Note: This post has 13 chapters. To access the index, click the button above marked, "CHAPTER INDEX". Each chapter ends with a link to the next one, and a link back to the chapter index. Alternatively, you can access them via the Blog Archive list at right. Or you can simply scroll down.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Meet the Forebears

     The Dennises came out to Australia in the 1850s, and bred like fruit flies. So prolific were they - with a preponderance of sons, to advance the family name - that I might be tempted to hail any Dennis from southern New South Wales as a distant relative. Perhaps I should do so in any case. Most surnames originate from the founder's trade (Smith), appearance (Brown), location (Townsend), or father (Jackson), and as such, tend to spout like weeds independent of each other.  However, Dennis - which is first attested from Staffordshire in 1272 - sounds like it originated only once. That would mean that all the Dennises in the English speaking world are related to one another - as well as to their offshoots, the St Dennises of Ireland, and the Tennysons.
    One twig of this vast, ramifying family tree were agricultural workers around Hail Weston, Huntingdonshire, in England. In 1796 James Dennis married Sarah Thompson, on whom he fathered seven children, beginning with James the following year. James, in turned, married another Sarah, this time a Richardson, in 1818, and produced another five offspring. Huntingdonshire, by this time, was getting a little crowded. The increased population due to the agricultural and industrial revolutions, combined with a shortage of land, led to many to seek their fortune in the cities or the colonies. And since 1835 there had been an assisted immigration scheme (the forerunner of the "ten pound poms") for mechanics, tradesmen, and agricultural labourers, providing they could  produce a reference from a magistrate or clergyman as proof of good character, and a baptismal certificate as proof of age.
    So, in 1851, their eldest son, James no. 3, migrated to Australia. Students of history will remember that this was the year that the discovery of gold was announced, so there may be a connection. In any case, what he acquired was land, or at least work, at Braidwood, N.S.W. His married sisters, Elizabeth and Eliza, with his married aunts, Elizabeth and Frances arrived the following year on the Wilson Kennedy. That must have been quite a voyage. According to the passenger list my cousin, Christine dug up, Eliza and the two Elizabeths each lost a child on the journey.Two of Frances' six children also died, but a seventh was born on board ship. Of the family members who started the voyage, a fifth perished before they reached land. Life was cheap in those days.
   Finally, in 1855, when he was already a widower of 58, James Sr himself took ship aboard the Bengal with his four other sons, of which the oldest were the twins, George Henry and Charles, aged 23. The eldest daughter came some time later. One wonders what the situation must have been like at home for half the family to migrate.
     Charles was already married, but once in Australia, George met Louisa Jane Woodham. This lady has been a source of much frustration for me. She is the only one of my eight great-grandparents to have been born in Australia, but she existed during a period of poor or scattered official records. I have been totally unable to obtain any official certificates concerning her. However, it appears she was born in Maitland in 1840, and passed away at Sydney on 13 January 1912. I had been told that she was married to George Dennis at Gundaroo in 1859, her father being listed as George Woodham, compositor. Then it transpired that the marriage actually took place in 1857 at Queanbeyan, and her husband was not George Dennis, but a certain Samuel Jones, who then left her a widow in 1861. It turns out her wedding to my great-grandfather was not until 1866, by which time they had already had two children together, the first being in 1861! The most likely series of events is that 1859 was the year she and George began cohabiting, and that they had to wait seven years before her husband could be officially declared dead.
George Henry Dennis (1833 - 1896)
    In any case, their marriage was long and productive, for they raised 11 children who survived to adulthood, and at least two, maybe three, others who didn't. Not only that, but one of the farm hands, who had a son, but no wife, occasionally went off to look for work elsewhere, leaving his son behind. After one such expedition, he never returned, so the son ended up being fostered by the Dennises. Poor Louisa must have imagined herself the old woman who lived in a shoe. Furthermore, their second son, Jim had the bad luck of having three wives die on him. Upon the death of his first wife in 1895, his mother, now almost 50, had to temporarily take in his six motherless children.
     Since George died in 1896, and Louisa in 1912, my mother obviously never met her grandparents. However, she told me that George was fair and handsome, as the photo at left would appear to confirm. I was told that he was unable to read or write properly, but that his wife could. (In those days, it was not uncommon for the girls to get the education while their brothers worked on the farm.) However, it appears that he was recorded as being litterate at the date of migration. They were said to be a very refined couple.
    Louisa herself was slim and genteel, who used to hunt the bees off the flowers because, once they were pollinated, they would die. But she was also a very hard worker, who never complained. Well, perhaps she did once. According to my mother, she complained about having to carry water from the spring or creek in a bucket, and was shocked when George responded by making a shoulder yoke for her! She was said to have eventually succumbed to nose cancer, having first been compelled to wear a handkerchief across her face like a Muslim lady.
     Offspring no. 9, born at Gundagai  in 1878, was my grandfather, Alfred Australia Dennis who, in later years, would be piqued when officials, presumably from the old country, and unfamiliar with the Australian accent, would record his name as "I. I. Dennis". When he was 6 weeks old, he mother rode side-saddle for 50 miles (so it was said) to have him baptised. (Presumably by a Roman Catholic priest. Louisa was a nominal Catholic, George nominally a member of the Church of England.)
    Alf Dennis particularly remembered the smell of apples and pears upstairs at home. He loved children, and was quite affected by the death of his little sister, Lilia. She was born in 1881, and died the following year, when Alf would have been only four. He wanted to keep her little feet as a memento.
    He was also fond of poultry, and often stood around to watch the chickens hatch. He was even known to help them out of the shell in order to see what colour they would be, until he discovered that the assistance was likely to prove fatal.
     At some stage, half way through growing up ie about age nine or ten, a piece of wood went through his foot. No-one went to hospital in those day. Instead, he was simply carried around on the back of his brother, Herb, who was four years younger, but hefty, until the wood came out.
     In the same general period of time, he was sent to his older brother's place to help take care of the twins, whose mother had died in childbirth. On the way home, he ran into some wild cattle, and was forced to take refuge in a hollow log for an extended period. (But see Aunt Hilda's version in the second addendum below.)
    As mentioned before, often the sons of a family missed out on an education, but times were changing and, in any case, when you are offspring no. 9, there are probably already enough hands to do the work. Grandpa, of course, was very smart, and went to school until he was 15. Towards the end, the occasion often arose on Monday mornings, that his teacher, Mr Kelly (it was presumably a one-teacher school) would present with a foul hangover from a weekend  bender, would ask his star pupil to take the class.
     It was probably to the following few years that the following anecdote relates. He was working in Wagga Wagga when - wonderful to relate! - a rare snowfall occurred. All the others went outside to build a snowman, but not Alf Dennis. He stayed inside and got on with his work. Nobody could ever accuse him of having a soul!
    Finally, at age 19, he set off to seek his fortune, with two horses provided by his father, and whatever money he had saved. If my information is correct, this would have been the year after his father's death - which was probably significant. But it was also the beginning of the great Federation Drought, and thus an inauspicious time to try setting up on one's own. He brought a property, and built a house with a real wooden floor.
    Then disaster struck, in the form of "rheumatism", which he blamed on sleeping in wet clothes after fighting a bushfire. Rheumatism was a term used in those days for various joint and muscular pains, and attributed (incorrectly) to exposure to damp. At the same time, he had to contend with crows. According to popular opinion - which, as a qualified zoologist, I cannot endorse - they are a danger to lambs, and they are extremely difficult to shoot. On the assumption that, should the wily crows see him emerge from the door carrying a gun, they would promptly decamp, he decided to sneak up on them by climbing out a window. Unfortunately, the gun discharged accidentally, and he ended up in hospital with a bullet in his liver (so I was told). How he managed to reach the hospital in such a dire condition would have made an excellent piece of drama, if anybody had thought to record it. Anyway, his rheumatism then resolved, though whether the gunshot wound cured it, as family tradition insists, is something I am not prepared to endorse.
     Update: My cousin, Christine found a report on the incident in a number of newspapers. This one was from The Scrutineer and Berrima District Press, Wed. 7 January 1903, page 6:
A Shooting Accident
    Wagga, Saturday. - A serious shooting accident befel Alfred Dennis at Currawarna, 20 miles from here, on New Year's Day. He wet to shoot crows with a pea rifle, and whilst walking along with muzzle pointed upwards, the weapon went off. The bullet entered between the lower ribs and travelled upwards through the right lung, on top of which it lodged. Dennis retraced his steps to his house near by, where he lived alone, and waited six hours for some one to pass by and assist him. He was conveyed to the Currawarna Hotel in a very low condition, owing to hemorrhage, which was with difficulty stopped by Dr. Burgess. Dennis is progressing favorably.
     You can see now how the use of telephones - especially the mobile type - has reduced the dangers we face. Imagine what would have happened if no-one had passed by! And why should they? But the medical conditions had taken their toll. On the advice of his neighbour, he sold up. Round one of the fight to make a living had been lost. (Just the same, it should be noted that throughout the years 1904-6 the newspapers carried regular advertisements from my grandfather offering the services of a stud trotting horse called Paradise at Currawarna.)
     Even so, he was still on crutches when he first met Clarinda, the daughter of Captain McGovern - about whom we shall hear more later. (Here there is certainty; all the McGoverns in the world really are related to one another - and to the O'Connors, of whom they are an offshoot.) So, every second Sunday he would go courting. It is said that she and her sister, Ada had a discussion about who would take him. (As usual, the fellow has no chance.) Anyhow, having first arranged for a neighbour to feed his horses, he would get in his sulky and drive the 27 miles to the McGoverns' residence, arriving about 11 am and departing ten hours later. When about to leave, he would allow Clarrie to come out to see him while he was yoking his horse, and she apparently regarded this as a concession. He certainly would never take her off alone where they might be compromised.
     Here you should understand that, although my grandfather was completely irreligious, he was nevertheless a product of his times: a strait-laced Victorian. In later years he once refused to accept the prize in a "chook raffle" because he could not remember buying a ticket. My mother remembers how a friend of the family was once taking his girlfriend home when the car broke down, and they were forced to spend the night stranded on a deserted country road. Their peers though it rather amusing, but Grandpa's comment was: "You'd think he'd get engaged to her after that."
     I presume that my grandparents' wedding was delayed while Alf sought to establish himself - a second round in the struggle to make a living. According to family tradition, in an area known as Tooyal North, about 13 miles [21 km] from Wagga Wagga, a large property was being broken up and put on sale by the Government. So he entered a ballot, and won the right to purchase an allotment. Since Clarinda had been born at Sunderland, in county Durham, the farm was christened "Dunelm", an old name for Durham.
     No doubt there is more to the story. According to a booklet by Phil Sheather and Patricia Galloway, called Malebo Memories - of which more will be said in another post - the district contained at least two huge ( 100 square miles) selections: Gobbagombalin and Tooyal. In 1984, the Government resumed part of Gobbagombalin, and in 1900 the selection began sharefarming. Then, under the Closer Settlement Act of 1906, the Government purchased the whole of Gobbagombalin and many of the sharefarmers were able to purchase their properties and work them for their exclusive profit. My guess is that the same thing happened with Tooyal. However, Grandpa was not sharefarming on the site at the time. His marriage certificate of 24 January 1906 reveals him to be a farmer at Berry Jerry, a locality close to Coolamon, and Tooyal could not have been broken up before the following year.
     Be that as it may, they were married  at the home of the bride's parents, near Coolamon. Clarinda was prepared to have the wedding in a Catholic church, but at the time, the priest was on a retreat, so Alf said, in effect, "Hang it all! The Presbyterian minister can do it." And here they are. This is a professional photo, of course. Nobody in our family owned a camera before at least the late 1920s - or would have been able to take such a good shot if they had.  You might note that Clarinda's waist is rather narrow. In fact, it was only 20 inches (50 cm), and Ada's was an inch smaller. And the wedding dress is still in existence, but Clarrie's teenaged great-granddaughter, who was slim and petite, was unable to fit into it. She obviously would have needed Clarrie's corset.
    After ten months, my grandmother moved to Wagga to be delivered of her firstborn. In those days childbirth was "secret women's business"; it was not expected for the father to be present. (That only came in, slowly, in the 1970s.) But it was considered a big concession that Alf took a day off work to visit her, for it was in the middle of the harvest, when time is of the essence.
     She also received, either there or at home, a visit from the priest, who told her that, because they were not married in the True Church, their marriage was not valid in the eyes of the church, nor their son legitimate. When the news reached Alf, he was not amused, but that was what we had to put up with before Vatican II.
    Over a period of 18½ years, they produced nine children. (Click on the button marked, Who's Who in the Family, at the top of the blog.) The arrival of Hilda, the youngest, was met with a mixed reception. With her mother's hands full with the new baby, and her father's with the farm, my own mother was sent to town by herself to purchase a stroller, and at 16, she found it a bit daunting. Olga, aged 14, saw herself being again conscripted as a carer, and commented that: "You only finish with one, when another one comes along." The second oldest brother, Alf was "ashamed"; he was 17, and at high school, and his mother was still having babies. However, Lil, aged 9, later told her little sister that she was glad she had been born.
    "I had ten bosses," said Aunt Hilda. Nevertheless, there are certain advantages to growing up in such an environment. You can always find a playmate, soulmate, carer, or co-conspirator, and at the same time you learn tolerance and forbearance, because any incipient bullying, bossiness, or bad attitude can be thwarted by weight of numbers. Hence my mother's comments on bringing up a large family:
    "It's not so difficult. You don't have them all at once, and you get the older ones to take care of the younger."
     Also: "Five couldn't have been any more trouble than the two I had." (I'm not prepared to dispute that.)

     My grandfather did, however, have a number of rules of thumb regarding farming. The first was that profits go back into the farm, rather than the home. "Fools build houses for wise men to live in," was a favourite maxim of his. (And he had been a fool once before.) So the house he brought his bride back to was constructed of the cheapest materials available: galvanised iron, backed with hessian, and covered with wallpaper. Grandma used to say that she lived in a sardine box for the first fourteen years, but she was happy because they were going ahead. That sardine box consisted initially of a verandah, plus just three rooms: a bedroom, a living room, and a scillion ie a combined kitchen and storeroom with a dirt floor. He wasn't going to risk the luxury of a wooden floor like his first house. However, my mother informed me that a wooden floor had been added to the scillion by the time she was old enough to remember.
     This brings me to an anecdote told by my cousin, Christine:
     "I was listening to a speech by an Aboriginal women, who complained that she grew up in a house with just a dirt floor. And she was most indignant about this. But I thought: Well, my grandparents' had a dirt floor. She was just a generation or so behind the rest of us."
     Another of Grandpa's maxims was that you can make a go at farming if you are lucky enough to start off with three good years. Just the same, all sorts of problems arose at the beginning. He was so poor that, for his first planting season, he could not afford a drill, and had to sow the wheat by hand. His four horses were reduced to three by the unusual occurrence of a snake bite. And to add insult to injury, when he set poisoned baits on a post for the foxes which threatened his turkeys, it was the turkeys who ate them. Finally, when he was drilling for water, an unplanned additional expense forced him to stop, at least temporarily, before a sufficient water supply could be achieved. That additional expense was the birth of offspring no.3: my mother.
     His third maxim was that his shoulders were broad enough to bear the worries and concerns of the farm without sharing them with his ever-patient wife. She had enough on her plate taking care of the house and the children. I don't suppose she was prepared to argue with that.
     Perhaps she might have been more concerned if Alf Dennis hadn't been such an excellent farmer. He knew how to balance a budget, to estimate the markets, and pick the time to change focus. The major crop was wheat, but when skeleton weed invaded the crops, and pushed some farmers to the wall, he introduced fat lambs. They moved through the paddock like mobile weed hunters, returning with their muzzles all covered with dirt, adhering to the sticky exudate of the skeleton weed they had eaten to the roots. Thus the wheat was saved, and the lambs went to market for extra income.
     And as the farm prospered, and the family grew, so that "sardine box" was extended into a large, spacious, and comfortable homestead, surrounded by a cluster of outhouses. They even grew so prosperous that Grandpa gave himself the luxury of purchasing trotting horses.

    My brother, Warren and I used to visit our grandparents' property when we were very young, and they were very old. We were amazed at the vast paddocks, dry and bare except for the random trails made by the hooves of the token sheep, and marvelled at the mail box so far from the front door that one needed a horse to get there. We gazed at the windmill - which was actually a wind pump - and kept obediently away from the large pools, known as tanks, kept for the livestock. We wandered around the outhouses such as the bathroom, toilet, and milk separator room. I explored the big, empty rooms at the rear of the house, and fell in love with the verandah wrapped around two sides of the dwelling.
     Things were more primitive, we learned, than in the city. Drinking water came from rainwater tanks. As for the toilet, we weren't surprised that it was in a separate outhouse, a "dunny". Heck! We didn't even have sewage in Brisbane in the 1950s. But in the big smoke, at least the refuse accumulated in a pan, to be collected once a week by a council worker. Here, the toilet seat was poised over a deep hole, which looked like it had been dug aeons ago. And newspaper was substituted for the familiar white roll.
     On the other hand, they had a telephone, which was more than we had - and thereby hangs a tale. About 1925, Grandpa acquired a property down near the Murrumbidgee, which had a tendency to flood. He then discovered that the only way he could obtain news of the flood levels would be to ride the 13 miles to Wagga Wagga to check the river gauge near the post office - or get a telephone. The young technician who came to install it looked at baby Hilda in her stroller, and commented that he had a child of the same age at home. And that is how Mum remembered the date. Originally, it had been on a "party line", that is, a single line serving several homesteads. A call for one meant the telephones rang on every farm on the line, but you could tell when it was meant for you, because every telephone had its own specific ring - in their case, one long and two short.(On the other hand, if you were a stickybeak, you could eavesdrop on other people's conversations. If too many people did it, it would slow down the reception, and you would tell them to get off the line.)
    But no power lines extended to the property. Lighting at night was provided by kerosene lamps. Firewood heated the stove and the external bathhouse. A pile of it stood at the gate in front of the house, ready to be chopped whenever it was needed. But until now, it never occurred to me to ask where it came from - certainly not from the property itself. As for the refrigerator, it ran on kerosene. I am informed that, for  short time in the 1930, the house was graced with a wireless set ie a radio, which came in three parts: the radio receiver, the speaker, and a kerosene-operated generator.
Alf Dennis in later years.
     This lack of electricity was not just an example of an elderly couple refusing to keep up with the times. Even their son's farm, which was closer to the city, required a kerosene generator. But there was one feature of modernity they neglected to take up: they had no car. Neither did we, for that matter, but we were poor, and we lived closer to public transport. But in the country, you would expect the need to be more pressing. Nevertheless, for us boys, one of more interesting features of Dunelm was that you went everywhere on a horse-drawn sulky.
    Grandpa I remember as a crusty old codger with not much patience for young whippersnappers like you-know-who. He was slim and spare, with bright blue eyes, snow white hair and moustache, and his cheek heavily scarred from skin cancer surgery. Grandma was by now rather stout, and I remember her principally huddled in front of the wood stove. No-one told us she was quietly dying of cancer. She eventually passed away in 1961 at the age of 78.
     After that, the widower lived alone, but no-one would be game enough to suggest the old man leave the house where he had lived all his adult life - any more than they would suggest the same to his daughter, 40 years later. One of his quirks was that he did not sleep in a bedroom, but on the verandah, though I gather that, in winter, he repaired to a bedroom.. Then, one cold night in July 1965, when he was two months off 87, the end came. I shall quote the account given by my Aunt Hilda:
     It must have been a very lonely life. Uncle Herb was already dead, so he was not calling in -  although, if I remember rightly Dad, had got annoyed with Uncle Herb and told him not to come any more!
     One Sunday afternoon in winter, Jack [his eldest son, who lived on the farm next door] called in to see Dad. We presume that Dad had decided to change his clothes and to have a wash. Jack found him naked on the bedroom floor. He apparently had had a stroke. If Jack had not found him perhaps he would have just died of exposure and cold. As it was, he lingered on in Wagga Hospital for nearly a week. He died just four years and one day after Mum died.
    An era had ended. The property was dispersed among the heirs. One by one, all of that large family have drifted off the land. But a couple of decades ago, a member or friend of the family went back to the old homestead at Dunelm, and found it a decaying building on somebody else's property, and a dead sheep on the floor which once echoed to the running feet of many children. It was rather sad.

    If you want to find out what life was like for those children, read on. Or return to the index.

Addendum:  I have just received feedback from my cousin, Christine (Hilda's daughter), who is a year and a half older than me and, being based in Melbourne, visited the patriarchal home more often. She said:
Grandfather did go inside to sleep when grandmother was not well. So for the last few years he slept inside.
I am sorry you did not know grandmother. She used to come to Melbourne each winter up to the last few years of her life. She used to tell stories of her girlhood in Sunderland and Australia. I was very attached to her. I still can remember the embarrassing time I boasted to Hazel that I was her favourite grandchild. Hazel abruptly put me right and told me that she was the favourite grandchild.
     The main light was the petrol lamp in the kitchen. This was lit as it became dark. I remember grandma pumping it up. Years before they had gas lighting. They were a form of fixed petrol light. They were in three rooms. The canisters were on the veranda where I said. If I remember they were in three rooms. The last person to bed turned them off on the veranda. They were working when my mother was young. The gas bottles were still on the veranda near the formal front door near the blue room. Electricity did not come to the area until the 1950s. I remember there being no electricity at Uncle Doug's place. Uncle Jack had a generator. The grandparents felt they were too old for electricity. My mother is still not keen on electricity. I remember when I was little at aunt Olga's place trying to explain to grandma that you need to keep the power on for the toaster to work. She said it had had enough electricity. She did not have her hearing aide in so she could not hear me.
     Uncle Doug used to bring wood for grandfather. I am not sure where he got it from.  Remember that bull ants nest near the wood heap. It was good fun to jump up and down on.

     Uncle Hally's children call my mother Auntie Babe. My mother said you were brought up properly.

     I thought the inability to read belonged to our great grandmother not great grandfather. I think there were schools in England which would have given him a basic education.
    Great grandmother's advice to our grandmother was 'begin as you would end'. So our grandmother never got up to get grandfather's breakfast.

     I have better memories of grandfather. With me he just automatically took me with him as he would have his own children. I remember being on the back of his horse riding around the paddocks. I remember going down to look at the chooks and milking the cow and separating. My secret shame was that I felt I could never put a separator together. I knew that I could never marry a farmer. When aunt Lil pointed out eligible farmers in the district I knew that I could not marry them because of this inability.
Uncle Jack persuaded Grandfather to buy a car. Grandfather complained that the man teaching him to drive stuttered and that is why he could not learn. Uncle Jack therefore became the driver. Unfortunately this gave him power which he should not have had. It meant that they came home from the The Show etc when Uncle Jack wanted to.
     As for grandfather being crusty -- yes he was a growler like a lot of the Dennises. I remember being in the home of his grandson and hearing growls emerge from the back -- his great grandchildren.  The growling passed down the generations. Now if you remember you were big for your age. Grandfather used to get angry at you because you were not doing what he thought you should for your size. I can remember trying to tell him myself you were younger than you appeared. Remember when you were 3 and 1/2 , I would be 5. You did stand up in a sulky which grandfather growled at. One of the stupidest things you did was roll a car tyre at Lorna's pony. It took fright  and galloped up the paddock. I remember this clearly because I was riding her at the time and I was not that good a rider. I can remember grandfather teaching you, Warren and I to make bows and arrows so he did have a bit of a heart.

Addendum No. 2
     Now Aunt Hilda herself has come up with a long screed of corrections and additions. So, at the risk of lenghthening this post to the point of making it unwieldy, I shall transcribe her letter. (That's what comes from publishing a story while there are still people alive who know the truth.)
Riverina Babe's version of Riverina Girl
     Dad was No. 10. [Perhaps the list I consulted missed one of those who died in infancy.]
     No. It was not Dad who had the trouble saying "A. A. Dennis." It was Mum (Clarinda) who was actually born in England. In her attempt to refer to herself as "Mrs. A. A. Dennis" the person listening to her would think she was saying "I. I." or even "E. E." Dennis. It was very embarrassing for her. [This seems strange, because the broad Australian "a" tends to be heard as an "i" by other Anglophones.]
    I did not know about Dad with the piece of wood in his foot.
    Referring still to Mum's pronounced North of England Brogue, I thought someone said that when the oldest ones first went to school they also were speaking like Mum but it was soon knocked out of them when they mixed with other Australian children.[Mum said they used to pronounce the vowel in jug like that in bull.]
     Apparently Grandmother Dennis allowed the older girls to choose the names for the last few children. These girls were responsible for
     Alfred Australia (!)
     Lylie (don't really know her name) [My source says Lilia.]
     Herbert Sidney Earnest,
     Arnold Augustus,
     Claudia Veronica.
     When I first came to Melbourne I was in the city one Saturday morning in one of those old lifts which had an operator. [There were still a few left in the 1970s, after which all became automatic.] An older lady was also in the lift. Someone started a conversation between us and the lift operator. When we reached the ground floor this lady spoke to me. She asked me whether I was a Dennis. She said I sounded like a Dennis. She turned out to be Auntie Claude who worked in Sydney as a buyer for her firm. What did a Dennis sound like? Was it a compliment or the opposite?
     I have a different version of the time Alfred, at age nine, was chosen to look after his brother George's animals. This is my mother's version of events:
     George was Dad's oldest brother. He was married and had three children the youngest of whom was still a baby or perhaps a toddler. The two older children became seriously ill. I think it was diphtheria or something like that. The parents took them to the hospital and left the youngest one in the care of a friend. The baby also started showing signs of illness. The tragic outcome was that the three children all died and Uncle George almost went out of his mind with grief. No doubt both parents did.
     While the parents were at the hospital with their dying children, young Alfred had the responsibility of looking after the farm animals - attending to the horses, milking the cow? feeding fowls, cooking his own food. There was an old man who lived some distance up the road. If he needed help he was to go to this man.
     It really was a big thing to ask a nine-year-old boy to do. The to meet up with the wild cattle on the way home! They grew them tough in those days.
     Dad was obviously very bright as a schoolboy. I remember how good he was at mental arithmetic. No doubt the teacher's benders were part of the reason why Dad did not become a student teacher as he then wished. His brother Arnold was more fortunate several years later. It was a system whereby a student could become a qualified primary school teacher learning from his own teacher. There must have been examinations along the way.
     I am sorry, Malcolm, but you are wrong. Just to check I asked Adrian [Aunt Lil's son] and he agreed with me. Crows will pick the eyes of a sheep. Not a sheep in good health but one that has got "down" for some reason and is not able to defend itself. [Correct as far as it goes. However, it just confirms the findings of systematic research: crows are not responsible for stock deaths; they can only hasten the demise of one already on the way out.]
     Dad was always a bad rifle shot. I wonder where that bullet ended up in him. It was supposed to be still there when he died.
     Just what his father gave him as a dowry when he left home [that's assuming his father was still alive] was never really agreed on. Brother Alfred said he went with a team of four horses coupled with full harness. I thought he went with one draught horse complete with harness but rode a light horse. I thought it was your mother who said, "Of course he did not have a light horse. He rode the one draught horse from farm to farm!"
    Perhaps I had forgotten about the arthritis. Perhaps as the last of the family I had just never heard about it.

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