James NIALL 1889-1964
Along with my father and brother, they were two of the favourite men in my life – but more about that at another time.
When I first knew him, Uncle Jim lived at Nelson’s Bay – a little touch of paradise at Port Stephens in New South Wales. My brother and I spent many joyous weekends with him in his spotless house “at the Bay”.
He was an amazing cook on an old wood-burner stove – roasts, stews, cakes, and the best Anzac biscuits in the world. He was a very canny bloke – he had a weekly card game but only the local “biddies” were ever invited. In return for teaching them how to play cards – mainly poker – their job was to give him recipes and other household hints. He said his skills with poker were totally responsible for developing his cooking and housekeeping skills.
Uncle Jim also taught my brother and me to fish … but in Uncle Jim’s world there were two distinctly different types of fishing.
Fishing type 1: The conversation would start with “feel like some fish for tea?” Of course the answer was always yes – no-one could resist fresh fish cooked to perfection by Uncle Jim on the old stove. The next task was to grab the ever-present bucket of his home-made burley, the rods and some bait and wander down the street to the town jetty. Everyone knew Uncle Jim – plenty of “g’days” and “they’re not biting today” – the former responded to and the latter ignored! We went to “our” part of the jetty, distributed a liberal supply of burley, hooked up the bait and caught tea. It was that simple and Uncle Jim tried not to smile too much as we wandered back past the one’s who couldn’t get a bite.
Fishing type 2: The conversation would start with “feel like a bit of fishing today?” That meant a day of exciting amazing learning! No burley needed. Bait only picked up in case anyone was watching too closely – we really didn’t want to be interrupted by having to pull fish off the hook! And there the three of us sat, at the end of the jetty dangling our lines in the water … and listened enthralled to the stories Uncle Jim shared with us. And asked question after question … about life, the world, and anything that came into our young inquisitive minds. Uncle Jim had served in Europe during WWI and had worked as a jackaroo in Queensland and outback New South Wales. I remember he always had an answer – at least an answer acceptable for two young kids – perhaps it was a bit like “to keep the rabbits out” – but that didn’t matter – we’d talk about clouds, waves, shells, family, shoes – just anything that came into our heads … it was a wonderful time and left me with cherished memories of my adored great Uncle Jim.
Great Uncle Jim and Grandpa were great fun when they were together (and away from Grandma). Uncle Jim generally wore a cap and Grandpa wore a hat – they thought it was hysterical when they swapped headwear and confused us kids! They were so alike they could have been twins – but it was only a momentary case of mistaken identity as they were both unique but both adorable!