Friday, October 18, 2013

The Book of Me - Prompt 7 - Maternal Grandparents

This week Julie Goucher of Angler's Rest asked us to respond to the following prompt in The Book of Me, Written by You activity.

The prompt for week 7 is Grandparents

What were their names?
Where were they from?
Were they related? – Cousins perhaps
Where were they born, another Country or state/area
What did they do?
Did you know them?
What was your relationship with them?
If you didn't know them have you researched about them?


I am going to cheat a little bit with this post as I will paste in bits and pieces I have written in earlier blog posts. 

I remember two of my grandparents and  met three of them. I adored my two Nannas and spent many happy childhood hours with them and their extended families.

My Paternal grandparents were Thomas William Curry and Mary Tierney, my maternal grandparents were Frank Duncan and Ethel Jane Pusell. So that's the vital statistics out of the way. 

Having started writing this post I have realised that what I have to write is way too much for one post so I will write separately about my two sets of grandparents. You can read about my paternal grandparents here.


My grandmother, Ethel Jane Pusell, was born in 1899 in a small hamlet Thompsons Creek near Burraga, New South Wales, the daughter of James Pusell and Mary Jane Aspinall. James, a miner, had quite a few run-ins with the law. His father and namesake James Pusell was a convict who had been transported to New South Wales. I wonder if my grandmother was aware of her convict ancestry.

One of the very few childhood tales that I remember from my grandmother is that when she went to school in Burraga she horrified the nuns by calling the town buggery. Although she could read and write Ethel's skills in this area were basic; as a child I wrote letters to her relations in the bush for her.

The Pusell family moved to Cobar in the early 1900s, no doubt this was for the Pusell boys to gain employment in the newly opened mines.

Ethel  married a miner, John Bertram (Bert) Chatfield, at the age of 15 and six months later gave birth to her first child, John William (Billy) ChatfieldWhen 25 year old miner, Bert Chatfield, set off to war he left behind his pregnant 17 year old wife and young son, Billy.

Bert probably did not know that he had become a father of a daughter, Nellie, who was born on 4 April, 1917 and lived for just two weeks. I wonder if Nellie's birth was premature or if she died of some other cause. Ethel had always told me that she had lost twin girls; although there is no official record of two births I have a copy of a family letter that confirms this.

I cannot imagine how bewildered my grandmother, young Ethel, must have felt when she received news that her husband was Missing in Action and subsequently listed as Killed in the Field. 

I do not know when Ethel heard of her husband's fate but on 24 July, 1917 she wrote the following letter to the Army

 She had received the devastating news by 19 February, 1918 when she wrote to the Army to see if any personal effects belonging to Bert had been found.

I presume that Ethel lived with her parents until she met her second husband, Frank Duncan.

Twenty-two year old Frank (Sonny) Duncan, Service Number 4767, joined the AIF in Dubbo, NSW as a Private on the 2nd November 1915. Previously Frank, the son of Frank and Harriet Duncan, had worked around Cobar doing various labouring jobs on farms and in the mines.

Frank embarked from Australia in March 1916 on HMAT The Star of England and landed in Egypt in April. Details of Frank's undistinguised service record in Egypt, France and Englaand can be found on his digitised WWI military file at National Archives of Australia site.

Frank returned to Cobar in 1919 where he met WWI widow Ethel Chatfield (Nee Pusell). They were married in 1922 and produced five daughters. 

My grandmother Ethel Jane Pusell had a new house in which to raise her family. When  Frank  returned from the war he was able, through the Soldiers Settlement Scheme, to gain a grant of Crown land on which he built a house for his bride, Ethel.The 32,000 acres of land on which the simple timber house was built on the property "Elsinore" was 40 miles west of Cobar NSW. In 2013 this is a remote area,  90 years ago it was extremely remote. Cobar, the nearest town, was a long carriage ride over rutted, red, dusty roads. Sydney and the coast was 700 km away. Life was tough, there were droughts, bushfires and loneliness.

When it came time for the girls to go to school the family moved into town and Frank continued to travel out to the farm.

My grandmother never complained about her lot in life; the stories she told of her early life were laced with the good humour with which she would have faced life at "Elsinore".

Frank and Ethel had a shop in Cobar and Frank also had an ice cream/catering van that he took to local events where his catchcry was ""Try our home made pies - warm your belly for threepence". The girl behind the wheel in Frank's van, is his daughter Lillian.

Once the girls grew up and were seeking employment the family moved to Sydney where they settled in Kensington Road, Kensington. Frank worked for the local Post Office.
Frank and Ethel, 1948

Not long after World War Two broke out Private Frank Duncan, Service Number N74211 enlisted in the Australian Army in Sydney on 10 Aug 1940 . Frank's term of service in 2 Garrison Battalion was less than one year. Frank, aged just 53, died at home in Kensington in August 1948.

One wonders if the conditions Frank faced when defending his country and The British Empire contributed to his early demise. Frank was an ordinary bloke, a bit of a larrikin, the "Dadda" who gave his girls a happy upbringing and a secure home environment. He contributed to the charmed life I lead in "The Lucky Country." I am sorry that I never got to meet my grandfather. 

 I do have many happy memories of that house in Kensington Road, of times spent with my grandmother and the extended family. I remember the large back bedroom where my grandmother and the girls slept. I remember Christmases with the keg in the backyard for the men and the piano in the living room with my Aunts singing "Ta ra ra boom de ay". I went to ballet and tap lessons from there each Saturday. My
Ready for ballet - at Nana's in Kensington
grandmother and aunts used all put money in a jar in the kitchen to cover the cost of my lessons.

My grandmother was a domestic worker who went out each morning to "do for the Faiella family" up on the hill. She suffered dreadfully from rheumatism and would have to take to her bed for an afternoon rest after work each day but she never complained, she just rubbed linament on her aches and took a Vincent's APC powder for the pain. 

When I was about six my grandmother, my great Aunt Annie and Arthur Johnson, the boarder,
Kewpie dolls on a stick
moved down the hill to a large flat above some shops in Anzac Parade, Kensington where Nana lived for about the next twenty years. Nana continued to work for the Faiellas who had a toy and novelty business. Prior to the Royal Easter Show Nana used to bring home piece work from the Faiellas who sold dolls and novelties on stands at the Show. It was all hands on deck to thread elastic through net skirts, put the skirts on the Kewpie dolls and then put the dolls on sticks.

As my mother went back to work when I was eight or nine I spent a lot of time in the school holidays with Nana and Annie. We used to eat bread and butter with sugar and drink lemonade from the shop downstairs. Nana was fond of devon and I was regularly sent to the shops to buy six penneth worth of devon and a tank loaf of bread. Nana cooked great baked dinners and delicious pasties while Annie was the cake maker. When I married Nana taught me how to make a boiled Christmas pudding in a cloth.

For entertainment we would watch Nana's stories on the TV, she loved Days of our Lives and Bonanza. No-one was allowed to talk while these were airing. We played lots of cards for money, Nana had a jar of pennies that we used for our stake, poker and gin rummy were the games she taught me. Nana used go out with her mates a couple of nights a week to play Housie (Bingo).

Ethel - Christmas 1981
I met so many of Mum's country cousins at Nana's place. She was always hosting someone from the bush who was down for a few days in the big smoke. If only I had been able to record all the stories they told! Sadly I can only remember snippets of the many tales I heard.

The very first time my parents left me at home and went off on a holiday I came down with a wisdom tooth problem. I packed bag, hopped on the bus and landed on Nana's doorstep. Although she had a house full at the time Nana made up a bed, tucked me in and looked after me. Nana was my first port of call when I needed help. Eight years later when I was pregnant with my second child and bedrest was ordered my 80 year old Nana used to come over to my place on the bus from Coogee to iron, cook and help me with my toddler.

When Nana moved to a flat in Coogee she still went to Housie but she also became fond of poker machines and would travel up to Randwick Labor Club to play the pokies once or twice a week. There was always a meal, a cuppa and a bed for anyone who dropped in to Nana's place at Coogee.

By the time she died at 89 Nana had moved to a nursing home and her memory had faded.

I was privileged to have a beautiful, generous and happy grandmother for 39 years of my life.


Alex Daw said...

Dear Jill - are you sitting down? My paternal grandmother was called Ethel too! Loved your stories. Smiled at much of what you wrote. Beautiful.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

A lovely story Jill. Don't grandparents play such an important role in our lives? Your maternal grandmother was obviously strong and determined...loved that they contributed to your dance classes.

Those letters from war widows are just so tragic.

Counterbalancing that -the kewpie dolls!

GeniAus said...

I keep thinking of extra bits to add to this - must write about Nana's skill with the needles - sewing and crochet.


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