Sunday, August 7, 2016

Welcome to my new blog

Welcome to my new blog, Julia's Life Writing, where I plan to post pieces of my life writing and commentaries on other life writing. My life writing includes memoir, family history and travel memoir. 

I used to think the family stories on my father's side had all been told, because in 1990 members of our family contributed to a family history book that is now in the collection of National Library of Australia.

A Battle against the odds: stories of our pioneering families on Norfolk Island, the Hawkesbury River, Mulgrave Place, Green Hills, Box Hill and Nelson.

But now I realise that there are plenty more stories to tell.

My first piece of writing is a family snapshot about my paternal great aunt Eileen Smith. who also makes a brief appearance in A Battle against the odds. When I came across this fantastic photo of her as a young girl I had to write something of my memories of Eileen.

                                       Eileen Smith circa 1910

Childhood memories of Christmas Eve visits to Aunty Eileen

Every Christmas Eve in the 1950s, Dad used to take us to visit his aunty Eileen who lived above a shop on Parramatta Road in Ashfield, Sydney. Eileen was born in Nelson, New South Wales, in 1893 and married late in life to a teacher, Terence Beckett. They did not have children. Their home was in a old Victorian-era building and the entrance was up a long dark staircase. It had something of a gothic feel to it, with embroidered cushions and tapestries of lions and tigers on the walls and my childish imagination used to run wild. The adults would sit around drinking sherry, while we children would eat Christmas cake and stare at the old paintings and tapestries.

Dad had a legion of aunts and uncles as his father was one of 10 children. Eileen was the youngest and reputedly the rebel in the family. In reality all that meant was she was brazen enough to challenge the teachings of the Catholic Church and she loved shocking the more devout members of the family. On one occasion the parish priest came around with a vial of holy water ready to bless the family home. He proceeded to enter each room tipping the water into his hand and sprinkling it around. But Eileen was sceptical of the whole procedure and quipped: 'so does that mean we don't need to get the Flick man again?'

Aunty Eileen was very musical, played the piano and had an wonderful singing voice. She and her sister heard Dame Nellie Melba perform in Sydney the early days.

In 1946, when my mother and three-year-old Pat arrived from Canada, Dad took them around to meet his Australian family. All the clan were gathered in the front parlour of our grandparents' home in Churchill Avenue, Strathfield. As they entered the room aunty Eileen, seated at the piano, burst into song – a rousing rendition of O Canada. My mother was totally overwhelmed.

In the 1960s Eileen and her older sister, Margaret, moved into an aged care home in Rooty Hill, Sydney. Eileen was still a feisty, independent lady, even in her 80s and she would take the train alone all the way into the centre of Sydney, with a handbag full of cash for shopping. The family were always fearful she would get mugged, and begged her not to go, but that just made her more determined. Eileen died in Sydney in 1986 at the grand old age of 93.

No comments:

Post a Comment