Monday, June 25, 2012

Grave Tales 3 :: The loss of the 2 Graham girls

Here is the next instalment in our series of Grave Tales. In this edition, Brad Argent tells us of his visit to a small cemetery in NSW's Shoalhaven area and the search that resulted for the descendants of the two poor farming girls buried there. He found them. Start your local research today.


I was taking a short break in Kangaroo Valley with my family recently and couldn’t resist taking a stroll through the local cemetery. My usual approach is to let my feet take me where they will and there, in dappled light beneath a sparse shrub, were two crosses with the names Helen and Kate Graham. Time worn and obviously hand crafted, I was struck by the similarities of the crosses – same surname, similar age of death and a decade apart.

Helen, known officially as Jane Helen Kate Graham, was born in the Shoalhaven area in 1875 to John Graham and Mary Merchant. Helen She was the fourth child and second daughter for farmers John and Mary.

Life on a farm meant that everyone in the family worked. On August 10, 1889 fourteen year old Helen, with her younger sister Florence, aged ten, were minding some cows in a paddock near the house. For reasons unknown Helen lit a fire and her dress caught alight. She died some hours later and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Kate, formally Kate Martha Matilda Graham, was born in the Shoalhaven in 1886 - John and Mary’s eighth child and sixth daughter. Kate died of rheumatic fever when she was just 13 years old.

The anguish of losing two young children is something I cannot begin to understand. I hugged my kids tighter when I got back to the house that day.

After doing a little research it occurred to me that the wooden crosses were unlikely to have been original, so I sought more information on and found the Latham/Madge Family Tree. I reached out to Mable, the tree’s owner. In less than 24hrs, Mable – a descendent of Kate and Helen’s older brother Archy - got back to me with details on the girls.

Mable said that it was Helen’s father John and`her brother Archy who found the badly burnt body. She also told me that Kate was a favourite of Archy’s. Mable also shed some light on the crosses. They were erected a few years ago by members of the family as the burials were in unmarked graves, or graves whose markings had long since become erased. Mable also supplied the lovely photo of John, Mary and family you see below. My thanks to Mable for helping me tell this story.


Read the previous instalments in the series of Grave Tales:
[1]  Story of Strange Butson Hartigan
[2]  The murder of William Hird

Brad Argent is content director at Australia’s leading family history website, contains more than 930 million records in its Australian and UK collections.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2012 :: 3-5 August

Inside History magazine is very happy to support the 2012 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Festival dates are 3 - 5 August with workshops beginning Monday 30 July. Book tickets now.

2012 sees a Festival with a fresh line up, and of course, lots of history for our readers! Don't miss our event on Friday, 3 August - "Bringing history to life":

Where:  RED Marquee
Time:    12.00pm-1.15pm
Chair:   Edna Carew
Special guests: Jane Caro, Rowan Wilson, Michelle Aung Thin, Sulari Gentil

It's sure to be an interesting chat, amongst 3 days of historically good writing inspiration, guidance and fun on the beautiful NSW Far North Coast. We'll see you there! Read the program and get your tickets now!

Unlock the Past Queensland Expo 2012 :: June 25-27

I grew up on the Sunshine Coast and then lived in Brisbane while I studied at the University of Queensland. Those early years in Queensland, writing stories for my Mum and "publishing" them for the family set the scene for what I am and do today. That's one of reasons I love coming back to Queensland and what a happy coincidence it is, that I'm able to combine work and play in June, at the History and Genealogy Expo in Queensland, 25-27 June 2012.

Inside History Magazine will be exhibiting at the expo with Irish Wattle, along with over 50 other family history and genealogy specialists. There are 39 main talks by 18 presenters from 5 states and the UK, plus 28 free presentations including 2 from myself; "Who was the real Captain Starlight?" and "Writing local and family history for magazines".

The featured visiting presenter is Audrey Collins from the United Kingdom's National Archives and the expo kicks off her Australian speaking tour, which also takes in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. We're excited to meet her and look forward to her talks in Canberra and Sydney, hopefully we'll see you there - book your tickets now so you don't miss out!

Also, the good people at Unlock the Past are giving away exclusive Platinum, Gold and Silver passes to the expo and Audrey Collins tour. To enter, go to the Unlock the Past blog and answer the question, "tell us “specifically” what you are looking forward to at the events".

As with all of Unlock the Past's events, one lucky winner will leave the expo with a subscription to Inside History Magazine. We're giving away a 2 year subscription, which isn't available anywhere else! Visit our stand and leave your details to enter. The winner will be drawn on Wednesday, 27 June.

So, how do you get to enjoy all of the above? Join us at the expo. We've included some directions below:

Where: Centenary State High School, 1 Moolanda Street, Jindalee
When: The Expo is running over three days including Monday evening:

  • Monday, 25 June: 12 noon - 9:30pm
  • Tuesday, 26 June: 9am - 5pm
  • Wednesday, 27 June: 9am - 4pm

We'd also recommend the Expo Gold Tickets, which for $50 pre-booked allows you to attend as many presentations as you can, saving and learning lots along the way! Or you can just book your expo ticket and pay for the presentations you attend on the day. Click here to book your expo tickets and then invest in your Gold Ticket via Gould Genealogy.

We love questions, so drop by say hello and browse through our current and back issues on paper and digital. Our back issues are only $6 for the expo! See you there!

When are we next in Queensland? Happily, it's not long until we're back! We return to Brisbane in August for the International Council of Archives Congress [ICA] on 20-24 August 2012.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

State Library of NSW hits it millionth eRecord!

The State Library of NSW has chalked up one million newly created eRecords, taking the Library a giant step closer to making its entire heritage collection searchable online.

“The NSW Government committed $23 million over five years to help the State Library create electronic resources for its early catalogues which comprise over one million hand-written or typescript cards ...... These catalogues document some of the most historically significant items held by the State Library, including the original charts by Matthew Flinders and First Fleeter William Bradley and the works of famous literary figures like Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson and Patrick White,” Minister Souris said.

Library staff have uncovered some other intriguing finds in the course of their work, including:
  • a copy of the Gallipoli evacuation order from 16 December, 1915 (one of only five copies made);
  • a rare hand drawn map of Brisbane, 1839 by George Barney;
  • a collection of lantern slides of Antarctic exploration (1907-1930), presented by Captain Morton Moyes, a member of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition;
  • a beautiful collection of botanical sketches and drawings (1893-1897) by Edward William Minchen; and
  • a series of interviews by Rod Shaw with poets and artists about the question 'what makes a work of art,’ including an interview with Lloyd Rees. The series also includes poetry readings by Nancy Keesing, Geoffrey Dutton and Dorothy Hewitt.

“By July 2013 people will enjoy complete online access to the Library’s entire heritage collection, making it a truly global resource,” says NSW State Librarian and Chief Executive, Alex Byrne.

The library will always be one of our favourite places in this world but when you can't visit, then go onto their eResources for your reading and research. Find out more on the library's eRecords blog.

Help reunite medals with John Sheehan's descendants

Gary Traynor, the man behind the very worthy veteran projects - Medals Gone Missing and Kuttabul Commemoration Project - is seeking those with surname SHEEHAN, so he can re-unit original World War 2 medals with the descendants of their winner - John Frederick Sheehan.

Contact: Gary Traynor on 0449 692401 | 02 44740199 or on customerservice[at]

Read on for more on Medals Gone Missing and John Frederick Sheehan.


A chance purchase on ebay of a set of three war service medals, has revealed the amazing service life of a man from the 2/31st Infantry Battalion.

Information from Mr Walter Robertson, Secretary of the 2/31st Infantry Battalion has revealed that John Frederick SHEEHAN was an original member of 2/31 bn, having joined in England from the 2/10 bn.  Mr Robertson’s research indicates that John embarked to the Middle East on the 03rd of January, 1941.  He was deployed to New Guinea on the 31st of August, 1942 and after having fought on the Kokoda Trail and the severe fighting at Gona, returned to Australia.

John was redeployed back to New Guinea on the 23rd of July, 1943 where he served at Lae, Ramu Valley and Finisterre Range.  He was then with the unit when it landed at Moratai in June 1945.   Very heavy casualties were suffered by this unit at Balikpapan, but John is not listed as wounded, so the Secretary of the 2/31st Battalion does not know at this stage why John left the unit in July 1945.

When these medals were located on ebay, it was not imagined that this man would have been one of the original members who joined the unit in Britain.  To think that he joined the unit in England and served from 1940 all the way through the war to 1945 in this fine battalion is amazing.  And no doubt, there is a strong possibility that he saw action in all of these arduous campaigns.  It is saddening to think what he went through.

And this is the first set of 2/31st medals that have been in the custody of Medals Gone Missing.  It will be a pleasure and an honour to return these medals to the family and I seek your assistance.  For many of the early enlisters, the “stars” (1939-1945 Star, Africa Star and Pacific Star) often were NOT engraved.  So it is possible that we will never locate these medals.  However, John’s stars may have been stamped with his name and have become separated from these discs, so anything is possible.

As this year is the 70th Anniversary of Kokoda, I will be carrying these medals across the Kokoda Track next week as a symbol of respect for John’s service. My organisation is a NOT FOR PROFIT body and I do not charge any fees for this service.  My sole aim is to get these missing war medals back to the family.

If you have any friends or associates whose surname is SHEEHAN could you please be kind enough to make inquiries if there is any relationship.

My thanks go out to Mr. Walter ROBERTSON, Secretary of the 2/31st Infantry Battalion who is conducting the research into the service of John Frederick SHEEHAN.


Contact: Gary Traynor on 0449 692401 or customerservice[at]

Want to know more about the 2/31st Infantry Battalion? Go to the Australian War Memorial unit history.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Grave Tales 2 :: The murder of William Hird

Here is the next instalment in our series of Grave Tales, from Brad Argent. It's another dark and sad tale uncovered in a cemetery just around the corner and a part of our rich local history. You'll never know what you'll find in your next visit to our shared past and your local cemetery.


William Hird came to Sydney in July of 1882 on board the Samuel Plimsoll.  With him were his wife, Isabella and their six children (three boys and three girls).  Originally from Scotland, the Hirds spent some time in Yorkshire before making their way to Australia.

William was a sergeant with the East Riding police before immigrating, and upon arrival in he enlisted in the local constabulary and was stationed at Canterbury, about 12 kilometres south west of Sydney.

William was on duty until about 1am on the morning of August 13, 1885.  He became involved in scuffle with two men – Joseph Thompson and Ellis Birch – and one axe.  It didn’t end well for William.  His body was found later that morning just off the bridge that spans the Cook’s River in Canterbury.

William was a much loved member of the, then small, community.  On the following Saturday afternoon William Hird, 32, was laid to rest in the Cemetery attached to St. Paul’s Anglican Church.  There were over 400 mourners in attendance.

But the grave stone in the picture tells an even sadder story.  William’s wife Isabella had already endured the loss of their youngest child, John, shortly after their arrival in Sydney in 1882.  Three months after William’s death her eldest son, George, also passed away. Isabella too ‘shuffled off this mortal coil’ though she was to live for another 37 years.

When I come across headstones like this I pause to think, not only about the tragedy of lives cut short, but of the grief for those left to remember.

Read the first instalment in the series - Story of Strange Butson Hartigan!

Brad Argent is content director at Australia’s leading family history website, contains more than 930 million records in its Australian and UK collections. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

1859 :: Queensland became a separate colony

153 years ago today, 6 June 1859, Queensland separated from NSW. Click on the map below to see how the state borders have changed over time.

Want to find out more? Go online to the Museum of Australian Democracy and read the Letters Patent - Queensland's primary founding documents. Authorised by Queen Victoria on 6 June 1859, they are the legal instrument for the separation of the new colony from New South Wales and the appointment of the first Governor, this document is still 'live', the constitutional basis for Queensland today.

Shooting through Bondi’s history

The peak of summer is when Bondi does its thing best. Everyone comes out to play – surfers, tourists and shoppers, to form part of the buzzing crowd.

It would come as no surprise to you that this is the way Bondi has always been. For a century now, it’s the place to be on a Sydney summer day.

But postcode 2026 has a much more fascinating history, from its first indigenous tribes, to European settlers and mid-century gangsters. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about our famous (and infamous) beachside suburb:
  1. “Bondi Points” could refer to the headlands on either side of the beach. But rather, it’s a term used to describe spear blades used by the local indigenous population some 4,500 years ago. Where the Bondi Pavilion now stands is thought to have been a tool trading “shop” for them, based on the number unearthed there.
  2. When World War II broke out in 1939, Bondi’s famous sand was covered with barbed wire and iron stakes as it was thought to be a potential invasion point. Swimmers could still reach the shoreline to bathe by negotiating their way through the maze of fortifications. The locals nicknamed it the “rat run”.
  3. Tamarama Beach was the scene of Australia’s first rollercoaster. The Switchback Railway opened in 1887 and was a diving, plunging, hold-your-breath circus attraction above the sands near the waterline.
  4. Freshwater lagoons once lay behind Bondi Beach, while rolling sandhills ran from there to near Rose Bay, some 4km away. These hills can still be seen in pictures of the area up until the 1920s.
  5. Bondi had an underbelly all of its own. The suburb was the scene of the first organised car bombing in Australia in the 1960s.
  6. Shark fishing on the beach was a popular pastime last century. Rather than discourage sharks, the lifeguards would actually try and lure them closer to the shore for the fisherman. Their favourite method for doing this? Tying pieces of meat to those famous Speedos and then swimming out beyond the waves!
3. Tamarama Beach was the scene of Australia’s first rollercoaster

2. Bondi’s famous sand was covered with barbed wire and iron stakes

Judy Parnell and friends sitting on railing, Bondi Beach c. 1947

* Cassie Mercer is editor of Inside History, a bi-monthly magazine focused on Australia’s genealogy, history and heritage. Kimberly O’Sullivan is Waverley Council’s historian. She is passionate about cultural memory and Bondi’s local history.