Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Family Project, Novel, Local History - exhaustion.

I haven't posted anything in quite a while. I thought maybe I was over blogging but here I am.
I've been flat out getting on top of a few major projects which I've picked up now that I'm retired. Strange I am busier, having more fun and earning less.

My three projectes are;

1. Writing my novel. It's progressing one word at a time and I have moved the characters through Barcelona and onto a sailing vessel bound for Nouvelle France - their paradise in the Pacific. Remember all this is based on fact. My great grandfather. Anyway they've travelled through the Suez Canal and are anchored at Aden as we speak (it's July 1880) and it s summer and the infants are dying from a summer form of infant cholera - Cholera infantum. I knew nothing about the details of this voyage when I began. It's fascinating. More about that in another post.

2. I have taken on developing a permanent display at the New Italy Museum which trys to capture the history of the said great grandfather, Lorenzo and his blended famly. I was going to say two wives but he only had one at a time. He and his second wife Maria (their respective spouses had both died on the voyage to Nouvelle France) brought up 10 children - three of hers and two of his from Italy, then five more born in Australia. That's ten lines of descendants. It's been a fascinating journey. At times my head hurts. The Display will be launched on April 13. My brother and a range of family members have been assisting with information and photos. My nephew, Adam, has designing the display.  It was sent to the printers yesterday. Photos included.

3. I am preparing another West End (Brisbane) walking booklet exposing and exploring local history. This one focuses on the Brisbane River and its relationship with the community between the West End Ferry and the iconic local parkland at Davies Park. This is due for completion mid May.

Friday, 17 January 2014

New Years Eve - Murwillumbah YHA

In the foothills of Mt Warning lies the sleepy town of Murwillumbah.

What should we do between Xmas and New Year that won't cost an arm and a leg we asked ourselves.
Go camping? Nah - too hot, too crowded.  What about spend five nights in a youth hostel surrounded by strangers half our age? This suggestion came from Andrea! I'd stayed at the Murwillumbah Youth Hostel en route to Ballina a few times and had described it with affection but I wasn't sure it would be Andrea's idea of a holiday destination. I warned her. She hesitated and then took the plunge.I booked a double room. I'd only ever stayed in the men's dorm room. I wasn't sure what the double room might offer. I had a picture of a double bed bumping up against the wall on all four sides with no space for humans to stand and drunken parties outside our window on the deck. As a backup we invited our friend Lynne to join us and she gamely took up the challenge.

We arrived on the Saturday afternoon (Dec28) via a Currumbin Beach swim. Murwillumbah was closed.

The owner/manager had left a key out for us and we settled into a surprisingly nice room, with standing room and storage space, overlooking the broad murky Tweed River. Mt Warning loomed in the distance. It was beautiful.

Murwillumbah/Mt Warning YHA
We were in the company of two young people from Singapore who were about to begin a traineeship at a Yatala (a most unattractive industrial centre halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Half way to nowhere). Other guests included two young women backpackers from Holland, another two from Germany, a young architect originally from Zimbabwe; Gary was an ex Navy seaman from the English midlands who has  spent extended holidays at the hostel over a ten year period; a bunch of Czech tourists who appeared late at night desperate for a bed, and Stig. Stig, the ultimate contrast to the cliched young blonde Swedish backpacker. Stig was a bit unnerving. He was a significantly older man who floated silently around the building, pausing ominously outside our room and then drifting on. More of him later.

The owner/manager, Tassie (yes! a Tasmanian) had arrived in town 33 years previously (late '70s) as a young backpacker. Fell in love with the place. Bought this crumbling house high on the banks of the river, registered it as a YHA, did some renovations and a paint job befitting the times. Never left. Never changed the paint scheme.

Come New Year's Eve and all the young backpackers had managed to find accommodation at Byron Bay and we were a group of ten, seven of whom were, shall we say, mature aged. A late addition to the group was Jane who had flown in from Canberra specifically for New Year's Eve. She works in the National War Memorial as an archivist. She's the one who receives and assesses all the offers of photos and memorabilia from families whose WWI and WWII parents are gone, or not much longer with us. Sounded like a richly rewarding job. Turns out Jane has been coming here for twenty-eight years.

Toni wearing a red bra on her head.
It was turning into a reunion.  Not the least because Tassie's local lady-friend, Toni, had offered to cook for us if we were happy to fork out $15 a head. She had run a Thai restaurant in Mullumbimby until recently.

What a memorable night. A five course meal cooked in the shared kitchen by Toni  - assisted by the young Singaporean couple who loved the opportunity of finding a role in our wacky Australian evening. We ate till midnight and, surrounded by a deathly silent Murwillumbah, toasted the new year and promptly disappeared to our beds.
Stig and his $2.00 hat

Stig was the surprise of our stay. Not only did he show a great sense of taste in his choice of hat for the evening, but he had a great story to tell. He's 76 years of age and is travelling in Australia for a year. He has seen it all, having spent a previous twelve months here a few years ago. He was an engineer by training and had worked most of his life in third world countries, mostly Africa, for the UN involved in development projects. His memory was razor sharp, his energy unfailing - he had  caught a coastal freighter north from Cairns to Thursday Island and then bumped his way down the Gulf in a 4WD on a group tour. He had then made his way to the Laura Dance Festival by hitch-hiking (when his arranged transport failed to arrive at a remote intersection 50 ks west of Cooktown), and then slept on the ground under a tree. He even agreed to swim with me in the Tweed River despite his misgivings about the bull sharks I had told him lurked there.

When I grow up I aspire to be a Stig. I reckon I could do the drifting ghost bit quite well if I put my mind to it.

Andrea Lynne Steve

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Rod Laver and Me

Martin Mulligan (not me) and Rod Laver
I called Tennis Australia in the middle of the Australian Open today thinking "what else have they got to focus on but my search for a long lost relative?"

They took my call. I spoke to a young woman with whom I felt compelled to share my story. "Martin Mulligan, long lost relative. Maybe the last in his line. Lost the Wimbledon Open to Rod Laver in 1962 ( I needed to make the tennis connection quickly). I'm doing some family research" I could hear the wheels turning, her thinking "You're calling Tennis Australia with a family history enquiry?"

Clearly she was well trained in customer relations and rather than hang up on me or remind me that there were hundreds of elite tennis athletes playing for their lives on scorching hot tennis courts all needing her help, she said; "I'll make some enquiries and get someone to call you back." I was pretty sure I would never again hear from TA.

But they have called back - twice.
In the first call, I gave a more succinct version of my life story and asked if they had a listing of a contact for Martin. They promised to check and call back. Which they did, within 15 minutes.
"Sorry but we don't have a contact. He lives in San Francisco I believe." I pressed for more but that's the best they could offer. Christ, how many Martin Mulligans would there be in San Fran!

I decided to push my luck.
"Does Rod Laver live in San Francisco?" I asked. "No" they replied, "I understand he divides his time between Australia and California."  the voice at the end of the Tennis Australia line continued. Isn't San Francisco in California I thought, making a mental note to check my geography on Google Earth.
"Do you think you could get a message to Rod asking him if he is still in contact with Martin?" I asked, or more truthfully suggested, expecting a pretty direct no to a pretty cheeky question. There was a pause....

"I could try and get a message to him."  he said.
"That'd be great" I said. "Should I follow that up with you later?" "No. I'll endeavour to get that message to him for you and we'll see where that takes us."  
"Tell him it's about family" I said as I signed off. "I'll leave it in your hands." 

I fully expect a call from Rod Laver Arena in the midst of some climactic moment in the mens semi-final from the man himself with news of Martin. I'm sure they email each other daily reliving that great battle of 1962.


Oh BTW if you were watching the 7:30 report last night on ABC TV, I appeared fleetingly in the segment on the Griffith (Kevin Rudd) by-election. That was filmed unbeknown to me. It was asimilar experience to my being featured on a commercial news report last year where I was asked in a street interview about some topic I knew little about but had an opinion on anyway - I think it was the use of speed cameras as a revenue raising tool.

Andrea suggests that I'm some kind of media tart - but they chase me not vice-versa. I think I'm just one of the stupid ones who pauses long enough to get caught on film. I'm sure my media profile will make all the difference in getting a response from Rod.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Musgrave Park Pool - near miss

Musgrave Park Pool 1968

I was doing my Wednesday morning laps at the local pool yesterday and intercepted a conversation taking place between two young women swimming in the lanes on either side of me.

One was the  daughter of Alan who has the lease on Musgrave Park Pool. Alan has been managing the pool for quite a few years. He swims every day and puts me to shame, both as a swimmer and in general fitness terms. Turns out Alan is 70. I would have guessed maybe early 60s. But I digress.

 "Was your father a top swimmer?" asked lane 1.
"Yeah, he was a state champion in his day" replied lane 3. "He should have gone to the '64 Olympics. He was dudded by the Australian selectors. He won the national breast-stroke championship but the selectors took the guy who came second and left dad behind." Do children embellish the memories of their fathers I wondered? Or maybe just make things up?

Alan swims well, but at 70 he's no lomger a contender. And come to think of it I don't think I've ever seen Alan doing breast-stroke.

As I left the pool I asked Alan about the story. "Yeah, it's true. I missed out on the Olympics. I came second in the national championships and the selectors took the first and third placegetters." "What was that about?" I asked him. "Dunno really. They thought he would be more likely to perform and be a medal chance than me apparently." I detected a hint of unresolved anger still lingering these 50 years later.

"You must have been a contemporary of Murray Rose?" I added. "Yeah. He was a strange bloke. Kept to himself and didn't really make himself part of the team. He was from a wealthy family, went to a private school." I had recently seen a documentary on Rose. He was a vegetarian, pretty unusual in 1963. Clearly an educated man. "He was very strict. He wouldn't even step inside a butcher's shop when we went shopping for supplies. It wasn't just about health. It was a philosophy."

Rose missed out on selection for the 1964 Olympics because he refused to return from the USA where he was in the middle of filming a B Grade surf movie - Ride the Wild Surf. He fancied himself as an actor. "He did some awful movies." observed Alan.

"The bloke who beat me went on to win the 200m event at the Olympics in world record time." Alan was making a subtle point about the quality of the competition. He had finished second behind the next World Record holder.

His name was Ian O'Brien.

1968 - Is that Alan as a 27year old?
Alan, Ian, Murray.

Only Murray became a household name - understandably so, as he won three gold medals at the Melbourne Olympics and again won Gold in 1960 in Rome. At one time he held the world records in the 400m, 800m, and 1500-metre freestyle.

Still, for me, Musgrave Park Pool, probably the most neglected pool in the city, has gained some gravitas.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

West End III - "Cranbrook" Aboriginal Girls Home

This is the story of making the invisible become visible.

On the bend of the Brisbane River where the St Lucia Reach and Milton Reach meet, a set of stone steps leads from the river bank to a vacant piece of land high above the river.

This was once the site of "Cranbrook", a large Queensland colonial home built in 1885. Waterfront property in the Hill End area of South Brisbane was prime real estate in the late 19th Century. The 1893 flood washed many of the riverfront properties away but Cranbrook survived. It was high enough to escape the worst of the raging torrent.

Perhaps the stock market crash of  the1890s played a part in the next phase of its life for, in 1899, it was purchased by the Qld State Government and converted into an Aboriginal Girls Home where it received girls from across the southern part of the state. These young girls would, for the most part, become domestics in well to do homes of Brisbane's white families. The demand for these girls was high.

The first matron of the home was Frances Meston. She was also Queensland's first Protector of Aboriginal Girls, a position established by the state government when it legislated the "Protection of Aboriginals and Control of the Supply of Opium Act" in 1897. (Full title: An Act to make Provision for the Better Protection and Care of the Aboriginal and Half-Caste Inhabitants of the Colony, and to make more Effectual Provision for Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Opium)

Frances' husband, Archibald Meston, who had advised on the drafting of the Act, was appointed the first Protector of Aboriginals in South Queensland. Popular history has been inclined to deal harshly with Archibald and also Frances, but research reveals that this might not be wholly warranted in that they were well intentioned rather than malicious. Interestingly Frances was in her position for only one year and Archibald for five years.

The matron who succeeded Frances was not at all well intentioned, as the home was shut down in 1906 after numerous complaints regarding its management. "The Act", as it was referred to, resettled large numbers of Aboriginal families on reserves where a permit system operated restricting movement into and out of these reserves. Initially this was used as a way of separating unproductive, ill and 'problematic' Aboriginal people from those working in European industries. Later it was used to create labour pools for white industry and to make those regarded as half-caste, wards of the state to limit the reproduction of part-Aboriginal offspring – the so-called 'half-caste menace' – seen at the time as a threat to an ideal 'White Australia'. The Aboriginal people were under the total control of government officers, missionaries and police.

To my surprise I discovered that this knoll, on the bend in the Brisbane River, in the midst of the Hill End community, was designated a "Reserve" under "The Act" from 1904-1906 to allow the home to operate and the permit system to be enforced.

"The Act" was amended multiple times and additional acts passed varying this regime but it was not until the Commonwealth stepped in and passed the "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-Management) Act" in 1978 that the reserve system came to an end.

Changing face of West End II - Belvedere

Writer David Malouf is perhaps better known than the old mansion, the Belvedere, though the Belvedere (originally named Bandarra) had been in existence for almost 100 years before Malouf wrote his personal account of West End in his 1985 memoir "12 Edmondstone Street".

In his memoir he described his life as the son of Lebanese parents living in Edmondstone Street in the 1940s and 50s. His family home near the corner of Melbourne Street no longer exists. It has been a small business site since the 60s and is about to be redeveloped as an apartment block.                       

He described Edmonstone Street as "the most fashionable area south of the river". He was talking about the 1880s before the global financial downturn of the 1890s and the great flood of 1893 when the Brisbane River peaked three times in one month.

Built in 1888, the Belvedere was a product of this time of prosperity. It survived the flood which inundated Musgrave Park opposite; it also survived conversion to flats in the 1930s which was the fate of many old mansions of that era.

It fell into neglect in the latter part of the 20th Century and, while other buildings were lovingly restored as West End again became an attractive area for investors and cashed up families, the Belvedere continued to sit idle and empty save for a moving population of squatters. The surrounding workers cottages of West End continued to house Greek families, artists and salaried families. 

My Greek barber tells me that the Greek Club purchased the Belvedere about thirty years ago so they hold some responsibility for its slow decay. Their vision for the site was in response to their need for space for expansion and parking. Their application to demolish the decaying mansion led to a protracted battle with the Brisbane City Council which the BCC won insisting on the retention of the Belvedere as a heritage listed building. This was finally resolved in recent months and the Creek Club agreed to restore the home to its former glory.

From reports of those who had been inside, the interior was largely intact. Rare Queensland timbers which had never been painted were evident in the staircases, fireplaces, walls and floring. From the outside it was a heap of junk but inside it still retained the diamond at its core.

On Tuesday 12 November at 6am a fire broke out on its upper level and within an hour only a shell remained. By sunset there was only a pile of rubble.

Police are investigating.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Changing face of West End I - Hellenic House

Writing walking tours of West End can be fraught with challenges. The visibible can disappear and the invisible can become visible.

In the second of the West End Walks series, completed 12 months ago, there are already two major icons which have or will disappear from the walk. They will survive, but in memory only.

In recent weeks billboards have announced that one of the strange but loved icons of local Greek culture is to be replaced by a commercial development. The original Greek Club, their kafeneio, which dates from the sixties and inspired by the design of the Parthenon will become apartments. Something unique replaced by something commonplace.

The greek community have gathered here for almost fifty years. Before that, it was the site of the first Greek Child Care Centre. The land was first purchased in the 1920s, intended as the site for a glorious new Greek Orthodox Church. That plan lapsed and the Church of St George was built at the opposite end of the Edmonstone Street block, much of which is owned by the Greek community. Amusingly the Catholic Church built a block of  apartments for retired clergy on the adjacent corner thwarting aspirations to create a complete Greek block.

On the Edmomstone Street frontage beside the Church of St George sits the relatively new Greek Club (1975) and beside that a property purchased by the Greek Club five years ago with plans for future expansion.

This is the much neglected (and now dearly departed) heritage listed Belvedere Mansion.

The development of the Hellenic House site has been given the name Olympia.