Monday, December 19, 2011


With Christmas just around the corner I couldn’t help comparing now with Christmas Days long gone...

Time travelling back to a time when I was very small, living in Sydney during the war years...madly excited, dancing about with presents from a strange old gentleman whose knee I didn’t really want to perch on,  Santa Claus.   

That first Xmas Day I can actually remember, I was given a tram conductors kit and cap, complete with ticket bag to sling over my tiny shoulder and a supply of brightly coloured tickets to punch as ‘customers’ handed over their money.

Doesn’t sound  very exciting does it?  But I do remember spending the day shouting ‘All Aboard’ and then wandering around the lounge room collecting pennies from uncles, aunts and cousins for their tram trip to nowhere.  Can’t remember if I got to keep the dosh.  Probably did and spent it next day on humbugs, our favourites, for my Grandfather and me to munch on.

After a while I graduated to dolls, and then to books.  I was especially besotted with Elsie Oxenham’s stories about the Girls from the Abbey, placing orders in advance for both Christmas and Birthday pressies.  I was never disappointed.

When my own children arrived, the presents kept pace with our current economical situation, usually dodgy.  It was eerie how we always seemed to suffer a resources crisis right on the festive season.  The kids still received their fair share of brand new bikes, or climbing frames, dolls or Lego sets, so somehow or other my Reluctant Traveller must have found a way to make ends not only meet but stretch as well.

As you can see Jenny and Steve weren’t all together too enraptured with the bearded bloke hogging the camera....later Steve’s children, our three little tadpoles will show the same uneasy reservation.  Maybe the beard tickled.

Fast forward to grown up son Steve, seen in the next photo serenading a Christmas party with brother in law, Chris, Jenny’s husband.  Super slim Chris in the Santa suit thought he had the little kids fooled, but the grandchildren figured it out very quickly.

Later years I was mildly horrified at the no expense barred avalanche of toys and gear those three grandchildren of ours received from their parents...their house littered with gaudy wrapping paper as the little loves tore into strangely shaped parcels.  One bright eyed glance, one intake of breath and then they were off to the next mystery parcel, and so their Christmas morning continued with barely a pause even to take in sustenance..The house struggled to recover, strewn with abandoned presents.

I opted not to join the spoiling session and instead my contribution to the day became the tried and true Christmas Stocking, enlarged to contain small oddities I found during the year,  stuff they could rampage about the house with.  Destroy in a moment if they wanted to. Cheap and nasty, but hugely popular.

Strangely, nearly always these were the items they kept returning to, year after year.
I wonder if grandson Ben will think back to this early Christmas morning, remembering a particular present in the stocking, a tiny kid size watch, one that strangely enough didn’t make the tick tock sound.


Christmas now is a commercial bonanza; to a large extent religion and goodwill has been extracted.  Modern communication with mobile phones and computers has even seen the decline of the once obligatory Christmas card.

No longer is every shelf and surface of living rooms around the world  festooned with envelope sized images of Santa, snow covered sleighs or the Three Wise Men.   Where once a friend, some even living close by, across a street even, mailed a Xmas card through the post, because that is what one did back then, some are lucky now to receive even a smile and a nod much less a written greeting.

I’ve no doubt there are families who still continue the habits of childhood when their parents dragged them off to midnight mass,  but I know few today who do, including me,  in my immediate group of friends.

The world has changed, and not entirely for the better.

So it’s wonderful and warming to see a small clutch of Straddie Islanders continue their tradition, decorating their homes with a fairyland of Christmas Pageant lights.

Thank you, especially to the wonderful folk of Amity Point who year after year keep alight the spirit of Christmas.

Dear Readers, may your Christmas, wherever you are, be a peaceful and joyous one.

Very best wishes from My Reluctant Traveller and me.

Robyn Mortimer 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011



   I've become so involved writing and researching our relations from the past I’ve felt at times I was actually there with them, wherever they were... in Fiji, Sussex, Indiana or Scotland.  None were boring, all presented a fascinating, lively aspect of their times.
   Why did so many make the long journey to Australia?  Some were younger brothers in a large family where only the first born inherited the family farm.  Others were caught up in the famine and hardship of Europe in the early 1800's.

   One such group from my Reluctant Travellers side of the family were the offspring of his Somerset born great-Great Grandmother, Jane Williams.  You may remember a previous story about our surprise at finding her final resting place on Straddie, the same island we moved to more than 30 years ago without the slightest idea of a long ago family connection.

Powell family's voyage on the Irene
    Two of great Great-Grandmother Jane’s daughters married brothers from the Powell family.  The Powell’s were a close knit farming family from Manningford Bohun in Wiltshire.

Hoping for a better life they immigrated to Australia in 1858 on the Irene.  Stephen and Lucy Powell brought with them their seven children aged from 3 years to 24.  One son, 12 year old Cornelius would eventually marry Mary Jane Williams, while his then 3 year old brother George Powell, will later marry her younger sister Matilda.

   Mary Jane and Cornelius settled close to her parent’s home in Nanango, an early mining and logging district near the Bunya Mountains.  Her mother Jane Williams will act as midwife to her daughter’s first two pregnancies, Margaret and Louisa Jane Powell.  Those two girls will be followed by Matilda, Sarah, Emily, Jane Constance, Lucy Mary and Stephen Charles.

   Sadly, their only son, Stephen will die within two years of his birth.

   The younger Powell’s, Cornelius and Mary Jane’s children, provided a wealth of detail for future family to cherish.  The girls in particular were obviously infatuated with the photographer and his camera.

   In a photographer’s studio, possibly in Roma or Nanango, the Powell sisters, Matilda, Lucy Mary and Emily pose for the camera, revealing a stylish but individual choice of apparel.


Matilda has really gone overboard, dressed in an outfit more suited to a garden party than a photo shoot in outback Queensland. 


    Both Lucy and Emily wore their everyday clothes.  In the black and white shots they appear to be dressed in black and I wonder if at the time they were in mourning.

 Cornelius’s brother Thomas, only 9 years old when the Powell’s arrived on the Irene in 1858, posed in separate studio portraits with his attractive young wife, the former Mary Ann Dawson.

   The Powell girls show a marked likeness to their mother Mary Jane, the same fine features and dark hair.  In the photo below, with her husband, Cornelius, Mary looks a bit tired and frankly, worn out.  And no wonder. Twenty four years of her life was spent bearing eight children.

    No walk in the park back in those days.

Cornelius and Mary Jane Powell
    The photo of Cornelius and Mary Jane was most likely taken not long before his death in 1907.  Just two years later in 1909 Mary Jane’s mother, Jane Williams, the Nanango midwife from Somerset will die at the Benevolent Society Asylum on Stradbroke Island, far distant from her family.

   Blind and not wishing to be a burden on her daughters, it was Jane’s wish to spend her last days on Straddie.

    My Reluctant Traveller strolling in the historic and beautiful cemetery at Straddie where Jane Williams, nee Wall, is buried in an unmarked grave.

Marius and Louisa Jane Sorensen
    Another Powell daughter, Louisa Jane, brought into the world by her midwife grandmother in 1875, will marry the Danish farmer, Marius Sorensen in 1897 in Roma, and become the Reluctant Travellers grandmother when their daughter Connie marries Jack Mortimer. 

   Despite the hardships of life in Queensland’s outback, the two women, my husband's Grandmother and his Great Grandmother...Louisa Sorensen and her mother Mary Jane Powell, will live exceptionally long lives as these copies of  Queensland newspaper clippings show...

   The Sorensen’s 1947 golden wedding anniversary coincided with the death of Denmark’s King.  The family party however carried on regardless.  Not at the family home in suburban Paddington as my Reluctant Traveller remembered, but at a local hall.  Grandfather Sorensen played his accordion as he had done at all family gatherings.

  And Louisa Sorensen’s mother, Mary Jane Powell who attended the party in Brisbane at the age of 91, lived on for another eight years when another daughter placed the following birthday notice in the local Roma newspaper.

I have read a lot about big families, but I think my Grandmother, Mrs M.J.Powell of Roma can beat them all.  She has 211 living descendants. They include five daughters, 42 grandchildren, 120 great grandchildren and 44 great- great grand children.  Mrs Powell was born in Nanango in 1855 married in 1872 and widowed in 1907.  She celebrated her 99th birthday last month.
Until finally the Matriarch's death in 1909 is recorded in a tiny paragraph of a government report. 

   Mary Jane Powell’s mother, the indomitable Jane Williams may have died on Straddie in relative obscurity but her memory, and that of her daughters and grand daughters, lives on  in the history of the adopted country she helped to pioneer.


Robyn Mortimer ©2011