Nearly didn’t make it …

Make what?  Becoming a family historian – that’s what.  I still can’t decide who’s fault it was.  My late Uncle Jim – my late Mum’s brother, Jim NIALL.  That’s him when he was best man at my parents’ wedding.  Uncle Jim and Dad worked together at Peter’s Creamery (later Peter’s Ice Cream) in Taree.  That’s how Mum & Dad met – through Uncle Jim, so that explains why the bride’s brother was the groom’s best man!

Or perhaps it was the fault of Michael MURRAY, my gg-grandfather.

Or maybe it was my fault.

Then again I could blame Mother Aquin, my history teacher at Loreto in Adelaide.

Possibly it was a combined effort – I’ll let you be the judge.

To do that I really need to go right back to the beginning.  If I digress in between then that’s not unusual – well known for that!

It was 1965 and a few months before my 13th birthday.  We lived in Adelaide at the time and I had started 1st Year [called Year 8 in other states at other times] at Loreto Convent.  Our history teacher was Mother Aquin and she had all her students spell-bound.  She was the reason I absolutely loved history.  In the first term it was Medieval European history.  It was pretty gorey – Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad Dracula, Hannibal the Great amongst others.  There was a strong emphasis on mass murdurers and butchers in their battle to claim extra territory under their control.

Nightmares were numerous and parents wanted this type of history to be abandoned but we (the students) wouldn’t have a bar of it.  Mother Aquin made it so alive and exciting.  The end of First Term came too soon and the images of butchers and mass murderers were VERY fresh in my mind when I flew to Sydney to spend my holidays with Uncle Jim, Aunty Col and my cousins.

After dinner we were relaxing around the table when Uncle Jim asked if I would like to see a photo of my gg-grandfather Michael MURRAY.  I’d never heard of Michael MURRAY so I said yes without a heap of enthusiasm.  Aunty Col’s reaction was “Jim, don’t bore the poor girl to tears”!

After a lengthy period he reappeared with some old plastic bags – apparently stored above the wardrobe and needing a step ladder to access.  It took some time for him to sort through and find the photo he was looking for.

It was a very faded sepia photo and hard to tell if Michael MURRAY had any hair.  I was wondering if I actually liked this gg-grandfather who I knew nothing about.  And like any normal person I turned the photo over to see if there was anything on the back. …..



I froze!  My gg-grandfather was a mass murderer!  I quickly passed the photo back to Uncle Jim and muttered “that’s nice”.  I didn’t know what else to say.  Uncle Jim quietly put the photo back in one of the plastic bags and returned them all to the bedroom.  There was very little conversation for the rest of the night – I think there was a western on television and so I pretended to be absorbed in that.  But I couldn’t get it out of my head – my gg-grandfather was a mass murderer.  I remember tossing and turning most of the night and getting very little sleep.

The next morning we had an early start – we were going to visit Aunty Dos, Uncle Jim (another Jim!) and my cousins … up in Maitland.  So there we were, with Uncle Jim (the Sydney one) driving and me in the passenger seat heading along High Street, Maitland.  Uncle Jim casually pointed to a shop saying that’s Michael MURRAY’s butcher shop.

I gaped and muttered … “you mean he sold chops and sausages”?  “I suppose so” said Uncle Jim, keeping his eyes on the road and the traffic.

Guess what happened after dinner that night?  You guessed it – I asked to see the photo again.  I think we stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning – VERY late for a 12 year-old in those days.  We looked at photos and documents and newspaper cuttings and hand-drawn family trees.

I was hooked – totally.  Uncle Jim was the keeper of the family records and that night he found his protégé.

Thirty years later I was taking part in a week’s residential school in Armidale at the University of New England.  I had enrolled for an Associate Diploma in Local and Applied History – an experience for which I am eternally grateful.  I had driven up from Ocean Grove in Victoria and was planning a long slow trip back down the coast visiting cemeteries and towns as part of a Family History tour.  By then I had become the keeper of the family records which Uncle Jim had passed over to me a number of years earlier.

Determined not to miss out on any fun, Uncle Jim caught the train from Sydney to Armidale where our family history trip began.  Michael MURRAY’s son, Stephen James MURRAY, my g-grandfather, married Ellen MURRAY, daughter of John MURRAY, convict, and Margaret NAUGHTEN.  Margaret’s father, Bernard NAUGHTEN, had been mayor of Armidale twice, and owner of the Royal Hotel.  Later, as the Harp of Erin hotel, the publican was Bernard’s son-in-law John MURRAY.  The hotel still stands today and is known as the Wicklow Hotel.  Uncle Jim and I had some delightful meals and a number of drinks in the Wicklow, toasting our ancestors – MURRAYs galore!

At Port Macquarie we stayed with a former merchant navy colleague of Uncle Jim’s – a night of rum and port meant we had to stay three days to make sure we’d recovered sufficiently before heading down the coast!  And Uncle Jim enjoyed researching my paternal family as much as he enjoyed his own branch – my maternal family.

It was a magnificent trip over more than two weeks – we had an absolute ball.  And after almost 30 years of guilt I finally told Uncle Jim the story of Michael MURRAY – mass murderer!  We both laughed so hard we had tears pouring down our faces and of course we had to drive down High Street in Maitland to wave at Michael’s butcher shop.

Magnificent memories of a very special time spent with Uncle Jim.

I really can’t blame anyone – just thank them for decades of joy researching my family history.