Cemeteries, Dairies and Nut Trees – Merlynston Part 1

So my earliest memories of space are of the immediate neighbourhood in Box Hill South.  If I may digress before I even get into this post, I found out this week that one of the blokes I now work with lived around the corner from me and in fact knew some of the kids I went to school with.  It is a small world.
And back then it was even smaller.  Childhood memories sometimes play like incomplete scenes in a movie and different days run into one another so we end up with an amalgam of images rather than distinct chapters and such are my memories of Merlynston.
Most people in Melbourne have never heard of this tiny suburb north of Coburg and on the edge of the Fawkner Cemetery.   For a time my Grandfather was a grave digger there and a Chapel is named after my Uncle who for a long time was on the Board of the cemetery trust.
I was born not far from there and Mum moved back into a bungalow at the back of my Grandparents place at 55 Orvieto Street after I was born whilst they were saving for their own home.   They had been living in a flat at Mordialloc for a few years. 
But my memories of Merlynston don’t stretch back quite that far, they in fact begin on any one of dozens of weekends when we visited Nana and Pa which seemed to be at least fortnightly, usually on a Sunday.  Now here my cousins may in fact say that my memories of Orvieto Street may well differ from theirs but for me they are very vivid.
Pa would generally meet us on the front porch and usually he’d have a 2 shilling piece to give us.  Pa had his voice box removed after getting cancer of the larynx the year I was born and it was a source of grim fascination that he had a hole in his throat covered with a gauze square.  He sort of talked with a wheezing croak that was really hard for me to understand.   I wonder what his voice was like – did ne sing, did he have a baritone or tenor?
On the wall in the foyer was a crushed velvet belt containing badges that Pa had collected during his time with the New Zealand army in the First World War.  On a cabinet at the end was a photo of my Uncle Keith in uniform and I have this vague recollection of a photograph of the Queen.   On the side wall was a portrait of Nana’s Mum and Dad.
But it is the smell that stays with me mostly.  Nana would inevitably be baking and the smells of fresh scones and roasting meat would greet us as we walked inside the front door.  I loved the scones piping hot from the oven covered in melted butter and smothered in vegemite.
The lounge room to the left had a piano and Nana would sometimes sit down and play it for us and my favourite part were the big club chairs which I would perch myself in and read from the set of encyclopedia from a bookcase against one wall.   In later years Nana had a huge 26 inch black and white TV with a hard wired remote control.  I remember being fascinated by being able to actually sit in a chair and change a channel or turn the volume up and down.  It was to be years before we had one at home.
The back yard had a lemon tree which legend had it was well watered by the men of the family.  At the back of the yard was a wood shed and a chook house and if we were lucky, Pa would allow us to go down and collect the eggs.  There was a massive nut tree – walnuts I think – that dominated one corner of the yard and my cousins Paul and I spent a fair bit of time climbing it.
But the magic place was Pa’s garage which we used to sneak into and poke around.  It was full of tools and the cut down wagon that Pa used to push around the streets of Coburg whilst he collected beer bottles for return to the brewery.  I still marvel at him as an octogenarian with one leg shorter than the other because he got blown up in France in the First World War, and no voice box because he had it removed as a 72 year old, pushing a cart laden with hessian sacks full of beer bottles for miles oblivious to the traffic he was holding up.  In 1974 Pa was the first of my Grandparents to pass away and I have always counted myself lucky that I had all of them with me for so long.

There is much more to write about Merlynston and that will come shortly.  I have asked my sisters and cousins to make a contribution as well and will post them as they come.
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Grief and the remembering

I guess there are times when I wish that grief was something that didn’t touch me – but it does.  In unexpected places, at unexpected times, I sometimes find myself thinking I should call Mum and see how she is, I look at some of my families profile pics on Facebook and see them with Mum staring back at me.  Stangely though I feel as if I am coping much better this time than I did when Dad died in 2004.  Maybe that’s because we did have the chance to say goodbye and maybe because having lost one parent, you realise that time does heal the pain of the loss.

My sisters and I have spoken about writing down some of our memories and any followers of this blog will know that much of the suject matter for me has been about growing up.  But the need now is to ensure that the things we saw as normal 50 years ago for us as a family are recorded for those who come after who may be interested.  The other reason is that our perceptions of events and what we remember is totally different so being lucky enough to have two sisters gives me the chance to tap into things that they recall and fill in some of my own gaps.

So I’m going to set them a challenge by having them pick a photograph and write about it to see where it leads.  And I’ll share what they say on here so the record is in the one spot.

My Grandfather Name

My youngest daughter recently asked me what I would like the fuure Grandchildren to call me and I would like to point out here that at 16 I hope she won’t be presenting me with any anytime soon.

My Dad’s Dad was Pa, my Mum’s Dad was Grandad and my Dad was Grandad, so I thought I would go for something different.  I will be Obi Wan much to the disgust of my daughters who have revoked the right for me to name myself.

When an old man dies….

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to claim just one more hour with the men who were in your life. I say men, but it could be women too. But I say men because most of us don’t communicate very well. It seems to me that much of a man’s social contact and interaction is on the level of the superficial, the deep and meaningful is not something we’re good at. Just look at the number of women who complain about that. Venus and Mars maybe, and in my case that has certainly been the case.

Many years ago now I started work on my family tree and was fortunate enough to find that I was descended from at least four Irish convicts who were transported to the colonies for a number of reasons, sheep and cow stealing during the famine amongst them. I say fortunate because in those cases the records are fairly extensive and I was able to fill in some of the mysteries by painting their faces based on the descriptions in the records – protruding brow, pock marked face and other colourful characteristics.

But the personal insights are missing from my knowledge of most of those ancestors. What saddens me more though is that for the most part, so is the personal of those whose lifetimes have intersected part of mine as well. When my grandfathers were around I didn’t think to ask questions that would tell me of their lives as children and young men.

On Dad’s side I wish I’d asked my Pa about the mud of the Somme and the desert of the pyramids in World War 1, of the reasons why he ran away from home as a 13 year old, of how he found his way by boat to New Zealand and worked as a sleeper cutter. I would love to know why he joined the New Zealand Army and why after he was wounded in the War he came to Melbourne instead of going back to Dunedin in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

On Mum’s side I wish I’d asked Grandad what it was like to be a Rat of Tobruk, or a labourer on the Great Ocean Road during the depression, and why his family left the bush for the city when he was 17 years old and how it was to work on the wharves in the busiest port in Australia.

For me they were always old men, strict and angry at times, smiling at others, backs bent and legs no longer straight, voices croaking with age, hair thin and grey, rheumy eyes peering wearily through spectacles, at times way more interested in my life than I was in theirs or that I had any right to deserve. If I had one final hour with them, I’d want a week, then year, to pose the questions of why and when, where and how, of long ago lost loves and feelings of elation and despair that must have littered the volumes of their lives.

It is true as the old African proverb says that “When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

When an old man dies….a library burns down

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to claim just one more hour with the men who were in your life. I say men, but it could be women too. But I say men because most of us don’t communicate very well. It seems to me that much of a man’s social contact and interaction is on the level of the superficial, the deep and meaningful is not something we’re good at. Just look at the number of women who complain about that. Venus and Mars maybe, and in my case that has certainly been the case.

Many years ago now I started work on my family tree and was fortunate enough to find that I was descended from at least four Irish convicts who were transported to the colonies for a number of reasons, sheep and cow stealing during the famine amongst them. I say fortunate because in those cases the records are fairly extensive and I was able to fill in some of the mysteries by painting their faces based on the descriptions in the records – protruding brow, pock marked face and other colourful characteristics.

But the personal insights are missing from my knowledge of most of those ancestors. What saddens me more though is that for the most part, so is the personal of those whose lifetimes have intersected part of mine as well. When my grandfathers were around I didn’t think to ask questions that would tell me of their lives as children and young men.

On Dad’s side I wish I’d asked my Pa about the mud of the Somme and the desert of the pyramids in World War 1, of the reasons why he ran away from home as a 13 year old, of how he found his way by boat to New Zealand and worked as a sleeper cutter. I would love to know why he joined the New Zealand Army and why after he was wounded in the War he came to Melbourne instead of going back to Dunedin in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

On Mum’s side I wish I’d asked Grandad what it was like to be a Rat of Tobruk, or a labourer on the Great Ocean Road during the depression, and why his family left the bush for the city when he was 17 years old and how it was to work on the wharves in the busiest port in Australia.

For me they were always old men, strict and angry at times, smiling at others, backs bent and legs no longer straight, voices croaking with age, hair thin and grey, rheumy eyes peering wearily through spectacles, at times way more interested in my life than I was in theirs or that I had any right to deserve. If I had one final hour with them, I’d want a week, then year, to pose the questions of why and when, where and how, of long ago lost loves and feelings of elation and despair that must have littered the volumes of their lives.

It is true as the old African proverb says that “When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

When an old man dies….a library burns down

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to claim just one more hour with the men who were in your life. I say men, but it could be women too. But I say men because most of us don’t communicate very well. It seems to me that much of a man’s social contact and interaction is on the level of the superficial, the deep and meaningful is not something we’re good at. Just look at the number of women who complain about that. Venus and Mars maybe, and in my case that has certainly been the case.

Many years ago now I started work on my family tree and was fortunate enough to find that I was descended from at least four Irish convicts who were transported to the colonies for a number of reasons, sheep and cow stealing during the famine amongst them. I say fortunate because in those cases the records are fairly extensive and I was able to fill in some of the mysteries by painting their faces based on the descriptions in the records – protruding brow, pock marked face and other colourful characteristics.

But the personal insights are missing from my knowledge of most of those ancestors. What saddens me more though is that for the most part, so is the personal of those whose lifetimes have intersected part of mine as well. When my grandfathers were around I didn’t think to ask questions that would tell me of their lives as children and young men.

On Dad’s side I wish I’d asked my Pa about the mud of the Somme and the desert of the pyramids in World War 1, of the reasons why he ran away from home as a 13 year old, of how he found his way by boat to New Zealand and worked as a sleeper cutter. I would love to know why he joined the New Zealand Army and why after he was wounded in the War he came to Melbourne instead of going back to Dunedin in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

On Mum’s side I wish I’d asked Grandad what it was like to be a Rat of Tobruk, or a labourer on the Great Ocean Road during the depression, and why his family left the bush for the city when he was 17 years old and how it was to work on the wharves in the busiest port in Australia.

For me they were always old men, strict and angry at times, smiling at others, backs bent and legs no longer straight, voices croaking with age, hair thin and grey, rheumy eyes peering wearily through spectacles, at times way more interested in my life than I was in theirs or that I had any right to deserve. If I had one final hour with them, I’d want a week, then year, to pose the questions of why and when, where and how, of long ago lost loves and feelings of elation and despair that must have littered the volumes of their lives.

It is true as the old African proverb says that “When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

When an old man dies….a library burns down

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to claim just one more hour with the men who were in your life. I say men, but it could be women too. But I say men because most of us don’t communicate very well. It seems to me that much of a man’s social contact and interaction is on the level of the superficial, the deep and meaningful is not something we’re good at. Just look at the number of women who complain about that. Venus and Mars maybe, and in my case that has certainly been the case.

Many years ago now I started work on my family tree and was fortunate enough to find that I was descended from at least four Irish convicts who were transported to the colonies for a number of reasons, sheep and cow stealing during the famine amongst them. I say fortunate because in those cases the records are fairly extensive and I was able to fill in some of the mysteries by painting their faces based on the descriptions in the records – protruding brow, pock marked face and other colourful characteristics.

But the personal insights are missing from my knowledge of most of those ancestors. What saddens me more though is that for the most part, so is the personal of those whose lifetimes have intersected part of mine as well. When my grandfathers were around I didn’t think to ask questions that would tell me of their lives as children and young men.

On Dad’s side I wish I’d asked my Pa about the mud of the Somme and the desert of the pyramids in World War 1, of the reasons why he ran away from home as a 13 year old, of how he found his way by boat to New Zealand and worked as a sleeper cutter. I would love to know why he joined the New Zealand Army and why after he was wounded in the War he came to Melbourne instead of going back to Dunedin in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

On Mum’s side I wish I’d asked Grandad what it was like to be a Rat of Tobruk, or a labourer on the Great Ocean Road during the depression, and why his family left the bush for the city when he was 17 years old and how it was to work on the wharves in the busiest port in Australia.

For me they were always old men, strict and angry at times, smiling at others, backs bent and legs no longer straight, voices croaking with age, hair thin and grey, rheumy eyes peering wearily through spectacles, at times way more interested in my life than I was in theirs or that I had any right to deserve. If I had one final hour with them, I’d want a week, then year, to pose the questions of why and when, where and how, of long ago lost loves and feelings of elation and despair that must have littered the volumes of their lives.

It is true as the old African proverb says that “When an old man dies, a library burns down.”