Showing posts with label South Grafton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Grafton. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Plans for future new bridge at Grafton

One of these days, my native town of Grafton in Australia will have a new bridge over the Clarence River. The northern area, which includes the major town of Grafton, will have the following layout:

Click to enlarge slightly

The southern area, which includes my childhood town of South Grafton, will have the following layout:

Click to enlarge slightly

Details of plans for the future bridge can be found in a website of the Roads & Maritime authority. Random remarks about Grafton's old bridge over the Clarence River can be found elsewhere in my Antipodes blog.

The vast extent to which Pound Street is to be modified will certainly change the area where we Skyvington kids grew up, in the company of local friends such as Jimmy Kemmis and Anne Fisher. It might be said that a central zone of the city of Grafton will be transformed into a highway, running alongside Market Square and the clocktower, then through Jacaranda Avenue. To my mind, the old town will find it difficult to survive such an onslaught of road traffic.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Trivial family data that remains a mystery

Apparently my father "Bill" Skyvington, as a teenager in Grafton, had made friends with a well-known family, named Clunies-Ross. It was only recently that I acquired a little information on this friendship, from my father's sister Yvonne Tarrant, but I've never been able to obtain any confirmation whatsoever. My father himself never seems to have mentioned this friendship to any member of my generation. So, one might say that this alleged friendship is such a flimsy tale that I ended up looking upon it as an empty family legend, which somebody (not my father) had invented. Furthermore this friendship legend was trivial, unimportant. But I'll repeat the tale briefly here in my blog, in the vague hope that readers might offer me a little factual data.

Clunies-Ross history and facts

Click here to meet up with historical facts concerning the so-called King of the Cocos Islands. More recent information deals with a descendant of the family who was in charge of scientific research in Australia, and there is even an aged descendant of the family living today in Western Australia. But nowhere in this mass of data is there any mention of members of the Clunies-Ross family who might have become my father's friends.

Story of a phantom vessel in South Grafton, the Induna

On the banks of the Clarence River in South Grafton, rusty remnants of the iron hull of an old vessel, the Induna, are still visible today.

When I was a child, we could clearly observe the perfectly visible form of the celebrated ship that used to transport train elements across the Clarence River before the construction of the bridge in 1932. Click here to read this story, which even includes a vague mention of Winston Churchill.

There seems to be no doubt whatsoever that the vessel, after being towed from Sydney to the Clarence River by the tug Heroic, in late 1924, steamed upriver to Grafton under the command of a certain Captain T. Clunies-Ross. According to our family legend, the captain's family settled down in Grafton, and my father "Bill" Skyvington (born in 1917) made friends with the Clunies-Ross children. That's all I know: certainly not much of a story...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Practical questions

It was only a few years ago that I started to become obsessed by asking various practical questions, and attempting to find answers. Our modern life in society often leads us to ignore many fundamental questions of a practical nature, as if they weren't important enough to merit our attention. For example, countless urban youngsters eat hamburgers regularly without fully understanding all the steps that go into the production of such foodstuffs. For all they know, hamburgers might grow magically on MacDo trees.

When I revisited my native land, ten years ago, I was quite impressed by the widespread presence in Sydney of sushi products, all over the city. My first reaction was to wonder how it came about that so many Australians had acquired the skill of producing sushi. Had they all gone up to Japan and back, for a few weeks, to attend training courses? Had they then installed many modern Japanese kitchens in Sydney, to create these products? The truth of the matter is that all these sushi products were no doubt manufactured by a single firm, in one small factory, and then delivered throughout the city by small vans, in the early hours of the morning.

Over the last few days, I've become fascinated by a trivial practical question concerning the small town in Australia where I grew up, South Grafton. I had received an e-mail from a young man who informed me that his mother had been the daughter of our village baker, named Allan Gregor. It was easy for me to detect the building in which the bakery had existed (when I was a child), for its facade was crowned by a sheaf of wheat. And customers entered the bakery through the left-hand door, behind the reddish automobile.

Click to enlarge slightly

I was instantly intrigued by an obvious question. That bakery must have comprised an oven fueled by wood. So, how did the baker take delivery of wood for his oven, and flour for his dough? For hours, I studied GoogleMaps images, trying to figure out where the wood and flour could have been delivered. It took me some time to realize that there used to be a narrow lane to the right of the bakery, where a tree and a whitish vehicle are located in the above photo. I don't know whether the lane was big enough to allow the presence of a vehicle, but that's a minor question. In the early hours of the morning, a truck could have halted outside the lane, and the baker could have then used a trolley to cart wood and flour along the lane, to the rear end of his bakery.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Waterview folk: Howley and O'Shea

I've often thought that some of our greatest friends in Waterview (South Grafton, Australia), in the late 1940s, were the Howley family. I remember well the charming widowed mother, whose maiden name was Thelma Nasser [1886-1968]. I was told that she was Syrian, and indeed there were folk named Nasser from all over the eastern Mediterranean world. As for her late husband, Michael Howley [1883-1925], he was born in the Nambucca region, and probably of a run-of-the-mill English background. How did he meet up with a Mediterranean girl? Your guess is as good as mine. In any case, they were married in Redfern in 1907.

George Howley was born in 1908, Edward ("Teddy") in 1911 and Amy in 1913. The aviator Roger was probably born soon after, followed by Freddy in 1919 and Sammy in 1921.

We Skyvington kids knew the children of Amy and her estranged husband Joseph O'Shea, married in 1941.

Today, I'm amused to discover that Maureen O'Shea appears to be residing in the old Howley house at 279 Ryan Street (to the left of the house of Maude McMenemy, my piano teacher, whom we referred to as “Mrs Mack”). What's more, Maureen is an anti-CSG combatant, using knitting needles as her sole arm.

                                                                                    — The Daily Examiner

Who said we didn't breed revolutionaries in Waterview?

Just for the record, "a man called Freddy" (an expression I used in one of my family-celebrated childhood school texts about my encounter with a snake at Deep Creek) once showed me a huge jungle knife, and told me that he had used it to kill Japanese opponents. It's a fact that Frederick Howley [1919-1991]—an amusing friend whom I admired and adored—had been a member of the 2nd AIF [Australian Imperial Forces] in the Pacific. For me, Freddy Howley was a marvelous symbol of my Waterview childhood.

Monday, May 14, 2012


When I was a schoolboy, we were expected to learn an assortment of curious old units of weights and measures. One of the strangest of these obsolete specimens—which came down to Australians as part of our British heritage—was the furlong: a distance of 1/8 of a mile, 220 yards. Initially, the furlong was a medieval term associated with the use of bullocks to plow a field.

The Anglo-Saxon legend is "God Spede ye Plough and send us Korne enow": an invocation to the plow to perform its function efficiently, so as to yield enough corn.

At Waterview in South Grafton, my Walker uncles used a pair of draft horses to plow their land. And their grandfather Charles Walker [1851-1918] was a so-called teamster, in charge of a bullock team that transported timber.

As the original expression "furrow long" suggests, a furlong was the length of a furrow in a plowed field. A wit suggested that, to please nostalgic rural Brits, automobile speeds might be indicated today in furlongs per fortnight. In my native land, the term "furlong" survived in the domain of horse racing, but Australia finally changed to metric distances in 1972.

Over the last week or so, I've been brought back in contact with ancient English units of measure through my work on Skeffington genealogy. Now that I've completed my book whose title is They Sought the Last of Lands [access], I've moved back to the challenge of assembling a greatly-revised version of a document whose new title is Skeffington One-Name Study [access].

It will start with the Norman Conquest and attempt to describe how the patriarchal family from Leicestershire flowed out into several corners of the British Isles, including (in the case of my recent ancestors) Dorset.

Details of the original manor in the settlement of Sceaftinga tûn are available through the Domesday Book, which can now be viewed freely on the web [access]. The settlement is described here on line #6:

The settlement referred to in Domesday (1086) as Sciftitone belonged entirely to King William. It included 12 carucates of plowed land (1440 acres, or some 583 hectares), a mill and 6 square furlongs (24 hectares) of woodland.

I now realize that, before being able to write correctly about the ancient origins of the Skeffington family, I'll need to broaden my technical knowledge, not only of land measures, but of feudalism in general and the old manorial system.

Talking about plowed land, I took this photo today of my neighbor's cousin, who brought his tractor across from Châtelus and spent an hour or so preparing the earth at Gamone for Jackie's vegetable garden.

Thinking back to my childhood in Australia—and my lessons about archaic furlongs, rods, carucates and so forth—I now realize that we were no doubt closer in spirit to the Anglo-Saxon fellow in the drawing at the top of this blog post than to the modern mechanized neighbor in the above photo. Hey, that's a great revelation: I grew up in medieval surroundings!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Childhood memories of Waterview

In the dark lounge room of the Walker house at Waterview, there was an upright piano. I had started to take weekly piano lessons from an old lady named Maude McMenemy, whom we referred to as “Mrs Mack”. I recall waiting on her front verandah, listening to the end of an ongoing lesson and saying to myself that, if this were music, then I wanted no part of it. Maude Mack’s basic weakness was her own inability to play the piano skillfully and artistically. She would thump the keyboard angrily as if she were punishing the instrument for not producing beautiful sounds, and there was nothing in her teaching approach that might have inspired me to take an interest in learning music.

Once, in the middle of a lesson, there was an electricity blackout. Mrs Mack went into her kitchen and fetched a wax candle. No sooner had she lit it than the lights came back on, whereupon my teacher lamented: “Ah, I’ve wasted a match.” When my mother heard this anecdote, she was most amused. The exclamation about wasting a match became a permanent element of our Waterview repertory of humor.

At that time, at the South Grafton primary school, my schoolmates commonly assumed that I was enamored of a young lady named Nancy McDiarmid, who happened to be the daughter of the local Presbyterian clergyman. While it may have been the case that we were attracted to one another, I'm obliged to admit that I have no precise recollections of my yearning for her, or going out of my way to meet up with her. Be that as it may, we were suddenly thrown together through the piano, and the desire of Mrs Mack to have her pupils perform in public. It was decided that Nancy and I would combine our pianistic talents as duettists for a performance of a piece called Carnival of Venice at the forthcoming Jacaranda Festival in Grafton. I seem to recall that we practiced together once or twice at Nancy’s house up on the hill at South Grafton. For the actual performance—which went over quite well—Nancy looked cute in a pale mauve cotton frock (to match the color of our festival trees), while I sported a dark mauve necktie.

[Click to enlarge]

Meanwhile, I persevered with my scales and elementary pieces on the instrument at Grandma’s place. Obviously, for those within earshot—such as my uncles—the sounds I created were dull, if not unpleasant. One day, I discovered by chance that I could reproduce the melodies of songs I heard on the radio, and harmonize the music with my left hand using three chords: tonic, dominant and subdominant. Not surprisingly, the members of the Walker household found my improvisations slightly less monotonous than the scales. When I sensed that I was annoying my listeners less than before, this encouraged me to develop my skills in “playing by ear” (as this ability was described). From that point on, I lost interest in learning to read music and concentrated exclusively upon the art of inventing richer methods of improvisation. But I soon realized that I was clearly not marked out to become a competent pianist.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Holy spirited driver

My mother used to tell us an amusing anecdote about a car excursion from South Grafton to the beach at Yamba. Her oldest brother, Eric Walker, was at the wheel, while their mother (whom my siblings and I always referred to as Grandma) was seated in the rear. Suddenly, on a narrow stretch of the highway running alongside the Clarence River, they were overtaken in a dangerous manner by a speeding vehicle. They noticed immediately that it was the black sedan owned by the Roman Catholic church of South Grafton. The driver, alone in the vehicle, was the local parish priest, Father O'Meara. Eric was so startled that he started to curse the priest, whereupon Grandma came to the defense of the speeding ecclesiastic.

GRANDMA: He has probably received a phone call asking him to rush to the bedside of a dying parishioner.

ERIC: Like bloody hell. He's speeding to get to the pub in Maclean in time for a beer before closing time.

I thought of that anecdote when I read an amazing article in today's Australian media. A few days ago, the local priest from South Grafton, Father Peter Jones, was stopped by police for driving dangerously on the road from South Grafton to Yamba, in the vicinity of Maclean. Alarmed drivers had phoned the police when they saw the priest's white Toyota zigzagging from one side of the road to the other.

[Click the photo of Father Jones to access a newspaper article]

When a police officer attempted to use a hand-held breathalyzer to determine the priest's blood-alcohol state, his intoxication was so high that the machine was incapable of supplying a result. So the offender was taken to the police station in Maclean, where a more sturdy apparatus gave a reading of 0.341. Not only was this result some seven times the legal limit, but the drunken priest supplied one of the highest blood-alcohol readings ever recorded in the history of the New South Wales police. A specialist explained that guzzling down beer alone would not be able to produce such a high reading. So, the priest had surely been imbibing a large quantity of far more potent spirits. Thank God that nobody struck a match near the good man, for they might have all been consumed in a ball of fire.

My grandmother would have said that, in such a state of inebriation, the priest was surely being protected from an accident by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My brother

If Don Skyvington were alive today, he would have turned 70.

Our father Bill Skyvington happened to die at this same date, four days short of his 61st birthday: October 12, 1978. In other words, I see myself today (absurd arithmetic) as ten years older than my father at the time of his death.

The last time I saw Don was in 2006, at the same pleasant place in Brisbane—the Georgina Hostel at 694 Wynnum Road, Morningside (destined to receive indigenous oldtimers)—where Don would finally die of fatigue (brought on by a mysterious affliction that had pursued him for decades) on June 7, 2009.

[Clicking the image won't, unfortunately, remove the telephone post.]

I've always considered this song by John Williamson as a perfect celebration of Don's life:

Today, most of the actors in Don's existence seem to have disappeared, apart from our sisters Anne, Susan and Jill (all residing in NSW) and my cherished friend Bruce Hudson (in the NSW town of Young). And me, of course.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A river and a bridge

My mother’s eldest brother, Eric Walker, liked to point out in his typical loudspoken manner that I was conceived under Bawden’s Bridge, located to the west of Grafton on the Glen Innes Road, some 20 kilometers beyond the home of the Walkers at Waterview.

He never made it clear, though, how he had obtained that trivial piece of knowledge. Besides, I could not understood why he seemed to take pleasure in shouting out this information every now and again. I can imagine a scenario in which Eric (a 29-year-old bachelor nicknamed “Farmer”) had accompanied his 21-year-old sister Kath (my future mother) and her 22-year-old boyfriend Bill Skyvington (my future father) on an excursion to Bawden’s Bridge. Counting nine months backwards from my date of birth, I imagine that the excursion must have taken place around Christmas 1939. Maybe the trip to Bawden’s Bridge was a family outing on the warm afternoon following the traditional midday Christmas dinner of spiced roast chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, steamed pudding and bottled lager. It is perfectly plausible that my future parents, inspired by the balmy atmosphere on the banks of the splendid Orara River, decided to find a secluded shady spot under the lofty span of the bridge where they could make love. Did they realize that Kath’s big brother Eric was spying on them? I shall never know. In any case, Eric was probably not accustomed to seeing live demonstrations of human sexual activities in the environment of the dairy farm at Waterview, and this chance happening starring his young sister must have impressed him greatly.

If anybody were to ask me what I thought of my parents’ choice of Bawden’s Bridge as a place to conceive me (which is not exactly the kind of question that people often ask), I would reply unhesitatingly that it was an excellent decision... although I am aware, of course, that they probably did not really do any explicit choosing. It was the sultry atmosphere and their passion that did the deciding.

The Orara—a tributary of the Clarence—is such a splendid river that one of Australia’s best-known poets, Henry Kendall [1839-1882], even celebrated it. Had my uncle Eric been a lover of poetry (which was not the case), here are verses from Kendall’s poem that he might have recited, in the shadow of the old bridge, while the young lovers went about the task of conceiving me:
The world is round me with its heat,

And toil, and cares that tire;

I cannot with my feeble feet

Climb after my desire.

But, on the lap of lands unseen,

Within a secret zone,

There shine diviner gold and green

Than man has ever known.

And where the silver waters sing

Down hushed and holy dells,

The flower of a celestial Spring —

A tenfold splendour, dwells.

Yea, in my dream of fall and brook

By far sweet forests furled,

I see that light for which I look

In vain through all the world —

The glory of a larger sky

On slopes of hills sublime,

That speak with God and morning, high

Above the ways of Time!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Black labrador

I've acquired the latest version of Photoshop Elements. Bewildered by its amazing visual gimmicks, I'll need to get used to employing this tool in place of my archaic existing software. Here's a start.

The dog comes through quite clearly, in spite of my massive filtering. A splendid black labrador with a red collar. His owner in pink and white was another affair. Did I take this photo because I was charmed by the dog, or rather by his lovely mistress? Or maybe both? The Bourne at Pont-en-Royans has always been Sophia's summer Riviera.

Sophia discovered the black dog, and they frolicked around in the water. Then the mistress (whom I had not noticed) emerged slowly from the river, like Ondine, nymph of the waters. She didn't seem to see me. She gazed solely upon the black labrador. This was normal. She had no reason to acknowledge my presence, whereas the black labrador was her dog. This lady was superbly beautiful in her aquatic pink and white simplicity, with her feet lost in the stony sands of the shallow Bourne.

I recalled this kind of shock, many moons ago, in a similar setting, on the banks of the Dordogne, in the region of our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Having arrived in France a few months previously, I was on my first hitchhiking excursion. And a juvenile Ondine emerged from the ancient river—like all self-respecting water nymphs—when I was least expecting a vision. In fact, I wasn't expecting anything much at all, since I had just sat down in the hot air to gnawl at a sandwich.

Nymphean visions are rare and precious, as Vladimir Nabokov explains elegantly in his Lolita. These days, unfortunately, sentiments of this kind tend to get churned up crudely in the meat-mincer labeled pedophilia… particularly in my native Australia, where they don't refrain (until the censor moves in) from exhibiting stupid little bum-twitching girls on TV variety shows.

Personally, my life has been dominated (the word is not too strong) by a nymphean vision that overcame me when I was an 11-year-old boy in South Grafton. Half a century later, when I was revisiting my home town, I hastened to take a photo of all that remained: the pair of quaint houses in Spring Street, just opposite the Catholic school, where I had once glimpsed, for a few minutes, the girl in the fawn dress.

I've never known anything about her beyond the fact that her uniform identified her as a pupil at the Catholic school. In my eyes, she was divinely glorious, for reasons I never understood… and still don't. In a way, she was a sunburnt version of the lady in blue seen at Lourdes by Bernadette Soubirous. Visions are visions, and we can't hope to analyze them. Nymphs are nymphs.

The black labrador in the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans would understand me. His mistress stared at him, motionlessly. Her simple presence demanded obedience. Her boyish haircut evoked Joan of Arc… but the only flames were in my feverish regard. She was so lovely, staring at her dog (with never a glace at me, the photographer), that I felt like a voyeur… which I certainly was. But that mild sentiment of shame didn't prevent me from adjusting the frame and pressing the button of my Nikon. Her small breasts were held tight by a cross-over garment that rose behind her slender neck. She was wearing white cotton thigh-length trousers that accentuated her Venus-like thighs. Above all, her simple pose was strangely passive, as if she were awaiting a reaction from the black labrador. She was the dog's mistress, certainly, but it was the black labrador who would dictate her next move. Against the green background of the Bourne, it was a poem in black, white and pink, built upon a dog and a water nymph.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Blue people

When I was out in Western Australia with my son François, in 1987, at the time of the fabulous America's Cup regattas, we collected various trivial souvenirs… including three Louis Vuitton bags and a stock of Moët Hennessy champagne that were awarded to me as a prize for my having predicted (with the help of software I wrote specially for my Macintosh box) the winner of the cup for contenders. A classy trophy was a sky-blue wind-jacket as worn by members of Bruno Troublé's organizing committee. François had picked this up from one of his girlfriends employed in this committee. Since it wasn't the sort of jacket he wished to wear around Fremantle, François promptly gave it to me… as is often the case with corny clothes he picks up. (That's how I acquired a fabulous yak-wool jacket from Siberia. I once created a sensation by wearing it to a meeting of local folk in Choranche… and that, I believe, is how I came to be respected, if not feared, in this one-horse cowboy village. You've got to be careful when you're dealing with a guy in a yak-wool jacket. Thanks, François.)

Well, getting back to the Louis Vuitton yachting jacket, I once wore it to an outdoor concert at the Jacques Brel festival in the Dauphiné village of St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, where I was settled for three months in the summer of 1993. A vicious Parisian stand-up comic named Merri was in search of a victim for his next act: "Hey, I need a volunteer up here on the stage. How about that guy down in the middle of the tenth row, the Schtroumpf." [In English, the exotic term Schtroumpf is rendered by a duller invention: Smurf.] I realized immediately that, thanks to my fine sky-blue Louis Vuitton jacket, it was me, the Schtroumpf. So, I schtroumpfed up onto the stage and allowed Merri to make a fool of me. The following morning, I tossed that jacket into the trash can alongside the ancient church in the middle of the village. I didn't wish to be recognized as Merri's Schtroumpf for the rest of my stay at St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.

Recently, Schtroumpfish blue skin and four fingers (unless you're a hybrid avatar, retaining five fingers) have become quite fashionable.

On the other hand, people have said that this extraordinary movie gives certain viewers the blues (weak pun intended). A Romanian woman has even claimed that her daughter committed suicide after seeing James Cameron's masterpiece. Maybe the kid was depressed when she realized that she would never be able to look like lovely Neytiri, and romp through tropical jungles floating in the clouds. For me too, after watching that movie in a cinéma at Romans, it was a letdown to get back into my old Citroën and drive home to Gamone.

A few days ago, I saw an intriguing article about a Californian fellow, Paul Karason, who's a victim of an ailment called argyria. His skin turned blue because of his use of colloidal silver as a dermatological product. If, like me, you did not know that silver was once used as a medical agent, then click here.

This story rung a bluebell in my childhood memories. At a pharmacy in South Grafton, in the 1940s, one of the employees was a blue man. As a child, I was intrigued by this phenomenon, but I never learned exactly what had produced this strange situation… apart from "health problems". A few days ago, when I brought up this topic with my sister Anne Skyvington-Onslow (who's an expert on all things weird and wonderful in our birthplace), she informed me that this man had been a patient of the great local physician and statesman Earle Page, who was a surgeon and gynecologist with his own private hospital in the heart of South Grafton.

Out in Australia in 2006, I took a photo of the miraculously-surviving glass panel with the name of this obstetric clinic in Through Street, South Grafton, where Earle Page (a future prime minister of Australia) had given birth to my mother Kathleen Walker in 1918.

If I understand correctly, Earle Page had removed a diseased lung from the South Grafton pharmacist. Bravo! Apparently, the patient was treated with colloidal silver, as an antibiotic, which explains why he developed argyria and turned blue. A recent distinguished commentator (the Australian academic Carl Bridge) suggested that this blue-skinned pharmacist in South Grafton served as a constant colorful reminder, to customers, of the surgical excellence of Earle Page. Today, I would prefer to consider that this poor blue man was a living monument to an age of archaic medicine.

As I pointed out to my sister Anne, that same blue pharmacist once sold me a little brown-glassed bottle of silver nitrate, enabling me (at the age of eleven) to test a hobbyist formula for the production of photographic paper. Happily, I never posed any industrial threat to Kodak and Ilford… and I washed my hands well after my experiments. So, I'm still basically white… or pinkish in summer.

Some people would say that blue is a rather unnatural color, because it doesn't occur very often in nature. But Christine tells me that neighbors in her Breton village are growing blue-skinned potatoes. And there are a couple of marvelous lines in a poem, Le Dormeur du Val, by Arthur Rimbaud [1854-1891].

Un soldat jeune bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu.

A slain soldier lies open-mouthed, naked-headed, and his neck is shrouded in crisp blue watercress. The color of that watercress has intrigued generations of literary critics.

Finally, the major evangelist of blueness was surely the painter Yves Klein [1928-1962], for whom it was a fetishistic hue… long before our discovery of the people on the planet Pandora.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bye Bargy

My uncle Isaac Kennedy Walker—known variously as "Farmer", "Ken" or "Bargy" (baby talk for the word baby)—was the last male of the branch of the Braidwood Walkers who settled on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales.

I was in regular phone contact with him over the last few years, but his degraded hearing made it hard to communicate.

I received from my dear uncle Bargy, a few years ago, a signet ring that belonged to our Irish ancestor Isaac Kennedy [1844-1934]. On that occasion, I promised my uncle that I would do my best to perpetuate the memory of our Irish ancestors named Kennedy. Today, I repeat solemnly that pledge.

See my blog and website concerning my maternal ancestors.

I'm sad that Bargy has left us (at an advanced age), because he was one of my primary links with the past, and I had imagined that I might meet up with him again, one of these days, out in Australia.

Bye Bargy...

Monday, June 8, 2009


The coloring of this portrait of Don and me is simplistic:

That's because the tints were applied manually by me, when I was about eleven, during a period when I liked to fiddle around with photos.

During our childhood at Waterview, South Grafton, Don and I used to listen to country music performed by a fellow named Buddy Williams, who had got around to incorporating a variant of Swiss yodeling into his songs. Today, these songs strike us as rather corny, but we loved to listen to them constantly on our archaic gramophone with a wind-up spring. I've found a few YouTube samples of Buddy Williams songs that Don himself used to imitate, accompanied by his steel-stringed guitar.

Where the White-Faced Cattle Roam

Music in My Pony's Feet

Riding Home at Sundown

Here's an old photo of the cattle saleyards at South Grafton where Don once worked as an auctioneer:

On a nearby corner, in Ryan Street, there was a well-known pub: the Royal Hotel. Bruce Hudson reminded me that, one day, as a prank, a stockman had ridden a horse up the staircase, onto the first floor, and the publican found it impossible to persuade the animal to go back down again. (I can imagine my donkey in such a situation.) Finally, the only way of getting the horse back to ground level consisted of blindfolding it and dragging the poor animal down the stairs. As for the rumor that the stockman in question might have been my brother, I have no idea whatsoever...

I remember Don talking to me about the harsh cattle track along the Diamantina River, north of Birdsville, as if it were an awesome roadway to Paradise. This magnificent ballad by John Williamson is a subtle musical tribute to my brother's memory:

In the following photo showing Don at Wave Hill, the fellow in the white shirt is his friend Sabu Singh, born of Chinese and Aboriginal parents, who went on to become the manager of a large cattle station:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

In the next photo, in black-and-white, Don is standing alongside a desolate Outback homestead:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

In the following photo, Don is standing alongside his horse:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

Finally, here's a photo of Don and our mother at South Grafton:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Donald Charles Skyvington [1941-2009]

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

After several decades of cerebral problems, difficult to elucidate and apparently impossible to treat, my brother Don died peacefully this evening in Brisbane, Queensland. During our childhood in South Grafton, New South Wales, Don was outstanding in many rural domains. From an early age, he was an exceptional bush horseman. Above all, he had an understanding of beef cattle that enabled him to be employed, when he was still a youth, as a professional auctioneer in the beef-cattle saleyards of South Grafton. It was there, unfortunately, when Don was still a child, that a thoughtless individual had slapped my brother's pony on the rump, causing it slip over and fall on Don's head, no doubt provoking internal lesions that were responsible for problems that reappeared constantly throughout his life. Much later, Don worked as a stockman with Aboriginal drovers on an Outback cattle station, in particularly rough conditions. In a profound Australian sense, Don was an eternal man of the bush, of a rare pioneering kind, like our father. In happier times, when I could communicate with him easily, we got along extremely well together. Among other things, shortly before I left Australia, we shared a flat in Sydney for a short time, and Don taught me how to play the cowboy guitar. A nurse who has been caring for my brother over the years told me recently that Don was very happy to tell people that his brother Billy had a family in France. Meanwhile, Don received regular visits from our three sisters: Anne (living in Coogee, whose evocation of our brother can be found here), Susan (Mullumbimby) and Jill (Woolgoolga).

For the rain never falls on the dusty Diamantina
And a drover finds it hard to change his mind
For the years have surely gone
Like the drays from Old Cork Station
And I won't be back till the drovin's done
John Williamson

Several old photos of our brother can be found on this brief web page.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Street view

Over the last couple of days, I've started work on another chapter of my maternal genealogy, concerning ancestors from Ireland. In fact, they were basically Scottish Protestants who had formed so-called "plantations" in Ulster, in order to propagate the English language and import the Protestant faith into Catholic Ireland. I'm not surprised that such transplanted folk found it an attractive idea, in the middle of the 19th century, to abandon their adopted land in Northern Ireland and move out to New South Wales. Meanwhile, during the century and a half since then, Ulster hasn't yet got over the cultural turmoil created by these British squatters who once decided to settle in the Gaelic isle.

Here's a photo of my aged great-grandfather Isaac Kennedy in my native town of South Grafton:

He was born in a plantation context in County Fermanagh in 1844, and arrived in New South Wales in 1866. This photo would have been taken in the early 1930s, not long before Isaac's death at the age of 90.

Isaac's massive gold signet ring was inherited by his grandson, my uncle Isaac Kennedy Walker. Today, my uncle—whom we've always nicknamed Bargy—lives in Coffs Harbour, where he turned 93 last January. Aware of my fondness for family history, Bargy recently passed this ring on to me.

Yesterday, while looking at the above photo of Isaac Kennedy, I started wondering where exactly in South Grafton it might have been taken. So, last night, I phoned Bargy and asked him where his grandfather used to live. Bargy's reply: "Somewhere in Spring Street." This morning, I opened Google Maps, displayed Spring Street in South Grafton, and turned on the street-view device. I imagined that, in the secluded neighborhood of Spring Street, the old Kennedy house might still exist, along with its original fence. I said to myself that there couldn't be too many old properties with a quaint white fence like that, whose palings slope up to the fence posts. Sure enough, I soon came upon an image of an old house with a fence of that kind.

I enlarged a section of the fence, and filtered it with Photoshop to examine closely the palings.

There's no doubt in my mind that this is Isaac's front fence. Besides, Google Maps indicates street numbering. So, this tool has enabled me to learn that my ancestor, a solitary widower, spent the final years of his life in a nice-looking old house at 46 Spring Street, South Grafton.