04 October 2017

Take a Magical Carpet Ride Over Historical Canberra's

Maps are magic carpets on which you fly back in time over places familiar and strange.  It was a thrill, then, to return from lunch today to find a donation of four older maps of Canberra for the ACT Heritage Library.

These two from 1992 and 1969 we already have copies of

but these from 1957 and 1970 were new to us.

Interestingly it is the 1970 map that excites us the most.  It is not held in any other library in Australia that we can find.

In 1970, our suburbs reached to Farrer in the South and Latham in the North and the streets were laid out for Holt. 

We are cataloguing these immediately so they will be available in the ACT Heritage Library in the next week.

We are very grateful to the generous people who donate before they dump.  We would never have thought that a 1970 map wasn't available anywhere else and we are proud to ensure its preservation for the future.

And the two maps we don’t need?  They will be available for purchase at the next Libraries ACT Book Roundabout Sale at Tuggeranong Library on 14 and 15 October.  Proceeds of the Book Roundabout support literacy initiatives in public libraries across the ACT.

20 September 2017

Seeing double in the ACT Heritage Library

We enjoy assisting researchers at the ACT Heritage Library, but it’s even more special when the donor of a collection comes into use it.

We greatly enjoyed having Graham Scully with us this week.

Graham has been active in the Kosciusko Huts Association since 1988.  In 2011 he deposited his research on sites of European occupation in the Namadgi National Park ( HMSS 257 Namadgi Sites Research Files ).

It was impossible to resist taking his photo with one of him on display in the ACT Heritage Library.

The black and white image is of Graham as President of the Kosciusko Huts Association in Rowleys  Rendezvous Creek Hut in the Orroral Vally,  Namadgi National Park, in the 1990s, soon after the restoration of the hut.  Rowleys Hut was destroyed in the bushfires of January 2003.

The photo is one of a number of images by photographer Reg Alder of the Namadgi National Park on display.  The photographs were donated to the ACT Heritage Library by the National Parks Association in 2008 ( HMSS 400 Reg Alder Photographs ).

15 August 2017

The Great Game

By the third year of World War I, enlistment in the Australian Imperial Forces was dwindling.  The conscription referendum of  October 1916 failed and by 1917 casualties were outstripping enlistment.

A response was to hold a nation wide Sportsmen’s Recruiting Day on 27 July 1917.

Queanbeyan held a Sportsmen’s Day and Recruiting Rally on Wednesday 15 August.   Businesses along Monaro Street decorated their premises with the flags of the Allies and a procession down Monaro street led by Lieutenant Warren as marshall.  He was followed by mounted police (Sergeant Parker and Constable Brown), the “Good Old Band” led by Bandmaster DeClifton.  Then came the Senior Cadets, the Boy Scouts, girls in Fancy Costume, and many others, in cars, vans, carts and handcarts.  The Queanbeyan Age of 17 August lists almost all who paraded.  

Photographs from ACT Heritage Library, HMSS 0483, Sybil Stuckey Papers

The parade terminated at Queanbeyan Park where prizes were awarded for fancy dress and comical turn outs, the Red Cross Society served tea, raffles were held and the band entertained the crowd.  Sports events were also held including a football match and foot and bicycle races.

Seven men volunteered on the day: Roy Bertram Clark, Walter Charles Crawford, E.M. Elliott, C.F. Coppin, D.J. Ford, Gilbert Hill and John Field.  Across New South Wales there were more than 1000 recruits as a result of the Sportsmen's Recruiting Day.

More information on the men and women of the district who served can be found on the ACT Memorial.


1917 'Sportsmen's Day in Queanbeyan.', Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer (NSW : 1915 - 1927), 17 August, p. 2. , viewed 11 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31677175

Blackburn, Kevin. War, Sport and the Anzac Tradition. Basingstoke, Hampshire Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

13 July 2017

Excitement brought to sorrow - The Canberra Hospital implosion

Twenty years ago, on 13 July 1997,  there was a rally of excitement in Canberra as over 100,000 people flocked to the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin, facing  Acton Peninsula, to watch the controlled implosion of the Royal Canberra Hospital. The implosion would clear the site to accommodate the much anticipated National Museum of Australia. It was promoted as a spectacular event for locals to witness and say goodbye to the place where many residents had been born.

Canberra Hospital on Acton Peninsula, aerial view looking west from Hospital Point
Canberra Hospital on Acton Peninsula, aerial view looking west from Hospital Point, 1971
Image Source: ACT Heritage Library image 000066

However, the implosion of the Royal Canberra Hospital was not the excitement and wonder that it was supposed to be. The main building did not fully implode and debris was projected at high speeds into the crowds watching in Lennox Gardens on the other side of lake, 500 metres away. One spectator, Katie Bender, aged 12, was struck by a shard of metal and killed instantly. Nine other people were injured. Fragments of masonry and metal could be found 650 metres from the demolition site. The mood changed to one of shock, disbelief and sorrow.

A number of official inquiries were held including a coronial inquest into Katie Bender's death. This inquest brought the then Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, and other members of the ACT Legislative Assembly before the court. The Coroner found that ACT Work Cover,  the authority responsible for administering, implementing and enforcing ACT occupational health and safety legislation, did not follow safety processes that were in place.

The ACT Heritage Library holds the the coroner's findings, police records of interviews, emails and other evidence submitted to the inquest. as part of the Trevor Kaine Papers.

Articles in local newspapers can be located using the library’s Newspaper Holdings webpage.

19 May 2017

Buying a book sometimes offers more than what is published in print

Often when we borrow or buy an old book, we get a sense of what the contents reveal, by the illustrations and text thoughtfully placed to form the cover. But, every now and then, the makings of another story appears that the author hadn't intended. The hands that touch a book can be quite anonymous until...something is scrawled on a page, or notes are wedged in pages as markers, or the book is used as a vessel to press something flat, or protect something precious. This is when the beginnings of a whole new tale can emerge.

A few years ago, Canberra resident Rachael Chandler of Holder was looking at children's books at the Q Bookshop in Curtin. As she was browsing, her eye was caught by the colourful cover of the book Our Darlings' Treasure House, edited by Alexander Watson in 1936.
Cover of Our Darlings' Treasure House edited by Alexander Watson,1936.
Cover of Our Darlings' Treasure House edited by Alexander Watson,1936.
She picked up the book, and out fell some papers consisting of: a student report and notice of the 25th Annual Speech Day from Telopea Park School, a membership to The Gould League of Bird Lovers of NSW and a program for a musical evening at the Albert Hall.

Inside the front cover of the book was the  inscription: To Dick From Dad & Mum Xmas 1939.
 Inscription in the front cover of the Cover of Our Darlings' Treasure House edited by Alexander Watson,1936.
Inscription in the front cover of the Cover of Our Darlings' Treasure House edited by Alexander Watson,1936.
On the next page, under the heading "This book belongs to" the following was written:  Richard Henry Talbot Adams "Grevilla" Waratah Pathway Kingston Canberra Christmas 1939.

Details inscribed on the first page of Our Darlings' Treasure House edited by Alexander Watson,1936.
Details inscribed on the first page of Our Darlings' Treasure House edited by Alexander Watson,1936.
Rachael didn't buy the book that day, however she told her husband how fascinating the papers werebeing so old and from Canberra. He encouraged Rachael to go back to the book store the next day to purchase the book, with the intent to try and find the owner, or their family. Unfortunately the Chandlers did not have much luck finding any information, so Rachel contacted the ACT Heritage Library, firstly to donate the papers, but also to see if we could come up with any other information.

The staff here at the ACT Heritage Library were abuzz with the prospect of finding out about Dick Adams and his family. Thankfully 'Talbot' was an uncommon name that we could latch onto in our quest. It wasn't long before we were able to piece bits of information together. Here's what we unearthed:

Waratah Pathway or Parkway became Telopea Parkway, no 20. Telopea Parkway, (20 Telopea Park, Kingston). It was a private residence and the home of Talbot (Tom) Leonard Adams, master butcher, his first wife Jessie (Eileen) Sophia Adams (deceased 28 April 1949, aged 41) and then later his second wife Jean Briged (deceased March 1971). Tom had four children with his first wife: Richard (Dick) Henry Talbot, Francis (Frank) Leonard, John Talbot and Mary Burke (nee Adams).

The house was built and completed in 1927. In approximately 1937 the leadlight windows were placed in the front of the house to enclose the verandah. According to Mary Burke's recollections: "In the front yard Dad had the 'Speakers Chair'it was a pine tree and he had trimmed it in the shape of the Speakers Chair at Parliament House. People used to come by often just to have a look at it." (Emerton, page 104).
Map of Eastlake (Kingston) with early residents and shop owners marked out. The Adams Home and Shop are circled in red. Source: Emerton, page 172
Map of Eastlake (Kingston) with early residents and shop owners marked out. The Adams Home and Shop are circled in red. Source: Emerton, page 172
Tom was one of Canberra's first butchers, supplying meat to early construction camps in Canberra out of his business in Queanbeyan. When the Kingston shops were built in the mid-1920s, he and his three brothers, Tom, Harry and George, opened one of the first butchers in the precinct (then known as Eastlake).

By 1936, the partnership between the brothers dissolved so Tom took over a shop in Flinders Way, Manuka. Tom was not content with one shop, expanding his business to O'Connor Shopping Centre, Garema Place, Civic, Bungendore and then back to Kingston, in which T.L. Adams Pty Ltd commissioned the Adams Building (Jardine St, Kingston), also known as Adams Arcade. The Arcade, consisted of a mix of shops and offices and included their new butchery and delicatessen. The architects responsible for the design of the building were Divola and Anderson, with the builders being S. D. C. Kennedy and Bird Pty Ltd.
Advertisement from ArchivesACT Collection, Kingston Traders Association Canberra ACT, Page 13
Advertisement from ArchivesACT Collection, Kingston Traders Association Canberra ACT, Page 13
Tom also erected and named two buildings using his first and second names: Talbot House at Sargood St, O'Connor, in 1953, and in 1955, Leonard Chambers, Kingston.

With the assistance of his sons Frank and John, Tom continued to run these businesses until he died in October 1961 at the age of 75.

In 1962, Dick took over the family business T. L. Adams Pty Ltd; however, a couple of years later, in 1965, the company dissolved.

Dick lived in Red Hill in the 1960s and then moved to Main Beach, Queensland in the late 1970s. Sadly he passed away on 8 February 2017.

The HMSS 0468 collection held at the ACT Heritage Library contains the papers of Dick Adams that were found in the book. They give a little insight into his boyhood interests and schooling.

If you have memorabilia or records associated with this story we would love to hear from you. Please contact us at act.heritage.library@act.gov.au 

A sample from the HMSS 0468 ADAMS, Richard (Dick) Henry Talbot Papers.  Dick Adams' Membership card to the Gould League of Bird Lovers of NSW 1910-1946
A sample from the HMSS 0468 ADAMS, Richard (Dick) Henry Talbot Papers.  Dick Adams' Membership card to the Gould League of Bird Lovers of NSW 1910-1946


1956, 'New Kingston Shopping Block Ready', The Canberra Times, Canberra ACT, 16 March, page 2.

1965, 'In the A.C.T. Courts', The Canberra Times, Canberra ACT, 5 June, page 8.

Australian Government, 'ABN Lookup' Australian Business Registerhttp://abr.business.gov.au/SearchByAbnHistory.aspx?SearchText=48022087638

Australian Government, 'File 1965GN33', Federal Register of Legislation https://www.legislation.gov.au/file/1965GN33

Australian Government, 'File 1977GN45', Federal Register of Legislation https://www.legislation.gov.au/file/1977GN45

Australian Daily Funeral and Death Notices, http://www.deathnoticesaustralia.com.au/notices/2219/adams/ 

Emerton, Val & Canberra Stories Group (1996). Past images present voices : Kingston and thereabouts through a box brownie. Canberra Stories Group, Murrumbateman, NSW.

Gugler, Ann (2010). 'Kingston 1928', Canberra camps, settlements & early housing, Ann Gugler, Canberra, ACT.

Kingston Traders Association, Canberra ACT (prepared by) Kingston Shopping Centre. Federal Capital Press. Canberra, ACT.

09 May 2017

Opening of Parliament House - looking back 90 years

Before the War Memorial was built, before the National Library or the Carillion or any other Canberra monument, there was Old Parliament House. As the ninetieth anniversary of its opening approaches, it’s good to look back at how the famous Canberra icon came to be.

The controversial construction of a provisional Parliament House, or as it’s more commonly known, Old Parliament House, was particularly distasteful to Walter Burley Griffin, who said it was like ‘filling a front yard full of outhouses' (Glover, 1927). Despite Griffin’s indignation, a temporary building designed by John Murdoch was given the go ahead and was officially opened on the 9 May 1927 by the Duke of York. The events of the day, full of ups and downs, survive in the accounts of William (Bill) Glover, the papers of Alexander Bruce and contemporary newspapers.

Despite expectations of nearly one hundred thousand visitors, no more than six thousand of the general public attended. Most people were put off by the lack of facilities and rumours of cold Canberra mornings. The small crowd disappointed organisers, as well as Queanbeyan pub owners who had banked on a thirsty crowd. The catering firm Sargents, who had quite literally prepared enough provisions to feed an army, ended up having to bury over four tonnes of uneaten food.
Locals who attend the opeing included George Blundell of Blundell’s Cottage and Alexander Bruce. The Lotts were among the lucky few officially invited to the ceremony. The only reported Aboriginal person to attend was also from the region. Contemporary accounts call him either ‘King Billy’ or ‘Marvellous’, the nicknames of two separate but well known personalities from the Canberra district.

Official invitation to Leslie Lott, 9 May 1927
Official invitation to Leslie Lott, 9 May 1927
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection
The formal events started with the arrival of parliamentarians, royals and other VIPS. Unfortunately, Bill and his regiment had to line the route for the Duke and Duchess of York and as such ‘that was about all we saw of the ceremony’ (Glover, 1927).  But Alexander’s program sheds light on the rest of the day. Dame Nellie Melba led the national anthem, accompanied by the Canberra Symphonic Orchestra. There were grand speeches by politicians and the Duke of York, a hymn and lots of pageantry. Then the Duke unlocked the doors of Parliament House with a gold key and everyone (including the Griffins and John Murdoch, who by all accounts were still not speaking to each other) was able to officially go inside. Parliament in all its glory sat for one day in the new, specially built House.

Inside left of official invitation to Leslie Lott, 9 May 1927
Inside left of official invitation to Leslie Lott, 9 May 1927
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection

Inside right of official invitation to Leslie Lott, 9 May 1927
Inside right of official invitation to Leslie Lott, 9 May 1927
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection
The ceremony finished with a military review and display from the assembled units. Tragically, Flying Officer F. E. Ewen of the RAAF, a Duntroon cadet originally from Eden, crashed in front of Parliament House in full view of everyone watching. He later died in Canberra Hospital. Bill, who participated in the review with his regiment, remembers that Ewen ‘had a feeling that something was going to happen' (Glover 1927) and went round saying goodbye to all his friends in the camp. The day closed and people went home, while parliament was left with the job of moving the whole administration up to Canberra. They would not sit again until September.

Despite the crash, the cold and the low turnout, the press were mightily impressed with the building and ceremony. Ever since its opening, Old Parliament House has featured prominently in tourist photographs and memorabilia, like postcards and Iris Millington's silk scarf from the 1960s. It has often been a symbol for Canberra.

Parliament House, Canberra, front facade looking southeast, Circa 1930s
Parliament House, Canberra, front facade looking southeast, Circa 1930s
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0250 Commercial Postcards of the Australian Capital Territory Collection, Image No. 1930/003

Silk scarf, designed by Iris Millington, Circa 1960s
Silk scarf, designed by Iris Millington, Circa 1960s
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0399 Canberra Souvenir Scarf 
Even though there have been several renovations, including the hasty addition of female toilets to accommodate the first women in Parliament, the House became cramped and aged. It was decided that a new house needed to be built just up the hill, in honour of Griffin’s original design.

After the new house was opened, Old Parliament House was at a bit of a loose end. Despite original predictions about ‘outhouses,’ no one really wanted to destroy the building and it was still a highly popular tourist destination. After much deliberation it became the Museum of Australian Democracy, a fitting purpose for a building that saw major national events like the formation of Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the dismissal of the Whitlam government. It remains standing today, as Bill mentioned all those years ago, sitting in its planned gardens and parkland, ‘a beautiful building in the centre of what will indeed be a garden city (Gover, 1927).

Federal Parliament House, Canberra, from Senate side, hand coloured, Circa 1930s
Federal Parliament House, Canberra, from Senate side, hand coloured, Circa 1930s
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0250 Commercial Postcards of the Australian Capital Territory Collection, Image No. 1930/039
The ACT Heritage Library has significant holdings relating to Old Parliament House, including original maps and plans, HMSS 0271 William Glover Letter from Canberra 1927, HMSS 0406 AE Bruce Collection, HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection and a large range of photographs on Images ACT and publications in the library catalogue.


1927 'Aeroplane Crash.', The Federal Capital Pioneer Magazine (Canberra, ACT : 1926 - 1927) , 20 May, p. 26. , viewed 22 Sep 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66351153

1927 'The Canberra Air Crash.', The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), 11 May, p. 14. , viewed 22 Sep 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article43574665

200? ‘Self-guided tour : Old Parliament House : 45 Minutes’, Old Parliament House, Canberra

Anglin, L, 1988. Adaptive re-use: Provisional Parliament House, Canberra, Australia. Thesis. Sydney: University of Sydney

Coulthard-Clark, C. D."The Aborigine Who Came to the Opening of Parliament House." Canberra Historical Journal, No.21, March 1988

Dick, G. 1977, ‘Parliament House Canberra: Golden Jubilee,’ Australian Government Publishing Services for Joint House Department, Canberra

Hogan, H. c. 1997, ‘Parliament House Canberra, 1927 : records relating to the design, construction and opening of the provisional Parliament House,’ National Archives of Australia, Canberra

National Capital Development Commission, 1988, ‘Sites of significance in the A.C.T.,’ NCDC, Canberra

HMSS 0271 William Glover Letter from Canberra 1927

HMSS 0250 Commercial Postcards of the Australian Captial Territory Collection

HMSS 0399 Canberra Souvenir Scarf

19 April 2017

The Dog Barked and the "little lion" roared - Jack Webb at Doignies, France April 1917

Earlier this month marked the centenary of the capture of Doignies. We reflect on the campaign through the story of local Canberran John Webb, known as 'Jack', who fought in the campaign and paid the ultimate price.

Jack Webb was a barman at the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1916. He was a nuggetty man of 42 years with a walrus moustache and whose toughness was no doubt an advantage in the rough and tumble of a country pub. The liquor trade was in his blood as his grandmother, Julia Webb, better known as ‘Judy the Great’, had been a nurse, midwife and one-time sly grog operator at Charnwood. His grandparents later farmed in Canberra, on part of the Springbank property (near the O’Connor shops), and it was probably there that Jack was born in 1873.

His mother Ann McInnes grew up in Canberra and married Thomas Webb in 1870. Tom was something of a larrikin and prone to finding trouble. He deserted his young family shortly before Ann died in 1874, when Jack was still a baby. Jack was taken in as a ward by Richard Shumack of Springvale, Weetangera.

Shumack was a widower with a large family of his own. The household was run by his 17 year old daughter Phoebe* but it is likely that her fourteen year old sister Emily cared for baby Jack. The Shumacks were sober, hard-working farmers and the children were expected to pull their weight in the fields. They were also expected to go to school, but Jack was not much of a student, and preferred to play the truant as Shumack found out in 1884 when he was fined for his ward’s non attendance at classes.

As he grew older Jack probably lived with his uncle and aunt, John and Sarah McInnes at Kowen to the east of Canberra. The McInnes’ already had fourteen children of their own but they also were responsible for five nieces and nephews (including at least two of the Webb children). Life was hard and space was at a premium so some of the children had to sleep in the hayshed.

As a young man Jack took to the rugby field with the Red and Blacks of Queanbeyan, gaining a reputation during the 1890s and early 1900s as one of the toughest forwards in the district and “a man to be watched by the opposing side being a sure tackler and a hard man to grass”.  He “feared no one on the football field or in the noble art of self defence”.
ACT Memorial, Jack Webb from, Our Queanbeyan 'Boys' No.4 postcard,  Howard & Shearsby 191?, provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy.
Source: ACT Memorial, Jack Webb from, Our Queanbeyan 'Boys' No.4 postcard,
Howard & Shearsby 191?, provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy.
Even though he was in his forties when the World War I began, it wasn’t Jack’s age that prevented him from immediately enlisting. In 1914 the AIF recruited only those men who met the most stringent physical standards which included a minimum height of five feet six inches. Jack was five feet two inches tall. However, as the war dragged on, and casualties mounted, the minimum height was gradually reduced to five feet four, then five feet three and finally to five feet two inches.

By then the Gallipoli campaign had become a stalemate, but it had also fanned the fire of national pride in the hearts of many Australians. Publicity for recruitment was boosted by the Cooee march from Gilgandra to Sydney in October 1915. This march inspired other route marches including the Men from Snowy River march from Delegate to Goulburn, which passed through Queanbeyan in January 1916. Jack was one of the men who enlisted on that march.

Bob Beatty, a team mate from his footballing days, described Jack as a “little lion - all fight and every muscle taut”.  Beatty met up with him at camp in Goulburn just before he sailed writing: “When we talked of what was before him I caught the old familiar glint of fire in his game eye, the same old confident chuckle in his voice, and with arms folded and head slightly aslant as usual he told me of his training, how fit he felt, and all he longed for was close quarters.”

Jack served with the 55th Battalion which was part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Division of the AIF. More men from the Canberra-Queanbeyan area served in the 55th Battalion than in any other unit. After being decimated at Fromelles in July 1916 the 55th Battalion went through a re-building phase and amongst the reinforcements was Jack who joined the unit at Buire at the rear of the frontline in the Somme region of France on Christmas Eve 1916. It was the depths of a cruel, cold winter in the muddy trenches of the Somme. One of Jack’s mates was Jack Woodger who was married to one of his many cousins. They stuck together under heavy shell fire and when both were concussed during a bombardment, Webb remarked, “Fritz won’t get either of us after that Woodger, with his whiz bangs.”

In February 1917 the Germans began retreating towards their heavily fortified Hindenburg Line.  However, they also established strong points in villages along the way designed to delay the advancing Australians. The 5th Division pushed the Germans back along the road between Bapaume and Cambrai but they had to clear the enemy from these villages. One of the villages was Doignies and the 55th Battalion was given the task of capturing it.

 ACT Memorial, Jack O'Grady from  Our Queanbeyan 'Boys' No.2 postcard, Howard & Shearsby 191?, provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy
Image: ACT MemorialJack O'Grady from  Our Queanbeyan 'Boys'
No.2 postcard, Howard & Shearsby 191?,
provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy.
On the night before the attack the 55th Battalion assembled in a sunken road about 1500 metres from Doignies. Jack O’Grady served with Webb in C Company and saw him walking up and down the road during the night. “Coming towards dawn and zero hour”, O’Grady recalled, “Webb came over to me and said, we must have a talk, he was sure it was his last day on earth” (Cook, page 111).

Just before dawn on 2 April 1917 the 55th Battalion began moving forward.  To maintain the element of surprise, they did not have the usual artillery barrage. While advancing through the snow, rain and a piercing wind towards a beetroot factory on the outskirts of Doignies, the leading company of the 55th Battalion was joined by a small dog resembling a kelpie who trotted alongside the men. When the dog saw the Germans at the beetroot factory it ran up to them growling and barking and alerting the enemy to the presence of the Australians.

The Germans at the factory began firing and throwing bombs delaying the 55th Battalion and forcing its officers to quickly revise the plan of attack. Originally C Company was to skirt the village and attack Doignies from the rear but the barking dog changed that. Instead they had to cross several hundred metres of flat open country to reach the village. There was no cover, so they advanced in extended lines in short rushes through a hail of machine gun fire.

As they closed in on the village, Webb shot a German sniping from the belfry in the churchyard, singing out to O’Grady “I am taking this one with me”.  But then Jack was hit. O’Grady was with him when “his throat was cut by a piece of shell and another piece through his chest” (Cook, page 116). According to Woodger, Webb “was killed instantly - a bullet between the eyes.” He could not find much more to say except; “Poor ‘Webbie’. He was a good soldier.”

Doignies - the Consolidation (dark arrows indicate direction of German counter attacks) (Cook, page 118)
Doignies - the Consolidation (dark arrows indicate direction of German counter attacks) (Cook, page 118)
The 55th Battalion took Doignies after a short, sharp fight. However, the enemy had mined and booby-trapped parts of the village and several explosions were heard. Then the Germans began shelling the village and launched seven counter attacks over the next twelve hours. All the while, from the north-east of Doignies, a machine gun fired persistently causing casualties.
To the official war historian, Charles Bean, the capture of Doignies was achieved “almost without loss” yet about 240 men from the 55th Battalion were killed or wounded. Perhaps the sheer scale of the carnage in the war coloured Bean’s assessment. Like Webb, 20 year old Harry Robertson from Oaks Estate was one of the ‘Snowies’ and was also killed during the fighting at Doignies. Sam Jacobs and Arthur Lodge were amongst the wounded.
The Canon F. G. Ward window.  St. John's Canberra.
Source: The Canon F. G. Ward
St. John's Canberra.

Sadly for Jack Webb, no family members claimed his personal effects or medals. He wasn’t however forgotten, the Queanbeyan Age published several tributes to him, the proprietors of the Royal Hotel dedicated a mission cross to him in St. Gregory’s Church in Queanbeyan and the people of Weetangerra included him on their honour roll currently on display in the Schoolhouse Museum at St. John’s.

There is a postscript to this story.

Canon Frederick Ward was rector at St. John the Baptist Church in Canberra from 1913 to 1929, but he also served in the Great War as a chaplain with the 5th Division of the AIF including on the battlefields of the Somme. As the Australians advanced to the Hindenberg Line in 1917, Ward’s “pious hand” collected fragments of stained glass from ruined churches, including the church at Doignies, and he brought them home in 1918. As a parting gift to St. John’s when he left the parish in 1929, Ward had a local glazier create a small stained glass window from the fragments. The window stands in the south porch of the church, a poignant memorial to Webb, Robertson and those other men from the Canberra district who died in 1916 and 1917 during the fighting on the Somme.

'He took them into the vestry to see the two small lanceolate windows fitted with a crazy pattern of gem-like glass gathered by a pious hand from shattered and bombarded churches in Flanders to be a memorial to the dead in Canberra.”  From Plaque with Laurel by M. Barnard Eldershaw (1937)


Bean, C. E. W. (1934). The official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918 (Volume 4, pages 222-231). Angus & Robertson.

Burness, E. (2008). "Judy the Great", Newsletter, Canberra and District Historical Society, February 2008. 

Cook, T. J. (2014). Snowy to the Somme: A Muddy and Bloody Campaign, 1916-1918. (pages 111, 116, 118). Big Sky Publishing.

Eldershaw, M. B. (1937). Plaque with laurel. (pages 211). GG Harrap.

Ellis, A. D. (1920). The Story of the Fifth Australian Division: Being an Authoritative Account of the Division's Doings in Egypt, France and Belgium. (pages 191-192) Hodder and Stoughton.

Lea-Scarlett, E. J. (1968). Queanbeyan: district and people. (pages 117, 160). Queanbeyan Municipal Council.

Shumack, S. (1967). An Autobiography; Or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers. (pages 134-135). 
Canberra: Australian National University Press.

The Queanbeyan Age. 29 October 1884; 8 May 1917; 15 May 1917; 11 September 1917.

The Canberra Times. 12 June 1929, page 4.

* Phoebe Blundell (nee Shumack) was the mother of Howard Blundell (born in 1886 at Weetangerra, died in 1920 at Tumut from the effects of mustard gas poisoning) who is also commemorated on the ACT Memorial.

16 February 2017

The Banka Island Massacre and the legacy of Sister Mona Tait

Today we pay our respects to Mona Tait and those who died 75 years ago today on 16 February 1942 in what is known as the Banka Massacre.

In 1941, a nurse in her mid twenties, working in Canberra signed up for the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). Her photo at enlistment shows a fresh faced and smiling young woman.  Mona Tait soon became immersed in the horrors of war and too quickly pay the ultimate price for her country.

Mona Tait enlistment photo
Mona Tait enlistment photo
Source Australian War Memorial, image P02783.035 

Sister Mona Margaret Anderson Tait trained as a nurse at Cessnock and was sister in charge of the X-ray department at Canberra Hospital for three years prior to enlisting in January 1941. She was attached to Victoria Barracks for eight months before being sent to Malaya where she nursed with the 13th Australian General Hospital at Malacca and Singapore. Mona was among the last 65 Australian nurses evacuated from Singapore on the SS Vyner Brooke on 12 February 1942.  The Vyner Brook carried injured servicemen as well as civilian men, women and children.

The Vyner Brooke was sunk by the Japanese off Bangka Island East of Sumatra, held by the Japanese.  While some of the survivors attempted to arrange a surrender, 22 nurses remained on Radji Beach to tend the 60 wounded servicemen and crew. Japanese soldiers arrived at the beach and, after bayoneting the men, forced the remaining 22 Australian nurses and one British civilian to wade into the sea where they were shot from behind. Sister Tait was killed at the young age of 27.  There were two survivors of the massacre, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and a British soldier.  Only Sister Bullwinkel survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.

Sister Tait and Sister May Hayman (a missionary nurse  killed by the Japanese at Gona, New Guinea in 1942) were commemorated by a plaque at Royal Canberra Hospital. When the hospital closed in 1991 the plaque was removed to the Returned and Services League (RSL) Headquarters on Constitution Avenue in Campbell ACT.

The RSL instigated an award - The Mona Tait and May Hayman Memorial Fund Scholarship - in which a prize of $350 is awarded annually, through the University of Canberra, to the nursing student with the highest results in the their first year of study.

The Australian War Memorial has in its collection a letter written by Sister Tait to Anne Burrows, in Canberra, in February 1942 where she mentions meeting Frank Burrows, Anne's brother, who died as a POW on the Burma-Thai railroad.

75 years on we especially honour the service of  Mona Tait and those who fell with her.

Lest we forget

ACT  Memorial Certificate for Mona Margaret Anderson Tait
ACT  Memorial Certificate for Mona Margaret Anderson Tait
Source: ACT Memorial web site
Further reading available from the LibrariesACT catalogue:

Shaw, Ian W, On Radji BeachSydney Pan, [2012]


Central Army Records Office, 'P02783.035', Photograph Collection. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02783.035. Australian War Memorial, Canberra

LibrariesACT, 'TAIT, Mona Margaret Anderson', ACT Memorial. http://www.memorial.act.gov.au/search/person/tait-mona-margaret-anderson , LibrariesACT, Canberra

Hall, Michael (Contributor), 'Dangerous Seas', Stories from the ACT Memorial. http://www.library.act.gov.au/find/history/stories_from_the_act_memorial/dangerous_seas, LibrariesACT, Canberra

Bowen, James, 'The Banka Island massacre (1942)'', The Pacific War, http://www.pacificwar.org.au/JapWarCrimes/TenWarCrimes/Banka_Massacre.html, The Pacific War Historical Society, 2009

RSL National 'RSL Awards', RSL National. http://rsl.org.au/About-Us/Awards-Scholarships, RSL National, Canberra

15 February 2017

The Brotherhood of Man - the Fall of Singapore and the re-dedication of St Ninian's Church

On this day, 75 years ago, the re-dedication of a church associated with the settlers of the Limestone Plains and a significant event in Australia's military history occurred. For wartime Prime Minister John Curtin it was a day that reinforced for him the importance of defending the society the pioneers had created - the brotherhood of man.

Shortly after the Reverend Hector Harrison arrived in Canberra in 1940, to take up duty at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Forrest, he noticed the little stone church on the road to Yass. It was the original Canberra Presbyterian Church, constructed in the 1870s, but in 1940 was being used as a barn by the Southwell brothers, Fred and Jack, lessees of the property, Fern Hill, on which it stood.  Harrison sought and gained the agreement of the Department of Interior and the Southwell brothers to use the old church for its original, spiritual purposes.
Location of St Ninian's Church (red dot) on Yass Road. Freehold portions (shaded) held by Presbyterian adherents in 1910.
Source: Gardiner and Parker, page 34
By Sunday, 15 February 1942, the church was ready to be re-dedicated as St. Ninian’s. Present were several old parishioners and members of the pioneering families who built the church. What made the ceremony notable are both its timing and the presence of the Prime Minister, John Curtin. Why would a self-confessed agnostic like Curtin be present at a religious event, at what was then a small church in the bush, during the tumultuous period of early 1942?

Curtin was good friends with the Southwell brothers and their sister, Bella Southwell, who was manager of the Hotel Kurrajong where Curtin and other parliamentarians often stayed. Near his death Curtin spoke about the pleasure of roaming around Fred Southwell’s paddocks and he actually attended the wedding of Southwell’s daughter Thelma, where he proposed a toast to the newlyweds. Mr Harrison, a fellow West Australian, presided over the wedding and it was probably then that he invited the Prime Minister to the re-dedication ceremony.

St Ninian's Presbyterian (later Uniting) Church and signboard, Steve Schultz, 11 February 1972
Source: Schultz, Steve, Canberra Times Collection, Images ACT number 000009

Curtin was prevailed upon to say a few words after the church service. Curtin believed that it was “the hardest speech he ever had to make in his life” (Day, page 494).  He reflected on how the communities of the early pioneers developed and the importance of churches as a meeting place.  “The church”, he said, “had become a very important place, for there they had learned to share one another’s troubles”.  How he must have wanted to share his own troubles for, on that very day, thousands of Australian troops stationed at Singapore became prisoners of war when the ‘fortress’ island fell to the Japanese. Curtin added: “The fatherhood of God was closely related to the brotherhood of man”. 

John Curtin and Eric Tonkin, St Ninian's Church, 15 February 1942
Source: John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Thelma MacKinnon.Belle Southwell, JCPML00721/1/8
Before he died Curtin asked Harrison to conduct his funeral service. Harrison hesitated because Curtin’s agnosticism created doubts in his mind, but for proof of Curtin’s spiritualism he turned to the words the Prime Minister used at St. Ninian’s in 1942. Those words must have impressed Mr Harrison.  He also used them during Curtin’s funeral service.

The inscription on Curtin's gravestone aptly notes: 

His Country was his pride
His brother man his cause

More information about St Ninian's Church, Prime Minister John Curtin and the Southwell Family are available at the ACT Heritage Library

This article is also available on the Stories from the ACT Memorial web page.


Day, David, John Curtin, a life, Harper Collins, Pymble, 2006.

Gardiner, Lyndsay and Parker, Nancy 1958, Witness in stone : the story of the Presbyterian Church in North Canberra, V Hewitt, Canberra

Geoffrey Serle, 'Curtin, John (1885–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/curtin-john-9885/text17495

Hall, Michael (Contributor), The Brotherhood of Man, Stories from the ACT Memorial, http://www.library.act.gov.au/find/history/stories_from_the_act_memorial/brotherhood_of_man

1830s-1957, HMSS 0270 Southwell Family Photographs and Realia

13 January 2017

Vale Giuseppe "Joe" Giugni. Esteemed businessman, philanthropist and Canberran

With the passing of Giuseppe "Joe" Giugni on the 6th of JanuaryCanberra lost one of its true characters and entrepreneurs..

There would be few who shopped at the Fyshwick Markets from the 1970s who didn't accept slices of apple or pear off Joe's knife at his shop, Wiffen's.  It is certainly a fond memory for this librarian, of Joe the Fruit Man.

Giuseppe Gianpiero (Joe) Giugni at Fyshwick Markets, 2 May 1987
Source:  Porter, Michael, Canberra Times CollectionImages ACT number 001141

The Giugni family originate in the mountain village of Colda in northern Italy, about 50km from St Moritz in Switzerland. Joe was born there on 11 May 939, to Arturo Giugni, a soldier in the Alpini, and Caterina nee de Pedro. Arturo was seldom home during the war, fighting first in Libya, then Greece, then dying on the Russian Front in 1942. The war came to Sondrio, the nearest town, in the form of air raids; when the sirens went off the family took cover under Joe’s grandfather’s chestnut trees beyond the vineyard.
Grandfather Giacinto Giugni was a small farmer, with a few cows and chickens for food and some sheep for wool, which the women of the family turned into socks and jumpers. With a relative, Nino, he had come to Australia in the 1920s, grown tobacco in Queensland and then worked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Giacinto returned to Italy but Nino stayed on to be joined in 1932 by Joe’s uncle Dino. After the war Dino persuaded Caterina to emigrate with Joe and his younger brother. He married Caterina the day the ship berthed in Sydney, 31 January 1950. Joe is grateful for her bravery in agreeing to marry a man she had never met and live in a foreign country so far from home. “Australia has given me everything”, he says.
In Sydney the Giugnis rented a terraced house and sub-let the spare bedroom to the Zubanis, a father and son who ran a fruit shop in Darlinghurst. From the age of 12 Joe worked in the shop on weekends, then also before and after school. At first he had no English, but his arithmetic was good and he liked the work. School was frightening, with no special assistance for migrant children to learn English and constant antagonism towards ‘enemy’ Italians in the immediate post-war period. Still with poor English skills Joe went to Darlinghurst High until he fought back against vindictive teachers and was expelled. Paddington Junior Tech was better. Joe enjoyed the manual arts classes, but left at 15 to work full time at the fruit shop.
Joe’s tolerance of the long hours waned after a while and he tried shoe repairing, butchery and welding, then a year as a clerk with the railways. None suited him, and he returned to fruit marketing but in a shop in Canterbury. He spent three years there, learning the trade properly, but lost his job during a slump and returned to the Zubani shop. At the age of 18 Joe was offered a job running a small fruit and vegetable shop, and soon afterwards he bought the shop with his mother and brother. It was tiny but well located near Strathfield railway station, and they stayed there for ten years.
At 23 Joe met and married Maruta, a refugee from Latvia. They had three children and, although they bought a bigger house, they continued to live with Maruta’s mother. During this time Joe joined Apia Soccer Club as a member of the committee, and was also a member of the Sydney Fruit and Vegetable Retailers Association. In 1965 he leased another shop with a friend, and they began driving to Crookwell and Batlow for potatoes and apples and trucking them back to Sydney during the night. The hours were cruelly long, so when Lismore banana growers wanted to open a shop in Canberra with Joe as the buyer, Joe considered it very seriously and in 1969 made the move.
This first shop in Civic soon expanded to eight, but it was hard work for little gain, and the partnership was dissolved with Joe taking over the smallest, called Wiffens, at the new Fyshwick Markets. The markets had been established after a government enquiry into the high price of fruit and vegetables in Canberra, and were designed to be growers’ outlets, thereby lowering the price to consumers. Kevin Wiffen, a Riverina citrus grower, kept the licence but Joe managed the stall. It opened four days a week, and Joe drove to Sydney wholesale markets for supplies.
Joe enjoyed these weekly market trips, maintaining earlier friendships and being persuaded to take up golf. Although he didn't care much if he won or lost, and admited to being a pretty average golfer, he relished the competitiveness.
Joe’s years of experience made him a leader in the Fyshwick markets. He introduced self-service, relying on the quality of his produce to minimise the amount rejected by his customers. While other stallholders were selling cheaply by the bucket, Joe sold by the kilo and prospered.
His marriage did not. Maruta left early in 1980 and Joe’s mother, recently widowed, moved in to help with the children. Joe had made friends with some Thai embassy staff and through them met Chun Chai, a trade counsellor; they married in 1981 and had a son in 1984. Chun Chai kept her diplomatic job, taking an overseas posting to Rome in 1988, chosen because Joe spoke the language and wanted the opportunity to revisit his homeland. Joe visited every couple of months, leaving his eldest son in charge of the shop. Chun Chai’s next posting was Thailand, then Sydney, making the visits progressively easier. She became an Australian citizen in 2007.
In that year also, Wiffens was sold, although the Giugni family continued their long association with the markets. From the beginning Joe took an active role. As president of the Canberra Retail Markets Association, and later as director of the consortium of market traders, he has steered up to 40 stallholders through several reorganisations. In 1988, after years of on-off negotiations, Fyshwick Market Traders bought the facility from the government and a board of six shareholders and an independent chairman was established to run the markets. In January 2016 the complex was bought by the Irvine family, to whom Joe had sold Wiffens in 2007.
A five-year multi-million dollar revamp of the markets ended in 2012. Joe has overseen it all. From makeshift buildings erected in the 1970s with an expected life of about ten years, he has nursed and nurtured the markets into an award-winning structure that recreates the traditional market square but offers 21st century facilities. One building, named for Joe, has murals representing his home village of Colda.
Joe ensured that the markets contribute to the community. They donate more than $110,000 annually in cash or products to events from the Australia Day breakfast to The Canberra Times fun run, and also donate food for a Christmas Day dinner for the homeless in Canberra.
He contributed personally as well. In the mid 1990s he was on a committee to establish the International Fruit and Vegetable Dealers’ Convention. He was a Rotarian, and was involved in their successful promotion of reusable canvas shopping bags. He supported the Australian National Eisteddfod and several charities including the Heart Foundation.
Joe handed Wiffens over to his children and youngest brother in 1999. This was a big year for Joe. Besides being named Canberra Citizen of the Year, he almost died. A heart operation saved him, and then a proposed leg amputation was averted by having a steel rod inserted, allowing Joe to keep playing golf.
Joe has been compared with a pineapple: “rough on the outside but sweet on the inside''. When asked to describe himself, he would say he is “just a normal, down-to-earth, big-mouth, shit-stirrer”. By any name, he was a Canberra institution.

Awards and Distinctions

  • 1999 Canberra Citizen of the Year for his contribution in providing donations of fruit and vegetables and financial contributions to charities and soup kitchens
  • 2009 Fyshwick Markets won the small business category at the Ethnic Business Awards
  • 2013 Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community through multicultural and charitable organisations.

Select Bibliography

1999 Guigni, Giuseppe, The story of Giuseppe Gianpiero Giugni and his family, Canberra
2009 Fruits of labour for a migrant spirit, Canberra Times, 27 December.