all the descriptions of feather colour, and leg and beak colour and so on; but I was probably reading books on biology, astronomy, history.

However I knew the Encyclopaedia was different. It was a kind of super book, the ultimate source of knowledge, and I avidly browsed the volumes day after day, learning all kinds of esoteric things which may have come in handy in later life. If I thought I might one day write a book, and I probably did by then, then I never imagined writing an Encyclopaedia, which was on a higher plane to my aspirations of novel writing (although when I was underway as General Editor of an Encyclopaedia, in that early period of optimism and pride, I once visited the Canberra Show, and going through some displays, came face to face with the modern equivalent of the door to door Encyclopaedia salesman. “Like to buy an Encyclopaedia Britannica sir?” “I don’t buy encyclopaedias, I write them” I said, with perhaps just a touch of hubris. But I was proud, I was going to be part of that select club with Arthur Mee and whoever the EB editor was now).

The Children’s Encyclopaedia was on a higher plane not just because of the massive depth and breadth of content, but because of its form. Arthur said that he was inspired to create his Encyclopaedia by his daughter asking, as children do, lots of questions which he couldn’t answer. And he wanted to create a “Big Book” a “gift to the nation”. To that end no expense was spared in production – the paper is heavy and shiny, the covers are made to look like red leather with mock gold lettering, there are colour pictures throughout (beginning, with absolute intended symbolism, with a picture of Shakespeare). The whole thing must have been put together (the colour pictures retain the instructions of where they are to go) and bound by hand. There is no doubt that Mee intended this to be a magnificent work to symbolise the importance of childhood. This is “the first book that has ever tried to tell the whole sum of human knowledge so that a child may understand”. Mee thought that children were important to the nation [the British nation of course] and the empire, and the form of this work would show how important they were, how valued they were.

He also understood something else about the way the Encyclopaedia should be written, a conclusion I was to reach independently (for I doubt I ever read the Introduction, or absorbed it if I did) nearly 40 years later. The Encyclopaedia need not have a restricted niche audience – it you got the language right it could reach everybody. “It is a children’s book that children can understand. It is written in the words the children know. The writers of this book have been simple by being natural; they have made a children’s book without childishness, a book that children may read because it is simple, and that men may read because it is plain.”

Arthur also realised that an Encyclopaedia had another huge advantage over a single book (necessarily written for a specific audience) – there was so much content that readers could pick and choose according to their needs and knowledge, and in doing so grow with the work over a long period of time – “Left to wander in this field, the child will find whatever it wants. For the youngest of all its nurse will find her lullaby. The child in the nursery will find its nursery rhymes and the best stories that have ever been told. The child who can be left out of doors to play will find here [as I did] the beginning of its interest in the natural world. For the boy and girl at school these pages teem with precious things; for fathers and mothers, teachers and governesses, they may well become invaluable. It is a book for grown-ups and children.”

The other big thing Arthur Mee realised is that an Encyclopaedia differs from a book in that you read as much or as little as you want. You read a book through from start to finish, it has a beginning, a middle, an end, and the information, the arguments, the analysis are determined for you by the author. An Encyclopaedia can be dipped into anywhere, and, having dipped in, to look up a particular piece of information, you can be led on to additional information, and so on, spending as much time, and absorbing as much information, as you choose. As Arthur says “The book has been arranged into nineteen main groups … all we have to do is turn to the group we want and read the chapters from the beginning to the end.” Or, he might have added, you could start in the middle, or the end, and go in any direction, and you could be distracted by finding another interesting thing on the page of your initial topic, and be set off along a new line of inquiry, and so on. The reader creates his or her own reading experience. This was a concept that I completely failed, apparently, to get across to my critics or indeed my advisory editors, none of whom, it seemed, had been raised by Arthur Mee and his Big Book.

Hard to imagine anyone of sound mind undertaking to create one Encyclopaedia, impossible to imagine anyone agreeing to do a second. So each new Encyclopaedist comes to the job innocent and virginal, not knowing what the sacrificial altar holds for them.

Also impossible to imagine, even though it is a small select band of brothers, and sisters, anyone establishing a club or an association for Encyclopaedia creators. While we certainly have things in common, the commonality is much like the survivors of an air crash – uniquely placed to understand each other’s stories of survival, each of which has unique elements, but unwilling to re-live the experience by discussing it with the others.

An Encyclopaedia isn’t a book in the sense the word is usually used, nor does it come into being in the same way. It is a pity that many Australian academics, their experience of publishing a book restricted to the publication (often by the Institute, on demand) of their PhD thesis, didn’t understand that. The creation of an Encyclopaedia is better thought of as analogous to making a film. A film is not made in chronological sequence, but pieces shot in any order that suits and reassembled later to make a coherent whole.

In terms of a coherent whole there were two choices. Either the Encyclopaedia could be organised by subject (as in the Cambridge Encyclopaedia series. The excellent Robin Derricourt had sent me copies of some of these, eg of India, and the Middle East, to see if I wanted to model my Encyclopaedia on these. I didn’t) or alphabetically, or somewhere in between (as Arthur Mee had done). I decided on the alphabet, because it made it very easy to find a particular topic by its position, and enhanced this capability with an extensive index and very extensive cross-referencing. The casual browser could find strange and interesting bedfellow articles thrown together by the alphabet, or follow trails of linkages. My model, in fact, was more like the Oxford “Companion” series (which I took great delight in serendipitously browsing) than a dictionary on the one hand or Arthur Mee on the other.

And so we set about the task. Some 1800 topics were listed on a white board, under the watchful eye of Dallas de Brabander, and each day Ian Willis (senior editor on the project) and I would pick a topic, any topic, head for the Library, come back with an armful of books, read, digest, and turn into language that anyone from a a school child, to Joe Public, to university students, to journalists, politicians, and university professors, could read, enjoy and understand, even about topics of which they had no knowledge initially. And as we finished each one, with the addition of index, cross-reference, and literature references, it was rubbed off the board. A very small dent in the enormous list at first, eventually, as three years passed, dwindling down to a precious few.

Each finished draft essay (plus those coming in from outside contributors) was put into one of the 26 photocopy paper boxes marked with letters of the alphabet. Each night I would take home several of the boxes and do the preliminary edit on the new essays. The major work needed was to cut – a number of writers found it impossible, seemingly, to hit a word limit target (250 words for ordinary entries, 1000 words for the major over-arching essays, 500 words for the subject essays). I had done my calculations – the book would be roughly this big with this number of words, this number of illustrations etc, and if it was this big it would cost this much. A two volume set was the most compact and handy size for the average customer. So there were word limits and they needed to be met – another concept it seemed impossible to get across to many people. In the end I would have a work of some 750,000 words and over the three years had cut the same number of words (!) from draft essays. As well as cutting I was looking for consistency with related entries, any sensitive matters (eg say personal information in a biography), improving style, rewriting jargon, and so on. This initial editing was important in setting the Encyclopaedia on the right path.

The edits would be incorporated in a new draft attached to the original work (all drafts were retained), and when we had enough accumulated a batch was sent out to all 18 Advisory Editors in great heavy envelopes. They were suppose to read and give feedback, correct errors, suggest additional entries perhaps. They were being given every word written in the draft encyclopaedia so they could have major input into its development. Whatever comments they made were incorporated in yet another draft, any recent developments added, proof reading done.

And so it went on, day after day, hauling books into my room and writing, hauling boxes home at night and editing, creating the map, developing the electronic version, making endless decisions about every aspect of the Encyclopaedia style and contents, travelling around Australia (with Kim McKenzie and Robyne Bancroft) publicising the Encyclopaedia and desperately trying to raise the money needed to complete and print it, and in between making sure that the general Press activity kept on track for a dozen books a year. The three years passed in a blur of exhaustion. By the end of them though I not only had some 1800 essays (600 a year, nearly 2 a day on average, every day, over half of which I had personally written), hundreds of photos, music (added to the CD-Rom version), maps, appendices, extensive index, two thousand references – all the content of a “big book” – but the plans in place to produce a magnificent work that, like Arthur Mee with children, would honour the Aboriginal people of Australia (I had deliberately made the first two words of my Introduction “Aboriginal People” and the last two words of the last entry are also “Aboriginal People” – first and last). Chapter headings used an image of Mungo, oldest archaeological site where ancient people were found. The paper quality would be high, colour was throughout (and a printer chosen who could deliver excellent work), the two volumes would come in a slip case, the four covers would each contain an artwork by a distinguished Aboriginal artist (representing different aspects of Aboriginal culture), the layout was open and clear with many illustrations, there had been enormous attention to every detail (only one typo, in a year date, occurs in the whole work). It would also be a gift to the nation.

In any other organisation, looking forward to the production of this magnificent work, I and the team would have been supported, nurtured, given every assistance. In some organisations perhaps we would merely have been given encouragement. In a few, possibly, though this is hard to imagine, we would have been ignored, left to get on with the project until it was finished, the organisation having more important work to do. In no other organisation would senior people have set out to deliberately disrupt, delay, damage, denigrate the project and those working so hard on it, set out indeed to prevent the project ever being completed.

The Sun also rises
During my late teen years some cousins in law (cousins of my cousin by marriage) came to Perth from Sydney for a holiday. One of the things they really wanted to experience was the sun setting over the ocean, they having always, being from Sydney, only ever seen the Sun rising over the ocean.

I took them to the beach late one afternoon to witness this event, only to have an additional treat for me. There was a rainstorm coming in from the sea like a great curtain. It was the first time I had ever been in a dry area while I could see rain elsewhere. Growing up in the suburb I did, in a house essentially at the bottom of a steep hill and in a valley, I had only ever experienced rain as an on-off thing – either it was raining or it wasn’t, you never saw it coming, or going for that matter. Another difference between a Perth boy and an Eastern stater (when we came back from the year in York, where people had failed to think I was English, we landed in Perth. “Where you from then?” asked the customs guy. “Where do you think?” I said, thinking that at least an Australian might think I had regained the English accent I had as a child. “Well, I thought you were an Eastern stater” he said, and I was plunged back into Perth parochialism, and into dealing with perceptions about who and what I was, and wondering if I would, as a foreigner, be let back in through the gate), we realised, was that for me the feared Summer wind, roaring over a hot dry continent, growing in ferocity, was an easterly. For them the westerly was the bad guy, the easterly a gentle cool breeze from the ocean.

Later, in Armidale, I was to discover for the first time that ground could be so cold that moisture from the air could freeze on it; water in pipes get so cold it could freeze solid. Later came, goodness gracious me, snow, falling like a scene from Pickwick Papers.

At school I had learnt about those likely lads, intrepid sailors William Dampier and Dirk Hartog, not that James-come-lately Captain Cook, who seemed to be of some importance in NSW.

All part of the learning experience of growing up, of finding that things you had thought immutable, incontrovertible, part of the common intellectual and physical baggage of all Australians, were all different depending on where and how you had grown up. And, as I gradually, and uncomfortably, experienced, values and attitudes you had been given by your family (or school – my school’s motto was the somewhat severe admonition to “Persevere and Advance”, an approach which would be invaluable for the Encyclopaedia), had taken for granted, were no more fixed than whether you had grown up seeing the sun rise or set over an ocean.

Does knowing that make it easier to deal with the realities of everyday life? Probably not. When I was young I used to think that everyone was pretty well equally intelligent. That if I was talking to someone and their eyes uncomprehendingly glazed over then it must be my fault for not explaining it well enough – must try harder. And I thought that people generally had good motives (with the exception of crooks, Nazi spies, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, obviously) so that if they did the wrong thing it was because they didn’t have enough information, had been misinformed. Rather in the way that for a long time we thought that climate change deniers, if given enough information, would eventually see the error of their ways.

But I was wrong. There are many people in all organisations whose activities bear no relation to facts, aims, achievements, reality. They are motivated instead by one of the four horsemen of organisational apocalypse – Greed, Ignorance, Malice (on a pale horse), Stupidity. Some people will act as a consequence purely of one of these horsemen, others may combine two or more. The precise combination of motives, and the number of people affected by them, will determine the nature of the organisation.

So here is Horton’s Law (just like Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle, both of which were also fully in action in the Institute of the 1990s) – The level of dysfunction in an organisation (D) = the proportion (P) of members acting according to GIMS x the square of their levels of power or influence (I).

High levels (I nearly said values, but that would be quite wrong) of D can be reduced by good leadership, democratic processes, and freely available and exchanged information. Conversely D will be increased by secrecy, paranoia, bullying, poor leadership. May increase so fast that it can engulf you like a sudden rainstorm whose approach has been unseen, and which blots out the rising Sun.

The time of Encyclopaedia creation coincided, exactly, with high and rising levels of D in the Institute.

This wasn’t merely a matter of seeing things differently, East meets West and so on, but the result of fundamental differences in values and behaviour.


Books, and records, do furnish a room
When I was young, well youngish (21, 22 tops), I thought you could judge a person by the covers of their books, and records. If I went to a party at a new house I would check out the book cases (Salinger, check, Dickens, check, Tolkien, check, Orwell, check), and the record collection (Bach, check, Beatles, check, Steeleye Span, check, Ric Wakeman, check), and do a quick pop psychology analysis of my host or hostesses potential as a friend. Might just work at that age, but as you get older you accumulate all kinds of stuff by chance that have no bearing on your character at all. But, anyway, pretend I am 22 (23, tops) again, check out my “bookcases” and “record collection” and other bits and pieces I have collected under “Values”. See what you think, can we still be friends? But hey, you’d know that anyway – my values are in every piece of writing on this blog.

Good to have, on my actual bookcases, three of my own books (and 2 monographs). Something I had dreamt of since childhood visiting the Library. But I also dreamt that on the shelf would be a novel of mine. Not going to happen now, I suppose, although I’m getting near trying to be the oldest person to publish a first novel (having been beaten to be the youngest by Sagan) just have to wait a few more years to outlast Mary Wesley, and hey ho, a novelling we will go. I suppose all autobiographers are novelists manque. I have a surfeit of riches in the family history to write novels (though not, of course, bearing any resemblance to persons living or dead). I did actually start with the tragic story of Louis and Polly Carter and Kate Bray, and got about half way, before deciding that the simple historical facts of the story were enough for me, and I suspect for others. Anyway, this massive autobiography may be the literary substitute for the novel I never had. Would be nice if it was on my shelves with its siblings, but I guess on the internet is not a bad place to be either.


On the road again
For the three years 1991-3 I seemed to be living simultaneously in parallel universes, one of which involved quite a lot of travelling.

I had travelled a lot in my archaeological life before 1991, both to conferences and to excavation sites. And to other places. Once I had spent a terrific week on Seal Rocks (in Bass Strait, but not far off the coast from Melbourne) with the excellent Bob Warneke whose research program was conducted there. The analysis I was doing of the bone material from sites in SW Tasmania (dug by the also excellent Ron Vanderwal) involved a lot of seal remains. I was doing some fancy work with them, including sectioning teeth to count growth rings and looking at epiphyseal fusion of the long bones, all to try to determine population biology and the seasonal use of the site by people. Bob had given me the chance to see an active seal colony in action so I could try to translate the archaeological bones into real life. In order to record the arrangements of seals in the colony, patterns of movement, presence of dead young ones, and also the patterns of nesting seabirds (several species also occurred on the island and in the bone remains), I had brought a good Institute camera (the Institute had a technical section to supply, on loan, equipment to researchers). I took several rolls of film, full of excellent photos from high on the cliff, from down on the beach, from behind rocks, from close-up, from further away. Fabulous resource. I got back to the Institute, put the bag of film in to be processed, and waited for the result, rather pleased with myself. The photos came back looking as if I had done all my observation on a dark night using an opaque lens on the camera. Not a single photo anything but black. Turned out the previous user, for some reason, had set the ASA reading to 400 (the number is engraved in my memory), while the film I was using was say, ASA10. I didn’t know enough to check that, and was never able to go back to the seal colony. You can’t, really, ever go back for a missed opportunity.

Another once in a lifetime opportunity was an expedition to Princess Charlotte Bay in Cape York, organised I think by the Marine Park Authority and using their research vessel. John Beaton would be excavating some sites, my friend Dermot Smyth would be collecting plant specimens, John Chappell was along doing geomorphology, and oddly Hal Heatwole, my PhD supervisor, and Jeanette Covacevich (curator at the Qld museum) were along doing reptile studies. There were also two old Aboriginal men who I think had been born (presumably the last generation that was) in the Bay. The archaeology had only previously been looked at by Norman Tindale. So in one trip I was experiencing past, present, and anticipating the future when I would make a Horton Map to replace the “Tindale Map”.

It was terrific – the area was like paradise, golden sands, subtropical vegetation, blue sea, rocky hills (with rock art) – for the first couple of days while we began to excavate an interesting site. Then I realised I was being bitten all night by small insects, sandflies. I covered up, in a warm place, as much of my body as I could. At night I wore socks on my hands, hat pulled down over my head, inside a sleeping bag in all my clothes. Still the biting continued. The two Aboriginal men, knowing the place, had their own technique. They got under the bedclothes and smoked cigarettes all night, so that they were constantly fumigating themselves and their bedding. I didn’t think I could do that. So I moved my bed out into the calm water of the bay, as far out as I could without being underwater. Still they bit me. I had bites upon bites, great red swellings that were becoming infected. I was, though I didn’t know it, starting to become delirious from the lack of sleep and the bites. John Chappell, arriving back from a short field trip, took one look at me and said “You’ve got to get off here”. I was taken back on board ship, into the sick bay where I huddled deliriously and slept for a couple of days, dosing on antihistamines and antibiotics and rubbing cream over most of my body. I spent the rest of the expedition on the ship, cruising up to a number of locations on Cape York, helping Dermot collect plants by day, scurrying back before dark (and where, to make my misery worse, I dropped my tobacco pipe out of my top pocket into a mangrove swamp. The chances of finding a piece of dark curved wood among a million mangrove roots and pneumatophores was, I discovered, with increasing anguish, nil. I was reduced, back at the ship, to smoking pipe tobacco in rolled up newspaper – one of the most undignified, and disgusting, things I have ever been reduced to by nicotine addiction).

Sadly Cape York was another place I couldn’t go back to. Tropical archaeology, or biology for that matter, wasn’t for me.

Although on a later trip to Broome, also sandfly infested, I discovered a protection that could have got me through the most savage of attacks. The local chemist had invented some brew (eye of bat and ear of toad, or perhaps the reverse) that made me invisible to sandflies. I was in Broome because the locally based Kimberley Aboriginal centre had decided they wanted to establish a publishing house. A prophet with honour away from the Institute I was asked to come and give workshops on publishing, do some initial training, work out a framework for the operation, conduct interviews for the initial senior positions.

So having girded my loins, and everything else, against the stings and arrows of outrageous sandflies, I walked into the workshop room to begin my first session (I was going through the whole publishing process, a couple of hours per topic – writing, editing, design, typesetting, printing, promotion, sales, finances, staffing). I had never been faced with a more daunting teaching prospect in my 20 years or so (to then) university teaching experience. Sitting at the end of a long table and looking down along it, I had, on my right, a row of six or seven senior old men from the bush, each representing a different Aboriginal community in the Kimberleys. On my left were six or seven young Aboriginal women.

The young women, formally educated, were there I think, because they could see publishing as a fairly trendy occupation, a career, travel, life in big cities. The old men, with little or no school education but immense bush knowledge and immersed in their culture, were there because they saw publishing as a way of telling their stories to the wider community, and, in doing so, ensuring that they were preserved, oh, and make some money for their communities as well. I was going to have to present the information in such a way as to reach two quite different audiences. I did, and Magabala Books would be successfully launched and do good things.

My first trip to tropical Australia had been ten years earlier. An Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory had asked the Institute to find and return to them the skeleton of an Aboriginal elder who had died some years before (in the 1950s I think, from memory) and his skeleton had been stolen as an anthropological “specimen”. After some detective work I found where the bones were, confronted the person who had them, and took them back (in a box on my knee in the plane, all the way to the far north of Australia – he wasn’t luggage and I wasn’t letting him out of my sight) to his home. The then minister (Ian Viner, not a bad fellow from the days when big L Liberals could also be small l liberals) offered the use of his VIP jet to get me and the bones to the community.

I’m not sure what I, or Mr Viner, were expecting when we got there, some kind of impressive thank you and welcoming ceremony I suppose, with speeches by grateful elders, and “don’t mention it ” speeches from me and the minister. There was a big group waiting on the tarmac. We got out of the plane, I handed the box carefully to the leader of the group, they turned, quickly loaded themselves into a number of utes and four wheel drive vehicles and disappeared rapidly from sight. I had learnt, I guess, that in Aboriginal society you do things because they are the right thing to do, not with any sense of reward. In this case, I think, the community had seen remains removed by a white fella (and the horror of this, in such recent times, still stuns me), and another white fella had brought them back. Fine, now the important thing to do was conduct the appropriate ceremonies, and at last give their countryman a decent and respectful burial. They didn’t have time for speech nonsense. I was, as I saw them disappear, glad I had done the right thing, and pleased that there had been no speeches.

But I have considerably digressed.

I was travelling a lot during the Encyclopaedia years. Shouldn’t I have just had my nose to the library grindstone writing and editing as fast as I could? Yes indeed, and in a rational organisation the work of raising money to complete the work and publish the Encyclopaedia would have been the business of the leaders of the governing body and the executive management, making calls to their powerful friends. They wanted nothing to do with any such thing. If I wanted to finish this project, and they clearly didn’t want it finished, then I would have to find the outside funds myself. If I didn’t, well that was that, the work would have been killed without them having to actually pull the trigger.

Indeed my suspicions were that in places where these people did have influence, that influence was being used not to help me find the money but to stop my appeals being successful, or perhaps delay them so long that it would be too late to be of use. I don’t know for sure this was the case, but there were indications at the time, and I certainly felt that to get money I was going to have to rely, initially at least, on organisations where senior Institute figures had no influence.

But there was a second reason for being on the road, and that was to raise awareness of the project and to get feedback, from both Aboriginal and academic/educational groups, as to how we were going, what was wanted. This was not a work being carried out in an ivory tower but one that needed to be firmly based in the community.

The essential part of our baggage when talking to people was the electronic version of the Encyclopaedia. While I had printed a mock-up of a few pages to show what the printed version would look like, it necessarily had only a few entries, and gave no sense of either the scale or structure of the enterprise. The computer version had a lot more entries (several hundred from memory) and the very big advantage that by clicking on “links” (a foreign concept to most people then – this is all pre-internet, and the hypertext language was unique to Apple) you could bounce around the work in a way that practically and clearly showed my concept of the structure. There was an added advantage of being able to include sound and film material (the latter to a limited extent in those days, but short clips were possible) as well as the photographic images, so this was a rich interactive experience.

So the road team (myself, Robyne Bancroft, Kim McKenzie) would set up a computer at an event, put up a poster, put some mock-ups and advance order forms on the table, and then depending on circumstances we would either just wait for people to drop by, or I would give a talk first on what the project was about, what it would look like, and invite questions and ask people to come and have a look.

And this is where the feeling of parallel universes came in. Everywhere we went, everyone we met – individual Aboriginal people, teachers, community leaders, booksellers, politicians, education bureaucrats, computer people, other publishers, academics – was wildly enthusiastic about what was being done and what was coming. No one had any criticisms of my approach, or the content and style of the work I was putting together, in fact just the opposite. People would spend long periods playing on the computer version, talking about the contents, discussing ideas. The big question from everyone was was “When can we have it, when will it be available?” One teacher said “Can I take this, I want it now?” meaning the short version we had on a computer disc. We were met with warmth and friendship and enthusiasm and encouragement and thanks. When it came to fund raising, the educational people we approached came on board, joined the team, did everything they could to help raise the money (especially the excellent Pat Cavanagh). My vision of the happy little group working together to achieve the goal was true outside the Institute.

We would return from one of these trips, still basking in the warmth of our reception, encouraged to get back into harder work than ever, try to get this wonderful work out to Aboriginal communities and schools and universities as soon as I could, to be plunged immediately back into the grim Institute world where half a dozen people were piling abuse on the project in general and me personally, and doing everything they could to hinder and damage the work. Back out on another trip to friendship and support from total strangers, back in to virulent nastiness from people I knew. Over and over, as if I was two different people, with two different projects, one visible to just half a dozen people, the other obvious to the rest of the world.

Well, eventually (through much anguish and sleepless nights) the money began to come in, and as I reached the goal of over $900,000 (mainly from four different sources, and after some hiccups – and some of the last chunk in fact never seems to have reached us) it was finally clear that the Encyclopaedia could be completed and printed, at least in financial terms. What wasn’t clear was whether the Institute would let me complete it.

That battle was played out over the years from 1991. A battle recorded by me, day after anguished day, in a detailed diary. The diary in full detail is on this blog but I have decided, for the moment, to keep it behind a password. Even after 18 years the emotion, I find, is still too raw, the scars of my treatment still too painful. We shall see another day.

Producing effects
“Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.” Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray

1988 – Encyclopaedia proposal put to Institute. Meeting of senior staff (including Principal and Deputy Principal) agreed I was best placed and qualified to tackle it.
1989 – Complete initial consultation process with Publications Advisory Committee (including Principal and Deputy Principal) and independent Encyclopaedia consultant; prepare dummy with sample entries, outline of total entries and style. Approved as General Editor by Council.
1990 – Begin putting together 18 member Advisory Committee with major entry topics, consultation on lower level essay and entry topics and suitable authors. Publications Advisory Committee (including Principal and Deputy Principal) continue to be given all information about progress, suggested entry topics, essayists, structure and so on. Temporary employment of Editor and Senior Editor to work on the Encyclopaedia. Write my first entry in August.
1991 – The entries continue to roll in and roll out. My personal program was to aim to write about 100 entries a month, and once I had got up to speed this was, just, possible, leading to an estimated publication date, other things being equal, of mid 1993, which would have been amazing. The electronic version also got moving this year, it was essential that both ran in parallel for a number of reasons. Including the ability to consult as we went with numerous people outside the Institute, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.
1992 – Delays as a result of corporate planning process etc. June, first batch of several hundred draft entries sent out to 18 advisory editors. Most do their job commenting, correcting, suggesting, to form the basis for the next stage of editing process. Some do not, resulting in extensive delays.
1993 – Writing, editing and fund raising continuing in parallel. Delays continue. I write last of nearly 1800 entries in June, less than 3 years since first one written. Second half of year preparing pages for printer, working on electronic version and Map simultaneously.
1994 – Delays by printer and delays about launch arrangements. Advance copies of first volume arrive end of March, completed two volume advance arrives 29 April. Nearly 2 months after publication, on 20 June, with 4 days notice for me, Paul Keating launches Encyclopaedia in Parliament House. Work continues on Map and electronic version rest of year. Extensive delays. CD-Rom of Apple version appears by October.
1995 – Work continues on Map, with considerable delays. Work continues on IBM version of CD-Rom with seemingless endless technical difficulties. The apparently endless process of reviews and planning continues. Encyclopaedia receives numerous awards:
‘The Australian’ Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing
WA Premier’s Literary Award
Australian Interactive Multimedia Association Award for best Multimedia Title
Centre for Australian Cultural Studies Award for ‘An Outstanding Contribution to Australian Culture 1994’
NSW Premier’s Literary Award 1995 Book of the Year 1994
NSW Premier’s Literary Award 1995 Special Award
Print Industry Gold Medal for excellence in printing
Doctorate of Letters, University of New England
Does not receive the Human Rights Commission award, nor the Institute’s Stanner Award
1996 – Map appears, immediately withdrawn from circulation by Institute, then after delays, released again. Goes on to become by far best selling Institute publication of al time. I take long service leave in middle of year and continue to try to get IBM version finished. The Institute review of the first part of year comes to nothing after much debate. A new one is set going at end of year.
1997 – New review downsizes publishing in Institute by removing my position. Considerable discussion follows, as does the lonely and difficult task of trying to transfer CD-Rom into Windows format.
1998 – Final component of Encyclopaedia project appears – CD-Rom in Windows format – on 20 March.
[The people who, in all kinds of different ways, some small, some enormous, made the Encyclopaedia happen were -
Jon Altman, Robyn Bancroft, Jim Bartley, Sandie Brown, Patrick Cavanagh, Megan Cook, Carol Cooper, Jackie Covington, Barry Cundy, Dallas de Brabander, Mike Fagan, Kate Foord, Ros Gerard, Andrea Graziadelli, Stephanie Haygarth, Les Hiatt, Pat Kelly, Grace Koch, Kim McKenzie, Mike Patterson, Margaret Pearce, Charles Perkins, Quentin Perks, Raylee Singh, Ian Willis].
I leave Institute 15 April, have never returned. On 28 May resign my membership of Institute.
1999 – New edition of Map printed, with my name left off as author. Considerable discussion follows. Put back on, as a sticker, in tiny font, in one spot.

Well that’s how I spent my fifth complete decade on the planet. How about you? Enjoy the 90s?


Invisible Man
The Encyclopaedia got underway in 1990, and the planning for it had been so extensive, the structure of the project so firmly based, that it was clear during the year that this was going to be easy peasy. I mean, how hard can it be to construct an Encyclopaedia from scratch eh? So I added three more projects to the original Clyde Holding aim; a Map, and two electronic versions of the Encyclopaedia, one in Apple format and one in Windows format. Any one of the four would have been a proud lifetime accomplishment for most academics, but it all still seemed just a bit too easy. Oh I had to manage a Press at the same time, with ever increasing production, sales, income, a mixture of academic works and other works based firmly in Aboriginal studies but aimed at benefiting Aboriginal people directly and informing the general public. Okay, now you are talking a bit of a challenge, but I was well on top of the Press work after 5 years of establishing its structures and functions with the approval and help of Council and Principal and an Advisory Committee, and so there was nothing looming in the future that should cause too much difficulty there.

So it was back to the old problem of whether I was going to be working to capacity or not. The first year of 1990 had gone so well as we slipped into the routines of production, and set up the mechanisms for the most extensive consultative process that any publishing project in Australia could ever have had, that I could see the good ship Encyclopaedia sailing easily into harbour after a three or four years, and then finishing off the other three parts in a few years after that. It all looked like being, as I said, a bit of a doddle. Was I again to be deprived of the chance to be really stretched, to really test the limits of my capacity?

There were, fortunately, others who had seen this danger as well. So a small number of people decided that they would, each in their own way, separately and collectively, set out to make things a bit more of a challenge for me. Began in a small way, with a bit of bureaucratic delay here, bit of reduction in staff there, but soon expanded into a full-blown no-holds-barred Goldfingerish “Let’s see you get out of this one Mr Bond” effort to make things not just difficult but impossible. But I was a John Curtin High School “Persevere and Advance” sort of fellow and I was grateful for the challenge. This was working to capacity, this was living. Each night I would have a bit of a chuckle about the narrow escapes I had during the day, each night (I guess) they would have a bit of a chuckle thinking about what they had planned for the next day.

At the end of the eight years of Saturday morning matinee movie serials of the hero tied up to the railway tracks at the end of every episode, only to escape at the start of the next one, weary but much stronger and exhilarated by the achievements, I really wanted to thank this group for making the work so challenging. But the second last move in this apparently endless game of chess had been me leaving the Institute, with my response (“checkmate”) the publication of the Windows CD-Rom, all technical and other obstacles overcome. So I was gone in early 1998, didn’t get a chance to say thanks for the game, good effort, bad luck; and they didn’t get a chance, I guess, to say congratulations, well done.

Except that a year after I had left the Institute came an unheralded little honour. Those guys. The Map of course had my name on as the author/creator, in exactly the same way as Norman Tindale’s name was on his map. What they decided to do when it came to reprinting, first print run sold out, was to take my name off the map. Do you see? Instead of just being my map, one of the four achievements that had been so hard fought over the eight years of the Great Game, criticised so strongly because it was something I had done, as part of the character-building exercise I was going through, it had now become “The Institute Map”. No author’s name, so just a proud achievement of the institution itself. I have got to say I was overwhelmed when I was sent a copy of the anonymous map – I mean no one else, not Norman Tindale, not anyone, had ever before had their identity subsumed into the Institute identity like this.

But after wiping away the tears of joy that I hadn’t been forgotten (by being, as it were, forgotten) I knew that this was too much of an honour. I couldn’t accept it, however well-meaning the gesture. So I said (ingratitude, I know, I know) that I wanted my name back on, and after a bit of debate about this, reluctant I suppose to let me turn down such recognition, I discovered that they had had a sticker made to put my name back on. But you know, those guys, they wouldn’t let me get away totally without no recognition. So whereas before, like Norman Tindale, my name had appeared under the Map where it could be seen as it was mounted on a wall, now it only appeared, in tiny letters, on the “cover”. To anyone looking at the Map, wherever it appeared on tens of thousands of walls around Australia, the honour of me being anonymous was plain to see. Those guys.

Home, home on the range
In early 1998 it was twenty three and a half years since I had proudly and nervously marched into Peter Ucko’s office wearing best jacket and tie, and we told each other we were both younger than the other had thought. Ten years since Judy Holding had convinced Clyde that an Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia to educate and inform the general public was something he should try to make happen. Eight years since I had interviewed for a senior editor for the Encyclopaedia and began sending out letters commissioning essays, and seven and a half years since I had written the first entry. Four years since the Encyclopaedia was launched by a Prime MInister and began to receive world wide acclaim and began winning prizes for excellence. Three years since the groundbreaking electronic version for Apple computers was released, again to acclaim and awards. Two years since the amazing Map was released, already on its way to becoming the best-selling Institute production of all time (and by a long way). And finally, after two more years of hard, grinding, and virtually alone work I had succeeded, probably uniquely at that time, in producing a “Windows” version of exactly the same Encyclopaedia for IBM machines.

It went on sale and I sailed out of the Institute, the push to get me out, somehow, anyhow, having finally succeeded a few months earlier. The final event was drinks in the courtyard of the place I had been part of for so long. There were hugs from some staff, tears from others. Undoubtedly still other people, not present, were having a laugh and congratulating themselves on mission accomplished. One senior staff member said, encouragingly, “well, no matter what they have done to you they can’t take away your achievements”.

I had got out of the Institute. It was over. I had left a solid achievement behind me in the four pillars of the Encyclopaedia. Now I was away from the nightmare of the last 7 years or so I needed to try to get back into equilibrium, rejoin the real world where I was liked and respected. I tried not to think about the Institute at all, didn’t need to, didn’t want to. It caused misery and sleepless nights when I did as a result of a chance news item, or hearing from a friend still there. Instead I had plunged into a variety of projects. I was trying to get my new book accepted by a publisher. At last I had summarised, expanded on, all of my original work on Aborigines and the environment, work delayed while I finished the Encyclopaedia. My agent found me a publisher, and I began working with an editor (a very nice and professional lady called Venetia) to massage the manuscript. Odd to be on the other side of the fence, as it were, but I was also continuing to edit as a freelance for a publisher, taking a number of books from draft manuscript to final product, trying to supplement a drastically reduced income.

I was also taking advantage of a bigger farm to develop and expand the sheep flock at last, with time to spend on it. Both children were overseas, one worryingly so. The dog had been mated and was having puppies, who proved difficult. And I was learning to relax again, spend some time with friends, where seldom were heard any discouraging words.

But the main effort in 1998-9 was getting my new book finished. Working with a major commercial press was an experience that I wished (but don’t think about the Institute, don’t think about the Institute) I could have shared with some of the authors (and their supporters) I had come into contact with over the previous 13 years. Once you had signed the contract the business of “your book” was in the hands of the publisher. They had the final word on title, cover design, internal design, size, number of words (in my case, for example, four chapters dropped entirely to reach a size goal), chapter headings and epigrams, extent and style of editing, publication date, print run, promotion, price, sales, royalties. I could make suggestions, for example provide several alternatives to my original and much preferred title which had been rejected out of hand, but that’s all they were. “You want to publish a book with us? These are our rules.” And fair enough too (although I did, of course, like many authors before and since, grizzle impotently in my study).

Anyway it was nearly finished, Venetia came to stay for a couple of days while we worked through her final editing queries, and then it was with the publisher. It took a couple of years from the time I had finshed the manuscript and sent it off to the publisher, to the time it appeared. Again, a time frame it would have been good to share with some of the authors I had dealt with. But it would make no difference, every author since there were such things has wanted their immortal words available to the public within hours, at most, of typing the words “The End” on the last page of a rough draft manuscript. Sometimes before they reach the last page.

Anyway, out it came, there it was, in bookshops. I was on my way again. Some good reviews and a not so good one (in The Australian, who would have guessed), and I was not unhappy. A great interview with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live. There I was in the Canberra studio of the ABC, a place of echoing dark corridors, late night dead, just me and the sound technician, and a big pair of earphones. And then there was Phillip, informed as usual, ready to ask questions that needed instant answers, no ums and ahs and maybes and on-the-other-hands. I swallowed nervously, concentrating, not too close to the microphone, don’t cough whatever you do. But it went well (I thought), Phillip ended by saying I was one side of one of the great scientific rivalries and debates of Australia, would I be happy to come back and debate Tim Flannery? Any time I said, any time. But it never happened. Just as when I ran for federal parliament a few years later, against an entrenched local member with a majority of a gazillion percent who I challenged to a debate – why would he?

Wedgewood Benn said “We do not choose our convictions, but they choose us and force us to fight for them to the death.” In 1974 the cause that chose me, by chance and a bit of luck, was the study of Aboriginal culture, society and history, and its promotion to the wider Australian community. First it was my involvement in getting the Institute interested in contemporary Aboriginal interests and politics. Then it was my work which argued against a kind of new conservatism of thought about Aboriginal prehistory and the role of Aborigines in conserving the environment. Then, again by chance, I found myself helping many Aboriginal people find a published voice, as I played a role in extending Institute publishing to not only include academic works but those of communities, and elderly individuals, and authors wanting to tell children about Aboriginal culture. And finally came the Encyclopaedia and the Map. The latter, even without looking at any detail, was a symbolic and actual statement about prior Aboriginal ownership of the continent. No wonder that ATSIC made use of it in fighting a conservative government’s action against native title, but aside from such concrete uses, just seeing it, in its deliberate beauty, will have had a subliminal effect on many thousands of people.

And then the Encyclopaedia. As I said in my speech at the launch in Parliament House, Paul Keating sitting nearby, I hadn’t been taught anything about Aboriginal people at school in the 1950s, and my children had been taught nothing about them in the 1970s. I had been driven to create the Encyclopaedia by a desire that this and future generations would learn about Aborigines in schools. So for a quarter of a century I had used all my talents and energies in bringing Aboriginal interests to the attention of the wider public. Now I had been told that I was no longer wanted, get lost, vamoose, close the door behind you as you leave. And don’t come back.

So, causes choosing me again, I moved on to looking not at how perceptions of the environment affected Aboriginal interests in society, but how perceptions of past Aboriginal interaction with the environment affected conservation. In short, a mistaken view of the role of Aborigines in causing extinctions in the distant past, and a mistaken view of the extent to which they had used fire to modify the environment, both ideas deriving from some other work of my co-mapmaker Norman Tindale, but recently popularised and extensively quoted in environmental debates, were issues that I needed to devote my attention to over the next decade. Sound the fire alarm, here comes Horton.

Trialling an idea
I have spoken about some of my excellent teachers before. Harry Creeper stood out in Primary School, Stan Richards (of four excellent teachers) in High School. Stan was the English teacher and I have described him before. In 2005 when I was trying to sort out my mother’s affairs I discovered, somehow, that he had lived nearby in the 45 years since I had last seen him. I phoned him, said thank you. Told him what I had been doing. Turned out, curiously that he had in later life developed an interest in Aboriginal culture and history, had written in fact a book about Aborigines in that area. Was delighted to hear that I was the one who had done the Encyclopaedia.

Harry stands out because he clearly saw potential in me, did some nurturing, gave me some confidence, gave me a foundation or tradition from which to grow. I think the reason Stan stands out was that he not only taught us as if we were adults, but he taught us to aim at being creative, original. As a result I can surprisingly remember some lessons, some work that we did. I also, out to impress, wrote some things without being asked, poetry, short stories, prove that I was a budding writer. He was good about that, treated the work seriously as if by an adult, whereas other teachers might have been dismissive. I remember one poem I wrote, probably still have it somewhere, in which I was straining at the leash, looking for a voice, trying not to be influenced by all the books by great writers that I was devouring. Trying to imagine what my style, my subject matter could be.

It was a poem called “Nothing new” in which I railed against the writers who had come before me and had left nothing new to do, no possible approach that hadn’t been tried, no avenue to be truly creative. One line I remember announced gloomily that there was “nothing new, all done before by long dead men”. I only realised later, perhaps I saw something similar, that many other writers had the same thought, and that what I saw as an original bucking against the bounds of “tradition” was itself a tradition. Indeed this very paragraph, being, I think, original in complaining about the lack of originality in my younger self’s complaint about the lack of possibility of being original, is probably not original either, and so on recursively.

Having encouraged us towards being original Stan then took us the other way in a couple of lessons. We had to try to write, I remember as if it was yesterday, a couple of short stories, one in the style of Charles Dickens (hooray, a doddle) one, for something completely different, as Ernest Hemingway (we were doing “Old Man and the Sea” which I hated, but I liked some of his other work). I reckon I made a fair fist of them, though I bet they would be embarrassing to read now. But they were excellent lessons. Don’t just read this stuff and take it for granted, but work out how they did it, what are the skills, the techniques.

Once you know how other people have done things then you can go on to discard traditions and do your own thing, but you have to know what you are rebelling against to rebel. I tried to write like Hemingway for a while there, the short clipped sentences with short words. Perhaps I still do. A little. Maybe a little of Dickens too, in the case of my long meandering sentences with, as my critics, sometimes, remark, too many commas. And they criticise the occasional sentence that begins with “And”. I remember Stan saying to us – “You must never begin a sentence with “And””. So what else is a rebel writer to do?

Throughout my life since then, I think, I have always aimed for originality, tried to do things a little differently, explore new ideas, try new techniques. The Encyclopaedia for example, while firmly anchored in the tradition of other Encyclopaedias and Companions, still contains many original touches, new structures, new styles. Maybe, in turn, others will copy me, then branch out in their own directions. And so it goes.

Anyway, to honour Stan Richards, 50 years on from when he taught me to be creative while maintaining traditions, I have had a go at a short piece in the style of Kafka. Just for a laugh, a bit of a trial. See if you think I have captured the style and technique of young Franz.

Up the down staircase
I guess humans have used fire metaphors ever since they have used fire, and, well, metaphors. So, as a widely-read and well-respected writer it’s time I invented my own. Show my mettle which has been forged in the fiery furnace of Encyclopaedia creation … well, you get the idea.

I got interested in the role of fire in the environment about 30 years ago. There was a popular and prevailing hypothesis (the result of articles by Norman Tindale, Rhys Jones and Sylvia Hallam) that Aborigines had used fire extensively in the past (and into the present in northern Australia) and that this use (a major motivation being the desire to increase the area of suitable habitat for animal species being hunted) had caused major changes and shifts in Australian vegetation patterns. All sounded pretty reasonable to me, and I actually set out, as a zoologist turned archaeologist, to see if I could put my zoological knowledge to use to see if, as well as altering vegetation, this Aboriginal use of fire had actually affected animal species.

To save you jumping to the end for the answer, let me say briefly here that the more I studied the hypothesis the more I realised that it was unsoundly based, and contrary to the real world as observed.

But first my fire metaphor. There is a very old one, perhaps the oldest of them all, that relates to gossip around the camp fire, and rumour and reputation, “No smoke without fire”. That is a beauty isn’t it? Now forms the basis of the whole celebrity industry and its parasitic gossip magazines. Also has come in useful in the not dissimilar business of modern politics. Oh, and in war propaganda.

Nothing could be easier as a technique. Ask in a loud voice, in a crowded room, whether anyone knows if so and so has stopped beating his wife yet, and whether the answer is yes or no the lie is half way around the world. “Look, don’t know if it is true or not, but I hear so and so is beating his wife. Just a rumour of course, but you know what they say, no smoke without fire”. No, but smoke and mirrors is certainly possible.

Tossing a verbal petrol bomb is certainly an effective way to get fire, and smoke, going, but it’s a bit risky. Someone will have seen you doing it, you might be confronted, challenged, called to account, forced to recant (doesn’t matter, still no smoke without fire). Much safer is the way that some arsonists start fires – throw a lighted cigarette butt into the bush (two or three to be certain in case one or two don’t catch), and then be on your way. The butt can smoulder for a while, set fire to a twig here, a leaf there, a tuft of grass going this way. Invisble to the watchers – no smoke so no fire. And then, given favourable circumstances – a wind springing up, a pile of dry rubbish, a hillside of dry grass – the fire can suddenly erupt, seemingly out of nowhere, and burn down a forest. And even when it has been put out, at great cost and effort, there remain, all over the forest, small hot spots, smouldering logs, or termite nests, or tree stumps, or a hollow branch, that can, when the firemen have gone home, weary but satisfied, given the right circumstances of a wind getting up, start a whole new firestorm.

Well, you get the metaphor I’m sure. Instead of the “have you stopped” petrol bomb, you just drop a sly hint here and there (several places in case one or two don’t get passed on) – “So and so’s wife didn’t look very happy last week I thought”; “Last time I was in their home there was a funny looking piece of wood in the fire place”; “Apparently there were raised voices in their house last week – couldn’t say for sure what was happening, but …”. And so on.

Now the rumour may not go anywhere for a while, just be passed one to another as idle chat, signifying not much, the person is of course innocent of anything and may be perceived generally as a good person. But given favourable circumstances – a row perhaps between the target and someone significant; or some mistake that is the subject of criticism; or some external pressure on an organisation which looks like resulting in some people losing jobs – the piece of malicious gossip can take off and be repeated as fact. Can become confirming evidence (especially if it falls onto fertile ground where the target is perceived as having some undesirable qualities, stubborn perhaps, distant, arrogant, too serious, works too hard) that the person is no good, shouldn’t be promoted, shouldn’t be praised, should, probably be sacked. And the person can try to put out the rumour fire as carefully as possible, bits will still smoulder away to emerge next time he, or she, applies for a job, starts a project, seeks a pay rise. And they will be left wondering where on earth the new round of criticism came from.

I mean, you would have to be utterly ruthless and amoral to behave like that, but if you have those qualities then this is a surefire way to block or dispose of an office rival, or punish a perceived enemy, without risk of exposure. Once the perception has been created that they are a bad person your work is done, although you might, to be sure, toss the odd cigarette butt onto unburnt ground to get a new blaze of rumour going.

Can work the other way round too. If you have someone whose interests you want to promote, someone with few good qualities or abilities in reality, then just set running some favourable rumours. “Oh yes, so and so is a genius” “So and so has a great paper nearly finished, will turn the subject on its head” “So and so is certainly in the running for that senior job”. Once this kind of thing gets someone’s reputation as some kind of unsung genius up and running they will then become famous for being famous, an appointment here will lead to a higher appointment there, will lead to a public award in a year or two. Perception is everything, in academia as in politics, and carefully nurtured can be enormously powerful in either a positive or negative direction. Up go some people, down go others, for reasons which often have little, if anything, to do with ability.

But I digress, carried away with the joy of a new metaphor. The hypothesis that Aborigines had massively altered the Australian environment by the use of fire fell onto the fertile ground of public perception and “common sense”. Onto a long-standing Australian philosophy that the bush was there to be dominated by man. Those greenies had kept on saying that Aborigines had lived in harmony with the land for 50,000 years and we should try to emulate them – less of this chopping and clearing and burning in fact, try to preserve some of the wilderness, some of the natural world, bit of a downer to development really. And then along came Jones (and one or two others) and said it was all ok, Aborigines had been burning the bush forever and there was no wilderness, nothing natural, they had altered it all anyway, so go for it chaps. Oh, and since they burnt so much and had stopped recently, we had better get burning again, quick smart, to restore the bush to what it had been 200 years ago. And tree clearing? Don’t worry about that, since Aborigines stopped burning there are all these trees growing, more than ever before in fact, so clear away fellers, clear away to your heart’s content. Well, popular theory or what?!

And then I came along, spoil sport, and said that all this was not fact but theory, and that the theory was based on very shaky ground indeed. In fact wasn’t true. So could you guys, please, stop clearing trees again, and if you keep burning those forests you are going to cause untold ecological damage. Well, popular do you think? No, and not just among the usual suspects. Even the conservationists had become convinced, had perceived, that this was a good, indeed indisputable theory. Had invested philosophical capital into it, weren’t about to change just because Horton said it was all wrong. Couldn’t be all wrong, they had believed in it. And the people presenting the theory were good chaps, geniuses probably, everybody said that. Oh plenty of ecologists got in touch, said, “thank goodness you said that, always thought this fire-stick farming idea was rubbish”. But they said it quietly, not wanting to be perceived as greenies, when real men still knew that the bush needed a damn good thrashing, just like those blackfellas had given it.

Hard to make people change perceptions when their sense of self requires those perceptions to be true. All you can do is stubbornly keep chipping away, persevering, trying to get perceptions matching reality again. It’s an important cause.

Doesn’t make you popular though, sailing into the wind, swimming against the tide. Using metaphors. One newspaper columnist wanted people like me (perhaps it was just me) strung up from lamp posts. Nothing new there then.

The Greening of Horton
After my new book came out it led to me writing bits and pieces in the Canberra Times and one or two magazines. It also led me meet some conservationists, who had seen and liked my book, most notably that lovely fellow Ric Nattrass from Queensland. Meanwhile I was becoming more and more concerned about global warming, the use of “prescribed burning” in Australian forests, and about the tree-clearing river-drying climate-change-denying antics of John Howard and his government.

I had to do more than write letters to newspapers, or even the occasional column, and I certainly had to do more than shout at television programmes where some minister would announce yet again that the environment would get in the way of development over his dead body.

So I broke the habit of a lifetime and joined a political party. Yes, the Greens, of course. It was only a quixotic gesture, charging the windmills in a very conservative country electorate with a firmly entrenched conservative federal local member, but what the heck, what’s that saying about good men doing nothing?

It was 2003, and I joined in the lead up to the state election. My good friend Bob Muntz was our local candidate (up against an equally entrenched female state member), and I happily trudged up and down the steep hills of my nearest town, shoving fliers into letter boxes for him and trying to avoid the attentions of furious dogs, conservative and angrily anti-Green every man-Jack-Russell of them.

Other members were trudging too. I always laugh when I hear some radio or newspaper shock jock denouncing the radical young greenies, painting them as crazed teenage Marxist revolutionaries determined to bring an end to the world as conservatives love it. In fact I wasn’t the oldest of the members in this country electorate, there were parents, grandparents, even, I think, a great grandmother. Occasionally some youngish folk in their thirties or forties would turn up, but mostly it was us oldies holding the fort, ready to storm the barricades. Ready anyway to come out on late nights and sit in freezing cold rooms warmed by a bar heater for monthly meetings. Ready to trudge around long country streets letterboxing. Ready to stand in windy school gateways handing out, with frozen fingers, how to vote cards at election time. Passionate about their concern for the future and what kind of a world would be handed down to children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. A lot of very nice people in the Greens.

The following year I decided to take the plunge. I was nearly 60 and I hadn’t yet run for federal parliament, my political clock was ticking. Besides, I thought I could do a reasonable job. Had ideas, had experience in speaking to audiences and the media, reckoned I could hold my own in debates or on street corners. Give it a go. So I put my hand up, got pre-selected, and the campaign kicked off. Dreaming of a political career? No, not for a Green in this electorate.

But it was interesting and tiring and stretching. I found myself speaking to groups I would normally never have come into contact with – Rotary people for example, a Retirees group. Found myself in odd little community radio stations having informed discussions with well-informed comperes. Found myself at a health conference; on street corners bantering with passers-by; found myself approached by people wanting issues raised. Found myself driving miles and miles and miles. Found myself having dinner in Parliament House with Bob Brown and other Green parliamentarians. Found myself writing columns for local newspapers, starting a political blog, getting under the skin of an opponent. Finally had the great feeling of going into the polling station at the local school and being given a voting paper with my name on it. Yes, I did vote for myself.

A great experience, all things considered. And good, too, to watch the results come in and see that over five thousand people had decided I wasn’t a crazed young (if only) Marxist revolutionary and had voted for me. Had increased the Green vote over the previous election. OK, honour saved.

Was going to run again in 2007, had learnt a bit, make an even better job of it next time, but in the end I didn’t, left it to someone else. Went back to handing out how to vote cards. And then dropped out of party membership entirely. Not because of any policy disagreements, or of changing my mind about trying to do something about the world my grandchildren were going to find themselves in, but because I really, when it came down to it, wasn’t happy in a political party. Was a political junky from way back – right back to 1961 when I had told my grandmother to vote for the appalling Menzies and been trying to make up for it ever since. Had ideas about how to campaign, present issues, what were good strategies, didn’t agree with some of the practical issues with the Greens campaign people. In a party you have to go along with what everyone else is doing. So I left.

But in any case had decided that I could be more effective writing newspaper columns, blogging about issues, than I could be as a party member. So that’s what I am still doing. Winning hearts and minds? Probably not, but it helps me settle my own ideas in my head, and if doing that helps other people to see things in a new way, then that’s good enough for me.

And I still hand out how to vote cards.


Half a league onward
Have had quite a few bosses in my time, one way and another. The first one I had, aged 14, was someone I have absolutely no memory of at all, and he may well, therefore, have been the best. I was working in the school holidays, as regular readers will know, and new readers should check out, in the mail order room down in the basement depths of a big department store.

The work was fun, as I have said before, but straightforward. Someone opened the letters and placed the orders in a tray, and us order fillers picked up the top one on the pile, scurried off and did our thing, pausing to chat with the blonde in women’s lingerie on the way, came back with the goods, found a box in the big pile (dumped there every day from the delivery area), packed, addressed, and placed in the big mail trolley, ready to be taken off to the post office when full.

The boss occupied, if my memory serves me well, a corner of the room, a small area partitioned off from the rest. He never emerged, never interfered with what we were doing, never said “pack that again”, or “that tie is the wrong colour”, just let you get on with the job. While he got on with whatever being the boss of mail order involved – presumably some kind of paperwork. But now I look back, not only can I never remember him emerging, I can’t remember seeing him in there either. Perhaps there was just an empty room, a boss-sized space, while we got on with the job effectively behaving, perhaps, as if there really was someone in the corner. A scarecrow boss.

You have met some of my other bosses along my long and winding way. So here is a quiz – how many kinds of bosses are there? Well, yes, two, “Good” and Bad” but that doesn’t take us very far does it (I always thought, by the way, that I was a good boss, perhaps even excellent – but when a while ago I asked somone who used to work for me whether I had been a good boss there was a bit of a silence and then they changed the subject, so I assume the answer was no. Unless of course they really wanted to lavish praise on me but were concerned about me getting a swollen head. That must have been it).

So, two kinds of bosses (and no, I don’t think gender affects this). The first sees the organisation as important and wants to do great things with it. The second sees it as a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things. The first kind needs the staff on side to help make things happen, the second couldn’t care less about the staff as long as they don’t make mistakes (and the best way of ensuring this is to prevent them doing anything). The first kind is a leader, the second has no interest in leading, but wants to be told what to do by his (or her) superiors in order to have an alibi in case anything goes wrong. The first kind is up front and public with activities, the second wants to be sure his activities are as hidden from view as possible. The first kind is impatient with bureaucracy and approved procedures and hierarchies, seeing them as impediments to achievement; for the second kind those things are his whole life.

The first kind has his own abilities, skills, qualifications, and so feels comfortable and confident among other professionals, and is happy to be seen as just a first among equals. The second tends not to have those qualities, feels uncomfortable among professionals, and therefore needs to create an artificial sense of status and separateness. The first, comfortable in his own skin, is happy to discuss, debate, share information, admit mistakes, give credit to others. The second, constantly afraid of being “found out”, makes sure that those who see him in different venues do not share information, nor does he speak out, present ideas, debate with others, for fear of being found wanting. He takes credit for the work of others. Not surprisingly the first kind tends to be popular with staff, not so popular with those further up the hierarchy; for the second kind the reverse is true.

The first kind is reluctant to tell others to do things that she is not able or willing to do himself. She takes an interest in the work of all staff or categories of staff, and either actually learns a technique or process herself, or spends sufficient time observing and talking to a worker carrrying it out to understand what is involved. The second kind has absolutely no interest in the individual trades and processes that contribute to output, won’t observe them, certainly won’t learn them, she is, you see, the boss, and bosses not only don’t get their hands dirty, but don’t like watching others get theirs dirty. The first kind doesn’t commit the institution to some activity or outcome or timetable without consulting with the staff responsible. The second kind, believes, like Lord Cardigan of his light brigade soldiers, that theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.

So, the first kind is good, and the second kind bad. Although I am inclined to say of the first kind, paraphrasing Jane Austen, “that is not ‘a good boss’ but ‘the best’”. And I have a sneaking feeling, gut instinct, that the second kind is growing in numbers and proportion.

I don’t, working from home, miss having a boss. I am my own boss, and there’s no harder taskmaster than that – have always been my own sternest critic. Always a scarecrow boss in the corner of my room.


Heart attack
Did 2001 mark the start of a new decade, century, millenium? Or was it the year 2000? Did the publication of my new book mark the end of my previous careers, or the start of a new one? I think, looking back that it was the former. In “Pure State of Nature” I was putting together a set of my related research activities, updating them, adding explanations, creating a coherent account out of what, as I was doing the work, seemed to be not very closely related strands of thought. I was checking the accounts, adding up the figures, balancing the intellectual budget, closing a set of books.

So the new decade, new millenium, first year of the rest of my life was 2001, not 2000. It was one of those decades where you suddenly feel yourself as not just an individual but as part of the sweep of history. Where one of those momentous events you read about in history books, and wonder how your ancestors felt at the time, are suddenly happening in your time. One of those many decades you find in your own family history where you can see generations turning over; paths not taken, or taken; births and deaths and marriages and employment and movement and other events that stitch one generation of a family into the long thread of that family’s story.

It was a decade in which my mother’s death cut my direct link to earlier generations, while the arrival of grandchildren gave me a link to future generations. The decade wasn’t very old when the event came that apparently changed everything forever, as American hyperbole would have it. An event I was aware of in a place and state of mind that could have hardly been more distant, but which we were linked to by various friends in far off places [as I suppose, most people around the world were]. This is how I recorded 9/11 in my diary [9/12 in Australia] – “My mother calls at 5.30am to announce the terrorist attacks on America. We watch the effect of the insanity of religion and barbarism. We watch transfixed in horror, then I go out to the sheep. 824 has that look in her eye and a little later goes off and has a ewe lamb quickly and effectively. I contrast the peacefull idyllic scene of a mother sheep caring gently for a new born baby with the madness of destruction and hatred inflicted on New York. It rains all day keeping the [other] lambs inside the shed. Force 504 out later and she slips on ramp but she goes off and seems to be feeding lambs. Various ewes lose track of various lambs during day and I round them up. We watch tv all day. xxx anxious about yyy until she hears that he is ok, not having an office in the Trade Centre any more. Then we anxiously realise aaa worked there earlier in the year. Try to phone [aaa's parents] without success, Day ends with bbb, back in Djakarta, saying that this obscenity will be the finishing touches of John Howard [who was in New York by chance] getting back into power. Finally do my rounds [at night]. Chase eyeshine of fox via northern ridge all way back into zzz’s place. All nightmares about my lovely lambs return. Hope alpacas stay alert.”

My mother died, ultimately, in order to save the life of a moth. Wouldn’t mind that for my own epitaph actually. She was walking from her kitchen to front room to answer the door bell, unsteady on her feet in her eighties. She went to take a step, and looked down to see a moth on the carpet where her foot was about to land. She changed the angle of her step, to avoid treading on it, and in doing so lost her balance and fell, damaging her back and being taken to hospital. The damage she had done was sufficient to stop her walking, and it was quickly clear she couldn’t go back to living in her own home and needed nursing home care. Sorting that all out took me three difficult weeks, and a fair bit of angst for both of us. Six months later she contracted pneumonia and was dead in 24 hours, long before I could get back to the other side of the continent. Still she had told much of her own story in her own way, and I think, most of her old friends and family having died, that she was ready to go.

Anyway she said, as we talked about family history, the only non-fraught topic we had, really, in those three frantic weeks when I tried to sort out her big, and final, change of circumstances, that she hoped I wasn’t going to go on “wasting my life” as a farmer. I was going to say she didn’t mean it like that, but actually she did. Think it was partly her memories of the family’s unsuccessful and ultimately sad experience in farming in 1929, and mainly her view that what she saw my destiny as being was in the life of the intellect, the life, specifically, of the writer. “Why aren’t you writing?” she kept asking, plaintively, from hospital bed.

But the question needs expanding a little. She knew of course that I had written, published, the Encyclopaedia and other books. Had copies of them on her shelf, showed them off, proudly, to visitors. But what she meant was why hadn’t all that been a springboard to being a professional full time writer who appeared on breakfast shows and in newspapers (and there was really no way to explain to her why the Encyclopaedia hadn’t led anywhere unless I wanted to unleash a new Lizzie Borden onto the world). I think she thought I was wasting, had wasted, the opportunities, and had just sunk back into the bucolic sloth of farming life. She herself felt that she had waited too long to write her own autobiography. The part she had done, 100 pages handwritten in an exercise book, anxiously handed over to me to take care of and do something with. I tried to say that I was indeed still “writing”. The previous year I had run for federal parliament (“Are you going to win?” she wanted to know, expecting the answer would be yes. I tried to explain the reality of running for the Greens in a country electorate). That had led me to writing a regular column for a local newspaper and starting a blog. I had kept both going, even after my unfathomable failure to unseat the sitting big-margined Liberal member in the election. And sometime in 2005 I had also begun writing, the only Australian contributor, for the American Huffington Post, then just started as the first of the new breed of web sites combining news and opinion in a big way.

I probably, our relationship honed over 60 years being what it was, alternated betwen trying to explain what a blog was (she didn’t know and it wouldn’t have mattered, more books is what she wanted) and telling her that, yes indeed she was right, quite right, I was going to waste the rest of my life being a farmer. But the other thing she didn’t understand, although she might have from the evidence of the way she wrote about her experiences in Margaret River 75 years earlier, is that the “farm”, this piece of land – with its hills, and sweeping views,

with its magnificent trees,

and wildflowers,


and kangaroos and echidnas,

and soaring eagles,


and curious owls,

and busy blue wrens, and nesting thornbills, and snakes, and stumpy tails

and Cunningham’s skinks (bringing back memories of those long ago days working on the species in New England), and spiders, and deafening frog calls; with its sheep and horses and alpacas

- was a constant source of inspiration to me and my writing. Directly and indirectly. That, good times and bad (and there are plenty of both on the land), I felt at peace in this place, and, at peace, felt creative again (by 1997 the battering I had received had left me not wanting to think, write, create, be involved, ever again. If this is what a small number of people could do to you when you did then I wanted out. But coming to this magic place had refreshed my vision, got me started again, and I wrote, early in my new book “As I write this I look from my window to the east. Above the fog, I watch the sun rise over a pair of high, rounded hills. The first rays shine through distant branches, an irregular fringe of angular forms and dark green foliage. Anyone sitting on this hill waiting for the sunrise to bring warmth to the morning would have seen the same view at any time in the last 50,000 years”. My aim, I said, was to “observe locally and think globally”).

We had found the place by accident (and the timing, which in 1997 I had thought wasn’t good, turned out to be exactly right – after the ordeal I had been through from 1991-1998 I was in need of serenity) just as I was about to leave the Institute, retire, or perhaps, like a cause attaching itself to you, it had found us, but it was now an integral part of who I was.

I could no longer separate “being a farmer” from “being a writer”, if somone had asked, as I had been asked about various dichotomies in the past (Science or Arts, Australia or England, archaeologist or scientist) which one I was I would say both.

And another dichotomy had been resolved, thought I didn’t try to explain this one. If my “Pure State of Nature” (no, it wasn’t my preferred title) book in a way marked the end of my old academic life, summed it up, put it to bed, it also marked a beginning of a different kind. My research career in the Institute had been entirely focused on an Aboriginal-eye view of the world. It wasn’t so much a question of whether I was in Aboriginal studies or ecology, the latter took second place to the former. In 1998 as I was leaving the Institute behind, and putting my new book together I began to be aware that global warming, until then something only specialists knew much about, was a clear and present danger to us all. I mentioned it in the book, pointing out that the extinctions of giant animals in Australia’s past, the result of climate change, gave us a taste of things to come. In fact it was clear to me that both my particular ecological interests, extinctions and fire, were not only of relevance to Australian prehistory, to Aboriginal history, but to the future of the country and indeed the world. So my blogging (I later added writing a blog monthly for a major Australian blog site) and column writing, as the decade progressed, became more and more focused on trying to influence public attitudes to the dangers we faced.

If many Aboriginal issues remain to be solved, in fact pretty much the same issues that needed to be solved in the decades I was putting every effort into helping solve them, then it is also true that unless we stop climate change, and the parallel damage that is being caused by the use of fire, tree clearing, over-fishing and hunting, pollution of rivers and oceans, then none of us have a future. So I keep niggling away, doing what I can.

What else have I been doing in this concentrated decade? Well I took on the editing and production of our local community newspaper, using skills I first learned when tackling the Institute Journal backlog in 1985. It’s a challenge each month to get the material, meet the (self-imposed) deadline, find advertising to support this self-funded production, but compared to the publishing activity in my distant past it’s a doddle, easy peasy, walk in the park. Anyway, it is a contribution I can make to the community, and I think community is increasingly important, will be more so as we all face the difficult times ahead. Also reached, I guess, the peak of my sheep-breeding program with a three year stint as President of the breed association, after years of being Secretary, and years of being involved with genetic issues on an industry wide basis (drawing on my old zoology background). Every small organisation is difficult in its own way, as Tolstoy might have said if he had been a sheep breeding man.

But met a lot of nice people through our sheep. And a lot of nice sheep.

Ten years after I left the Institute I had a heart attack (no, I don’t know about cause and effect, who ever does?). Didn’t know I had, actually. A year or two earlier I had been involved in a horrible event over the road when a chap dropped dead of a heart attack a long way from medical help. But nothing as dramatic as that with me, or I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. None of that movie stuff of clutching the chest, sweating, pains down the left arm, collapsing in a heap. No, just a kind of burning sensation, weak enough to make me think of indigestion, strong enough to make me have to sit down until it had passed. If you get anything like that, go to hospital, if they tell you it’s indigestion it’s less embarrassing than being dead (I suppose).

I did, eventually, the burning becoming more frequent and insistent, and there I was, having test after test that showed nothing. I had pretty much been told to go home, nothing wrong with you, hypochondriac, was getting my clothes back on, somewhat embarrassed, when, rather in the way that in American movies an innocent man is about to be hanged when a sheriff rushes in clutching the last minute reprieve from the governor, except in reverse, the one last test was positive and I was taking my clothes back off again. Operation a few days later. I was being operated on, magically watching my blood vessels on a tv screen, my mind wonderfully concentrated, a small object being poked along them, and then a rush of dye being released. And going nowhere as it hit an obstruction. Soon opened, by the magic of stent insertion up a long thin tube from the groin. A day flat on my back, talking to a chap who I was sharing a room with, whose earlier experience with dye being sprayed had revealed the need not for a stent but an open heart operation and quadruple bypass. I felt a bit of an imposter as I escaped hospital food the following day, but not in a bad way. The only after effects of the operation were frequent nightmares – often the aftermath of traumatic events I find.

Finally this was the decade when I got seriously into family history, the results shown in this extended account. And so here we are, at the end of a long journey. I feel like I have walked from the eighteenth century coal mines of the English Midlands and the eighteenth century farms of Yorkshire all the way to the twenty first century farm in Australia. Walked along with a few people to begin with but gathering more and more numbers as I travelled through the decades, until there were hundreds of people all around me in a virtual cloud, cheering me on.

There have been, along my personal road, a number of blockages, obstructions, dead ends, false starts, new beginnings. Most of them I guess fixed with a mental stent, some needing major bypass work. There have always been a cloud of family, friends, supporters, to help me over the hurdles, across the swollen rivers, through the closed doors. And a few other people, emphatically not friends.

They say that the best revenge against people who have done you wrong is living well.

And I do.

Like a dream come true I suppose.

Now for the next decade.

Total eclipse of the heart
So, I’d had a heart attack. OK. Still alive apparently. You know how you wonder, in idle moments when you are young (in your fifties) which human ending has your name on it? Are you going to be run over by bus, be eaten by shark, get incurable diseases from a dish cloth, fall off a cliff, get cancer, die of a heart attack? Well, I had had the heart attack bullet. And survived. I was bullet proof, there being no other obviously with my name on it. Come on Mr Reaper Man, is that all you got? Anyway, that was it, my brush-with-death story, and I could finish my autobiography-to-date on a positive note. So I did.

One day not long after I wrote the words that ended the previous chapter I visited my GP routinely. New prescription for anti-cholesterol drug or something. I was an old hand heart attack survivor now, take a pill or two each day and Bob’s your Uncle (as indeed he was, which made that saying a joke that never grew stale when I was young). Call in, see my nice doctor, have a chat, through the worst news you could get as as a sixty-something fellow, bit of an old hand at this surviving medical emergency business. Bit of a medical veteran, got the prescription ribbons to prove it, got the scar.

Anyway while I was there I casually mentioned that a few days earlier, while showering, I had noticed a lump on my leg. Nothing much, obviously, probably old scar tissue from collision with sheep, or perhaps a cyst. Nothing to worry about, eh doc? Within a minute or two of her checking it she was on phone to get me an ultrasound scan and a blood test, refusing, somewhat ominously, to take part in my light-hearted banter about collisions with sheep etc.

So a week later, having had blood test, I walked into the medical imaging rooms, feeling a little as if I was walking along edge of cliff. But hey, what could go wrong, had my intimation of mortality eh, heart was where it was at. This was a nothing, the unimportant lump of an aging hypochondriac. But it was a morning that would turn out to be a microcosm of the next six months of my life.

First came the ultrasound. Not unpleasant, rather like a massage in fact. Sort of interesting, looking at screen, oh, they are blood vessels eh, and those are lymph nodes, a muscle, yes fine, bored now. Then a wait. Doctor on duty came in took a look at the scans. We chatted about them – blood vessels, lymph nodes etc. They are fine aren’t they I said. “Are you a doctor?” he asked, having no doubt used the question to shut up nosy patients many times. “Yes” I said.

Anyway, yes, they were fine. Fine, bit of enlargement there. No, look normal to me. So, I asked, I don’t need a needle biopsy do I (a grim but remote possibility my GP had mentioned). No, no, don’t think so. Looks ok. Thank goodness, I said, my hypochondria confirmed, preparing to swing legs off side of surgical bed.

But he was still glancing at the scans. Still, it seemed, thinking. No, you better have the needle biopsy to be on safe side he said, and my heart sank. Back he came with a long needle, rather in the way they do in cartoons. I hadn’t realised he would need to do it using the blurry ultrasound to get his bearings, and that that meant he would need to take a number of shots, in both groins, before getting the places he wanted to sample just right. To say the process left you dreaming of a wisdom tooth extraction for light relief would be to underestimate the unpleasantness.

Staggered out, some time later, feeling like the victim of an attack by a homicidal maniac with a stilleto. Wrote in my diary that night – “Scary ultrasound, even more scary, and painful, aspiration of four lymph nodes. Am I in big trouble? Feeling like it.”

Two days later I had the results, my GP, unprecedently, phoning, so I knew immediately it was bad news. Wrote in my diary “I am given death sentence – Lymphoma”. I had fallen off the edge of the cliff and was on my way down. A couple of days later, on a Sunday, I wrote “My last day of normal life”.

I was plunging down into a medical world much scarier than the heart one. Finding, as I plunged down, that I had lost control of my life. Instead of making my own decisions as to what, where, how, when, why, I would do things, they were made for me. I rushed from one set of medical rooms to another. My GP gives me a very somber prognosis. I go for another blood test, then a CT scan. Then meet a surgeon who is (the speed and urgency of all this was frightening) rushing me into a full lymph node surgical biopsy three days later. Next day yet another blood test, ECG, X-Ray. I get the CT scan but note in my diary “Avoid opening test results. Don’t want to know until after I get through [surgery] tomorrow”. Tomorrow was a long hard day, surgery being delayed to late in afternoon, so I had nearly 24 hours without food or drink. Home that nght with lump missing. On the next Sunday, trying not to think about results, I wrote “Last day before fate is decided”.

The next day the plunge down the cliff continues. More blood tests and x-ray (had fallen heavily and thought wrist broken, it seemed a minor thing). GP tells me CT shows cancer is all through lymph system from groin to neck but not other organs. This seems curiously not quite bad enough for my fears. The next day life matches fears. As I record “Trying to get myself together mentally. Phone call comes from hospital. I am wanted in urgently, right now, for testing and treatment. We hurriedly get ready and rush in by about 5pm. Checked in. An incredibly noisy night in 4-person ward. The chap in next bed, with stomach cancer, has developed lung infection. They fight all night to save him, and do, while he vomits constantly, coughs, hiccups, burps, groans; machines beep, voices question, shoes flap noisily on floor. If I wasn’t in a bad enough state before I was by end of night.”

The next morning I am scheduled to at last to see the oncology specialist, find out details of my fate. Again my diary tells it best: “Have a ‘gated volume’ study of heart. Tin injected, then radioactive stuff. Heart is going well it seems. Then specialist finally comes with a gaggle of residents etc. Gloomy faces as he examines me [and tells his students I have large cell lymphoma, very fast growing, fatal etc]. Then he asks if they yet have the surgical biopsy report. Yes we do. ‘Follicular lymphoma’. Faces light up. Specialist loses interest. I’m just a boring easily curable common case now it seems. Fine by me. Feel relieved but confused. Seems the needle biopsy was indeed inaccurate for some reason. No sleep again all night.” The irony here was that my GP, in a rare attempt to cheer me up, had said that the needle biopsy could be inaccurate. Neither she nor I had believed her. Yet the bedside manner attempt at soothing had indeed been true. I had gone from having a lethally fast cancer, hence the rush to get me into hospital and start treatment, to having a slow treatable one. Had to stay in hospital two more days to have the unpleasant bone marrow biopsy and very unpleasant PET scan tests (which together would eventually show the cancer was worse than had been thought – in to spleen and bone marrow) then home to await instructions on treatment, now nowhere near as urgent as it had been, but still probably reasonably urgent.

Two weeks later I am back at hospital to see specialist with all test results, although I see his registrar first – “Talk at length to registrar xxx who doesn’t think I need treatment, just monitoring, as he explains at length. Then he calls in his boss, who, noting that the bone marrow is 30% involved and it is in my spleen, and I am over 60, wants immediate treatment. All still part of rollercoaster this month. Then told have to have chemo. Then put into clinical trial testing new antibody (otherwise can’t get antibody until after chemo has failed!). Roller coaster continues. All sounds awful with many needles and many side effects (when I tongue in cheek complain about hair loss they laughed). Might start on my birthday or day after. Happy birthday!”

A week later have to see my heart specialist for an echo cardiogram, more or less ok with some valve leakage, but all pales into insignificance. Heart problems are so yesterday news. The medical circus rolls on. Just after that go in for my cancer treatment orientation where a nurse scares me witless with all the terrible side effects I could get, most of them starting off subtly and if not recognised can kill you quickly. “Cure sounds worse than disease and up to six months of it” I note. She shows me around treatment ward where these terribly sick looking people are sitting on dentist type chairs hooked up to bags of fluid with machines going beep. Like a science fiction film and scares me even more.

A few days later I am one of the people in the science fiction movie, although I look ridiculously well. Apart from the fact that the first round of treatment took some 7 hours (because they go slow in case of side effects, and partly because I had a learner nurse) my life from then on followed a constant pattern. Hooked up via cannula in hand for three or four hours. Home, several days of taking steroid and anti-nausea tablets, the former making me very tired and headachy. A blood test a week later. Another blood test and visit to specialist a week after that. A few days feeling ok. Blood test. Back on to treatment chair. Over and over again.

I was lucky. No real side effects during the chemo itself, in spite of my fears after first treatment, during treatment, after effects made life difficult but were put-upable with, and the steroid effects were bearable though debilitating. My blood tests with one aberrant exception (which nearly frighteningly put a stop to whole process after first treatment) were normal throughout. But making it worthwhile was that within a day or two of first treatment the glands in my neck were shrinking. Doctor later confirmed that others shrinking too. Another CT scan half way through treatments confirmed thay were all well down.

And so it went on. Other family problems also continued of course, but I was trying to just concentrate on the finishing line. Of detaching myself sufficiently to take needle after needle, cannula after cannula, tablet after tablet, hardly flinching. And I had begun as a life long needle-phobic. Got to the end of the 18 weeks (6 treatment cycles) and it was clear all the glands were well down. As was the spleen. Saw specialist, who agreed I had gone well, but wanted two additional treatments just with the antibody treatment. Said to be more effective. Grin and bore it. At the end of that (during which a new irritating side effect had developed) had to have another of the dreaded bone marrow and PET scan tests. Managed to grin and bear those, seeing the finishing tape of the marathon in clear sight.

Then saw specialist, to be plunged into depths again. While both tests showed a huge improvement, both showed there was still some residual lymphoma. Instead of being home free I could have a break of a couple of months and then go into a three monthly antibody-only treatment for 2 more long years. Wasn’t there an Olympic race once where somone stopped running, thinking they had finished, only to be told there was a mistake and there was stil another lap to go? That was me.

So here I am, just had first of new cycle. Same pleasant nurses, same ill patients, same chairs, same beeping, same bags. Betwixt and between. Not ill, not well. Not happy, not sad. Not starting, not finishing. At the end of the beginning, but not necessarily at the beginning of the end.

But at the end of a chapter, again, anyway.

Hanging out my shingles
Saw my new oncologist this week and got taken off chemotherapy for foreseeable future. So that marks a kind of turning point. What’s that? I’ve missed a bit? Oh, yes, you are probably right. Let’s go back…

12 months earlier: finished the first of the monoclonal antibody-only treatments. A doddle. Without the nasty chemicals of the full treatment this was merely a petty irritation of having a needle stuck in hand for an hour. No problems. Then the second one at end of 2011. Same, easy peasy. Do this one hand tied behind my back (which I sort of was, if you see what I mean).

But in December had an x-ray to check that the chemo hadn’t damaged heart (in the background, seemingly reduced to a minor irritant, the heart kept beating away but needing to be checked periodically, like an aging car). It hadn’t, but my GP said “look at this”. I had, back in about June, hurt my back, lifting a battery out of a truck. Didn’t think too much of it, had hurt back before from time to time, rest, gradually recovers. But this had left me with a crush fracture severe enough to have raised alarm bells with her.

Off for a bone density scan (planning two books – “”Medical waiting rooms of Canberra” and “Unpleasant medical tests – a personal account”). Yes indeed, femur looked more like a blown egg, osteoporosis. A known consequence of chemotherapy, apparently. Can be treated, but its consequence (!) if you have to have a tooth extracted, is jaw necrosis, which I was inclined to avoid.

So, had to see dentist first. A new one, the previous one not having been, in retrospect, really on top of the profession. Anyway, this one seemed good. Understood the osteoporosis problem, took some x-rays, then, in what I discovered was a constant habit, went into a trance while considering them. Started, rather disturbingly, tapping the image here, there, oh, and down here, hmm, and then what about… And so on.

After a life-long rear-guard fight against dental problems my tooth Waterloo had arrived it seemed. I wasn’t going to be much better off than my grandparents in 1929 (see Dream – “Leaving from Liverpool”), or my mother. Nightmares come true etc. I walked out in a trance of my own. Had to make arrangements to get dental bridges made. Time for full delay mode.

Another chemo treatment in February was a good reason to delay a bit longer, was it not? Anyway, it was. But it only got me as far as March when up the stairs I had to go and then me and the dentist went into trance until first bit of nastiness done.

But a week later had problems in addition to sore mouth. Had ear trouble, what I thought was infected scratch on head, bit of conjunctivitis. See GP. Job lot. Cream here, cream there, nasal spray in other hand.

Except they weren’t three separate minor ailments, they were the advance shock troops of that medical blitzkrieg – Shingles. Look, if you are told you have to have a disease, and are given the choice of all the world’s ailments, choose anything but Shingles.

I had scarcely heard of it before, had some vague idea it was a skin disease. It’s not. A week later I was back at GP, head a mess, ear the same, whole side of face aching, eye so badly ulcerated I had to be rushed to eye hospital. The doctor there, having seen a lot of it, instantly diagnosed Shingles, and treatment began to save eye. Weeks of nasty eye drops of four kinds. Retraviral tablets. The latter a bit late. On and on for several months, slowly retreating a little only to flare again. Eye slowly clearing. Pain slowly lessening.

Due for chemotherapy again in May. Saw oncologist who said, oh yes, Shingles
common effect of chemotherapy for Lymphoma. Felt like screaming “Now you tell me”. If the GP and I had known, the diagnosis of what was an atypical set of initial symptoms could have been made early and effective treatment would have nipped it in the bud. Anyway, all eye drops under the eyelid by then. He cancelled the chemotherapy due in May, too risky with another serious illness, so that was a relief.

By June, just as I was starting to feel nearly recovered, my wife, fixing curtains, fell off a low stool but landed awkwardly and broke wrist. Not badly but, and this might sound familiar, her hospital treatment caused nerve damage that will take months perhaps years to heal.

Still, she was out of cast long enough to deal with my next drama. End of August and I came down with what seemed like a nasty stomach bug. Got sicker and sicker until we headed for Hospital Emergency. Was checked, then spent couple of hours untreated in waiting room before saying to hell with it and going home. Next day saw GP who took one look and called for ambulance.

Was in hospital for week with severe pneumonia, treated with intravenous antibiotics, then sent home with massive doses of antibiotic pills for a month. Now almost over it, a month later, but feel rather battered.

It is, in a slightly different way, the feeling I had 20 years ago, doing the Encyclopaedia, though that was the result of malignant people rather than malignant viruses and bacteria. But same feeling of taking blow after blow and having to keep going.

Saw my new oncologist this week (which is why I am doing this update now). She took me off all chemotherapy. Will review situation in a month to make sure Lymphoma not making comeback. But her view is the last 12 months problems are effect of treatment.

I had dire warnings, scared me half to death, of things that could happen to me during treatment, but nothing about possible after-effects, so this 12 months has been a shock. A bit like falling off a tall building and surviving by landing on a pile of mattresses, then staggering away and being hit by a bus. The aftermath of cancer diagnosis and treatment, mental and physical, is equivalent to post traumatic stress disorder. We leave treatment shell-shocked.

But I don’t know that we leave it with a kind of wisdom implant. Two of the thousands of media cliches are the “What’s the secret of long life?” asked of centenarians, to which the only real answer of course is “Staying alive”. The other is to imagine that people with a life-threatening disease have some kind of insight that others lack, have attained enlightenment. But the only rational answer to “What’s the meaning of life” is of course “42″.

There is no “meaning of life”. I guess if I’ve learned anything it is that life is random. That you aren’t owed anything. That neither being fit nor a “good person” is of any relevance at all when arteries start blocking, cells start dividing, lungs fill with fluid. Having one thing doesn’t make it any less fair when you get another. You aren’t “owed” anything by the universe.

Anyway that’s the latest chapter of my life. Sorry it was all medical. Very sorry. Hope the next chapter will be bathed in sunshine. Reckon I’m due!

Topic of Cancer

Well, that didn’t quite work out as expected. Left you at the end of the last chapter feeling optimistic, will do so again at the end of this one, but in between will be the recent unpleasantness.

The idea of taking me off treatment to see if it was the cause of the shingles and pneumonia unpleasantnesses was a good idea given the constant civil war between disease and chemotherapy on the battlefield of my body. But it was wrong. To positively eliminate the apparently unlikely come back of lymphoma as the problem I was sent off for yet another of the dreaded PET scans.

This time, to add to the unpleasantness, my body broke the computers that run the scan, twice, and I was left lying there on the steel rails waiting while the technician rebooted all 16 [?] of them. Bit of an omen really (as was the sympathetic treatment of me, when she had seen the preliminary scan results, by the normally very unpleasant nurse who sets you up for the scan), had I believed in omens, as it turned out when I visited my now grim-faced oncologist to get the diagnosis.

The cancer was back with a capital C, stronger than before, as if the poisons that had been thrown at it, like a monster in a fairy story, had merely made it bigger. Oh shit. The promise of 5 years, hell ten year’s remission if I behaved and had a whole lot of extra single chemo treatments, proved as unreliable as those end of the world prophecies we hear most years. Five years? Hadn’t had five months remission, it being pretty clear the cancer had come roaring back more or less the day after my last multi chemo treatment. Which meant, dire omen/prophecy that I was in Big Trouble with a capital T.

Facing two Catch-22s was my problem, a Catch-44 in fact. The first was that chemo applied to lymphoma is a bit like penicillin applied to bacteria. If you kill all the baddies, fine, if you don’t then the survivors are the tough ones, which then provide the next crop, and so on. If you keep hitting lymphoma with different chemicals unsuccessfully you eventually produce a super lymphoma that will be resistant to all treatments and then you are stuffed.

There is a sort of alternative called stem cell therapy. This involves hitting your body really hard with chemicals to (hopefully) knock out all the cancer cells. Then stimulating your bone marrow to produce (hopefully) new non-cancerous lymphocytes, then more chemotherapy to wipe out all lymphocytes (including any cancerous ones which had survived), then giving you a blood transfusion of the harvested healthy ones. The flaws in the process are obvious. Some can be removed by taking stem cells from a near relative (I don’t have one near enough), at the cost of having to suppress implant rejection. In any case some cancer cells may survive, some may mutate while being stored and give you a worse version of the cancer. It involves a long stay in hospital, painful processes, protection from infection etc. After talking to a friend met through twitter, who had been through it, I didn’t want a bar of it. But it would, if successful, deal with the resistance issue. If successful.

And then the third catch (catch-66) I guess was that, in the background, remained my earlier heart problem. My original chemo treatment left out one ingredient (ie, in the rather nasty acronynms, COP+R instead of CHOP+R). My oncologist decided she wanted to have one more crack at my lymphoma with mainstream tratment before facing the catch-22s, and move to CHOP from COP. But before I could have that, my heart status needed checking with yet another scan (the radiation from 2 years of scanning becoming of some concern, at least to me). All clear, and away we went.
onco
Into new oncology treatment room, with new, wonderful nurses. First cycle very very slow to make sure I didn’t react badly to either the ingredient (the”R”) that had affected me last time, or the new ingredient. Six hours in one of those chairs no fun. Nor the feeling of deja vu from 2011, starting out on a series of nasty chemo treatments that stretched endlessly into the future, and, what was worse, carried none of the (in reality false) optimism that I was going to come out the other end more or less cured.

But no choice, really, so on I went. Side effects afterwards worse this time, then made worse still when my neutrophil levels dropped (a common occurrence, leading to major immune system fears of infection, but it hadn’t happened to me in first treatment) and I had to have a bone marrow booster shot to follow up the chemo. Which had its own nasty side effects. You never feel well when you are going through chemo, as if you constantly have a set of minor, but debilitating, diseases. Lost all my hair this time, put on even more weight. On through 4 cycles over 12 weeks. Then a pause, followed by yet another PET scan (!) to see if the new treatment regime was effective.

Yes, yes it was! PET scan showing no activity distinguishable from background. Did I want to stop or have two more cycles to make sure? No-Brainer really. Two more cycles then back to my lovely oncologist where physical exam confirmed no glands enlarged now. She had, she thought (though with fingers literally crossed, her toes, I suspect, touching wood) given me a real remission this time. Don’t call me, I’ll call you, come and see me in three months, after your body, free of being injected with chemicals, has a chance to recover. It was all like the telegram from the governor arriving just as you are climbing the stairs to the gallows. I walked out into the sunshine feeling …? Well, feeling numb if truth be told.

Two reasons for not being “over the moon”. One was that after two years of treatment and illness I just felt battered, mentally and physically. No more felt like doing a Toyota jump in the air than if I had just completed an Olympic marathon. Besides which I wasn’t being given a cure. Just like there is no such thing as a recovered alcoholic or an ex-smoker, there is no such thing as a cured lymphoma patient. What you are is in remission, a remission that may last only months, as with me initially, or indefinitely, but you can never think of yourself as totally cured.

The second reason I looked out into a sunlit day somewhat blankly was the wider context. While I was going through this lot of treatment I heard that an old dear friend had lung cancer. The kind of news that hits you with a hammer blow. Another one has joined the club that you didn’t want to join because it would have you as a member.

A lot of it about these days it seems, cancer. Hardly a friend of mine who hasn’t had it or had someone in their family with it. A lot of it on the internet too. Since I was first diagnosed in early 2011 I have become much more involved with Twitter in addition to blogging here. And discovered, among other things, a very supportive environment. Have made online friends with people with cancer. Have had many people expressing their concern for me and their wishes for my well-being. Who could have guessed this would happen, strangers developing real friendships in a virtual world, supporting each other in times of trouble? Plus the ability to communicate instantly with old friends, see how they are doing, support them in turn.

I began putting this autobiography on the blog with the idea of a cloud of family characters surrounding me. Like Dickens surrounded by imaginary characters. These last two years I’ve had another cloud surrounding me, of family, and medical professionals of all kinds, and very old friends, and new friends, and virtual friends, all lifting me up carrying me along to this week’s finish line, cheering me at the end of the marathon as I breast the tape. That’s not a bad way to end a race, and a chapter, eh?

Wonder what I will be writing in the next chapter? Guess you will all be staying with me to find out eh? Onwards I go, my cloud going with me. Hey, that’s what I’ll call you, “myCloud”, might catch on.

7 comments on “Dream

  1. Grace Koch says:

    Hi David

    Amazing bit of work! I’ve only read the AIATSIS bit, but it brings back so much. Am very interested to read the diaries. As you know, I can probably pur names to many of the people you mention. Thanks for considering me “helpful.” I enjoyed doing the music bit of the CD version of the encyclopaedia very much—was a nice break from archiving.

    Best,
    G

    Like

    • David Horton says:

      Hi Grace
      lovely to have you drop by. I am still putting the diary on line but 8 years of detailed daily entries takes a while! Have also put the initial summary with them temporarily, and will then also add the post Encyclopaedia publication years before I was finally forced out of the Institute in 1998.

      A lot of names we both know – good guys and bad.

      Drop by again, you would probably enjoy the earlier biography stuff as well if you are thinking of doing your own. And you might like some of my regular blog entries.

      Cheers

      Like

    • Grace Koch says:

      Another comment here– I agree with Max Kamien about your Dream. I’d like to send you some more news but not necessarily on the blogpost. We live in interesting times.

      Like

  2. bob muntz says:

    All the best and keep the good work going.

    Like

  3. Shirley Young says:

    Hi David, I’ve just finished reading your autobiography and Aunty Elsie’s story. You have done an amazing job and nanna, grandpa, Aunty Elsie and mum and dad would be so proud of ‘our David’. So many memories. All I can say is keep on writing! (exclamation added on behalf of your mum!) Well done.
    Love from Shirley.

    Like

  4. Max Kamien says:

    Dear David,
    This blog is beautifully written and at the least should be published as an e-book. I would make it mandatory reading for CEOs of the Aboriginal Industry and for the politically correct. Bravo David.

    Like

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