Exploring my inner Scot

FotoSketcher - Picture0025a


There was a time in Primary School when, bored with just being an Aussie, I pretended to myself and sometimes to my classmates that I was Scottish. Well, I guess I am partly, being descended via my mother from Scottish people named Christison, voluntary boat-people from the latter 19th century. The tartan, by the way, actually came from Scotland via my Aunt Beth who visited there a number of times. It must be around 40 years old now but is still my main source of winter warmth! Highly efficient.

brechin1They’ve been around in Scotland for a while, the Christisons. On the right you can see a heap of them, including my great-great-grandfather, in the town of Brechin in Angus-shire in the 19th century.

And I recently discovered one – probably one of them – was deep in the Scottish Reformation.

…The poor, of course, only exchanged better for worse landlords, as they soon discovered.  The “Zealous Brethren”—as a rule small lairds, probably, and burgesses—were the nucleus of the Revolution.  When townsfolk and yeomen in sufficient number had joined them in arms, then nobles like Argyll, Lord James, Glencairn, Ruthven, and the rest, put themselves at the head of the movement, and won the prizes which had been offered to the “blind, crooked, widows, orphans, and all other poor.”

After Parliament was over, at the end of December 1558, the Archbishop of St. Andrews again summoned the preachers, Willock, Douglas, Harlaw, Methuen, and Friar John Christison to a “day of law” at St. Andrews, on February 2, 1559.  (This is the statement of the “Historie.”) The brethren then “caused inform the Queen Mother that the said preachers would appear with such multitude of men professing their doctrine, as was never seen before in such like cases in this country,” and kept their promise.  The system of overawing justice by such gatherings was usual, as we have already seen; Knox, Bothwell, Lethington, and the Lord James Stewart all profited by the practice on various occasions.

Mary of Guise, “fearing some uproar or sedition,” bade the bishops put off the summons, and, in fact, the preachers never were summoned, finally, for any offences prior to this date…

And earlier still:

Dabbling in family history of the Christisons — my mother’s lot. Sasine (Scots law) is the delivery of feudal property, typically land.
Country Code G[reat] B[ritain]

Rep. Code 234
Repository National Archives of Scotland
Ref. No GD198/55
Title Instrument of sasine following on precept from chancery, 26th May, (1490) following on GD198/54, reciting procuratory, 25th May, 1490, by
Alexander Setoune [Seaton] of Tulybody [Tullibody], sheriff of Strivelineshire [Stirling], in favour of John Davidsone [Davidson], one of serjeants of said sheriffdom.
Date 27th May, 1490
Description Notary: Dugald Cossour [Cossar], priest, St. Andrews diocese.
Attorney: Thomas Buchquhanane [Buchanan]. Witnesses: Robert Buchquhannane [Buchanan], Patrick Haldane, Thomas Cristisone [Christison], David Lyndesay [Lindsay], John Conysoune, Duncan Arrald [Arrol], MAURICE MAKADAME [McAdam], Patrick Malcomsoun [Malcolmson], Gilchrist Henrisone [Henderson].


Lately I have been reading quite a few Scottish things, beginning with Josephine Tey. More about her in the next post, except to say she was no fan of Scottish Nationalists. Here is her portrait of one from her novel The Singing Sands.

… They fished turn-about, in a fine male amity; Grant flicking his line with a lazy indifference, Pat with the incurable optimism of his kind. By noon they had drifted back to a point level with the little jetty, and they turned inshore to make tea on the primus in the little bothy. As Grant was paddling the last few yards he saw Pat’s eye fixed on something along the shore, and turned to see what occasioned such marked distaste. Having looked at the advancing figure with its shoggly body and inappropriate magnificence, he asked who that might be.

‘That’s Wee Archie,’ said Pat.

Wee Archie was wielding a shepherd’s crook that, as Tommy remarked later, no shepherd would be found dead with, and he was wearing a kilt that no Highlander would dream of being found alive in. The crook stood nearly two feet above his head; and the kilt hung down at the back from his non-existent hips like a draggled petticoat. But it was obvious that the wearer was conscious of no lack. The tartan of his sad little skirt screamed like a peacock, raucous and alien against the moor. His small dark eel’s head was crowned by a pale blue Balmoral with a diced band, the bonnet being pulled down sideways at such a dashing angle that the slack covered his right ear. On the upper side a large piece of vegetation sprouted from the crest on the band. The socks on the hairpin legs were a brilliant blue, and so hairy in texture that they gave the effect of some unfortunate growth. Round the meagre ankles the thongs of the brogues were cross-gartered with a verve that even Malvolio had never achieved.

‘What is he doing round here?’ Grant asked, fascinated.

‘He lives at the inn at Moymore.’

‘Oh. What does he do?’

‘He’s a revolutionary.’ …


“Josephine Tey” — Elizabeth Mackintosh – 1896-1952

You will find her books linked to the picture.

See also Elizabeth Mackintosh: woman of mystery who deserves to be rediscovered.

Last week, I went to Kevin Spacey’s Richard III at the Old Vic and came away marvelling, yet again, at the polemical and psychological brilliance of Shakespeare’s remorseless Tudor propaganda. The "bottled spider" is not just a deformed monster, an object of fear, but a strangely lovable monster, who excites our pity, too.

Afterwards, the conversation turned to the princes in the Tower. Did Richard really murder his nephews? The Daughter of Time was one of my adolescent favourites and so I referred, en passant, to Josephine Tey. Blank looks: no one had heard of this once-celebrated mystery writer from the 1940s and 50s.

That might be how Elizabeth Mackintosh, born in 1896 at Inverness, might have wished it. As well as "Josephine Tey", she also wrote as "Gordon Daviot", and seems to have been obsessively private. Even in death, she slipped away, unobserved, and in disguise. The Timesrecords the death of Gordon Daviot on 13 February 1952, two days before the state funeral of George VI, whose life, death and majesty had filled the newspapers that week.

Miss Mackintosh’s cremation in Streatham Vale was attended by only a handful of mourners, but they included Dame Edith Evans and John Gielgud, both friends.

So, whoever "Gordon Daviot" represented, it was someone rather unusual, a creative artist whom people cared about. Gielgud later wrote: "Her sudden death was a great surprise and shock to all her friends in London. I learned afterwards that she had known herself to be mortally ill for nearly a year, and had resolutely avoided seeing anyone she knew."

Apart from By The Banks of the Ness by Mairi A MacDonald, there’s almost nothing biographical in print about "Bessie" Mackintosh. She grew up in Scotland, one of three sisters, trained as a PE teacher and suffered, as many young women did, a mysterious and inconsolable bereavement during the Great War. When her mother died in 1926, she was called home to nurse her invalid father. Her writing, which began as an escape from domestic routine, first appeared in The English Review in the late 1920s…

Fragments from Auburn Street 60-70 years ago — 3

Just thinking: when my Uncle Neil participated in the landing at Aitape in April 1944 he was still only 19 years old! He had just turned 19 when I was born and named after him – three days after his birthday. I really do begin to see why I was so named. The family wouldn’t have known exactly where he was, but they sure would have known he was in harm’s way, more than anyone else in the family at that time.


Uncle Neil

Next door on the northern side of 61 Auburn Street were the Saunders family. In the late 40s and early 50s my brother’s horse was kept in their backyard. As I said in an earlier post.

My brother’s horse, Lassie, possibly the most placid and dopiest horse that ever lived, spent most of its time in the Saunders’s backyard on the other side of our place, but sometimes was let into our yard. My sister would ride it, and would climb the persimmon tree in the backyard. I was too big a woose for those sorts of things, or maybe too young. If Lassie was in our yard she would climb the back steps and stick her head into the kitchen so my mother would give it sugar or carrots. I am sure that horse could grin…

I do remember sitting on my dinkie on the gravel drive, near the Dorothy Perkins climbing rose which I called Mrs Perkins and confused with the lady next door [Pat Saunders] who I thought was also Mrs Perkins. A yellow biplane flew over very low and the pilot leaned out and waved to me. My mother later told me that must have been the end of World War II.

There was some kind of tragedy about the Saunders’s. Not to put too fine a point on it, Harry was a soak. But the reasons were hush-hush, not that I at ages three to eight would have shared in or even understood such things. But I do note that his war service was cut short. Born in 1904, Harry had enlisted in November 1939 and was a Sapper in the 6th Division Engineers. However, he was discharged on 8 January 1940, before the 6th Division left Australia.

The 6th Division was the first division formed for the Second AIF in the Second World War. It was so designated because there were already five divisions in the Australian Military Forces when the decision was made in September 1939 to raise a ‘special force’ for overseas service. The division was originally composed of the 16th, 17th and 18th Brigades, but the diversion of the 18th Brigade to the United Kingdom in June 1940, meant that the 19th became its third infantry brigade. Between early 1942 and late 1943 the composition of the 6th Division varied considerably due to the changing operational situation. During this time the 14th, 21st, 25th and 30th Brigades also came under the division’s command for varying periods.

As a formation, the 6th Division fought in the campaigns in Libya, Greece, and the Aitape-Wewak region of New Guinea. Its individual brigades also fought on Crete, in Lebanon, along the Kokoda Trail and at the Japanese beachheads in Papua, and in the Wau-Salamaua region of New Guinea. It was commanded, in succession by Major Generals Thomas Blamey (13 October 1939 – 3 April 1940), Iven Mackay (4 April 1940 – 13 August 1941), Edmund Herring (14 August 1941 – 30 April 1942), George Vasey (14 September 1942 – 14 March 1943), Jack Stevens (15 March 1943 – 26 July 1945), and Horace Robertson (26 July 1945 – 30 November 1945).

So who knows what happened to him. I also have this (false?) memory that Pat Saunders was Canadian and eventually returned to Canada, but I could be wrong about that.

But I do recall when Harry died.


We had one of the few telephones in the street – yes LB2271!  There was a knock on the door. In full professional lugubrious mode was the Undertaker. “Sorry to disturb you, Mrs Whitfield, but sadly Mr Saunders has passed away. Do you mind of I use your phone?”

“Of course not,” my mother said, letting into the from room that was then my father’s office. (More on that tomorrow.)

My mother overheard an amazing change of tone: “Hey Joe, we’ve got a stiff here. When can we put him under?”

Or words very close to that. My mother often told that story with a smile. I should add she seems to have had a lot of time for Pat Saunders and felt, I suspect, sorry for her and not just for the recent bereavement.

The RIP indicates Harry was a Catholic, and most people in the street were not. That may seem an odd thing to say but such things still counted in the 1940s and early 50s.

Fragments from Auburn Street 60-70 years ago — 2


1955: Uncle Neil and Aunt Fay on the left, a friend of theirs, me.

Easter, as I recall, so I would have been 11 then.


Nine years before I see Uncle Neil was after a new car. He must have still been living with us in Auburn Street then. That and the car-related ads I posted yesterday serve to remind us of one immediate post-war phenomenon – demand for and apparently shortage of cars. Hence, no doubt, the Holden


1928 Chrysler Roadster

Wonder if he got it? I do recall a car with a “dicky seat” at some stage…

Neil was then just shy of his 22nd birthday and not long back from a very nasty war.

During 1944 I was a member of an Airforce Signals Unit. In April of that year my signals unit did a landing in  Altape, New Guinea. We were the communication unit for the  airfield construction squadron who repaired airstrips and built new ones. The same operation occurred on Morotai Islands. On Morotai Islands I shared a tent with a Fellow NCO. His name was CPL Jim Christensen from Queensland and I was CPL Neil Christison NSW and this was somewhat of a novelty because of our surnames…



Pics from Aitape 1944-5

Now that one, it seems to me, is 1944-45, but very likely 1945 in the back yard of 61 Auburn Street. In the left panel my Aunt Ruth Christison, mother of Ray who now and again comments here. I am in front of her, no older than 2 years which was 1945. The centre panel has my mother Jean, my Uncle Neil Christison, on leave no doubt from the RAAF at the time, and my sister Jeanette (1940-1952).  I am named after Uncle Neil, who is still with us. On the right my Aunt Beth Christison, later Beth Heard, and my brother Ian.

That’s my brother Ian going to school. The photo is in Auburn Street Sutherland – yes, a dirt road then. The house is the McNamara place, opposite ours. Roy Mac had a slit trench air-raid shelter. If the point of this pic is my brother’s first day in “big school” then it would be around 1941, but it is certainly no later than 1944. See the fence to the right? That was the Elliott place.


More to come…

Note on Uncle Neil’s war service

HIST08Uncle Neil rarely talked about it, so I was chuffed a while back to see that piece he had written recently – quoted above. My mother told me a bit about it, especially that as a signaller, as Neil says above, he was “always first” of the “always first.”  The book of that title by David Wilson (1998) is available free as a PDF file.

Wilson describes the landing at Aitape.

It was pitch dark as the convoy made its approach to the beachhead. As dawn broke, the  palm  trees  were  an idyllic picture  against the  backdrop  of the  Torricelli
Ranges, five to twelve miles inland. Along the beachfront the invaders could see the Japanese cooking fires. It was a tranquil tropical scene soon to be turned to bedlam.  Alan Robson recalls that he ‘couldn’t imagine that [the naval bombardment and the air strikes] could [create] that much noise. It was deafening … you could see the coconut  trees  being flattened  … The fighters  came in and  strafed … you could  see the tracer  bullets  …  and  then  the  big  bombers  came  over  and  you  could  see  the  bombs dropping’. The 163rd Regimental Combat Team landed at the village of Lemieng at 0645, killing several Japanese soldiers and taking 50 Javanese labourers prisoner. The fourth  wave  included  Wing  Commander  Dale,  Squadron  Leader  Jamieson  and  18 members  of  13  Survey  and  Design  Unit  who  landed  at  7  am  to  undertake  a reconnaissance of the area. In all 50 RAAF Works personnel landed."  The troops had landed at the village of Wapil, about three quarters of a mile from the planned site of Koroko, causing minor confusion. RAAF  equipment had to be  parked  on the beach until the opportunity offered to move it to  Koroko and unloading was hampered by heavy rain. It was not until midday that the northern ai~strip was captured and the surveyors could peg out the runway so that the construction of the fighter strip could commence.

The  intelligence  report  that  the  airfield  had  been  paved  with  coral  was erroneous. It was found to be roughly graded natural  surface strip, overgrown with kunai grass and too short for operations. Even though the infantry were still patrolling the area, 7 Mobile Works Squadron commenced grading and extending the airfield.  Although  the  southern  airstrip  was  captured  late  in  the  afternoon of  the  landing, survey work did not commence until the morning of the 23rd. Like the northern strip, it was a natural surface with grass cover and pitted with bomb craters.  5MWS landed at Aitape on 23 April to face the realities of the invasion, as Lindsay Hodges recorded in his diary:

..  there were ships and hundreds of barges everywhere. We eventually landed and the sight which met our eyes was beyond description, desolation and dead everywhere, floating in the water, lying on the beach. Horrible sight … nearby was a Jap hospital, between 20 and 30 dead, some had been dead a few days and just left where they died. The others of course were shot up properly, dead lying everywhere. The smell is horrific  …

This unit joined 7MWS personnel who had, despite the possibility of Japanese attack, worked under floodlight. The  airstrip  was declared serviceable on the 24th and two Lightning fighters landed at 9.45am…

This very much resonates with things my mother told me.

Fragments from Auburn Street 60-70 years ago — 1

It appears that when I was very young we got about in something like this:


How do I know? Well, thanks to The National Library of Australia’s Trove. But I think our car was black or brown…  I should also add that for some reason I have remembered the phone number of 61 Auburn Street: LB 2271. In the 1940s it was one of the few telephones in the immediate neighbourhood.

Looks as if Dad was trying to fix it but ended up selling it for parts. I have a feeling the car belonged originally to either my Grandfather Whitfield or my Grandfather Christison. I vaguely remember its back seat…



Back ten years or so I posted About the Whitfields: Wandering Willie’s Tales:

The street was a dirt road, washing away into great ruts when it rained heavily enough. Sutherland was still in touch with its semi-rural past then. The site of Gymea High School was still a dairy farm. Old Fred [Vallance] two doors down kept a cow, his backyard extending into a sizeable paddock. In his cowshed he had a gas mask from the war. It fascinated me. The cow terrified me, though its milk sustained me during the war and the period of shortages immediately after. In their backyard the Doyles had a goat.


Not the only cow either.


I remember the Allens – about three houses towards Flora Street (and Marshall’s corner grocery, now a wine shop) on our side of the road. And as for the Vallances at that time:



Their great-grandson – or great-great-grandson? — is now Headmaster at Sydney Grammar School.

More next post…

Now what was its name…?

I was asked a simple question this morning:

Thanks Neil, The links are great and the other photographs from Auburn St are really evocative–we’ve been telling our kids about it and explaining how this is a little bit of history right here! I did notice a house name plaque in one of your photos (and can see on our wall where it use to be). Any chance you recall the name of the house?


Houses used to have names quite commonly, as in this case in East Redfern/Moore Park.

And it appears my first home, 61 Auburn Street Sutherland, did have a name, but I can’t recall it and neither can my older brother.


The mystery name plate – my Uncle Eric and his son John there, before 1943.

When I can get hold of my one surviving uncle, Neil – after whom I am named – I will see if he remembers.


My Uncle Neil in the backyard of 61 Auburn Street. That yard went half-way to Acacia Road, Kirrawee, then. The house has long lost the land it then stood on.


My brother Ian. That has to be the earlier 1940s, before I was born.


Ian again on the front veranda of 61 Auburn Street.


All of us and a cousin, with Ian lurking in the background and me next to my sister and cousin, Mum leaning over my cousin.

FotoSketcher - auburn2acut

A rather ghostly image of 61 Auburn Street on 21 March, 1949.

Digging on Trove I have however found some new things, of which next entry!


Quite a month for anniversaries

Coming up is the anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1942. I don’t recall that but it certainly affected some people I have known very directly and all of my generation in one way or another. Of course less well known is the fact that I was conceived in 1942.

Then there is 1952 and the current Diamond Jubilee of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. That one I remember very clearly for reasons I gave last month. By a very indirect route that brings me to my grandfather, Roy Christison.

That’s him seated on the right of that photo with my brother Ian leaning against him.

You see of the many things Grandpa Christison talked about with me during the 1950s – and oh how significant I now know those conversations to have been in my life and thought! – one topic was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which he, to my astonishment, remembered – along with much else of pre-Federation New South Wales. And another thing that peppered conversations with Grandpa Christison was Charles Dickens. Grandpa Christison’s world-view owed more to Charles Dickens than it did to the Bible – about which he had somewhat agnostic views. He used to say that if you saw someone praying you needed to watch out for the knife behind his back, for example. But Dickens – no friend either of evangelicals and God-botherers – was a pure source of ethics as well as delight. My mother recalled family readings of Dickens, as no doubt many people of my grandfather’s time and tribe would.

And of course it is now the Dickens Bicentennial.


There are quite a few connections between Australia and Dickens, which explains his having an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  As an article in the Sydney Morning Herald explains:

FOR someone who never visited the place, Charles Dickens wrote, obsessed, lobbied and published an awful lot about Australia.

Though plans to make a lecture tour and write a book, The Uncommercial Traveller Upside Down, fell through, Dickens encouraged two of his sons, Alfred and Edward, to go to Australia. And, of course, many of his most memorable baddies, including Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations), John Edmunds (Pickwick Papers) and Wackford Squeers (Nicholas Nickleby) were transported down under…

At first, Dickens saw Australia only as a place of transportation, says a Queensland scholar, Marion Diamond,on her website Historians are Past Caring.

”But by the 1840s, free emigration to the Australian colonies was becoming important. This sparked his interest.” Encouraged further by the discovery of gold, he supported a number of emigration schemes, in life and in fiction. Indeed, at the end of David Copperfield he ”sends an absolute torrent of redundant characters to NSW: the Micawbers, Mr Peggotty and Little Em’ly, and Mrs Gummidge. Just to round things off nicely, he then has Mr Peggotty return, 10 years later, to tell David just how successful they have all been. Mr Micawber has become a magistrate!  Mrs Gummidge received an offer of marriage. Martha has married a farm labourer, and they now live happily on their own land, 400 miles from the nearest settlement.”

Like Magwitch and Micawber, the Dickens boys prospered in the new land of opportunity. At least, at first.

Alfred bought a station near Forbes, NSW, and later moved to Victoria, where he and his brother set up a stock and station agency, called EBL Dickens and Partners. He died on a visit to the US.

Edward managed a property in Wilcannia, and for five years represented the town in state Parliament. He later worked as a rabbit inspector and lands department officer for the NSW government. He died in poverty in Moree.

In Australia as in England, the public devoured Dickens’s prolific outpourings in books, stage plays and magazines, such as Household Words and All the Year Round.

As the author’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes, so widely published was his material that it ”helped impose Dickens’s own view of Australia on Australian life and society”.

Marie Bashir, the NSW Governor, is one of many prominent admirers of the author, who died in 1870. She recently recalled how as a ”little book worm” growing up in Narrandera in southern NSW, she visited his statue in the park, and later munched her way avidly through his complete works.

”I can still hear my mother saying, ‘Come to bed, Marie. It’s past midnight. Put that book down’.”

Next entry I will recall another anniversary of a literary nature, and confess more about my new addiction to eBooks!

On the latter:


A sample of what now lies within my Calibre eBook Manager and Reader

now installed on my laptop and Baby Toshiba