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Saturday, 30 June 2012

26. Into the 1950s.

By the 1950s Bert's life was settled and more comfortable than it had been since the years before his father died. He was wiry and active. He had given up smoking. The only beer he indulged in was Horehound Beer, a non-alcoholic drink purchased every now and then from a stall in Sydney's Central Railway. His children said this was all Nell would allow him, but Bert was a follower of health foods, and Horehound had a long history of association with the English mineral water business that Bert's family had been a part of.

Bert also had raisin sandwiches, banana sandwiches and bread and honey most days - certainly his own choice, not shared by anyone else in the household. He had a 'fizzy drink' each day after his evening meal - Alkasetzer - to aid his digestion. On weekdays Bert drove to work early. On his way home he often stopped to see Grace, still living in Mascot, and estranged from her mother.

Nell had the evening meal on the table at 5.00pm. If Bert was late, his meal was in the oven of the coal-fired stove. Bert was mostly home before 4.00pm, working in his shed. Just before 5 he would come into the house and wash-up in the large bathroom, scrubbing his hands with solvol, lathering again and again, pushing the lather down each hand until it was clean.

After the evening meal, he and Nell retired to the sitting room, in front of the radio. Nothing came between Bert and the radio serial, When a girl marries. 

There were celebrations with the Harris's - their friends from the Orontes - or with Fred and Clare - around the pianola.

Bert had a permanent booking on Saturday nights at the Botany Empire Cinema - upstairs, first row on the right, a double seat. He and Nell rarely missed.

On weekends there were still the drives into the bush. Sometimes Nell would spot a plant in the scrub and call for Bert to stop. She would dash into the bush, dig up or snap off enough to try growing it in her bush-house. Bert still grew vegetables and flowers for home consumption and Nell kept chickens.

Bert paid for Sylvia's two children to be born in the Pacific Private Hospital in Brighton-le-Sands, perhaps hoping to prevent his daughter having the difficulties that had plagued Nell's pregnancies.

Bert badly wanted a grandson. When Sylvia's first baby, born in 1947 was a girl, Bert refused to look at her for a week, and called her 'Sonny Jim' for 16 months until Sylvia obliged with a boy.

He was always kind to his granddaughters - but in his world a boy was what counted.

He had no time for women drivers, women in public life, or education for women.

Albert's photography business thrived in the 1950s, leading to Albert becoming the photographer for Woolworths in Sydney, near the Town Hall. He had a small studio there were he took photos, which he developed in a darkroom near Central Railway. Irene learned to colour the photos and Beryl served as receptionist.

Grace and Brenda Grace

Grace and Sid had a daughter, Grace Brenda, born in 1949. Sid worked at the Bunnerong Power Station, near the Botany Bay heads.
Bunnerong Powerhouse from Banksmeadow School 1940

In 1953 Sylvia and Len bought their own home in Livingstone Avenue Botany, the same street that the family had lived in when Bert worked on the Banksmeadow retaining wall. Bert and Nell drove over to visit on most Sundays, sometimes staying, sometimes taking everyone on the routine drive to the bush.

In the school holidays Nell and Bert would take Sylvia and her children on day trips to places like the Captain Cook landing place at Kurnell.

On the way home, Bert always stopped to buy ice-cream for everyone - vanilla between wafer biscuits.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

25. Bert in WWII

Bert's life during the Second World War could hardly have been more different than his life during WWI. He was now a civilian, on the other side of the world, with a grown family. By 1940 his two elder children were married and independent. Sylvia still lived at home, but was working and contributing board.

Bert with his dog, Teddy, 1940s
Hard work and frugality had resulted in a modicum of comfort for Bert and Nell. Their home was comfortable.  In their sitting room  they had a large mantle radio that Bert liked to listen to in the evenings, and they had a pianola with a collection of pianola rolls that became the centre piece of evenings with friends.

The local factories were short of labour as young men enlisted and went to war. Bert's son, although he did not enlist, was not interested in the nursery business. Bert was too much a product of the Victorian era to even consider that his daughters might be business partners in the nursery, even though both of them were interested in plants and cultivation. Women, in his world, raised children, kept house and helped out. They weren't partners, and they weren't the future of a business.

Men working at Textile Dyers and Bleachers 1940
Bert responded to the call for older men to help keep the factories working, closed his nursery, and went to work for Textile Dyers and Bleachers in Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery. He worked there until 1956. The company eventually specialised in a form of winter cotton, similar to Viyella. Workers could bring home the ends of the rolls of dyed fabric that were cut off before the rolls left the factory. Sylvia and Grace turned these into clothes and Nell hooked strip rugs for every room in the house.

Bert exchanged his nursery truck for a car. When he wasn't at work, or driving the car, he was cleaning, adjusting or tinkering with it.

Grace, Syd & Sylvia WWII
Grace's husband, Sid Molloy, had joined the Australian Navy and was at sea for much of the War. Sylvia frequently stayed with Grace while Syd was away.

In her waitressing job in the city, Sylvia met many servicemen on leave and went out with some of them. If she liked the look of the English servicemen, and they were in Sydney over a weekend, she would invite two or three of them home on a Sunday. Bert would take the group for a drive to La Perouse, Kurnell, Cronulla, Jannali and accessible 'bush'. Nell would kill and cook one of her chickens, and the evening would be spent singing around the pianola. It was a touch of 'over home' giving them news of places and developments in England.


                                                    In 1940 Bert became a grandfather with the birth of Albert's daughter Irene. Bert liked children, and enjoyed taking Irene and her parents on excursions in his car, to places like the small sanctuary at Doll's Point where you could pat a kangaroo.

Letter writing rarely made it to the top of Bert's priority list. His mother wrote and asked for news. As time went by, Grace took on the task of writing to the grandmother after whom she was named.

In 1945 Sylvia met Len Haynes, a young British sailor in Sydney while his ship, the Formidable,  was repaired after kamikazi attack. They corresponded when the Formidable returned to sea, and when the War ended, Len chose to be demobilised in Sydney.

Sylvia was 20 when she and Len married in January 1946. Bert grumbled, but gave his permission when Sylvia said she would wait until she was 21 and marry him anyway.

The couple went to Lake Burrill for two weeks honeymoon, then moved into the front room of Bert and Nell's house at 98 Banksia St. Botany. The post-war housing shortage in Sydney meant they lived in this front room for the first seven years of their marriage.

At the end of the war, Albert persuaded Frank Hurley, the war photographer, to take him on as an unofficial apprentice in his photography studio in Sydney. Albert went to the studio after work each day and worked with Hurley, developing and printing photographs, learning the trade. Albert then began to photograph weddings, to do some street photography and within a few years, established his own business as a photographer. It was not what his father had envisaged, but it did display the entrepreneurial spirit of Bert's father and grandfather, and of Bert himself in his nursery business.

Monday, 25 June 2012

24. Sylvia's Childhood in Australia in 1930s

Sylvia (right) and friend at Banksia St. c. 1935
Grade 1 Banksmeadow Primary.
Sylvia fifth from left in 2nd row.
Sylvia's schooling began in the Depression and ended at the outbreak of war. She made friends at school and quickly learned about Australia. The school curriculum covered a lot of history, not just of Sydney, but of the local area. She read and learned to recite Australian poetry - mostly Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. She knew the sites where Cook landed and the plants that Joseph Banks identified. She joined the Gould League.

Sylvia as flowergirl c. 1934

Sylvia (right) in Botanic Gardens Sydney
Sylvia made friends easily. She had a friend with whom she sometimes stayed, who lived on a farm at Fairfield.

When she was about 11, Sylvia had an accident on a swing at school and fractured her skull. She spent several months in Rachel Foster's Hospital, where she learned to make a bed with hospital corners - something she did for the rest of her life.

with friend and friend's mother, Botanic Gardens Sydney
Sylvia didn't follow Albert and Grace to the Methodist Church Youth Group. Perhaps because of its location, close to Banksmeadow Primary School, Sylvia went to the Salvation Army hall. She loved the Salvation Army meetings, people and music. She learned to play a guitar and a timbrel.

A lot of her time was spent with Bert.She spent most of the school holidays working in the nursery and, on Fridays, accompanying Bert to Paddy's market. He taught her the mechanics of a sewing machine, how to oil one and do basic maintenance and repair.

He would not, however, agree to her continuing at school beyond the mandatory age of 14. Bert saw no point in educating a girl 'for another man to benefit'. It was an attitude that Sylvia rejected and which she spent much of her life trying to overcome.

Sylvia went to work at 14, first at Tasma Radio, Thom and Smith's factory at 919 Botany Rd., Mascot, set up in 1929, the year Bert's family arrived in Australia. Tasma Radio rode out the Depression and employed 300 people in 1938. Their radios are still collectable.

J&J workers Botany c. 1943
Sylvia then, along with her sister Grace, went to work at Johnson and Johnson's Botany factory, which was on a war footing, supplying medical equipment for the forces.

Bert  refused his permission for her to enlist in the Salvation Army when at about 17 she wanted to join. Bert prevented her ever wearing a Salvation Army uniform.

Sylvia and her friend Doris at Mark Foy's steps.

To occupy her time, and do her bit for the war effort, she also took an evening job as a waitress in the city. Sydney was full of troops and waitresses were in demand. There were English servicemen in Sydney - bringing first-hand accounts of life in England since Bert and Nell left. Bert had a car and was more than happy to show servicemen the sights of Sydney when they had weekend leave.

Friday, 22 June 2012

23. Adult and Adolescent Children in the 1930s

Albert Banksia St
Albert and Grace, Bert's two older children, came to Australia in early adolescence. The first years were hard, as the family hung on through the worst of the Great Depression, adjusting to new climate, new ways - similar poverty in new surroundings.

The experience was very different for them than for Sylvia, who began school in Australia. Albert and Grace had left school behind and needed to find their way to financial and adult independence.

Albert found work at Bailey's tannery and quickly made friends. Albert and Grace joined the Methodist Youth group in Botany and made more friends. As they both got a little money in their pockets they wanted a life other outside the work routines - and expectations - of their parents.

Albert fishing
Albert at Cronulla

Albert and his friends went fishing - staying all weekend in makeshift huts near Cronulla. Albert eventually got a boat, and sold some of the fish he caught.
With his friend Tommy Meahan, Albert took up boxing and practised at home in Banksia St - buying boxing gloves to alleviate the fear and abhorrence that Bert and Nell expressed at the damage they did to each other.

Albert on left, with mates on Manly ferry

One of Albert's favourite pastimes was taking the ferry to Manly with his mates on Sunday - dressed to kill in their striped blazers - going back and forth on the same ticket, listening to the bands that played on the ferry, and flirting with girls.
It was not a life with which Bert had much empathy.

For a while Grace helped out and home, then went into service. She worked for a while at Coghlan's Nursery.


As things improved economically, she got a job at Johnson and Johnson. She rode her bike there - never mastering, according to her sister, the back-pedal brake, and stopping when she got to work by running into the wall.

Grace, 2nd from left

Grace liked to dress up and go out. She also loved the rare occasions when she could visit the country, or places of interest.

Albert and Beryl's wedding party. Grace in pink

In 1938 Albert married Beryl Thompson, one of Grace's friends from the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

Their daughter, and only child, Irene, was born in 1942.

Grace and Sid wedding

In 1940 Grace married Sidney Molloy, one of Albert's friends from Bailey's. Sid had by then joined up and was serving as a stoker on HMAS Australia.

Sid was a Mascot boy, and the couple settled  in Mascot.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

22. Fred and Les Ray in 1930s and 1940s.

Fred and Les, Bert Ray's two single brothers who got Bert and his family to Australia, took what work they could during the Great Depression.

In 1930 Les was living at 61 Roby St., Mascot and gave his occupation as labourer. In 1933 he was living at 136 Sutherland St., where Bert and his family had also lived. He saw a lot of Nell, Bert and their children. Sylvia, in particular, loved Les, his stories and the time he had for children.

In 1934 Les married Ida Fenton, a local girl. The two were wrapped in each other. Both families thought it a great match. In 1935 Ida died in childbirth, along with the child she carried. Les was distraught. Early in 1936 Les left Sydney on the Orsova, arriving in London on 20 May and giving his address as 60 Bath Rd., Hounslow, an address also used by his mother.

Les Ray and Perce Keen

He spend time with his cousins, brothers, sister and his mother.

In 1938 he married Christine May Kilby (known as May) in Rochford, Essex. Barbara, their only child, was born in 1942.

Les worked for some time, and throughout WWII, as the second cook on merchant ships around the coast of Britain and across to North America.

May had family in New Zealand, and in 1946 May and Barbara migrated to New Zealand, with Les following early in December 1946, working his way as second cook on the TEV Hinemoa, new ship for the Union Steamship Co for ferry service between north and south islands of NZ. the Hinemoa left the UK on 21 Dec 1946, called at Fremantle for few hours, and arrived in Wellington on 26 Jan 1947.

Fred & Clare Ray with John, Ann, Dawn, Rex and Sylvia c. 1945

Fred stayed in Miranda, in the vicinity of the
nursery that gave him his initial work in Australia, although that work was not reliable after 1929. He turned his hand to anything, including it seems, a crematorium. In 1935 he married Clarice Amy Davies, known as Clare, the daughter of a Miranda poultry farmer. Like Fred, Clare was up for adventure. By 1939 they had four children. The fifth was born in 1943. They travelled to Adelaide with a circus in the late 1930's and spent several years in Adelaide.

Before 1949 Fred and his family were back in Jannali, near Miranda, where Fred got a job as a postman - work he continued for the rest of his life.

When Fred and his family were in Sydney, he and Bert were in touch and visited each other regularly. Clare got on well with Nell and visited her by train during the week.

Fred and Les also remained in touch.


Saturday, 16 June 2012

21. Bonnie Doon Nursery

Nell and Bert in Bonnie Doon Nursery
Bert and Nell put all their energy into establishing a nursery. They raised seedlings to sell in Paddy's market each Friday, along with flowers and a few vegetables.. They did everything themselves - creating the products they could sell.

Bert in his shed with boxes of seedlings

Bert brought fruit boxes home from the market on Friday and turned them into seedling boxes.

The children were expected to help, particularly pricking out the seedlings, a task the older children hated, but Sylvia, the youngest, was happy to do.

The back of 98 Banksia St house with seedling beds

 It was relentless, demanding work.

Albert got a job at Bailey's Tannery, but was expected to help out after work and on weekends. He hated it and wanted to be out with his friends - and with girls.

Bert and his dahlia crop

Grace worked in the nursery and also "went into service" as a domestic help to a family at Brighton-le-sands.

Bert was known to friends and others outside the family, as 'Ted', from his second name, Edward. Nell, his mother, sister and brothers, always called him Bert, and he had no trouble moving between the two. It was as if he kept his life in two compartments. The names rarely crossed over.


Bert needed a truck to get his products to market. He enjoyed driving and tinkering with the truck as much as he enjoyed the cultivation of plants.

He also loved and kept dogs, most bought in Paddy's Markets.

Albert and Grace with friend Tommy Meehan

 Albert and Grace joined the Methodist Church's Youth Group and made many friends. Albert went fishing and rabbiting with mates from work and also from the church group.

Albert fishing at Cronulla

Grace, Nell and Albert at Banksia St c. 1935

They were finding their feet in Australia and wanting their own lives and independence. They were also throwing off the constraints of the Great Depression.