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.

Farewell to 1 person but 3 sisters

1979-sep-jan-brisbaneJan Niall passed away in Darwin on Thursday 9th February, 2017 after a long battle with multiple medical conditions.  This is one of my favourite photos of Jan – taken in September 1979 in Brisbane.

I have so many favourite photos of Jan it’s hard to limit them, but I have restrained myself to just four which cover different periods of Jan’s life.

So where do the ‘3 sisters’ fit in this tribute?

  1. Sister Jan Niall IBVM [Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary] – Jan was a ‘Loreto’ nun.  I’m a Loreto Old Scholar and regularly suffered the difficult situation of getting home from school only to find Mum had already heard about anything and everything I did wrong during the day.  Sometimes it included what I did right as well!  It didn’t matter that Jan was interstate – news travelled fast in the world of Loreto.
  2. Sister to my late Mum.  There were almost 20 years between Mum and her baby sister with no-one in between.  Grandma struggled to cope with a young child at her age so Jan was quickly bundled off to boarding school in Denman, New South Wales.  All her school holidays were spent with our family.
  3. Sister to me and my brother – just 5½ years between Jan and my brother, and 7½ years between Jan and me.  She was so much closer to us in age it was understandable that she was our ‘big’ sister and when Jan went to Teacher’s College she had two ready-made guinea pigs on whom to practice!

I don’t have the words to do justice in summing up Jan’s life.  What I can say is that she touched so many people in so many roles in such positive ways throughout her 72 years.  It was wonderful to sit in the Cathedral in Darwin with others who had travelled from across Australia to pay tribute to ‘Sister’ Jan.  There were so many who looked on Jan as part of their extended family and they reminisced with the rest of us – such great memories!

And in this modern era, the tributes on the Facebook pages of Salvatores Cafe in Darwin, and Wendy Beresford-Maning demonstrate the far-reaching impact Jan had on those who met her.

Those other ‘favourite’ photos?

1948 – not quite four but definitely full of beans – I think I like this one so much because she was so mobile in this photo.  It’s hard to believe that she spent more than 50 years of her life with limited mobility.


February 1990 – Brisbane – Jan’s Silver Jubilee.  The person standing between Jan and me was a dearly loved part of our extended family – Fr Bernard Shah OCarm.  Although Bernard was born in New Zealand, we accepted him as a true blue Aussie and definitely a special part of our family.  Like Jan, Bernard also died in a nursing home.  That was in March 2010 and we all missed him so much.


And this photo is so special – it is the banner on the blog site of another special member of our extended family – Wendy Beresford-Maning.  I created this montage for Wendy and to do it justice you really need to read all about it on Wendy’s blog.  BUT I do want to point out the important ‘family’ members in this image:

  • Back left – Jan aged three as the flower girl at my Mum & Dad’s wedding.
  • Front left – Bernard [represented by a stuffed doll] sitting on the ‘waiting seat’ – I think the space on the seat was left for Jan!
  • Back centre left and right and front right in a Santa suit – Button – a much-loved member of the Darwin family.  Sadly Button lost her battle with pneumonia on 14 December 2016.  And don’t miss reading ‘Button – Hero Dog’ on Wendy’s blog!
  • Front centre – Wendy is represented by her Akubra sitting on her colourful gum boots
  • Front centre right – I am represented by my computer complete with a photo of Ocean Grove on the screen.


Jan was special and I’m lucky to have had her as my ‘sister’.

Do you remember Pluto?

PlutoSometimes you start to think laterally about your family history Brick Wall – this is one of those times.

From about October 1954 until late 1956 I lived in Grafton with my family: John Joseph and Betty FUSSEN and my older brother Graham – better known as Fussy.

The problem – I don’t know where we lived!  Sadly Mum and Dad are no longer alive so I can’t ask them and I can’t find anyone who remembers.  My brother was born in 1950 and I was born in 1952 so both a little young to remember.

My Dad was transferred from Taree to Grafton to assist with the completion of the Peter’s Ice Cream factory – it was opened in October 1954.  In 1956 he was transferred to Adelaide to do the same thing there.  Grafton to Adelaide was a much bigger move than Taree to Grafton!

The photo above shows my Aunt [Mum’s baby sister by 20 years], Grandpa [Mum’s father] and our dog PLUTO – I think at our house in Taree.  I’m hoping that Pluto might be the answer to my Brick Wall.

I’ve checked telephone and other directories – haven’t located the 1956 telephone directory yet.  I’ve tried Nestle and Edgell Birdseye – who purchased Peter’s Ice Cream – and they haven’t located personnel records from that period.  I’ve checked with the Clarence Historical Society with no luck.  I don’t think I’ll be able to get to Grafton in the next decade or two so I won’t be able to check the rate books for any reference to Dad but I HAVE located the old Peter’s Ice Cream factory.

PlutoChinaWhen we had to move to Adelaide, Mum and Dad in their wisdom decided that Pluto would have to stay with friends in Grafton until we got settled in Adelaide.  To compensate, Mum bought this version of Pluto which lived in Mum’s china cabinet until her death when it moved to my china cabinet.  They had to do something because we spent several weeks in Newcastle before getting to Adelaide.  Because the Housing Trust house we were supposed to live in hadn’t been finished – or maybe even built – we spent the first few / several months in a hotel.  For anyone who knows Adelaide you’ll scratch your head in wonderment too – the Peter’s Ice Cream factory was at Windsor Gardens and we were in the Brighton Hotel – as far apart diagonally on the opposite sides of Adelaide!  Needless to say I was distraught and apparently cried myself to sleep for months – pining for Pluto.  The family story was that when we lived in Grafton and I was upset or in trouble I would always be found with Pluto in his dog house in the back yard!  I loved Pluto.

BUT, SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE LOVED PLUTO – the friends or neighbours who looked after Pluto in Grafton and where I presume he lived until he died.

Now for something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  I was searching one of Mum’s old photo albums where I remembered seeing a photo of Pluto – the one at the top of this blog.

In the process I found some photos of me and Fussy “in Grafton” and I presume in the back and/or front yard of our house.  I know Mum took these photos – they’re blurry!  In later years Mum was a neck-to-knee photographer – chopped off the heads and legs of everyone.  Still by then she had a really good excuse because she was legally blind.

I scanned the photos of Pluto and the ones of me and my brother so I could zoom in and inspect the house – I’m pretty sure the back verandah was higher off the group BUT I started looking at the background – and there’s a BIG building there.  Then I dug out the photos I had found of Peter’s Ice Cream in Grafton and …

Do you think they’re the same building and that we lived next door or across the road from the factory?

1955cGrahamandSueatGraftonGraftonThere’s a slightly different building in another photo which could be one of the other buildings in the factory complex but they’re even blurrier than this one!

I’ve got an aerial photo somewhere – now I have to find it and see what is around the factory!  The crazy thing is I remember the old iron gates on the factory as I remember Mum used to drive Dad to work and Fussy and I used to fight over jumping out of the car and opening and closing that gate!  Was it a way of entertaining the kids – driving Dad all the way to work which was just “next door”?  Parents have been known to do stranger things than this!

I don’t remember the railway line between “home” and the factory.  The building above is the centre of the large one at 373 Fry Street visible on Google Maps.  I’m so close I can touch and feel it but …

What do you think?  Anyone know Grafton and the area of the factory?

More importantly, does anyone remember Pluto?

A true Irishman on St Patrick’s Day

Wicklow HotelJohn MURRAY was my gg-grandfather – a Probationary Convict born about 1826, Bumlin, Roscommon, Ireland.

He had an interesting life but this morning, thanks to TROVE, I spotted a special reference to him – just over two years before his death.  At the time he was the publican of the Harp of Erin Hotel in Armidale – previously called the Royal Hotel [when it was run by his father-in-law] and later called the Wicklow Hotel.

And a timely find it was – Freeman’s Journal, Saturday 10 April 1876, p.7 :

St Patrick’s Day.— I should have drawn attention, too, in my last, to the fact that this day was almost totally unobserved in Armidale.  Why I cannot tell. One would think that in a district containing so many Irishmen and their descendants— Irishmen, too, worthy of the name – that the great national feast-day should not pass unnoticed, I might suggest that the annual picnic to the children of the Roman Catholic school might be given on this day, or perhaps the rare old custom which formerly prevailed here of having a banquet might be revived. As it was, were it not for Mr. John Murray of the Harp of Erin Hotel, who hoisted the National Flag, the day might have passed without the least notice.

Yep – I’m proud of my gg-grandfather!


When it’s cold and wet …

Harry Thomas NIALLThere is only one thing to do when it is really cold and wet – stay inside and work on your family history!

Rather than researching Ancestors I wanted to do some work on my more immediate family.  And that’s exactly what I’ve done:

In a way they’re all connected.  Why do the tears flow in between the smiles when I’m doing things like this?

New web / blog: my ancestors’ arrivals in Australia

I’ve been planning to create a new web / blog site for yonks but only managed to get around to it while I had a short break at Christmas.

Normally I spend my time doing work on the Geelong & District web site or the Geelong & District database or the Geelong & District blog or just doing research for others.  Just for a change I have done something for myself although it also had a dual purpose … at our next quarterly Geelong & District Historical Association meeting in February the main item on our agenda is creating web sites for local & family history societies.

WordPress is an ideal tool for these societies … although predominantly used for blog sites I wanted to show how it could be used as a full web site but also with the option to handle blogs.  And more importantly it is easy to set up and maintain at no or minimal cost depending on the options you select.

For ME the focus was my ancestors who were born overseas and settled in Australia.  The hardest thing was deciding on my blog address – I settled on and was pleased to find it available.  The purpose was to help me focus on gaps or brick walls in my research – and in setting out the list of these ancestors with the basic facts I’ve certainly identified plenty of holes that need plugging!  My blogs will be about those holes!