Friday, August 31, 2012

PAGE TWENTY-TWO: my father's diaries

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. Oscar Wilde
In 1964, my brothers and sisters and I gave Dad a five year diary for Christmas. You might have trouble finding one today: they seem to have gone out of fashion.

Dad wrote in it meticulously, right after he had had his evening Bible reading. He seemed to like writing in it, so five years later we gave him another, and kept doing this each time he'd filled the last one up.He wrote diary entries almost every day for nearly thirty years.

My brother Christopher has one of the diaries, and I have the other five. When we were children, we thought Dad's diary would be the world's tamest. If we had known the Oscar Wilde quote, we would have thought that anyone reading Dad's diary on the train would fall asleep and miss their stop!

To us it seemed like all he wrote about was boring stuff. His first entry is pretty typical of most of the entries, which he began on 1st January, 1965:

At home. Cleaned under bonnet of car, went to Caves Beach with Mac and children. Friday.
Dad wrote  his last entry on Tuesday, 15th February, 1994. Mum took over the next day, beginning with 

Dad mostly wrote about the weather, what he had done during the day, what he had growing in the garden, his state of health (but only if he was feeling "off" and unable to work) and always made a record of people he had written to or phoned.

But as we read them now, we find them interesting, partly because he reminds us of what happened in our family from 1965 to 1994, and partly because we enjoy it when he breaks his pattern and writes something personal, such as
Wednesday, 18th January, 1967
"Wm J McKell" 7 am-3 pm
Worked on second half of trellis
Note:- David is staying with a friend at Valentine, house quiet
I also like this entry:
What I find amazing in reading my Dad's diaries is how hard he worked, all painstakingly recorded from the age of 55 until he was 84, and no longer in good health.

He did not retire until the age of 65, but he did a huge amount of stuff at home, in addition to all the work for the NSW Dept of Public Works on various dredges, working as a marine engineer.

And every night he would sit down after dinner and read a few verses of his Bible and write his diary. At first I thought that he never missed, but have later discovered the odd entry written post facto, and sometimes crossed out and corrected because he had made a mistake about the particular day something had happened. But in the five diaries we have here, this is very rare.

The diaries also correct misapprehensions of mine, such as my incorrect memory of the day I was baptised. For years I have thought it was 13th February, 1966, and when I looked up that date could not understand why Dad, a good Baptist, did not refer to it. But in reading through, I found that I was in fact baptised on Sunday, 23rd January, but at least it was in 1966.

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PAGE TWENTY-ONE: music in our house

Christopher, David, Malcolm, Robin, Margaret and Sheena McKay
They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be. There are certain pieces of music that remind me of people and places. But they may not be as memorable to them as they are to me!

When I think of my brother Christopher, I remember playing this movement from Bach's Cantata BWV 140 together: I played piano, while he played the lower part on bass guitar. I've still got the music we used ... somewhere. Christopher used to call it Watch it, oaf!

I hope you enjoy this pleasant performance by Steve Howe and friends. I never knew that he was venturing beyond Prog Rock until I hunted for a nice video to share.

I can remember each of my brothers and sisters singing, but Malcolm was the one with the best voice. He followed me to the Newcastle Conservatorium and learnt from the best singer there, I thought. I always loved hearing William Coombes sing: he sounded so natural. Malcolm used to sound great singing Purcell's Man is for the woman made. He has a baritone voice. All of the recordings I can find are sung by tenors or countertenors. But I think Paul Agnew does it justice.

We had a bakelite radio which looked a little like this one, but it was cream, not black and pink. We heard so much great music on that modest AM radio.

The first piece of popular music that arrested me was Lloyd Price singing Personality. I think Mum was bemused by how much it captivated me. I first heard it in about 1959 and it still gets my heart racing.

I often think of Robin singing the hook of Hello, Hello: who's your lady friend? but I don't know where she got it from. It is a very old piece of music, Youtube reveals.

Margaret used to enjoy listening to the old radio, and I remember her singing along to Dinah Lee's version of Don't You Know, Yockomo?

But although Christopher, Malcolm, Robin and Margaret may have forgotten these pieces of music which I associate with them, I'm confident that Sheena remembers this song, though she was a fan a bit later than when she was photographed with her brothers and sisters for the picture I've headed this page with.

Sheena loved Suzi Quatro, and I think she still does. And what is more quintessentially Suzi Q than Devilgate Drive?

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

PAGE TWENTY: inspiring pastors from the church I grew up in

Rev Albin and Mrs Epsie Betterridge

When I think of Belmont Baptist Church, I think of Mr Betterridge. I attended the church from when I arrived in Belmont with my Mum and Dad and my twin brothers, Malcolm and Christopher, until I got married at the tender age of twenty-one and left home.

We had several other ministers, but Mr Betterridge was the one who was there for the longest part of this time and who made the greatest impact on me.

 I can't forget dear Mr Dickson, who was the minister when we arrived, and his lovely, caring wife. Everybody always called them Nanna and Pa Dickson. As in many ministries, Nanna Dickson was a very important part of her husband's effectiveness. Some people even said that they came to faith in Christ, due to her kindness to them.

But I also remember benefiting from Doug Turley's time at our church. He explained to me some aspects of how the Bible was put together, which I don't remember hearing from any of our other pastors. Although he had conservative theological views, he was able to fairly describe points of view which he didn't share. I'm coming to realise how hard it is to do this.
And he was the first person from whom I heard the great Blondin illustration. Blondin was the famous Niagara Falls tightrope walker who told a man that if he really believed he could safely cross over the Falls on a tightrope, he should jump into the wheelbarrow and let him wheel him across.
Christian faith is not merely believing that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but thanking him for taking away my sins, jumping into his wheelbarrow and letting him take charge. Ripper analogy, isn't it!

Mr Betterridge is the pastor who baptised me (on 23rd January, 1966, I learnt from my father's first five year diary, which we gave him for Christmas in 1964. )
He was my Scripture teacher, encouraged my musical gifts and was a faithful Bible teacher. In our Scripture lessons at school, he would invite latecomers into the class with
Come in ... and be at peace!
He used to drive me to Baptist Youth Fellowship, held at Islington Baptist Church (except for the one time he forgot, and I was stranded on the Pacific Highway, until I realised what had happened.)
Later, he baptised my girlfriend, conducted our wedding and also dedication ceremonies for  our first two children. But I'm getting ahead of myself. At the moment I'm only 13 years of age!

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PAGE NINETEEN: a chat at the bus stop

Our Second Grade Theory Class was enjoyable. I learnt a lot of new stuff that I'd never been exposed to before. We learnt to do some music notation and we memorised folk songs, such as Since First I Saw Your Face.

We had some people in the class who would later become known beyond Newcastle, such as broadcaster, composer, writer and musician, Penny Biggins and pianist and cellist, Erzebet Marosszeky.

But I was painfully shy, especially with girls. When I discovered that one of the girls was walking down to the same bus stop as I was, instead of gallantly escorting her, I deliberately took a different route and then stood at the other end of the bus stop! This went on for some weeks.

But one day, I plucked up the courage to walk over and speak to her and discovered that she had a lovely English accent. She told me she came from the soth (rhyming with both) of England. I found out that her name was Joan Sims.

Having broken the ice, I now looked forward to walking with her to the bus stop and getting to know her.

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PAGE EIGHTEEN: becoming a conman

Him and Her, in Newcastle Cultural Centre foyer
It came right out of the blue. Here I was, perfectly happy with my five shillings per week piano lessons with Mrs Walton. I had never thought that there were other possibilities.

I had enjoyed every moment at Melody Lodge, in Albert St, Belmont. I thought I was going fine and also enjoyed reading the Superman and Batman comics in her waiting room. Sometimes I even stayed after the lesson to finish off a comic. Superman's mysterious nemesis, Mr. Mxyzptlk, was a particular favourite.

But one day, Mum asked me how I'd feel about having lessons at Newcastle Conservatorium.

When we were told the name of my new teacher, both Mum and I couldn't help thinking of the infamous Christine Keeler, a callgirl who had featured prominently in the fairly recent Profumo affair. However, my new teacher most certainly looked nothing like this:

I wish I had a decent photo of Miss Eileen Keeley, but I can't find one. I do think Christine Keeler is ahead on points, though.

It wasn't long before we were walking into Newcastle's War Memorial Cultural Centre and encountering the imposing sculpture at the top of this page.  I thought I was doing pretty well with Paderewski's Menuet in G and so played this for my new teacher. I think this was Wednesday, 21st July, 1965, because Dad's diary says that Mum took me to the Con that day.

After hearing me play, Miss Keeley, a diminutive serious-looking woman in her fifties, sighed and said that she would be taking me apart, and would then put me back together again. I don't regret beginning lessons with the affable Joy Walton, because she was encouraging and kind and helped me develop a love of playing. But Miss Keeley showed me that precision, playing the correct fingering and practising scales was also  essential.

When my lessons began, Dad drove me to my lessons. But the next year, I would travel into Newcastle on the double decker bus after school, have my piano lesson, and then head down to the Civic area of town for dinner, and then come back to the Con for Second Grade Theory classes with Miss Naomi Chenorhavor. It was fun buying my own dinner. Sometimes I would buy myself a lime milkshake for 14 cents, but more often I'd have a pie and chips and espresso coffee for 55 cents, or sausages and chips and coffee which cost a whole 95 cents!

The buses were very smoky: there was a sign that said it was non-smoking down stairs, and smoking upstairs. But everyone ignored that, including the bus conductors. I didn't like to sit upstairs because it was always slightly smokier, and as they say, scary because there was no driver!

Most weeks, a drunk would get on the bus at a bus stop outside one of the pubs, make quite a lot of noise, and get off at Windale.This was all new to me. I had not spent much time with smokers or drinkers. Going to town on my own opened up a whole new world.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PAGE SEVENTEEN: Parties, Paul and Peale

Lots of things happened in my first year of high school. I remember attending Debbie Wilson's thirteenth birthday party, and being captivated by the music emanating from a little portable record player.

I especially remember hearing The Beatles' Things We Said Today. There's something arresting about the song: I still love John Lennon's acoustic guitar rhythms, Paul McCartney's voice, the vocal harmony, the nostalgic words and the changes from minor to major modality. Magic!

The album cover is for Beatles For Sale, which I first heard at my friend Paul's place in Grinsell St, Kotara. I thought it was terrific, but I understand that many people think it is one of The Beatles' weakest albums, including George Martin, the group's producer.

Paul Stocks, around this time, we think
Debbie's birthday was 10th August, coincidentally the same day as Les Milne's. When mine came along, on 16th October, Mum arranged a super party. She very naughtily paired us up and put me in a pair with Judy Hudson. I bet she doesn't remember that. She even organised a game of Spin The Bottle, in which you are supposed to kiss the person the bottle points to when it stops spinning.

For my birthday, I was given a copy of Living Letters, Ken Taylor's paraphrase of the New Testament letters,  in 1960s American English. He did not translate from the Greek, but simply reworded the American Standard Version (which was a revision of the 1769 edition of the King James Version).

I found it made the Bible sound like it was written yesterday, and understood the message in a new way. I later learnt that it wasn't very accurate and reflected Taylor's own theology. However, it brought out some uncomfortable aspects of what the Bible says, and I remember complaining to my mother about Romans chapter 9. Mum told me that you can't get away from predestination: it is in the Bible, as is the Bible's invitation to all to come to Christ!
Who does God think he is! I fumed.
He thinks he's God, said Mum
(That's not ipsissima verba, but that's the text of it.)

The same year I also read Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking. My friend Ken Trevillien's mother told me that Dr Peale was a bit too full of himself. Looking back on the author of Romans and most of the other New Testament letters, I think there's a richness in his writings, but a superficiality and shallowness in the positive thinking teaching. So I agree with Adlai Stevenson who said
I find Paul appealing, but Peale appalling
A few years later, my brother Malcolm gave me a copy of The Living Bible, which I still have. I think there's a lot of good in it, but appreciate the more scholarly New Living Translation, which has been carefully translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, by recognised by Bible exegetes, turning Taylor's paraphrase into a reliable translation of the living Word of God.

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PAGE SIXTEEN: a big family

In June, 1964 Mum and Dad received a phone call from the NSW Department of Child Welfare, asking if they still wanted to foster a baby girl. Mum was 46 and Dad, 55. They said Yes and three weeks later, I had a new baby sister. My parents were able to name her, and called their new baby, born on 29th June, Sheena Joy McKay, because, said Mum, a new baby brings joy.

I had had a little experience bottle-feeding Heather Rongong, daughter of Mum's fellow missionary Joy Rongong and her husband Ganu, and enjoyed sitting on the front verandah and giving Sheena her bottle.

In the photo above you can see George (Mac) Smith and Dad in the back row, myself, Mum, Sheena, Christopher and Malcolm in the second row, with Robin standing and Margaret sitting, in the front.

Our family was considered to be a big one, but in those days, a family with four children was thought quite normal and not large. My schoolfriend, Chris Young, had five sisters, and maybe one brother; can't be sure. Mr and Mrs McCloy next door to us, had eight children, and their son next door to them had eleven. I think our neighbours on the other side, Charlie and Joan Gunning, had seven children: Angela, Julie, Charlie, Michael, Maria, Cindy and Tony.

It was great fun having a baby sister. When Sheena got a little older, I tried to teach her the piano. It is not easy teaching your own family member, and I gave up pretty soon. Sheena was quite quick at working out things on the piano, but I was not a very good teacher.

I can't remember where Sheena slept, after she was no longer a baby. I know she had a white bassinette in Mum and Dad's bedroom, at first. I guess she must have joined the girls in their bedroom. I remember moving from the boys' room to the front verandah, when I got a little older, and recall having a mosquito net, to deal with the mozzies. Later, after our various house guests left, I inherited the guest room, which was off the dining room and close to the piano.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

PAGE FIFTEEN: quantum potero

What is energy? Energy is work being done said Mrs Regan, as she walked up and down at the front of her new first form Science class at Belmont High School. Now I knew a little about Nature Study, having watched a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis, but what on earth was my new teacher on about? It was totally bizarre to me.

A few days later, while Mrs Regan was speaking, a little grey-haired man, with granny glasses and dressed in a white lab coat crawled across the floor of our classroom and silently opened a cupboard to get something. I later discovered he was Ben Hall, the Science master. (The kids always called him "Ben," in honour of the famous bushranger.) Strange goings on!

This was my introduction to high school. I also remember painful P T classes, which stood not for Physical Training, but for Physical Torture. Mr Perkins, the sports master, used to get us to do peculiar things like touching our toes without bending our knees. I managed to touch my knees without bending my toes, but he wasn't satisfied.

We were also expected to jump over a long box called a vaulting horse. I could never figure out how you were expected to accomplish this. One day one of the boys landed on the horse and broke his arm, with it dangling dangerously from between his elbow and his hand after the event. Ouch!

English lessons with Miss Norma Fitzpatrick were very enjoyable. She got us to see how many books we could read in a year. I hit on the idea of reading short stories to improve my bottom line. I did manage to read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four, which was quite challenging for a twelve year old, but also joined my brother Christopher in attempting to read through all the science fiction short story books in the Belmont Library. I enjoyed reading stories like  Daniel Keyes' Flowers For Algernon. I think this was the first time that I made a list of achievements. I think I read through 150 books, but most of these were short stories.

We kept losing our Social Studies teachers. Careless, weren't we! Mrs Poetschka left after first term to have a baby; then Mrs Murray also went away for the same reason. When Mr Cornelius arrived in the third term, we thought he'd have to find a different excuse.

But the highlight of junior high school for me, was having proper Music teachers. In those days, most schools had choirs and choral groups, but only a few had bands. But since the 1980s, this seems to have been reversed. This 1966 photo is of the Boys Choir: there was also a much larger Girls Choir.
The choir mistress is Miss Helen Batty. Miss Cross, who was an Art teacher, also taught a few Music lessons. The kids used to say
Miss Cross is batty and Miss Batty is cross.
 I think Miss Batty was pretty good at acting cross, to keep us in line. I'm not sure that Miss Cross was in any way crazy.
We had some great Music teachers. I knew so little about Music, before coming to high school. I had played a few piano pieces, and had heard some songs on the radio, but knew almost no classical music. Our family had a few Broadway musicals, such as The Student Prince, Oklahoma! and Brigadoon and lots of gospel music, but the only classical record we had for a long time was a collection of Strauss waltzes.

I eagerly lapped up the music played for us in class and loved Elective Music classes in which we learnt to follow the score in those great blue, green and orange Fiske score reading books. (We never had the maroon choral one.)

I also loved being in the school choral group. We sang some beautiful music, including Bach's chorale from  St Matthew Passion, but we didn't sing it in German, nor the familiar English words O sacred head, now wounded. We sang these lovely words:
Commit thy way to Jesus,
Thy burdens and thy cares;
He from them all releases,
He all thy sorrow shares.
He gives the winds their courses,
And bounds the ocean's shore,
He suffers not temptation
To rise beyond thy power.
I think they were just words to sing, for many. But I sang them as an expression of my faith in Christ.

Quantum potero? That was the school motto, which we were told means Strive your best. I'm pleased to see that Belmont High School still refers to this old motto, though now the school describes its purpose as
Building harmony and success

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Monday, August 27, 2012

PAGE FOURTEEN: a new beginning

Moving from our old school on the hill to our decagon in Livingstone St was like emerging from the dark ages into the renaissance. But historically this happened gradually, whereas for us it was instantaneous.

At our old school, we had dark classrooms and old, old desks with inkwells in them. We were not allowed to use those new-fangled biros. I always hated the inkpens. I made a mess trying to write, partly because as a left-hander, my hand would smudge the page as it moved across. I tried using a blotter, but I still managed to muck it up.

We had to use old-fashioned cursive script, with all the loops, which should have looked something like this:
Mine never did! I used to get good marks for Arithmetic, which, for some reason, was always out of 200, and for the other subjects, which were all out of 100. I enjoyed most subjects, but endured sport and other physical high jinks. My marks for Writing were nearly always 60/100.

Fifth class was particularly a trial. I copped Mr Sheehan again, having had him as my teacher in third class. It was fairly boring, because he used the same songs and stories as we'd had the first time round. I think the arithmetic, spelling and social studies were different.

But I enjoyed sitting next to Ian Nickalls. He was a nice-natured kid and used to tease me about my pale skin. He called me brown legs. Ian introduced me to the Top 40. He used to bring hit parade charts to school. I think he used to enjoy Gerry and the Pacemakers singing I Like It and How Do You Do It?

One day the teacher asked us what we would like to do when we left school. I'm not sure Ian quite understood the question, because when it was his turn, he said
I think I might read a book.
Funny the things you remember. (But I often find the person in the tale has completely forgotten the main thing you remember them by.)

But, in 1964, we moved to a brand new ten-sided school, with new classrooms, new desks, new biros, modified cursive, without all those confounded loops and ... girls. I may have been only eleven at the beginning of 1964, but I thought girls were not the kind of creatures you would choose to be separated from!

When we were told we were going to have a new school with the girls, there were whispers about a new girl called Helen Scott. I think she was new to the girls school and was beating everyone else there. My friend, Glen Davies and I were intrigued and were looking forward to meeting her. We were informed that she was blonde and very bright.

My last year of primary school was very enjoyable. We had a wonderful teacher that year. His name was Les Milne. He was a warm, kindly man who treated us with courtesy. I enjoyed his readings from The Hobbit immensely.

Towards the end of the year, my friend Leonard and I were invited to do a tour of the classrooms playing our two party pieces (both Beatles songs, of course): If I Fell and I Should Have Known Better. Leonard played his steel string guitar and I played my 48 bass piano accordion.

Here is a photo of our brand new school. Notice the lovely creatures in front:

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

PAGE THIRTEEN: going to camp

Recent photo of Tahlee House
I was only nine years of age when I began attending Christian Endeavour sport days. I have always found sport to be incredibly daunting and also thoroughly boring.

Fortunately, I met the ten year old Paul Stocks at the first sports day our CE group attended, and we have been friends ever since. Paul's family attended Kotara Methodist Church. We did not participate in the goings on, but stood around talking and also eating food we had bought at the canteen.

When I was only a little older, I went off to a camp at Tahlee Bible College. I don't recall anyone else from Belmont attending, though I think my new friend went. At the camp, we met Philip Rawlings, from Charlestown Baptist. He was the same age as us, and was quite a character. One day Philip hid in an overhead cupboard during our Bible study time. We've never let him forget that.
I was a timid little boy and found some of the other boys to be quite scary. But there were a pair of twins there called Phillip and Paul Hall, from Boolaroo Presbyterian - their father was the minister. They were kind, fun and musical. They were great jokesters. They seemed to know them all. The twins were probably about fourteen or fifteen. They played  green Hohner harmonicas together and created a great sound.
I would love to catch up with them, but lost contact about forty years ago!

Phillip and Paul made sure I was safe and helped me find my glasses when I dropped them in the dark. (How do you find your glasses when you're blind as a bat without them?) They were also intelligent and articulate and had a living, Christian faith. They were great role models for a young lad to emulate.

I listened intently to camp leader, Godfrey Theobald's daughter Carolyn playing the piano, and learnt how to make a song sound groovy. I used to like her bass line in the song He's Able. By next camp, I had it down pat and was enjoying playing some of the songs and having people listen to me play. (Especially female people...)

The camps were cheap, but this meant that campers had to do chores such as peeling spuds, keeping toilets clean, etc. There seemed to be mountains of vegetables to wash and peel. I remember the Hall twins used to tell someone they liked that he was worth his weight in pumpkin skins.

There were long queues of hungry children, lined up waiting for their dinner. Michael Robinson and other Bible college staff and students used to regale us with shaggy dog stories while we waited. And waited.

Sometimes we were given a puzzle to solve. I still remember this one:
A man is looking at a picture on the wall, and makes this statement:
Brothers and sisters have I none,
But this man's father is my father's son.

Who is the man in the picture?

Mr Theobald was a kind gentleman, who was able to keep us under control without losing his rag. Not an easy task, says this former schoolteacher. He was a gifted speaker and used his artistic abilities to produce lightning sketches: pictures that were done very quickly and effectively as he told his stories.

If you asked him for his autograph (and many of us did) he would take the opportunity to draw something that left you with a gospel presentation to ponder. Here is what he put in my autograph book:

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Sunday School early 1960s, Belmont Baptist Church

When we moved to Belmont, our family joined the Baptist Church. Church in those days was quite different from how we experience it today. Children went to Sunday School at 9.30 AM, then our parents would join us for church at 11 AM.

Older children would be back at church for Christian Endeavour in the afternoon, would come home for dinner and go back again for the 7 PM evening service. Sometimes there was a fellowship dinner before church, and there was often also supper at either church or someone's home after the evening service.

Once a month, there was a Missionary League meeting, before Christian Endeavour, in which older children would cut stamps off envelopes to send away to the Australian Baptist Mission Society for the support of missionaries like Miss Ruth Marks, who was serving as a nurse in Papua New Guinea with the Enga people. It's a wonder anyone went to work or school on Monday, but back then it seemed quite normal. And, mostly, I enjoyed it. I found the teaching about Christ meaningful, and I was given the opportunity to lead, pray, speak and play the piano for singing at Christian Endeavour, and then later at church.

In the picture above, I am sitting between Leonard Turnbull and Stephen Neill. I sat next to Leonard in Sunday School for years and years. He learnt guitar, while I was learning piano. He had a good ear for music and could play the introduction to almost any popular song. (Often, the arresting opening of the songs was more interesting than the music which followed.)

I enjoyed playing with him and his neighbour, Greg Bellamy. We did a mean version of The Shadows' Theme For Young Lovers.

When I went to theological college, Leonard used to send us some money from time to time, to help us with our expenses. We never asked people to do this, or told them about our financial needs. But on several occasions when we did not have the money in the bank to pay the rent, a cheque from Leonard (and sometimes somebody else) would arrive on the day the rent was due. Initially our weekly rent was a whole $40 per week. It later went up to $45 per week and then $50. One thing that has always intrigued me is that when the rent was increased, the gift increased to meet the new amount (without any prompting from us).

Leonard later went to college himself. I don't remember sending him any money, but I did loan him  my theological library.

The picture below shows a group of Sunday school teachers. I can't remember all their names, but you can see Cec Williams, Sunday School superintendent on the top left, standing next to Tom Mascord, Alf Presbury and Norm Hutchison. I don't remember the other man. I think that I know five out of six of the ladies: not sure who the first is, but the others are Miss Ryan, Mrs Gates, Mrs Maskey, Mrs Knowles and, I think, Margaret Powell.

Cec used to give us things to think about at the beginning of Sunday School, before we went off to our classes. They were practical topics that made you think about living as a Christian at school and home.

Tom Mascord and Norm Hutchison both taught me. Alf Presbury was the husband of the Kindergarten Sunday School superintendent and an accomplished ventriloquist and magician. We used to love his tricks and his stories which he used to present the Christian message.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

PAGE ELEVEN: the school on the hill

Belmont Infants School was quite enjoyable. Our teachers were all women and were mainly kind and friendly, though I found Mrs Cook, my teacher in second class to be a bit severe.

Mrs Sheehan, my teacher in first class, was a lovely natured person. I don't think you would find anyone who would have a bad word to say about her. I had an unpleasant encounter with her once, but it was all my own fault.

Someone told me to jump over a cliff, gave me some rope, and I stupidly jumped. Well, actually a certain little boy in the picture told me to write some rude words on the toilet wall and gave me some chalk. So I did! Can you guess what happened next? You got it! He went straight to Mrs Sheehan and told her that David McKay had written some rude words on the toilet wall.

I think she had the situation sussed pretty well, and she simply gave me a cloth to go and wipe off MRS BLOODY BUGGAR from the toilet wall. (I had thought that bugger would be spelt like beggar.)

When we were promoted to primary school, boys and girls were separated. I don't know about other primary schools in the 1960s, but I do know that most high schools were single sex. In fact, Belmont High School was the first coeducational state school in the Newcastle area. People were sure that the girls would get pregnant if you put boys and girls together.

I found Belmont Public School, from third to fifth class, to be a rather brutal place. The boys swore like troopers and were very rough with one another. And many of the teachers (all male) spent quite a lot of time caning little boys. It seems odd that the wives of the men could manage us in second class without whacking us continually, but the men didn't seem to be able to the following year.

I got the cane ten times in primary school: nine times for talking in class, and once because I moved during an assembly. I moved because a teacher pushed me, then reported me for moving! That's pretty close to my experience in first class, come to think of it. Except that the boy who gave me the chalk didn't actually force me to write the graffiti.

It amazes me that children were allowed to leave the playground and wander off to the shops to buy lunch, even though the school had its own tuckshop. I used to sit with Neville Chiplin at lunch time, and he would go to the fish and chip shop and buy himself two shillings worth of scollops and come back with quite a large greasy package to scoff. Neville and I are standing together in the top row of the photo: I'm the kid with the glasses, and Neville is on my right.

One day he told me a poem his father had taught him and I still remember it, after all these years:
With the hemlines coming up
And the necklines going down
I don't know what it's all leading to -
But I'm going to stick around
As I recall, Neville and I spent a bit of time together at the boys' school on the hill, with the Moreton Bay fig tree roots breaking up the asphalt. I don't remember seeing him much after that.
But one day in the late 70s, after having not seen each other for about fifteen or sixteen years, a petrol station attendant in Milton, Queensland asked me:
Do you come from down south?
(Queenslanders call the rest of Australia down south.) I told him I did, and he then asked me if I had attended Belmont High School. I was amazed that although he and I looked quite different, he knew who I was immediately, and after he asked me whether I came from Belmont, I instantly knew who he was.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

PAGE TEN: the best house in the world

Gladys Sharp, Cousin Margaret and Nanna, with Mum and her sister, Peg
We moved in the year I turned seven. Mum and Dad thought we were going to need more room, now that there were three boys and two girls in our family. Margaret was two weeks older than me, and Robin was five months younger than Malcolm and Christopher.

Dad was mortified that he had to take out a small overdraft of a few hundred pounds to purchase the property. He had paid cash for our first two houses.

Christopher, David and Malcolm
It was a lovely big house, on a three-quarter acre property. It is a shame that we have so few pictures of it. The one above, taken on our side verandah, is of my mother Bea and her sister Peg, Nanna and her half-sister, Gladys, and my cousin Margaret. There was also an enclosed front verandah, which you can see in the photo of me with my twin brothers.

There was a bedroom for the boys, one for Mum and Dad, a bedroom for the girls and a guest room.
We had a lounge room and dining-room and a rumpus room behind the kitchen. There was a bathroom off a corridor between the girls' room and the boys' room and there was a shower in the laundry.
The kitchen had a fuel stove and an electric stove.
The house had been built by our neighbour, Mr McCloy, who lived with his wife Lila next door to his son, who had what seemed like quite a modest house, yet they managed to fit their eleven children in it, too.
While Mr McCloy built his house, his family of eight children lived with him and his wife in a shed at the back of the property.

There were two car garages and another room for storage.

Dad had plenty of room to grow veges and there was a mulberry tree and a drain that went through the property, enabling us children to play Pooh sticks which involved us throwing bits of wood under the bridge over the drain and watching them come through to the other side.
Mum was always inviting people to come and stay with us. They would usually stay in the guest room. My piano was on the guest room wall.
Our first guest was Nanna. She lived with us during the last six months of her life, dying in November, 1962, just after I turned ten. Mum and Dad bought our first television that year, and Margaret and Nanna used to enjoy watching the ballroom dancing together.
And we all enjoyed watching Victor Borge, the Danish comedian-musician, but especially enjoyed watching Nanna rolling with laughter at his very corny jokes. I used to like the one about Mr Plus One, who always had to add a number to everything he said. One day Mr Plus One turned up at a friend's house, dressed in white shirt, white shorts and white sandshoes and asked:
Any two five elevenis?

Nanna enjoyed the visits from our minister, Doug Turley. She liked his way of explaining that our relationship with God is not based on going to church, or on what we do, but on what Jesus has done in his life, death and resurrection. Mum had tried to tell her mother about the faith she had embraced at the age of eighteen, which led her to train at Sydney Missionary and Bible College and then spend twelve years as a housemother in Kalimpong, West Bengal. But she felt that Mr Turley had been the one to help Nanna to also share this joy.

I think Irene Johnson came to stay with us while Nanna was there. Irene came from Nelson Bay, but had got a job at Heddles' Shoe Store in Belmont, and so stayed with us during the week (and some weekends). Irene was a pretty young woman with auburn hair. She was a piano accordionist and taught me to play the instrument. One of her party pieces was called The Assurance March and I was thrilled to learn how to play it, because it included a bass run - easy to execute on the piano, but requiring some dexterity on the accordion.

George "Mac" Smith
In 1963, George Smith (also known as Mac) came to stay, having just arrived from London. George had been a greatly loved  boy whom Mum had cared for in India when she was a housemother.  He had been working for the textbook publishers, Longmans and Green. When he first arrived, he worked for Keith Cox as a brickie's labourer.
He was a great fan of Cliff Richard and I remember Lucky Lips emanating from the radio in his bedroom.
But it wasn't long before George got a job in Ringwood, Victoria working for Penguin Books. He gave us copies of some great books, including C S Lewis' The Magician's Nephew and Donald Horne's The Lucky Country.

 Mum's habit of inviting people home is exemplified by the time we went ten pin bowling one Christmas Eve.  There was an American man at the bowling alley, all on his own. Mum invited him to come and play with us and asked him what he would be doing on Christmas Day. He said he would be spending it in his hotel room, and so Mum asked him to come to our place for Christmas lunch. we thought he said his name was Wolt Gauze, which sounded like an unusual name, even for an American, but it turned out that his name was Walter Gowers.
After lunch, Walt asked if he could use the bathroom. We duly directed him to the bathroom, but our bathroom did not have the actual facility he was needing. Although our house in York Crescent was the best house in the world, the toilet was outside the house. It seems strange to have a house with the toilet outside, but I did recently see one in Georges Plains, which is a few kilometres from Bathurst.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I have always enjoyed telling jokes.
And this page screams for one, I think.

I read somewhere once that there are only six jokes.
I have been thinking about this, and have not been able to find a seventh category. Can you?

Most jokes are, of course, a combination of the categories.
1. Wordplay, double meanings.
Straight man: Did you take a shower this morning?
Vaudeville star: No, why? Is there one missing? 

The crazy alphabet 
 (Might help if you read it aloud. Then again, it might not.)
A is for ‘orses,
Beef or mutton
C for swimming
E for brick
(and my personal favourite)
G for police
H before beauty
I for bad cold
Jaffa oranges
K for teria
L for leather
M for sis
N for a penny, N for a pound
O for the garden fence
P for relief
Q for tickets
R for mo
S for as I know
T for two
U for me
V for La France
W for a dollar
X for breakfast
Y for husbands
Z for breezes

 a. Shaggy dog stories
A man takes his dog to the vet, hoping that the vet can do something, but suspecting that his dog is already dead. The vet says he will do some tests to verify that the dog is dead.
A labrador comes into the room and sniffs the dog.
Then a cat comes in and examines the dog closely.
The vet charges the man $500, at which he protests.
The charge is then itemised, as follows:
$20 for the consultation
$100 for the lab test
$380 for the cat scan. 

b. Knock knock jokes 
Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Isobel who?
Isobel necessary on a bike? 

2. Poking fun at someone
such as pompous, or religious people, or authorities, or a supposed underclass of people from inferior races, religions and despised musical instrument players.
What’s the difference between a viola and an onion?
No one cries when you cut up a viola! 
a. Pompous, upright person uses or thinks rude words.
Holy Dan
It was in the Queensland drought;
And over hill and dell,
No grass – the water far apart,
All dry and hot as hell.
The wretched bullock teams drew up
Beside a water-hole –
They’d struggled on through dust and drought
For days to reach this goal.
And though the water rendered forth
A rank, unholy stench,
The bullocks and the bullockies
Drank deep their thirst to quench.

Two of the drivers cursed and swore
As only drivers can.
The other one, named Daniel,
Best known as Holy Dan,
Admonished them and said it was
The Lord’s all-wise decree;
And if they’d only watch and wait,
A change they’d quickly see.

’Twas strange that of Dan’s bullocks
Not one had gone aloft,
But this, he said, was due to prayer
And supplication oft.
At last one died but Dan was calm,
He hardly seemed to care;
He knelt beside the bullock’s corpse
And offered up a prayer.

"One bullock Thou has taken, Lord,
And so it seemeth best.
Thy will be done, but see my need
And spare to me the rest!"

A month went by. Dan’s bullocks now
Were dying every day,
But still on each occasion would
The faithful fellow pray,
"Another Thou has taken, Lord,
And so it seemeth best.
Thy will be done, but see my need,
And spare to me the rest!"

And still they camped beside the hole,
And still it never rained,
And still Dan’s bullocks died and died,
Till only one remained.
Then Dan broke down – good Holy Dan –
The man who never swore.
He knelt beside the latest corpse,
And here’s the prayer he prore.

"That’s nineteen Thou has taken, Lord,
And now You’ll plainly see
You’d better take the bloody lot,
One’s no damn good to me."
The other riders laughed so much
They shook the sky around;
The lightning flashed, the thunder roared,
And Holy Dan was drowned. 
b. Pompous person gets his come-uppance
A man goes to a specialist, having been sent by his G P.
The specialist asks: And what advice did that worthless, time waster give you?
Man: He told me to come and see you!

3. Surprise ending
An artist who paints from life is working in his studio at the back of his property on a cold morning.
He says to the model: Put on your clothes and let's have a cup of coffee.
As they are drinking it, he hears footsteps approaching.
He shouts: Quick! Off with your clothes! It's the wife!

4. Jokes about human nature
How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. 
a. Jokes about sex 
Man in pub: What do you think about sex before marriage?
Companion in pub: Can't see anything wrong with it.
Man: Me neither. I had sex with my wife before we were married. Did you?
Companion: I might have. What was her name?

 5. Nonsense, surrealist and post-modern jokes
How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
 6. Specialist knowledge jokes ( In Jokes)
 A French teacher takes her class to see Les Misérables.
After the program, a student comments: It was a great show, Miss. But which one was Les?
A violinist asks his pianist friend to rehearse with him for a concert. The pianist asks what he is going to play. The violinist tells him he is playing Paganini. But the pianist glances at the music score and remarks:
That's not Paganini. that's PAGE NINE

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PAGE EIGHT: when Grandma came to visit

Malcolm, David & Christopher with Grandma

In August, 1957, according to Mum's inscription on the back of this photo, Grandma came over from Devonport, Tasmania for a visit. Lillian Mabel McKay, Dad's mother, was an austere woman. Dad adored her, but his sisters were more sanguine.

Mum asked her what the children should call her and she replied: Grandmother! But we never did.
When we were children, having your photograph taken was a bit of an ordeal. The photographer always made sure you were looking directly into the sun and feeling as uncomfortable as possible. I think the picture conveys this pretty well.

During Grandma's stay, Mum got up from the lunch table to get something, and while she was away, I put my hand into the sugar bowl and grabbed some to eat.

Grandma immediately exclaimed:
Bea! Do you allow David to put his hand in the sugar bowl?

This was my only encounter with Grandma. She had been caring for Dad's brother, Don, but he was becoming harder to manage. She had him put into a mental institution and he lived there for the rest of his life.
Don and Trixie McKay, with their  father George
At the time, I didn't know that Grandma had finally been relieved of looking after Uncle Don, but was told this many years later. We were often told that Dad's brother was mad (meaning insane).
But when Joan and I reflected on all of the things we were told about Uncle Don, we came to the conclusion that he must have been not mad, but autistic. I feel so sad that he did not get the help that is available today that could have enabled him to have a fulfilling life.

Uncle Don was quite a clever person. He learnt the piano and I was given copies of some music that he had transcribed, including Handel's stirring March from Scipio. I was also given his Thompson Chain Reference Bible. Reading it through and following the chains was my first experience of systematic theology. I remember being captivated by tracing the development of the Bible's teaching on the divinity of Jesus and its trinitarian theology.

After Grandma went home, she would send us a money order for five shillings each birthday and at Christmas time. And we would always dutifully write a letter to her which said
Dear Grandma.
How are you? I hope you are well.
Thankyou for your kind gift of five shillings.
I have decided to spend it on ...
Your loving grandson,
When Grandma wrote letters to Mum and Dad, she wrote almost exclusively about three topics:
* the weather (bemoaning Devonport's damp, cold climate)
* what she was growing in her garden
* the jam she was making from loganberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

PAGE SEVEN: my first piano

In September, 1959 Nanna, my mother's mother, helped my parents to buy my first piano, which was an 85 note W H Paling iron frame black upright, which had been made late in the 1890s, I think.

The price was 90 guineas. Nanna said she would pay the 90 pounds if Mum and Dad paid the 90 shillings.

Mum and Dad bought the piano in a private sale from someone who lived in Marks Point, Lake Macquarie. The piano removalists couldn't get the piano down the stairs, so they had to lower it on ropes from the balcony. Mum was worried it would drop and be destroyed in the attempt!

When it arrived at Lot 33, York Crescent, Belmont North my brother Malcolm said
When Daddy comes home, David can show him how it goes!

On 29th September, 1959 I had my first piano lesson from Mrs Joy Walton at Melody Lodge in Albert St, Belmont.

I was a very nervous child and Mrs Walton was just right for me. She was kind and easy-going and I enjoyed every lesson from my Florence Wickins piano tutor.

I thought playing the piano was the greatest thing and never had to be told to practise. So it is not easy for me to relate to students who don't automatically want to practise, but I do try to understand.

I'm very grateful to my Nanna for her part in setting me on the road of discovering Music. Rachmaninov was surely right when he said
Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for Music.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

PAGE SIX: sisters

Robin, Malcolm, Christopher, Margaret and me

In 1958, Mum and Dad read in the newspaper that there were Aboriginal children who were homeless and needed care. My Dad felt our family was not complete without girls and Mum and Dad asked if there was a baby girl who needed a home.
They were told there was a three year old, but she had a five year old sister who would come with her.
Shortly after, Robin (three) and Margaret (five) came to live with us. We later learnt that they also had other siblings who had gone elsewhere.
Mum and Dad decided that they needed a bigger house with two extra children to house, and we moved to a lovely big house in Belmont North. At first it was called Lot 33, but was later numbered and became 12 York Crescent.

 In the 1980s, after the report Bringing Them Home was published, we were told that the indigenous children who had been adopted, including my own sisters, were stolen from their parents. I know my parents did not intend to steal Margaret and Robin and feel unsettled about my parents being cast as accomplices in removing them from their family.

Margaret is two weeks older than I am. She and her husband Kevin live in Valentine, around the lake a bit from Belmont, and have always been a great help to Mum and Dad. When Mum was no longer able to care for Dad by herself, he went into Narla Village, which is very close to our home in York Crescent. Margaret and Mum visited him every day, and Margaret made sure he got his dinner as soon as it was ready each evening.
Then when Mum was in declining health and starting to suffer from dementia, it was Margaret who visited her nearly every day, both in her home, and then very regularly in the hospital and aged care places where she spent her last couple of years.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

PAGE FIVE: school

I've been pondering this photo today. I think I started at Belmont Infants School, just before I turned five in September, 1957 and that this was my class the following year.
My first teacher was called Miss Hunter. I could already read a few letters and words, but Miss Hunter soon showed me there was more to learn.

She got us to recognise the first letter in our names. I was sure that the boy third from the end in the second row would have to begin his name with F, but Miss Hunter said his name began with a P. But what kind of a name is Pilip, I mused?
There are forty children in the class photo. I wonder how many Infants teachers today would consider teaching all of those children in the one class? I think I can put a name to the faces of fifteen of the children (with a bit of help from some facebook friends today). I recognise others, but can't think of their names.
It is wonderful to be in touch with two of the people in this photo, and others I went to school with, through internet link ups.
It is such a different world from the one we were born into.
Back in the 1950s, children walked to school. We didn't live far away, but we did walk, and on our own, even though most of our mothers didn't go to work outside the home. They'd pick us up if it was raining.

It may seem strange to think that the little boy with the glasses on asked Jesus to be his Saviour on Christmas Day, 1957. Surely too early to understand the ramifications? But as I have grown, my faith has deepened. I have have spent my whole life (so far) investigating the Bible, because I believe it to be the word of God to me.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

PAGE FOUR: a girl with a piano

My father used to love quoting Thomas à Kempis' observation in his book, The Imitation of Christ,
Man proposes, but God disposes.
I think Dad meant that you can make your plans, but things may not turn out in quite the way you thought they would.

After finding himself working in Newcastle for a couple of years, while we lived in the Sydney suburb of Russell Lea, he bought a house in the Lake Macquarie area so that we were living close to where he worked. It was 46 Macquarie St, Belmont. And he paid cash for it.

Very shortly after we moved, Dad was transferred to Port Kembla!

I soon discovered that there was a girl called Dianne living a few doors up the street. And she had a piano! I loved going to her house and tinkering on it. Dianne told me she could play God Save The Queen and proceeded to demonstrate, but it didn't sound quite right to me! Sometimes she could get as far as
God save our gracious Queen
Long live *!?
where it started to sound wrong. Then she'd start again and only get to
God save our #@$!
I don't remember her ever starting on C and thus being able to complete the whole song on the white keys. At that time, I didn't have a clue about those mysterious black keys, and so couldn't have solved the problem myself ... but I knew there was one.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

PAGE THREE: tucking in at Tuckey's

previous page
I'm now two years old, still living in Russell Lea, and think I have things pretty much figured out.
I have discovered that Mrs Tuckwell, the middle-aged lady next door, cooks continuously, because every time I toddle down her pathway, she has pikelets on the griddle, almost ready for me to eat.

Many years later, I found out that Mum gave Mrs Tuckwell a warning that I was on my way down the path.

I am still quite partial to them, but over the past eighteen months, *not* eating them has been one of the ways I have lost twenty kilos.
I wonder if Mrs Tuckwell knew this song from 1950? (Presumably not in the Ernie and Cookie Monster version from 1969.)
I think every little boy should have a neighbour like Tuckey.

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PAGE TWO: how I got hooked on Music

previous page
It's now 1954. I'm living in Russell St, Russell Lea, but one day, Mum turfs me out and sends me off to Aunty Peg's place. Aunty Peg and Uncle Ben have four children: Elizabeth, twins Robert and Margaret, and Susan.
I got turfed out for a few days because Dad was probably away working on a ship somewhere (as a marine engineer), and Mum was about to give birth to twins.
My cousin Susan remembers me sitting up in my high chair at the age of twenty months, captivated by Aunty Peg playing pieces on the piano like The Robin's Return and Dvořák's Humoresque.

And I'm still hooked, fifty-eight years later. If you play the piano, you can print out a free copy of this piece from the link above, and have a crack at it, yourself.  

And you can hear what it sounds like in this enjoyable performance by Neville Dickie.

When I came back home, I had two new brothers: Malcolm and Christopher. Mum was so excited she wrote her one and only song about them, which goes like this:

There were two little twinnie boys who lived in Russell Street
The dearest little twinnie boys that ever you could meet.
Their mother loved them very much
And Daddy loved them, too
One was Malcolm McKenzie
And the other was Christopher Hugh

Interestingly, I was born ten years after Elizabeth, and Malcolm and Christopher were born ten years after Aunty Peg's twins.

Triplets? Malcolm, myself and Christopher

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PAGE ONE: smugglers

Beatrice Walker and Stanley McKay
This is a book about me. It has sixty pages, for reasons that will become obvious later in the story.
 If you like it, I might write another one. I'm posting it here over the next sixty days. One day I might turn it into a real book.

  How it all started
In 1951, a man called Stan asked a woman called Betty if she wouldn't mind taking a suitcase through customs for him. And that's how my parents met.
 But most people, including Mum, called Dad "Scot" and Dad never called Mum "Betty." When she told him her name was Beatrice, he shortened it, with permission, to "Bea."

 The suitcase was full of ladies' underwear. Dad wasn't kinky, and he didn't want Customs to think he was kinky. He was taking the very respectable lingerie to his sister, who was also called Beatrice, a nurse with The Leprosy Mission in South India. But nobody called my Aunty "Beatrice." She was always known as "Trixie."

 Nine days later, Dad asked Mum if there was any reason why he couldn't ask her to marry him, and Mum said she couldn't think of any.

 They married when they got to India, on 9th January, 1952, where Mum had been a housemother in St Andrews Colonial Homes, Kalimpong for the previous twelve years. She had been intending to begin her fourth term there, but after meeting Dad, changed her mind and they travelled back to Australia on the same ship, The S.S. Himalaya.

My life began soon afterwards, but definitely after the wedding. In fact Mum sent the servant boy to bring her their wedding certificate, which had been left with the minister, before she would spend the night with her new husband. When I was born, I weighed only four pounds, and was a few weeks premature, so I guess my life began on board the Himalaya, en route to Australia, because my birthday is 16th October.
McKAY Beatrice MALE 7 pm 16.10.52

Dad's telegram to Mum: Bundaleer arrives Sydney noon Friday

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