Showing posts with label Waterview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Waterview. Show all posts

Saturday, February 8, 2014

On the far side of the cover

This is my final cover design for the family history of my mother’s people in Australia, which is about to be published by Gamone Press in the form of a 266-page hard-cover book in Royal Octavo format (15.6 cm wide and 23.4 cm high) with a laminated cover:

Click to enlarge

Readers with an idea of all that is involved in book publishing will be aware that, behind such a simple layout, there are many technical and editorial issues. Then there’s the question, on the back cover, of how a 73-year-old author of a family-history book might refer to himself. As you can see, for the circumstances, I’ve become Waterview “Billy”.

Does such a personage still exist today… or is the present-day old-timer (and blogger) at Gamone named William Skyvington a totally different individual? That’s an interesting and indeed profound philosophical question. To my mind, “Billy” still exists… but in a ferociously new-born fashion, where almost all the Jacarandas and bendy bridges behind him have been burnt.

A single marvelous tree remains. In fact, a frail sapling. A mythical female phantom. I shall refer to her forever, simply (in any case, I never knew her name), as the girl in the fawn dress. Once upon a time, I caught a glimpse of her as I was waiting for the school bus in South Grafton. She was an angel. Unbelievably beautiful, but ethereal and untouchable, beyond the bounds of my contacts. She was a Catholic kid: a pupil of the school run by the nuns of South Grafton. In my mind, there has always been a photographic image of the house where she lived. It was the humble abode of Mary. It was unthinkable, of course, that I might ever dare to knock on that door. Meanwhile, I have spent my life searching for her. The girl in the fawn dress...

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!

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!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bush humor when I was a Waterview kid

This is the cover of a famous Australian weekly magazine, Pix, dated 23 September 1946 (the eve of my 6th birthday). The woman is the US actress Rita Hayworth [1918-1987], and we see from a news heading on the cover that she has just started a "new dance craze". I would imagine that they're referring to the jitterbug, which had been spread throughout the planet (including jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter of Paris) by the American GIs. Pix was a popular photo-journalistic magazine with a huge readership: nearly a million Australians.

At home in Waterview, Pix was regular reading for everybody, along with The Daily Examiner and The Women's Weekly. As a child, I probably wasn't particularly excited about Rita Hayworth and the jitterbug. The item that amused me most of all in Pix was the regular cartoon by Eric Jolliffe, whose specialty was Aussie outback humor… or funny bush drawings, as we would have said. The central personage was a rough rural fellow known as Saltbush Bill, who was always attired in a felt hat and black waistcoat.

Saltbush Bill lived with his large family in an environment that might be thought of as harsh and primitive, where he was perpetually faced with typical bush problems.

To a certain extent, we rural folk at Waterview were probably in mild empathy with Saltbush Bill and his caricatural milieu. Snakes in tree stumps, for example, were an everyday affair… like spiders, heat, dust, flies and backyard lavatories, etc. I hasten to point out, however, that we knew nothing whatsoever (for geographical reasons) of a dimension that was constantly present in Saltbush Bill's universe: the Aborigines, inevitably depicted by Jolliffe—in a way that would be ethically unthinkable today—as incredibly primitive. If ever Saltbush Bill appeared in an urban environment, it was usually a matter of finding solutions to his rural problems. Here, for example, he's dropping in on the local blacksmith:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

The caption is typically banal, since words played a relatively minor role in Jolliffe's work. Saltbush Bill informs the blacksmith that the name of his old horse is Flattery, "because it never gets me anywhere".

PARENTHESIS: I'm intrigued by the construction technique for the post-office roof. I don't recall having seen anything like that in Australia. Apparently the external wooden frame is intended to keep the sheets of corrugated iron in place. As a guess, I would imagine that the purpose of this technique was to avoid the use of nails, since there would have been several obvious advantages in not using nails. First, you didn't need to have a system of solid rafters capable of receiving roof nails. Then you didn't have to puncture the corrugated metal, allowing rain to leak in. Finally, you didn't have to go into town and purchase nails. I would imagine that the external framework was tied together with wire or string. And, if the metal sheets got blown off in a storm, it would have been easy to put them back in place.

Now, just to make it clear that my authentic family environment was only remotely associated with that of Saltbush Bill, here's a photo of my grandfather Charles Walker [1882-1937], attired in a fine Sunday suit and shiny shoes, with a watch chain stretched across his waistcoat, and a cigarette in his left hand:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

As they say in the movies: All characters appearing in Jolliffe's work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.