Vera Deacon: A Pen Portrait Part 1: 1926-1946.
Today most of the Hunter River's estuary islands have been "reclaimed" by public works and private enterprise, and glued together with slag and other industrial pollutants to forge the modern day accretion called Kooragang Island, dedicated to coal loading, chemicals and other manufacturing. You can reach it from the arterial Industrial Highway by turning down Tourle Street and across the Tourle Street Bridge. On Kooragang you'll pass the remnants of the despoiled ancient wetlands: an oil slicked lagoon straggled with dead wood and a few waterbirds. Turn left onto Teal Street and you'll cross the massive concrete dinosaur spine of Stockton Bridge. If you take the right turn off the bridge you'll come to Clyde Street where Vera Deacon has lived for the past 16 of her 87 years.
The constant stream of heavy traffic across Kooragang passes by oblivious to a symbolic gesture to eco-power amidst the ruins: a solitary, giant wind turbine, proud and white and reaping the wind. Yet on either side the road is flanked by the fossil-fuelled reality of acres and acres of multi-storey coal heaps that feed the surrealistic giant hurdy-gurdy structures of the coal loaders, endlessly filling the bellies of an international flotilla of bulk carriers that line the wharves along the south arm of the Hunter River. And there are always twenty or more gargantuan empty iron maws waiting patiently off-shore for their turn to be nudged into the harbour by the diminutive tug-boats, drones of the coal export industry that has shaped the topography of the Hunter River region and its port for over 200 years.
Vera's mother had sought the famous midwife's care for her first confinement, but still it had been necessary to call in old Dr Arnold for Vera was dangerously "caught" and warranted a forceps delivery. Ellen Pember would give birth to six of her seven surviving babies at Nurse Whiteman's. After the lying-in period Ellen and Norman Pember took baby Vera home to their tiny white-washed dwelling off Woodstock St, Mayfield, on land known as Oakley's Paddock. (Figure 1)
Vera's father, Norman James Pember, had been born in England on 12 September 1904, and migrated to Australia with his parents and elder sister just prior to the First World War. It would seem that his father, James, subsequently deserted the family and, by misadventure, young Norman also lost contact both with his mother and his sister, Vera. All three have vanished from the records. Norman became a State Ward on 30 January 1913 (3) and was fostered out to various farming families in the Hawkesbury and Illawarra regions, learning the hard way how to make a living from the land. When he was seventeen he reached safe harbour on the islands of the Hunter River estuary where he found congenial folk, fertile soil and, at last, a place to settle down and marry a Hunter Valley-born girl. Together they would sustain a family of seven children throughout the decades of the Great Depression and the Second World War, almost totally reliant on his ability to farm the land and fish and reap the river.
The loss of his sister, especially, remained a wound in Norman's psyche and troubled his eldest daughter, her namesake, who could never find any evidence of her lost aunt's life. The Pember paternal genealogy thus remains an unsolved mystery. Self-taught, Norman Pember held a profoundly egalitarian and intuitively socialist value system that he passed on to his children. Vera recalls his last advice to her: "Do good in life, don't be greedy, and keep an eye on the River." (4)
On her mother's side, however, the record is rich with detail, and is typical of nineteenth century Hunter Valley colonial settler histories. (5) Vera's mother, Ellen Josephine Meehan, was descended from the Irish-born daughter of a female convict, Margaret Reddan, sentenced in 1839 and landing in Sydney, aboard the Isabella, on 11 June 1840. (6) Margaret's daughter, Mary Reddan, Vera's great-great grandmother, was born in 1820 in Drumcliffe, Ireland. Before her mother was transported, Mary had married Daniel Meehan in Inness, Co. Clare, on 15 August 1837. Daniel, Vera's maternal great-great grandfather, would pre-decease his wife by four months, on the 18 August 1888 in Haydonton, NSW. (7) After losing their firstborn child, named Margaret for her grandmother, Mary and Daniel Meehan had migrated to Australia, landing in the colony of NSW on 7 September 1841 aboard the United Kingdom. (8) Mary and Daniel's seventh child, John Patrick Meehan, would be Vera's maternal great grandfather. (9) He married one Ellen Jane Oakes, Vera's maternal great grandmother, on the 17 February 1873. (10)
John Patrick and Ellen Jane Meehan's first child, John Henry--or Harry--was born on 30 March 1874. Vera's maternal grandfather, Harry died young on 26 September 1921 at Mayfield, Newcastle, and was buried at Sandgate Cemetery, five years before his granddaughter Vera's birth. A bullock driver on Belltrees, he married Mary Jane, nee Jones, Vera's grandmother. (11) Mary Jane would be the only grandparent who would bring any influence to bear upon Vera's childhood, but that was brief as she died of Bright's disease on 19 March 1938, two days before her sixty-third birthday, the year Vera turned twelve.
Harry and Mary Jane Meehan had initially borne four consecutive sons, (12) then four daughters. The first five of their offspring were born on Rose Valley station in Gundy, the last three on Belltrees. (13) Vera's mother, Ellen Josephine ("Nell"), their sixth child and second daughter, was born on Belltrees on 5 November 1905. (14) All the Meehan girls learnt to sew their own clothes, knit, do fine lace crochet, "fancy work" and broderie anglaise. In the First World War they knitted Balaclava caps and socks for brothers Jim, Frank and Tom and for Douglas Grant, (15) whom Ellen called her "black brother" and who had enlisted with the Meehan boys and other Belltrees men. Aged 16, and living with her widowed mother and siblings in Mayfield, Ellen went to work after her father's death. Her needlework skills gained her employment as a shirt maker at Sutcliffe's Darby Street factory.
Young Ellen Meehan would soon be swept off her feet by a homeless larrikin with a sweet voice and a talent for the banjo ... and not a penny to his name.
When Vera was born, Norman Pember had been working for four or five years in the Coke Ovens at the BHP. However he was badly burnt on the job in 1927. He received some financial compensation and with it he tried to get a Fish and Chip Shop--"a chipper"--going in Station Street, Waratah, but sadly he failed. As Vera recalls:
Dad kept a little boat and we often rowed downstream to visit friends on Dempsey and Moscheto Islands, especially Emie Widdison and his mother Hannah who had helped my orphaned Dad when he finally found anchorage in Newcastle. They'd fed him 'burgoo' (16) to fatten him up and my adolescent Dad had earned his keep taking turns at winding the ferry punt cable. (17) Dad took my mother over to meet his island 'family' and they'd taken a friendly interest in my parents' coming marriage. One, Pearl Harrison, actually helped my Mother sew her wedding dress. Many of the young island men were like brothers to Dad, and I even called two of Dutchie and Rebecca Croese's sons 'Uncle'. When Dad was burnt at the Coke Ovens really hard times came. So we moved from Mayfield across to Dempsey Island, at first renting a tiny home on the north-east corner near Charles Richards's dairy farm. It was very lonely, but I clearly remember Acceber , the Croeses's launch, chugging down Mosquito Creek. Soon we moved to another little house on Tom Muncaster's dairy farm, which faced the Hunter's south arm, looking across Spit Island towards the fast growing industrial development. As Dad rowed along the river banks placing his fishing nets, Ronnie and I would perch on the mangrove woodpile that Dad had loaded on for our stove. Just along from us lived the Pemberton family, and their kids, Clarrie, Eva and Max, became our special friends. Along that river bank we'd scamper, playing on the little scallop-shaped sandy beach that was sometimes, ominously, smudged with tar ... (18)
Norman and Ellen Pember moved to Dempsey Island after the birth of their second child, Ronald Alan, on 9 July 1928. Norman found work for a time at the Murdering Gully sewerage works, south of Merewether near Glenrock Lagoon, commuting by milk launch and bicycle until a ruptured appendix hospitalised him. Then a third child, Norman William, was born on 3 September 1930. But tragedy struck and little Ronnie died suddenly aged 3 in September 1931 from "cerebral meningitis," probably caused by a mosquito-borne virus. Vera, just five, identified strongly with her mother, and the loss of Ronnie was a severe emotional blow. She recalled her mother telling her that the minister at the toddler's funeral told her that, in taking Ronnie, God was punishing them for their sins. Soon after, Vera fell ill with an almost fatal bout of enteric (typhoid) fever and was hospitalised for two months. The Pember family fortunes were at their nadir.
When the Floating Dockyard in Rotten Row closed down her father and other out-of-work local men scavenged the derelict site for reusable materials and parts. Norman built a smoke house out of an old corrugated iron water tank in which to smoke the excess fish that he caught to stock his family's larder for times when fresh ones were scarce. One day as he was preparing his catch Vera recalls him calling out, aghast, as filthy smoke poured from the hot tank: "Look, Vera, they are full of tar!" Enraged, Norman Pember shook his fists at the BHP across the channel: "They are killing the River." His emotions that day still inform Vera's vivid memory of the event:
The fish were inedible. It was a bitter moment for Dad; the river was his lifeline. I never forgot his despair and from then on I saw the river and our world more deeply. I must have been five or six. It was my first lesson in ecology, although such a word was unknown to us then. Dad and his fishing, prawning, oystering and farming mates all spoke about 'looking after the river', 'putting back into the soil what you took out'. They were by instinct organic farmers. (19)
The islands' bounty and Norman's providoring ingenuity had so far ensured his family's self-sufficiency and saved them from the ignominy of dole queues and evictions that many others in their position were suffering in the depths of the Depression. In Newcastle a mass march to City Hall in January of 1932 had called for work creation programs (like the dam constructions in President Roosevelt's USA) and for government support of unemployed families with children who could not meet their rent. With still no public policy forthcoming, on 14 June 1932 two hundred anti-eviction picketers clashed with fifty or more armed police over the eviction of the family of a returned war veteran in Clara Street, Tighes Hill. The press reported that seven policemen and seventeen citizens were treated in hospital and twenty-one men were charged under the Riot Act. (20) Such events were part of the daily folk-lore of Vera's childhood community, indeed of every working class kid's experience in Newcastle over that traumatic decade. But Vera felt vicariously; she felt for others. She'd been highly educated in empathy, taught by her parents as they heard about and relayed others' misfortunes, impressing upon her growing social conscience the need for neighbourly solidarity and mutual support to get through hard times. But all too soon the inevitable happened, and the Pember family joined the ranks of those who were seriously destitute. Vera recalls:
When my first sister, Audrey, was born on 25 September 1932, her eyes were brown like Ronnie's, and I think Mother found solace in those eyes. Maybe it was to get away from Dempsey Island, but Dad now felt he had more chance to 'battle and find a bit of work' if we lived back on the mainland. So sometime in 1933 we moved to a narrow wooden house in 'Frog Hollow' in Arthur Street, Pommy Town, not far from Mayfield East Public School which I briefly attended. Dad's hope of getting more work was not met. He sold fish, five on a string for one shilling, battling and 'scrounging' as he called it. The dole scarcely fed us, let alone paid rent. Soon we went to live in the Shortland Unemployed Camp in the bush, and then briefly in a house on stilts, one of about seventeen built on Platts Channel. Then we settled in a 'troglodytes' den carved into the Mayfield West Hill. Later Dad paid five pounds for a whitewashed bag house in the main camp. (21) My second sister, Marcia, was born in April 1935. My brother Norman and I went to Mayfield West Public School in Gregson Avenue, later joined by Audrey. Arbor Day was celebrated with songs and special lessons. A competition was held for the best essay about trees. My Dad, with Mother, used to sing to us as Dad played one of his instruments. In the Methodist Male Voice Choir he'd sung and loved Joyce Kilmer's poem. I quoted the line 'I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree' in my essay, and I won. (22) On Arbor Day I read it at school assembly and had the honour to plant a native tree. I tended to hang back in 'dole kid' style in playground politics, but I finally did learn to fight back and resist the taunts of suburbia. I remember Dad telling me after one retreat in an after-school fight: 'You'll just have to learn to fight like a thrashing machine, kid.' 'Thrash or thresh?' I wondered, and I learnt to fight the boys. But there was a lot of kindness from the Camp Committee and community friends. We went to the Congregational Church in Werribi Street. Mother admired the Reverend Joan Hore who did much to help the camp dwellers. (23) Mother was proud when she met her again at the 1959 Melbourne Peace Conference during the struggle against nuclear weapons. The dole years wore on. Dad grew thin and tired with a cough which became the dreaded 'spot on the lung': TB. He spent a long time in hospital, and treatment by Dr Ethel Byrne brought a slow recovery. He came home still flushed and anxious, but he swallowed all of Dr Byrne's oils and emulsions, cream and eggs and food from the Methodist women and gradually began to make plans. He obtained a broken-down launch, the Lady May , repaired and caulked her, scrounged a marine engine, scraped away old paint and, helped by Norman and me, painted her white and green. Beached on Shelley Beach she was river-worthy. By the end of 1938 came Dad's plan to make 'a few quid' by taking fishing parties down river to the famous Dead End on Rotten Row (24) between Moscheto and Walsh Islands. Charlie Skene, (25) a close friend and an electrician, organized friends to help Dad run the operation: Chips, Zacca, Torp, Two Toofs, Peg Leg, Artie, Speedo and Chas were a chiacking, laughing lot of blokes. They fell in the river, had moustache growing contests and the fish didn't come to much harm. (26)
Norman charged 3.0.0 [pounds sterling] a night for his guided fishing trips and he later became a licensed Oyster Vendor as well, peddling the juicy molluscs in narrow corked bottles to the miners and steelworkers along the river and in the Mayfield pubs, where he was known as NP, the Nautical Prince. At Mayfield West Public School from 1934 to 1938 Vera had a stable and productive primary education. In fifth class, in 1937, her teacher, recognising her literary bent, cast her as the convict Abel Magwitch in an adaptation of Great Expectations, thereby inspiring her life-long love of the works of Charles Dickens.
Vera's third sister, Phyllis, was born on 17 January 1939, and soon after, Vera began secondary school at Newcastle Domestic Home Science School in Hamilton. Her mother was unwell and not coping; moreover it was a heatwave summer and life in the Camp became unbearable. Norman briefly moved his family to a residence behind the florist's shop at Mayfield Tram Terminus. But it wasn't a safe area for children to play and so he took tenancy of one of the few remaining, derelict pioneer homes on Moscheto Island (27) for two shillings a week. Vera's memories of the period are vivid:
The Lady May and a lighter carried our furniture and belongings downstream past the steelworks, turning left and heading north into Mosquito Creek where the pioneer house faced west, overlooking the creek to Dempsey Island's mangrove banks. The cleaning and settling in underway, Dad dug an enormous vegetable garden. Mother and Dad worked hard and us kids revelled in the island joys of freedom, wide paddocks, my little green boat, our dogs and listening spellbound to Ernie Widdison. Ernie, 'a walking, talking history book', filled my eager mind with island stories. Both he and his brother, Ab, laboured at The Works, and in fact Ernie had crossed the river in 1913 to help build the BHP where he worked on the Open Hearth till he retired in 1955. They were like uncles to us kids and lived along the bank in a faded, wooden, two-storey house. Downstairs its long detached kitchen was near a big round well said to have been built by the convicts. Their bedrooms were upstairs. A balcony gave Ernie a panoramic view of the works and Newcastle Harbour to the city. Dad often joked: 'Paid sixpence a week extra so he could look at the bloody BHP!' Ernie studied the ore boats and knew all of the Captains' names and the tonnages. He'd call out the ships' names to me: Iron Prince, Iron King , and Iron Chieftain ... One room downstairs, probably the parlour of past years, was papered with entire newspaper broadsheets. Fascinated I read them: reports of past Premier J.T. Lang. The 'Lang is Right' legend's stormy time lived on in that old Moscheto Island house. Ernie and Ab were the foster sons of a childless couple, Hannah and Robert Widdison Dad's garden flourished: he could grow anything. He caught fish in his nets and with his Oyster Vendor's Licence he sold his river harvest from a basket on his push-bike around the mainland pubs. There were wonderful mushroom mornings when the fields were dotted with flat white caps. One day I found one larger than a dinner plate. Mother fried it whole in butter and placed it before Dad who asked me 'Where?' and I replied, 'On those mounds by the Old Road Grove.' He laughed: 'The best place, that's where they planted the old-timers.' It had been a pioneer graveyard! We went to school on farmer Lester Gamham's milk launch, the Victory , which daily crossed to Ingall Street's Black Wharf. Leaving the littlies at Mayfield East I pressed on to Maitland Road and caught a tram to National Park Street and walked the mile or so up to High School. I was always late! The first period ended just as I took my seat and so I failed Algebra. But Miss Sutherland, my English teacher, encouraged my love of words and reading. I finished first year but had no after-school friends as I always had to hurry away to a sometimes very complicated journey back to the island. When January 1940 came, Dad asked me to stay home to help Mother as she was still not well. Mother resisted, but I loved her and I knew she needed help. It was hard leaving school at the minimum age of 13 years and 8 months, but I managed to replace that learning stimulation with ABC radio and The Children's Hour , and when the Argonauts Club was formed I joined and became Rower Number 23 in the good ship Menelaus . As I rowed my little green boat up the creek I felt I was an Argonaut and sang the Club theme song: 'Row mighty Argonauts, row, row, row!' The stories of Jason and the search for the Golden Fleece inspired my interest in Greek mythology. And I found The Rudiments of Music and a French Primer on the dusty shelves of the abandoned old Moscheto Island school house and I taught myself from their yellowing pages. We were kept amused by radio serials: Dad and Dave, Yes, What? the Lux Radio Theatre and World Famous Tenors . If Paul Robeson came on--Dad worshipped him--he'd call us in and we'd stand and listen, spellbound. One program left an indelible memory: that was Kurt Offenburg interviewed on the ABC wireless warning us about 'Japan at our Gates .' It came true in December 1941, (28) a month after Mother gave birth to my fourth sister, Margaret Ellen. (29)
The Pember Family would live on Moscheto Island for twelve stable and mostly happy years--give or take some Japanese submarine shelling of the port and a munitions industry on their doorstep--until industrial "reclamation" began. (30) On the Christmas Eve of 1941 soldiers were placed on the Island to defend the BHP against the threat from the Japanese who had already wreaked havoc in Darwin, with the media generating a universal sense of threat, the panicky construction of air-raid shelters, brown-outs, street signage obfuscation and a paranoiac fear of Aliens (immigrants of non-British descent), Reds and Jehovah's Witnesses. (31) Newcastle steel works was the hub of Australian national wartime industry, in particular the mass production of the Australian-designed Owen sub-machine gun which was being assembled around the clock in the Lysaght's plant at the Black Wharf. Newcastle was shelled in the early hours of 9 June 1942. (32) Vera recalls that some good things came with the unwelcome intrusions:
Our family befriended the soldiers. Mother, remembering her brothers who'd served in the First World War, helped the soldiers in many little ways: she made an enormous New Year plum pudding, mended shorts, sewed on buttons and welcomed them to suppers around our table. I gave the sergeant who made first contact that Christmas Eve a sugar bag full of dried cow pats to make smoke to repel the mosquitoes that were eating them alive. A big mess hut was built by the Army and a water tap installed. That was our good luck as we now had a close, fresh, water source henceforth. Our launch, Lady May , was taken for war service, leaving only the island milk launches, Victory and Alice Mary for our transport. When the war effort focused on the terrible struggles in the islands north of Australia, our launch came back. More than sixty years later Reg Hyde, my boat-builder fisherman friend, told me that such launches were stored in Carrington basin, ready to be burnt if the Japanese invaded. Along with everyone in Newcastle we dug our air raid shelter--ours cunningly placed in the middle of circle of blackberry bushes. Naively we thought it would entangle the invaders. It was useless and soon filled with water so Dad used it as another handy well for the garden. (33)
Vera had originally derided that she wanted to be a nurse, and even had her formal application letter ready to send to the Nurses' Registration Board. But her father still wanted her to stay at home and help her mother. (Figure 2). Soon after the shelling in 1942 she was offered a job at McFadyen's Produce Store in Maitland Rd, Mayfield, Newcastle, near Dangar Park. But to get there daily she'd have to row the river. When she announced this opportunity at home her father resisted. He finally relented--but was concerned for Vera's safety rowing in the big tides, the capricious winds, the heavy gales and fogs, let alone sharks and mini submarines--so he insisted on testing her detailed experience of the river. She considers she returned as good as she got, for her knowledge of the river and the weather was gained from both her father and Ernie Widdison--"the walking-talking history book of the Island."
When the morning mists were curling around the islands and The Works, I rowed to my job each day enjoying the camaraderie of the river men, and the steel workers who dubbed me The Old Salt , teasing me for my muscles. The river had certainly melted away my puppy fat until I was lean and long as a greyhound. As Menelaus 23, a true Argonaut, I found 'wonder and delight' as I sang whilst I rowed: 'Row, mighty Argonauts, row, row, row.' I followed on with Vera Lynn's song, The White Cliffs of Dover , then with It's a Lovely Day Today, A Life on the Ocean Wave and any Irish and Scottish airs that came into my head, and of course The Road to Gundagai . I'd moor my little green boat at the Black Wharf, hauling it up on wild windy days on to the slip-way, helped by the Lysaght's night watchman, George MacClelland, who introduced himself to us kids as George Aloysius Montgomery Max, but conceded: 'You can call me Aloysius!' We conjured the name as Alla-wish-us, and from then it was Alla-wish-us this and Alla-wish-us that: drinks of water from a tap by his shed, knee scrapes soothed, squabbles arbitrated, sweets at Christmas; he was uncle to us all. To me this tall, joking, laughing, grey-haired man was the grandfather I'd never had. Christmas 1943 and Alla-wish-us gave his 'Old Salt' a copy of JHM Abbott's, The Newcastle Packets and the Hunter Valley . A wonderful gift for a girl hungry for knowledge, it opened my mind to Newcastle and the Valley's early history. On page 67 (I found the book again the other day) I had come across another name for Hunter's River--the 'Coquon' as it was called by the Aborigines. I loved the euphony of this new name. From then on I was no longer just a Hunter River girl: I secretly and romantically saw myself as a 'Child of the Coquon.' Years later, in the Mitchell Library, I found John Dunmore Lang's book that Abbott had referred to, and I listed the Aboriginal words from his and the Reverend Threlkeld's earlier book. (34) Alla-wish-us left Newcastle when the War ended but I never forgot him. Twenty years later, in Sydney, I saw him briefly in the street near Town Hall; he was down on his luck and evasive. Then five years on we found him again, in a nursing home ward with other aged war veterans. Although frail-aged, moist-eyed and thin, this time he was glad to see me, and the old river values of friendship and support were still there. (35)
Vera enjoyed her work at McFadyens and the freedom of earning her own income. That year she paid off Drinkwater's Outline of Literature (36) at 1/--per week at Perry's Newsagency in Maitland Road, Mayfield. (37) Reflecting on this self-prescribed curriculum of literary history, Vera now puts it in the context of her life's trajectory:
I discovered my ethics in Shakespeare: 'This above all: to thine own self be true/Thou canst not then be false to any man,' and my values in Kipling's If , which became my pole star, merging with my parents' teachings and my later socialist ideals. The horrors of the War stirred me to find ways to create a better world. Both Mother and Dad hated war although they saw the Second World War as a 'just war': the Nazis had to be beaten. It seemed we could lose and the Axis Powers could vanquish and enslave us all. In January-February 1943 we gratefully acknowledged the victory of the Soviet Red Army at Stalingrad. Some modern historians claim that the Russians won the war. It was such a major turning point. But there was still the 900-day siege of Leningrad, the bitter struggles in Tobruk, the Middle East, Italy, Greece, Europe, New Guinea and the violent Pacific War battles against the Japanese onslaught. Reading John Drinkwater's compendium made me very conscious of my inadequate education. So in late 1943 I rode my bike over to Tighes Hill Technical College to enquire about courses. I was interviewed by Mr George Bowman who asked me to read Precious Bane by Mary Webb, a mystical, nature-worshipping writer. I did and answered his questions and was invited to enrol in the Preparatory Diploma Course in English, Maths and Science. My parents were pleased but worried about the late row home to the Island as lectures finished at 9.00pm three nights a week. March 1944 came around and I commence my first lectures at 'Tech' as we called it. Not long after, Dad actually asked me to go with him to a public meeting in Mayfield to support the call for a Second Front to be opened in Europe. I agreed and hastily ran up a new white dress. The evening of Sunday, 26 March 1944 is indelible in my mind. It was autumn and the river was still, reflecting the rosy glow of sunset as we rowed. But somehow I got mud on my new dress and gloves and I was agitated. I wanted to pull out but Dad persisted and helped me sponge out the mud at the Black Wharf. We walked to the hall near Maitland Road tram terminus (or was it an unused shop?) and inside about a hundred people were getting seated. The meeting was chaired by a small and smiling blue-eyed woman called Min Wilson. I was fascinated. I had never seen a woman in that role before, so assured and persuasive as she introduced the speakers: Bill Gollan, a schoolmaster and local President of the Newcastle District Communist Party of Australia, and Stan Deacon the Secretary. Both were impressive speakers. But it was the brown-eyed Stan Deacon's words that embedded deeper ideals in my mind. I recognised something passionate and uplifting in this man's belief in winning the war, in building the peace and creating a better life for humanity. Min asked the audience to consider joining the Communist Party. With Dad and Charlie Skene and eight or nine others, I did. I have never regretted this decision as the Party became my university because it took me into diverse experiences of people, places, ideas and a wider education. My airy announcement of my decision at work on Monday caused a stir. But it all soon calmed down. It was the 'Red Army Days' and industrial workers and others recognised the blood spilled by millions of Soviet people; any 'radishes'--red on the outside, white on the inside--soon quietened down. One motherly woman, a BHP doctor's wife, gently remonstrated: 'My dear, Socialism is all right ... but Communism is too violent.' I met some wonderful people, especially teachers who impressed on me to 'go on learning'. We were urged to read not only political classics but those of Australian and world literature. I bought Katherine Susannah Prichard's Black Opal and Dr Eric Dark's Medicine and the Social Order , adding to my slowly growing library. As a member of the Mayfield-Waratah Branch of the CPA I was amongst mature people who nurtured and took care of me. My first conference as a delegate was in Sydney: Work Amongst Women when the Party was conducting a big campaign to encourage youth and women to be active in the workforce. Men were dubbed 'Backward Comrades' if they did not help with family chores and encourage their wives to participate in political and social activities. Some months later I was invited to become the junior in the Party District Office. I did and attended Chartres Business College to learn typing, shorthand and business principles. Near the end of '44 the senior clerk, Anne Prudius, who was 28, decided to join the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) and I became the senior--aged a very uncertain 18--with 15 year-old Dawn Fraser, a miner's daughter as my junior. She was far more mature than me in the city-dwellers sense, as she had got her Intermediate Certificate and had engaged in school debates and had friendships with other girls her own age who talked about 'growing up'. Together we typed numerous local and industrial bulletins and wrestled with "Galloping Gertie" the office Gestetner, which often managed to blur ink over our carefully typed stencils. It was a very busy office and we came to know the men and women who called by to collect their bundles of Tribune , the Party newspaper, to pay dues and meet and plan activities. The men in the industries interested me. I came to know a lot about their work in the steelworks, coal mines, railway workshops and other factories. The men liked to talk about their work. My curiosity paid off. Soon a miner arranged a visit to the mechanised John Darling Colliery. A lift gave us a breathtaking drop into the mine depths. Our group walked along, listening, as the guide explained the underground work and the use of brattice partitions to assist air ventilation. When we arrived at the coal face the mine machinery was silent, and the guide asked us to switch off the light on our helmets. An impenetrable darkness enveloped me. In fact, I felt almost crushed by it, and in a flash I came to understand something of the coal miner's life: working all day out of sunlight, creaking earth above, pit props, trundling wagons and so on. I returned to this mine to collect funds for the Victory Loan. I have never forgotten the miners as they emerged from the lift, black with coal, exhausted and spent, and yet ready to crack a joke and 'stump up' for a cause. Later, in a complete contrast, Eric Farnham took me down into North Wallarah mine near Swansea. This mine was entered by just walking down into the depths, following the rail lines around which water seeped, a pump sucking it away. Here the coal was hewed by shot, pick and shovel. My Dad, who revered the miners, sold his oysters at some mines on Pay Friday and often said: 'I've had to sweat and work ... but I'm glad I never had to work in a mine.' As part of my development I was asked to chair workshop meetings. My first, at Cardiff Loco, was nerve-wracking. I survived and gradually improved. Soon I was a supporting speaker at Cottage Lectures on topical subjects, such as 'The War and Party Policy' on pressing social issues. Most Saturday evenings the Social Committee organised family dances. About 500 people assembled, with the children, to dance and sing to the piano, violin and drums. One night a group of English seamen came and taught us a very exciting version of the Hokey Pokey. I was active in the Tech Student Council and attended a Sydney Conference to form a National Union of Students. That 1945 King's Birthday Weekend introduced me to students at Sydney Technical College. (I even considered applying to complete my third year Diploma Prep at this Tech.) Our Tighes Hill Students Council formed a debating Society; we published Styx , our student magazine, named for the River Styx which flows away from Throsby Creek on the south side of the Tech College grounds (now the Hunter Institute of Technology campus). We celebrated Victory in Europe, VE Day, with PEACE emblazoned on our Styx 's cover. The Pacific War came to a horrific end with the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945. Life went on: our aim was to build the Peace and create a better Australia in a better world. The realities of Atomic weapons and radiation sickness confronted my generation. Many justified their use, but many scientists and others questioned the future impact of these weapons. Later I bought Professor Blackett's Fear, War and the Bomb: The Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy . (38) He'd had a significant role in operational research for the British Government in the Second World War, but post-War he criticised British wartime and Cold War military strategy. He was a left-wing, Fabian Socialist. By November 1945 the steel strike had spread from Wollongong to Newcastle. Mass meetings of workers were held in the Newcastle Stadium. BHP was on the offensive: they had never forgotten or forgiven the 100% union membership achieved by the Communists and militant workers over the war years.' (39) (Figure 3)
In mid-1944 Vera's mother, Ellen, had lost her eighth child and Vera and her mother wept together. The CPA Newcastle District Women's Committee, led by Marie Gollan, had that same year researched and written up an "Infant Mortality Rate Research Paper" which was published in the Communist Review of 1945. A consequence of the incredible levels of production that The Works had maintained over the Second World War years, Newcastle had become the most heavily polluted living environment in the country, and had the highest infant mortality rate in Australia. Ellen Pember would later join the CPA herself when her brood were "off her hands," and she became a committed participant in all the Party's women's agendas. Later, after her marriage to Stan Deacon in May 1946, Vera joined the Newcastle District Women's Committee of the CPA and worked to maintain their practical reform programs, monitoring family health and welfare indexes and educating women on their needs and rights.
The man who became Vera's husband, Stanley Thomas Deacon ("Stal"), was born at 45 Cochrane St, Marylebone, London, on 30 March 1906. (40) It was a home birth. His mother was Rose Hannah, nee Whitcher, and his father, Sidney George Deacon, had served as a soldier in the British Army in the First World War. (41) Stanley had three sisters and six brothers. (42)
In recompense for his father's absence in service to the British Army during the War all his mother had received in family support from the government was less than a shilling a day. (43) Consequently young Stanley had to take up a milk run when he was about ten to help support the large household. And he'd also had to educate himself. When he was just twelve, at the end of the Great War, young Stanley had helped the war-damaged returned soldiers at St Dunstan's Hospital, London. (44) What he saw and learned there galvanised a social conscience that would drive his purpose throughout his long life.
When he turned 18, Stanley Deacon migrated to Australia, alone, leaving from Tilbury Docks on 13 March 1924. He subsequently worked on the Riverina Irrigation System on the Murray River before he joined the Communist Party of Australia in 1933--the year Hitler came to power--the moment when the rise of Fascism presented a real threat to those with keen socialist ideals. At the lowest ebb of the country's economy Stan "humped his Bluey" and went "on the track" around Australia, as did many other men in the Great Depression. He became an organiser for the Party in the Illawarra region until late 1936 when he was sent to Lithgow. In 1937 he covered the territory across from Katoomba to Mudgee and Orange. (45) Stan toured NSW speaking on the Party Policy of the "Phoney War." (46) The New Guard was in constant pursuit of him and there was finally confrontation and a bashing in Mudgee in 1940. (47) After that Stan was sent "underground" to Newcastle where he rented a room in a house in the working class port suburb of Islington.
Stan's ASIO file had begun back in January 1938 when he was living at 16 Mort Street, Lithgow; it noted that he was previously at 95 Hudson St, Hurstville, and confirmed that from 3 May 1940 Stan was "in charge of Communist activities in Lithgow and a member of NSW State Executive of the Party." A cryptic note dated 15 June 1940 records: "Premises Searched."
On the letterhead of the Australian Military Forces-Eastern Command and dated 24 January 1941 signed by Captain B.C. Macgregor, Newcastle, there is a reference to an old photograph of Stan Deacon from the Tribune of 3 October 1939 confirming that: "it is now definitely established that the 'mystery man' who has been haunting Newcastle Trades Hall for the last four months is Stan Deacon." It is the language of the classic spy movies of the day, and the Russians had developed a similar propaganda genre of their own. (48)
Captain Macgregor further reports: "This man has been observed in furtive behind-the-scenes activity especially in relation to the Newcastle Trades Hall Council and Metal Trades Unions." (49) Sinister intentions on Stan's past are insinuated: "He never fails to attend Trades Hall before the meeting, but he himself is never present at the meeting." Yet as Vera Deacon rationally points out, at that time Stan was simply not enabled to formally attend the meetings as he was not yet an elected union delegate to the Newcastle Trades Hall Council. (He later became a part-time organiser for the Hotels, Clubs and Restaurants Employees Union.) Macgregor concludes his cloak-and-dagger narrative: "He has never been seen without a small suitcase in which he carries CPA literature.... Occasionally he asks for donations." (50)
On 15 June 1940 the conservative Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies, placed a ban on the Australian Communist Party for its affiliations with Russia, a non-Ally and defined as The Enemy. After all Stalin and Hitler did have a non-aggression pact. But when Hitler attacked Russia on 22 June 1941 Russia became one of the Allies and the new Curtin Labor Government returned the CPA to full legality; in late December 1941, Herbert Vere Evatt, the newly-elected Labor Attorney General, declared the ban officially lifted. However it was not fully removed by legislation until December 1942, nor was the CPA Party Press in circulation again until 1943. (51) During the period of "Illegality" as it was termed, Stan was Secretary of the Newcastle Legal Rights Committee from 1942, and in 1943 engaged in the Democratic Rights Committee (DRC) campaigns with Alf Buckley, Secretary of the Boilermakers' Union, and Charlie Morgan of the Iron-makers Association. The DRC was one of the "Fronts" set up to defend Democratic Rights in a period when the fledgling Australian arms industry was in the ascendant and in league with a government prepared to push to the limit its highhanded "War Powers" policies. Stan soon became District Secretary of the Hunter Region CPA with Bill Gollan as District President. Their offices were at 186 Hunter Street, Newcastle, now the N1B Building and renumbered 368 Hunter Street.
The CPA Women's Committee included Grace Scanlon of the Miners' Women's Auxiliary who was married to Henry Scanlon of the Northern District Miners Federation; Marie Gollan (wife of Bill, both were school teachers); Jean Bailey, May Gow and Eunice Bailey, who had helped to establish the Home Help Service and was Honorary Secretary of the Newcastle Housewives Association. All these women would greatly influence young Vera's political development.
The ASIO file records an official request on 28 October 1941 for "scrutiny" of Stanley Deacon's communications as a "communist suspect," and specifically scrutiny of his overseas and ordinary mail, his Telegrams, OS and Internal. The "scrutiny" was to begin "immediately" and for an "Indefinite Period." In an intercepted letter to his mother, dated 15 December 1943, signing himself "Stal" (his mother's childhood nickname for him) Stan reveals he had had a serious stomach operation and thus been rejected by the army "on the grounds of military unfitness." He told his mother that he'd contested the Newcastle seat at the 21 August 1943 Federal Election that had returned the Curtin Government (Curtin was Prime Minister from 7 October 1941-4 July 1945), that he had stood as a Communist Candidate, and, although not actually elected, had received "the second highest vote of a Communist Candidate in the Commonwealth and the highest Party Vote in NSW." (52) He also wrote that he was subsequently endorsed as the Party Candidate for Newcastle "in the forthcoming NSW State elections next Easter" (of 1944), which were eventually held on 27 May 1944 and returned the NSW State Labor McKell Government. Stanley Deacon was clearly a dangerous Tall Poppy in ASIO's somewhat hysterical sights. For Vera, the jewel in this intercepted war-time letter from her husband to his mother--that surfaced after his death, and over fifty years after it was written--is its demonstration of the invincible integrity of Stan Deacon's political commitment and the depth of his socialist idealism. In his own words:
As you are aware, I have for a long time been identified with a political party which I suppose is anathema to you. At least the actions taking place on the Eastern Front should bring to mind previous statements of mine regarding the role of these people and perhaps you appreciate the truth of some of my remarks by now, or maybe you never will. My work with this Party has been of such a character that hours of work or play have little meaning. There is just one continuous drive toward achievement of the goal, and that ultimate goal a system of society in which all work for the common good, and not as now when the mass of the people are condemned to lives of unrelenting toil while the parasitical few enjoy all the worthwhile things of life. Hundreds of thousands of Russians are dying to protect a system which they have built with their own hands, and in so doing they are creating the opportunity for others to do just as they have done, that is build a new order which will give a new life to all. To me these things are more important than anything else, but apparently I had forgotten that my mother perhaps does not see things as I do and is only hurt and bewildered at the silence of one who she had reared and protected ... I have so far been rejected for service. Perhaps early years have burnt me out. And I am not married, so you have no rivals. Of my general activities it is perhaps best to say nothing otherwise the vigilant hand of the censor may intervene. (53)
In the Winter of 1945 Vera was still studying nightly at Tech from 6-9pm. Her parents eventually arranged for her to board off the Island as she'd developed a chronic chest condition, probably from rowing back across the river on wet and windy nights. She began boarding with a Mrs Huntley in Hubbard St, Islington, and then with the Tacon family at Elder St, New Lambton, in a house that had been built by Bob Cram, the CPA District Secretary in Newcastle before Stan Deacon.
Her growing admiration and affection for Stan was obviously mutual, for on 16 March 1946 at The Lookout in New Lambton Heights, Stan proposed. They were engaged on 9 April 1946 (Figure 4) and married on 25 May 1946 (Figure 5) earlier than planned as they were offered married couple accommodation--rare as hen's teeth in the post-war days--in the front room down the hall in Ada Hannah's house at 45 Evescourt Road, New Lambton. There, after work, Vera and Stan cooked and cleaned and sang together. "Well I believe in it, but I've never seen it," Ada told Vera as she witnessed Stan put the Party's aim of gender equality into daily practice.
In the pioneer pit-side suburb of New Lambton, Vera and Stan Deacon began their 47 years of love and life together. From the outset theirs was a household of shared values, of socialist political commitment, and a passionate concern for social justice and a willingness to fight for it. ASIO noted that Stan and Vera Deacon were both "Shareholders in the People's Printing and Publishing Society" and that Stan was "reported to be District secretary of the ACP" and a speaker on Radio 2KO, ironically citing the authority of the Tribune of 28 February 1948 where Stan is publicly recorded as "the ACP radio announcer of Newcastle." (54) The Security Service's Sergeant Shumack and Constable Clark confirmed that 'Stal' was "an ardent supporter and an undercover man of the Party.'55 However it does seem that Stanley Deacon was grudgingly respected by his vigilant security service monitors, having become, in their own words, "one of the most popular figures in the Labor Movement in the Hunter region." Stan Deacon was the endorsed CPA Candidate for Newcastle in the 1946 Federal election and in 1947 for the NSW State election.
Vera and Stan maintained an active engagement in education for themselves and later for their children and the whole community. Above all they shared an interpersonal camaraderie that would enable Vera to grow in confidence and achieve, for a woman in her times, remarkable things in the wider realms of community engagement, locally and nationally. These included a range of women's issues, especially in the natural child-birth lobby and later in the struggle for equal opportunity and equal pay in female employment, and in particular for married women. (Figure 6, Figure 7). Then came her commitment to the Realist Writers' publishing endeavours, conservation and environmental issues and, simultaneously, the preservation and dissemination of Australian local history. "How can we know where we're going as a society if we don't know where we've been?" Vera drily observes: "Otherwise you keep on repeating it."
In June 1997-after 49 years in Sydney-Vera Deacon came back to Newcastle to live on Stockton (56) and engage with the community's eagerness to rescue the Hunter region's history, essentially a working class people's history, and to help create the story of "Lost Newcastle" (57) by playing her part in the Renaissance of Newcastle and the Hunter after the withdrawal of the BHP. (Figure 8)
A la recherche du temps perdu ...
As children we spent hours on the white sandy point of Moscheto Island, which jutted into the river, directly across from the steelworks about 250 yards away. There we saw the ore bridge grabs lifting the iron ore from the ships' holds; we heard the clang, grind, growls, whistles and blares of the Big Works. We saw the shimmer of heat from the blast furnaces, smoke pluming skywards, and three times daily the Works' whistle marked the change of shift: 8am, 4pm and "dog watch" at 12 midnight. During the Second World War we also heard the air-raid siren rehearsed daily at 1pm. The white sandy point of Moscheto Island was a treasure trove of pearly pink shells, long slender white ones we called 'finger nails' and driftwood, all brought to our shore by the tides. We'd kick the sand high, scattering hundreds of cream and blue soldier crabs. Just across Rotten Row channel we could see part of the Walsh Island Floating Dock which I longed to board. Sixty years later I boarded its replacement, Mooloobinba , in Carrington Basin when Stockton History Society was given a tour arranged by the former floating dock shipwright, Eric Pitt. Now, in 2013, those days seem dream-like and so my life dreams on. The BHP Works have gone, Mooloobinba Dock has been sold to Nigeria and the Hunter's south arm has been narrowed to an industrial canal. King Coal dominates the islands. Coal dust grits our eyes and lungs. And still our tortured river flows on, and at last the community is crying out in rising chorus as we join in our concern for Mother Earth, for our river and the Hunter Valley. (58)
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Abbott, John Henry Macartney. The Newcastle Packets and the Hunter Valley. Sydney: Currawong, 1943.
Blackett, Patrick Maynard Stuart (Baron). Fear, War and the Bomb: The Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948.
Damousi, Joy. "Smith, Christian Brynhild (1885-1963)." Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. 9 Sept. 2013 <http://adb.anu.edu.au/ biography/smith-christian-brynhild-8465/text 14885>.
Deacon, Stanley Thomas. "Rovings of a Revolutionary or Nor All Thy Tears." 306p quarto, unpublished memoir MS.
--. "Anti-Fascist Interlude." Two-part feature article, Sydney: Tribune 6 May & 13 May 1964.
Deacon, Vera. "Making Do and Lasting Out." Depression Down Under. Ed. Len Fox self-published 1977; 2nd ed. Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1989. Rpt 1992.
--. "Mozzie Island Memories." Newcastle Morning Herald May 1992.
--. "Our War: An Island View." Through the Valley, Writings from the Hunter. Dangar, NSW: Catchfire Press, 2007.
Fraser, John, ed. An Australian Language as Spoken by the Awabakal. A compendium of Rev L.E. Threlkeld's works rearranged and edited by John Fraser. Sydney: Government Printer, 1892.
Gibson, Ralph. The People Stand Up. Melbourne: Red Rooster Press, 1983 Jones, Terry, and Steven Caruthers. A Parting Shot. Narrabeen, NSW: Casper Publications 2013.
Meehan Family. The Daniel and Mary Meehan Story. NSW: The Daniel and Mary Meehan Family History Association, 1985.
Offenburg, Kurt. Japan at Our Gates: The Thermopylae of Australia is at Singapore. Sydney: Gale, 1942.
Pillemer, David B. Momentous Events, Vivid Memories. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Ramsland, John, and Chris Mooney. Remembering Aboriginal Heroes. Melbourne: Brolga Press, 2006.
Russell, Penny. Errant Lady. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2002.
Threlkeld, Lancelot Edward (Rev.). An Australian Grammar: Comprehending the Principles and Natural Rules of the Language, as Spoken by the Aborigines in the Vicinity of Hunter's River. Lake Macquarie, etc, New South Wales. Sydney: Stephens and Stokes, 1834.
Webster, Elsie May. Whirlwind in the Plain: Ludwig Leichhardt, Friends, Foes and History. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1980.
Key to Illustrations
1. Vera's mud map of her early childhood Hunter River bank world in the mid-1920s with her banjo-playing, larrikin father Norman Pember as a young man.
2. Vera with her mother Ellen and younger siblings on Moscheto Island, 1943.
3. Vera on the CPA May Day float, 1945.
4. Stan and Vera's engagement photograph, early 1946.
5. Vera and Stan outside the Lambton Registry Office after their marriage on 25 May 1946.
6. Vera on the Campaign Against Rising Prices, Redfern, 1949.
7. May Day March, Sydney, 1952. Vera with daughter Daria in the stroller, centre.
8. Vera on Queens Wharf Newcastle Harbour, October 2010. Behind the prow of the bulk carrier lies the entrance to Mosquito Creek.
(1) NSW Register of Births, Death and Marriages: Vera Frances Pember, Waratah, Newcastle, No 630 384.
(2) Mulubinba, the place name, as explained to MN by Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Cultural Collections, Auchmuty Library, University of Newcastle: "In Threlkeld's (1788-1859) pioneering Indigenous language work developed with the assistance of the then tribal leader, Biraban, Specimens of a Dialect of the Aboriginal of New South Wales ... (1827) he refers to Newcastle in examples as 'Mulubinbah' (7, 12, 13, 14). Threlkeld's An Australian Grammar (1834) (15-16) gives Mu-lu-bin-ba as the site of Newcastle: Mulubinba means the place of the mulubin. What is a mulubin? Threlkeld's A Key to the Structure of the Aboriginal Language ... (1850, 47): 'Mulubin is the name of a flower that abounds at the place called Newcastle, hence its name, Mulubin-ba. Much later Fraser's An Australian Language as Spoken by the Awabakal (1892) [A compendium of Threlkeld's works rearranged, edited by John Fraser] 'Mulubinba, the name of the site of Newcastle, from an indigenous 'fern' named mulubin' (51). So we see it described as a 'flower' and an indigenous fern. We think the Aborigines ate the roots for food. The surveyor Barrallier mentions seeing a native looking for the root of a fern. This native was the young Biraban.
(3) Archive Office of NSW Doc No 16281, "Particulars of Foster Parents and Guardians NJ Pember." The orphaned boy was fostered out and the records show that a government maintenance payment was made to several farmers in the Hawkesbury and Wollongong regions who enjoyed the added benefit of young Norman's day labour. His kindest fostering family, he later told his daughter, was that of Mr J.W. (Morse) Laughton of Laughtondale, five miles east of Wiseman's Ferry, where he worked on and off for almost six and a half years, until 31 July 1919 when he was sent to a couple in Smiths Hill Wollongong. By then Norman Pember was skilled and experienced in farming his adopted land. Two years later, in 1921, after a cruel beating young Norman absconded and headed north with nothing, so he would tell, but a few clothes and his banjo in a sugar bag.
(4) Norman James Pember died at Royal Newcastle Hospital aged 67 on 26 October 1971, the day China was admitted to the United Nations, a fact he and his Chinese market gardening mates in Mayfield would have celebrated.
(5) All Meehan descendants' genealogy details are adapted from The Daniel and Mary Meehan Story, 1985.
(6) A forty year old widow with six children, Margaret was transported for life for "stealing wearing apparel." At the time under British law over 200 offences could lead to the gallows or transportation. Margaret died relatively young in 1852. No doubt the Starving Times and her fertility had taken their toll.
(7) Mary died on 25 January 1889, also at Haydonton. Haydonton is now called Murrurundi.
(8) Mary and Daniel Meehan lost a second child, Patrick, en route, but Mary bore a third child, Ann, just two months later on 9 November 1841. Ann was a Currency Lass and survived to live just short of 80 years. When she was fifteen and a hall Ann Meehan had married Thomas James Moran on 7 June 1857. By the 1870s they were living at Brushy Hill, between Scone and Gundy, and Thomas was working on H.L. White's property, Belltrees, at the pioneering heart of the Hunter Valley. Ann and Thomas Moran's sixth child --named for her father, Daniel Meehan--was born in 1846. Young Daniel married Ellen Elizabeth Hall on 30 June 1873 at Murrurundi. Ellen was the daughter of Benjamin Hall and Eliza (nee Somers) and sister of the infamous bushranger Ben Hall thus grafting a colourful branch onto Vera's family tree.
(9) Born 23 December 1847, John Patrick died in November 1917.
(10) Ellen Jane had been born on 12 November 1851 at Muswellbrook, to John Henry and Anne Jane Oakes; she died on 4 February 1927 at Singleton.
(11) Mary Jones was born 21 March 1875 in the upper Hunter Valley town of Gundy.
(12) James Lionel (1897-1925), John Francis ("Frank", 1898-1984), Ernest Thomas ("Tom", 1900-1980) and Daniel (1902-1967).
(13) Their first daughter, Kathleen Mary, was born on 6 January 1904 and died of multiple sclerosis on 13 August 1946.
(14) Birth Certificate, Ellen Josephine Meehan, No: 7.934; copy issued 29 October 1996; Ellen died on 30 July 1997 at Swan Bay on the western shores of Port Stephens. Ellen's birth had been followed by that of Onorah Frances (aka "Norrie") on 27 May 1907; she died on 28 July 1975 of diabetes. John Henry and Mary Jane's last child, Honour Magdalene (Tibby), was born on 9 October 1910. She died of concussion on 29 July 1932 after an accidental bathroom fall.
(15) See his story in "The Prologue" in Ramsland and Mooney. Douglas Grant had become close to the Meehan family at Belltrees Station.
(16) "Burgoo" was a kind of porridge served by the British Navy since the Napoleonic era, made from coarse oatmeal and water. It was also called "loblolly", sometimes made with hardtack and molasses cooked together.
(17) The Moscheto Island ferry which ran between the island and the Black Wharf was discontinued in 1924. Trove http://trove.nla.gov.au.newspaper/moscheto/ferries.
(18) Vera Deacon to Marilla North: "Answers Begun on My 87th Birthday, 19 July 2013."
(19) Emotion informs memory and also helps evoke it in the "flash bulb" memory sequence when multiple senses are involved and one seems to be able to "walk around" the personal event moment and see and re-experience it with belief in its verisimilitude. See Pillemer.
(20) "Fierce Riot at Newcastle: Mob Attempt to Prevent Evictions; Police Baton Charge Effective: More than 30 Injured." Canberra Times Wednesday 15 June 1932, 1. See Vera Deacon "Hero of the Hunter: James Richard Oliver," Newcastle Trades Hall Council Official Directory (19-20) 2009. Christian Jollie Smith, the second woman to be admitted as a solicitor in NSW, acted successfully for the defence of the unemployed protesters in Newcastle (and elsewhere in Sydney), just as she had previously done for the 700 miners charged with "unlawful assembly and riot" after the infamous Rothbury riots in 1930. See Damousi, "Smith, Christian Brynhild."
(21) Vera Deacon "Making Do and Lasting Out," Len Fox, ed. Depression Down Under, self-published 1977; Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1989; rpt 1992.
(22) Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1885-1918), "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree." Written in February 1913, the poem was published in Louis Untermeyer, ed., Modern American Poetry, NY: Harcourt Brace & Howe, 1919; Kilmer's poetry gained no other fame, but this poem was put to music by Oscar Rasbach and sung by many well-known singers including Nelson Eddy, Robert Merrill, Perry Como and Paul Robeson, gaining the lyrics world-wide popularity. Kilmer died aged 31 in the second battle of the Marne, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery. See www.poemhunter.com/joyce-kilmer.
(23) "The Rev Joan Hore who was received at the session of the Congregational Union yesterday is probably the first woman preacher of any denomination ordained in NSW. She preaches at Speers Point, Islington and Beresfield, three widely separated churches in the Newcastle District. Miss Hore is an English woman who graduated Bachelor of Arts at the University of Tasmania and became a school teacher." (SMH 21 October 1931). Joan Hore studied for the ministry taking extra-mural classes and was ordained at Speers Point Bethany Congregational Church by the Chairman of the Congregational Union, Rev WS Marsh, on 28 May 1931. SMH Wednesday 21 October 1931 and 23 May 1931. See Trove http://trove.nla.gov.au/woman minister
(24) Vera explains that the Dead End was so called because a high, sandy bar was constructed between Goat Island and Moscheto Island, blocking all exit, in the attempt to stop the river shoaling. In Rotten Row discarded tugs and boats had rotted away in the Moscheto Island mangroves. VD to MN "Answers," 9 Sept 2013.
(25) Charles Skene--father of Vera's life-long friend from the Island, Helen Marshall. See Mike Scanlon "A Snapshot into the Past," Newcastle Morning Herald, 23 June 2012.
(26) VD to MN "Answers."
(27) VD to MN "Answers." "You say Moscheto, I say Mosquito", 31 August 2013. "In 1801 Lt Col William Paterson, on his extensive survey of the Hunter River, named the island as Ash Island where he saw trees whose wood resembled that of the English Ash. Captain James Grant, on the Lady Nelson, subsequently ordered his convict sawyers to fell and plane the wood into planks for oars and they were sent to Sydney with the first coal shipment from Coal River (Egerton 1803). I suggest that the convict sawyers were eaten savagely by the disease-bearing, stinging insect mosquitoes that abounded there, and they re-named it Mosquito Island in common parlance. In Lady Jane Franklin's Diaries, quoted in Penny Russell's book, 'It is called Mosquito Island from an Aboriginal word,' she calls it Mosquito Island, (NLA Ms 114) and Ludwig Leichhardt called it Mosquito Island when he passed by on his way to Ash Island to visit AW Scott in September 1842." (Webster 27) "However in the first official Gazettal in October 1844, 22 Lots of land were proclaimed available by Public Auction at 1 [pounds sterling] per acre (10% deposit) on 'Moscheto Island'. (The Reverend CPN Wilton bought 14 acres and called his estate 'Kooragang'.) The new, official, name has appeared since on most documents but not all; the school, the post office and the ferry for example, and in the 1891 Census and in 1903 (after Federation) the Mosquito Island Polling Place is recorded. The Awabakal people's name for 'mosquito' is 'topig'.
In the 1940s I wrote my address in my exercise books as 'Mosquito Island, Newcastle, NSW, Australia, The World.' Adding 'Moscheto' as alternative still I felt it was a bit too posh. Some may have sought elegance, but mostly we were just plain Mosquito, Mozzie or Skeeter Islanders who lived it."
For consistency and to accord with the Government Gazette we have settled on Moscheto. MN/VD.
(28) Kurt Offenburg had been a news commentator since 1935. His book Japan at Our Gates: The Thermopylae of Australia Is at Singapore (1942) was published following his series of radio broadcasts on the ABC. VD to MN "Answers," 22 July 2013.
(29) Margaret Ellen Pember was born 3 November 1941, again at Nurse Whiteman's.
(30) In 1951 the Housing Commission condemned their pioneer house and sent the Pember family to emergency accommodation on Stockton in the converted Old Army huts. By this time Vera was living in Sydney expecting her and Stan's first child.
(31) The landmark Art Deco building of the old radio station 2HD still graces the highway on Maitland Road, Sandgate. In the Second World War the station broadcast lectures by Judge J.W. Rutherford that were paid for by the Jehovah's Witnesses--just as the CPA paid for the air-time for the lectures broadcast by Stan Deacon on radio 2KO--but Rutherford's were popularly believed to be encoded Fifth Columnist messages to the Japanese. One tune, "Over the Waves," is often cited as one such "message" in Newcastle's popular urban mythology.
(32) This period is recalled in Vera's stories "Mozzie Island Memories" in the Newcastle Morning Herald, May 1992, on the 50th anniversary of the Japanese submarine shelling, and in "Our War: An Island View", in the anthology Through the Valley, Writings from the Hunter (Catchfire Press, 2007). It is also the basis of the interview with Vera used in Steven Caruthers and Terry Jones, A Parting Shot (Chapter 6 "The Crack of Doom" 121-50) (Narrabeen: Casper Publications, 2013). All the stories recall Christmas Eve 1941, when soldiers and two anti-aircraft guns were dumped on Moscheto Island point, a strategic site from which to defend BHP Works, the floating dock and other essential wartime industries along the south arm into Platts Channel. They also cover the Japanese submarine shelling of Newcastle Port on 9 June 1942.
(33) VD to MN "Answers," 25 July 2013.
(34) "Coquon" is used for the Hunter River in John Dunmore Lang, Historical Account of New South Wales (London, 1834). Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld, An Australian Language as Spoken by the Awabakal--the People of Lake Macquarie near Newcastle (NSW 1834), painstakingly recorded the Awabakal language via Biraban, his Awabakal instructor. Threlkeld put down and tested every Awabakal word he learnt, and he uses the (same sounding/spelled differently) word "kokoin" as meaning "water" (Vera Deacon "Answers," 7 August 2013).
(35) VD to MN "Answers," 7 August 2013.
(36) John Drinkwater, ed. The Outline of Literature, 2 vols (London: George Newnes, 1940), Foreword by H.A. Pollock, revised and expanded by Hugh Pollock and Campbell Nairn. Vera notes: "Volume One included the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Bible--as literature. At 14 1 could understand the Old Testament as a literary work. And in Volume Two they covered some Russian, French and American literature. My horizons were expanding."
(37) The Newsagency is still there on Havelock's Corner, Mayfield.
(38) Patrick Maynard Stuart (Baron) Blackett, Fear, War and the Bomb: The Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy. Blackett (1897-1974) was an experimental physicist and is considered a scientific leader in the arenas of physics, war and politics in the twentieth century.
(39) VD "Answers," 25 August 2013.
(40) General Register Office, Somerset House, London. Birth Certificate Register Number BA 346256: Stanley Clarence Thomas Deacon, born to Rose Hannah Deacon (nee Witcher) and Sidney George Deacon.
(41) Private Sidney George Deacon served in the Lincolnshire Regiment, Reg No 3895/201250, and was in France from 10 December 1915. He was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1915 Star (Ian Houghton and the British Army Service records, 1914-1920, National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Records Office).
(42) Stanley Deacon lived a long life, dying aged 87 on 3 October 1993.
(43) The basic rate paid to a Private in the British Army in 1914 was "a shilling (1/-) a day less stoppages." A shilling was twelve pence = 12d. Most men had a compulsory "stoppage" of six pence (6d) a day paid to their wives. So a soldier's wife received on average three shillings and six pence a week (3/6d). In 1917 the male soldier's wage rose to 1 shilling and 3 pence a day (1/3d). In 1914 the value of a shilling was equal to 3.44 [pounds sterling] of today's British currency. Rent would have taken one shilling and four pence (1/4d) of the 3/6d the family had to live on weekly; 21b of flour cost 3 pence (old currency). 21b of beef cost 9 pence (old) (Ian Houghton of The Western Front Association: www.tommy1418.com/wwifactsandfigures).
(44) St Dunstan's Institute for the Blind, now renamed and known as Blind Veterans UK (now based in Ovingdean, near Brighton, East Sussex) was established in 1915 and first located on the grounds of Winfield House (formerly Hertford Villa).
(45) See 306 pp quarto unpublished MS held by Vera Deacon, Stanley Thomas Deacon, "Rovings of a Revolutionary" or "Nor All Thy Tears."
(46) The "Phoney War" refers to the period between 3 September 1939 and June 1940 when, to the world beyond Poland and Germany, there seemed to be little aggressive war activity emerging; the USSR was opposed to involvement at that stage, when Stalin and Hitler were still non-combative. Even Churchill called it "The Twilight War." However the real German Blitzkrieg began in June 1940 and by September only Britain remained undefeated in Western Europe, though badly mauled at Dunkirk and by the incessant bombing raids on its industrial cities. In December 1941, after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour, the War in the Pacific began, intensifying after the Japanese bombed Darwin and Newcastle in June 1942.
(47) See the two-part feature story by Stanley Deacon, "Anti-Fascist Interlude," Tribune 6 May and 13 May 1964: 6.
(48) In 1995 MN visited the old USSR. Outside Moscow at Kraznagorsk, in the Russian Film Archive she viewed a battery of black and white Russian propaganda films obviously made for movie theatre release. In these British tourists were "exposed" for their secret agendas, hidden cameras and cunningly disguised weapons and devices, with distinct resemblances to those of Ian Fleming's James Bond.
(49) Stan's principal contacts are listed as: "A.R. Buckley, Boilermaker's union; Sam Campbell, Unemployed & Relief Workers; Jack Smith, Builders' Workers; C.J. McCaffrey, Ironworkers Union & Labour Council President; Laurie Jarmson, President of the Anti-Budget Committee; Henry Scanlon, former Vice President Northern Miners; Jack Wilson, Moulders Union Delegate and Senior Vice President Trades Hall Council; Matthew Hayes, Boilermakers' Union; Ray 'Butch' Wharton, former organiser Communist Party, J. Moran, Returning Officer for the Ironworkers."
(50) ASIO File No A91/1298 & A6119/78f & 79 f.
(51) See Ralph Gibson, The People Stand Up, 336-37.
(52) Frederick Woolnough Paterson (1897-1977) achieved the highest Federal CPA candidate vote in the North Queensland seat of Hebert at that election. He served as an Alderman on Townsville Council as a CPA member.
(53) ASIO Series A6119/79; Item 4: copy 28.10.41; 106/2/45. Stan also stood later, unsuccessfully, as a candidate for West Ward in the Newcastle City Council elections of 1948.
(54) ASIO File No A91/1298 folio 338.
(55) See the octavo CPA journal Progress, 9 May 1944.
(56) This is the Novocastrian way of alluding to Stockton's peninsula topography and its 'over there-ness' across the other side of the harbour from the city.
(57) Journalist Carol Duncan of Radio ABC Newcastle has a blog titled "Lost Newcastle," but the term is also used generally to refer to the past history of the city, the Hunter Valley and its people, in the process of recovering their community identity, which is abundantly apparent in schools and many community groups. Witness the plethora of Local History Societies, the websites, such as those of the Coal River Working Party and the Radical Newcastle publishing collective, the pages of the Newcastle Herald and the radio, local and state television (a favourite of Quentin Dempster's Stateline) and even, recently, on the BBC TV's Time Team program.
(58) VD to MN "Answers," 25 July 2013.