Family Fragments:

Before I go further, I’ll double back and say something about my forebears.

The McDonells

The McDonells of Glengarry was a very well known clan in Scotland. Though small, it was famous for being a very vigorous supporter of the Catholic cause during the period hundreds of years ago when religious wars were common. Especially was this so when there was much trouble in England, and therefore in Scotland, at the time the Catholic Stuarts were on the throne, and after the Stuart Charles I was executed in 1649. About a hundred years later, in 1746, the then Stuart pretender to the English kingdom, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, fought a fierce and unsuccessful battle at Culloden, near Inverness in the Highlands. The McDonells were given the place of honour on the right flank of the Stuart forces. The English general in charge of the victorious English forces, the Duke of Cumberland, came to be known as ‘Butcher Cumberland’ because of the ruthlessly brutal way he dealt with the remains of the Stuart forces, and the Highlanders in general. He particularly had it in for the McDonells and twice ‘ethnically cleansed’ Glengarry, as we would say these days, as a result of which nearly all the McDonells who remained alive left the glen at that time and settled near and far. This is what seems to have happened to our branch of the clan who moved not far from Fort Augustus, on the southern banks of Loch Ness, and also to the area around Inverness. (See Wikipedia for good summaries of the Stuarts, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Culloden and Fort Augustus.)

My McDonell grandparents, with their then living children, came to Australia in 1982 in the “Camorla’. of 2000 tons.  They left Plymouth on 26 April and the  ship concluded its voyage at Cooktown on 17 June.  The McDonells got off at Rockhampton, the centre then of a big boom.  It was a busy port at this period of spreading development in Central Queensland. The railways were being extended in the north, centre and south of the State to the large pastoral and mineral resources in the west. They somehow found, and settled in, Alpha, a very tiny settlement, near an almost as tiny settlement called Jericho, not far from Clermont and Cloncurry, where grandfather took up a selection, that is, a small farm, probably poorly endowed, but ‘mine own’. No doubt it was largely for such a slender opportunity that they had left the industrial cities of the north of England. According to my father, his father ran ‘a few’ cattle and other stock on the selection, and added to a meagre income by fettling on the railway.

My grandparents were married in Liverpool in 1879. In the marriage certificate, grandfather is shown as a sheep dealer (given the time and the location near the Scottish borderlands , perhaps a change of the ‘d’ to ‘st’ might also have been accurately descriptive). He was in this thirties years,  much older than his wife-perhaps he put his age back for his marriage. My grandmother, is entered in the marriage certificate as the spinster daughter of an Irish wharfworker in the Liverpool Port Maritime Service. At that time Liverpool was a very large and historic port. My father often told me that his mother was a teacher back in England, but perhaps at the Catholic schools and so perhaps not listed or formally recognised as such. She taught years later in Alpha in the one teacher school. The teaching aids which she had prepared were still kept on the walls of the school many years later, after her death, my father told me.

My grandfather was born in Fort William, not far to the south from the ancestral lands of Glengarry, and loch Garry, and environ areas, of the McDonells of Glengarry.

We don’t know anything much about their lives at this time nor anything much about their lives before they came to Australia (uncle Duncan, Dad’s elder brother, later burnt all the family papers relating to the period before they came to Australia, on the principle that Scotland was a good place to be from-and also no doubt because of his Communistic appreciation of what had happened to our family and others during the Enclosures). They finally settled, as I said, at the hamlet of Alpha on a selection, and grandfather also became a linksman on the railway-that is, working in the maintenance gangs. Tough though life no doubt was, the idea of having his own land must have seemed almost miraculous.

Grandmother went on to have a total of 10 living children, almost one a year. My mother told me that Grandfather had been very hard on her, and she ‘took to the drink’- confirmed by the medical inscription of cirrhosis of the liver on her death certificate.

Mum told me that she got on well with Grandad; he was known to be stern and hard, but according to her he was dignified of manner and speech, and general behaviour. Dad often told me how he had a very clear, well produced, almost accentless English-which that part of the Highlands and Invernessshire where he came from were known for. He spoke the Gaelic only when a neighbour, who had come from the same part of Scotland, would ride over from his own selection nearly and they’d have a dram together. Was it a dram of whisky, or a beer?

My father was the youngest of the McDonells, preceded by Kitty, with whom he kept closely in touch all his life. In fact he seemed to have been in touch with most of his family, while they lived. He and Kitty were the only ones who (nearly in my father’s case) finished primary school-he left in Scholarship year (the Scholarship was the first public exam in Queensland at that time, taken atabout 12-13 years of age, so it would have been around 1907-08) and I’m not sure about Kitty. I do know that she must have been bright for she won a scholarhip, which she was unable to take up because of the family poverty, to go to secondary school in Rockhampton, and complained about her fate all her life-and why not! The family apparently decided that they needed Dad’s contribution to work on the farm and he was taken out of school in his Scholarhip year. He was too good-natured and modest, and positive in outlook, to spend much time on regrets, but he told me of that several times, and how he had always been ‘top’ of the class, ahead of a local boy from a ‘well-off’ family named Frazer, who went on to become a leading surgeon in Brisbane. Dad always had huge respect for his headmaster, one Mr Hanger, later famous for some reason which I don’t remember, who Dad thought was a strict but very good teacher.

Between 1908-1915 he spent some years helping run the selection (he was a good horseman and cattleman), and then, apparently because he was bright-across the board but particularly at maths-he was headed towards the telegraphy part of the Queensland Railways and got a job there. No doubt older brother Duncan, who was already in the railway, and with whom he always had a close relationship, had something to do with this. There were other brothers in the Railways too. He became a hot-shot operator-this was subsequently made clear to me by him, Duncan and also my Breen uncles, who were also in the railway.

At that time telegraphy was a very advanced technology and the Queensland Railways’ communications system was the most comprehensive in the State, spreading almost all over what was and is a very large area. So he became a specialist in a large, modern State-wide communications system, the largest in the State. The training also involved getting to know something about electricity and radio. It would have been rather equivalent these days to a young man being put to computers and Information Technology very early on. Because it was a State-wide system, the telegraphists were at the heart of the whole show. Besides, these were the days of growing working class action and of unionism, and the communications system would have been of great strategic importance in those developments. This was at a time when there were very active union campaigns for better employment and general conditions, and later on he became very involved in that. But from what he said later, his political consciousness didn’t develop until he had gone to and survived the First World War, and, after returning, came in contact with the Breens.

So far as I can recall, all the other McDonell brothers, except Duncan, went into some sort of rural activity-one or more had farms, one had some sort of transport business, another had a hotel. I didn’t meet many of them but one, Uncle Mick, was a worker on sheep and cattle stations. Many years later, when I was at “Remilton”, Beverly and Norman (Robinson)’s place out past Toobeah, west of Goondiwindi-of which more later-Uncle Mick somehow turned up, and worked on the property for Norman. I was then about 14 and was very interested to pick up some bush ‘pointers’ from this uncle whom I’d never seen, and perhaps hardly heard of. He was a rather famous horsebreaker, and told me some of the tricks about doing it gently-I suppose early versions of ‘horse whispering’-and corrected some of my riding behaviours-length of stirrup, grabbing at the reins, balance. I saw him out there on several visits and my riding skills were much improved as a result. He was drowned a few years later in the 1950s, caught in a flash flood further west at some property he was working on.

Another uncle brought me my first sharp apprehension of death. I’m pretty sure it was while we were still at Roma-that is, after about 1935-6 and before 1938-9-that news came that Dad’s brother Jack had died suddenly of a heart attack. I remember Dad telling Mum one evening that the family had said that he was upstairs getting dressed when they heard a thud on the floor, and I remember hearing the ‘thud’ very clearly in my imagination and then trying to imagine his experience of this arrival of death.

I have a long undated letter from Dad to Brian telling him about Roma, and how he liked ‘the peace and quiet that reigns’, and to tell Mum that he couldn’t find some photos and other things which had become mislaid in the move: he had gone on ahead, of course, being Dad, to handle all the unpacking of the family goods sent from Brisbane, and get everything ready for the family to come to a new life in a new region.

I met Uncle Duncan and his wife Auntie Dorrie (Doris) on numerous occasions. He was a smallish, wiry man, as people of the Highlands often were and are, with a wiry expression and a wiry, sardonic, sense of humour. That is to say, no sense of humour much at all, but he would try to be sociable by making jokes, which turned out to be rather critical or belittling, and not very funny at all Not a particularly charming person, but widely regarded as very ‘genuine’ and honourable. He seemed to be generally in good spirits, articulate, and managed to get on quite well with my mother-not easy for an in-law (although she was very fond of Dorrie). He was quite a few years older than Dad and had a long career in the Railways, which ended badly

He, like Dad, was a longtime member of, and worker for, the ARU (Australian Railways Union). As one of the main railway, and therefore, public sector unions it was one of the most powerful, especially as the railways, everywhere, but particularly in Queensland, was ‘a state within the State’. Queensland was very large and decentralised in population, and so had, and still has, the largest railway system in the country. So the Queensland Railways, and railway doings, were very important. When Dad and Duncan met up the talk was always about politics, especially the latest on the Union and its place in whatever political issue was in the wind at the time.

One of the very dramatic episodes of my family occurred years later as a result of Duncan’s activities. It was, I think, in 1952 and not long after a big railway strike in which,as usual, Duncan (and to a less extent, Dad) had been a well-known and effective organiser. He was charged with stealing 5 pounds, supposed to have been found in the pocket of his coat by one of the Railway’s security guards. It was a plant-someone of ‘the bosses’ had put it there. Duncan was known to be as honest as the day was long, as the saying used to go, scrupulously so in all his dealings. It was a terrible blow to him and the family and he never really recovered from it. Mum, who despite her constant anxieties and worries and headaches, was always very good in a crisis, and she peronally insisted, rather against Dad’s concerns, upon going up to Rockhampton to be there with Duncan and Dorrie when the trial was on, and appeared in court to give him a character witness.

And she would undoubtedly have ‘pulled out all the stops’ in what she had to say in the court-an old expression referring to pulling out the stops on the organs which used to be played in church to give the music full volume and colour. But Duncan was convicted and was fired from the Railway. ‘They’ had got him well and good. Of course, he never complained about it: he was quite well aware that they had been fighting real battles for all those years when they went out on strike, and that ‘the enemy’ would stop at little to get those they thought were ‘troublemakers’. He somehow had some savings, and perhaps got some small amount of superannuation from the Railways, and he and aunty Dorrie bought a tiny corner shop and managed to make enough to live on. I remember visiting them there and him making some wry joke about how life had changed, and that he was a ‘capitalist’ -because he now owned a shop, rather than working for wages as he had in the Railways.

Duncan and Doris had three sons: Noel, the eldest, was a bit older than my brother Brian and he also joined the RAAF-I think he wasn’t posted overseas, and after the War ended he stayed on as a regular in the Air Force. He left when he was in his early 40s, I suppose in the early 1960, and studied law and became a successful solicitor. Terry, the second boy, died in his teens from a tragic illness. And the youngest, Leon (Noel backwards), was closer to my age, took an apprenticeship and became a fitter. Later on he changed his name to Alan (perhaps he didn’t like being his brother backwards) and moved to Sydney. I saw him a few times over the years-I think he left Brisbane because he was gay, and preferred Sydney, much larger and more tolerant. They are both still alive in Brisbane though not in good health

When Dad enlisted in 1915 he would have been 21. So, at three years older than the minimum age of 18, he had certainly not rushed ‘to the colours’ -as joining one of the armed services was called in those days-to go to the Great War which had started in 1914. Many young men had been attracted by the adventure of going overseas to fight. He told me that there was great propaganda and pressure for young men to go and fight; and in retrospect he thought he had been ‘hooked’, that as a country-bred lad he had little idea of what the whole thing was about. As he was a good horseman my memory is that he told me he first joined the Australian Light Horse, but because of his telegraphy skills-which were much rarer that those of horse riding -he was soon transferred as an aircraftsman mechanic to the Australian Flying Corps, the original name of what became the Royal Australian Air Force. I won’t go into the details of all this here, because his diary and other material are in the archives.

He spent about three years in service, almost all of it overseas in the Middle East- in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine. This was a very influential period for him: of course, in those days the opportunity for young working people to travel and ‘see the world’ and live to tell of it was rare. He didn’t speak much of it generally-no doubt on the good grounds that most people weren’t interested-but sometimes he would open up and give me tidbits of his experiences, and of course I was ‘all ears’. In turn, these tales were very influential for me, partly because of the mere facts of which he spoke, but also, more tellingly, because they gave me the understanding that such travels were possible, that the world was a fascinating place with much to show, and that one could and should make efforts to learn more about it, and not too readily settle only for ordinary life in ordinary Australia-isolated, colonial, remote, unreal, second-rate

Of course, times and attitudes were very different then. Australia was very much still a ‘colony’ even though it had been an independent country since 1901. We all still looked elsewhere-to England, Ireland, Scotland, Europe, the United States, Russia and the Soviet Union, to a much less extent, China, Asia-for ‘real’ things, for ‘real experiences’, for ‘real’ history, for ‘real’ literature, ‘real’ art, beauty, exemplars of all kinds…..Now that Australia is a confident, modern nation, Australia and Australians are world figures, world actors, world artists, writers, sportsmen, politicians, business-it is very different, especially, I think, for children. Travel, world experience, the possibilities of world success are now available in ways unheard of even in my childhood, let alone my father’s.

Dad went through some of the most important campaigns of the Middle East. He was generally attached to British regiments, and he and his mate were sent out to occupy hills and mountaines with good observation points from where they could see enemy-mainly Turkish-movements of troops, aircraft and artillery. Then they would report by radio using Morse Code back to their HQ (headquarters) what they had seen. Or sometimes they were in a situation where they could relay information received by radio from other observers. And sometimes they were left in positions on their own for weeks, even months, at a stretch. I remember one story in particular of how he and his colleague, with their radio and personal equipment, no doubt including their rifles, were stationed on a mountain for up to three months. They finally got leave and were allowed to go for a weekend at Heliopolis, which had been a luxury international holiday resort in Egypt before the war. He said they were able to have wonderful hot baths. Australians were, and are famous, for wanting frequent hot baths or showers when in foreign parts, and, of course, they had had hardly enough water to have quick washes, let alone baths, all the time their were at their mountain lookout; In Heliooplis they also got big comfortable beds; and great food. And prehaps other good things that he didn’t go into details about. In fact, it was all so good that they stayed longer than their leave-pass allowed. When they got back they were given a good ‘dressing down’-as he described it- from their commander, and were ‘confined to barracks’ (CB) for being AWL (absent without leave). And I was tickled to find years later that all that is recorded in his service record, which is in the archive.

He was at the second battle of Gaza, one of the most important of the Middle East war, and told hair-raising and funny stories of the attack by the Australian Light Horse across the flat plains in front of the city. He and his mates were trying to keep their heads down, with all the machine gun and artillery fire going overhead, while their unit commander was standing up on the top of the trench with his binoculars, in full sight of the enemy, watching what was happening. Dad was a great believer in the old saying, ‘He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day’-meaning that there is no point in making useless, even if heroic, sacrifices, and that ‘discretion is the better part of valour’.

Because his job required him to he move around a lot, he saw a much of Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria, also, I believe, and was in or near many of the great events of the period. On one occasion, for example, the famous British spy and organiser, Lawrence of Arabia, came with his party late one night into the British camp Dad was in at the time. Lawrence, an Englishman, played a big role in the Middle East war, and formed a very important alliance with the desert Arabs against the Turks and the Germans. Many books have been written about him. Lawrence was dressed, as he often was, like an Arab, was accompanied by Arabs, and rode a camel. Dad was called into the meeting which Lawrence’s group had with the unit’s officers, I suppose to give information on enemy positions in the area.

When Dad returned from the War he went back into the Railways, probably got a promotion, and moved to Rockhampton. At that time Rocky was the ‘big smoke’ in Central Queensland-quite a large city for those days, centre of a large pastoral, agricultural and mining region. Life there would have been very different for him, compared with his youth in Alpha and Jericho. Now, of course, he was a travelled man of the world, very handsome, and probably with some savings from his time in the Army. He obviously set about enjoying himself and looking for a wife. There in Rockhampton he met the Breen brothers, who had moved down from nearby Mt Morgan, the large copper and gold mine which was very famous, and one of the largest in the world. I think they came together through sport. And the Breens were all musical performers in some way or another-singing, dancing, playing instruments, reciting poetry and musical monologues-had two sisters, Mary and Kit my Mum, who played piano, many cousins, including the Doolans, and lots of friends, and seem to have had many parties. So they were natural allies for Dad, on his own, and looking around for companions and activities in the new city.

In those days sprinting was very popular, made more so because it was professional-that is, competitors could get cash prizes and there was legal betting. Then, and for many years later, most sport was amateur, people couldn’t earn much money at it: it was only in about the 1980s that sport became so professional and attracted so much money as we see today.

Dad became a sprinter, as were several of the Breens. I don’t know how successful they were, but they seem to have competed regularly for quite a while. Often later, when I was young, I was given, both by Dad and various Breen uncles, the ‘good oil’ on how to keep my body fit, how to train for running, and the proper ways to place and use your body when you were running. I, in turn, became a sprinter, mainly the 100 and 200 metres, as they would be called these days, but only at school.

Apart from sprinting, one of the Breens, Uncle Jack, the youngest, was a boxer, and at one time bantamweight (he was a small guy) champion of North Queensland. He in turn used to teach me how to take guard, how to defend, and how to ‘throw punches’, especially the straight left and the right cross. I never got the opportunity to put any of this into practice-lucky!

Then at least two of the Breens, Uncle Jim and Uncle Con, were good football players. Jim was chosen to represent Queensland in the interstate competitions, but a few days before he was due to play, a piece of steel flew off a billet he was forging while working in the mine and lodged in his eye. It was a terrible blow, and my mother said that that was the reason he took to ‘the drink’. More of this when we get to the story of the Breens. Uncle Con also seems to have played football-League-for years and later on I was also given lessons by various uncles and Dad on all the tips of League. But I didn’t play much football-on the wing when I did-because Mum wouldn’t let me because she blamed it for what happened to her brothers-all of this can be part of the story later.

Dad as I said, was the youngest of the McDonells, the youngest of ten, which didn’t make much difference, I suppose, as far as his brothers were concerned, but he was the ‘pet’ of his sisters. He had three-Grace, the eldest, born in Scotland, a gracious serious lady, who had a large family of her own; Nora, who had contracted TB (tuberculosis, or consumption, a very serious disease of the lungs) which killed many in those days, and left her a cripple with bad health for the rest of her life, so that she never married; and Mary, a very bright, happy person, who married fairly late in life, and was my favourite.

I saw Aunty Grace quite often because she lived in Brisbane with her family, my cousins, the Tooheys. I don’t remember meeting her husband, he seems to have died early-I don’t really know-but three of her sons, and her daughter, became good friends. There were at least two other sons but I don’t recall them-much older. Of course, part of the appeal was that these cousins were all older than me, mature men by my standards, all avalable for a talk, and from whom I could learn a lot.

Alex, the eldest, was also in the Railways like his uncles, and was very intelligent and friendly. I think he had some administrative job. Tom was a hugely strong man, also in the Railways, where he worked as a ‘flying ganger’, and was the head of a flying gang. These were the small groups of specially trained men who were dispatched to wherever there was an accident on the rail lines, or a collapse, due to rock slides, say, or to heavy flooding-common in tropical Queensland where there are monsoonal storms and cyclone. They travelled on small carts which were driven over the rail lines by a sort of pump mounted on top of it which the gangers had to push up and down by hand. They could make them go very fast, and naturally they kept very fit just getting to where they did their work! I was always very impressed by Tom, who was incredibly fit, quietly affectionate and used to talk to me about his latest adventures when we visited. He used to become very concerned about me because he thought I worked and read too much; he was afraid that I would get ‘brain fag’.

The third son I knew well was Billy, the youngest Toohey, about the age of Brian, my brother, ten years older than me, and was at school during the years I am talking about here, in the thirties. He also, like Brian, joined the RAAF in the early 1940s, but he went into a Lancaster Squadron (Lancaster was the name of one of the principal English bomber aircraft) in Bomber Command in England, and was lost over Germany. Like Brian, and others of their friends whom I knew who ‘didn’t come back’, he is commemorated at the impressive Air Force Memorial at Runnymede on the River Thames, near London. My son Dominic and I visited it when he came to London in the 90s to visit-it commemorates all the airmen of England and the other Commonwealth countries like Australia who died in World War 2.

The Toohey daughter was nicknamed Topsy-I don’t remember her proper name. I liked her a lot, she was very nice to me, though I didn’t know her very well. She was a bit older than Billy, red-headed, attractive, talkative (certainly for a McDonell, all of whom tended to be strong, silent types), and quite direct in her manner. She wasn’t rude, but if there were some question which worried her, she’d come right out and say whatever was on her mind. This was unusual for a McDonell, or for that matter a Breen, or, indeed, Queenslanders in general: they would usually express themselves rather obliquely, using some sort of slang or a ‘figure of speech’, and leave it to the person they were addressing to grasp the message and understand the real meaning of what they were saying. Topsy used to come over to our house sometimes when I was in high school and at University, and we’d talk about her life-I think she married a policeman, but I lost track of her, and of the other Toohey cousins, after I grew up and later moved away from Queensland.

All of the McDonells and the Tooheys and the others were brought up Catholics-as I said the clan back in Scotland had been very strong in the Catholic cause during and after the wars and the troubles between the Catholics and the reformed Church, the Anglicans, as we now know it, started up by the English king, Henry VIII, in the sixteenth century, and also the non-conformist church, the Scottish Presbyterians. (The history of religion in the several centuries before the 20th century was very complicated, and I won’t go into that here.) The Scottish Highlanders, generally, were staunch Catholics-I’m not sure why, perhaps because they were so far away and in such remote wild country, that they weren’t easily attacked, and stuck to their old religious traditions. And the McDonells of Glengarry were regarded as perhaps the most Catholic of them all. One of the McDonell chiefs was named ‘Defender of the Faith’ by the Pope himself, and the clan and its lands were several times ravaged by English armies and their agents and heavily dealt with in the great conflicts of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Over the centuries the Highlanders had a close alliance with the French and their Kings who were often the strongest allies of the Church and the Pope in Europe. Of course, all of southern Ireland, not far away by sailing boat in those days, had also remained Catholic, even after it had been occupied by the English leader, Cromwell, and his successors. It so happened that Glen Garry provided the most convenient and one of the shortest routes across Scotland to Europe and France, so it became a regular passage for priests and other Irish wanting to escape or travel to Europe, and back again. And, of course, they were looked after and kept hidden by the McDonells.

The children of the Highland chiefs were often sent to France and Paris to be educated, and it is said that one of the McDonells of Glengarry married a French princess. But in the early 20th century many people drifted away from religion and, in particular, the Catholic Church, and became attracted to socialist, even Communist ideas, which generally included some form of disbelief in a God, and sometimes complete atheism, ie, the belief that there is no God. My McDonell/Toohey kin were among them. When I was sent to Catholic convents and later to a well-known high school run by the Christian Brothers-St Joseph’s College in Gregory Terrace, Brisbane-they were very polite about it but obviously thought it was a bit of a joke. They knew that my Dad thought much like them, but that my mother was still very loyal to the Church.

Aunty Mary McDonell was a tall, slim, good looking and always well-dressed woman who, like my Aunt Mary Breen, had also worked in the Railways refreshment service. In those days most people travelled by train, the trips could last days, and the stations at the bigger cities and towns, and even some of the small places, had ‘refreshment rooms’ where you could get snacks or a meal when the train stopped there, for fifteen minutes or half and hour or so. Some trains would also stay overnight These were important services for travellers, of course, and also provided jobs for women.

During the late 19th century and in the first half of the 20th there were very few jobs women could do. It was the rule then that if a woman married-even teachers-she had to leave her job and become a full-time wife and mother. So people like my Aunts Mary, who wanted to keep working because the savings they could make were needed by their families, didn’t marry until late. Neither of them had children, and, consequently, because they got on well with their brother, Will (as Mum always used to call him) and my mother, I was a big favourite with both them. I was almost like a foster child (and all the better because they only looked after me on holidays sometimes and didn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the time!) I visited Aunt Mary Mac, as she was called, in Sydney several times while I was at school, and it was always a big adventure.

The other McDonell daughter was Aunty Norah, older than Mary. She also lived in Sydney during the years I remember. Because, as I mentioned above, she had had TB and was pretty much crippled, she spent years in a sanatorium-a special sort of hospital, usually in the country, where TB sufferers could live and be looked after. There were many of them around the world in those days. Hers was at Waterfall, in the hills near Heathcote on the southern outskirts of Sydney, and we visited her whenever we came to Sydney on holidays, which was pretty often. She also hadn’t married, and spent much of her time in a wheel chair, but she was usually very cheerful and happy with me, and made funny jokes, though sometimes she would be in pain and we wouldn’t stay long.

The third sister, Kitty, was the one closest to Dad in age-the next one up. She also was clever, and even when she was an old lady, during one of the last visits I had with her, she still regretted that she hadn’t been able to take up the special scholarship which she had won when she was thirteen to go down from central western Queensland to High School in Rockhampton. She married in Sydney a man called Suich-I think he was of Yugoslav extraction- but it wasn’t a success. I never met him and I never got any details, but I knew the children quite well-Ron, the eldest, Max, the youngest, about 5 years younger than me, and Shirley, in between, who was a bit older than me. Ron did science and physics, and was apparently very bright. He started a very successful business in some aspect of physics, but I have since lost track of him, as I also did of Shirley.

I knew Max much better. He lived with and took special care of his mother in Sydney. I would see him when we came to Sydney, and when he left school he became a cadet journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. He had a very successful career: he and his wife Jenny were in London when we were there in the early 1960s, and shortly after he became the first Australian journalist based in Tokyo. This was when Japan was beginning to build a very large and important economy and its trading with Australia was growing very rapidly. They stayed there a few years, and when he returned to Sydney he became editor of the Financial Review, of another Fairfax paper, the Independent, and later the chief editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. Later he also was involved in TV and telecommunications, but I lost track of him over the last 10 years or so. I believe he is retired now.

One thought on “Family Fragments:

  1. Absolutely loved reading this. Duncan Mcdonell who’s buried in Rockhampton is 2nd great grandfather he’s son James Roderick was my great grandfather.

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