Category Archives: Enduring Threads

Enduring Threads: Part3

Reblog with photos:

The Scottish Greats

My great maternal grandparents, Nanna and Papa McFie lived on top of the world, opposite the boundary to the primary school below, and the Catholic school above, in Stewart Street. Papa had been a tailor before becoming a state politician, which he remained for seventeen years, and a coroner for fifty years. In retirement, before his stroke, he could be seen marching down into town, tipping his bowler to one and all. His distinguishing features being his waxed and twirled moustache, a stiff high white collar and a striped carnation in his buttonhole. Nana, softer, would sit in her sunroom on a cane chair that pulled out so that her legs were raised, knitting, sewing or doing embroidery. Her contented round face would light up with pleasure as we approached, her halo of sparse white hair giving her an angelic look. Their garden rambled unattended with a huge pine tree up the back.

Their little electric fire, imitated a coal fire, glowing red attempting to warm the sitting room. Their frugal existence was suspended on The Red Letter Day when they received a letter from the Queen for their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Celebrations for both the royal missive and their special wedding anniversary broke the feeling of austerity in their home.

Nana and Papa McFie, 50 or 60th wedding anniversary?

Nana and Papa McFie,
50 or 60th wedding anniversary?

Bringing up their own children: Chloris, Hector, Mynie, Malcolm and Don; was succeeded by taking in and caring for Janet, Chloris and Brian, children of their son Don and his ex-wife Dawn; as well as Jock, son of Malcolm. Great Uncle Hector made good, following in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Liberal politician.

I didn’t question my mother when she said,‘The McFie men are no good!’ It wasn’t until my cousin Peter did some family-tree research that my understanding broadened. Hector McFie, our antecedent, came out to Tasmania in 1830 as a convict, aged 25. He was a tailor and subsequently married three times. His death was from ‘Fatal Effects Of Intemperance’ as disclosed in the Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday morning 9 June 1858. This side of our family history was never discussed, as my mother said,

‘I have no interest in the past.’

Considering ancient Hector’s minor misdemeanors, and being forced to leave his home in Rothsay on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, brought about a whole new dynasty on the other side of the world.

Not only was there a repetition of names in these genealogical records, a plethora of Hectors, but also a repetition of career choices: tailoring, seafaring and building, the latter two continuing today.

Taken at Queenstown on the Federal election campaign. Snow fell all the time 2 days, 5 ft in some places. Dame Enid Lyons was the first woman to be elected to the Federal Parliament at Canberra Sept 1943, with H. H. McFie

Taken at Queenstown on the Federal election campaign. Snow fell all the time 2 days, 5 ft in some places. Dame Enid Lyons was the first woman to be elected to the Federal Parliament at Canberra Sept 1943, with H. H. McFie

Hungry children from the state school were fed at Nana’s home during the depression. Vegetable soup was cooked in the copper. My mother would put her hand up to be fed too, but only on the odd occasion would she be allowed to go over the road to her grandmother’s with the others.

‘Look after this and cherish it’, Nanna spoke in her Scots burr as she gave me a little brass dog.  I still have it. ‘It is important to dry between your toes’, was another important message that I continue to pass on.  Visual memories of buckets in the bathroom to collect the rain- water from the leaky roof remain with me as Nanna shrugged her shoulders.  Papa always had sweets for us, often liquorice alsorts. I only liked the liquorice part, stuffing the gooey pastel stuff in hidden places. The twisted clear yellow ambrosial barley sugar was my favourite.

After Nanna died, Papa had a stroke that left him with no speech.

When he recuperated and was on his feet again, we children would torment him, knowing he couldn’t tell our grandmother what we were doing. He’d chase us around waving his walking stick at us, totally frustrated that he couldn’t catch us or speak. Grandma would come out and say,

‘Don’t wave your stick at the children!’

That made us feel guilty and we’d stop our bullying tactics.

Nanna died just before the Queen’s visit in 1954. She’d been so looking forward to the visit, which was celebrated very enthusiastically in Devonport with streamers decorating the way. Even my father was swept up by the hysteria and constructed a stand for friends to gather on to wave their flags. They were sorely disappointed, as the car didn’t slow down sufficiently for them to get a proper look.

Aged eight, dressed as a Brownie, I walked with the whole school to the oval. My classmate Lynette Holman presented the Queen with a bouquet, as Lynette’s father was the Council Clerk. The cortege went up to Bell’s Parade, Latrobe, where they had a toilet especially constructed for Her Royal Highness, in which she was sick. Afterwards the toilet was auctioned.

My maternal great-grandmother, Nanna, was Hannah Elizabeth Chapman before she married Henry Hector McFie in 1892. When I returned to Devonport with my two daughters in 1975 I moved into the Chapman home at 50 Wenvoe Street. The two last Chapman maiden ladies had died; they were cousins of my grandmother. They loved the view of the river and ocean in the distance. Ivy had been a pharmacist at the local chemist shop, and Chappie, as we called her, was a seamstress.

Mynie and Chloris with their mother Hannah, (Nana)

Mynie and Chloris
with their mother Hannah, (Nana)

(Great) Auntie Mynie, my grandmother’s sister, lived up in Hiller Street. She married John Donohue who was the editor of the local newspaper, The Advocate. He had six children when she married him, and they went on to have two more. Jane was nine years older than me, and Hector seven. The other children were grown and gone, though they continued to visit.

Auntie Mynie’s pastries were renown afar for their lightness. When Uncle John died she made ends meet by growing flowers and making and selling wreaths from home.  She also helped with the Scouts’ catering business. It was amazing what Auntie Mynie could produce out of her very old Moffat oven. Sometimes there would be six pavlovas sitting there, waiting to be delivered.

Even though Mynie was fourth generation Tasmanian, her Scottishness was unwavering. She had Scottie dogs on cushion covers, Scottish ornaments, a silver thistle cruet set and Scotch thistles on her dinner set and teacups. She introduced us to peppermint liqueur in lemonade, the fresh bubbling smell of peppermint tickling our noses. Unlike her teatotal sister, my grandmother, she also liked a drop of Scotch whisky.

When I was very young, a quondam story is retold; I broke a bottle of perfume in their bathroom. Auntie Mynie could never wear that scent again, as the smell in the bathroom was overpowering. She loved giving me cheap perfume for birthdays; I’m sure it was payback time for my mother, but I loved it.

Taking our first trip across the Mersey, Auntie Mynie took Clive and me with her own children and Miss Marshall for a picnic to East Devonport beach. We had their liver and white spaniel Nip with us, who was later killed by snakebite.

The house in Hiller Street expanded like a piano accordion, accommodating many and squeezing out contented visitors who exuded Mynie’s warmth, with confirmation of their right place in the world. Playing Solo was a regular activity; she even played with the dreaded dragoness, Engel Holyman, who most people were scared of. Though I didn’t know Engel well, her reputation went before her and I was surprised later to find out that we were distantly related. (Nanna McFie’s mother’s sister married a Holyman.) When Engel ordered wood, Jane related to me later, they told the deliveryman,’Tell them to pay before you drop!’

The Holyman family was known in the aviation industry; they were all keen fliers. When Engel died she wanted her ashes taken up in a plane and scattered. The family dutifully did as requested only to return with the ashes stuck to the wet plane.





Enduring Threads: Part 2

I have been struggling to get it into a logical sequence. All suggestions welcomed. I am getting the M/S ready for an editor. Apologies to those who have read this bit before… Hilary has suggested a family tree, which is a great idea, but will take some working on!

Great Granny Isobella Haines

Great Granny Isobella Haines

Great Granny Haines’ thin shadow fell over me as she stood towering above me in her black dress with the white lace neck- piece at the base of her long scrawny neck. She continued to ignore me. I knew why she wasn’t my mother’s favourite grandmother. Was it that she didn’t like children? I don’t think she favoured my mother as an adult either. Perhaps her aloofness was her self- protection from the outside world, which made her seem superior and, as a consequence, lonely.

Gt. Granny and Gt. Aunt Dolly Haines

Gt. Granny and Gt. Aunt Dolly Haines

Great Granny Isabella lived with my Great Aunt Dolly in a small white weatherboard house at the top of the hill above the town at 70 Wenvoe Street, Devonport. Camellias, roses, lilies, violets, spring bulbs of every sort, hollyhocks and delphiniums filled the garden. The dovecote in the backyard completes the picture outside. Inside, on top of Great Granny’s bedside table, sat a toilet roll and a lolly jar that she seemed reticent to share. Her death in October 1953 at the age of 94 years meant that she’d been a widow for forty years. Her husband, a baker and naval contractor, had died in May 1913, aged 58.

After Granny Haines died, Auntie Dolly lived alone. Dolly’s first love had died in the First World War. Since then there had been a succession of suitors and fiancés. Her generous nature was well known. This is why Grandpa Haines had ensured the house couldn’t be sold, so that she remained with a roof over her head.



Ruby, Dolly’s older sister, then died, which left Ruby’s husband, Percy, vulnerable. Auntie Dolly pestered him until she had convinced him that they should marry and she’d look after him. He reluctantly agreed to marry her. She was seventy- three. He moved down to Wenvoe Street leaving his lovely home at 8 Ronald Street, next door to my maternal grandparents. It seemed Ruby and Percy had compensated for not having children by surrounding themselves with beautiful antiques. Percy’s father had been a sea captain, so he would have brought some of the treasures home from overseas. The garden with its double cherry trees in the front garden, one pink and one white, were spectacular in bloom. A huge tulip tree loomed out the back; their large block shared a fence, like my grandparents, with the high school.

Dolly’s house was small and so the beautiful and the kitsch were thrust together; clutter was a kind word for the chaos. She was determined to have it all. The wooden statue of a man that had stood elegantly in the entrance at 8 Ronald Street now had to compete with a myriad of eclectic objects collected over the years. In those days plastic flowers were a no-no. Dolly had those, plus a blue budgerigar, a green and yellow budgerigar and a cat. She was diabetic and going blind, so she wore a hat inside with a veil to stop any glare, as well as sunglasses. Dust was something she couldn’t see. Poor Percy lasted only six months before dying.

The story of Dolly getting her licence was one we loved to hear repeated, always with great amusement. She tried three times to get her car licence.

Cars were not common, even in my early childhood. My grandparents were probably the first couple on the North West Coast to go on their honeymoon, in 1914, in their own car. Auntie Ruby and Uncle Percy had a dear brown car with a dicky seat at the back. (I didn’t ever see anyone sitting in it). My parents didn’t get a car until I was in primary school. They let their garage to the Pyett family for their cream Austin with the soft roof (whilst they were living at Elimatta Hotel and Eric was building their house up at North Street).

Back to Dolly: on the second attempt of trying for a licence she turned the car over on Hill Street, Hobart, with the policeman in it. He got out and walked back to the police station.

Uncle Henry had spent some time trying to teach her to drive, and one day she entered the family firm, (F.H.Haines Pty. Ltd.), in Devonport and said to Henry,

‘You must come, I’m going to get my licence’,

‘Surely you are not ready yet’!

Dolly answered, ‘That nice policeman, Mr. Rothwell, said he’d take me’.

So off they went. After taking her only around the block, Mr. Rothwell said to Henry, ‘Do you think she should get it’? Henry answered, ‘I guess she’ll improve once she has her licence’,

‘Oh well, I shall leave her in your charge Mr. Haines’. Henry thought to himself, but I won’t be there! She was never a good driver, and people avoided her car when they saw it coming, as they did with my Grandmother and Great Auntie Con (on Dad’s side).

Dolly married her nephew-in-law, Ted Bolton, twenty-five years her junior; she was a ‘cougar’, ahead of her time, she was seventy-six. Her niece had died, and, oh what an opportunity! They did the deed quietly in Latrobe without the family knowing. It seems he was an alcoholic. My mother was grateful he was there to look after Dolly. My Aunt Mary had no time for him at all. Myrtle Russell, a friend of my mother’s, always asked, ‘How are you feeling Brenda’? – As she felt Frank might be next on Dolly’s list.



The lovely large, blue, white and red ochre Asian dish I have was a wedding present from Dolly when Umberto and I married. We put confetti in it, (tulle-covered sugared almonds with our names and the date of our wedding), to be given to each guest, following an Italian superstitious, but pretty ritual of fertility. I always felt honoured to have something from that amazing Aladdin’s Cave, as the rest was left to Ted’s family. What they didn’t want they auctioned off without notifying the family. A big black mark.


Enduring Threads: Part 1.


My first memory is of drowning at Paloona; a blissful feeling with bubbles coming out of my ears, no need to struggle, submerging three times. My mother’s white sandals dripping with water as she carried me back up the riverbank remains a question: ‘Why didn’t you take them off’?’ This experience at the age of two, removed my fear of death. That feeling of euphoria drowning remains with me. Death is something to be welcomed when the time is right.

29 Victoria Parade, Devonport, Tasmania

‘Yarandoo’ 29 Victoria Parade, Devonport, Tasmania

My grandfather Frederick Henry (‘Harry’) Haines built ‘Yarandoo’, (our home) 29 Victoria Parade, Devonport, opposite the mouth of the Mersey River, for his young bride Chloris Janet McFie. They were married on 21st October 1914; Chloris was nineteen and Harry was thirty-five. Six children were born to them in this house, before Harry built another home for his family at 6 Ronald Street. This was on higher ground where he thought it would benefit his asthma.

Wedding of Chloris McFie and Harry Haines  21-10-1914

Wedding of Chloris McFie and Harry Haines

Harry’s round cheerful countenance emanated good will. A watch chain stretched over his large protruding paunch symbolizing his success in business. My grandmother was taller than my grandfather, rounded too when I knew her, with a loosely twisted grey bun, held together with clear plastic hairpins, which shed themselves frequently. Her feet were knotted; she had special shoes made in Melbourne to accommodate her bunions. I thought they looked like a witch’s feet. She was a soft and generous woman who grew shorter as the years progressed.


When Grandpa travelled by car, all anyone could see was his hat sitting above the steering wheel. People would say,

‘There goes Cocky Haines,’ with an affectionate inflection. He’d often drive in second gear, Henry, his son, would say,’ Shouldn’t you go up a gear?’

‘I don’t think so!’ and soon after he’d surreptitiously progress to the next gear. He did like to go fast over the railway line, especially if his in-laws were in the car; he’d try to get them to hit their heads on the roof. My brother, Angus, inherited not only his good looks but also his naughty nature.

No.29 was given to my parents as a wedding gift on 6th March 1943. My father had been living in Melbourne during the war, helping to build aeroplanes. His skin condition, psoriasis, had prevented him from joining the air force. Two of his brothers joined the army, and they ended up as prisoners-of-war. His third brother joined the navy. Barney wrote a book called ‘A Kind of Cattle’ in 1986, describing his four-year experience as a POW in Germany and Austria, with which he won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award/ Peace Prize. Barney also wrote ‘Where’s Morning Gone’, about his childhood, which won the Tasmanian Bicentennial Literary Award in 1987; these were two of the ten books he had published.

My mother had been a nurse before enlisting to be an army nurse, leaving Tasmania for the Middle East, much to her parents’ dismay. She had done her training at the Devon Hospital, Latrobe, where she met her future sister-in-law Judy Roberts. Judy took Brenda home, and that was where she met my father, Frank. The farm didn’t have electricity at that time and my mother remembered going to bed at ‘Currajong’, still feeling for the light switch with a candle in her hand.

During the war Brenda fell madly in love with a doctor in the Middle East, but she thought her parents wouldn’t approve. He was a Pole and a gambler. They enjoyed a close friendship during that time. He returned to work in Victoria after the war as a psychiatrist. He married and had only daughters, whilst Brenda had those coveted sons.

On her return to Tasmania, my mother chose to marry Frank Roberts who was handsome, reliable and had a dry sense of humour. Grandpa employed Frank at his building firm, after bringing my parents back from Melbourne after their marriage. Frank did night classes in accountancy at the local technical college. He’d previously done a fitters and turners certificate. Frank was a very practical man, good with figures and machinery. He made many things around the house including a myrtle record player and a standard lamp from black wood. But he always hankered after the dream of returning to the land; having been brought up on a farm, it was in his blood.

Dad had left his boyhood home, Currajong, to find work because he was the eldest and the depression was affecting them on the farm. He realized that he, his sister and three brothers wouldn’t all be able to stay on the farm, so he looked further afield for work.

He went up to Queensland where he mended fences and did other odd jobs like making and selling ink, before getting to North Queensland where he cut sugarcane. There he worked with some Italians and had his horizons widened by tasting new foods and hearing their life stories.

I believe Brenda and Frank had a happy marriage, though they chose to go their separate ways some of the time. In the end I think they were grateful for one another and pleased that they had stuck it out through the tough times.

They had five children, all born at Meercroft, a cottage hospital in Devonport. Clive was a difficult birth. Judy, Dad’s sister, was Matron when Clive was born. He was in the breech position, and whilst waiting for him to be born, Judy told Mum to have a bath whilst she, Judy, went off to bed. Next morning she appeared and was horrified to see that Mum hadn’t had the baby. The doctor was called for. His comment was,

‘Thank God, they are both alive!’

This incident was never forgotten. Clive was born on 18th April 1944. The war finished on 2nd September 1945. I was born on 25th February 1946.

I loved having an older brother. The only time I saw him smacked, on the leg by my father, I cried so much that Dad didn’t ever smack any of us again.

Barbara and Clive Roberts

Barbara and Clive Roberts


When Graeme was born, 24th October 1949, Clive and I went to stay with neighbours, Ted and Nance Clemenson. We were treated kindly, and read stories, though I did wonder why we couldn’t go home. Childbirth was not discussed with children in that era. There we ate whitebait patties that were exquisite. Ted was a great fisherman. Their children, Libby and Jenny, were older than us. They had a white cockatoo that squawked ‘Caught any fish Ted?’ every time it heard the gate click. Libby was part of the neighbourhood gang that formed in later years, when we spent the holidays building our annual bonfire. Christopher Pyett was also part of this gang.

Graeme was a placid baby, though his asthma and eczema were trials my mother took in her stride. She had us all fitting in around her busy schedule of house and garden chores, committees and social activities, which included visiting relatives. In those days we walked for miles. We’d stop and chat to those we met in the street. Time was more leisurely and the days seemed longer. There was a feeling of space and our close-knit family/community gave me a feeling of acceptance and belonging.

Mum had quite a large group of friends as well as her committee commitments. The hospital and Eskleigh were her main interests. Eskleigh was a home that my grandfather helped establish, finance and build for the permanently injured or sick at Longford. Girl Guides would come to the house to do their first aid badges, until I broke the thermometer.

Afternoon tea was very popular and quite a formal event. Delicate china on an auto-tray with an assortment of home cooked scones, cakes and biscuits, covered by a delicate embroidered ‘throw over’ was the norm. The milk jug and sugar bowl were also covered with a crochet cover with glass beads around the edge. Our grandmother always had at least scones, shortbread and cream cake on the auto-tray. We children were given lemonade at Grandma’s, whereas at home we’d get homemade lemon cordial, milk or water.

When we visited the Miss Norton-Smiths their ruby coloured beads tinkled as we entered their impoverished but elegant drawing room. I was small; Mum would sit me on her knee and let me drink her tea, as she really didn’t want to be rude and refuse a drink, but she never liked tea or coffee. Addicted early, I was pleased to help.