A to Z 2020 blog reading and thoughts

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A to Z reflection

This year there were 418 bloggers who participated in the April A to Z Challenge – a more manageable number than in some previous years. I liked that they were categorised too, which probably limits which blogs you’re likely to read when time is short, but conversely lets you maximise the benefits. I’ve included my list of blogs I read intensively through the challenge – there’s great content in there.

This was my 5th year participating in the A to Z: you can see the links to previous years at the end of this post in case you’ve got cabin fever and need something more to read.


I like to comment on posts, even if I do a batch at a time (eg on Sundays when no posts are scheduled). These are the things I like, or find frustrating when reading a blog:

  • A “like” button or similar if you don’t have anything profound to add or are short for time.
  • Posts which require completion of a form on each occasion you comment can be frustrating, take more time and can be a deterrent to commenting (hence the added benefit of a like button)
  • Responses to comments are always welcome – otherwise it’s a bit like talking to yourself
  • Many genealogy bloggers were very generous with their time in commenting at different times throughout the challenge or even on each post.
  • A useful tip for those following Australian genealogy/history bloggers is the Facebook group called Australian History Bloggers Fan Group…a one-stop shop for finding interesting blogs.
  • I like that wordpress.com keeps my blogs spam free and I only have to be careful the first time someone comments to confirm they’re genuine. Sometimes it does get it wrong, but luckily one of those bloggers contacted me through Messenger to give me a heads-up.
  • Try to get your images lined up before you start – always assuming you have your challenge program worked out in advance. This can save a lot of time and angst.

Blogs I followed through the Challenge

Genealogy/Family History

Anne’s Family History

Earlier Years

Family History Fun

Finding Eliza

Genealogy Challenges



Molly’s Canopy

The Curry Apple Orchard


Diary of a Dublin Housewife

Best Bookish Blog

The Local Tourists

My previous A to Z challenges

2019 – Snapshot memories of my early married life in Papua New Guinea

2016 – How to pursue an interest in family history or genealogy

2013 – Travels through Australia’s North and Aussie-isms (colloquialisms)

2012 – A genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue


My A to Z finale and reflections

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A to Z reflection

The end of an A to Z challenge always comes with a sense of achievement as well as some relief at its conclusion. Blogging six times a week on a consistent theme can be demanding of time and mental energy, especially if you start at the last minute as I did this year.

A couple of months ago I’d set out a schedule on the topic of Gratitude which I also wanted to tie into my family history and ancestral lives. Unfortunately, with so many of the words I listed, it was nearly impossible to show them in action in my families. This made me rethink my chosen words and forced some mental gymnastics to remember all the various research discoveries I’d made over the years and how they demonstrated whichever attribute of gratitude I’d chosen.

Did I succeed? I’m not sure but I’m pleased with the stories I presented and how they showed the character and resilience of my ancestors. Not all were “perfect”, certainly not all the time, but they do provide me with inspiration for lives well lived, and forgiveness for times fallen short.

In these times of coronavirus and covid-19, the challenge was a perfect antidote to the uncertainties and social restrictions. Not only did it consume a lot of time (the virtue of starting late this year), it also reminded me that my ancestors had tough times as well and survived and thrived.

I’d like to thank those who followed along and those who commented or shared my posts as well as all those who shared their blog stories through the challenge. My blog reading net wasn’t spread as widely this year (the downside of a late start) but I’ve followed excellent series by fellow family historians and some bloggers from previous years. Thank you for your entertainment and sharing your stories.

UPDATE: A to Z Blog reading and thoughts – a further post.

Looking back a few years I found a post I’d written about the list of things I’m grateful for. It really hasn’t changed that much. Of course it differs from the things my ancestors would have been grateful for, but not entirely.




Is Zen a goal, a gratitude or an attitude?

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Z2020Since my underlying theme for the A to Z this year has been gratitude and aspects of it, Zen seems to be the ultimate objective: where we reach a state of calmness and gratefulness that accepts our life as it is.

It’s particularly pertinent in April 2020 as we come to terms with a different life in social isolation from how we normally fill our days. #Iso-Zen might be our goal. For myself I haven’t found my life to be vastly different from usual other than what might be over-dramatically expressed as a reduction in freedom, to just go out, meet friends, have a coffee, go for dinner or for a drive in the country.


Image from Pixabay by Dweedon1

The A to Z challenge this year has been a great way to use my time productively and has provided a focus for the days. My main outings have been to see my mother in her care home and occasional outings for exercise. Fortunately, Australia’s leaders have worked largely collaboratively and put safety precautions in place quickly, so that most of us do not sit in fear each day. That truly is a cause for gratitude.

Zen teaches that once we can open up to the inevitability of our demise, we can begin to transform that situation and lighten up about it. Allen Klein, American author

Zen and Ancestors

There’s no particular way to identify whether my ancestors had reached a zen-like attitude to their lives. Perhaps there’s just the hope that at the end of their lives they were content with what they’d achieved, felt happiness from the ever-expanding family descendants, and were grateful for the joys of their lives. I can only hope they had no great regrets about leaving their homeland or how their lives had turned out. Many had maintained their religious faith which had sustained them over the years.  They’d been determined in achieving their goals and were settled in their locations and had contributed to the growth of our country and their neighbourhoods. I suppose we can call that reaching a state of Zen or contentment.

How do you regard Zen and discover it in your ancestors’ lives?

Well, I believe life is a Zen koan, that is, an unsolvable riddle. But the contemplation of that riddle – even though it cannot be solved – is, in itself, transformative. And if the contemplation is of high enough quality, you can merge with the divine. Tom Robbins, American author.


A zen garden at San Francisco’s Japanese Gardens. © P Cass 2017

Quotes from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes

Yearning for “Home”

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Y2020Over the years I’ve often thought of what constitutes “home” to me. You’d think I might have reached a conclusion after travel, living in two countries and two states, but I still waver. Without a doubt I’m an Aussie, I love the wide open skies and the vivid colours, the changing shades of the sea and the wildlife. Although I’ve spent many years of my life in Brisbane it just doesn’t speak to me as “home” though it feels familiar. Similarly, returning to Darwin seems “normal” yet also isn’t home even though I miss those wild Wet Season storms, the thunder and lightning and the flurry of dragonflies to herald the Dry Season.

When I first lived in Papua New Guinea I was homesick for Brisbane, yet within a year PNG had become home, and when we left over 8 years later, I was then homesick for the sights, sounds and smells of PNG. These days whenever I’m away I’m ready for home after a few weeks. So perhaps home geographically is simply Australia and more specifically wherever Mr Cassmob, the cat, and our collection of books and “stuff” reside. My vast gratitude is embedded in Australia and my family.

“LA’s fine but it ain’t home, New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more”. Neil Diamond, singer songwriter.

Home and Ancestors

All of which leads me to wonder did my ancestors yearn for the homes of their birth? Their birthplaces were so different from where they settled in Queensland. Did they miss the cooler weather, the soft rain of Ireland, the hedges and fields of England, the busy-ness of Scottish cities or the wildness of the countryside, the closeness of the Bavarian village or the communities they’d known all their lives?

Did they mourn the absence of family even towards the end of their own lives and as death neared did they think sadly of their homelands? This immigrant song by Queensland singer Graeme Connors evokes some of my thoughts: Sicilian Born.

And he never talked about going home
And he told me once the reason why.
He said, “Home’s not where you’re born,
Home is where a man’s prepared to die….

But ultimately:

….And to my surprise when I came home I found his place had sold
I called the other neighbours to find out where he’s gone
They say, “He packed up and just went back to wherever he came from”

Join my ancestors on the journey from their home places to their new homes in Queensland.

George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien emigrated in the 1850s and came to Ipswich, Queensland (you can see an image below of Ipswich 20 years later). George came from the Bavarian village of Dorfprozelten, and Mary from the townland of Ballykelly in the parish of Broadford, County Clare, Ireland.

fass postcard

A postcard for Das Goldenes Fass, owned for 200 years by the Happ then Kunkel families. Dorfprozelten, Bavaria


View from the O’Brien land at Ballykelly, Broadford, Co Clare, Ireland. © P Cass 2010

m ck from a distance

A view of the old Kunkel property late 1980s. Fifteen Mile, Murphys Creek, Qld © P Cass 2010

Catherine McCorkindale, who married Denis Kunkel, emigrated from Glasgow and lived at Kelvin  Grove, Brisbane.


Annie Sim McCorkindale emigrated from Glasgow with her family in 1910 but had grown up on Backrow farmhouse, Bothkennar parish, Stirlingshire, Scotland. Annie’s husband, Duncan, had died four years before the family emigrated. Photos © P Cass 2010


Backrow farmhouse, Bothkennar, Stirlingshire, Scotland. © P Cass 2010

Stephen Gillespie Melvin, whom we’ve heard a bit about in this series, grew up in Leith, the port for Edinburgh in Scotland. Although the buildings look quite grand, his family, like most of the others lived in small “apartments” within the building.  At time the area was quite rough and ready, a sailor’s place. Now it is well on the way to gentrification. Stephen arrived with his son Lawrence in Ipswich, Queensland in 1877. His young wife had died in quarantine in Moreton Bay.


The Shore, Leith. © P Cass 2019




William Partridge and his wife-to-be Hannah Kent arrived in Ipswich in 1855 and 1854, respectively. The town was much more basic than the above image depicts.

William came from Coleford, Gloucestershire (though born in London). Hannah emigrated from Sandon in Hertfordshire with her parents and brothers. Quite a marked change of housing, environment and facilities.

Denis Gavin and his wife Eleanor Murphy arrived in Queensland in 1855 and his work took them out past Dalby to a sheep station where he worked as a bullock drover. He was from Kildare, Ellen from Wicklow and they married in Dublin and lived in the Liberties. A more extreme change of environment would be hard to imagine.

Images below: Dalby 1868 when the Gavins lived there, and a bullock team and drover. References: https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/266381214 (Dalby) https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/266395246 (Bullock team)

Peter (Mc)Sherry and his wife Mary Callaghan were from Gorey and nearby Courtown in County Wexford. They arrived in Rockhampton in 1884 and were soon heading west to Longreach. What a contrast!

St Michael’s church Gorey where the couple were married. Right: Courtown Harbour where Mary came from. Photos: P Cass 2016.

Left: Rockhampton c1887 https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/167848463

Right: Longreach c1907-1908 https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/208403309

I can’t help wondering if they felt “short-changed” at the new life they’d chosen. Did they miss their homeland and such different scenery?

Do you think your families were happy with their migration decision and were happy, or reconciled, to their new home?






Xenophobia and War

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X2020One of the major influences in my life for which I’m very grateful has been the presence of many acquaintances and friends who’ve immigrated to Australia. As a child, my Catholic primary school saw an influx of Europeans in the years after World War II. This mix of Czechs, Yugoslavs, Poles, Maltese and others became part of my daily school life. After school I would visit some of my friends at home and stand by while they communicated in their original language with whichever parent or grandparent was at home. These young kids had to bridge the linguistic and cultural differences between their old lives and their new – not an easy task for youngsters. At one point we had so many Dutch immigrants in our parish that we had two or three Dutch priests. At high school one of my best friends was of Italian origin and again I was exposed to a different culture. So you can see why migration, its causes and effects have been important to me over the decades. And all this long before I had a real appreciation of my own immigrant families.

We are focusing too much on the problems and forgetting about the opportunities of immigration. Let us learn from our history. Immigration has been great for Australia in the past. Frank Lowy, Australian businessman.

Xenophobia and Ancestors

German demon

https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C95655 Artist was Norman Lindsay.

Xenophobia seems built into the Australian character. In the early days it was the Irish who were demonised and often alienated, treated as second class people. However, it was during the years of World War I that xenophobia reached new depths.

Let me share the story of my 2xgreat grandfather, George Mathias Kunkel.

If the family story is true that he left Bavaria to escape the wars of Europe it is ironic that he found himself on the “wrong” side in Australia in 1914 when war broke out between Germany and the British Empire. Patriotic Australians, irrespective of name, rushed to defend the “Mother Country”, Britain – or just to have a bit of an adventure, as so many of them have told us. Those with German names were not exempt from this military fever and at least six of George and Mary’s grandchildren enlisted to fight against the Germans. One, James Paterson, paid the supreme sacrifice in the fierce fighting in northern France in April 1917. On some attestation papers, comments can be seen about ancestry of those with German surnames.


Norman Lindsay certainly did his bit to promote xenophobia. https://awm.gov.au/collections/C254150

New measures were introduced to cope with the “menace” within Australia from its foreign-born residents, especially German-born people. George became subject to the new legislation, despite the fact that he was now, fortunately, a naturalised British citizen.

All persons who are subjects of the German Empire resident in the Commonwealth are to forthwith report themselves to police nearest to place at which resident and supply certain particulars to police, also before changing place of residence to notify nearest police officer of such intention and on arrival at fresh place of residence to notify their arrival to police nearest same.

Germans who are naturalised need not be called upon by police to report once a week but only when changing addresses. Applies only to Germans exempt from military service.

It should not be taken for granted that because a German/Australian has become naturalised, he is therefore a loyal subject of the British Empire, on the contrary cases which have come under notice, indicate that the known sentiments of not a few are distinctly pro-German.

Proclaimed 10 Aug 1914. Commonwealth Gazette 6 Aug 1914.[1]

Geman war precautions act 30 Nov 1917 Tmba Chronicle p4

BREACH OF THE WAR PRECAUTIONS ACT. (1917, November 30). Toowoomba Chronicle (Qld. : 1917 – 1922), p. 4. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article252874726

Under this legislation, Australians of German birth were required to supply their place of residence and occupation or business and such other matters as police officers saw fit. Although naturalised Germans were initially required to report to police weekly this was later changed, however the requirement to notify change of address remained. Police had the right to place people under surveillance or arrest them if they acted suspiciously.[2]

It seems bizarre that an eighty year old man who’d been resident in Queensland for sixty years might truly be regarded as a security risk.

Reported “evidence” of disloyalty could result in incarceration in detention camps. Fischer believes that farmers “who were self-employed and who enjoyed a comparatively greater degree of autonomy, had a better chance to survive the war without being challenged or bothered by the authorities, provided they kept a low profile” and didn’t become the “subject of denunciations by jealous neighbours or business rivals.”[3]

German Hard Hit Bris Courier 7 Mar 1916

THE GERMAN QUESTION. (1916, March 7). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 9. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20060251

Another factor contributing to the safety of the Catholic German-born residents in the Toowoomba and Murphy’s Creek areas may have been that they were not part of a tight-knit German community keeping exclusively to themselves, speaking German, and within their own Lutheran religion. Being Catholic, speaking English, and so being more assimilated into the Irish-born community may have meant that they were at less risk of suspicion. Anne Kunkel told me that there was little discrimination against them at the time in Murphy’s Creek. Perhaps the fact that they had lived in the area for many decades, and were well known, may have also given them some protection from the hysteria of the time.

German reservists DDG 1915

GERMAN RESERVISTS FINED. (1915, February 15). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 4. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196951791

Decades ago I searched the Commonwealth Archives Enemy Aliens (ie foreign nationals) files for any reference to the Kunkel name, but I could find no indication that George was listed. However, other Germans were not so fortunate, and it seemed the climate was ripe for misdirected envy of a neighbour’s good fortune. In one document a German resident was reported for having bought a new piano because there was no evidence that he should have had the money. The conclusion this citizen reached was that the German-named neighbour must have been supplying weapons! Letters to the editor both defended loyal sons of German born residents and exhorted them to do their duty to the land they had chosen to call home.

In a letter to the newspaper of the day, an unknown author “CS”, writing on 18 September, suggested that “the Germans have the best of it in the colonies”. He called on them to be brought before their particular police court and asked “all present naturalised and holding landed property whatsoever in the colonies to come to the front,” then “all who are willing to go to the front (if required) and fight on the side of the British to stand to the right; and all those who do not, stand to the left. Those not willing to go to the front should give a definite reason or should be interned and any of their property should be confiscated by the Crown”.[4]  Similarly the chair of a Dalby Patriotic Meeting in September 1915 expressed the view that Germans living in Australia should have their names removed from the electoral rolls, presumably with the loss of associated rights as citizens.[5]

Germans Bris Courier 7 Mar 1916 p9

THE GERMAN QUESTION. (1916, March 7). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 9. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20060251

Newspaper articles were similarly hysterical as is so often the case in wartime. Germans were portrayed in a wide array of diabolical representations.

How painful it must have been for George and for his fellow New Australians to have their original homeland and families pilloried as vicious and violent savages. It is sad to think, after all the hardship George had experienced in carving a new home for himself and his family, so far away from the place of his birth, that his last years were tainted by this terrible angst over loyalties. Anne Kunkel remembers her grandfather being a cranky old man by this time, which is hardly surprising.

German George The Week 1 April 1915 p27

THE WEEK’S, NEWS IN BRIEF. (1915, April 1). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), p. 27. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190553723

When I think of what George Kunkel went through during the last years of his life, I feel quite sad.  It would have been quite impossible for him to imagine today’s Australia where foreign-born residents and their families continue to play such a huge part in the life and development of the country.  Perhaps he would feel proud of his early contribution to the emergence of a unique nation whose people have come here from so many countries. Sadly, it may be because he died during war time that we have no obituary for him.

George and his wife Mary have given Australia many descendants to contribute to the country’s well-being. I am certainly very grateful to them.

 If you would like to read a little about the Anzac enlistments among the descendants of the immigrants from Dorfprozelten, Bavaria to Australia you can read it here.


[1] Queensland State Archives: PRV8687- 1- 1. COL/155: 28/10/1914

[2] WR Johnston, The Long Blue Line, Boolarong Publications Brisbane 1992, pp. 193-194

[3] G Fischer, The Darkest Chapter: Internment and Deportation of Enemy Aliens in Queensland, 1914-1920 in The German Presence in Queensland,. M Jurgensen & A Corkhill (eds). The University of Queensland, Department of German, 1988, p. 24.

[4] The Toowoomba Chronicle, 23 September 1915, p. 2  c. 4.

[5] The Brisbane Courier, 10 September 1915, p. 9.

Wonderful Weddings

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W2020This year is a big wedding anniversary for us, so of course it’s one of my big ticket gratitude items for 2020. Why not celebrate by sharing some wedding photos of my ancestors’ weddings? Some have been scattered through previous posts, some may not have been published at all. For my first generation of immigrant ancestors I don’t have wedding photos, maybe because they were too expensive to purchase, simply not a priority, or photography wasn’t available or common at the time.

I especially like wedding photos  for the reason that they offer insight into a special day and because younger people are dressed in their finest, they can be easier to date. The older generation may be more pragmatic and simply wear their normal “best”. My families have quite a track record for marital longevity. My earlier post, L is for Love and the Law, included some details but this is going to be largely a photo journal. Why not join me on this marital journey through the years.

Marital longevity table

My Ancestral Wedding Journey

There are no (known) photos of George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien‘s wedding in Ipswich, Queensland in 1857. However this photograph from a great-niece’s photo album is just beautiful. This couple are my great-great grandparents, and immigrant ancestors.

George and Mary Kunkel

We have another photo of George and Mary celebrating their granddaughter, Julia’s wedding at the family’s home at the Fifteen Mile near Murphy’s Creek. It would have been a happy time but also poignant as Julia’s parents had died in 1901.

Copy of ogorman wedding edited2

A Kunkel wedding at the Fifteen Mile. George and Mary are the elderly couple sitting either side of the flower girls.

George and Mary’s eldest child, George Michael Kunkel married Julia Gavin in the Catholic church at Dalby. They were the first generation of the family born in Australia and I suspect they met while working at Jondaryan station. They were my great grandparents on the Kunkel-Gavin lines. Sadly, George Michael and Julia would die very young within six weeks of each other in 1901. Also sadly, I have no photographs at all of Julia’s parents. I am not 100% sure this photo is of George and Julia but my rationale is as follows:

The photograph is included in an album alongside Mary and George Kunkel; the style of hair and dress is typical of the era when they were married; and the woman bears a strong resemblance to Julia Beatrice, their daughter, of whom we have identified photos. I suggest that this might be a photograph taken on their wedding day, 17 August 1879. Note the flowers on the woman’s lapel. In those days women did not typically wear a wedding dress but bought a new “best” dress.

george & julia possibly

George and Julia’s eldest son, Denis Kunkel married Scottish immigrant, Kit McCorkindale in 1922 at the Ithaca Presbyterian church in Brisbane. You can read their wedding story here.

Denis and Catherine Kunkel wedding

Their only child, Norman Kunkel married Joan, daughter of an Irish immigrant in Brisbane.

Joan and Norman Kunkel

Their only child, Ms Cassmob married Mr Cassmob in Brisbane and celebrated their wedding at the union building at the University of Queensland.

Peter and Pauleen wedding

My McSherry great-grandparents, Peter McSherry and Mary Callaghan, married in Gorey, Wexford and we have no (known) photographs of the event. However we’re lucky to have this photo from their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations.Peter and Mary mcsherry-family

I’ve never seen a photo of my McSherry-Melvin grandparents’ wedding and I don’t even know if one exists. This is a photo of each of them taken decades apart, Laura when she was a young woman (with a tiny waist) and my grandfather at work.

We also have no photograph of my Melvin ancestors’ wedding but this is one of Stephen Gillespie Melvin and his wife, Emily Partridge, in later life. Stephen was a Scottish immigrant and Emily was one of my pre-separation Queensland ancestors.

Stephen G and Emily Melvin

Stephen Gillespie Melvin and his wife Emily Partridge in later years.


Emily’s parents were William Partridge and Hannah Kent, both English immigrants to Queensland who arrived in the mid-1850s. They married in 1858 at Ipswich. Again, no photos sadly, but these are from 1909. Hannah’s was taken for the 50th anniversary of Separation and published in the newspapers. I suspect William’s was too, but he did in the middle of 1909. There are some suggestions in the records that lead me to think this couple may have been separated but I have found nothing conclusive.

Were your ancestors fortunate (or perhaps not) with their marital longevity?

Are you lucky enough to have photos of your earliest Australian immigrant ancestors?

I just have to share this wonderful photo I found on Trove of an early Queensland wedding at Stanthorpe in 1872 …nothing at all to do with my families. (Image by William Boag, out of copyright)

Stanthorpe wedding 1872


Volunteer Air Observer Corps

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V2020Today is Anzac Day Down Under and many genealogy bloggers from Australia and New Zealand will be writing about their families’ military history. This year I was inspired to write about my mother’s (Joan McSherry) civilian service during the war, after listening to an excellent talk from Caloundra Family History member, Ian Edwardson via Zoom. Sometimes we focus so much on members of the military forces that we forget that civilian life continued on the home front and many people contributed to support the military in some way. As my direct line family members were railway workers, they were regarded as essential services and so did not join the forces. It makes me feel like a bit of a fraud when it comes to Anzac Day services. When they called for experienced railway workers to service the trainlines at the Western Front in World War I, my paternal grandfather, Denis Kunkel, enlisted in late 1917. You can read his story here.

Volunteer Air Observer Corps

My mother’s service was civilian but with military overtones. She joined the Volunteer Air Observer Corps (VAOC) when she was about 16, or close to 17. She served with them for two years until the end of the war. I’ve read that there were interviews and tests before people were admitted but Mum doesn’t recall this and says she joined after seeing an advertisement – perhaps the one included here? The purpose of the VAOC was to monitor the skies for enemy aircraft and alert the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) if they were seen. Recruitment for the VAOC was undertaken through the Women’s Air Training Corps (WATC) and it was through this organisation that observers were trained to identify different types of Japanese aircraft based on profile, engines etc. The training was done at Archerfield aerodrome in Brisbane’s south-west. The WATC was also regarded as a training ground for women who later might wish to join the WAAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Airforce. Goodness, all these acronyms – it might even be the military!

WATC VOAC Telegraph 17 Nov 1942 p4

Aircraft Recognition Classes (1942, November 17). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 4 (CITY FINAL LAST MINUTE NEWS).  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172597476

Perhaps unsurprisingly (because it’s about the women after all and they were civilians), it’s hard to find detailed information. There is a book about the VAOC that looks pertinent but it’s in the Queensland State Library, and so currently in lockdown. So, turning to Trove (again) is the solution. In addition to which I’ve tried to pick Mum’s memory and that of a friend who was also in the VAOC.

These are Mum’s words which she’d written down a while ago:

Volunteer Air Observers had to have a thorough knowledge of all types of Japanese planes. You went to a beautiful old home on the hill in the Clayfield (a suburb of Brisbane), overlooking Eagle Farm Aerodrome, then the only one in Brisbane. Archerfield was the Air Force base. This beautiful home had a particular area, separate to the house, which was laid out with required facilities for observing. This included a pair of binoculars to watch the airport and a telephone. If a Japanese plane landed at the airport (or presumably was sighted), you immediately notified Head Quarters via the phone set up in the room.

In conversation Joan told me that she’d catch the tram from Buranda to Clayfield every Sunday after Mass, then walk up the hill to the house, and would be on duty for two hours. It must have been tiring peering out through binoculars or looking at the sky consistently for two hours. Fortunately, they were spared the anxiety of an enemy aircraft, though as the North was bombed in 1942, it must have seemed entirely possible. Mum would be dressed in civvies when “spotting”, not her uniform, which would only be worn for meetings or special events. When she was promoted to sergeant, she was required to wear her khaki uniform for these events.

WAAAF Staff room

In a W.A.A.A.F. Staff Room (1942, February 19). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 5 (Second Edition). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172698162

The WATC held a stall on Saturday morning selling a variety of things including small hand-made toys. This raised money for the free lunches they served to the WAAAFs at a canteen at Old Courier House (corner of Queen and Edward, which is now a bank, I think). A special relaxation area had been fitted out and made available for the WAAAF women when off duty – a place to just relax. Mum’s friend, Donna, who was a bit younger and hadn’t been trained to do the plane spotting was very involved in this side of the activities of the WATC.

Apart from learning about identifying planes, mum also went out to Archerfield to see some of the WATC work there and learn a little about motor car engines. We didn’t own a car until the late 1960s so it’s a shame she never got to put that to use.

It wasn’t all work and no play. Occasionally the WATC and VAOC would have balls or dances to raise funds. They also had some picnics and we’re lucky enough to have a couple of photos taken at one of these. The WATC celebrated their 5th Birthday week from 9th-15th July 1944 and Mum has a souvenir booklet from the day on which there are many signatures including that of the Queensland Commandant, Yvonne Jones, and Australian flying ace, Nancy Bird Walton, who was the Australian Commandant . I wonder if any of my readers will recognise the names of any of the women who also signed. Two of mum’s long term friends are included in the list, Joyce and Donna.

On 15 August 1945, Victory in the Pacific Day, when the war ended for Australia, there was great excitement in Brisbane and mum and her friend were allowed to leave work to go and celebrate. Dad was less fortunate, as the shift workers were required on duty and missed out on the day’s exuberance.

family scan091 (2)

Found in mum’s autograph book. I wonder if she entered it on VP Day. 3 dots and a dash mean the letter V  in morse code.



Brisbane people will see the humour of this: the City Hall celebrating joyfully.

After the war finished, life returned to normal, but Mum missed the verve of those years. They were given a celebration at Victoria Barracks after the war, but apparently it wasn’t written up in the paper. How rarely does Trove let me down?

KUNKEL Joan WATC reunion

Joan receiving her “Australia Remembers” certificate: L to R: Y McComb King, Senator Parer, Nancy Bird Walton, Joan Kunkel wearing badges of both the WATC and VAOC.

In December 1995, surviving members of the WATC were invited to a morning tea at the United Services Club in Brisbane to receive an “Australia Remembers” commemorative certificate for serving with the WATC during the war years. The event was hosted by Senator Warwick Parer[i],  Mrs Yvonne McComb King (formerly Jones) and Mrs Nancy Bird Walton were honoured guests and co-hosts. Both Mum and her friend Donna were able to attend, and I was surprised to discover when reading the advertisement for the event, that mum had been a sergeant, which she had never mentioned previously.

You can click on any of the images to make them large enough to read.

family scan023

An example of the VAOC from the Australian War Memorial.

VOAC AWM 4085497



[i] Liberal Senator for Queensland and Shadow Minister for Tourism, Aviation and Customs.

Uniforms and uniformity

- Posted in Uncategorized by

U2020It will seem strange in some countries that our otherwise obstreperous country is not averse to uniforms in schools. (Mind you we also don’t venerate those who wear uniforms either).

I’m very grateful that when I went to school, both primary and secondary, I wore a uniform every day. State run primary schools didn’t always have uniforms, though they do more often these days. State high schools were much more likely to require a uniform to be worn. As I went to a private Catholic school, we were only allowed to wear uniforms and to a proper standard, at that. What did uniforms offer us?

Pauleen at primary school c1959

At primary school, perhaps about aged 9 or 10. I can still feel the texture of that tie. Can you see my right eye has two shades?

  • A sense of solidarity (and the obverse, the alienation of others, isn’t something I favour)
  • No opportunity for status plays by labelled/expensive clothes
  • A uniformity of style and identity among those who wear the uniform
  • No need to think about what to wear every day
  • A sense of pride in your school, its history and its achievements
  • And when travelling on the bus you knew which boys went to which school <smile>
  • Our school had a fairly modern uniform, for the time, and responds to changing fashion unlike some schools which have maintained the same uniform for generations.
  • The downside was that past pupils recognised your school and if you were not wearing your gloves or hat, or were generally being unruly, you would be reported quick smart – these days I sometimes roll my eyes when I see how current pupils are dressed but I’m not into dobbing them.
  • These days, my school offers what they call ‘plain clothes days’ and the girls who choose to do this have to pay a gold coin donation ($1 or $2) towards a particular charity. Sadly, there are always those girls who want to display their designer wear on these days, or at school fetes.

Think of all the other places were uniforms are worn: military, police, doctors, nurses, sports, clubs, some shops and restaurants, men in suits at conferences….

When I was 13, I would come visit my aunt and uncle in New York. I decided I wanted to live with them after seeing my cousin’s school. Honestly, I just wanted to go to a school where I didn’t have to wear uniforms, and my mom said okay. Priyanka Chopra, Indian actress.

Here is my photo journal of some uniforms that have been worn in my families.

My dad at primary school, aged about 9 or 10 and (right) in his railway uniform as a young man. He had to wear blue serge trousers and jacket throughout the year, with a blue shirt. He would have funny anecdotes about how drivers would suddenly behave on the road because they thought he was an off duty policeman.

Uniforms weren’t required at his primary state school. It wasn’t uncommon for kids to not wear shoes – it was the sub-tropics after all and it was also the time of the Depression. Grandma made sure dad was spick and span in a white shirt (back row). Kelvin Grove state school c1930.

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

As you can see below things were different at my primary Catholic school not far from Kelvin Grove…a fair degree of uniformity evident, with minor variations. St Joan of Arc, Herston c1956.

St Joan of Arc

This photo includes at least two classes from my primary school. c1956

My mother’s First Communion class had a certain uniformity – they were plainly required to dress to a certain standard. She made her communion at St Mary’s Church, Townsville on 18 June 1933.

Joan McSherry 2nd girl rt front

By the time mum was at high school at St Pat’s in Townsville, the uniforms were plainly rigorously enforced. It struck me looking at this, how much my cousin looks like my mother as well as her own. Mum had blonde hair here while my Aunty Bonnie had red hair.

Joan McSherry St Pats TSV back left

When mum moved to Brisbane from Townsville, she attended the same school that I would late attend and subsequently our daughters. Interesting to see the change of uniforms.

Joan Kunkel AHS 1941

All Hallows’ School, Junior (Year 10) Class. Mum is 4th from right in second front row.

At high school: I did occasionally change my hair, and look demure. Unlike boys’ schools we all wore the same uniform and didn’t have honour blazers for sport or prefects. 1966

Pauleen a prefect at AHS

I went to a Catholic school, so of course we had to wear uniforms. My only form of expression was in shoes and the style of my hair. Camille Guaty, American actress.

Actually we had no choice in shoes, and our hair had to be above the collar, and above all, tidy.

I even wore a uniform at the weekends when I attended the Girl Guides at Newmarket.



We have no photos of Mr Cassmob’s primary school classes or uniforms, but this is one from when he attended Nudgee Junior as a young lad.

43 Peter Cass Nudgee uniform Jan 1960 at Essendon

Before the family moved to Papua New Guinea, Mr Cassmob’s father was an educator with the Royal Australian Air Force. I think this photo of him sharing his uniform cap is so cute and plainly so did the small boy while his sister looks a bit indignant.

My mother-in-law’s school plainly also had stringent rules for their uniforms.

63 prob Kaye Edwards 3rd fm Left 1940s

While the war years were confronting, they also had some side benefits. My O’Brien/Garvey cousins in Sydney got to meet their Garvey cousins from the USA when the US troops were stationed there.


Well, the thing about my high school, which I loved, is that we had uniforms. But whenever we had a free dress day, it was prep-ville, with sweater vests and polo shirts and khakis and Dockers. Vanessa Lachey, American entertainer.

So what’s your vote? Are you in favour of uniforms or not? Do they make daily life easier or suppress individuality?