Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Chas and his three sons, Bill, Bert and Bob, 1926

Time and again I’ve looked at Grandfather’s past and wondered what made him the deviously aggressive sort of person he sometimes was. Could the cause and effect that resulted in the Chas Brown-Parker persona have first taken root back in the Bertie Brown childhood of Indiana?

 I’ve taken you through the early years in Fiji, the show biz years in New Zealand, the scams and schemes in Sydney and Melbourne, the years of the first world war, the ‘ink pot’ controversy and the ignominy of the ‘Tar and Feather’ incident.

By this stage you could imagine Grandfather wanting to turn a new leaf, end out his days in the slow lane, give Maggie a welcome break from controversy.  Think again.


1922.  The Mildura court case has ended, a curious finding, guilty as charged but with the court’s sympathy.  Sympathy or otherwise many are disgusted with the very suggestion of tarring and feathering anyone at all, no matter how much they deserved that punishment.

Grandfather hangs around Mildura until February of the next year when young Bert competes in the local swim club championships. He then takes the family on a whirlwind trek east through country New South Wales, first to Crookwell and then onto Singleton where he finds short term work on local newspapers. 

How he transported the family the vast distance between towns is another mystery.  Did he have a vehicle of sorts?  Daughter Viti recalled him driving in the outback as a travelling salesman and we do have Maggie in photographs with splendid looking tourers;  though I doubt the cars belonged to Grandfather.

In this photo Maggie is wearing black for mourning, I can only imagine she is in Brisbane and the year is 1923

A small daughter in the background, Rewa or Viti, the year could be 1921, the locality suburban Melbourne.

That print setting trade is coming in handy though ChasBert spends no more than a month or two in either town before ending up back in Queensland where he takes a position with a printing firm in Brisbane.

All of this I know because Grandfather loved accumulating work place references, either the few written by appreciative employers, or the many I strongly  suspect he wrote himself on filched letter heads. In fact they all had a striking similarity of phrase.

In the same year, 1922, their son Charlie Andrew wins the Navy Flyweight boxing title.  Charlie has been living away from the family since he joined the Navy. He represents the Royal Australian Navy in boxing tournaments around Australia while still being attached to the crew of the warship Tasmania. 

You could say he is a chip off the old block.

By August of 1923 daughter Leota will have married Colin Young in Melbourne making absolute her separation from the family circus.  She has a long memory and will never forgive her father for selling her hair.



New Zealand born Charles Andrew joined the Australian Navy in 1918 as a young lad of fourteen.  He had a ready grin and a handy pair of fists and like his father he too was a boxer; at various times Chas senior organised exhibition matches putting his small sons in the ring to box their hearts out.

Young Charlie was a larrikin pure and simple; at one time he was also the Navy’s flyweight champion winning his matches in the 1922 Navy Championships held at Garden Island in Sydney. 


In November of 1923 the city of Melbourne was paralysed by a police strike. Mobs gathered and rampaged through inner city streets looting and damaging shops and buildings.  To protect Federal Government property, detachments of permanent naval, military and air force servicemen were posted help keep order.

AB Charles Andrew Brown-Parker, crewman from H.M.A.S Swan was struck on the head by a beer bottle in a violent clash while performing guard duty at Government House and died on the 5th of November in a Melbourne hospital.   Charlie was only three months short of nineteen.

I couldn’t help thinking back to the chilling words written by a New Zealand journalist twenty years earlier when he described Chas senior as a useful man to have around during elections or any other kind of national disturbance.  Like father like son.

The young sailor on the left is Charles Andrew

The only known address the navy had for sailor Charlie’s next of kin was Olive Avenue, Mildura; but by November 1923, his parents Chas and Maggie were living thousands of miles away in Brisbane.  Chas always spoke of his son as a hero, the recipient of a state burial through the streets of Melbourne.

In reality young Charlie was buried quietly in an unmarked grave and while his father applied for and received money from the Navy to place a headstone on the grave, he instead pocketed the cash and the grave remains unmarked.


Historical change is all the more fascinating when comparing before and now photographs.  I look at Brisbane in 1910 when my grandparents first lived in Queensland’s capital city and life was lived at a slower pace, and then I look at today; at the frenetic life my children live.

Which do I really prefer?  More to the point, which would they?

Brisbane 1910

Brisbane 2010



Grandfather’s reference from Singleton mentions his move to Brisbane to take up an ‘‘important position’, a job with Robert McGregor & Co., Printers and Binders on the corner of Edward and Elizabeth Streets.  But that job as composing room foreman lasted a bare two months.  

He didn’t have far to go for his next job; within weeks we find him doing promotional work for the Returned Soldiers and Sailors League in Brisbane. This lasted ten months and probably helped restore some of his damaged self esteem.  Gave Maggie a chance too, to relax and smell the roses, or being now in the tropics, the frangipani.

The job involved raising money for various memorial funds; one event he organised was a carnival in August of 1923. 

Grandmother must have been a whole lot happier by now; her eyes would light up whenever this phase in her life was mentioned.  Mind you in my Grandmother’s eyes Chas could do no wrong, and when he was busy and happy, so was she.

We have no actual details about the carnival itself except that it took place at a venue that would be known years later as Cloudland, a hill top location with commanding views overlooking the Brisbane River and close to Fortitude Valley.  Locals at the time knew it as Luna Park.

The usual fairground attractions, provided by fee paying vendors would no doubt have been evident,  food stalls, games of skill and chance, sideshow tents, municipal bands,  dancing, and most certainly knowing Grandfather, a boxing tent.

For many years several attractive ruby glass cups were kept in the family as souvenirs: they were etched with a date and place and distributed at the carnival as ‘stall’ prizes.  By the time they came to me there were only two left and I sold them to help pay a small but pressing debt. Grandfather would have been quite proud of me.

The popular and historic dance hall that evolved from Luna Park, Cloudland itself, caused an uproar some 50 years later when it was bulldozed in the middle of the night despite public outrage, to provide a lucrative building site for its new owners.


And so life continued in the same city they had first sailed into from New Zealand 13 years earlier.  A long journey from vaudeville performer, stadium boss and race horse owner to fund raiser and entrepreneur.

If at this stage I imagined nothing more could shock me regarding the escapades of Charles Nelson Brown Parker I was soon to stand corrected.

I might never have known the Brown Parkers were still resident in Brisbane at this particular time  if it weren’t for the sighting of a small par in an advertisements page of the Brisbane Courier for October 11th  of that  same year, 1923.  This time ChasBert was raising funds for a suburban memorial hall with a family fun day and monster gymkhana at the Brisbane Cricket Grounds.

Keep in mind I’m ahead of you in the known life of ChasBert; suffice to say at that moment midway through 2010 when I first chanced upon the newspaper advert in question, it’s wording caused me to gasp in horror and change yet again my established story line for ‘Grandfather down under’.

To be honest though it was really my mother’s recollection from 1927 of a scary incident as a small child with her father Chas in the small Queensland country town of Bundaberg that gave me the most concern. 

But for the rambling memory of that child I might have considered the advertised added attraction below as just that, a publicity gimmick.

But with the luxury of hindsight and the prospect of further research the three words Ku Klux Klan made me wonder yet again just what sort of person I was claiming as an ancestor.


Next  Ancestors 14 – Far North Queensland: the past catches up.

Robyn Mortimer ©2011